• McSally Is Not a Shoo-in for Kyl's Seat
• Flake May Be Able to Force Vote on Bill Protecting Mueller
• Trump Sits for an Interview
• Comey: Whitaker May Not Be the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer
• Manafort's Breaking His Deal Is a Setback for Mueller
• Mueller Looks to Ecuador
• Cuomo Won't Run for President
Corsi Admits He Tried to Get Hacked Emails
Collusion Is Back
Trump Still Hasn’t Decided on New U.N. Ambassador
Manafort Lied About Business Dealings to Mueller
Trump Suggests Rosenstein Should Be Jailed
Another Democrat Comes Out Against Pelosi
In a development that comes as no surprise, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) defeated Mike Espy (D) yesterday to keep the Senate seat she was appointed to when Thad Cochran (R) resigned from the Senate due to ill health. When all the ballots had been counted, Hyde-Smith took 54% of the vote to Espy's 46%.
At a glance, it would appear that Hyde-Smith's less-than-stellar personal history when it comes to segregation, and her racially-tinged verbal gaffes, did not hurt her all that much. That's not too big a surprise in the only state whose flag still incorporates the Confederate battle flag. While Cochran often collected more than two-thirds of the votes in his Senate elections, he had his worst result since the 1970s in his final election in 2014, with 59.9% of the vote. His junior colleague Sen. Roger Wicker (R) got 57% of in 2012, and pulled a 59% in last month's election. Donald Trump took 58% of the state's votes in 2016. In other words, it would seem that the average Republican should expect to attract about 58% of the vote in Mississippi these days, and Hyde-Smith underperformed that by about 4 points. Clearly, the Deep South is more comfortable with people who are subtly racist, like Hyde-Smith, than they are with people who are overt child molesters, like Roy Moore. And when Hyde-Smith stands for reelection in 2020, as she will have to do because the seat is up, her only fear will be a primary challenge from another Republican whose racism is a bit less subtle than hers.
So now we have the almost final scores in the federal midterm elections. The Republicans knocked off four Democratic senators in states Donald Trump won (North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, and Florida) and Democrats picked up two Republican Senate seats (Nevada and Arizona). This means the Republicans netted two Senate seats and will have a much-more-comfortable 53 to 47 margin in the 116th Congress. As a result, moderate Republican senators like Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) will have no power to block anything. In the House, it now appears that the Democrats will pick up 40 seats and hold a 235 to 200 seat margin in the lower chamber although two races (CA-21, NM-02) are not final. In the end, it looks like 43 Republican seats went blue and only three Democratic seats (MN-01, MN-08 and PA-14) were pickups for the red team. (Z & V)
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who is keeping the seat of the late senator John McCain warm, has made it known he doesn't want to be in the Senate anymore. That's why he didn't run for reelection in 2012. But he was willing to take one for the red team by filling in for McCain after his death, with the footnote that he wanted out before the new Congress is seated. So now it is up to Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) to appoint a "permanent" replacement, where permanent in this case means until a special election in 2020 and then a regular election in 2022.
Up until Nov. 6, it was a given that if Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) lost her election, she would be the odds-on favorite to get the McCain/Kyl seat. Now some Arizona Republicans are expressing doubts about her ability to win in 2020 given an electorate that is likely to be far more Democratic than this one was. One name that has surfaced as an alternative to McSally is that of former State House Speaker Kirk Adams, who was Ducey's chief of staff until Monday. On the minus side, Adams is totally unknown whereas McSally is now widely known in the state as a result of her unsuccessful run. Without a doubt, the choice of a replacement for Kyl is going to be the most important decision of Ducey's life, since it may ultimately determine control of the Senate in Jan. 2021, so he is thinking long and hard about it. (V)
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) must have gotten a neuticles procedure, or something like that, because he is now demanding that the Senate take a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller in the lame-duck session of Congress scheduled for December. If not, he says he will vote against all the judicial nominations the Republicans want to ram through.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could call Flake's bluff, but with Flake's term ending in a month, he has nothing to lose, so probably he really means it this time. Without Flake's vote, if all Democrats vote against the nominations, which they probably will, the Senate will be split 50-50, and any other Republican defection would kill any nomination. This could come to a head quickly because the Republicans are trying to confirm the nomination of Thomas Farr to a position as a federal judge. Farr helped draft North Carolina's voter suppression law and defended racial gerrymanders. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the only black Republican in the Senate, is still wavering on confirmation, so if he and Flake vote no, Farr likely goes down.
What Flake wants is to pass a law saying that Mueller can be fired only by a Justice Dept. official who has been confirmed by the Senate. The current AG, Matthew Whitaker, is not in that category, nor is he ever likely to be. Republicans are now counting noses to see who is for Flake's bill and who is against it. If it is a stand-alone bill, Republicans could filibuster it, but if it is integrated into a must-pass bill, that wouldn't work.
