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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Cohen Gets 3 Years
      •  National Enquirer Turns on Trump
      •  House Republicans Are Mulling Their Budget Options
      •  Trump Just Made It More Dangerous for Americans to Travel Abroad
      •  Meadows Is No Longer a Chief of Staff Candidate
      •  McConnell Has a Secret Weapon for 2020: Dope
      •  Thursday Q&A

PW logo Trump Discusses Chief of Staff Job with Christie
Candidate Hired Aide at Center of Ballot Fraud
McCarthy Asks Democrats to Embrace Bipartisanship
McSally Loses Favor for Senate Appointment
Sanders and Warren Meet Ahead of 2020 Campaign
Kushner Under Consideration for Chief of Staff

Cohen Gets 3 Years

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's fixer for over a decade, wasn't able to fix his own situation. So, he got 3 years in prison as a result. Cohen's problem is that he tried to have it both ways: He was disloyal enough to Trump that a pardon will not be forthcoming, but not candid enough with the feds to get a recommendation of no prison time (like former NSA Michael Flynn got). Trying to straddle the fence when you are playing in the big leagues against pros doesn't work. Cohen wasn't smart enough to realize that.

And prison time isn't even the whole story. Cohen will also have to forfeit $500,000 in assets and pay $1.4 million in back taxes. So, that's 3 years in the big house and nearly $2 million for the privilege of being thrown under the bus. Perhaps business is conducted differently in New York City, but from where we sit, that seems like a pretty poor deal.

In a prepared statement read after the sentencing, Cohen noted that his weakness was a blind loyalty to Trump. Literally, he said: "Time and time again I felt it as my duty to cover up his dirty deeds." It's a bit late now to discover that might not have been the best use of a law degree. About 10 years ago would have been the right time.

The sight of the president's former "lawyer" being sentenced to prison resulted in a long line of reporters who wanted to get in and see this first hand. The courtroom was overflowing. However, one person who got a seat was Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer. Daniels received hush-money from Cohen and she is currently suing to get out of the agreement.

Although Cohen is a medium-sized fish, his sentencing does not bode well for the Big Fish. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) summed that up by saying: "Anytime a former lawyer of yours goes to jail it's probably not a good day." (V)

National Enquirer Turns on Trump

Michael Cohen isn't the only one whose journey from "hush-payment-making Trump ally" to "Donald who?" made headlines on Wednesday. Those who pay attention to such things have noticed that the National Enquirer—which, for a period of time, had near-weekly covers lionizing Donald Trump and/or savaging his enemies—has stopped paying the President much attention, and has returned to its steady diet of celebrity gossip (non-presidential division). There goes one of the Donald's most effective propaganda machines.

But it's worse than that. Much worse, actually. On Wednesday, it was announced that the muckety-mucks at the Enquirer, including publisher and (former?) Trump friend David Pecker, have agreed to spill their guts. Apparently, they are a little smarter than Cohen, because they have been granted total immunity in exchange for sharing whatever dirt they have on the President.

The specifics of what they might have are not known, beyond the fact that the tabloid helped kill the story about Trump's dalliances with playmate Karen McDougal. However, Pecker & Co. have been working as fixers, of a sort, for Trump for many years. And prosecutors don't hand out immunity unless they're getting something good in return. So, odds are that further sex scandals are coming down the pike, along with who knows what else? (Z)

House Republicans Are Mulling Their Budget Options

About a quarter of the federal government will shut down on Dec. 21 unless Congress passes a bill to fund it. Currently, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is considering two options:

  • A short-term funding bill for a couple of weeks that includes $5 billion for The Wall
  • A full-year funding bill packed with red meat for conservatives plus The Wall

Neither of these has a chance to pass the Senate since Democrats would filibuster it. But there are only 9 days left to do something.

