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

Trump Wants the Pentagon to Pay for His Wall

After failing to get Mexico or Congress to pay for a wall on the Mexican border, Donald Trump is working on a new source of funding: the Department of Defense. His argument is that the Pentagon is getting so much money in the new spending bill that it can surely afford to pay for the wall.

A senior DoD official said that although the Dept. has enough money to build the wall, the $700 billion in the budget that the DoD gets is not a lump-sum payment with instructions: "Protect the country." Congress gives the DoD very detailed instructions about how the money is to be spent and there is nothing in the budget about wall construction. If the chairman of the Joint Chiefs decided he needed to build a wall in Afghanistan, he might be able to swing it, but not in Texas unless Congress authorizes it. If it tried, Senate Democrats would filibuster it. (V)

Two More Top Conservative Lawyers Say No to Trump

Donald Trump said that top lawyers would fight to be on his team, but the reality is different. Yesterday, two more all-star conservative lawyers turned down the golden opportunity to represent Trump before special counsel Robert Mueller. These were Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan of the law firm Winston and Strawn. They were approached by Team Trump and declined to join. They said that representing the president is a high honor, but they aren't interested.

So many top lawyers have already said no to Trump that it is hard to keep track of them. There are a few reasons why no one is interested. First, there is a practical one: Trump has a longstanding habit of not paying people who work for him, forcing them to beg for a fraction of the agreed upon fee. Top lawyers like pleading but not begging.

Second, if partners in any top law firm were to take on Trump, all the female partners and associates would go bananas. Many of the associates would quit immediately, leaving the firm with both a practical problem (how to handle ongoing cases) and a PR disaster (making it very difficult to hire new female associates).

Third, Trump doesn't follow his lawyers' advice. He could end up doing something foolish, like testifying before Mueller's grand jury with no preparation and committing perjury repeatedly. The media would say: "Why didn't his lawyers instruct him better?" The truth, of course, would be that they did, but he didn't listen. Still, they would get part of the blame. All in all, the risk here is too great and the reward too small to entice top firms to take the case.

Trump does have two lawyers on his team, Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb. Sekulow looks great on television and writes books popular with the Christian right, but he knows little about criminal law and is certainly no match for Mueller's team. Cobb is better, since he has experience handling corruption cases, but his main job on the legal team is that of "traffic cop," managing the other lawyers (once they are hired). So, the hunt for top criminal defense lawyers goes on. (V)

Can a President Be Indicted?

Walter Dellinger has written a piece arguing that a sitting president cannot be tried while in office, but that he can be indicted. Dellinger has apparently switched sides since he was the acting solicitor general who appeared before the Supreme Court and argued that Bill Clinton could not be the defendant in a civil case while in office. Dellinger lost, 9-0, but he knows a thing or two about presidents and the law.

His argument is that there is nothing in the Constitution exempting the president from the law, though he grants that putting the president on trial in a criminal case might be a distraction from the duties of the office. But what should be done when the president has committed a criminal act? He says that a grand jury should indict the president, but the trial should be delayed until he is out of office.

Why an indictment, then? The main reason is that it prevents the president from getting away with a crime because the statute of limitations (usually 5 years) has run out. Also, an indictment forces the prosecutor to show a grand jury evidence that the president has violated a specific statute. This is better for the country than vague allegations of bad behavior without specifying any particular law that has been broken.

In effect, this is a compromise position between "the president can be put on trial while sitting in office" and "the president is above the law." Of course, an indictment for a specific crime or crimes might be used by the House to draw up and vote on articles of impeachment, but that is up to the House. (V)

Trump Strikes His First Trade Deal

Donald Trump has called the United States' existing trade deal with South Korea "horrible" and a "job killer." Of course, he says that about pretty much every deal negotiated by any of the 43 presidents who preceded him. And now, the administration has reached a new trade deal with the South Koreans—the first actual trade deal of Trump's presidency—which the White House describes as "visionary." Of course, the administration says that about pretty much everything they do. So, is the new pact actually a big improvement?

In answering that question, it is first worth noting that the negotiations took only a few months, which is quite short by the usual standards for these things. The rapid timeline was due to Trump's anxiously wanting to be able to declare a "win," and also because everyone wanted this off the table before his big summit with Kim Jong-Un. And consistent with that quick timeline, the pact is actually not that big a change from the previous version. In fact, many of the changes appear to be mostly for show. To wit:

  • The U.S. will be allowed to send 50,000 cars a year to South Korea, up from 25,000. However, South Koreans only buy about 10,000 American cars a year right now, so the higher cap is not going to have an impact anytime soon.

  • The Koreans will pay a 25% tariff on pickup trucks sold in the U.S. until 2041, when previously that tariff was set to expire in 2021. Since Korea doesn't actually sell any pickup trucks in the U.S. right now, the impact of this will be to extend the protection that American pickup trucks already enjoyed.

