• Pelosi Will Trade Term Limits for Speaker's Gavel
• Trump Administration Buried Wells Fargo Report
• Judge Orders Stormy Daniels to Pay Trump's Attorneys Nearly $300,000
• Stay President To Stay out of Prison?
• New Hampshire GOP Wants to Rig the Primary
• Beto O'Rourke Tops MoveOn.org Straw Poll
Once again, Donald Trump proved that he is the most unconventional president ever. Yesterday he held a negotiation session with the Democratic leaders of Congress—Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—on live television. He tried to convince them to agree to put $5 billion in the budget for his border wall. They refused. Then he said: "I will be the one to shut [the government] down. I'm not going to blame you for it." That is an extraordinary statement.
If the two parties can't come together, about a quarter of the government will shut down on Dec. 21 and the Democrats now have a recording of Trump accepting the blame. If there is a partial shutdown, many people will be inconvenienced and the Democrats are going to be playing the recording of Trump accepting the blame over and over. But even without a recording, the Republicans were going to take the blame, since they control the whole show in D.C. until Jan. 3, 2019. The meeting went nowhere and there is no indication that either side is planning to budge. If neither one does, there will be a shutdown just before Christmas. The usual option—kicking the can down the road—is an unattractive one for Trump because getting a bill through a Democratic House will be vastly harder than getting one through a Republican House.
The other big storyline, beyond Trump accepting responsibility for a government shutdown, was that the reality TV star got outplayed on live TV. Here are some of the headlines:
- CNN: The reality TV president just got beat at his own game
- Esquire: Trump's WWE Event in the Oval Office Turned Into a Massive Self-Own
- Slate: Awkward Oval Office Fight With Trump Produces Exactly What Pelosi and Schumer Came For
- Washington Post: While Trump mansplained, Pelosi illustrated her case for a 'woman at the table'
- Washington Post: Trump has already lost the shutdown fight
Beyond the fact that Trump allowed himself to be maneuvered into a corner, he also made statements that not even the base can take seriously (like bragging that Mexico is still going to pay for the wall), he looked generally weak, and he failed to grasp when he was being made the butt of jokes. For example, Schumer opened the door for the President to do some bragging about the recent Senate elections, and of course Trump took the bait. That was what the Senator was waiting for, as he turned to the camera and said, "When the president brags he has won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble." Trump didn't get that he was being mocked, and replied "We did win North Dakota and Indiana!" Here's the video:
It would seem that Trump eventually came to realize that he lost the battle, though, because at the end of the meeting (after the cameras were off), he reportedly stormed out of the room, throwing a folder full of papers over his head as he left.
Already there are takeaways from the meeting. Here is the list from the New York Times:
- Trump knows tension makes good television
- This is what divided government looks like
- Schumer knows how to goad Trump
- Mansplain to Pelosi at your peril
- Trump would own a shutdown
The last one is the key one. The Democrats know that if there is a shutdown, it is going to hurt Trump much more than it will hurt them. As a consequence, they are not likely to fear it in subsequent negotiations and are not going to give in without extracting major concessions from Trump. For example, they might demand that the budget bill also contain a section granting all the dreamers permanent residence, with a guaranteed path to citizenship after, say, 5 years. If the Democrats demand it go in the budget bill, Trump won't be able to renege later; it will be law as soon as he signs the bill. If he refuses, the government will shut down and it will be the "Trump shutdown." The Great Negotiator just painted himself into a corner with no way out.
Senators from both parties were stunned by Trump's claiming responsibility for the shutdown in advance. They know something he apparently does not know: Shutdowns are not popular and you try to blame them on the other party. For example, when Senate Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) was asked if he watched the exchange, he said: "I did, unfortunately. I wish I didn't."
Most likely, Schumer will eventually wind up in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), where they will hammer out a deal. It will then be up to McConnell to sell it to Trump as a huge win. When Trump watches coverage of the deal on Fox News later, he's going to yell at McConnell (whom he can't fire) and the Kentuckian is going to have to patiently explain that if there is a shutdown, the Republicans—and especially Trump—will own it.