In addition to the problem of finding a bill that could pass both chambers, Republicans have a bit of an attendance problem. There are the 40 seats that flipped, as well as a number of seats in which the current Republican occupant will be replaced by another Republican. The Republicans who aren't coming back have a bit of a morale problem, and some of them have already left town. Their votes may be needed to get to 218 and the ones who feel that Donald Trump was responsible for their defeat may not feel inclined to come back to bail him out now.

Also a factor is Trump's statement on Tuesday that he will take responsibility if the government shuts down. Of course, he won't. He never takes responsibility, but the Senate Democrats might feel emboldened enough to let a shutdown happen and see who gets blamed. So, there is no obvious solution in sight right now. Things like this are why the Speaker will soon be the ex-Speaker. (V)

Trump Just Made It More Dangerous for Americans to Travel Abroad

Last week, apparently at the instigation of the Trump administration, Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Chinese tech behemoth Huawei, and also the daughter of its founder. The reason given was that Huawei has been circumventing Trump's sanctions on Iran, and this was a way to punish them. The response, at the time, was that arresting Meng was like stirring up a hornet's nest, given the United States' already tense relationship with the Chinese. But there's no situation that Donald Trump can't make measurably worse, it would seem. And so, on Wednesday, he revealed what is apparently the next part of his plan: He's willing to send Meng back to China, in exchange for concessions from the Chinese government.

If the President does not realize what a supremely bad idea this is—just saying it out loud, much less actually going through with it—then he is the most naive person ever to hold his esteemed office. If Meng really is credibly accused, she should go on trial, and if she's not, she should never have been arrested. But beyond that, is it not immediately obvious that a stunt like this would invite every country that dislikes the U.S. to begin a tit-for-tat, and to start arresting Americans on trumped up charges (no pun intended) in order to gain quick and easy leverage over the United States?

To the surprise of nobody outside the Oval Office, everybody responded badly to the President's announcement. The Canadians, national security experts, Republican and Democratic members of Congress, op-ed writers, the works. With that kind of response (not to mention that the Canadians are the ones who actually have Meng in their jurisdiction), it's unlikely that Trump will move forward with the plan. As noted, however, he did enormous damage just by floating the idea, since he affirmed that he and his administration consider this to be an appropriate exercise of national power. Would it be all that surprising if, for example, the Iranians arrested a handful of U.S. businessmen today, and announced that they would be happy to let them go, but only if the sanctions are lifted? Certainly, they would have a lot more cover for doing so than they had 48 hours ago. (Z)

Meadows Is No Longer a Chief of Staff Candidate

Donald Trump's first pick for his new chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said "No, thanks!" and bought a one-way plane ticket to Georgia. Trump's second choice, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), is now out of the running as well, although it is not clear what happened. Did Trump change his mind? Did Meadows refuse, or else demand conditions unacceptable to Trump? There was no explanation forthcoming from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She merely said: "Congressman Mark Meadows is a great friend to President Trump and is doing an incredible job in Congress."

Other candidates who have said they don't want the job are Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. So Trump will now have to look carefully at his #6 choice, whoever that might be. Although Trump promised to hire only the best people, sometimes you can't get the best...or the second best, or the third best, or the fourth or fifth best. So you look further down the list. Former governor Chris Christie needs a job and would probably accept and so would David Bossie, the brain behind the Citizens United court case. And if they ultimately say no, Trump claims to have a list of 10 or 12 really top people who are clamoring for the job. Odds are he keeps that list in the same drawer with his secret plan to defeat ISIS, and the outline for his "terrific" Obamacare replacement. (V)

McConnell Has a Secret Weapon for 2020: Dope

Well, almost. Hemp, to be precise. It is a somewhat different strain of Cannabis sativa than your garden variety pot, and does not have as much of a psychoactive effect, but it's enough that it is banned in the U.S. Now, McConnell has shepherded a bill through Congress to legalize hemp, which has myriad industrial uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, insulation, fuel, animal feed, and many more. The bill was popular with the right because libertarian-leaning members of Congress don't like the government telling farmers what they may and may not grow, and it was popular with the left because hemp is a cheap and very environmentally friendly product that grows quickly and degrades just as quickly.

