Dem 46
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Ties 3
GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: NV
GOP pickups vs. 2012: IN MO ND

PW logo Democrats Will Probe Trump’s Targeting of CNN
Netanyahu’s Son Brags About Prostitutes In Recording
Rohrabacher Loses Re-Election Bid
Steve King Referred to Mexicans as ‘Dirt’
Sinema’s Lead Continues to Grow
Democrats Gain Supermajority in California

Trump's Worst Week?

Donald Trump has had a lot of bad weeks while serving as president. And he's had a fair number of weeks that were described as his "worst." The current week is definitely in the running, as the following list of setbacks (many of which began to unfold only on Friday) makes clear:

  • Violations of campaign finance law: Collusion is the first offense that people think of in association with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and obstruction of justice is the second. But as we are fond of pointing out around here, Al Capone didn't go up the river for his worst (and more difficult to prove) crimes, he went up for tax evasion (which is much easier to prove). Reporting from the Wall Street Journal on Friday suggests that Trump is close to being in big trouble for violations of campaign finance law, which Mueller could have him dead to rights on (more below).

  • Losing the House: When we speak about Trump's "worst weeks," it's almost always because one or more things happened that (1) look bad for Trump, and (2) have the potential to blow up in his face in the future. Trump has suffered no greater symbolic setback than losing the House badly, and the resumption of Democratic control of that chamber is fraught with all sorts of peril for the President, more so than probably half a dozen special counsels. And as the icing on the cake, many of his most loyal footsoldiers in the lower chamber are gone, including half the folks in the House who wrote his tax bill.

  • Losing the narrative: After elections, the two major parties (and sometimes the third parties) craft "victory" narratives that focus on their successes (or, failing that, on how their defeats weren't so bad). On Tuesday night, Trump declared an "almost total victory" and on Wednesday he was still calling it a "big victory." The Democrats, of course, pushed back on that. And in the days since, the president's version of events has lost a lot of ground, at least in part because the Democrats seem primed to end up with as many as 8-10 more seats in the House than seemed to be the case at the end of the night on Tuesday, possibly along with a Senate seat or two (Arizona and Florida), and maybe even a governor's mansion or two (Florida and Georgia). Quite a few people have pointed out that the last time the Democrats did this well picking up House seats was during the Watergate election (1974). Others have observed that Trump's endorsements didn't work out so well. He's at 50 wins, 34 losses, and 7 undecided at the moment, which is a success rate of 55%, and is not so good since many of his endorsements went to overwhelming favorites like Mitt Romney. Anyhow, as a result of all of this, there are now lots and lots of op-eds with headlines like, "Hey, Republicans really did get clobbered" and "2018 was a WAY better election for Democrats than most people seem to think."

  • The AG situation: Firing one's AG just two years in is never a good look for a president, but it was clearly something Trump decided long ago was necessary. However, his choice of (temporary?) replacement has been an utter disaster (more below). Is there nobody in the Trump administration that is familiar with the concept of 'vetting'? There is also one other aspect of this situation that is being underreported: outgoing AG Jeff Sessions undoubtedly has dirt on Trump, and has just been fired and thrown under the bus by the President. He may soon become a person of great interest for both Mueller and various House committees, who may also use his pretty obvious perjury before Congress as leverage to get him to cooperate.

  • Michelle Obama: Michelle Obama's memoir of her White House years is about to be released, and some passages have already been made public. In the one that is (predictably) getting all the attention, she writes about how angry she was (and is) about Trump's questioning of her husband's legitimacy:
    What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family's safety at risk. And for this I'd never forgive him.
    This is not unreasonable; similar sorts of innuendoes about Hillary Clinton (promoted particularly by Trump insider Michael Flynn) led to an armed man storming a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, ultimately firing three shots before he was detained.

  • Keystone: Given all the other juicy stuff that is going on, this story hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but a federal judge has blocked construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, finding that the Trump administration "simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal." And thus is one of the signature accomplishments of the administration at risk of going down the pipes.

