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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump and Xi Make Nice
      •  Mattis: Russia Tried to Interfere in Midterms
      •  Bush Plans Come into Focus
      •  Replacing Nikki is Tricky
      •  Pelosi Promotes Barbara Lee
      •  Six White House Officials Violated the Hatch Act
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tulsi Gabbard

PW logo Feds Plan Unusual Appeal In Emoluments Case
Incoming Lawmaker Admits Violating Campaign Laws
Grassley Wants to Limit Trump’s Trade Authority
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Trump and Xi Make Nice

With both leaders attending the G20 summit in Buenos Aires this weekend, Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping announced they were going to sit down for dinner on Saturday night and try to hash out their differences, trade-wise. After two hours, the meal broke up, with the pair announcing they had agreed that until they have a chance to talk some more, the two countries will keep tariffs at their current levels, and that Trump won't try to impose any more duties after January 1 (despite threats to the contrary).

Because of the death of George H. W. Bush, the post-dinner press conference was canceled, so Trump's #1 opportunity to spin this was denied to him. Nonetheless, he and his underlings are doing what they can to present this as yet another example of the "dealmaker in chief" doing what he does best. Of course, reaching an agreement to talk some more is hardly a diplomatic coup. Further, one can scarcely believe that any sort of serious negotiating was going on at a gathering like this:

Trump and Xi dine

Given that the room was surely none too quiet, and that the two presidents need interpreters, and that they were sitting six or seven feet apart, it is unlikely they conversed much at all.

What's really going on here is that an irresistible force has run into an immovable object. The irresistible force is Trump's obsession with trade deficits, which dates back at least 40 years. In fact, it dates back so far that his concern used to be Japan, and not China. It is arguably the only political position he's stuck with consistently throughout the years, even during his transition from "Democrat" to "Republican" (we put them in quotes because he's never really been much an adherent of either party's program). Part of this obsession is rooted in his ideas about race; he's much more bothered when it appears to be a non-white country that is "taking advantage" of the United States. But most of it is rooted in his microeconomic view of things. As a real estate developer, he has always played a zero-sum game: Every dollar you get for a condo or building is one less dollar in the other sucker's account. He's never shown any awareness that macroeconomics is often a whole different ballgame, and that trade generally is not zero-sum. If each country focuses on an area it is really good at and they trade, both sides can profit from the arrangement.

The immovable object, meanwhile, is the fact that Trump's trade war is failing badly. In a development that comes as a surprise to nobody who is not the current President of the United States, the Chinese counter-tariffs are badly hurting farmers and small businesses, and mostly in places that voted for Trump. Meanwhile, the trade deficit with China is actually growing, it's at its highest level since 2015. So, even if one believes that some economic pain is necessary medicine, well, the treatment is not curing the disease.

Trump, of course, does not often admit he is wrong, and he does not often change course. And that's with little things like the size of his inauguration crowd, or whether or not he golfs too much. This trade deficit thing is his most dearly-held belief, and so it will undoubtedly be ten times harder for him to let go. On the other hand, the evidence of failure is overwhelming, and is undoubtedly being (gently) brought to his attention by those around him (maybe even the trade hawks, like Peter Navarro). Further, Trump (or, at least, his party) just paid a painful price in the elections, where Democratic success in the Midwest was certainly aided by the effects of the trade war. And that's just four to six months' worth of effects; what kind of carnage will we see if this goes on for multiple years? The only red you'll see in the Midwest on the 2020 map will be GOP blood.