Needless to say, Donald Trump is wildly against Flake's bill and will attack any Republican who votes for it. If the votes aren't there now for the bill, McConnell could just delay all the confirmation votes until the new Senate convenes in January, when the Republicans will have a bigger margin for error, rather than take a chance that one or more nominations are torpedoed. The Majority Leader may well decide it's worth it to keep a few right-wingers on the sidelines for a few extra weeks (most of them holiday weeks) in order to avoid having to deal with Flake's bill, something he is strongly against even though it actually asserts the Senate's power against an executive branch that sees it as a rubber stamp. In the past, Congress stood up to defend its own constitutional powers no matter who the president was, but those days are but a pleasant memory now. (V)
Donald Trump says a lot of wild things on Twitter and in person. Actually, "a lot" is probably underselling it. He often says/tweets more wild things in one day than some presidents do in an entire term. And, as frequently as not, he completely changes course on what he said within hours (or minutes). So, it can be hard to know which outbursts are worth even commenting on. That said, he sat for an interview with a non-fawning outlet on Tuesday (the Washington Post), and at a pretty critical time in his presidency, given the developments in the Mueller investigation, as well as the approaching end of total GOP control of the government. So, we will give this one some attention. Let's use the "takeaways" approach in order to make it manageable.
- Vietnam, 2.0: When Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968, he
promised to end the war in Vietnam. Then, on taking office, he promptly escalated the conflict.
Trump is running the same playbook; though he promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan,
there are more American soldiers there now than there were under Barack Obama. Trump's plan going forward:
"We're going to see what happens." Nixon had a similar plan, up until mid-1971 or so.
- Off the record: Several times during the interview, Trump went off the
record, as noted in the Post's transcript. This certainly suggests that he at least has
some sort of filter. Why it is not activated more often is anyone's guess; maybe he can't
always control himself, or maybe he actually makes a conscious choice when he shoots from the
- It's all the Democrats' fault: This will undoubtedly be a major
refrain for the next two years. On Tuesday, Trump specifically blamed them for the lack of a wall
along the Mexican border. It is worth pointing out that the GOP could pass a wall funding bill in
the House with zero Democratic votes, and that has not happened.
- Well, except when it's the Fed's fault: It's tough to do justice to
this segment of the interview; you really should go read it. However, Trump consistently says he's
not blaming the Federal Reserve Bank for any economic reverses that happen in the country while he's
president, and then he promptly blames the Fed:
I'm not blaming—look, I took recommendations. I'm not blaming anybody. But I will tell you, at this moment in time I am not at all happy with the Fed. I am not at all happy with my choice. I think we have to let it go...I'm just saying, I'm not happy with the Fed. So far, I'm not even a little bit happy with my selection of [Chair] Jay [Powell]. Not even a little bit.Trump has never evinced an understanding of how the Fed works, and in particular that if it were to be seen as a partisan tool, it would not function properly. In any case, the Bank's primary job is to keep the economy (and specifically the money supply) as stable as is possible, and is most certainly not to support presidential trade policies.
- The cheese may be slipping off the cracker: As noted above, it's
possible that there is more method to Trump's madness than we generally give him credit for. On the
other hand, there were also many portions of the interview like this:
We almost had a deal, except when—I mean, actually, it wasn't their fault, wasn't our fault, it was on DACA. We almost had a deal, and then the judge ruled shockingly in favor of Obama's signature, when even Obama said what he's doing is not legal. Essentially, he said, it's not going to hold up. But when the judge ruled, all of a sudden it was like, that's the end of that deal. But we were very close to having a deal—$25 billion for a wall and various other things on the border. And DACA. And when the judge shockingly—you know, the Democrats never thought they were going to win that, and then you had another couple of judges rule, and then you had judges rule the other way. It's going to be settled I assume in the Supreme Court. But we were close to having a deal on DACA until that ruling.If you can figure out what he's talking about here, then you are cleverer than we, or anyone else in the commentariat who has tried to parse it. In any event, these are not the words of a man who is at the height of his cognitive powers—or anywhere close. Unless he is intentionally trying to confuse everyone, in which case he is brilliant.
- What do they know?, Part I: If Trump does not like a particular bit or
set of information, he simply rejects it, even if it was produced by skilled professionals who work
for him. So it is with the recent report on climate change, which Trump responded to by saying, "One
of the problems that a lot of people like myself—we have very high levels of intelligence, but
we're not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water and it's right now at a
record clean." We'll get back to that "high levels of intelligence" bit a little later, but for now
we will just say that there is no chance that America's air and/or water is "record" clean.
Oxygen breathers in, say, Los Angeles, and water drinkers in, say, Flint, MI,
would be happy to confirm that.
