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

Cohen: Family First, Country Second, Trump Lower Down on the List

Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, once said he would take a bullet for Trump. But in his first in-depth interview since his home, hotel room, and office were raided by the FBI in April, he seems to be singing a different tune. In it, he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he might just cooperate with the feds if that was needed to avoid prison time. During the interview, he was critical of Trump. When asked point blank what he would do if prosecutors forced him to choose between protecting Trump and protecting his family, he said that his family is first priority. It wouldn't be at all surprising if prosecutors gave him precisely that choice. On the Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) case alone, he may have committed bank fraud and wire fraud and may also have violated election law. And there may be many more potential crimes he can be charged with, depending on what prosecutors found on his computers and mobile devices.

Cohen wasn't giving away a lot of secrets to Stephanopoulos, though. On tricky questions, he said his lawyer had told him not to say anything, and he didn't. His current lawyer is Guy Petrillo, who once ran the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan—the office that is investigating him. Petrillo surely knows the folks running it now and would be a good negotiating partner in case Cohen wants to cut a deal.

A lot of what happens next depends on what the prosecutors found on his computers and phones. His (previous) attorneys have examined all of the 4 million files on the devices and are claiming that 12,000 of them are protected by attorney-client privilege. Federal Judge Kimba Wood has hired a former judge, Barbara Jones, as a special master to determine what is privileged and what is not. She might well decide that some of the 12,000 are not privileged and can be given to prosecutors. It is possible that some of the 12,000 files that Cohen's lawyers want to keep out of prosecutors' hands have nothing to do with Trump, but have everything to do with evidence that Cohen committed other crimes. It will be Jones' job to decide what the feds get and what they don't. (V)

Networks Are Paying Former Prosecutors Big Bucks as Mueller Interpreters

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been running a tight ship: It doesn't leak. At all. Nevertheless, there is a huge amount of interest in what he is doing, with the only clues being official court filings, most of which are public. So a number of networks are hiring former U.S. prosecutors as exclusive talking heads to explain to the viewers the significance of Mueller's latest moves as well as precedents like United States v. Nixon and Clinton v. Jones. For those who land such assignments, it's a chance to move up in the world, as some of these former not-terribly-well-paid government employees have six-figure contracts with networks. CNN alone has 15 legal experts under exclusive contract. John Dean, whose testimony helped sink Richard Nixon, set off a bidding war when he announced that he might be interested. CNN landed him.

The prosecutors have to be a little bit canny about which station they are on and to whom they are talking. If you go on Sean Hannity's program and say that Mueller should be locked up, you might just get asked back. The same statement on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show might not result in a return invitation.

Once actual trials start, such as that of Paul Manafort on July 10, the prosecutors will be back in familiar territory and be speculating less. They understand how trials work, how judges react to certain kinds of motions, and what tends to influence juries. Anyway, it is great work if you can get it. (V)

More Trouble for Pruitt

EPA Administration Scott Pruitt has now joined the club of Trump administration members who tried to have dinner at a restaurant and found themselves interrupted by angry citizens. Unlike, say, Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kirstjen Nielsen, Pruitt was able to finish his meal, but not without getting an earful about how the time has come for him to resign. It's not often that an EPA administrator becomes so notable, or so notorious, that he regularly gets recognized by private citizens.

That said, a bad dinner is small potatoes (no pun intended) compared to some of the other trouble that unfolded for Pruitt on Monday. Two of his aides testified before the House, which is never good news for the Administrator. They reiterated much of the litany of alleged bad deeds that have already come to light: more than $40,000 spent on a soundproof booth for Pruitt's office, gratuitous first-class travel on the taxpayer's dime, use of EPA staff to perform personal errands, and the like. They also revealed a few new details, like the Administrator's insistence that someone find a job for his wife with a starting salary of at least $200,000. The members who were present for this testimony were reportedly not too pleased.

