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

Trump Denies that He Fired Comey to Stop Russia Probe

Yesterday, Donald Trump sent out a tweet denying that he fired former FBI Directory James Comey to stop the Russiagate investigation:

The only minor problem here is that a few days after the firing, Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that getting rid of the Russia probe was precisely why he fired Comey. That interview was broadcast nationally and seen by millions of people. Trump is clearly now feeling the heat of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and is trying to create an alternate history to go with the alternate facts.

This new tweet is not an isolated event. In the past week, Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have been working hard to undermine Mueller in every way they can. These include making up unfounded stories about Mueller (his meddling in the midterms), attacking AG Jeff Sessions (for recusing himself from the case), and trying distractions (claiming that young people have been destroyed by the witch hunt). Trump is clearly feeling cornered and is lashing out in all directions in the hope that something works. (V)

European Union and Mexico Will Retaliate for Trump's Tariffs

Donald Trump's tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) took effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning. As expected, the European Union announced it would retaliate with its own tariffs. Mexico also chimed in, saying it would tax American imports, including pork bellies, fruits, cheese, and some types of steel. Unless something happens fast, it looks like the trade war is on.

Not all Republicans are in favor of a trade war. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who represents a farm state that would be badly hit by retaliatory tariffs, said yesterday: "We've been down this road before—blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. 'Make America Great Again' shouldn't mean 'Make America 1929 Again.'" Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) put it this way: "Trade wars do not end well." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had this to say: "Tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are a tax hike on Americans and will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers." Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said it was bad news that Trump wanted to "impose taxes on American consumers who choose to do business with America's closest allies." Conservative megadonors Charles and David Koch slammed Trump over the tariffs. In a statement, they praised the recent tax cuts but said: "Trade barriers make Americans as a whole poorer and they especially harm those already disadvantaged. Trade wars hurt everyone."

In case there was any doubt on that point, Thursday afternoon's news underscored the point. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a right-leaning organization, announced that their calculations suggest Trump's tariffs could cost 2.6 million American jobs. Meanwhile, the other major industrial powers—namely China, Japan, Germany, and the UK—are growing weary of these shenanigans, and aren't making a secret of the meeting they plan to hold very soon at which they will discuss how to start working around (and not with) the United States.

It remains to be seen if any of this kvetching spurs action in the U.S. The Koch brothers can't do anything about the tariffs in the short term, but they could finance "free trade" candidates in November. The senators, on the other hand, could put their money where their mouths are. They could sponsor a bill to repeal the law that gives the president the power to unilaterally impose tariffs. The Constitution makes it clear that the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations belongs to the legislative branch, not the executive branch. Specifically, Article I, Section 8, which lays out the powers of Congress, has clause 3, which reads:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

So Congress could easily reclaim the tariff power it ceded to the executive years ago. But don't count on it. (V)

NAFTA Looks to Be in Trouble

The negotiations over NAFTA v2.0 are not going well. The latest stumbling block is that Vice President Mike Pence demanded a five-year sunset clause that would allow the United States to cancel the deal in 2023 for any reason, should it wish to do so. Why the VPOTUS is taking the lead on trade policy is anyone's guess; maybe Sec. of Commerce Wilbur Ross had the sniffles. In any event, there is zero chance that Canada and Mexico would make such a concession; that kind of uncertainty simply won't work for them. Surely, the Trump administration knows this, which means that the demand looks an awful lot like it is intended to kill the deal. Then, Trump would blame the Canadians and the Mexicans for being unreasonable, selfish, sad, etc.

Indeed, right on cue Thursday afternoon, Trump got out his saber and rattled it, issuing a statement in which he declared:

The United States has been taken advantage of for many decades on trade. Those days are over. Earlier today, this message was conveyed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada: The United States will agree to a fair deal, or there will be no deal at all.