In short, the politics of the situation mean that Trump cannot plausibly move forward, and his own beliefs and stubbornness mean that he cannot move backward. So, a holding pattern is exactly what one would expect to come out of the G20, and that is exactly what we got. Making things even tougher for the President is that Xi knows everything we've mentioned here (and much, much more) and will have correctly concluded that it took him less than half a year to put Trump over a barrel. So, the Chinese president isn't going to be in a giving mood the next time he talks to his American counterpart. Worse yet for Trump is that Xi does not face an election in 2020 (or ever) in which the victims of the trade war get to express their dissatisfaction, so stalling until 2020 works fine for him. The only "out" Trump would seem to have would be to get a few minor concessions from the Chinese, give a few, and then declare it a massive victory for him and for America. In other words, to run the same playbook as he did with the NAFTA replacement. However, will he subjugate his long-held views and take that out? Even he probably doesn't know yet. (Z)

Mattis: Russia Tried to Interfere in Midterms

Secretary of Defense James Mattis sat for an interview Saturday and confirmed what everyone already knew (or, at least, strongly suspected): That the Russians tried to interfere with the midterm elections. His exact words:

There is no doubt the relationship has worsened. [Putin] tried again to muck around in our elections this last month. We are seeing a continued effort around those lines. This is a very complex situation because clearly Mr. Putin is a slow learner. He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people. We're dealing with someone we simply cannot trust.

One wonders if Mattis had permission to share this information, or if he deliberately waited until his boss was out of the country. In any case, Mattis did not expand upon his remarks, so it is not clear if the U.S. government thinks the Russians were successful or not. Perhaps we will learn that the next time Trump leaves the country. (Z)

Bush Plans Come into Focus

The big story of the day on Saturday, of course, was the passing of George H. W. Bush. Any presidential passing is going to be big news, but especially if it happens on the slowest news day of the week. Well, any presidential passing except for John Tyler's, which was roundly ignored in 1861 because he'd "turned traitor" and joined the Confederacy.

George H. W. Bush did not turn traitor, of course, so he's going to get all the bells and whistles. There's a website with information about his various funeral services, one of them in Washington and two in Texas. He will also lie in state in D.C., and in repose in Houston (lying in state is more formal, and typically only happens in buildings belonging to the national government of the deceased's country). Wednesday will be a national day of mourning, and the stock market will close down in recognition. Flags will be flown at half-staff for 30 days, as is customary for a deceased former president.

The main "drama," such as it is, has already been resolved, as Donald and Melania Trump announced that they will indeed attend Bush's funeral service in Washington. They could hardly do otherwise, as it will take place less than four miles from the White House. That will be on Wednesday, and then the final events in Texas—including interment—will be on Thursday. Bush will be laid to rest at his presidential library at Texas A&M, alongside his wife and infant daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3 in 1953. (Z)

Replacing Nikki is Tricky

In a story that bears more than a passing resemblance to the one about China (see above), Donald Trump is having trouble identifying a replacement for Nikki Haley as U.N. Ambassador. In theory, she's got about a month left on the job, and the President is not at all close to choosing the person who will succeed her.

Part of the problem is that the "best people" don't seem to want the job for some reason, and many of them have already turned it down. But the main issue is the ever-present conflict between what Trump wants/thinks and the reality of the situation. His heart is pretty much set on State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Her selling points are that she's very loyal to him and, as a former Fox News host, she is good on television. However, the negative nellies in the White House insist on pointing out that she has some shortcomings, too. Like, for example, that she has zero experience as a diplomat. And that, because of the rather sizable gap in her resumé, it would be very hard to get Senate approval for her appointment. So, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others have tried to get the President interested in other candidates, but he's been unenthusiastic about anyone who is not Nauert.

Given Trump's foot-dragging, it certainly seems like he's holding out for one of two things: (1) Congress to go into recess, so he can make a recess appointment (assuming he knows about that option), or (2) The new Senate to be seated, which will be +2 Republicans and -1 Jeff Flake, and so will give him a better chance to sneak Nauert through. Whatever the case may be, we will presumably learn in the next month. (Z)

Pelosi Promotes Barbara Lee

Speaking of Congressional business, soon-to-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made an announcement on Saturday: She is recommending that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) be promoted from vice chair to co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, which oversees committee assignments for Democrats. The members of the committee will have to vote to approve the promotion, but they are expected to do so without objection.