Shortly after leaving the meeting, Pelosi questioned Trump's manhood, something she knows is sure to get his goat. She said: "It's like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing." She also suggested that he pray for guidance, knowing full well that Trump—though the darling of evangelicals—prays about as often as Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Trump didn't always get along with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), but dealing with Pelosi, one of the sharpest and most experienced politicians in town, is going to be a whole new experience for him. He is not used to dealing with women as equals and this particular one is tough as nails and, based on Tuesday's meeting, a fair bit shrewder than he is. (V & Z)
Nancy Pelosi is having a pretty big week. In addition to her meeting with Donald Trump (see above), she and her caucus are putting the final touches on a deal that will officially return the speaker's gavel to her. The plan is that the caucus, including most or all of the "anybody but Pelosi" rebels, will vote for her for Speaker. In exchange, top Democratic leaders will henceforth be limited to three terms in any given position, with past terms counting toward the total, and a third term requiring a two-thirds vote of the caucus (as opposed to the simple majority required for terms one and two). The upshot is that Pelosi would be given two more years as Speaker, would probably get two more years in 2020 if the Democrats hold the House, and then she would be done. As she will be 82 at that point, that's probably not too hard a pill to swallow.
This change would bring the Democrats pretty much into line with how the Republicans do things, except that the Republicans also limit committee chairs to three terms (in addition to party leadership), while the Democrats may or may not decide to do so (depending on whom you believe). The benefit to term limits is that it allows a constant churn of new perspectives, approaches, and ideas, and also that it creates more opportunities for ambitious members of the House. The downside is that there are certain benefits to having battle-tested veterans running the show, as Pelosi just demonstrated in her meeting with Trump. Nearly every Speaker who has been considered among the greats—Henry Clay (11 years), Sam Rayburn (17 years), Joe Cannon (8 years), John William McCormack (9 years), Tip O'Neill (10 years)—exceeded the Democrats' newly-established limits. So, there is certainly a downside to this new approach. Still, the news should please most Democratic voters, particularly those who think the older/more establishment members of the Party are getting in the way and are holding the blue team back. (Z)
There is little doubt as to who the real masters of the GOP in general, and the Trump administration in particular, are. For all the populist talk of the last few years, this is and has been a Party of what nineteenth-century Americans called the "moneyed interests" for quite a long time. The Democrats' hands are hardly clean on this front, either (ahem, pharmaceutical companies), but they are also nowhere near as dirty as the hands of the Republicans.
We got another reminder of this on Tuesday, when—in response to a Freedom of Information Act request—the Trump administration was compelled to release a report they had tried to bury. No, not one on global warming. That was the report they tried to bury a couple of weeks ago. This one is about Wells Fargo, a.k.a. America's shadiest bank, and how they exploited students with excessively high fees and interest rates on credit cards. Wells extracted more money per student than any other bank the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) looked at—placing the notorious bank in "first place" out of...600. This, of course, would be the same bank that got caught red-handed opening accounts for people who did not want them, and then charging huge overdraft fees when those accounts became overdrawn. Also the same bank that misled people about their mortgage payments, and then foreclosed on their houses.
It is hard to imagine anyone could take the side of Wells Fargo over a bunch of cash-strapped college students who are just trying to better themselves. That seems like taking sides with King Kong, and saying that the blonde got what she asked for. In any case, siding with Wells Fargo, and against the students, is exactly what Team Trump tried to do. The only reason the report saw the light of day is that former CFPB staffer Seth Frotman brought attention to the matter before quitting in protest earlier this year. Of course, now that folks know (once again) what Wells Fargo was up to, they should expect the bank to get a very stern talking to, and maybe even another slap on the wrist. Kind of like the last several times they've been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Anything beyond that is not terribly likely before Jan. 20, 2021. (Z)
Stormy Daniels has filed two lawsuits against Donald Trump. The first one, which is still pending, is to void the nondisclosure agreement she signed in return for $150,000 in hush money. The second one accused Trump of defaming her. She lost that one, and the judge ordered her to pay $293,052 in fees and costs to Trump's lawyers.
Trump's lawyers had asked for $800,000, so it was only a partial win for Trump. Still, a partial win is much better than a loss. The verdict in the second suit is unlikely to have any effect on the first one, though, since the underlying issues are very different. (V)
Given that Donald Trump does not like to be president, and that every day in office brings him another bundle of troubles, there has been much speculation about how he might decide to chuck the whole thing and go back home to New York. He could resign, of course, or he could just choose not to stand for reelection in 2020.