As with the Iran deal, Trump is painting himself into a corner. Given his bluster, he can hardly allow the current version of NAFTA to stand. And even if he actually wants a new and "better" deal, the time to get that done is running out. Mexico's election season is about to begin, and they are likely to elect the fiercely anti-Trump Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Then there's the U.S. midterms after that. And that is before we consider the fact that Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) deadline for Congress to approve a new deal in time for 2019 was...yesterday. Add it all up, and Trump may be left with killing NAFTA as his only option (which, as noted, may be what he wants). In that eventuality, the farmers of the midwest would take a beating, and then we'd see how deep their loyalty to the President really runs. (Z)

Foreign Powers May Hit Trump Where it Hurts

As China, the EU, Mexico, Canada, et al. decide what goods to hit with tariffs, they are often choosing strategically. Exports like pork, and soy, and corn come mostly from the states of the Midwest and the South—that is, Trump territory. If folks in those places feel the pinch from the President's trade policies, the rallies would presumably attract fewer people, the tweets would get fewer likes, and the Donald and his party might get fewer votes, making his reelection in 2020 even tougher. All of this would, of course, make the President very unhappy. However, there is one thing that Trump cares about even more: His businesses (which, by the way, lost $100 million in value in the last year). Consequently, there are some serious whispers, in Canada and elsewhere, about some truly devastating retaliatory measures. Not against the United States, but against Trump's properties.

This is the kind of thing that makes respectable politicians feel a little dirty to even consider, much less do, but Trump's extensive holdings do present certain opportunities. Foreign governments, for example, could cancel all visas that have been granted to Americans so that they might work at Trump properties. They could pull the licenses granted to his golf courses. They could craft specially-designed taxes, like, "all American-owned real estate businesses whose founders have a net worth of $1 billion or more must henceforth pay a tax of 60% on every dollar they bring in."

This is very far away from happening, and it's pretty unlikely that it actually would. But if Trump keeps pushing his luck, it's exactly the kind of thing that a Justin Trudeau or a Theresa May might casually mention to throw the fear of God into the Donald. And, as we know, he generally backs down when challenged. (Z)

Trump to Pardon Conservative Author Dinesh D'Souza

Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that he will pardon conservative author, filmmaker, and provocateur Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty to campaign law violations in 2014. He was sentenced to 8 months in a community confinement center and a $30,000 fine.

D'Souza is a darling of the right for his books, including:

This won't be Trump's first pardon. He also pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby. While the pardon power is unrestricted, Trump is using it in a way that the Founding Parents never intended. The original idea was to give the president the power to right wrongs when the justice system failed. For example, if evidence later surfaced proving that an innocent person had been imprisoned, the president could free that person. It was never intended to let a supporter of your party off the hook after having pleaded guilty to a political crime (in D'Souza's case, contributing too much money to a Republican senatorial candidate). Nor was it intended as a means of rallying political support (it's not a coincidence that Trump pardons people one at a time, and makes a big show of doing it). The President suggested that his next beneficiaries might be Rod Blagojevich and Martha Stewart, both of whom just happen to be former "The Apprentice" contestants.

With the D'Souza pardon (and the others that may come down the pike), Trump is (once again) saying that the rule of law doesn't apply to his friends and supporters. There is also the not-so-subtle message to people like former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former fixer Michael Cohen that a pardon awaits those who are loyal to him. (V)

Trump Doesn't Know Who Voted for the Tax Bill

Donald Trump has injected himself in the Republican primary for NY-11, which covers Staten Island and a bit of Southern Brooklyn with this tweet:

The race is between Rep. Dan. Donovan (R-NY) and former congressman—and convicted felon—Michael Grimm. Now, there is nothing unusual or wrong about a president endorsing a candidate for the House. What is a bit odd here, however, is that Trump praised Donovan for supporting his tax-cut bill. According to real facts, as opposed to alternate facts, Donovan voted against the tax bill, not once, but against all three versions of it. He was also a vocal opponent of it, calling it "a tax hike on the people I represent." Only a dozen Republicans voted against the bill, so it shouldn't have been so hard for Trump to keep track of them.

If Donovan wins the primary, The Democrats will surely use Trump's tweet against him. They will run ads highlighting Donovan's "support" of the tax bill, which is unpopular in New York. Donovan will naturally deny voting for the bill, but Trump's tweet thanking him for his vote will be all over the place. It certainly can't help Donovan in a swing district (PVI of R+3) and might be just enough to help the Democrat over the finish line first. Most presidents don't make this kind of unforced error, but Trump doesn't rely on his staff to help him. He just shoots from the hip all the time. (V)

Trump Does Know Whom to Ask for Help

Donald Trump may be a little confused about who is on his side when it comes to the tax bill. But he (or, at least, his staff) know who to talk to when they need some expert-level political savvy: senior members of the Obama and Clinton administration.