- What do they know?, Part II: The President also dwelled at length on
the California fires, and elaborated on his belief that the Golden State could put a stop to all of
this by raking their forests "properly," as Finland does. Nobody in California or in Finland has
any idea what he is talking about; one might speculate that Finland's relative paucity of serious
fires could have another origin (Hint: Fire is hot, Finland is cold).
- What do they know?, Part III: Trump also pooh-poohed the CIA's
conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"If you look at my statement, it's maybe he did and maybe he didn't. But he denies it. And people
around him deny it," said Trump. Since no guilty person ever denies their crimes, presumably that
settles it. Easy-peasy.
- Trump trusts his gut: Consistent with the previous three points, Trump
values his own instincts above the knowledge and/or expertise and/or instincts of anyone else. He
declared, "I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else's brain can ever tell
me." This is a common position, in our experience, among people who aren't endowed with "high levels
of intelligence," or who aren't very well educated, or both.
- Trump may be irked with Putin: The on-again, off-again relationship
between Trump and Vlad Putin appears to be off at the moment, due to Russia's
on and seizing three Ukrainian naval vessels. Trump refused to condemn the attacks, but said that he
might cancel his upcoming meeting with the Russian president, depending on a report scheduled to be
completed and delivered on Wednesday. Why Trump needs a report in order to decide what to do is
unclear, perhaps his gut is in the shop for repairs.
- Trump is definitely irked with GM: The President is not pleased that the auto giant has decided to lay off 14,000 people, though he seemed to mostly blame the Fed for that. "I think the Fed is a much bigger problem than China," he said during this part of the conversation, even though—remember—he's not blaming the Fed for anything. The only nit here is that the fed chairman is Jerome Powell, Trump's own pick, not some Obama holdover, and Trump promised during the campaign to hire only the best people. Later in the day, he also threatened to do away with all of the subsidies GM gets from the federal government, though it's not at all clear exactly what those might be, beyond an electric vehicle credit that's set to run out soon, anyhow.
So, there you have it: The state of the president's mind as of Tuesday afternoon. (Z)
Former FBI Director James Comey went after Matthew Whitaker in an interview on Tuesday, saying: "He may not be the sharpest knife in our drawer, but he can see his future and knows that if he acted in an extralegal way, he would go down in history for the wrong reasons." Comey also called the acting AG's appointment into question and said that will have to be resolved by the courts. Several lawsuits are already pending.
Comey also said that he will not ignore the subpoena Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) sent him to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to testify behind closed doors. However, he said that he would challenge the subpoena in court. If the court case, and possible appeals, drag on into January, the issue will be moot. At that point, if incoming chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) wants Comey to testify, it will certainly be in public, which is what Comey wants. (V)
When Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller after making a deal with him, Mueller asked the judge to cancel the deal and throw the book at Manafort. Although Manafort may later regret the lies, depending on what happens with pardons and indictments for state crimes, Mueller is a big loser right now. Manafort was his star witness against Trump, someone who knew everything about the campaign and the meeting in Trump Tower in July 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Now that Mueller has officially called him a liar in public, his testimony, previous or future, in any forum, can easily be rebutted with the comment: "He's a known liar."
Mueller is not completely up a tree, however, since Manafort's sidekick, Rick Gates, has cooperated with the special counsel, and he may know many of the same things Manafort knows. Still, it will be much harder to use Manafort's testimony to indict anyone else unless there is such strong supporting evidence that Manafort's testimony isn't really needed anyway.
It is still not clear why Manafort gave up a sweetheart deal so late in the game by telling (more) lies. He could be expecting a pardon or might have decided that being in prison is the safest place for him, given that some important Russians would like to see him dead. (V)
Paul Manafort's backtracking is not the only Manafort-related news on Tuesday. It is also being reported that Robert Mueller is looking carefully at a series of meetings that the former Trump campaign chair had with Wikileaks' Julian Assange (in 2013, 2015, and 2016), and at one between he and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in Quito in mid-2017. The visits to Assange were not logged at the Ecuadorian embassy (where the Wikileaks founder has lived since receiving asylum in August 2012), which is a pretty big departure from usual protocol. The meeting with Moreno was ostensibly to discuss Chinese investments in Ecuador, but many suspect it was Assange-related in some way, given that private U.S. citizens do not generally act as conduits between the Chinese business community and the Ecuadorian government. In fact, the Logan Act specifically forbids private citizens from conducting foreign policy, which is essentially what Manafort did.