Why did McConnell make a big effort to help marijuana's first cousin become legal? It's simple: He knows he will be one of the Democrats' top targets in 2020. He also knows that smoking is becoming less popular and this is hurting Kentucky's tobacco farmers. By getting hemp legalized, the farmers can switch to a new product, hemp, that will instantly be in high demand as soon as Donald Trump signs the legalization bill this week. Come 2020, McConnell is going to remind those farmers that they may not be raising pigs, but that he nonetheless saved their bacon. (V)

Thursday Q&A

Donald Trump certainly does give rise to a lot of questions about unorthodox or unprecedented situations.

Why wouldn't the Vice President, assuming like-mindedness and loyalty, be an ideal Chief of Staff? J.J.M., Waterbury, CT

Well, there is much to recommend that arrangement. Most vice presidents haven't done much, beyond calling the White House each morning to check that the president is still alive. That group certainly seems to include Mike Pence, who apparently sent a cardboard cutout of himself to Tuesday's big meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). So, in Pence we have a fellow who has lots of spare time, and yet who is probably pretty dialed in and politically shrewd, and who would benefit from being "in the loop" in case something happened to the Big Cheese. These things are also true of most of the other 47 VPs.

We can think of four reasons it's never happened. The first is that it's very unorthodox, and most presidents shy away from unorthodox hirings. The second is that a large number of presidents and veeps don't actually like and/or respect each other (a group that may well include Pence and Donald Trump). The third is that the era of the chief of staff (which began with Harry S. Truman) coincides a fair bit with the rise of the VP as a useful partner (LBJ, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden, among others, actually did have useful things to do during the day). And fourth, and finally, is a practical consideration: It is often necessary for the president and chief of staff to travel together, and it is illegal for the president and vice president to do so.

Could two people from different parties split the presidential ticket? Being of a certain persuasion, I'll hypothesize a moderate Democrat for President and a fiscally-but-not-socially conservative Republican for VP. Or would this be impossible/self-defeating/just plain stupid? J.G., West End, NC

Let's begin with the last part of the question. It's certainly not impossible, but it probably is self-defeating in most circumstances. The goal, of course, is to attract votes to your ticket. And in the circumstances you describe, a Republican VP (who would essentially be a token) would not be terribly likely to attract Republican defectors, since most Republicans would undoubtedly prefer a Republican-Republican ticket to a Democrat-Republican ticket. Meanwhile, it might aggravate enough Democrats to cause them to vote third party or to stay home. Of course, this is all somewhat speculative, since the only person who gave serious thought to a split ticket in recent years was Republican John McCain, who wanted to run with Independent/Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2008. He was talked out of it by his GOP advisors, however, and went with the eminent Sarah Palin instead.

In the 19th century, by contrast, split tickets were not unheard of, and were successful a number of times. One might technically count the election of 1796 as a split ticket, since it resulted in the election of a Federalist in President John Adams and a Democratic-Republican in Thomas Jefferson. However, since there weren't really party tickets back then, and since Adams and Jefferson most certainly did not run as a "team," that's somewhat stretching it. Not stretching it at all, on the other hand, are the two victorious Whig tickets (William Henry Harrison and John Tyler in 1840, and Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore in 1848). In both cases, the ticket was headed by a Whig, and then had a non-Whig in the #2 spot (Tyler was a Democrat, and Fillmore was a political chameleon who was basically an Anti-Mason at that time). The most famous split ticket was in 1864, when Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Andrew Johnson were elected. For purposes of appearances, they called themselves the National Union ticket, but everyone understood what was going on.

There is another, similar kind of arrangement that is possible. A major party can advance a ticket with a candidate for president and a member of their party for VP, and a third party can advance a ticket with the same candidate for president and a member of their party for VP. That is what happened in 1896, when the Democratic ticket was Populist-leaning-Democrat William Jennings Bryan and Democrat Arthur Sewall, and the Populist ticket was Bryan and Populist Thomas Watson. This allowed Democrats to vote "their" ticket and Populists to vote "their" ticket, with Bryan ultimately getting all the votes, and the two veeps splitting them. Of course, the Democrats and the Populists both lost that election, making Bryan a double loser. Sad!

We suspect that what you're really thinking about, however, is some sort of fusion ticket in 2020 with, say, a John Hickenlooper (D) and a John Kasich (R). In that case, they would not get the backing of either major party, and would have to run as a third party. In turn, that would either force them to pretend to be Libertarians or Greens or whatever, or else would force them to hustle to even get on the ballot in all (or most) of the 50 states. Then, after all that, they would have zero chance of winning. At best, they might play spoiler for Donald Trump by stealing some GOP votes and allowing the Democrats to win certain states' electoral votes with a plurality rather than a majority (Ohio, we're looking at you).

Assuming Mike Pence is forced to resign (for whatever reason), the Democratic House then has leverage to force a new VP on Trump if they confirm one at all. Who might be the best person from their perspective to foist upon Trump? M.G., Washington, DC

We must caution, once again, that it is unlikely that Pence will be forced from office. But we will imagine that he is, just for the sake of argument. Your use of the term "foist" suggests that the blue team would and should look to cause maximum pain for the President. However, that's probably not the wisest way to think about things. If the Democrats really did say something like "It's Pelosi or it's nobody," then Trump would just make no nomination, and would take his chances on living until 2020. Alternatively, he would nominate that person, let them be approved, ignore them, and then use them as a rallying point at his campaign events. So, the Democrats would have gained little, and would have handed Trump some potent political ammunition.

The shrewder thing to do would be to negotiate someone who might persuade Trump to behave more presidentially, and who might even sell the President on the virtue of some Democratic policies. That means you'd need someone whom Trump might actually respect, which probably means a white man. It would probably help if he was somewhat centrist, and he was someone who could speak Trump's language. Maybe Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)? Or Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)? Or Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)? Of course, the latter two, and particularly Manchin, would essentially be throwing a Senate seat away, and the Dems might not go for that.

In the increasingly likely case that Trump and Pence get impeached, it is my understanding that Nancy Pelosi would become president, as she is almost sure to be the next Speaker of the House. My question is: When President Pelosi is sworn in, who would be her Vice President? R.B., Erie, PA

A nice companion to the previous question! Again, with the caveat that it's unlikely that the presidency and vice presidency become simultaneously vacant, there are two possible answers to your question.

The first answer: The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 has verbiage that suggests that the vice president becomes president upon the death or disqualification of the president, but that anyone else becomes only the acting president. It is possible to interpret that as saying that the Speaker would not actually be "promoted" and so would not be entitled to nominate a new veep.

It is unlikely that the law actually would be interpreted in that way, however, as there are myriad issues that would arise from allowing someone to have only quasi-presidential status. So, the second way to answer the question is: If Nancy Pelosi assumes all the powers of the presidency, whom would she choose as her #2? Given that she would presumably have acquired the presidency under circumstances that left many Americans unhappy, and possibly rioting (or on the verge of doing so), the best guess here is that she would make a "heal the country" kind of pick. That is to say, she would choose a Republican, presumably a moderate who has some support in the GOP, and who had little to nothing to do with Trump or Trumpism. Someone like John Kasich, or maybe Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

You recently wrote that Mitch McConnell has held the post of Senate Majority Leader "longer than any other." I'm wondering if you could put that into some kind of context—objective and subjective alike. Firstly, is it in fact true that McConnell is the record holder, and what other majority leaders in the history of the U.S. Senate came close to the length of McConnell's tenure, if at all? From a subjective perspective, I'm wondering if you might assess briefly the pros and cons of having the same leader in office for such a relatively long time? O.L., West Chester, PA

Sorry, we fumbled our wording a bit there. In June, he surpassed Bob Dole as the longest-serving leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, having been in that position for 11 years. He's only been Majority Leader for the last 3 of those (soon to be 4). The longest-serving leader of either party, and the longest-serving majority leader, is actually Mike Mansfield, who held the job for 16 years from 1961-77. Three other Democrats have led their party in the Senate longer than McConnell has led his, namely Joe T. Robinson (1923-37), Alben Barkley (1937-49, so he's about to get caught by McConnell), Robert Byrd (1977-89, so he's about to get caught, too). You will undoubtedly notice that all of these folks served in the last century; that is because neither party chose a floor leader in the Senate until the 1920s.