That's right. Despite all the public talk of the "deep state" and the general incompetence/evilness of Barack Obama and the Clintons, The Trump Administration has reached out to folks like Frank Januzzi (former adviser to Joe Biden), Evan Medeiros (former adviser to Barack Obama on Asian affairs), Mira Rapp-Hooper (former adviser to the Clintons on Asian affairs), and Jeffrey Lewis (former adviser to Obama and Hillary Clinton on nuclear policy). All were included in e-mail blasts asking "policy makers" to help sell the administration's talking points, to which the former Obama/Clinton advisers all said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

This information only came to light because the White House Communications Office, which is not exactly the tightest-run of ships, did not keep in mind the difference between the "cc:" field and the "bcc:" field, such that the recipients of the latest message were revealed to all the other recipients. And one of those turned over the whole list to Politico. It is presumably a good thing for the country that members of Team Trump realize that it's possible to be a Democrat and an expert at the same time, but it's also a shame that Donald Trump's need to shift blame to the "deep state" means that an invaluable resource—that is, the experienced members of Team Obama—can never really be tapped in a substantive way. (Z)

Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
May31 Trump: I Shouldn't Have Picked Sessions for Attorney General
May31 Trump's Midterm Strategy: Stoke Outrage
May31 Roseanne Saga Enters Day Two
May31 Judge Sets Deadline for Review of Cohen's Computer Files
May31 Trump Is Undermining McConnell's Midterm Plans
May31 McCain, Ducey Meet
May31 Trump Plans to Hit Allies with Steel and Aluminum Tariffs
May31 Cruz Leads O'Rourke by Double Digits in Texas Senate Race
May31 All the Way with the ERA?
May30 Trump Will Impose Tariffs on Chinese Goods
May30 Giuliani Says Trump Won't Sit for Interview Until He Gets Info on Informant
May30 Roseanne Launches Atom Bomb in Culture Wars
May30 Trump Claims Mueller Will Meddle in the Midterms
May30 Midterms May Determine Control of the House for 10 Years
May30 Cohen to Appear in Court Today
May30 Greitens Resigns
May29 Trump ComME-ME-MEmorates ME-ME-ME-morial Day
May29 New Dark-Money Tactics Could Be Used This Year
May29 Democrats Plan to Run on Gas in Midterms
May29 Franklin Graham Is Campaigning for Republicans in California
May29 China Has Granted Ivanka Trump 13 Trademarks in 3 Months
May29 McCain Writes His Own Eulogy
May29 Another Republican Congressman Retires
May29 Giuliani Booed at Yankee Stadium
May28 Giuliani Says Muller's Investigation Is Illegitimate
May28 Trump (& Co.) Will Say Anything
May28 Preparations for Talks with North Korea Are Proceeding
May28 Heitkamp Has a Native American Problem
May28 Democrats Are Spending Millions to Avoid Disaster in California
May28 Almost Half of Republicans Believe Millions of Illegal Votes Were Cast in 2016
May28 In Case There Was Any Doubt...
May27 Clocks Are Striking Thirteen in Washington
May27 American Held in Venezuela Is Released
May27 FBI Obtained Wiretapped Calls from Spain
May27 Bolton Wants to Eliminate Cybersecurity Job
May27 Warren Tries to Blunt "Pocahontas" Slur
May27 McConnell Thinks Sherrod Brown's Seat Is in Play
May27 Nunes Gets Ready for the Fight of His Life
May26 Cohen Was Paid over $500,000 by Top Lobbying Firm
May26 About that Russian Oligarch...
May26 Trump's Foreign Policy Is a Mystery, Probably Even to Him
May26 McConnell Supports Mueller's Investigation
May26 Quick Question: Is It Bernie vs. Hillary All over Again for the Democrats?
May26 Menendez Barely Leads Hugin
May26 Rohrabacher Shoots Himself in the Foot
May25 Trump Cancels Meeting with Kim Jong-Un
May25 James Clapper: Russia Swung the Election to Trump
May25 Republicans, Democrats Get Briefing on Informant
May25 Stone Could Be a Bigger Threat to Trump Than Cohen
May25 Trump Thrilled with NFL's New Policy, but Maybe He Shouldn't Be