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

Top Takeaways from Tuesday's Primaries

A day has now passed since the primary results are in, so let the takeaways begin. Here is what Politico has to say:

  • Morrisey is a better candidate than Blankenship, but also has plenty of baggage
  • Just saying "I love Trump" isn't enough for the voters
  • Republican House members Evan Jenkins, Todd Rokita, and Luke Messer all lost
  • An incumbent Republican, Robert Pittenger (R-NC), lost
  • Both parties got their preferred candidate for governor of Ohio

Politico notes that while the GOP avoided disaster in West Virginia, the winner, Patrick Morrisey has plenty of baggage himself. He used to be a lobbyist and his wife is still a lobbyist. Expect Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to ever-so-gently point out that he completely agrees with Donald Trump on the need to drain the swamp, but electing a husband-and-wife lobbying team probably isn't the right first step. Also, Morrisey once ran for Congress—in New Jersey (in other words: carpetbagger). Manchin is sure to note that he himself was born in West Virginia, went to high school in West Virginia, graduated from West Virginia University, worked in small family businesses in West Virginia until he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1982. And by the way, he loves West Virginia and has never run for public office in any other state. Finally, he will point out that liberal Democrats call him Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal) and he is proud of it. West Virginia was Trump's second best state, but Manchin has won statewide election five times in West Virginia and is nobody's fool. Finally, the Democrats did not have a competitive Senate primary in the Mountain State but still, 23,000 more Democrats than Republicans showed up to vote, even though there was nothing much to vote for. Even in Trump's second-best state, there is a clear enthusiasm gap.

Now the New York Times list of takeaways.

  • Congress is very unpopular
  • Ohioans went for mainstream candidates in both parties
  • Manchin will have the toughest fight of his life this year
  • Interventions by the national parties work, at least sometimes
  • It is the year of the woman
  • The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization

Now for a change of pace, here are the top six from the Conservative Review.

  • Conservative pastor Mark Harris knocked off Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC)
  • Every other House incumbent won
  • Freedom Caucus members struck out in open seats in Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia
  • Ohio was an unmitigated disaster for conservatives
  • Mike Braun (IN) and Patrick Morrisey (WV) are merely tolerable, not good
  • Youngstown voters defeated an anti-fracking measure

Next week we get primaries in Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. (V)

This Looks Like It Will Be the Year Women Break Through

The last glass ceiling is still intact, even if it is now official that a woman can get more votes for president than a man. Still, 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for female candidates for lower office. You can't win if you don't run, but that is not relevant this year as 599 women are running for Congress or governor, with 63 of them advancing in the primaries already held and 479 waiting for their primaries. In no fewer than 264 House districts there is at least one woman running. In addition, 23 women are running for the Senate and 33 women are running for governor.

Running is step 1, of course. Step 2 is winning. So far, more than 60% of the women running for House seats have won their primaries. The bad news is that many of these are in Republican districts that will be a tough win for any Democrat (and most of the women are Democrats). Still, in a blue wave, surprises happen.

The Senate is bleaker for women. The five women who have competed in Senate primaries so far have all lost. In gubernatorial races, three of the four women have lost and the other one faces a runoff. Maybe the message here is a variant of that old saw: A woman's place is in the House. (V)

Trump Welcomes American Detainees Home

Earlier this week, Donald Trump dispatched newly-minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korea to spring the three Americans being held as "spies" by the Kim Jong-Un regime. The trio—Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk—arrived in Washington at 3:00 a.m. local time, and were personally welcomed by the President and Vice President. They will be debriefed by senior intelligence officials, and then will be free to head home.

Donald Trump is thrilled with himself, and has been bragging up a storm on Twitter. For example:

Though a bit more modesty might be nice, he's right that this is a big feather in his cap. Indeed, this may be the single biggest accomplishment of the Trump administration that the President actually had something to do with. At the very least, it's definitely the photo op of the year.

With that said, the President should be very cautious. Let us not forget that the reason these men were imprisoned was because Kim put them there on trumped up charges (no pun intended). For him to release them does not, in fact, make him a nice guy, and also does not cost him anything. What it does is allow him to position himself as the one who is being reasonable, accommodating, etc. Meanwhile, Trump is already letting this get to his head, and is boasting about how easy it will be to reach an agreement with Kim at their upcoming summit (which will reportedly be in Singapore). The problem is, it's way easier for Kim to give up a few hostages than it is for him to give up his nukes, and Trump may be falling into a trap by setting expectations too high. Kim may be a bit on the wacky side, but he's also shrewd, and he realizes that if Trump all but guarantees a deal, then that means he (Kim) will have the Donald over a bit of barrel. (Z)

Haspel Gets Grilled by the Senate Intelligence Committee

Though she was reportedly ready to withdraw from consideration last week, Gina Haspel—Donald Trump's designate to take over the CIA—formally began the confirmation process on Wednesday, sitting for a hearing for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The main subject was Haspel's past involvement in torture, a topic on which she tried to walk a fine line. Her position, in essence, was that she would not support torture in the future, but that she also would not condemn the torture of the past.