At this point, this story raises far more questions than it offers answers. Why did these meetings take place and what was discussed? Did Manafort have inside intelligence about the hacked DNC e-mails? And, if so, did he share that information with Team Trump? What might Manafort have wanted from Moreno, exactly, given that Assange had already been given asylum years earlier? And if Manafort was conducting Assange-related business in mid-2017, does that mean he was working for Donald Trump long after he was "fired," and long after questions about his illegal activities had been raised? Is there a relationship between this new thread of the Mueller inquiry and Manafort's torpedoing his plea deal? Did Manafort anger the Ecuadorian mafia, and put his life in jeopardy? Is there an Ecuadorian mafia? Needless to say, anybody who might have answers to these questions is not talking publicly, so we will just have to wait to find out. (Z)
This is definitely a man bites dog story. Stories about this Democrat or that who are "exploring" a presidential run in 2020 are a dime a dozen. But stories about potentially serious candidates who actually have a legitimate chance to win saying "no thanks" are very rare. Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said of a possible run: "I am ruling it out." That is not exactly Gen. Sherman's wording, but the intent is fairly clear.
The nominal reason he gave is that he ran for governor and won. Most politicians see winning a major election as a reason to seek higher office, not a reason to forsake a better job. So clearly something else is going on. It could possibly be that he noticed a poll this summer that showed him with the lowest approval of likely Democratic candidates. Or maybe he knows he is too centrist and establishment for young Democratic activists, and for people who want a centrist, there are plenty of other candidates in the running. Cuomo's father, Mario Cuomo, who was also governor of New York, famously was thought to be running in 1992 until he wasn't running, so pulling out before the show starts is a family tradition.
It is likely that other expected candidates also drop out in the next 6 months. We have now entered the invisible primary period, in which potential candidates run polls, try to line up consultants and donors, and visit Iowa and New Hampshire to see what the locals think of them. Some of them invariably discover that they are near the bottom in the polls, can't get consultants and donors to sign up, and find that the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire would prefer they leave as quickly as possible. That's when the "withdrawals" occur, usually accompanied by a statement about how much the withdrawer loves his or her current job and would hate to disappoint the voters by running for a different one. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov27 General Motors Will Slash Jobs and Trump Is Not Happy
Nov27 Trump Disapproval Hits All-Time High in Gallup Poll
Nov27 Nadler: A Partisan Impeachment Will Tear the Country Apart
Nov27 Manafort Allegedly Lied to Mueller; Corsi Says "No Plea"
Nov27 Who Will Be Trump's Running Mate in 2020?
Nov27 Cox Leads, Love Concedes
Nov26 Alan Dershowitz: Mueller Report Will Be Devastating
Nov26 Farm Bankruptcies Are Up
Nov26 Poll: Public Is Worried about Pre-existing Conditions
Nov26 Sessions Is Not a Shoo-in for His Old Seat
Nov26 New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner Is a Goner
Nov26 Fox's New Bugaboo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Nov26 Monday Q&A
Nov25 Mexico Will Reportedly Hold Refugees
Nov25 Trump Tried to Bury Global Warming Report, Got Burned
Nov25 Mitt Gets to Work
Nov25 Espy Within Striking Distance
Nov25 Congress Is Going to Have a Busy Month
Nov25 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Eric Swalwell
Nov24 Jerome Corsi Is Negotiating a Plea Bargain with Mueller
Nov24 Judge Says Trial about Trump's Charity Can Proceed
Nov24 Trump Wants Supreme Court to Uphold Transgender Ban
Nov24 New White House Staffers Likely Coming Soon
Nov24 Warning Lights Are Flashing for Trump's Reelection
Nov24 Sherrod Brown Looked in the Mirror and Saw a Future President
Nov24 Global Warming Is Bad News (so Bury It)
Nov23 Trump Threatens to Close the Whole Border with Mexico
Nov23 Schiff Will Follow the Money
Nov23 Goodlatte Subpoenas Comey, Lynch
Nov23 "President" Bolton Better Watch His Back
Nov23 Billion-dollar Politics
Nov23 Trump Calls Troops, Visits Coast Guard
Nov23 Crooked Politicians Are Thankful for Partisanship
Nov23 Soybeans Are Fungible
Nov22 Chief Justice John Roberts Hits Trump and Trump Hits Right Back
Nov22 Trump Defends Ivanka, Wanted to Prosecute Hillary
Nov22 Trump Twitter Feed Is a Pre-Thanksgiving Cornucopia
Nov22 Opposition to Pelosi as Speaker Collapses
Nov22 Four Democrats Want to Chair the DCCC
Nov22 Bourdeaux Concedes
Nov22 Democrats Made Gains in Rural Areas
Nov22 Thursday Q&A
Nov21 Trump Won't Punish Saudis for Murdering Journalist
Nov21 Bye Bye Love
Nov21 Fudge Is Out
Nov21 More Trouble for Hyde-Smith
Nov21 The Blue Wave Was Black
Nov21 Latinos Showed Up, Too
Nov21 Trump Submits Answers to Mueller