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

Brett Kavanaugh Once Argued for Broad Grounds for Impeachment

While no one knows what is going on inside Donald Trump's head, many observers now think the two leading candidates to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court are Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, both of whom sit on appellate courts. The New York Times has discovered that Kavanaugh once argued that Congress' impeachment power for "high crimes and misdemeanors" is very broad. Specifically, he wrote that when Bill Clinton lied to his staff and misled the public about Monica Lewinsky, that was serious enough to warrant being impeached for obstruction of justice. That opinion found its way into independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report, of which Kavanaugh was a main author.

If Kavanaugh is nominated for the Court, no doubt one or more senators will ask him if trying to stop an investigation—say, one about whether the president conspired with a hostile foreign power to get elected—also qualifies as obstruction of justice. We're going to go really far out on a limb here and make a prediction: He will refuse to answer the question on the grounds it might come before the Court in the not-too-distant future.

Similarly, if lying to the public is grounds for impeachment, the senators are likely to wonder whether dictating a false statement to the Times about the purpose of the meeting in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya in July 2016 makes the cut. Again, our prediction is that the senators won't get a straight answer on this. Furthermore, this evasion is unlikely to bother any of the Republicans in the Senate. If he is the nominee, the only potential "no" votes are Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on the grounds that he might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (V)

Mueller Links Manafort Bank Fraud to Trump Campaign

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his long career in law enforcement, has often used the strategy of prosecuting a person for crime A, where he's got them dead to rights, so that they will flip and give evidence on larger crime B, which is the one Mueller really cares about. The presumption, when it comes to the two trials that Paul Manafort faces in upcoming months, is that Team Mueller was running that same play again.

Now it turns out that may not be the case. In court filings on Friday related to Manafort's trial for bank fraud—which is supposed to be just three weeks away—Mueller's team says that they intend to prove there is a direct connection to the Trump campaign. Specifically, they allege that an unidentified banker, who is named as "Lender D" in the paperwork, offered to help Manafort secure $16 million in loans he was not qualified for in exchange for a role with the Trump campaign. This doesn't necessarily implicate anyone in the Trump campaign besides Manafort, but it certainly does blunt the argument that Mueller is going far beyond his mandate in pursuing Manafort's alleged financial crimes.

And speaking of Trump, on Friday his lawyers announced new, and more stringent, conditions they insist upon before the President will sit for an interview with Mueller's team. Specifically, that Mueller show that he has evidence Trump committed a crime, and that the Special Counsel demonstrate that the President's testimony is essential to completing the investigation.

It is extremely unlikely that Mueller will meet these conditions, which Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani frankly acknowledged. This certainly appears to signal a clear shift in strategy on the part of the President's legal team, from "let's get this over with" to "let's drag this out as long as we possibly can." That is the kind of change that generally indicates a shift in thinking, from "we have nothing to be worried about" to "uh, oh, we're in trouble here." In any case, the ball would seem to be in Mueller's court. Given that fulfilling Trump's constantly-shifting conditions for a voluntary interview is like herding cats, the Special Counsel appears to be down to two options: (1) Hit the President with a grand jury summons, and get it to stick in court, or (2) Decide that a Trump interview is not necessary and/or worth it.

On the other hand, there is also a downside for the President's team to keep moving the goalposts. While they are negotiating with Mueller, it would be politically impossible for Trump to order Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. This gives Mueller more time to keep methodically collecting evidence, interview more people, and potentially get other witnesses to flip. Trump's short term goal may be to push Mueller's report until after the midterms, but an even more-devastating report early next year could hit his reelection campaign hard. Also, if the Democrats take the House, a report in January saying that Trump committed one or more crimes could give the Democrats cover to start impeachment hearings. (Z)

Trump Administration Immigration Policy Is an Inconsistent Mess

A federal judge—Dana Sabraw, appointed to the bench by George W. Bush in 2003—gave the Trump administration a Tuesday deadline to reunite the parents and children under the age of 5 who were separated at the border. However, the original process was handled so badly that the administration says they aren't going to make it and they need more time. The judge will decide on Monday.

In contrast to their usual approach, Team Trump may actually be telling the truth here. It did not occur to them to set up any way to keep track of the adults who have been released from custody, much less which children they are connected with. Some of those adults have already been deported, while others have been released within the United States. In many cases, the administration isn't even clear on these folks' names, much less any other identifying information. And, at the moment, we're only talking about 100 or so kids. One can only imagine what the administration will do when the July 26 deadline for the 3,000 children from ages 5-18 arrives.