The job that Lee will assume did not exist before Saturday; the Steering and Policy Committee already had two co-chairs. However, promoting Lee elevates a black woman into the upper echelons of the Democratic leadership (a three-way tie for the fifth-highest-ranking member of the Democratic caucus), and formally eliminates a main rival for the Speakership. It is a reminder that whatever maneuvering and string-pulling needs to be done to make sure she gets her speaker's gavel back, Pelosi knows how to do it.

In addition, Pelosi has been criticized by members of her caucus for not recognizing that the 40 seats the Democrats won in November are in no small part due to the loyal votes of black women. By promoting Lee, she is effectively saying that she recognizes the importance of black women to the Democratic Party and wants to bring them into the leadership. (Z)

Six White House Officials Violated the Hatch Act

In response to a request from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) has taken a look at the Twitter behavior of the various members of the Trump administration, and found six of them to be guilty of violating the Hatch Act. The six are principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah, White House deputy director of communications Jessica Ditto, executive assistant to the President Madeleine Westerhout, former special assistant to the President and director of media affairs Helen Aguirre Ferré, press secretary for the Vice President Alyssa Farah, and Office of Management and Budget deputy communications Director Jacob Wood. All six were nailed for tweeting the phrase "MAGA," or some variation of it, which was judged to be an unethical use of their official positions for purposes of electioneering.

What this incident illustrates, more than anything else, is that the Hatch Act, as currently constituted, is—and forgive the use of a complicated technical term here—dumb. Is it really so bad for members of the Trump administration to use his signature slogan? What if members of Team Obama had tweeted the word "Hope"? Would that be a problem, too? We're not so persuaded that electioneering in general by White House employees is so bad; everyone knows what team they're on. And if it is bad, well, the Act is pretty much toothless. The OSC is empowered to send a cranky letter to violators and then, if they do it again, the OSC can send a second cranky letter to their bosses. Then it would be up to the President, or his underlings, to mete out punishment. Which, in this administration, isn't going to happen. So, the Act really should be strengthened, or else sent down the hatch. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tulsi Gabbard

Up today is the person who is probably Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) favorite candidate (outside of himself, of course).

  • Name: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 39

  • Background: Gabbard was born in American Samoa to some rather unorthodox parents: Her father Mike is a Samoan Catholic, her mother Carol is of European descent, but practices Hinduism (as does Tulsi). The family moved to Hawaii when Gabbard was two, and she grew up there, excepting two years spent at a private boarding school in the Philippines. She spent the years between 2000 and 2013 alternating among four activities: military service (she was deployed to Iraq multiple times, and remains a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard), serving as an aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka, getting a business degree at Hawaii Pacific University (she graduated in 2009), and holding political office in her home state.

  • Political Experience: As noted, Gabbard held office multiple times in amongst stints doing other things. She served in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 2002-04 and then on the Honolulu City Council from 2011-12. She was elected to the U.S. House in 2012, and will start her fourth term in 2019. She was also vice-chair of the DNC, but resigned in February 2016 in order to give her full support to Bernie Sanders' presidential bid.

  • Signature Issue(s): Support for the Military. Unusual for someone who identifies as a progressive, Gabbard is outspokenly pro-soldier. She serves on the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

  • Instructive Quote: "In the military, I learned that 'leadership' means raising your hand and volunteering for the tough, important assignments."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: When Gabbard was elected to the Hawaii legislature in 2002, she was the youngest officeholder in the country, and the youngest woman ever to be elected to office in the Aloha State. It probably helped her campaign that her father was, and still is, a well-known state senator (as a Republican back in 2002, but a Democrat since 2007).

  • Recent News: Gabbard is not shy about speaking her mind, and has taken more than a few potshots at Donald Trump. She ruffled some feathers last week when she described the President as "Saudi Arabia's bitch."

