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Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Sort of Backs Down on Family, Separation

Until yesterday, Donald Trump said that the law requires breaking up the families of undocumented immigrants. His reason for saying this is that it is not legal to imprison children in adult prisons. Ergo, concluded the President, if the government is going to arrest and imprison undocumented parents, they must be separated from their children. Trump trotted out several members of the administration, most notably AG Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to insist that this is the only possible way to interpret the law, that it's all the Democrats' fault, that it is not within Trump's power to fix the problem, and that this is how Jesus would deal with immigrants if he were still alive.

There were at least a couple of things that Trump was not counting on. The first is that hundreds of millions of Americans were clever enough to notice that families were not being separated in this way prior to Trump, and now all of a sudden they are. That strongly suggests that Trump did indeed have something to do with it, and does have the power to address the problem. The second is that the reports of family separations were accompanied by photographic and video evidence, which is very powerful stuff. Consequently, there was enormous blowback from Democrats, independents, and even many Republicans. After nearly a week of digging in his heels, and doubling- and tripling-down on the "There's nothing I can do" bit, the law apparently changed overnight, and so yesterday Trump caved and issued an executive order entitled "Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Seperation [sic]," which was eventually amended to "Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation." Some headlines today will read, "Trump ends family separations," but it's actually much more complicated than that. What the executive order does, in brief:

  • Instructs the DoJ to keep families together "where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources"
  • Says that, when possible, families will be held by DHS (in other words, in barracks) and not DoJ (in prisons)
  • Moves families to the front of the line in immigration court, when practicable
  • Seeks to legalize indefinite detention of families
  • Blames Congress: "It is unfortunate that Congress's failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law."

The careful reader will notice that the order does not formally commit the administration to anything that is both affirmative and concrete, it merely promises that the DoJ will try not to split up families any more. The order also says nothing about the families who have already been separated; their status is up in the air.

Indeed, the only thing in Wednesday's order that is certain is that the administration is going to court for the right to get a little more punitive. As noted, it is not legal to house children in prisons. Further, it is not legal to detain children for more than 20 days, regardless of where they are kept. This rule is part of the so-called Flores agreement, a settlement that was reached in resolving the 1997 case, Flores v. Reno. What Trump is going to do is have Sessions go to court and try to overturn the Flores agreement. Failing that, it will either be necessary to deal with all immigration cases in 20 days or less, or else it will be necessary to separate children from their families. It is worth noting that the Obama administration also struggled with this logistical problem, although with greater success than Trump's. Anyhow, given what a hot-button issue this has become, the stage is set for the mother of all legal battles. Anthony Kennedy, gird up your loins.

Of course, Trump doesn't really care if Sessions prevails or not. All he really cares about is his reelection campaign in 2020, and (to a lesser extent) about the midterms. The President initially thought that ripping children from their families to deter people from trying to enter the country would go over well with his base. He was partly right about that; according to the latest poll, 46% of Republicans approve of the policy. What the President hadn't counted on was all the folks, Democratic, independent, and Republican, who would be infuriated and make that known. Despite having backtracked, though, Trump is still trying to have his cake and eat it, too. The very first thing he posted to Twitter after signing the executive order was a carefully-edited video pointing the finger at Democrats and crediting himself for resolving the situation:

With that said, at his Wednesday-night rally in Duluth, MN, Trump talked about border security, but did not say a word about the child separation situation, nor his "heroic" resolution of it. That's pretty strong evidence that even he knows that "It's all the Democrats' fault" is pretty flimsy, and that even a friendly crowd might not buy what he's selling.

