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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Republicans Block Bill That Would Protect Mueller
      •  Trump Told Mueller That He Didn't Know about the Trump Tower Meeting in Advance
      •  Everyone is Denying That They Knew About Wikileaks
      •  Democrats Nominate Pelosi as Speaker
      •  Powell Defends the Fed against Trump
      •  House Rundown
      •  Thursday Q&A

PW logo Mueller Probe Hasn’t Cost Taxpayers Anything
Trumpworld Fears a Perjury Trap
Cohen ‘Has the Goods’ On Trump
Trump Said to Be ‘Spooked’ and ‘Distracted’
Mueller Turns Focus to Trump’s Children
North Carolina House Race In Limbo

Republicans Block Bill That Would Protect Mueller

Senate Republicans have blocked a bill that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired. Excuses abound. Some Republicans say the bill is unconstitutional, others says it is not necessary, and still others say that firing Mueller would be a Bad Thing, so Acting AG Matthew Whitaker won't do it. Currently there are no plans to insert it into a must-pass bill, such as the spending bill that must move by Dec. 7 to prevent a government shutdown.

Earlier, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said that if the Mueller-protection bill is not passed, he would vote "no" on all judicial nominees the Republicans want to ram through in the lame-duck session of Congress. Now we will find out if he meant it. In the past, every time push came to shove, he backed down.

The Friday deadline next week could get exciting. Donald Trump said he will veto the bill if it doesn't fund his border wall. Few Republicans want to spend $25 to $30 billion to build a wall that probably won't do any good. Tests of the prototypes that the Dept. of Homeland Security had built all failed to stop immigrants because the Mexicans have devised a state-of-the-art weapon for defeating it. They call it an escalera. In English it is called a "ladder." (V)

Trump Told Mueller That He Didn't Know about the Trump Tower Meeting in Advance

CNN is reporting that one of Robert Mueller's questions that Donald Trump answered in writing, under oath, was about whether Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in advance. He wrote that he had no recollection of it. If Mueller has proof that Trump did know about it, the President might escape a criminal charge, because not remembering something is not a crime. However, all it takes for a president to be impeached is 218 votes in the House. A formal indictment and conviction are not needed.

Mueller may or may not have proof, but he is likely to at least have circumstantial evidence. In particular, while Donald Trump Jr. was arranging the meeting, he made a phone call to a number that has not been identified in public. Mueller has no doubt subpoenaed the phone company records to find out who Junior called. If it was Dad, that might be enough to convince 218 House Democrats to vote for impeachment. Furthermore, if Trump discussed the meeting in advance with other people, Mueller may have already talked to them. (V)

Everyone is Denying That They Knew About Wikileaks

In addition to declaring that he had no recollection of being told about the notorious Trump Tower meeting (see above), Donald Trump also told Robert Mueller (in writing) that he did not recall being told anything about Wikileaks by adviser Roger Stone. And the President is not the only one who is making carefully-crafted declarations on this point. Friend-of-Stone Jerome Corsi, who just rejected a plea deal, also declared that he did not "intentionally lie" to Mueller when it came to his contacts with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

That is a neat turn of phrase. Since intent is unknowable to anyone but Corsi himself, he's saying that even if he did lie, it's not his fault and he shouldn't be held accountable. We shall see if that holds up in court; perhaps Corsi will get lucky and draw a judge who was appointed to the bench one day earlier, and then promptly suffered multiple concussions. And while Mueller may have proof that the President is fibbing about the Trump Tower meeting, he definitely has proof that Corsi is weaving a very fanciful tale. That proof comes in the form of e-mails from Corsi to Stone, which were included in court filings. One of them, for example, reads like this:

Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I'm back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.