That would be a pretty rough year, much less week, for most presidents. But that's politics these days. And when judging how bad a week Trump has had, it's not just the "inputs" that matter, it's also the "outputs." That is to say, most presidents keep their cards close to the vest when they have a bad time of it, and do not wear their emotions on their sleeves for everyone to see. So, for them, the information above would be all we would have to go on when it comes to judging their state of mind. Not so with Trump, of course. Whether his public (and often petulant) responses are part of some master plan designed to change the narrative, or are merely because he cannot control himself, will be one of the questions that historians and political scientists will debate for generations. Anyhow, here are some of the ways he's responded to this very bad week:

  • Sparring with the Obamas: It is not common that a First Lady would publicly criticize her husband's successor. Mary Todd Lincoln did it, but she was also off her rocker. That said, each of the first 43 presidents, if they were faced with public criticism like this, would let it go (as did Andrew Johnson). It's beneath the dignity of the office, and the optics of a man shouting down a woman are not so good, either. Of course, Trump isn't other presidents. And so, he's already lashed out at the Obamas in response to the former first lady's book. "She got paid a lot of money to write a book and they always expect a little controversy," he said. "I'll give you a little controversy back, I'll never forgive (President Obama) for what he did to our US military. It was depleted, and I had to fix it."

  • Sparring with Macron: Trump is currently in France for a pre-planned public appearance with President Emmanuel Macron to commemorate the end of World War I. While Air Force one was literally still on the runway at the airport, Trump took to Twitter to blast Macron:

    Macron has not yet responded, but Trump's staff is really hoping—and this is a remarkable thing to write—that he will hold his tongue for the rest of the weekend, because also present at the commemoration will be...Vladimir Putin.

  • Electoral fraud: As his "we won" narrative has begun to crumble, Trump has turned to an old favorite to fight back. Election fraud:

    It is certainly possible that there was fraud of one sort or another. It's even possible that it was perpetrated by Democrats (although, in recent years, it's been the other party that has had a near-monopoly on ballot box shenanigans). In any event, there is nowhere near enough information yet to reach any conclusions, and it is irresponsible for anyone—much less the President of the United States—to make such assertions at this point.

  • Asylum: Trump's favorite area in which to take "action" is immigration. Again, whether this is to rally the base and change the narrative, or it just soothes his anger, or both, is open to debate. In any event, on Friday he signed an order that allows people to request asylum only at official ports of entry. He is theoretically allowed to do this, with good reason. However, the reason appears to be discriminatory, namely that folks coming from the south (i.e., Mexico and Central America) cannot as easily reach an official port of entry as, say, an asylum seeker from Europe can. Say, someone from Slovenia. Anyhow, the ACLU already has their lawsuits ready to go.

  • Reporters: Anyone who watched the video of Trump's confrontation with CNN's Jim Acosta could see that the President was in a very bad mood, and was spoiling for a fight. As the situation has evolved (devolved?), the White House has not backed down. In fact, they are threatening to pull more reporters' press passes. The New York Times' Melissa Chan, who knows what she's talking about based on personal experience, has gotten a lot of attention for a series of tweets on the subject. Among them:

    So, there is the script. Be on the lookout.

  • Whitaker: Once it became clear that Matthew Whitaker was a deeply-flawed individual (again, see below), any other administration would have cut him loose. Think how fast George W. Bush cut bait on Harriet Miers, or Bill Clinton did on Zoë Baird. Trump, as is his way, is just doubling down:

    We shall see how long he sticks with that.

  • Attack California: The Golden State is, and has been for half a century, a favorite target of conservatives. As most folks have heard, there are more massive wildfires raging across the state right now, and this on the heels of a horrific mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. The customary thing from a chief executive would be a few "thoughts and prayers" no matter how empty that may be, or maybe some disaster relief, or at very least the courtesy of remaining silent. But that's not Trump's play:

    Trump went to this line of attack during the last wildfires (just two months ago). Back then, he was actually kvetching about poor water management, a subject that he does not understand at all. The issue that he was butchering then is that big agribusinesses want water, and cities want water, and they are constantly arguing about that (including Proposition 3, which went down to defeat this week). However, this argument does not cause water to go unused or to be wasted (as Trump claimed). Now, a few months later, he appears to have muddied up the issue even more in his mind, so that it is now about forestry rather than water. Exactly what he thinks California should be doing, forest-wise, is entirely unclear, and there is no logical answer. In any event, that he would attack and threaten U.S. citizens, many of whom have lost homes, some of whom have lost friends and family, while the fires are still burning is obviously reprehensible. And par for the course.

