Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Azar Confirmed as Secretary of HHS

After Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services for using private planes on official business, the department was headless for months. Yesterday the Senate confirmed Alex Azar as the new secretary, largely along party lines. Azar was a former executive at Eli Lilly. The department is the largest one in the federal government, with a budget of $1.1 trillion.

Azar is a true conservative and will surely move the department to the right. Some hot positions that he endorses are rules to protect workers who refuse to provide services that offend their religious beliefs and others to force people on Medicaid to work. He also opposes the Affordable Care Act and supports allowing insurance companies to offer, and people to buy, "junk insurance" that is very cheap, but covers very little, so nominally they are insured but in reality they really are not. He also opposes the idea of having the government negotiate with the drug companies on pricing for drugs used by Medicare recipients. (V)

Trump Will Send Immigration Framework to Congress on Monday

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday told reporters that Donald Trump will send a long-awaited immigration framework to Congress on Monday. She wouldn't say what would be in it, possibly because neither she nor Trump knows. In particular, Trump has changed his mind on protections for dreamers multiple times. Key unknowns include whether dreamers will be allowed to stay, and if so, under what conditions. Also unknown is if they will have a path to citizenship eventually. Republicans generally oppose this, but leaving it out could be a deal breaker for Democrats. Trump, for his part, chatted with a group of reporters on Wednesday and said he's open to granting the dreamers citizenship. Of course, his position on virtually any issue can change by the hour, so who knows what it will be on Monday?

Two items that are expected are (1) an end to the diversity lottery, in which green cards are distributed by chance to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. (what Trump would call "shithole countries"), and (2) an end to what Republicans call chain migration, by which a new citizen can sponsor his relatives, who can later become citizens and sponsor more relatives. Funding for the border wall is likely also to be in there. (V)

Trump Welcomes Opportunity to Talk to Mueller Under Oath

On Tuesday, it became 100% clear that Robert Mueller wants to talk to Donald Trump, ideally sooner rather than later. On Wednesday, while talking to reporters, Trump welcomed the prospect, declaring that "I am looking forward to it, actually. Here is the story: There has been no collusion whatsoever. There is no obstruction whatsoever." When asked if he was willing to speak under oath, the President said, "I would do it under oath, yeah."

Offering to speak to Mueller on exactly the terms preferred by the Special Counsel is, of course, a rather unwise negotiating position for the greatest dealmaker of all time to assume. Whether he believes it or not, Trump already has some exposure (maybe a lot of exposure) when it comes to collusion and to obstruction of justice. Given his freewheeling style, his fast-and-loose approach to the truth, and his unwillingness to be coached by counsel (or anyone else), he would be walking right into the wolf's den and setting himself up for a perjury charge or twenty. As if the other legal issues weren't already enough.

Why would Trump make such an offer? Three basic possibilities would seem to present themselves:

  • He is clueless, or nearly so, about how risky such an interview with Mueller really is
  • He understands the risks, but has persuaded himself that he can outmaneuver Mueller
  • This is a performance for everyone's benefit, so the President can say that he wanted to be frank and open with Mueller, but that his lawyers just wouldn't allow it, those big meanies

Whichever of the three it is, Trump's lawyers did exactly what they are supposed to do, and promptly dialed back their client's promises. In particular, they said that Trump was speaking hurriedly, and that when he said "under oath" he didn't actually mean "under oath." Perhaps that will smooth things over, or perhaps not. Certainly, it just became a fair bit easier for Trump's opponents to observe that a person who offers to speak under oath, then promptly changes their mind, generally has something to hide. Legally, though, it doesn't really matter whether Trump is under oath or not. Lying to a government employee (including Mueller) is a felony, whether you are under oath or not. (Z)

Mueller Will Interview Bannon within a Week

Special counsel Robert Mueller is going to interview former White House strategist Steve Bannon before the end of January, according to two sources. Mueller wants to find out what Bannon knows about the firings of former NSA Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey. Also on Mueller's agenda is what Bannon knows about whatever pressure Donald Trump exerted on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to quash the FBI investigation of Russia's meddling in the election. All of these topics point to Mueller's potential interest in charging Trump with obstruction of justice.

Also likely to come up in the interview are the many quotes from Michael Wolff's best-selling book. Specifically, Bannon said that money laundering is the key to understanding Trump's relationship with Russia. Given that mutliple members of Mueller's team are specialists at prosecuting money laundering, they are likely to ask detailed questions about what Bannon meant and what he knows. He may just have been shooting off at the mouth, but he may also know things that Mueller doesn't know yet. Bannon also called the meeting between several people close to Trump and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016 "treasonous." No doubt Mueller will want more details on what he meant by that. In addition, there are many more leads that Mueller is following where Bannon might be able to provide details. (V)