This logistical nightmare has not stopped Team Trump from pressing forward on other fronts, though. The latest move that seems custom-made to trigger a backlash: deporting members of the military who were promised citizenship in exchange for their service under the terms of the George W. Bush-era Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. Keeping in mind that the justification for Trump's harsh approach to immigration is the alleged threat that undocumented immigrants pose, it's hard to understand exactly how deporting trained soldiers—who, by the terms of MAVNI, came to the U.S. legally—makes America safer. Given that Trump's base loves soldiers and hates immigrants, it will be interesting to see how they feel about this one.

And speaking of inconsistency, it's time for Trump's Mar-a-Lago to staff up for the tourist season. And to that end, management has requested 61 H-2B visas, which are for temporary non-agricultural foreign workers. That's on top of the 70 visas they asked for in January. Is it difficult for them to find Americans to work there? Maybe these days, but back in 2016 the club hired only 17 of the 300 U.S. residents who applied for jobs. That's less than 6%. It's almost like Trump and his organization know that immigrants not only are not dangerous, they are excellent workers who do tough jobs for low pay with no expectation of job security. That's a viewpoint rather at odds with the President's rhetoric. (Z)

The Economy Is Still Strong

It's still the economy, stupid. In fact, it is always the economy. When the economy is doing well, it generally helps the president's party, but when it is doing badly, the president gets blamed. The economy added 213,000 jobs in June, the 92nd straight month that jobs were added. This could help Republicans, although the unemployment number rose slightly from 3.8% to 4.0% because 601,000 people entered the labor force in June and not all of them found jobs.

What is less good for the Republicans is that hourly earnings are up only 2.7% for the year. For people who already have a job, how much they are making is more important than how many previously unemployed people found jobs in June. All in all, though, the economic news is going to be a plus for the GOP if it keeps up like this.

The potential black cloud on the horizon is a possible all-out trade war that spooks the stock market and makes employers hesitant to hire new people (or even causes them to lay off current workers). Now that China has retaliated for Donald Trump's levying tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese exports to America by imposing its own tariffs of the same size, the ball is in Trump's court. If he levies tariffs on $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, as he has said he would, and China strikes back one way or another, it could hit the economy hard and end the current expansion, which would hurt the GOP badly in November. At this point, anything is possible. (V)

Economy and Immigration Are the Top Issues

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll among registered voters shows that 15% say immigration is the top issue and 14% say it is the economy. The most important issue varies by party registration. Among Republicans, 26% rate immigration as issue #1; among Democrats, 16% said it is health care. The economy is also high on everyone's list.

Immigration is the most divisive issue, with 81% of Republicans approving of Donald Trump's handling of the issue while 84% of Democrats disapprove of how he is handling it. This means that more than ever, the key to the midterms will be whichever party is better at turning out its base. (V)

The Vast Majority of Competitive House Seats Are Held by Republicans

The House midterms are going to be asymmetric warfare. Election guru Charlie Cook has released new ratings on House races, and nearly all the competitive districts are held by Republicans, meaning the Republicans are playing defense almost everywhere and the Democrats are playing offense almost everywhere.

For starters, no Democratic seat leans Republican or is likely Republican. In contrast, nine Republican seats lean Democratic or are likely Democratic. In a blue wave, all will be lost. In addition, 21 Republican seats are rated as toss-ups while only two Democratic seats are toss-ups. Another 25 Republican seats are rated lean Republican, which means they are competitive but the Republican has a slight edge. In a blue wave, some of these will flip. All in all, in the range lean Democratic to lean Republican (meaning the battleground districts) Cook has 53 Republican seats and only 5 Democratic seats. The result is that a tremendous number of Republican seats are in danger of flipping and only a handful of Democratic seats are in any danger (V).

Jim Jordan's Trouble Deepens

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is a leader of the Freedom Caucus, and who has designs on the Speakership, is in the midst of a sex scandal dating back to his time as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University. Similar to what happened at Michigan State, the team physician is accused of taking advantage of his position in order to molest members of the team. Unlike MSU, the physician is dead, and cannot account for himself. Jordan either: (1) was in the dark, or (2) deliberately looked the other way, placing the good of the program over the good of the victims.

Jordan, of course, claims he didn't know anything, and insists that this is all a conspiracy engineered by his enemies. That may have flown when it was just the first two accusers, who both had some credibility issues due to checkered backgrounds. However, it is now up to six accusers who insist that Jordan knew what was going on, and some of those six do not have checkered backgrounds. Further, some of Jordan's former coaching colleagues have come forward, and declared that the program was, in the words of one of them, "a cesspool of deviancy." Beyond the molestation, there was all manner of other problematic behavior. For example, when the wrestlers were showering, it was effectively a daily peep show for campus voyeurs. And perhaps most damning, on some level, is what Jordan's defenders from the program are saying. For example, ex-OSU wrestler George Pardos stands behind his former coach, whom he describes as "one of the most honest men I've ever known." Pardos also said, "Was there some deviant behavior? ... Was there behavior when guys were coming into the sauna and showers, was there sexual misconduct? No one is denying that." With friends like that, who needs enemies?