So, a very bad week for the President, indeed, and it's still got two days left in it. (Z)

Trump Claims He Doesn't Know the Man He Appointed as Acting Attorney General

In one of least plausible claims of his presidency, yesterday Donald Trump said he doesn't know Matthew Whitaker, whom he appointed to be acting attorney general. The idea that Trump would make a cabinet appointment, even a temporary one, without knowing the person he was appointing is ludicrous on its face. Furthermore, The New York Times has reported that Trump has met Whitaker many times in the Oval Office.

Trump's denial is clearly intended to cover himself now that the public and private reaction to Whitaker has been very negative. This could be called the "pig in a poke" defense—Trump basically saying it's not his fault that his candidate is badly flawed because he doesn't know anything about the people he appoints (and this from a president who promised to appoint only the best people). Whitaker was involved with a company that scammed people out of millions of dollars and has expressed strong opinions about special counsel Robert Mueller, which has led various politicians to say that Whitaker should recuse himself from supervising Mueller. At this point Trump is waiting to see how bad the storm over Whitaker gets and whether he can weather it.

Unfortunately for the President, the storm is still growing, as skeleton after skeleton emerges from Whitaker's closet. On Friday, Iowa state Sen. Matt McCoy spoke up and told reporters about the time that he was prosecuted by Whitaker during the latter's time as US attorney for Iowa's Southern District. McCoy makes a pretty good case that the prosecution was motivated by the fact that he is both a Democrat and gay. Whitaker denies that, of course. What he cannot deny, however, is that it also came out on Friday that during a public appearance in 2014, Whitaker declared that federal judges should base their rulings on the Bible (New Testament only), which therefore means that atheists, Jews, and Muslims should never be appointed to the federal bench. It is worth remembering that Whitaker, as a neocon, is part of a political faction that laments theocracy in the Middle East as being anti-Democratic.

In any event, Whitaker is an acting AG, and has almost no chance of becoming the permanent one, so Trump will need to appoint a permanent one sooner or later. The trouble with that (and the reason he made an acting appointment) is that the permanent one will need to be confirmed by the Senate, and the senators may have quite a few questions for him. Insiders have said that two or three candidates who have been approached have said no, presumably because they don't want to be anywhere near the hot potato that Mueller is about to become. One person who might take the job is former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was passed over for a plum job at the start of Trump's term. Trump and Christie have a complicated relationship. They were opponents during the 2016 Republican primaries and back in 2004, Christie was the U.S. attorney who put Jared Kushner's father, Charles Kushner, behind bars for tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions. Jared and first daughter Ivanka will certainly oppose Christie, but they may not have much influence on this appointment. (V & Z)

In Florida, It is Deja Vu All over Again

It's been 18 years since we last had a no-holds-barred recount battle in Florida, and the lawyers are a bit rusty, but the lawsuits are already flying. Although Rick Scott (R) and Ron DeSantis (R) are currently ahead in their senatorial and gubernatorial races, respectively, their leads are under 0.5%, triggering automatic recounts. Their lawyers and those of their opponents, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Andrew Gillum (D), are gearing up for a big battle.

The first lawsuit was filed by Team Scott accusing Democratic election supervisors in two counties of mishandling the count and failing to follow election law. Team Nelson soon followed, asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to block Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner (R), a Scott appointee, from rejecting absentee ballots whose signatures don't exactly match those on record.

Actually, it is not a recount yet, since neither Palm Beach County nor Broward County has finished the initial count. In addition, no one has yet explained how 24,000 people in Broward County mysteriously skipped voting for the top-of-the-ticket Senate race but did vote for the commissioner of agriculture, a phenomenon not observed in any other county.

