Dem 47
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GOP 53
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Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NV
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PW logo Trump Says He’s Got 12 Candidates for Chief of Staff
Trump Stands By Saudi Crown Prince
Pelosi Near Deal to Reclaim Speakership
‘He Stormed Out of the Oval’
Trump Says He’s Not Worried About Impeachment
Trump Shows Weakness In Confrontation with Democrats

Trump Calls Hush-Money Payments "A Simple Private Transaction"

Yesterday, Donald Trump admitted to making payments to two women with whom he had affairs in order to buy their silence. However, he called them a "simple private transaction." This is not unlike Richard Nixon calling the Watergate break-in a "third-rate burglary." Unfortunately for Trump, campaign expenses must be fully reported and campaign donations-in-kind (including about information) are limited to $2,700 per person. These payments were not reported and were $150,000 and $130,000, respectively, a clear violation of campaign finance law.

If Trump really believed these were simple private transactions, he wouldn't have lied for months about having the affairs in the first place. He did so as part of the cover-up. Later, when asked if he knew about the payments arranged by his fixer, Michael Cohen, he claimed he didn't know. Actually, he did know, since it was his money that went to the women. Now he is admitting that he made the payments, but is saying they weren't violations of campaign finance law. Prosecutors disagree with him on that. And for someone who doesn't think they are a big deal at all, he has gone to a lot of trouble to cover them up instead of just telling the truth right away. If he had done that right away and blamed his bookkeeper for a paperwork error, it might have worked. (V)

SCOTUS Gives Win to Planned Parenthood

There are quite a few states, all of them of the red persuasion, that would like to do away with Planned Parenthood. And to that end, some of them have tried to cease the flow of all Medicaid dollars to the organization. In two different states, Planned Parenthood sued, arguing that selectively withholding federal funds is a violation of the law. And, in both cases, the courts agreed with that argument.

The red states appealed, of course, and on Monday they found out that they will not be getting their day in court, as the Supreme Court declined to take up the cases. Chief Justice John Roberts and newly-minted associate justice Brett Kavanaugh joined their four liberal colleagues in allowing the lower courts' ruling to stand. Whether this represents a sincerely-held position on their parts, or merely a desire to avoid hot-button issues for the moment, is not known. Whatever the case may be, however, it's a reminder that even the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry when it comes to appointing justices to the Supreme Court. After he left office, Dwight Eisenhower was asked by a reporter what the biggest mistake of his eight years as president was, and Ike replied: "I made two mistakes and both of them are sitting on the Supreme Court." [Ed: Earl Warren and William Brennan, both of whom turned out to be more liberal than Ike had expected]. (Z)

Trump's Base Believes Mueller Is on a Witch Hunt

Cameron Easley, the polling editor of Morning Consult, said that his data show that Donald Trump's base is responsive to his calling special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation a witch hunt. His supporters see it simply as a way the Democrats are trying to undermine his election.

A Marist poll released last week came to the same conclusion. It showed that 71% of Republicans see the investigation as a witch hunt, compared to 10% of Democrats and 30% of independents. The bad news for Trump, however, is that overall, 54% of the country sees it as fair. If Mueller ultimately releases a damning report and more than half the country believes it, Trump is going to have a problem in 2020. (V)

Maria Butina Wants to Plead Guilty

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina's lawyers have filed court documents asking for a hearing, so she can change her plea from "not guilty" to "guilty." She is charged with spying for the Russian government and sending information gathered from the NRA and her pretend boyfriend, conservative activist Paul Erickson, back to her handler in Russia, Alexander Torshin, former deputy governor of Russia's central bank.