And that may not be the worst of it. CNN, based on information given to them by a whistleblower, is reporting that Pruitt kept several calendars: one for public consumption, and two or three secret calendars that tracked his meetings with corporate big-wigs, lobbyists, and so forth. CNN has already been able to confirm at least two dozen discrepancies between Pruitt's official calendar and other records that are available to them. And even the public calendar was often "scrubbed" after the fact to make for better appearances. For example, a meeting with Cardinal George Pell disappeared from the public calendar two weeks after it happened, when Pell was charged with sexual assault. Needless to say, all of this—if true—is tantamount to Pruitt announcing, "Yes, I have something to hide!"

The big question, and one that just keeps getting bigger, is "How has Pruitt kept his job?" After all, even the Trump administration has its limits, and other high-ranking members (e.g., Tom Price) have been cashiered for a less extensive list of offenses. The answer to the question, apparently, is pretty simple: Pruitt is very good at kissing the President's ring (and anything else that needs to be kissed). The word "sycophant" has been used, and there are few things Donald Trump loves more than a good sycophant. Once the inspector general of the EPA starts issuing reports, we shall see if Pruitt remains bulletproof. (Z)

Sinema Is Campaigning as Republican-Lite

If the Democrats have any chance of winning the Senate, Rep, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is going to have to win in Arizona, a moderately-red state where Democrats have elected just one U.S. Senator in the last half-century, and just two since 1950 (Dennis DeConcini, 1977-95, and Carl Hayden, 1927-69). Sinema clearly understands that Democrats are not popular in the Grand Canyon State and so is not really running as a standard Democrat, let alone a Medicare-for-all Democrat. She has said that she will not vote for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for party leader and emphasizes her close relationships with moderate Democrats and even Republicans. Her description of Donald Trump is "He has challenges." Most Democrats would use stronger words.

While Sinema is campaigning up and down the state, the Republicans are engaged in a three-way bloodbath, featuring Rep. Martha McSally, the establishment's choice, and two right-wing bomb throwers, Kelli Ward and former sheriff Joe Arpaio. Most likely the latter two will split the right-wing vote, which is appreciable in Arizona but not nearly enough when split in half, and so McSally will get the nomination.

Sinema's newfound love of Blue Doggery (she used to be a flaming liberal) will be sorely tested in the general election, as the Republicans will paint her as someone far to the left of Karl Marx. Still, voters have a short memory and she constantly praises her two brothers, both of whom are veterans. The race could get ugly as Sinema is the first openly bisexual person in Congress. One other senator is LGBTQ, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

At the moment, Sinema's approach is clearly working. The latest poll has her up 10 points over Ward, 11 points over McSally, and 25 points over Arpaio. That could change once the GOP is firing at her with both barrels, but a lead of 10 points or more is quite a lot against an opponent who is left bloodied and bruised by the primaries. Not helping Sinema's future opponent is that Arizona's primary is on August 28, which gives them fairly little time to recover, pivot, and try to tear Sinema down. (V & Z)

Are the Democrats Really Divided?

Predictably, the surprise victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) has led to a raft of stories about the civil war within the Democratic Party, many of them proposing that the blue team is having its own Tea Party movement. Yesterday, we noted the New York Times' story of this sort, which carried the headline "As Trump Consolidates Power, Democrats Confront a Rebellion in Their Ranks." Here are a sampling of other headlines, from both right- and left-leaning sources:

  • Fox News: Democrats now have their own Tea Party, as top House Democrat loses to a Socialist
  • Washington Times: Nasty, tea party-style internal battle looms for Democrats
  • Washington Examiner: Why the Democratic Party is being destroyed by their millennial base
  • HuffPo: The Democratic Tea Party Isn't Here, Yet (But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's win shows it might be coming)
  • Daily Beast: A Lesson for Democrats From a Republican Dethroned by the Tea Party
  • WaPo: A bad week for Democrats gives rise to a big problem: Outrage could become an obstacle in midterms
  • The Telegraph (UK): Democrats facing an identity crisis as America's 'Tea Party of the Left' burgeons in the wake of Trump

A narrative, then, is clearly developing. The $64,000 question is: Is that narrative actually correct? To address that question requires, in turn, that we address two sub-questions (presumably worth $32,000 each): (1) Is what is happening to the Democrats right now really the same thing as what happened to the Republicans in 2009?, and (2) Is this really a bad thing for the blue team?

