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

White House Staffers Don't Know What to Do

When Donald Trump says he plans to veto the budget and then signs it anyhow, it drives White House staffers up the wall. They are at their wits' end and don't know how to behave or what to do with such a mercurial boss who can change his positions 180 degrees at any moment for no apparent reason. The communications shop feels this most intensely when it puts out a statement and Trump undercuts them within hours, if not minutes. It makes everyone think they have no idea what they are talking about. The core problem is not that they are misinformed. It is that whatever Trump says in the morning may or may not be what he does in the afternoon.

Trump seems to like it this way. He doesn't care that he constantly embarrasses the people who work for him. He likes the idea of keeping the media off guard and sees his unpedictability as a feature, not a bug. Lyndon Johnson was also like this, and often when the media said he was going to do something, he would intentionally kill the idea to prove them wrong. But Johnson didn't like intentionally humiliating his own staff; that is a Trump invention.

A consequence of Trump's behavior, however, is that increasingly the media don't believe the (mis)information they are fed. In the long run, this is never good for a president, even if Trump's base loves to see the media make fools of themselves in the short run. (V)

No Wonder Trump is Angry about the Budget He Just Signed

Before he signed the budget bill, Donald Trump did a lot of bloviating, first threatening to veto the thing, then calling for a line-item veto (despite the fact that such a move was already deemed unconstitutional), and then berating Congress. He told reporters:

There are a lot of things I'm unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were in a sense forced if we want to build our military. I said to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again.

We shall see if the President sticks with that threat next year, when he's likely to get a bill much like this one.

Trump's aggravation is understandable. If he had vetoed the bill, then he would have had 100% ownership of the ensuing government shutdown, one that might have lingered for days or weeks. So, he was boxed in. Trump did get $700 billion for the military, which will allow him to claim fulfillment of one of his major campaign pledges (even though that figure is not especially different than the amount spent during the Obama years). Beyond that, however, as the Washington Post's Paul Waldman points out, the Democrats actually finagled quite a deal for themselves, given that they are in the minority. Specifically:

  • Only $1.6 billion in border wall funding, and only to be used for existing structures
  • Some slight gun-control measures, including allowing the CDC to research gun violence
  • More than half a billion dollars to increase election security
  • The NEA and NEH got more money, as opposed to being cut
  • No cuts to the EPA
  • No defunding of sanctuary cities or of Planned Parenthood
  • A total rejection of Betsy DeVos' agenda
  • No repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches from endorsing political candidates

Needless to say, this budget is not going to help the President's already fraught relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). (Z)

White House Announces Transgender Ban

Donald Trump is in the midst of a bad run, publicity-wise, from signing a budget-busting budget bill that does not reflect his priorities, to two of his mistresses taking their stories to prime time, to more turnover at the White House, to the latest developments in Russiagate. In such times, the President often looks for a distraction, generally utilizing one of the many bugaboos that get his base in a tizzy—crooked Hillary, the "deep state," Muslim terrorists, fake news, MS-13, and the like. Given all of this, it's not the slightest bit surprising that he just so happened to pull the trigger Friday night on his long-threatened ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

The memorandum announcing the decision does little to explain the purpose of this decision. However, it does spend much space making clear that Secretary of Defense James Mattis was involved in writing up the ban, and that he "concluded [it] should be adopted." This marks a 180-degree reversal from Mattis' previous stance on the matter. Either something has changed his mind, or he was ordered to "change" his mind, or else the White House is lying. Any of these is well within the realm of possibility. Mattis has largely remained behind the scenes, so it's not likely that we'll get to hear from him which it is.

Assuming that the ban is actually implemented, there are still a whole bunch of exemptions provided by the President's memo, including people who have been "stable for 36 consecutive months in their biological sex prior to accession," servicemembers who "do not require a change of gender" and troops who started serving under the Obama administration's policy prior to the new memo. And the odds are that those exemptions won't even matter, because the ban is currently being blocked by several courts, with no particular indication that they are going to change their position.

In short, then, very little changed on Friday night. This situation is no different than the Muslim travel bans, or the inspection of border wall designs, or threatening to beat up Joe Biden—just a political parlor trick to excite the base and distract attention from other, less helpful headlines. (Z)

McGahn Wants to Quit, Sooner or Later

Sources have told Politico that White House counsel Don McGahn wants to quit, but maybe not right now. Donald Trump wants him to stay, but that may keep him on board for only a few months. Trump really didn't want former communications director Hope Hicks to leave, but she did anyway, and so will McGahn. Only the timing is up in the air.

A key reason for his interest in leaving the White House could be money. As White House counsel, he earns $179,700, the top salary for staffers. When he was a partner in the Jones Day law firm, he was making $2.4 million a year. His plan after leaving the White House is to go back to his old job at his old salary.

Another reason he might want to leave is that in his current job he is constantly dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller, who wants all kinds of stuff that Trump doesn't want to give him. This puts McGahn in a stressful situation, which he probably does not enjoy much.

While McGahn has played a major role in rolling back many Obama-era regulations, at least once he has played a moderating role in the White House. In particular, last year when Trump tried to fire Mueller, McGahn basically stopped him. If he leaves, another one of the few remaining moderating influences will be gone. (V)

Everyone Has an Opinion on Bolton

It's been about 24 hours since we learned of Donald Trump's decision to replace NSA Herbert McMaster with the hawkish John Bolton. That is plenty of time for Democrats, far and wide, to express their horror at the choice. A selection:

Meanwhile, even on the Republican side, reaction was mixed. A selection of headlines from op-eds by right-leaning folks:

Donald Trump loves to stir the pot and, with Bolton, he's certainly done it.

Meanwhile, 24 hours was also more than enough for Bolton to get enmeshed in his vary first scandal as NSA-designate. Two of them, actually. The less serious one involves Bolton's mustache. There have been numerous, and credible, reports that the mustache was the single-biggest obstacle that almost kept Bolton from getting hired. One might expect it to be his long history of interpersonal issues, or his unyielding support for the Iraq War, or the fact that the North Koreans loathe him and won't be happy to see him at next month's scheduled tete-a-tete. But no, it would seem that this administration takes its hiring cues from Disneyland.

The considerably more serious issue is that Bolton and his super PAC were early customers of Cambridge Analytica, the now-disgraced firm that acquired its data through misleading and unethical means, and that did business with the Russians. While Bolton is not likely guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, this is exactly the kind of thing that could make it impossible for him to get a security clearance. And without a clearance, he can't be NSA. So, he probably shouldn't be picking out new curtains for Herbert McMaster's office quite yet. (Z)

Nine Takeaways from Karen McDougal's Interview

Anderson Cooper's interview with former Playmate (in more than one sense) Karen McDougal aired on Thursday. CNN has a list of nine takeaways from the interview, as follows:

  • Trump tried to pay her the first time they had sex and she was very upset, saying "I'm not that kind of girl"
  • Trump constantly told her that he loved her and she might have married him had he proposed
  • She didn't keep any text messages, photos, or other evidence of the relationship
  • McDougal is a die-hard Republican and voted for Trump
  • She says that everyone who denies the affair (including Trump) is lying
  • She now thinks that the NDA she signed was really to protect Trump
  • The Hollywood Access tape surprised her because Trump always respected her
  • If she had to say something to Melania, it would be "I'm sorry"
  • She expects to be sued for speaking to Cooper

Trump's affair with McDougal was not a one-night stand. They had sex at least once a week for almost a year. In the interview, she comes across as truthful because the picture she paints of herself is not all that nice. She was in love with Trump and had no idea he was also having affairs with another woman at the same time (while also married to Melania). She knew in advance that the contract with the National Enquirer's parent company, A.M.I. was "catch and kill" but didn't want the story to be published, so it was a win-win for her: She got $150,000 and a story she didn't want published wasn't.

In the end, the thing which upset her was that A.M.I.'s CEO, David Pecker [sic], didn't keep his word. He promised to reboot her career by giving her a regular column on health and fitness in his publications and putting her on the cover often. He didn't do that. So in fact, what she is saying is: "Hey, wait a minute. I protected Donald but there was supposed to be something in this for me (besides the $150,000!) and I didn't get it. I feel cheated." That makes her look very mercenary, of course, because she is saying "$150,000 for doing nothing isn't good enough for me. I expected a job as well." Her obvious greediness makes the whole interview look real. She was naive, felt cheated and angry about it, so she sued to get out of the NDA so she can sell her story for even more money. If she were making up the whole thing, she would probably made herself look better, less mercenary, and a lot less stupid. (V)

Andy Taggart May Challenge Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate Race

Attorney Andy Taggart is seriously thinking of challenging Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and bombthrower Chris McDaniel in the nonpartisan Mississippi senatorial primary in November. His entry could hurt the GOP because it could split the Republican vote three ways and almost guarantee that the Democrat (possibly former Clinton Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy) finishes in the top two and thus qualifies for the December runoff. In a closely divided Senate, every seat counts and the more Republicans who are vying for Thad Cochran's old seat, the worse their chances of making sure no Democrat qualifies for the runoff. (V)

Wisconsin GOP Bends over Backwards to Avoid Special Elections

At the moment, there are two vacant seats in the Wisconsin legislature, one in the state senate, and one in the assembly. According to the Wisconsin constitution, Gov. Scott Walker (R) is supposed to call special elections to fill the vacancies. Since no time frame is specified, however, Walker has been dragging his feet. This resulted in a lawsuit, and, on Thursday, a court order to schedule the elections. Instead of complying, however, the Republican-dominated state legislature is holding a special session with an eye toward rewriting the law.

The state's GOP leadership has engaged in all sorts of gymnastics to justify their choices. Following Thursday's ruling, for example, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) issued a joint statement in which they said:

It's clear that little thought was given to the impact of the special elections ruling. In essence, there will be two elections occurring simultaneously for the two offices. It will undoubtedly lead to voter confusion and electoral chaos. Also, holding the special elections after the conclusion of the regular session is a waste of taxpayer dollars and local government resources.

In other words, they are arguing that Wisconsinites are too dumb to keep two separate elections straight. One wonders what happens when there's a presidential election, and voters are asked to weigh in on—gasp!—half a dozen races at one time (or more). It must be dizzying. Perhaps that is how folks like Scott Walker get elected.

The only thing that is at stake here is appearances. Currently, the GOP has an 18-14 majority in the state senate and—thanks to enthusiastic gerrymandering—a staggering 63-35 majority in the assembly. So, the Republicans will retain control of both houses regardless of what happens with the two vacancies. Their problem is that both seats are in staunchly Republican districts, where Donald Trump won by 18 points, and 14 points, respectively. Partisans on both sides of the aisle know that the GOP has suffered many embarrassing defeats in such elections this year. Given what just happened in PA-18, it's clear there is no such thing as a "safe" GOP seat right now, and the only 100% surefire way for the Party to avoid two more black eyes is to make sure that the elections aren't held at all. Next week, we will likely see what the courts have to say about that. Still, it is clear that regardless of what they might say publicly, Republicans are scared witless about their electoral chances, now and in November. (Z)

Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar23 Trump Levies Tariffs on China; Market Tanks
Mar23 Trump's Lead Lawyer Quits
Mar23 McMaster Out, Bolton In
Mar23 Congress Passes $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill
Mar23 McDougal Dishes on Trump
Mar23 Trump Hit with Emoluments Summons
Mar23 Trump Threatens to Beat Up Biden
Mar22 Mississippi Governor Appoints Cindy Hyde-Smith to Cochran's Seat
Mar22 Five Takeaways from Illinois Primary
Mar22 Trump, Kelly Furious Over "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" Leak
Mar22 Ex CIA Director: Putin May Have Kompromat on Trump
Mar22 Corker Explains Why Senators Won't Oppose Trump
Mar22 Post-Bannon Breitbart Faring Poorly
Mar22 Saccone Concedes
Mar21 Illinois Goes to the Polls
Mar21 Trump Staff: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" Putin; Trump: "Congratulations, Putin!"
Mar21 Judge Assigned in Stormy Daniels Case
Mar21 Karen McDougal Sues to Break Nondisclosure Agreement
Mar21 Judge: Summer Zervos Harassment Lawsuit May Go Forward
Mar21 Republicans Are Worried about West Virginia
Mar21 Fox News a "Propaganda Machine"
Mar21 Don't Show Trump the Amazon Bestseller List
Mar20 Illinois Voters Go to the Polls Today
Mar20 Trump Will Campaign in Senate Races
Mar20 Supreme Court Makes Two Decisions Favorable to the Democrats
Mar20 Dozens of Business Groups Oppose Trump's Proposed Tariffs on Chinese Goods
Mar20 Shutdown Looms; No Deal on Dreamers
Mar20 GOP Members of Congress Talk Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths
Mar20 Trump Hires Fox News Analyst for Legal Team
Mar20 Cambridge Analytica Used Bribes and Sex Workers to Influence Elections
Mar20 Americans Oppose the Deep State, but Don't Know What It Is
Mar19 Trump Continues to Attack Mueller
Mar19 Could Trump Replace Sessions with Pruitt?
Mar19 Trump Decides It's High Time His Administration Had a Drug Plan
Mar19 Democrats Expand Lead in Generic House Poll
Mar19 Democrats May Contest 100 House Seats
Mar19 New Republican Megadonor Surfaces
Mar19 Trump Required Staffers to Sign NDAs
Mar19 Kushner Filed False Paperwork in New York City
Mar19 Six More Years
Mar18 The McCabe Saga: Day 2
Mar18 Trump Lawyer Calls for Mueller Investigation to End
Mar18 Today's Trump Staffing Updates
Mar18 Trump Data Firm Harvested Facebook Data Without Permission
Mar18 Russians Head to the Polls Today
Mar17 McCabe Fired in "Friday Night Slaughter"
Mar17 Trump Claims Daniels Violated Hush-Money Agreement 20 Times
Mar17 Trump Wants More Tariffs
Mar17 Russia Could Have Turned Off the Electricity in the U.S.
Mar17 Tarkanian Dropping Out of Nevada Senatorial Primary