Corsi and Stone both say that they had no insider information, and that they were merely "connecting the dots" and making educated guesses, and that Corsi—known for his adherence to kooky conspiracy theories—was just demonstrating his extensive skills as an investigative reporter. Again, we shall see if the two men can find a judge and/or jury that will read e-mails like that one, and find them consistent with just "connecting the dots." (Z)

Democrats Nominate Pelosi as Speaker

The new House Democratic caucus met yesterday and nominated House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be speaker. The vote was 203 to 32. While that sounds lopsided, it is actually a problem. The speaker is elected by the entire House, which means that a majority of members present and voting is needed to win. Normally this is 218. Pelosi currently has only 203. That means she needs to do one of two things. First, get 15 of the naysayers to switch sides and vote for her when the House convenes in January. Second, she can try to get all of them to vote "present." If that happened, she would have 203 votes, the Republican candidate would have 200 votes, and 32 members would vote "present." In that case she would win, because the rules state that the speaker is elected by a majority of members actually voting for a candidate. Voting "present" doesn't count. With only 403 valid votes, she would need only 202 to be elected.

The problem that the anti-Pelosi forces have is that they do not have a candidate who could marshall even 100 votes, let alone something like 218. They know this. So what is going to happen? We could have a rerun of the 34th Congress, in which Nathaniel Banks was elected speaker—on the 133rd ballot. That one beat the previous record, which was set by the 33rd Congress, which took 63 ballots to elect Howell Cobb speaker.

In the end, Pelosi, who favors carrots over sticks, is likely to meet with each of the holdouts to find out what he or she needs to get to "yes." It could be a choice committee assignment or a promise to bring up some piece of legislation the member wants. Or maybe, just some plain pork. You need an airport back in East Cupcake? I'll put it in the budget bill. In the end, you can't beat somebody with nobody, and the anti-Pelosi forces don't have a candidate.

Pelosi, incidentally, has already begun laying out her agenda for when she regains the speaker's gavel. In an op-ed co-written with her colleague Rep. John Sabanes (D-MD), and headlined "The Democratic majority's first order of business: Restore democracy," she declares that the first items of business will be trimming the wings of Citizens United, establishing new rules for politicians-turned-lobbyists, passing a new Voting Rights Act, reducing prescription drug prices, increasing the minimum wage, and helping the Dreamers. That these things were at the top of the list was no secret, but now it's there in black and white. And Republicans should be quaking in their boots (or, probably more accurately, their Salvatore Ferragamo Calfskin Leather Loafers) when they read this. As the last two years have shown, it's not easy to get legislation over all three hurdles—House, Senate, White House—even if your party has a hammerlock on all three. But all Pelosi and the blue team have to do is get their bills through one of the three, presumably aided by her considerable parliamentary and whipping skills. Then, they can sit back and watch the GOP squirm as the Party either signs off on the Democratic agenda (improbable), or publicly explains to voters why they like dark money, low wages for poor people, high prescription drug prices, and denying people the right to vote. (V & Z)

Powell Defends the Fed against Trump

Donald Trump's background is real estate, which is based on borrowed money, so he naturally hates high interest rates because they make real-estate projects more expensive. Of late, he has been attacking the Fed chairman he himself appointed, Jerome "Jay" Powell, who has said he plans to continue to raise interest rates to prevent inflation from getting out of hand. Yesterday, Powell defended himself and the bank, and added that he expects to raise interest rates three more times next year.

One of the reasons Powell wants to raise interest rates is not to spite Trump, but because of Trump. Namely, Trump encouraged Congress to pass a huge tax-cut bill and then signed it, although the economy was roaring full tilt at the time. The point of raising interest rates is to prevent the economy from overheating. William McChesney Martin, who led the Fed for two decades, famously once said the Fed's job is to "take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going." Trump wants to keep the party going at least until Nov. 2020. The ironic thing here is that Powell has long been known as someone who favors high interest rates. If Trump had been paying the slightest bit of attention to his nominee, he would have known this and picked someone else. Now he is stuck with Powell through the election.