Indeed, it's hard to see how Trump could have botched this worse. He pursued an inhumane policy in service of obviously self-centered ends. When it blew up in his face, he lied, then lied some more, then sent his underlings out to do even more lying for him. Then, he changed course—tacitly admitting his lies—but neglected to fully solve the problem. Exactly why he did not commit to reuniting the families who have been split up is anyone's guess. But the upshot is that just about everyone is going to walk away from this angry. Those who opposed the policy aren't going to forget the inhumanity of children being ripped from their mothers' arms, nor that the President lied, nor that his "reversal" wasn't much of a reversal. Those who supported the policy aren't going to be happy that he backed down and effectively admitted fault. On Wednesday morning, before Trump issued his order, members of Congress saw the handwriting on the wall, and it said "Welcome, Speaker Pelosi!" Now that handwriting is accompanied by a nice, red carpet leading right up the stairs of the Capitol building. (V & Z)

Selected Companies Are Making Millions off the Child Separation Policy

Hatred of foreigners is politically useful, as Donald Trump is demonstrating, but can you also make money off it? About half a dozen companies figured out how to do so. They got government contracts worth millions to transport, house and feed the children taken from their parents at the border. These contracts have all been secret, but as in Russia and China, companies well connected to the leadership no doubt got the lion's share. It is estimated that almost 12,000 children are being held in large cages run by these companies. The children don't have to sleep on the bare concrete, though. Each one is given a thin mattress and a piece of aluminum foil to use as a blanket:

Children in a cage

The size of the facilities varies greatly. One in Florida is being doubled from 500 children to 1,000. The biggest is in a former Walmart store in Brownsville, TX. It holds 1,500 children. Some are smaller, though.

The money isn't bad. One shelter operator, Southwest Key, has a contract for $458 million this fiscal year to house the children. And, of course, the kids have to be transported to the facilities. One company, MVM, has contracts worth $308 million to do that over a period of years.

On the other hand, not every company wants to jump on the gravy train. For example, United Airlines' CEO Oscar Munoz denounced the separation policy yesterday: "Our Company's shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world. This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it." American Airlines is on the same page as United. So are Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and Alaska Airlines. DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton wasn't impressed, saying: "Despite being provided facts on this issue, these airlines clearly do not understand our immigration laws and the longstanding, devastating loopholes that have caused the crisis at our southern border." (V)

Immigration Bills Are Expected to Fail Today

To ward off a discharge petition that is currently two signatures short of forcing a House vote on a bipartisan immigration bill favored by Democrats and moderate Republicans, Paul Ryan hastily wrote his own bill and may bring it to a vote today, along with a bill favored by the House Freedom Caucus. Both bills are expected to fail, in which case it is likely that two more representatives will sign the discharge petition, something Ryan strongly opposes.

Part of the problem is that although Donald Trump showed up in Congress this week, he mostly rambled about his first 18 months in office, and didn't make it clear what he wanted in an immigration bill. He certainly didn't twist any arms, Lyndon Johnson style. Trump doesn't seem to understand that as well as being president, he is also head of the Republican Party and is expected to weigh in on intraparty fights and make it crystal clear what he wants.

With that said, someone at the White House finally figured out that disaster is looming, and so after Trump signed his executive order (see above), he brought several on-the-fence Republicans to the White House to lean on them a bit to pass either bill (or both). Among the visitors were Kristi Noem (SD), Frank Lucas (OK) and George Holding (NC). At this point, however, it may be too late. There are many Freedom Caucus Republicans who will vote for the more punitive bill but not the less punitive one, and many moderate Republicans who will vote the reverse. Then there are nearly all Democrats, along with some Republicans, who likely won't vote for either bill. And if a bill does somehow get through the House, it's likely to die in the Senate.

So, if one is placing bets, the greatest likelihood of a bill getting to the White House is that the discharge petition gets the two additional signatures it needs, which sets the stage for a moderate bill to pass the House with Democratic plus moderate Republican support. That is the sort of bill that might just get through the Senate, with 49 Democratic votes plus a Jeff Flake (R-AZ) or a John Kennedy (R-LA) or a Susan Collins (R-ME). Which means that Donald Trump may very well get a bill to sign that he definitely doesn't want. But, given the fiasco he created for himself, he may have no choice but to sign it. (V & Z)

Michael Bloomberg Will Spent $80 Million to Flip the House

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is going to spend at least $80 million of his own fortune to flip the House of Representatives to the Democrats. But there is a catch: He prefers to support only moderate, business-friendly Democrats. Bloomberg's personal issue is gun control, so he is not going to waste any money in conservative rural districts where a candidate who supports gun control laws has no chance. His real target is affluent suburban districts populated by moderate Republicans who have had enough of Donald Trump and are ripe for a business-friendly Democrat.

Bloomberg is in contact regularly with Democratic leaders, in particular Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). He is also planning to work with Emily's List to elect more women to Congress. The effort will be overseen by Howard Wolfson, a former executive director of the DCCC, who is very well plugged in to the Democratic establishment.

Most Democrats will be overjoyed to get such a large contribution from someone who understands politics himself very well. However, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) may not be jumping for joy since Bloomberg has little interest in a $15 minimum wage and even less interest in breaking up the big banks. On the other hand, Bloomberg is not planning to wade into the primaries to support establishment candidates against progressive candidates. He will support whoever the Democratic House candidate is in any district that he thinks is winnable. But given his focus on suburban districts currently held by Republicans, he will mostly end up supporting moderates. Still, most progressives hate Trump so much that even Blue Dogs are beginning to look good. (V)

China Knows How to Fight a Trade War

Donald Trump caved under pressure on separating families (see above) but so far he has not caved on trade. Since he didn't get his win on the immigration front, he may double down to get it on the trade front. He is currently threatening China with tariffs on $250 billion worth of exports to the U.S. He is probably thinking that China can't retaliate in kind because the U.S. exports only $130 billion worth of products to China every year. If he is thinking that, he is quite wrong.

China can hit back in many ways other than levying tariffs on imported goods. Here are just a few of them.

  • The government could start a campaign telling consumers not to go to Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds, etc.
  • The government could run ads telling people that buying American products was not in the national interest
  • Plants making parts for U.S. companies could suddenly start failing health or safety inspections and be shut down
  • New tax laws could hit American companies doing business in China especially hard
  • American citizens or companies in China might suddenly notice that banks don't want their accounts any more
  • Chinese courts could (be instructed to) rule that American patents are invalid, allowing Chinese competition
  • Customs inspectors could take forever to examine parts being imported for assembly into American products
  • The process of issuing licenses, permits, patents, and trademarks to American companies could grind to a halt
  • Parts of the Chinese market now closed to foreign companies could be opened, but only to European companies

The list is endless. If the Chinese government wants to punish American companies, there are many ways it can do it, and it is smart enough to target companies in red states, to maximize the pain to Trump supporters. (V)

Trade War Casualties are Already Mounting

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross visited the Senate on Wednesday to chat about trade policy. What he got was a parade of Republican senators complaining about the impact of newly-imposed tariffs on their states. Among them (along with their specific complaints):

  • John Thune (SD): Corn, wheat, and pork prices
  • Chuck Grassley (IA): Soybean prices
  • Rob Portman (OH): Steel costs and automobile sales
  • Pat Toomey (PA): Ketchup production (Heinz is threatening to move to Canada)
  • Johnny Isakson (GA): Aluminum costs (Coca-Cola is taking a beating)
  • Orrin Hatch (UT): Steel costs

It is true that the Senators' job is to declare "woe is me!" and to spin things as hard as they can on behalf of their voters. However, it is also the case that while they may be exaggerating, they are not making things up out of whole cloth. There is undoubtedly much truth to the notion that their states are already being affected. And one cannot help but notice that outside of South Dakota, Trump collected 52% of the vote or less in all of these states. In other words, it won't take much of a swing to put these states back in the Democratic column in 2020. So, it's clear that the Chinese (and other countries) are having success in hitting Trump where it hurts. (Z)

Clawback Fails in the Senate

Congress passed a carefully crafted bipartisan budget in March. After he signed it, Donald Trump decided he didn't like some of the things the Republicans conceded to the Democrats to get it passed, so he asked Paul Ryan to draw up a bill to rescind the parts he didn't like. He did and it passed the House, even though Democrats warned Ryan that they would never trust the Republicans again for trying to claw back appropriations that were part of a delicate compromise. Yesterday the Senate voted on the House bill and it went down to defeat 48 to 50. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Susan Collins (R-ME) voted against the bill.