Let's start with the second question. In a perceptive piece for Washington Monthly, Martin Longman observes that the tea party movement was not so harmful to the GOP as people seem to remember. It is true that wacky tea partiers cost the red team some elections, particularly U.S. Senate contests in Missouri and Indiana. However, it is also the case that the Republican Party now has an iron grip on all three branches of the federal government, that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) constantly bend over backwards to accommodate tea party-type colleagues, and that the current president is a tea partier in everything but name. The tea party movement was probably not a great thing for the health of the democracy but, by all evidences, it's done great things for the Republican Party (while also effectively taking the Party over).

And now, on to the first question. Longman also observes that the tea party was a fringe movement that was organized around an essentially invented issue (namely, high taxes at a time when tax rates where historically low). Eventually, they morphed into an "oppose whatever Obama does" movement, latching onto whatever they could to keep their momentum going. That happened to be Obamacare, but it could just as easily have been infrastructure, or a $15/hour minimum wage, or normalization of relations with North Korea, or whatever it was that turned out to be Barack Obama's signature initiative.

What is happening on the left right now is, for lack of a better description, considerably less contrived. That is to say, the issues that folks like Ocasio-Cortez are talking about are actual problems: growing wealth inequality, bad behavior by corporate actors, skyrocketing costs of higher education, unequal access to health care, violation of democratic norms by the president, global warming, racial discrimination, etc. The point is that even if the progressives seize control of the Democratic Party, it won't necessarily be on the basis of fringe issues. A party could embrace most of this list of issues, and still potentially attract wide support.

There is also another big difference. Two centuries ago, Henry Clay famously said, "I would rather be right than president." That was (and is) something of the mantra of the tea party, which has always preferred to lose with an ideal candidate than to win with a compromise candidate. There is, thus far, no evidence that this dynamic is in effect among progressive Democrats. It's true that Ocasio-Cortez is pretty lefty, but she was nominated by the residents of a D+29 district, not an R+5 district. In the primaries thus far, the blue team has generally ended up with a candidate who is a pretty good match for their district; there have been no cases of progressives installing a wholly unelectable leftist in a centrist or right-leaning district. It seems wise to wait until this happens, at least a few times, before declaring that the Democratic civil war is underway.

Further, there is thus far no evidence that candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, if and when they arrive in Washington, are going to dig their heels in like Freedom Caucusers do. Undoubtedly, they will try to pull their party further left, but that's not the same thing as refusing to play ball. It's certainly possible that whichever progressives are elected to office will become obstructionists, but it is not terribly likely. Keep in mind that conservatives are, on the whole, suspicious of government power. So, for those on the far right, taking actions that stop the government from doing anything is basically a win. Liberals, by contrast, see government power as a useful means for achieving positive ends. For them, doing nothing is not a win. And so the odds are that, when eventually faced with the choice of doing less than they want, or simply doing nothing, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the world will not make the same choice that the Freedom Caucus has made. (Z)

Georgia Election May Be Voided

On May 22, challenger Chris Erwin (R) upset State Rep. Dan Gasaway (R) in the primary for Georgia House District 28. It has now come to light that some voters in HD-28 got the wrong ballots; possibly enough to swing the election. The result may be voided, and Erwin and Gasaway could be headed for a do-over. A similar mistake took place in Virginia a little over a month ago, though with more significant consequences. That blunder likely cost Democrat Shelly Simonds a victory, keeping the seat in the hands of Republican incumbent David E. Yancey, and thus the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature under the control of the GOP.