Exactly how the recount will proceed depends on the how close the two races are. If the top two finishers are within 0.5%, a machine recount is done by feeding the ballots back into the optical scanners. However, if the candidates are within 0.25%, a manual recount it done. In one regard, this process will be easier than in 2000 because the punched cards used then are no longer in use, so the news will not be full of discussions of hanging chads, pregnant chads, and the like, as they were in 2000. Which kind of recount is needed depends on the initial count, which is expected to be finished today. Historically, a shift of 15,000 votes, which Nelson would need, is very rare, so most likely Scott will win in the end unless a lot of uncounted ballots are discovered today. On the other hand, the 24,000 ballots with no Senate choice may end up being hand inspected and Senate votes discovered, which could change a lot. (V)

WSJ: Trump Knew All about Hush Money Payments to Daniels and McDougal

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Donald Trump was involved in nearly every step of the hush-money payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied knowing about them. According to the newspaper, prosecutors know all about this, having interviewed Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, his company's CFO Allen Weisselberg, and American Media CEO David Pecker.

If the payments were made for the purpose of helping Trump's campaign (by suppressing potentially harmful stories), the fact that they were not reported is a violation of federal election law. If Trump was involved in all the payments directly, then he probably violated federal election law personally. If Robert Mueller eventually releases a report saying that Trump violated federal law during the campaign (and possibly broke other laws), it will create a firestorm and lead to the Democrats' demanding his impeachment. (V)

Trump May Replace Wilbur Ross with Linda McMahon

Privately, Donald Trump has been telling people he wants to replace Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross by the end of the year. Trump has no policy beefs with Ross, who has been loyally defending his tariffs, but the President is said to think the 80-year billionaire is past his prime. Most likely he was also past his prime when he was appointed at 78, but apparently the Donald didn't notice then. Maybe the 73-year-old Trump is also past his prime.

The most likely replacement for Ross is Linda McMahon, formerly the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and currently head of the Small Business Administration. McMahon initially backed Chris Christie for the Republican nomination, but eventually came around to supporting Trump. In her favor is that Trump has known her for years, dating back to the days when he was a frequent WWE guest star (making him the only U.S. president to have been inducted into an athletic hall of fame). Working against her is her position as a free trader and opponent of tariffs, which puts her at odds with the President. However, when faced with a decision about appointing someone he knows and likes, even if he doesn't like his or her positions, his liking the person usually wins out.

McMahon is not controversial and her free-trade views will allow her to breeze through her Senate confirmation hearing if she is the chosen one. (V)

Ocasio-Cortez Can't Afford D.C. Apartment until She Starts Work

Newly-elected member of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sat for an interview with the New York Times following her victory. And during that chat, she noted that she's not going to be able to get an apartment in (expensive) Washington, D.C. until her term begins and her Congressional salary kicks in:

[For the next three months,] I can't really take a salary. I have three months without a salary before I'm a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real. We're kind of just dealing with the logistics of it day by day, but I've really been just kind of squirreling away and then hoping that gets me to January.

She later tweeted that:

It is, incidentally, within the power of Congress to address these kinds of issues, if they wish. Presidents get money to pay for their transition from civilian to chief executive, and the same could be granted to new officeholders in other branches of the government. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen, though. The folks who run Congress are apparently ok with creating circumstances that encourage politicians less honest than Ocasio-Cortez to take handouts from folks who may not have the nation's best interests in mind.

Anyhow, in addition to the challenges faced by working-class political aspirants, there is also another important story here. Namely that despite Ocasio-Cortez being the youngest member of Congress, and only four years older than the minimum age needed to serve (25), she is already a master politician. Sharing this story makes her accessible, and identifiable, and authentic in a way that 1,000 hours of commercials cannot. She's about to take over one of the most solidly Democratic districts in the U.S., and so she is set up for a decades-long career in Congress if she wants it. From that power base, and with her obvious charisma and political skills, she can network, and work her way up the ranks of the Democratic leadership, and maybe make a move to the Senate, or perhaps the executive branch, if she chooses to do so. Point is, there are clearly big things in her future. Meanwhile, she is also going to be a giant thorn in the side of Donald Trump. As a Latina, and a woman, and someone who lost family members thanks to the administration's fumbling of Puerto Rico, she is going to have a massive platform, and is going to be the first member of Congress that people turn to for comments on, well, just about anything Trump does. The only question is how long it is until people start talking seriously about her as a presidential candidate. Let's see, she's 29 and you need to be 35 for the top job, so we'll have to wait 6 years to find out. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger