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Congress Reconvenes and Nothing Happens

Congress met again yesterday and did nothing except speculate on what is going to happen when the Democrats take over the House next week. The chance of a deal before Jan. 3rd is now just about zero. The members have been told that they are on 24-hour recall, and no recall has been issued, as yet. So, there most certainly won't be a vote today. Then, we hit a run of weekend days and holidays, followed by the Democrats taking over the House.

No one knows what will happen on Jan. 3rd, but the most likely scenario is that the House passes a budget bill with no funding for the wall on the Mexican border and sends it over to the Senate. Then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to make a decision: Pass the bill and make it Trump's problem or kill it in the Senate and take ownership himself. The shutdown of a quarter of the government could go on for weeks if Trump vetoes bill after bill. That is especially likely if incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi decides to play with him by inserting language in the bill authorizing him to spend all the money he gets from Mexico on the wall. Or maybe language ordering him to negotiate with Mexico about paying for the wall. (V)

Federal Government Advising Its Workers on How to Deal with Creditors

About 800,000 federal workers are going to start missing their paychecks very soon. All of them have bills to pay, like rent or mortgages, and creditors want their money on time, shutdown or no shutdown. Fortunately, the federal government has come to their rescue. It has posted online a letter the employees can send to their creditors:

I am a Federal employee who has recently been furloughed due to a lack of funding of my agency. Because of this, my income has been severely cut and I am unable to pay the entire cost of my mortgage, along with my other expenses.

The government also posted two other sample letters along with the advice that the affected employees should hire a lawyer to help them. Of course, employees who can't pay the rent or the mortgage are not likely to have enough spare money lying around to pay a lawyer. But the government was just trying to be helpful. (V)

Poll: More Blame Trump for Shutdown than Democrats

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released yesterday shows that 47% of Americans hold Donald Trump responsible for the shutdown, while 33% blame the congressional Democrats. Only 35% want to include the $5 billion Trump wants for the wall in the bill. And only 25% support Trump's shutting down the government over the matter.

That last number is probably the most important one. The 35% who want the wall and the 33% who blame the Democrats are undoubtedly the same group (largely), and are also Trump's base. But even among the base, support for the shutdown is clearly not universal; about a third of them don't think it's the right move. When a politician does something that even their hardcore supporters are not so sure about, and everyone else in the country hates, that is generally time to switch course. Of course, Trump lives in a bubble, and he ignores unfriendly poll numbers, so this news may have no effect on his thinking.

On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi & Co. pay very close attention to polls. If they believe that everyone except the base (whose votes they'll never get, anyhow) is behind them, then that is going to encourage them to stick to their guns even more. Mitch McConnell & Co. pay attention to polls, too, and for their part, this is going to encourage them to think very seriously about passing the buck to Trump and letting him take 100% ownership of the shutdown. (V & Z)

For Trump, Desperation Appears to Be Setting In

As noted above, Donald Trump may or may not pay attention to polls. However, he has less patience than any president in U.S. history, and possibly than any politician in U.S. history. And so, the fact that the wall situation is lingering grates on him because he prefers same-day resolutions, and can barely tolerate things that take a week or two.

Consequently, he was on Twitter throughout the day on Thursday, trying out all sorts of lines of attack. For example:

This is actually about half the day's output. Some of them are barely comprehensible, and most are factually shaky. Note, for example, that at the start of the day (the tweet at the bottom), the Democrats have not yet realized how badly the wall is needed, but that by the end of the day (the tweet at the top), they know for sure it is a good thing, and they are only blocking it to deny Trump a victory. As to some of his other arguments, the manhunt tweet (#2) is truthful, while it is not clear that most border patrol agents want the wall (#3), or that Democrats are the ones losing paychecks (#4). And the reference to the Israeli wall (#1) is presumably about the wall on the border between Israel and Egypt. It's true that particular wall led to a 99% reduction in illegal border crossings. However, that wall is only 152 miles long, and was built along relatively level land, so it's not exactly a great parallel for a wall along the Mexican border. It is also possible he means the West Bank barrier, but that is a complex barrier, not a wall. It has three layers of fencing, barbed wire, anti-vehicle ditches, and intrusion detection equipment. It was also built largely on level land and is very heavily patrolled. Patrolling a 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border wall would be possible, but very expensive.

In any event, these tweets do not speak to a man who feels the courage of his convictions, and is willing to wait as long as is needed to get a deal done. No, they fairly reek of desperation, as Trump tries to point fingers in a dozen different directions. That is a significant violation of Negotiations 101, and is yet another thing that Democrats will take note of as they assess the strength of their position vis-a-vis the President. (Z)

Two Texas Democrats Are on a Collision Course in 2020

Strange as it seems, not just one, but two high-profile Texas Democrats are thinking of running for president in 2020. If both do, they will clearly collide early on. They are Beto O'Rourke, who recently lost a Senate election to Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio. Castro has long been planning a run, so the sudden appearance of O'Rourke as a Democratic hero has unnerved him.

O'Rourke currently has the advantage of being well known nationally, but if Castro can become better known he may ultimately be in the stronger position, since he is a Latino and could probably put Texas in play better than the Irishman O'Rourke. Complicating their rivalry is that the Texas primary is early in the cycle (March 3, 2020). That is to say, Super Tuesday. If either one of them wins big, the other is toast.

Of course, it is 15 months until the Texas primary and a lot can change. Jeff Roe, who was the chief strategist for Cruz this year, thinks that O'Rourke will knock off Castro easily. He said: "Castro, on the other hand, is the Bobby Jindal of the Democrat cycle. He's poundcake. He'll run, he'll raise like $3.2 million, he'll be out by August, and they'll recruit him to run against Cornyn in 2020."

Having two high-profile candidates (plus Castro's brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-TX), has been a godsend for Texas Democrats, who normally just sit around moping. O'Rourke, in particular, has been credited with helping two Texas Democrats flip two House seats in November. If Castro and O'Rourke run, it will focus a lot of attention on Texas all of a sudden, and help revive the somewhat moribund Texas Democratic Party. (V)

How Russian Money Saved Trump

The number of connections between Donald Trump and his associates on the one hand, and numerous Russians on the other, is so large that keeping track of all of them is a major project. As an aid, has a long story about Russian money and Trump's businesses. It is clearly not the whole explanation, but it gives a basis for understanding why Trump has been surrounded by so many Russians, starting way before 2015.

By the early 1990s, Trump had blown through much of his father's fortune by making bad business deals, six of which resulted in bankruptcies. His casinos failed, some of his hotels failed, his airline failed, and more. At that point, no American bank would touch him with a ten-foot pole. He was saved (financially, not theologically) by a company called Bayrock Group, which rented offices in Trump Tower. Bayrock was basically two guys, Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official, and Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who later pleaded guilty to a stock-fraud scheme involving the Russian mafia.

With help from Bayrock, Trump was able to get the equity he needed for numerous projects, in most of which he got a stake in exchange for letting the project developers use his name. The stream of money from Bayrock was endless, and it is widely believed that it was engaged in shady business, possibly money laundering. After Trump became a TV star, he became known worldwide, and the international deals with Bayrock really took off.

A key piece of the puzzle is the question of where all of Bayrock's millions came from. It seems to have dealt with a lot of rich Russians, some of them close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some of the money may have come from Deutsche Bank, whose Russian arm was implicated in 2015 in a $10 billion money-laundering scheme. Clearly Arif and Sater are key players here who could probably shed a lot of light on how Trump got so close to so many powerful Russians. Incoming Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee is aware of this and is likely to use his new subpoena power to dig around the roots of Trump's contacts with Russians. (V)

MSNBC Tops Fox in the Latest Ratings

The television ratings for the week of Dec. 17-21 are out, and with an average of 1.56 million viewers at any given time, MSNBC managed to (very slightly) outpace Fox News (1.54 million). This marks the first time since the year George W. Bush was elected president that MSNBC managed to knock Fox off its perch.

Does this mean anything? With the caveat that interpreting television ratings can be as perilous as interpreting tea leaves or tarot cards, here are half a dozen possible explanations:

  1. It's an anomaly
  2. It's a byproduct of the holiday season, as travel plans/holiday parties/Christmas movies cause people to change their viewing habits
  3. It's more fun to watch "the opposition" channel than the "in power" channel
  4. Fox has been more critical of Donald Trump recently, and some of his supporters have jumped ship
  5. Fox's viewership skews pretty old, and some of its viewers have...permanently turned off their TVs, as it were
  6. Trump has had a bad month, and some Fox viewers have tuned out because they're weary of the Trump evangelizing

Undoubtedly, Democrats are hoping that it's one (or both) of the latter two explanations, since either of those would speak to a weakening of Trump's base, on some level. At the moment, however, it's just one week. We shall see if MSNBC can keep their crown (or, at least, can stay neck-and-neck with Fox). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec27 Trump Finally Visits the Troops
Dec27 Effects of Government Shutdown Slowly Begin to Show Themselves
Dec27 Term Limits on the President Could be Abolished
Dec27 Markets Come Roaring Back
Dec27 Whitaker Falsely Claimed Honor He Never Got
Dec27 California May Lose a Seat in the House
Dec27 Thursday Q&A
Dec26 Trump Promises to Keep the Government Shut Down Until He Gets His Wall
Dec26 Why Immigration Is the Spark that Keeps Shutting Down the Government
Dec26 Another Migrant Child Dies in U.S. Custody
Dec26 Times Looks Into Spurious Claims that Got Trump out of Serving in Vietnam
Dec26 Trump vs. the Supreme Court
Dec26 The Invisible Primary Is in Full Swing
Dec26 Nasty Senate Primary in Arizona Is Also Already Underway
Dec25 Markets Tank and Trump Blames Powell
Dec25 Mnuchin May Get the Blame Next
Dec25 Trump Is Home Alone on Christmas Eve
Dec25 Trump May Have Ruined a Kid's Christmas
Dec25 McCaskill: GOP Senators Believe Trump is Nuts
Dec25 Interesting Facts about the 2018 Election
Dec25 Democrats Toyed Around with Dirty Tricks in Alabama Senate Election
Dec24 Mulvaney: Shutdown Could Stretch into 2019
Dec24 Trump Fires Mattis
Dec24 Syria Withdrawal Is Official
Dec24 What Will 2019 Bring?
Dec24 Americans Don't Want Trump to Pardon His Associates
Dec24 Nonvoters Didn't Vote Because They Don't Like Politics
Dec24 Connie Schultz Will Leave the Carrot Cake in the Fridge
Dec24 Monday Q&A
Dec23 Shutdown Enters Second Day
Dec23 Economy Having a Bad Month
Dec23 Trump Is Thinking about Firing the Fed Chair
Dec23 Syria Withdrawal Began with a Phone Call
Dec23 A Mueller Mystery
Dec23 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Sherrod Brown
Dec22 Government Shuts Down
Dec22 Sanders: All of America Wants the Wall
Dec22 Supreme Court Hands Trump a Defeat
Dec22 Ruth Ginsburg Had Surgery for Lung Cancer
Dec22 Russia Actively Tried to Compromise the Midterms
Dec22 Gallup To Cut Back on Political Polling
Dec22 Bettors Think Trump Will Be Impeached
Dec21 Mattis: I'm Out
Dec21 Trump Changes Course, Won't Sign Short-term Funding Bill
Dec21 Meadows to Federal Employees Who May Not Get Paid: You Signed Up for This
Dec21 Trump Administration Will Lift Sanctions against Deripaska's Companies
Dec21 Ethics Officials Told Whitaker to Recuse Himself, but He Refused
Dec21 Perez Axes the Kiddie Table in 2020
Dec21 Should the Democrats Use Ranked-Choice Voting in 2020 Primaries?
Dec20 Trump Wants to Pull Out of Syria Immediately