In a piece published Tuesday, CNN's Chris Cillizza observes that such speculation might well be missing the point. As much as Trump might hate being president, he would hate being in prison even more. And given that several different kinds of walls are closing in, and that criminal liability of various sorts is a real possibility, the Donald may do everything in his power to stay in office until January 2025, just so he can avoid prosecution (for as long as is possible, at least).
This analysis, of course, is based on the notion that the president of the United States cannot be indicted while in office. And Cillizza's not wrong about that being the general notion. He may also very well be right about Trump's current thinking. But while we are not lawyers around here, we are not so sure that the whole "the president cannot be indicted" thing will actually stand up to scrutiny if put to the test. This is not a law, or even the result of a court decision. It is merely a Justice Department policy, established during the Nixon years and affirmed during the Clinton years. The general purpose was to protect presidents, particularly the shady ones, from wasting their valuable time dealing with lawsuits while trying to lead the free world.
There are at least two big problems that occur to us, however. The first is that the Supreme Court has already established, in Clinton v. Jones, that a president is not immune from civil lawsuits. Does it really make sense that the president is subject to civil law, but not criminal law? The second issue is that most federal crimes carry a five-year statute of limitations. That would theoretically mean that a president who is re-elected is almost entirely not subject to federal criminal law for the first three years of his term, unless he commits a really big crime with a longer limit (like treason or murder). Surely nobody would argue that the president is above most federal laws, especially for only the first 37.5% of his term.
If the Justice Dept. has a guideline that says "no indicting the president," then they presumably won't indict the President, especially while the Department is being run by Trump appointees. But we are not at all clear that Trump could not be charged for state-level crimes at any time. And if he's engaged in money laundering, or tax shenanigans, or fraud, or other such behaviors, he's undoubtedly run afoul of a few state laws in New York or New Jersey or Florida. Obviously, no state AG has tried it yet, in part because they are undoubtedly waiting for the Mueller investigation to run its course. But once the investigation is complete, and in particular if it looks like the Senate is going to let Trump skate on one or more crimes, it would not be a surprise to see AG-elect Letitia James (D-NY) or AG Gurbir Grewal (D-NJ) attempt to try him. After all, the worst that happens is that the Supreme Court says "nope." In any case, the point is that Trump may not be as "safe" staying in office as he and his lawyers think. (Z)
In a very strange move, New Hampshire Republicans aligned with Donald Trump want to change the rules of the hallowed New Hampshire Primary to allow the Party to endorse a candidate before people go to the polls, something it has never done before. The candidate they have in mind is a fellow named Donald Trump.
A New Hampshire GOP endorsement wouldn't stop a potential opponent—say, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)—from running against Trump in the primary, but it would generate a lot of ill will among New Hampshire's notoriously cantankerous voters, who don't like being told what to do. The ploy could easily backfire spectacularly if the state's Republicans voted for some challenger, simply to send the state party a message. If Trump were to lose the first primary, or even if he were to barely win it, it would announce to other potential challengers that he was vulnerable, and the dam could break, with candidates flooding into the race.
Neither Kasich nor any other Republican has announced a run. Kasich did say that he has no timeline for announcing a bid. The Governor has visited the Granite State twice and spoken with local officials. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has also visited New Hampshire recently, but the fact that he didn't seek reelection for fear of losing his own primary makes him an extremely weak potential candidate. (V)
In a straw poll, MoveOn.org, which is a potent fundraising machine, asked its members whom they preferred for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. The winner? "Don't know or other," with 28.8%. Among actual potential candidates, the top 10 were:Beto O'Rourke: 15.6%
Joe Biden: 14.9%
Bernie Sanders: 13.1%
Kamala Harris: 10.0%
Elizabeth Warren: 6.4%
Sherrod Brown: 2.9%
Amy Klobuchar: 2.8%
Michael Bloomberg: 2.7%
Cory Booker: 2.6%
However, it is extremely early in the process, so this means very little. Right now it is mostly a matter of name recognition, and O'Rourke has been in the news a lot lately. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec11 SCOTUS Gives Win to Planned Parenthood
Dec11 Trump's Base Believes Mueller Is on a Witch Hunt
Dec11 Maria Butina Wants to Plead Guilty
Dec11 Some GOP Lawmakers Want Another Autopsy
Dec11 Former Senators Urge the Senate To Do Its Job
Dec11 Comey Calls on Americans To Oust Trump
Dec11 Trump Has No Plan B for Chief of Staff
Dec11 When It Comes to Lying, Trump Boldly Goes Where No Man Has Gone Before
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