It is possible that she made a plea deal, but normally when the government does that it gets something in return. There is no public evidence of what that might be. Russia clearly wants her back to prevent her from leaking too many secrets, but it may be too late for that. It is also possible that the government got nothing from her and she will plead guilty and be sent back to Russia immediately as a special favor from Donald Trump to his buddy Vladimir Putin. A hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, so we will probably know more then. (V)

Some GOP Lawmakers Want Another Autopsy

Just this weekend, we observed the striking disparity between the GOP's response to the thrashing it took in 2012 and its response to the one they just took last month. In the former case, the Party's pooh-bahs commissioned (and got) a no-holds-barred assessment of exactly what went wrong, and how it might be fixed. In the latter case, the members of the red team seem to have persuaded themselves that all is well, and that any reverses they suffered in November were a fluke, or the product of chicanery, or because they didn't go after Hillary Clinton quite enough.

Now, however, a few brave souls in the GOP are speaking truth to power, and demanding that another autopsy be produced. Leading the charge is Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who sent a letter on the subject to incoming NRCC chair Tom Emmer (R-MN). In part, the missive reads:

We fell short across multiple demographics, including women, who represent a growing segment of America's voting population. Minimizing or ignoring the root causes behind these historic losses will lead us to repeat them. We urge your support for the National Republican Congressional Committee to officially assess the reasons behind our party's historic losses and to develop recommendations for implementation moving forward.

The letter was also signed by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Kevin Yoder (R-KS).

This may be a sign that the GOP is getting over their shell-shock and is pulling their collective heads out of the sand. Or maybe not, since it's far from certain that autopsy v2.0 will be performed. It remains the case that many in the GOP think things are hunky-dory, and that they can ride the S.S. Trump for another six years with no problem. Further, Emmer is not particularly interested in taking cues from Stefanik, as they have butted heads many times before. He's also likely not too interested in the other signatories' opinions, particularly those of Curbelo and Yoder, since that duo lost their elections and will be out of office in another three weeks. Time will tell who wins this particular battle of the wills, but for now the smart money is probably on the "what, me worry?" faction. (Z)

Former Senators Urge the Senate To Do Its Job

It is entirely possible that Donald Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are the most dangerous one-two punch in American political history. Trump's interest in power only for power's sake, and his disdain for democratic institutions, are well documented. In theory, the Senate is supposed to work like an American House of Lords, and to be a calm and deliberative body that checks the worst excesses of the executive. Quite a few presidents who overreached (Wilson, FDR, etc.) or allowed their administrations to become enmeshed in corruption (Nixon, Harding, etc.) learned this the hard way. But in McConnell, the man in the best position to counter Trump, the President has found something of a kindred soul.

The Majority Leader, like the Donald, has always valued power only for power's sake. The next time McConnell sponsors a significant piece of legislation (i.e., anything more than renaming a post office) will also be the first time. He has spent his entire career figuring out how to get, and keep, power—nothing else matters. And while it was possible that a fellow who has held the post of majority leader longer than any other might develop a certain commitment to tradition, and to the Senate as an institution, that clearly did not happen with McConnell. He has ridden roughshod over normal order, from his stretching reconciliation to the breaking point, to sitting on the Merrick Garland nomination, to killing blue slips for judicial nominations—the list goes on and on. To the extent that McConnell protects any of the Senate's longstanding traditions, like the filibuster, it is only because he fears what will happen when the GOP is in the minority.

But just because McConnell does not care a whit about checks and balances does not mean that he's got the right of it. On Monday, 44 of his former colleagues, with more than 1,000 years of collective Senate service on their résumés, signed an op-ed in the Washington Post imploring the Senate to do its job. It reads, in part:

At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time.

Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography, as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.

The signatories are quite the all-star team. Among the Democrats are Max Baucus (MT), Evan Bayh (IN), Bill Bradley (NJ), Tom Daschle (CD), Tom Harkin (IA), Gary Hart (CO), John Kerry (MA), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Sam Nunn (GA), and Chuck Robb (VA). Among the Republicans are Ben Nighthorse Campbell (CO), Al D'Amato (NY), William Cohen (ME), John Danforth (MO), Chuck Hagel (NE), Richard Lugar (IN), and Alan Simpson (WY). Also signing was Joe Lieberman (CT); you can feel free to add him to either list.