The great likelihood here is that two very similar mistakes just so happened to take place in close proximity to each other. The other possibility, however, is that there was some deliberate malfeasance. In particular, there is a nation known for its love of vodka and borscht that has already tinkered around with voter databases in at least a few states, potentially removing voters from the rolls. Putting voters in the wrong districts would have a similar effect, but with some added benefits: (1) It would be somewhat less obvious, since voters generally wouldn't even know they had cast incorrect ballots, and (2) It would be much harder to fix when and if it was discovered. After all, the Virginia result—though tainted—was allowed to stand, and the Georgia result might ultimately stand as well. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on to see if this happens again. (Z)

Americans Have No Idea How the Supreme Court Works

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake gave an interview to The Hill and revealed what a majority of Americans think about the Supreme Court, including:

  • They think there are about 19 justices
  • They don't think an appointment is for the justice's lifetime
  • They think that when Trump leaves office, new justices will be appointed

Needless to say, these are all totally wrong. It is a stunning lack of civic knowledge about such an important part of the government. The only piece of positive news Lake can report back to the Democrats is: "If you ever take the White House and Congress again, abolish the filibuster and quickly appoint 10 new justices. Nobody will even notice. (V)

Takeaways from the Election

The Mexican election, that is. To understand the magnitude of what happened in Mexico just imagine that a brand-new party called the Independent Socialists nominates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the Republicans nominate Jeb Bush, the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, and Sanders crushes both of them by 30 points. That's what Andrés Manuel López Obrador, generally known by his initials AMLO, just did under the banner of the National Regeneration Movement Party (aka MORENA), which was founded less than four years ago. He will soon be president of Mexico and have a huge mandate for change. Here are five takeaways from the New York Times:

  • Mexicans rejected the status quo by a huge margin
  • AMLO is clearly prepared to fight with Donald Trump to defend Mexico's interests
  • The big issues for AMLO are fighting corruption, ending violence, and helping the poor
  • The other two parties were walloped in Congress and at the state level as well
  • Investors are cautious for the moment; they don't want another Venezuela

So AMLO has a lot on his plate and dealing with Trump is not his only problem, or even his primary problem. Nevertheless, he ran an anti-Trump campaign and cannot afford to be seen as someone who bends to Trump's will. Can NAFTA survive this? Who knows? (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul02 Collins Claims She Will Not Back A Justice Who Will Vote to Overturn Roe
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Jun30 Economic Forecasts Suggest Democrats Will Win the House
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Jun30 Investigation Shows How Trump Laundered Money for Kazakhstan Oligarch
Jun30 Mueller Asks For Flynn Sentencing to Be Delayed
Jun30 Another Ambassador Throws in the Towel
Jun30 AMLO Expected to Win Landslide Victory in Mexico
Jun30 Michigan Conservatives Oppose "Core Democratic Values"
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Jun29 Rosenstein Clashes with Jim Jordan in House Hearing
Jun29 Putin-Trump Summit is Set
Jun29 Mueller Subpoenas Another Ally of Roger Stone
Jun29 Kelly Expected to Leave the White House this Summer
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Jun29 A Bad Poll for Feinstein
Jun28 Anthony Kennedy Is Retiring
Jun28 Is the Supreme Court Really Lost for the Democrats?
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Jun28 Immigration Bill Fails in the House
Jun28 Takeways from Tuesday Elections
Jun28 Democrat Mikie Sherrill Leading in NJ-11
Jun27 Joe Crowley Gets Cantored
Jun27 Supreme Court Upholds Muslim Travel Ban v3.0
Jun27 Judge Decides Not to Dismiss Case against Manafort
Jun27 Tax Bill Will Hit Churches
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Jun27 Restaurant Kerfuffle May Have Saved Sanders' Job
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Jun26 SCOTUS Upholds Gerrymanders in Two States (Sort Of)
Jun26 First Cakes, Now Flowers
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