The current situation, as regards her confirmation, is awfully similar to that of the man she's replacing, Mike Pompeo, when he was being considered to head the State Dept. two weeks ago. That is to say, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) says he is a "no," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) says he is a "yes," and most other Senators are playing their cards close to the vest. As with Pompeo, members of the Trump administration and the GOP leadership in the senate are turning the screws on Democrats who are up for reelection in red states this year. They suspect that there will be some Republican defectors, and they would like some insurance.

The wild card here is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is at home in Arizona battling cancer, and who will not be in Washington to cast a vote anytime soon (or, very possibly, won't be back ever). In general, this gives the 50-49 GOP majority no margin for error. In this particular case, however, it's not merely that the Republicans do not have McCain's vote, it's that he's come out strongly against Haspel. The statement he issued on Wednesday read, in part:

I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. However, Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.

McCain's words are likely to carry some weight with his colleagues. First, because some of them are close friends who value his opinion (Lindsey Graham, SC, and Jeff Flake, AZ, to take two examples). Second, because as a former victim of torture himself, McCain is (sadly) an expert, and also has a fair bit of moral authority. If his statement gets two or three Republican Senators to come out against Haspel, that will give permission for others to flip and then she'd be dead in the water. If not, she'll probably squeeze through. (Z)

McConnell Misses McCain

Although he would not help with getting Gina Haspel confirmed (see above), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sorely misses John McCain. Mind you, McConnell doesn't like McCain at all. He just misses his vote and understands his de facto majority is now 50-49 and will stay there until McCain dies or resigns and is replaced by Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ). That arithmetic means that if the Democrats stick together, which they have done fairly well, then every Republican can blackmail McConnell because he can't afford to have a single Republican vote with the Democrats.

Case in point: Democrats want to reinstate net neutrality by law. The procedure they are using requires only a simple majority, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is with the Democrats on this one. There may well be other issues on which some other Republican (yes, Rand Paul, we are looking at you), may oppose McConnell. Of course, McCain could resign as soon as the May 31 filing deadline passes, but that doesn't seem to be his style. He is an old Navy hand and the captain is expected to go down with the ship. (V)

AT&T May Have Paid Cohen More than $200,000

On Tuesday, the lawyer working for Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford), Michael Avenatti, announced that AT&T paid $200,000 to a shell corporation controlled by Donald Trump's fixer Michael Cohen. Already questions are being asked about how Avenatti found out. All he gave was the cryptic message that banks are required to report suspicious payments in excess of $10,000.

Now Reuters is reporting that the payments may have been well more than $200,000. In fact, they may have been as much as $600,000 according to the source. Why would the company pay so much to Cohen and what did he do for that money? Also very relevant is whether he reported all that income on his tax return. If he "forgot," he is probably guilty of tax evasion, and that charge alone might be enough to get him to flip. As Al Capone could tell Cohen (if he was not dead), tax evasion is a real killer because it's easy to prove and comes with stiff penalties.

Avenatti, who seems to be trying to become the new Gloria Allred, may not be done yet. Yesterday Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani called Avenatti "a pretty unsuccessful lawyer." Avenatti responded that he has won over $1 billion in judgments for his clients in the past. He also challenged Cohen to release the bank statements of his Delaware shell corporation, Essential Consultants to prove he (Avenatti) was wrong. Finally, Avenatti hinted there is more to come. (V)

Neither Schneiderman nor Trump Is in the Clear in New York

The fallout from the Eric Schneiderman scandal continues. The former New York AG may have thought that resigning would serve as payment in full for his alleged physical abuse of four women. If so, he should think again. Two different DAs are looking into Schneiderman's apparent propensity for nonconsensual roughness in bed and are strongly considering bringing formal charges.

Meanwhile, the fall of one of his nemeses does not leave Donald Trump in the clear, either. First, because a lot of the investigating in New York is being done by the FBI and not by state authorities. Second, because Schneiderman's job has devolved (for now) on the state's solicitor general, Barbara Underwood. She has made clear that she intends to stay the course with the investigative actions that her predecessor launched. Not because she has her eye on the governor's mansion and she is looking to score points (like Schneiderman was), but because she believes that it is not the job of an acting official to rock the boat.