Mnuchin Undermines the Dollar

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yesterday welcomed a weaker U.S. dollar, which sent the greenback reeling on world currency exchanges. For example, it now costs $1.24 to buy one euro. In Nov. 2017, a euro cost $1.16. A year ago, one could be had for $1.03. A weak dollar makes U.S. exports cheaper in other countries, but makes imports more expensive. This benefits exporters but hurts consumers. Trump can expect praise from companies that export a lot, such as Boeing and John Deere, but boos from companies that import a lot, like Walmart. Countries with weak economies often debase their currencies to promote exports, but traditionally the U.S. has supported a strong dollar. The remarks came just before Donald Trump is going to address the assembled plutocrats and government leaders in Davos tomorrow. (V)

Senate to Vote on 20-Week Abortion Ban Next Week

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a busy beaver these days. Or maybe a tireless turtle. In any case, if dealing with the budget and immigration were not enough in the next week or so, he's also decided to hold a vote on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, except in (some) cases of rape or incest. Instances of rape or incest that were not reported to authorities would not be covered. Nor is there currently a provision in the bill granting exceptions for when the mother's health is at risk, or when the fetus becomes nonviable. "Congress has an opportunity to take a step forward...I'm pleased to have filed cloture on this bill to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain," announced McConnell. Donald Trump also expressed his support for the bill, which is very similar to a measure passed by the House of Representatives last year.

There is little chance that this bill becomes the law of the land. The Democrats—who, remember, are bending over backwards to appeal to women voters in 2018—are not going to give McConnell the votes he needs to get to 60 and overcome a filibuster. Even if they do, the bill would never survive a court challenge, particularly without provisions relating to the health of the mother. And in the end, McConnell likely doesn't care if the bill becomes law or not. Certainly he must know that only a small percentage of abortions take place beyond the 20-week mark (a little more than 1%), and that nearly all of those are special cases, like when the health of the mother is at risk. In other words, the proposed legislation would address a "problem" that essentially doesn't exist. So, what is McConnell's game, then? The likeliest possibility is that the GOP plans to really hammer on abortion as a wedge issue in order to try and get as many Republicans to the polls as is possible in November. Of course, Republicans have been doing that for decades, so it's a good question how effective McConnell's maneuvering will be in rallying the troops. The other possibility is that McConnell is bringing the bill up as a favor to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is the sponsor, and for whom this is a pet issue. They may even have some sort of double-secret deal involving Graham's vote on the budget and/or immigration. (Z)

Another 2020 Democratic Candidate?

The Democratic field for 2020 is, of course, still coming into focus (and will be for another 28 months or so). On Wednesday, someone rather unexpected hinted at a run: former senator, secretary of state, and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. This possibility was enough of a surprise that Irish sports book PaddyPower didn't even have him on the board, which meant they thought him less likely to become president in 2020 than Mark Zuckerberg (20/1), Michael Bloomberg (25/1), Caroline Kennedy (40/1), rapper Eminem (66/1), Steve Bannon (80/1), Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (100/1), Chelsea Clinton (150/1), wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon (200/1), and tabloid celebrity Kim Kardashian (500/1), among others.

Presumably, this was just idle chit-chat from Kerry, and once he thinks about it, he'll drop the idea. First of all, he has no obvious constituency. He's not liberal enough to steal the hearts of the progressive wing of the Party from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), he's not salt-of-the-earth enough to outduel Joe Biden, he's not a woman, he's not a minority, and he's getting up there in years (he'd be 77 on Inauguration Day) at a time when many Democrats are yearning for new blood. He wouldn't even be able to count on his home state of Massachusetts, what with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) likely to be in the running. Beyond that, Kerry seems to have forgotten that he just doesn't excite Democratic voters. He ran a lackluster campaign in 2004, and was unable to knock off a pretty unpopular opponent. Indeed, he's the only Democratic nominee in the last 30 years to lose the popular vote. If he actually does run, well, let's just say that Kardashian is still probably the smarter bet. (Z)

Presidents Are Always Healthy--Except When They Are Not

Presidential physician Dr. Ronny Jackson proclaimed that Donald Trump is in excellent health. Historically, such proclamations should be taken with a barrel of salt—or better yet, with a barrel of low-fat, soy-based, gluten-free, organic yogurt. Presidents and their doctors have been lying about presidential health for centuries. Here are just a few of the most egregious examples:

  • Stephen Grover Cleveland woke up one fine day with a lesion in his mouth. His doctors said it was cancer of the jaw, but Cleveland felt that the country must never learn of it because there was an ongoing financial panic. Furthermore, Cleveland supported the gold standard and his vice president supported the silver standard, so his death would have had major implications for the markets. The solution? On the Fourth of July, Cleveland got on a boat, where a surgical team removed five teeth, part of his jaw, and part of his palate. The public was told he had a toothache.

  • Thomas Woodrow Wilson had a stroke while in office, and was largely paralyzed. The public was told he was suffering from "exhaustion." This was long before the 25th Amendment, so Wilson's wife, Edith Wilson, was the de facto president for over a year and essentially ran the country with some help from Wilson's doctor, Cary Grayson. His illness was never confirmed.

  • Warren Harding had pains in his chest. The public was told it was "indigestion." Actually, it was heart disease. When he fell ill on a trip to Alaska, the public was told it was "food poisoning." Actually, it was a heart attack. Harding subsequently died in office, two years into his presidency.