On the other hand, the stock market did well after Powell's remarks yesterday. The Dow Jones index went up 618 points. Of course, the market is very jittery and any hint of bad news could send it skidding again. (V)

House Rundown

Now that the dust has (almost) settled, we can get a better picture of what happened in the House. Despite all the headlines to the contrary, in reality, the status quo held across much of the country. In 392 races out of 435, the incumbent party held its seat. That's a retention rate of 90.1%, and in a so-called "wave" year. In non-wave years, the retention rate is even higher. The fact that so few seats change party is partly due to geographic sorting by partisanship (Democrats live in cities, Republicans live in rural areas), and partly due to gerrymandering, making it very difficult for the opposing party to flip a carefully gerrymandered seat. Below is a list of Republican incumbents (marked by an asterisk) who bit the dust this year. We are counting David Valadao (R) as the loser of CA-21, even though the final count isn't in yet, because it is looking grim for him and T.J. Cox (D) has declared victory. Not a single House Democrat who ran for reelection was beaten:

District Winner Loser
CA-10 Josh Harder (D) Jeff Denham* (R)
CA-21 T.J. Cox (D) David Valadao* (R)
CA-25 Katie Hill (D) Steve Knight* (R)
CA-45 Katie Porter (D) Mimi Walters* (R)
CA-48 Harley Rouda (D) Dana Rohrabacher* (R)
CO-06 Jason Crow (D) Mike Coffman* (R)
FL-26 Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) Carlos Curbelo* (R)
GA-06 Lucy McBath (D) Karen Handel* (R)
IL-06 Sean Casten (D) Peter Roskam* (R)
IL-14 Lauren Underwood (D) Randy Hultgren* (R)
IA-01 Abby Finkenauer (D) Rod Blum* (R)
IA-03 Cindy Axne (D) David Young* (R)
KS-03 Sharice Davids (D) Kevin Yoder* (R)
ME-02 Jared Golden (D) Bruce Poliquin* (R)
MI-08 Elissa Slotkin (D) Mike Bishop* (R)
MN-02 Angie Craig (D) Jason Lewis* (R)
MN-03 Dean Phillips (D) Erik Paulsen* (R)
NJ-03 Andy Kim (D) Tom MacArthur* (R)
NJ-07 Tom Malinowski (D) Leonard Lance* (R)
NY-11 Max Rose (D) Dan Donovan* (R)
NY-19 Antonio Delgado (D) John Faso* (R)
NY-22 Anthony Brindisi (D) Claudia Tenney* (R)
OK-05 Kendra Horn (D) Steve Russell* (R)
PA-17 Conor Lamb (D) Keith Rothfus* (R)
TX-07 Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D) John Culberson* (R)
TX-32 Colin Allred (D) Pete Sessions* (R)
UT-04 Ben McAdams (D) Mia Love* (R)
VA-02 Elaine Luria (D) Scott Taylor* (R)
VA-07 Abigail Spanberger (D) Dave Brat* (R)
VA-10 Jennifer Wexton (D) Barbara Comstock* (R)

Now let's look at the open seats. Thirteen seats previously held by Republicans, but open at the time of the election, flipped to the Democrats. In contrast, only three formerly Democratic seats became Republican. Here are the open seats that flipped.

District Winner Reason for the open seat
AZ-02 Ann Kirkpatrick (D) Martha McSally (R) retired to run for US Senator
CA-03 Gil Cisneros (D) Ed Royce (R) retired
CA-49 Mike Levin (D) Darrell Issa (R) retired
FL-27 Donna Shalala (D) Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) retired
MI-11 Haley Stevens (D) Dave Trott (R) retired
MN-01 Jim Hagedorn (R) Tim Walz (D) retired to run for governor of Minnesota
MN-08 Pete Stauber (R) Rick Nolan (D) retired to run for lieutenant governor of Minnesota
NJ-02 Jeff Van Drew (D) Frank LoBiondo (R) retired "due to the increased political polarization of Congress"
NJ-11 Mikie Sherrill (D) Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) retired
NM-02 Xochitl Torres Small (D) Steve Pearce (R) retired to run for Governor of New Mexico
PA-05 Mary Gay Scanlon (D) Pat Meehan (R) resigned. Redistricted from the 7th district
PA-06 Chrissy Houlahan (D) Ryan Costello (R) retired due to "family, the political environment and redistricting"
PA-07 Susan Wild (D) Charlie Dent (R) resigned. Redistricted from the 15th district
PA-14 Guy Reschenthaler (R) Conor Lamb (D) ran in the newly created PA-17 district
SC-01 Joe Cunningham (D) Mark Sanford (R) defeated in primary
WA-08 Kim Schrier (D) Dave Reichert (R) retired