The GOP hasn't even been able to get much mileage out of the scandal. It's true that Schneiderman's behavior, if the allegations are true, was reprehensible. It's also true that, given his outspoken support for #MeToo, he appears to be a giant hypocrite. However, within hours of the accusations becoming public, the Democrats—including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)—had turned against him, and not long after that, he was finished. Former senator Al Franken got much the same treatment, as did former representative John Conyers. The contrast with the behavior of Republicans, who have generally declined to turn against those guilty of sexual misconduct—Roy Moore, Donald Trump, etc.—is pretty striking. It even extends to non-politicians; the Democrats gave back Harvey Weinstein's money, while the Republicans held on to the donations they got from Steve Wynn. Under these circumstances, it makes it a bit difficult to wield Schneiderman's behavior as a weapon against the blue team. (Z)

And So It Begins in Syria

When Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran deal on Tuesday, one of the probable immediate impacts was the outbreak of violence between Israel and Iran. The two nations are not going to invade each other directly, at least not right now. However, the Golan Heights provides a convenient proxy, of sorts. Iran, Syria, and most of the rest of the world think that the region is part of Syria. Since 1981, the Israelis have taken the position that the region is part of Israel. Syria is already in the midst of a nasty war anyhow, and so in the 24 hours after Trump announced his decision, missiles began flying in and over the Heights. The Syrians and Iranians blame Israel, the Israelis blame Iran and Syria. Both sides are probably right.

All of this is going according to plan for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He would love a little regime change in Iran, and lobbing missiles back and forth with them helps on that front. If the U.S. can be, talked into imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, all the better. Netanyahu would also like to redraw the borders of Syria a bit, with the Golan Heights joining Israel on everyone's map, not just his map. He headed to Russia yesterday to meet with Vladimir Putin, and to discuss the possibility of Russia backing off its support for the current regime in Iran, and possibly the current regime in Syria. One possible inducement that Netanyahu might suggest: annexing a few Mediterranean seaports in Syria, something the Russians have been trying to do for over 300 years.

There is, of course, no way to be sure if Donald Trump and his team have a full appreciation of what's going on here, including the extent to which they are being used by Netanyahu, and the rather large risks the Prime Minister is taking. But if this blows up into a full-scale war (or something like it), American voters won't be happy. And if this ends with some sort of joint agreement among Israel, Russia, and the U.S., that probably won't look too good, either, given that whole Russiagate matter. Time will tell; the only thing that seems certain is that things in that part of the world are going to get worse before they get better. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May09 GOP Trumped in Three of Four States
May09 Trump Withdraws from the Iran Deal
May09 Cohen's Financial Dealings Raise Serious Questions
May09 Trump Is Frustrated with Giuliani
May09 Trump Has Asked Congress to Rescind $15 Billion in Approved Funds
May09 Blue-slip Rule Is Dead
May08 Four States Are Holding Their Primaries Today
May08 Ohio Is Also Holding a Special Election Primary Today
May08 Trump Will Announce His Decision on the Iran Deal Today at 2 p.m.
May08 Schneiderman Resigns
May08 Haspel Tried to Withdraw from Consideration as CIA Director
May08 Melania Trump Announces Platform
May08 Poll: Trump Is Doing Better on the Issues
May07 Conway: Trump Didn't Know about Payment to Daniels
May07 Bad Economic News Is Looming
May07 Four States Will Hold Primaries This Week
May07 California Republicans Are Afraid of Being Shut Out Statewide
May07 Trump Appoints Oz to Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Council
May07 Trump Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
May07 Trump Set to Get Monument
May07 Connecticut Set to Join Interstate Compact
May06 Stormygate Just Keeps Getting Worse for Trump
May06 Mueller Talked to Barrack
May06 Lots of Blowback Over Trump's NRA Speech
May06 Kerry Trying to Save Iran Deal
May06 Trump Suggests "Closing" the Country for a While
May06 McCain Speaks Out
May06 Right-Wing Fringe Moves Center Stage
May05 Trump Excuses Giuliani as a Newbie
May05 Judge Challenges Mueller on Manafort Case
May05 Trump Speaks to the NRA
May05 Pruitt Reimbursed Himself $65,000 from Former Campaigns
May05 DHS Ends Protections for 90,000 Immigrants
May05 Unemployment Drops Below 4%
May05 Rosen Leads Heller by a Hair in Nevada
May04 Feds Monitored Michael Cohen's Phones
May04 Trump Tries to Quell the Storm(y)
May04 Giuliani Revelation Blindsided Trump's Legal Team
May04 Lessons Emmet Flood Could Try to Teach Trump
May04 How Long Will Sanders Last?
May04 California Gubernatorial Race Casts a Long Shadow
May04 House Chaplain Unresigns, Dares Ryan to Fire Him
May03 More Turnover on Trump's Legal Team
May03 Giuliani: Trump Repaid the $130,000 to Cohen
May03 Caputo Has Some Scary Words for Trump
May03 Trump Claims Absolute Immunity in Emoluments Lawsuit
May03 Pruitt Under Review--Times 10
May03 West Virginia Senate Candidate Uses Fake Photo in Ad
May03 Corker's Distaste for Blackburn Could Hand the Democrats a Senate Seat
May03 Democrats Win a Bellwether Race in Florida