The three most important skills that a majority leader can have, in some order, are knowledge of parliamentary procedure, ability to network, and ability to fundraise. As a general rule, the longer someone serves in the job, the better they get at all of these things. So, that's the upside to a long term of service (at least, from the vantage point of the party the person belongs to). The downside is that the longer they serve, the better they get at abusing all of these things (as McConnell has so aptly demonstrated).

I keep reading that one of President Trump's favorite lies is stating that his tax cut is the greatest in history. So, if he is lying, what was the greatest tax cut in our history? K.L., New York, NY

Different tax cuts affect different segments of the populace, and different sectors of the economy, and involve different valuations of the U.S. dollar, of course. So, the generally accepted way to compare tax cuts across eras, in terms of their extent, is to calculate how much money was returned to the private sector and/or private citizens, and then to compare that to overall GDP. Here's a chart of the biggest tax cuts in history calculated by that method, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Tax cuts over time, pct of GDP

As you can see, the Trump tax cut is in 8th place (the black bar), and is barely 30% of the actual biggest tax cut in U.S. history, namely the Reagan tax cut of 1981. Also of interest, given the alleged priorities of the two parties, is that the next six on the list all came under Democrats. And finally, don't tell the President this, but Barack Obama gave out two tax cuts larger than his, including one that was twice as large in 2013.

Another way to calculate it is by taking the amount of money returned to the private sector and/or private citizens annually, and to adjust that for inflation. The good news for Trump is that if you do it that way, his cut moves up to fourth on the list:

Tax cuts over time, inflation adj dollars

The bad news for Trump is that Obama's cuts move up to #1 and #2 using this method. So, any way you look at it, Obama's is bigger than Trump's.

In 2009, the Democrats had 256 seats in the House, 60 seats in the Senate, and the Presidency. Yet they failed to be able to add even a weak public option in the healthcare exchanges. If the Democrats are swept back into power in 2020, how likely is it we will see Medicare-for-All (a key campaign issue now for the Democrats) or a form of it pass Congress in 2021? S.W., Fort Worth, TX

The unlikely part of this scenario is the Democrats getting a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. It is hard to see how that happens anytime soon.

But, let us consider the matter hypothetically, just in case it does somehow happen. Possibly the biggest reason we did not see Medicare-for-All, or anything like it, in 2009, is that Barack "No Drama" Obama tried to follow through on his campaign promise of bipartisanship, and he chose the approach favored by the conservative Heritage Foundation (and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney), as opposed to the approach favored by progressives. We know how much goodwill that got Obama from the right side of the aisle.

If the circumstances of 2009 were to repeat themselves—Democratic trifecta, veto-proof majority—then we think it's pretty likely they would take a serious crack at Medicare-for-all. The Democrats of that (distant?) future would have two things that they did not have in 2009: The fable of Barack Obama and the olive branch to learn from, and considerably greater public support for major changes to the healthcare system.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec12 Trump Would Be Proud to Shut Down the Government
Dec12 Pelosi Will Trade Term Limits for Speaker's Gavel
Dec12 Trump Administration Buried Wells Fargo Report
Dec12 Judge Orders Stormy Daniels to Pay Trump's Attorneys Nearly $300,000
Dec12 Stay President To Stay out of Prison?
Dec12 New Hampshire GOP Wants to Rig the Primary
Dec12 Beto O'Rourke Tops Straw Poll
Dec11 Trump Calls Hush-Money Payments "A Simple Private Transaction"
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