Of the 61 open seats, the incumbent party held 45, or 73.8%. Clearly, holding an open seat is tougher than holding a seat with someone sitting in it, but still, the odds of flipping an open seat really aren't that good. The bottom line here is that dislodging an incumbent party is tough. Furthermore, it is getting tougher every year as the country becomes more partisan and sorts itself into districts that vote Democratic in every race or Republican in every race. (V)

Thursday Q&A

As Marty DeBergi put it so well, "Whaddaya say? Let's boogie.":

How can we use churches as public voting locations? Isn't this a conflict between church and state? Wasn't there a research study that voters vote more Republican when in a church? M.G., Fairbanks, AL

This is called priming, and study after study after study has proven that it exists. When people vote in a church, they are significantly more likely to vote for conservative positions (say, anti-gay marriage). And the effect is not minor, the shift can be as much as 8-10%. Voting in schools works the same way, incidentally—people are considerably more likely to support education funding and the like if they cast their ballot at East Cupcake Junior High.

This raises the interesting question of whether churches and schools make themselves available out of the goodness of their hearts and their sense of duty, or if they know a nearly-free-of-charge, highly effective form of lobbying when they see it (Hint: It's the latter, at least in part.). There have been a couple of court cases trying to challenge the practice, but they came up short. A lot of the powers that be have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and there is also the practical matter that the polling place has to be somewhere. A fire station would be sort of neutral, although it would remind people that some of their tax money goes to things they like, so taxes aren't all bad. Having 500 people crammed in there when a four-alarm fire broke out might be a problem, though.

For many years, (Z)'s grandmother decked her house out with red, white, and blue bunting and allowed her garage to be turned into a polling place on Election Day. She would serve punch and cookies and would chat with people. Might be nice to go back to something like that, nationwide. It might even encourage a little more civility among partisans.

If the president retweets something on Twitter, is it archived under the terms of the Presidential Records Act of 1978? If so, doesn't that give some tweets attention they don't deserve? M.O., Cambridge, MA

One suspects you were specifically thinking of this tweet from Tuesday:

In any case, a law written in 1978 obviously could not have anticipated Twitter, much less a tweeter-in-chief. And the folks at NARA tend to err on the side of caution. So, yes, they archive retweets, which means future scholars will have the pleasure of writing about a president who enjoys the idea of trying his immediate predecessor and his political enemies for treason on the basis that...he doesn't like them.

Is Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-UT) the first person to serve as governor of one state and senator in another state? M.S., Bangor, ME

No, but it's not a common phenomenon. The only other person to do exactly what he has done (governor in one state, then U.S. Senator from another) was the legendary Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee and then, of course, senator from Texas. Houston's resume also included a stint as president of Texas (before serving as senator, naturally), and then a term as governor of Texas (after serving as senator). There's also been one person who pulled the trick in reverse order. William Bibb was a U.S. Senator from Georgia a little over 200 years ago, and then governor of Alabama.

If we liberalize our standards, there are also seven fellows who served as territorial governors and senators. The most famous of those is James Shields, who was governor of Oregon territory and then served as senator from three different states (Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri), making him the only person to accomplish that particular feat. It should be noted that Shields and his six compatriots (William Claiborne, Thomas Bowen, John Branch, Robert Walker, Edmund Ross, and Nathaniel Tallmadge) were playing a very different game from Romney, since territorial governors were appointed back then, and U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures. In other words, Shields, et al., did not have to face the voters directly, as Romney did.

We know that states can have referendums that are directly voted on to create a new law (e.g., marijuana legalization), but are there any mechanisms in place to do the same thing federally? Would a constitutional amendment be needed to make this happen? K.E., Peoria, IL

Starting with the last part of your question, since the Constitution specifically empowers the Congress to make federal laws, and the president to sign them, it almost certainly would require a constitutional amendment.

