Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Democratic Senators Will Be under Enormous Pressure
      •  Rosenstein Clashes with Jim Jordan in House Hearing
      •  Putin-Trump Summit is Set
      •  Mueller Subpoenas Another Ally of Roger Stone
      •  Kelly Expected to Leave the White House this Summer
      •  This Week in Questionable Appointments
      •  A Bad Poll for Feinstein

Democratic Senators Will Be under Enormous Pressure

The half-dozen or so endangered Democratic senators up in 2018, especially Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Joe Manchin (WV), are going to be under enough pressure on the Supreme Court confirmation vote that if it were applied to a lump of coal, you'd get a diamond. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the vote will take place before the midterms, precisely to maximize the pressure.

If these senators vote "no," their opponents will label them as anti-Trump, something that is sure to hurt in states that Donald Trump won by double digits. If they vote "yes," Democrats will probably not be forgiving and the supply of donors and campaign workers will dry up. There is no easy way out for them, which, of course, was McConnell's plan from the start. The downside for McConnell is if the new justice is confirmed before the elections, Republicans will have less motivation to go vote because they already got the payoff, while Democrats will be beyond livid.

A complication is that if Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) vote "yes," the Democrats' votes don't actually matter, so in theory the endangered Democrats might try to argue that they were just trying to save their own necks and voting "yes" didn't mean anything. On the other hand, if Murkowski and Collins vote "no," then the Democrats will be the difference between confirmation and rejection, and the Democratic base would never forgive them and will drop them like hot potatoes. The likely result of that is that the Republicans pick up four new Senate seats and in January Trump nominates an even more conservative candidate who zips through the confirmation process. It is also possible that retiring Sens. Jeff Flake (AZ) and Bob Corker (TN) vote "no," but their track records suggest that when push comes to shove, they follow the leadership.

Conservative groups are already ratcheting up the pressure. The Judicial Crisis Network is already working on a seven-figure ad buy to boost Trump's choice, even before he or she is known. The ad says: "He appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, a fair and independent justice, committed to the Constitution" and goes on to say that Democratic extremists like Sens. Chuck Schumer (NY), Cory Booker (NJ), and Dick Durbin (IL) will lie and attack the nominee. It concludes by saying: "We look forward to President Trump nominating another great justice." The Koch brothers have also announced their plans to invest seven figures.

If a new conservative justice is confirmed, it is certain that anti-abortion forces will make a huge attempt to repeal Roe v. Wade. If they succeed, then we will have a peculiar situation. Remember that the Republican leaders and donors don't give a hoot about abortion laws, one way or another. But running on a platform of "tax cuts for the rich" doesn't fly for the GOP, so Karl Rove thought of this brilliant idea of distracting the Republican base by talking about abortion all the time. If Roe v. Wade is finally overturned, what are Republicans going to run on that has the same power to gin up evangelical voters? Surely not tax cuts for the rich. Maybe same-sex marriage? But that probably won't work as well anymore, because substantial majorities approve of gay marriage and denying rights to people is less potent than calling the Democrats baby killers. (V)

Rosenstein Clashes with Jim Jordan in House Hearing

Freedom Caucus cofounder Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had a fiery confrontation during a hearing yesterday. Jordan accused Rosenstein of hiding information from Congress, something Rosenstein forcefully denied. When Jordan asked: "Did you threaten to subpoena [staffers] calls and emails?" Rosenstein said: "No sir, and there's no way to subpoena phone calls," which provoked laughter in the room.

Jordan is trying to get a vast number of documents, some of which he is not entitled to get. He has already been given 880,000 documents and 100 staffers are working round the clock to get Jordan the rest. The Congressman is simply on a fishing expedition. He is hoping to find something, somewhere, that undercuts Rosenstein so he can demand his resignation in order to allow Donald Trump to replace him with someone who will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Jordan has no other purpose in holding hearings. Rosenstein is in a bind. He can't very well tell anyone in Congress to buzz off, but he also doesn't want to compromise the Justice Dept. If Jordan can't get what he wants from Rosenstein, he could try to get the House to hold him in contempt of Congress, in which case the Justice Dept. (i.e., Rosenstein) would have to decide whether to do anything about it. In a more extreme scenario, the House could impeach Rosenstein, but that would set off an enormous political storm. (V)

Putin-Trump Summit is Set

On Thursday, the Trump administration made official what had been rumored for days: Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin will hold their first formal summit in Finland on July 16. The confab will be slotted in during a broader swing through Europe that the Donald already had on his schedule.

Of course, Trump and Putin have already met before (in the midst of international gatherings where they were both present). Further, the President has shown himself to be easily manipulated by silver-tongued autocrats. Consequently, we already have a pretty good idea of how this is going to go. First of all, sometime on July 16 or July 17, Trump will make an announcement that Russia did not interfere with the 2016 elections, isn't going to interfere with the 2018 elections, and that's that. In case there was any doubt on this point, Trump reminded us of his views via Twitter on Thursday:

Because after all, if you can't trust a former KGB officer, whom can you trust?

It is also very probable that Putin will use the opportunity to extract some promises from Trump, since the "world's greatest dealmaker" is always willing to grant substantive concessions in exchange for a nice photo-op. Exactly what might those concessions be? Well, that is the question that has the leaders of Europe and of other U.S. allies very worried. There is, of course, a long list of possibilities. Trump can't lift the Russian sanctions himself, but he could promise to twist Congress' arms on that matter. And given that most GOP members now ask "how high?" when Trump says "jump," that could go a long way. Another possibility is that Trump could promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Poland, something that has been a sticking point with the Russians for years. However, the likeliest concession—which Trump has already raised in conversations with other world leaders this week, including King Abdullah II of Jordan—is a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. Israel wouldn't be too happy about that, but they got their embassy move, so they probably don't get a vote. (Z)

Mueller Subpoenas Another Ally of Roger Stone

Robert Mueller is curious about Donald Trump's ally Roger Stone, who seemed to know about the hacking of the DNC emails before that became public knowledge. For example, did Stone collude with any Russians or with anyone who colluded with some Russians? To learn more about this, Mueller has issued a subpoena to Andrew Miller, a former Stone associate. Miller intends to fight the subpoena on the grounds that Mueller's appointment is unconstitutional, even though this strategy has been tried by others without success.

Stone once described Miller as a "trust-fund baby." He seems to have been a garden-variety influence peddler available to the highest bidder without much regard for party or ideology. He once donated $120,000 to a group sympathetic to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel's 2012 election campaign. When Israel won, he hired three of Miller's friends. Miller has also supported the Manhattan Madam Kirstin Davis' gubernatorial campaign, Gary Johnson's failed 2012 presidential campaign, and others.

Miller is the third person close to Stone whom Mueller has subpoenaed. The others are John Kakanis and Jason Sullivan. All of these subpoenas suggest that Muller is trying to get enough information about Stone so he can pressure him into flipping. Stone said he would never, ever do that, but his friends have said he would never go to prison for Trump. (V)

Kelly Expected to Leave the White House this Summer

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that White House chief of staff John Kelly has had it and will leave during the summer. Trump and Kelly are rarely on the same page any more, and Trump doesn't like Kelly. He also doesn't like Kelly's attempts to rein him in and keep him from doing things that could be bad for the country. Kelly also reportedly called Trump an "idiot" in April and mocked him for his lack of knowledge. That is something Trump will never forgive.

Given how Trump grinds up people and then spits them out later, it will be very difficult to find a competent chief of staff to replace Kelly. Almost everyone capable of doing the job well knows how it is going to end. The only obvious figures who are not very weak are Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers. These are strong people, but are more Trumpian than Trump, so they might do it. If neither of them gets the nod or refuse, Trump will find a weak yes-man who simply does what he is told and offers no leadership or resistance.

The White House, incidentally, is denying everything, insisting that Trump and Kelly get along great, that Kelly is not remotely thinking about leaving, and that this whole story is "fake news." Of course, the administration said exactly the same things about H.R. McMaster right before he left. And Gary Cohn. And Rex Tillerson. And Reince Preibus. So there may be something of a pattern here. (V)

This Week in Questionable Appointments

As noted above, Donald Trump is in a difficult place, appointments-wise. Any high-quality, competent candidate is going to be smart enough to realize that working in this administration almost always ends badly, killing careers rather than launching them into the stratosphere, as White House service usually does. Beyond that, Trump has always been a paranoid, provincial sort, not particularly interested in welcoming strangers into his inner circle. Certainly, his unhappy experiences with Rex Tillerson and John Kelly and H.R. McMaster have not caused him to reevaluate that tendency.

Add it all up, and we should expect to see the appointment of a lot of friends, business partners, and other cronies going forward. And so it is this week. To start, on Thursday, the White House officially announced the appointment of Bill Shine, likely as deputy chief of staff in charge of communications. This makes him, at least partially, a replacement for former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who jumped ship four months ago. Shine is the former president of Fox News, and was pushed heavily by Sean Hannity. That is a little concerning in and of itself, given the President's already too-cozy relationship with that outlet. Just imagine if Barack Obama had tried to appoint a former MSNBC president pushed upon him by Rachel Maddow. What makes the Shine appointment far worse, however, is that he lost his job at Fox because his blasé attitude about sexual harassment made possible the atmosphere that allowed Bill O'Reilly and other predators to flourish. If Trump was truly sorry about pu**ygate, he would presumably stay far away from someone like Shine. The fact that the President is not doing so either means our assumption is wrong, or else that Trump isn't actually sorry about pu**ygate. We report, you decide.

The other eyebrow-raising appointment of the week is Charles Rettig, who was tapped to head the IRS, and who is currently in the midst of his confirmation hearings. The issue with Rettig is that he owns property in Hawaii. Oh, and his partner in that venture is...the Trump Organization. Is that problematic? Well, Rettig certainly thinks it might be, since his disclosure paperwork went to great lengths to obscure the connection. The potential conflict of interest is particularly important since Trump has famously complicated (and imaginative) tax returns, so much so that his 2016 return is apparently still under audit. Of course, the Senate has rejected so few of Trump's appointees that Rettig's liabilities are unlikely to matter much. (Z)

A Bad Poll for Feinstein

Not disastrous, but bad. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) guns for a fifth term, her challenger—thanks to California's jungle primary system—is another Democrat, namely State Senator Kevin de León, who is well to the left of Feinstein. The good news for the Senator is that she has a healthy 18-point lead over her challenger, according to a new poll from USC/The Los Angeles Times. The bad news is that lead is 36% to 18%, with a remarkable 46% of voters undecided. As we have observed many times before, most commonly in the context of the race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), the voters know pretty well who a multi-term sitting senator is, and what he or she stands for. What most of those 46% are effectively saying, then, is "We don't quite know the challenger, but we're available to be won over."

This is not to suggest that Feinstein is in serious trouble. She's not, at least not yet. Those undecideds would have to break overwhelmingly for de León to make a race of it. We actually bring up this poll primarily because it raises an interesting question. Given the developments of this week, most obviously the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, the Democratic base is restless. There is a clear sense that, whatever the Democratic leadership is doing, it's not working. Following the upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), and other progressive triumphs in this Tuesday's primaries, it is worth wondering if support for outsider and/or more leftist candidates is about to surge among Democrats. It will be interesting to see once primary season really heats back up again. There are a handful of primaries in July, but things will really start jumping again on August 7, when voters in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington will head to the polls. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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