The bill would have eliminated only $15 billion in spending had it passed, but it definitely succeeded in poisoning the well, since 48 Republicans voted for it. Getting an agreement on next year's budget is not going to be easy now that Democrats simply don't trust Republicans to keep their word on the budget any more. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun20 Trump Visits Capitol Hill
Jun20 Separating Families Could Be Trump's Katrina
Jun20 U.S. Quits U.N. Human Rights Council
Jun20 Whoever Wins Immigration Debate, Nielsen Has Already Lost
Jun20 John Kelly Doesn't Care Any More
Jun20 Cohen Is Apparently Willing to Sing Like a Canary
Jun20 Russians Bought Trump Properties for over $100 Million in Cash
Jun20 Donald Trump Could Be Done in by a Club Sandwich
Jun20 Gillibrand: Trump Is Doing the Devil's Work
Jun19 Trump Doubles Down on Separating Families at the Border
Jun19 Let the Trade Wars Begin
Jun19 Supreme Court Dodges the Gerrymandering Issue
Jun19 North Carolina Moves Forward, Kansas Backward, on Voter ID Laws
Jun19 Trump Signs "Space Force" Directive
Jun19 Claw Back Looks Unlikely
Jun19 It Takes a Village--to Elect Rick Scott
Jun18 Strzok Is Willing to Testify before Congress
Jun18 Roger Stone Met with a Russian Offering Dirt on Clinton
Jun18 All Hell Will Break Loose When Mueller Issues His Report
Jun18 Trump Encourages WaPo Staff to Strike
Jun18 First Ladies Blast Trump on Border Separations
Jun18 Steve King: Ryan Might Be Removed
Jun18 Trump's Approval Has Dropped in All 50 States
Jun18 Poll: Too Early to Judge if Singapore Summit Was a Winner
Jun17 Trump Makes Immigration Mess Even Messier
Jun17 Trump Taps Unknown to Lead Consumer Bureau
Jun17 Pruitt Might Finally Be in Real Trouble
Jun17 Giuliani Bloviates Some More
Jun17 Breitbart is Flailing
Jun17 Sanders Won't Endorse His Son
Jun17 There Aren't Going to Be Three Californias
Jun16 Trump Imposes Tariffs on China
Jun16 Manafort Goes to Jail
Jun16 Giuliani: Trump Won't Sit for an Interview with Mueller
Jun16 What's Going on with Immigration, for Christ's Sake?
Jun16 Prosecutors Reconstruct 16 Pages of Cohen's Shredded Documents
Jun16 Senate Democrats Look Safe in Four Trump States
Jun16 McConnell Gets Serious about Reelection Bid
Jun15 New York Attorney General Sues Trump
Jun15 Justice Department Report: Comey Had Poor Judgment on Clinton E-mail Case
Jun15 Trump Officially Approves $50 Billion in Tariffs
Jun15 Kim? Check. Next Up? Maybe Putin
Jun15 Trump Probably Lied about Parents of Korean POWs
Jun15 Republicans Embrace the "Cult" of Trump
Jun15 Bill Nelson Has a Latino Problem
Jun14 Michael Cohen and His Lawyers Part Ways
Jun14 Trump Runs More Victory Laps
Jun14 Trump's Claims about the North Korea Deal Don't Align with the Facts
Jun14 Trump Will Play a Big Role in the Dreamer Feud
Jun14 Sanders Looks to Be on Her Way Out