There is indeed an effort to amend the Constitution in that way, called the National Initiative. It is primarily the work of Democrat-turned-Libertarian-turned-Democrat-again Mike Gravel, the former Senator from Alaska. The plan has picked up some prominent endorsements, mostly from libertarian-leaning lefties like Ralph Nader. However, there is zero chance of its actually becoming law. As we have noted many times, Americans are generally resistant to change. Further, folks who live in referendum-allowing states (for example Z, a resident of California) know that the process is very vulnerable to abuse. Studies have made clear that there is a strong correlation between advertising dollars spent and likelihood of passage. Imagine, for example, that pharmaceutical companies decided to put a measure on the ballot to extend the patent on prescription drugs from 20 years to, say, 100 years. Would that be worth throwing $1 or $2 billion in advertising at? You bet it would.

I have always wanted to know how the Secret Service works. Who decides when a presidential candidate gets secret service protection? I recall in 2016, both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were getting protection while running for the same party nomination. Also, who else gets protection? Protection for life? M.D., San Tan Valley, AZ

The decision on presidential candidates is usually made by the pooh-bahs at the USSS, though the president can also order protection, and the candidates can request it (particularly if they have evidence of a credible threat against them).

Beyond presidents and their families, and presidential candidates and their spouses, the USSS' mandate extends to vice presidents and their families, visiting heads of state and their families, other "distinguished" foreign guests, and "special missions" as decreed by the president.

For a while, Sanders (and his wife) were indeed protected. Hillary and Bill Clinton, too, although that would have been the case even if she wasn't a candidate, because former presidents and first ladies get lifetime protection (a provision that was temporarily reduced to 10 years under George W. Bush, then restored to lifetime by the signature of Barack Obama). Presidential children get protection for 10 years, or until the age of 16, whichever comes first. So, none for Chelsea, or Barbara/Jenna, or Malia/Sasha these days. Former Veeps get six months of protection, though that can be reduced (on the ex-Veep's wishes) or extended (on the president's orders).

Sometimes a person is entitled to protection from two different agencies. For example, while Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was also under the auspices of the Diplomatic Security Service. In these cases, the different entities work it out. In Clinton's case, the USSS protected her at home, the DSS while she was working.

You noted previously that all Congress would have to do to increase the size of the Supreme Court would be to pass a new law specifying that the size of the Court is now 11 or 13 justices (or whatever). Does the same apply for decreasing the size of the Court? Could Congress pass a law reducing the size of the Court to 7 justices, and if so could it specify which justices would be let go? If so, wouldn't that be like a backdoor impeachment of whichever justices are eliminated, except you wouldn't need 2/3 of the Senate to agree? W.W., Chicago, IL

The same does indeed apply. The last time the Court was shrunk was in 1866, by the Judicial Circuits Act. This was a baldfaced (and successful) attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to stop the hated Andrew Johnson from putting any justices on the Court. Once he was gone, the law was promptly repealed.

Under the terms of that Act, no justices were eliminated immediately. The reduction was to be accomplished by allowing justices to retire/die and then not filling their seats once they were gone. That would probably have to be the arrangement today if Congress were to try to shrink the Court. If not, then it would be a backdoor impeachment, as you point out, and would surely be challenged successfully in Court. With, ironically enough, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh casting the deciding votes to keep their jobs.

I notice that you use the term "Founding Parents" frequently instead of the more standard "Founding Fathers." Why? Are you being politically correct or virtue-signaling? If not, can you list some women who were instrumental in the founding of our nation and constitution, preferably not just saying "Well, Abigail Adams stood behind John all the way!"? J.K., New York, NY

Given the nature of things back then, we will never know the full extent of women's contributions to the founding of the country, since much of their assistance was rendered in private. But there can be no question that they did contribute, and we regard it as inaccurate to present things otherwise. There were political wives like Abigail Adams (as you note) and Martha Custis Washington, who served as sounding boards and sources of advice for their husbands. There were generals' wives, like Lucy Flucker Knox, who did whatever was needed in order to facilitate their husbands' success. There was New York teenager Sibyl Ludington, aka the "female Paul Revere," who roused the militias of Putnam and Dutchess Counties to fight off the British. Revere is generally considered a "founding father," so she surely qualifies too, especially since her ride was twice as long and was in a rainstorm. Perhaps most obviously, there is Mercy Otis Warren, aka "The Conscience of the American Revolution," whose writings did much to encourage and inspire the patriots. In other words, she was doing much the same as Thomas Paine, another fellow who is invariably granted "founding father" status.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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