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) If Bernie passes the torch to her, that's a huge boost right there; (2) Given her military record and her pro-soldier stances, she might get some crossover votes from more traditional Republicans who loathe Trump; and (3) A young, female, minority candidate should interest hard-to-get-to-the-polls young voters in a way that an older white man probably wouldn't

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) A Hindu woman of color born in American Samoa—one can only imagine what the Alex Joneses of the world will come up with; (2) Her visit to Syria and her generally sympathetic views on Bashar al-Assad are not going to help her with Democrats or Republicans; and (3) She has assiduously avoided debates in her political career, having only participated in one, which suggests that she's not all that comfortable under the bright lights—not a good thing, particularly that we are now in the era of endless candidate debates

  • Is She Actually Running?: She said she is considering a bid, and will announce "sometime" after the midterms. She's also writing a book that outlines her ideas and her background. Oh, and she's visiting New Hampshire this weekend. So yes, she's running.

  • Betting Odds: She's getting 25-to-1 to 12-to-1 odds, which implies a 4%-8% chance that she gets the nod.

  • The Bottom Line: There are a couple of people currently in the field who are really blocking Gabbard's path. The first, of course, is Sanders, who is the champion of the progressive wing until we learn otherwise. The other is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is a similar kind of candidate as Gabbard, and who has the advantage of coming from a much larger state that is casting its primary votes early in the process. Unless one or both of those two clear out, it's hard to see how Gabbard has a way forward.

You can access the list of candidate profiles by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)


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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec01 George H.W. Bush Dead at 94
Dec01 Trump Nails Down NAFTA Replacement, But He's Not Out of the Woods Yet
Dec01 Senate Republicans Dump All over Flake
Dec01 Democrats Reveal Their First Bill
Dec01 Schiff Wants to Investigate Trump's Plan to Give Putin a Penthouse
Dec01 Shenanigans in NC-09?
Dec01 Espy Will Run for the Senate Again in 2020
Nov30 A Tale of Two Rats
Nov30 Trump in Meltdown Mode
Nov30 Deutsche Bank Headquarters Raided
Nov30 No Meeting with Putin
Nov30 House Democrats Elect Cheri Bustos to Head the DCCC
Nov30 Tim Scott Shoots Down Farr
Nov30 Comey Sues to Quash Subpoena
Nov29 Republicans Block Bill That Would Protect Mueller
Nov29 Trump Told Mueller That He Didn't Know about the Trump Tower Meeting in Advance
Nov29 Everyone is Denying That They Knew About Wikileaks
Nov29 Democrats Nominate Pelosi as Speaker
Nov29 Powell Defends the Fed against Trump
Nov29 House Rundown
Nov29 Thursday Q&A
Nov28 Hyde-Smith Beats Espy, as Expected
Nov28 McSally Is Not a Shoo-in for Kyl's Seat
Nov28 Flake May Be Able to Force Vote on Bill Protecting Mueller
Nov28 Trump Sits for an Interview
Nov28 Comey: Whitaker May Not Be the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer
Nov28 Manafort's Breaking His Deal Is a Setback for Mueller
Nov28 Mueller Looks to Ecuador
Nov28 Cuomo Won't Run for President
Nov27 Final Senate Race Is Today in Mississippi
Nov27 General Motors Will Slash Jobs and Trump Is Not Happy
Nov27 Trump Disapproval Hits All-Time High in Gallup Poll
Nov27 Nadler: A Partisan Impeachment Will Tear the Country Apart
Nov27 Manafort Allegedly Lied to Mueller; Corsi Says "No Plea"
Nov27 Who Will Be Trump's Running Mate in 2020?
Nov27 Cox Leads, Love Concedes
Nov26 Alan Dershowitz: Mueller Report Will Be Devastating
Nov26 Farm Bankruptcies Are Up
Nov26 Poll: Public Is Worried about Pre-existing Conditions
Nov26 Sessions Is Not a Shoo-in for His Old Seat
Nov26 New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner Is a Goner
Nov26 Fox's New Bugaboo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Nov26 Monday Q&A
Nov25 Mexico Will Reportedly Hold Refugees
Nov25 Trump Tried to Bury Global Warming Report, Got Burned
Nov25 Mitt Gets to Work
Nov25 Espy Within Striking Distance
Nov25 Congress Is Going to Have a Busy Month
Nov25 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Eric Swalwell
Nov24 Jerome Corsi Is Negotiating a Plea Bargain with Mueller