Needless to say, a bunch of folks who are out of office have but a fraction of the influence of the same number of folks who are in office. However, if nearly four dozen of America's most distinguished Senate alumni sense so strongly that America is at a critical juncture in its history, it's probable that some current officeholders feel that way as well. Which suggests, in turn, that the tipping point where the current Senate says "McConnell be damned" may be considerably closer than the Majority Leader would like to believe. (Z)

Comey Calls on Americans To Oust Trump

The 44 Senators (see above) weren't the only "America first, party second" institutionalists to issue a call to action on Monday. Former FBI Director James Comey—who, remember, is a long-time registered Republican—did so as well. Delivering a speech in New York City, Comey declared that "All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021." He pretty much harangued the President for the next hour, while also opining that voting Trump out of office is the only healthy option for the Democracy, as he believes that impeachment would leave the base feeling as if a coup had taken place.

Who knows how much influence Comey still has, what with Democrats still angry about the last-minute Hillary Clinton e-mail announcement, and Republicans angry about pretty much everything Comey has done since then. In the short term, however, this will give the President more ammunition to use as he makes the case that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt (see above), that he was justified in getting rid of Comey, and that the "deep state" is out to get him. (Z)

Trump Has No Plan B for Chief of Staff

Donald Trump did something foolish that an experienced politician would never have done. He announced that he was firing his chief of staff, John Kelly, before he had a replacement lined up. He thought he could just swap in Mike Pence's chief, Nick Ayers, but he didn't bother to check with Ayers. When he did check, Ayers (who is astute enough to realize that when the subpoenas begin to fly on January 3, 2019, he would prefer to be at least 500 miles from D.C.) said "no, thanks." Instead, he is moving back to his native Georgia (the state, not the country, although with all the ties to people from the former USSR, you can be forgiven for not being sure). Trump did not foresee this, and does not have a Plan B.

It is not surprising that there are few volunteers. Whoever takes the job is going to have to hire a personal lawyer almost immediately to handle the conflict between what Trump expects and what the newly empowered Democratic House is going to demand. Yesterday, three of Trump's Plan C prospects—OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer—all made it known that they were perfectly happy where they were and had no interest in changing jobs.

One person who might take the job is Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the leader of the House Freedom Caucus. The reason Meadows is interested is that in a Democratic-controlled House, the Freedom Caucus will have zero power to blackmail the leadership, as it has been doing for years. So, time for a new gig. The main problem for Trump, although he may not realize it, is that in the course of the past 2 years, Meadows has made a lot of enemies in Congress and outside of it. These are people who would be delighted to see him fail and be thrown under the bus, the sooner the better. They can leak information detrimental to him, start circulating rumors, and more, just to make his life awful.

If Trump discovers this before making a pick, he could work his way down to the D-list to start looking for candidates, but finding someone who is up to the job, meets all the requirements, and is willing to do it won't be easy. The New York Daily News, Trump's hometown paper, thoughtfully decided to help out by running a "help wanted" ad for him, for free. On the front page, no less:

NYDN front page Dec. 11

Hopefully it will help Trump fill this key position quickly. (V)

When It Comes to Lying, Trump Boldly Goes Where No Man Has Gone Before

Donald Trump is a liar. To say such a thing, these days, requires no interpretation, no judgment, no argument to be made. It's simply a fact, one as well-established as "Trump likes to tweet," or "Trump is hard on his underlings."

Trump is such a liar, in fact, that he's left his predecessors in the dust. That's really something, given that all of his predecessors were politicians, and some of them were named Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson. And the secret of his success is not just how much he lies, but also how often he repeats the same lies. Actually, extreme repetition is kind of necessary for him. If you're going to tell more than 5,000 lies in two years, you have to go back to the same handful of wells quite a lot. Coming up with 5,000 different lies would take vast amounts of energy, and more "executive time" than even Trump has to spare.

Anyhow, the President's lying, and his repetition of the same lies, is so pervasive that the Washington Post had to come up with a new measurement. They already rate politicians' potentially-dubious statements with a score of zero to four Pinocchios. Now, however, they have created the "bottomless Pinocchio." Here is their definition:

The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong.