  • South Korea will be permanently exempted from the new tariff on steel, but the amount of steel that the Koreans can send to the U.S. will be reduced by one-third.

  • The two countries will agree not to engage in currency manipulation. However, adding that to the actual paperwork would require the involvement of both nations' legislatures, so the agreement is just a handshake deal with no enforcement mechanism. Trump has been disdainful of such voluntary agreements in the past, such as the Paris Accord.

  • The Koreans will relax their customs procedures, so as to avoid certain bureaucratic hassles that American businesses had complained about.

Trump is set to officially announce the deal today, and undoubtedly he will present it the greatest deal made since Peter Minuit (supposedly) bought Manhattan for $24. The reality is that, far from being "visionary," the pact barely moves the needle, and is not going to have much impact on the lives of voters. Further, Trump hopes and expects the South Korean deal will serve as a template for deals with other countries, but he may well be disappointed. It's not quite as easy to negotiate unilaterally with the countries of Europe, in particular, and other countries aren't going to have the North Korea situation lighting a fire under them. So, Wednesday's announcement could be the last one for a while. (Z)

Republicans Are Taking Nothing for Granted in AZ-08 Special Election

The PA-18 special election was called because former representative Tim Murphy resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal. Democrat Conor Lamb won the R+11 district that Donald Trump took by 20 points. Will history repeat itself? We'll find out on April 24, when voters in AZ-08 go to the polls to elect a replacement for Trent Franks (R) who—guess what—resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal (he pushed female staffers to act as a surrogate mother).

AZ-08 is even redder than PA-18 (R+13 vs. R+11) and Trump won it by a slightly larger margin than he won PA-18 (21 points vs. 20 points). Like PA-18, many of the voters live in urban or suburban areas, so the NRCC and various super PACs are pouring money into the district in support of Arizona state senator Debbie Lesko (R), who is running against physician and cancer researcher Hiral Tipirneni.

A poll by the Democratic firm of Lake Research shows Lesko ahead by 14 points. It also showed that 59% of the voters have a favorable view of Donald Trump. The pollster said that for Tipirneni to win, she has to win over Republican voters in the double digits.

One key difference between the PA-18 and AZ-08 races is that Conor Lamb is an Irish Catholic who was born in D.C. and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. Tipirneni is an immigrant born in India. In a state that is not big on immigrants generally, even legal ones who have achieved the American dream, she has a steeper hill to climb than Lamb. If she loses by 14 points, Republicans will breathe a sigh of relief. But if she wins, or even if she loses by 5 points, there will be all-out panic among House Republicans. We will know in 4 weeks. (V)

Rick Scott Getting Close to Announcing; Already Has Baggage

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is term-limited, is among the most popular governors in America (58% approval rating), and has lots of money in the bank. All of these things make a run for Sen. Bill Nelson's (D) seat an obvious next step, even though the Senator is himself pretty popular (51% approval). Scott has promised a "major announcement" is coming April 9; it's probably not going to be his pick to win the World Series.

As Scott gears up, however, he's already gotten enmeshed in some scandals. The first problem is the Florida International University pedestrian bridge that recently collapsed, killing six. The Governor has worked hard to pin the blame on FIU, declaring that the bridge was, "not an FDOT (Florida Dept. of Transportation) project. It's an FIU project." It turns out that, in fact, the Scott administration helped select the firm that built the bridge, that the FDOT oversaw construction, and that Florida law makes the state government responsible for certifying bridge safety. So much for passing that buck. And as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie might advise Scott, voters do not take kindly to bridge shenanigans.

Then there is the matter of the offshore drilling. The Trump administration announced that waters off the coasts of all the states would be opened to drilling, Scott complained loudly, and Florida was promptly exempted. At the time, the whole thing smelled fishy, like it was set up to allow Scott to play hero. And now, it turns out that the whole thing was indeed a dog-and-pony show cooked up for political purposes between Scott and the members of the Trump administration. This won't hurt Trump, since a little bit of phony political theater is pretty far down on the list of offenses that people might hold against him. It could hurt Scott, however, if the voters of Florida decide they don't like being played for fools. (Z)

What Goes Up Apparently Must Go Down

The stock market was way down last week, way up on Monday, and then took another big dip on Tuesday, dropping 450 points. Tech stocks, particularly Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Nvidia, Netflix, were hit especially hard.

Needless to say, nobody can predict with any certainty where the markets and the economy are headed. However, this sort of volatility rarely proves to be a good thing. Sometimes, the market settles down. And sometimes, it tanks. In fact, the three most up-and-down months for the stock market in the last century were January of 1929, January of 1988, and February of 2007, and we know how those all worked out. There are very few cases where such up-and-down performances drive the market to new heights. It's also worth noting that it generally takes a shaky market about 18 months to drag down the economy as a whole. So, if recent events presage a significant recession, it would probably hit...right around the time the next presidential contest is heating up. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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