  • Calvin Coolidge suffered from clear symptoms of clinical depression after his son died, such that he was eventually sleeping up to 18 hours a day while in the White House. His doctors looked the other way, in part because there was no particular mechanism for removing a mentally-compromised chief executive.

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio in his thirties and could barely walk thereafter. He was in a wheelchair his entire time in office, but he went to enormous lengths to keep it on the down-low as much as possible. He was extremely particular about how he was photographed, to hide his condition. Further, as his body wore out from the effects of the polio and the stresses of being president, his doctors helped cover up how bad his health really was, particularly when he ran for re-election the fourth time. They said he could easily survive another term; he came up short by a mere 3 years and 9 months. Even after his death, his health was controversial, particularly when the FDR memorial was being designed. Advocates for the handicapped wanted him shown in a wheelchair so people would know that handicapped people could become president. But the sculptor knew that Roosevelt would have been aghast at that, so there was a battle. Ultimately he was depicted in a chair with tiny casters not visible from the front.

  • Dwight Eisenhower suffered a major heart attack in 1955. The official explanation for his temporarily moving to Denver for recuperation? Indigestion. Eventually, he came clean though.

  • John F. Kennedy, despite being the youngest president elected, was not a healthy man. He had Addison's disease, severe lower back pain, and colitis. He took a powerful cocktail of drugs and painkillers, and was high as a kite for extended periods during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also wore a back brace (very much like a corset) much of the time, which may have led to his death. After the first shot in Dallas, absent the brace, he might have fallen to the floor of the car and escaped the second shot, which killed him, but the brace kept him upright. All of Kennedy's medical issues were kept as a state secret.

Of course, reports about the health of the U.S. president are all completely candid compared to the health reports of leaders of the former Soviet Union. Josef Stalin had a stroke, but the event was kept quiet for four days until he died. Nikita Khrushchev had five strokes, none of which were publicized. Yuri Andropov had kidney disease, but no one outside the Kremlin knew about it. Finally, Boris Yeltsin had five heart attacks in office, none of which were reported. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan24 Schumer Rescinds Wall Offer
Jan24 Mueller's Team Interviewed Sessions
Jan24 Mueller is Pushing for an Interview with Trump
Jan24 Gates May Have Flipped
Jan24 Republicans Will Channel Their Inner Clinton in 2018
Jan24 Family Research Council Chief Tony Perkins Gives Trump a Mulligan
Jan24 Trump Gives Cabinet Officers Free Rein
Jan24 Trump Finally Slaps Chinese with a Tariff
Jan24 New Poll Looks Ugly for Trump
Jan24 Happy Anniversary?
Jan24 Romney Would Cruise to a Landslide Victory in Utah If He Runs
Jan23 Democrats Give In and Shutdown Ends
Jan23 Kelly May Be on His Way Out
Jan23 Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Throws Out the State's Gerrymandered Map
Jan23 NAFTA Is on Life Support
Jan23 Infrastructure Plan Urges States to Find Their Own Money
Jan23 What the Border Really Looks Like
Jan23 Melania Has Remained Silent About Cheatergate...or Has She?
Jan23 Trump's First Year Makes Him Least Popular President in 60 Years
Jan23 Bush's Popularity Is Up, Up, Up
Jan22 Senate Moderates Are Trying to Reopen the Government
Jan22 Trump Calls for the Nuclear Option
Jan22 Ross and Zinke Are in the Doghouse
Jan22 Ryan Got $500,000 from Kochs
Jan22 Language Has Become Yet Another Partisan Divide
Jan22 FBI Surrenders 400 Pages of Texts, Many Critical of Trump, to Congress
Jan22 Will There Be a Blue Wave in November?
Jan22 Trump's Tweets Are a Legal Nightmare
Jan21 Both Sides Entrench in Shutdown Fight
Jan21 Who Will Be Blamed for the Shutdown?
Jan21 Women March on One-Year Anniversary of Trump Inauguration
Jan21 Pat Meehan's Career Is Probably Over
Jan21 Why Isn't the Stormy Daniels Story Bigger?
Jan21 Experts Wonder About Trump's Doctor
Jan21 Tom Cotton Takes the Ostrich Routine to New Extremes
Jan20 Government Shuts Down
Jan20 Supreme Court Will Hear Muslim-Ban Case
Jan20 Only a Third of the Country Approves of Trump
Jan20 Vance Won't Run for the Senate
Jan20 Government Will Retry Menendez
Jan20 Sotomayor Survives a Health Scare
Jan20 Trump Administration Picks Jerusalem Embassy Site
Jan20 Russians' Twitter Trolling Worse than Originally Thought
Jan19 Shutdown Looms
Jan19 Trump Administration Wants to Protect People with Moral Objection to Doing Their Jobs
Jan19 Trump Has Changed His View on the Wall, Except Maybe He Hasn't
Jan19 What Is Bannon Worth to Mueller?
Jan19 FBI is Investigating Whether Russians Gave Money to the NRA to Help Trump
Jan19 Trump Announces "Fake News" Awards
Jan19 Trump Just Can't Help Himself