Thus far, 14 statements have qualified for "bottomless Pinocchio" status, and every single one of them came from the mouth of the same fellow. In most cases, the lies have cleared the fairly high bar set by the Post with room to spare. For example, Trump has repeated his single-favorite lie—that the tax cut was the biggest in history—123 times. Soon, it may be necessary to start borrowing from the convention used by the RIAA, and certifying a lie each time it passes the told-20-times barrier. Like, the tax lie could be a bottomless Pinocchio, six-times platinum. It could be the "Dark Side of the Moon" of lies.

Anyhow, it's hardly news that Donald Trump is truth-challenged. However, it is worth pausing every once in a while to remember exactly how truth-challenged he is, and how he has absolutely no antecedents in U.S. history. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec10 Ayers: Thanks, But No Thanks
Dec10 Jerrold Nadler: An Order to Make Illegal Payments Would Be an Impeachable Offense
Dec10 Rubio: It Would Be a Huge Political Mistake for Trump to Pardon Manafort
Dec10 Fourteen of Trump's Associates Talked to Russians During the Campaign or Transition
Dec10 Kushner Advised Saudis after Khashoggi's Death
Dec10 The Calendar Will Change the Democratic Party's Primary Process Dramatically
Dec10 Monday Q&A
Dec09 Republicans Are Getting Worried
Dec09 Kelly's Demise Is Official
Dec09 Republicans in Denial, Part 1: The Comey Hearing
Dec09 Republicans in Denial, Part 2: Rasmussen and the Midterms
Dec09 Republicans in Denial, Part 3: California
Dec09 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: John Delaney
Dec08 The Walls Just Got Much Closer
Dec08 Trump Picks William Barr as Attorney General
Dec08 Nauert Under Scrutiny
Dec08 Kelly Is No Longer on Speaking Terms with Trump
Dec08 Pelosi Suggests Two New Members of the House Might Not Be Seated
Dec08 Trump Advisers Fear a Recession by 2020
Dec08 Tillerson Unloads on Trump and Vice Versa
Dec07 Supreme Court Hears a Double Jeopardy Case
Dec07 Arrest of Chinese Executive Makes a Messy Situation Messier
Dec07 Trump Employs an Undocumented Housekeeper
Dec07 Haley Replacement: It's Nauert, of Course
Dec07 Manchin Will Be Ranking Member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee
Dec07 Trump Tries to Save Coal, Is Doomed to Fail
Dec07 Valadao Concedes
Dec06 Bush Is Memorialized, and Yet Trump Becomes the Story
Dec06 Takeaways from Mueller's Memo about Michael Flynn
Dec06 Maryland and D.C. AGs Subpoena Trump's Businesses
Dec06 Roger Stone Keeps Seeking the Limelight
Dec06 Two Down, 40 to Go
Dec06 Sanders Looks to Be Gearing up for 2020, but Maybe He Shouldn't
Dec06 Thursday Q&A
Dec05 Flynn Spilled His Guts
Dec05 NRCC Says it Was Hacked
Dec05 Trump: I Am the "Tariff Man"
Dec05 Trade War Has Cost Nebraska Farmers a Billion Dollars So Far
Dec05 GOP Senators Are Hopping Mad About Saudi Arabia
Dec05 Democrats Lost Florida Because They Took Latinos for Granted
Dec05 Democratic Governors: Opposing Trump Is Not Enough
Dec05 House Democrats May Not Seat Mark Harris in January
Dec04 Trump Wants to Withdraw from NAFTA
Dec04 Nielsen Appears Safe for Now
Dec04 Trump Attacks Cohen, Praises Stone
Dec04 Bush Wanted Trump at His Funeral
Dec04 Republican Legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin Try to Weaken Incoming Governor
Dec04 NC-09 Just Keeps Getting Shadier
Dec04 Iowa Democratic Leaders Want a Young 2020 Candidate
Dec03 The Real Reason the Government Shutdown Has Been Delayed