At this point, the evidence of Jordan's culpability is overwhelming. He certainly knew something, maybe a lot of somethings, and to the extent he was ignorant, it was by choice. And even if he is somehow wholly innocent here—which is really impossible to accept—he is still responsible, as the buck stops with the coaching staff. On top of that, other members of Congress have been compelled to resign in the last year under the shadow of less egregious offenses (and with less evidence) than this. So, not only should Jordan's speakership hopes be at an end, his time in Congress should be, too. We will see what happens when the members return from the Independence Day break, but the Freedom Caucusers appear to be closing ranks around Jordan, so he may survive this. Will any Democrat try to rename it the "Pedophile Caucus?" Stay tuned. (Z)

The Top 15 Democratic Presidential Candidates, Ranked

The 2020 election is almost upon us. In a mere 28 months, voters will go to the polls to elect (or re-elect) a president. So naturally, speculation is running high on who the Democrats will nominate. To help out, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake has put together a ranked list of 2020 candidates. Here it is:

  1. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  2. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  3. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
  4. Former vice president Joe Biden
  5. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
  6. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
  7. Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick
  8. Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe
  9. Former U.S. AG Eric Holder, Jr.
  10. Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg
  11. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  12. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)
  13. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  14. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  15. Oprah Winfrey (although she took herself out of the running this week)

While it is an interesting list, a lot depends on which way the Democrats want to go. It is arguable that the election of Donald Trump was a backlash to the election of a black president. A lot of white voters simply couldn't stomach that and wanted a president who promised to Make America Great (i.e., white) Again. If the Democrats come to believe that their success depends on nominating a white person, then Harris, Booker, Patrick, Holder, and Winfrey are out. If they also come to realize that Trump took 52% of white women, and decide that bodes poorly for another female candidate, then Warren, Gillibrand, And Winfrey are out. That leaves eight white men, three of whom (Sanders, Biden and Bloomberg) will be 80 during their first terms. That is a bit on the geriatric side. Now we are down to just McAuliffe, Murphy, Cuomo, Brown, and Landrieu.

Of course, there could be a dark horse in the race. One name that comes to mind is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. California has moved its primary up to just after the four small states vote. If he wins a boatload of delegates when the first big state votes, he could suddenly be a player. There could also be other dark horses. After all, few people saw Barack Obama as a major contender just after John Kerry lost in 2004.

On the other hand, if the Democrats decide "to hell with the deplorables," and go for a woman or a minority in order to excite their own base, the field is bigger. Possibly the 2018 elections will produce a lot of tea leaves to be read. If progressive Democrats win in many Republican districts, due to huge turnouts, that will argue for a woman or a minority. If, on the other hand, progressive candidates lose in red districts, it is more likely the nominee is a white man. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul06 Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Resigns
Jul06 Trade War Will Heat Up Starting Today
Jul06 Mueller Is Now Looking Closely at Trump's Inauguration
Jul06 Cohen Should Probably Shut Up
Jul06 Trump Rallies in Montana
Jul06 Next Week, the British Get Their Turn
Jul06 Nobody Wants Don Jr.'s Book
Jul05 Trump Faces a Tough Choice With Supreme Court Pick
Jul05 Be Careful What You Wish For
Jul05 Trump's Economic Policies Are Having Undesirable Side Effects
Jul05 Cohen Strikes Trump Affiliation from Twitter, LinkedIn Bios
Jul05 Pruitt Is Entering Archvillain Territory
Jul05 Sex Scandal May Block Jordan from Becoming Speaker
Jul05 Half the Country Thinks Trump is Racist
Jul04 Trump Is at War with Big Business over Trade
Jul04 Senate Panel: Putin Tried to Help Trump
Jul04 Trump Goes Wild
Jul04 Lawsuit about Citizenship Question on Census Form Goes Forward
Jul04 Oprah Winfrey Will Not Run for President in 2020
Jul04 Trump and the Fourth of July
Jul03 Cohen: Family First, Country Second, Trump Lower Down on the List
Jul03 Networks Are Paying Former Prosecutors Big Bucks as Mueller Interpreters
Jul03 More Trouble for Pruitt
Jul03 Sinema Is Campaigning as Republican-Lite
Jul03 Are the Democrats Really Divided?
Jul03 Georgia Election May Be Voided
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