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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Swing Senators Condemn Trump over Ford Remarks
      •  Right-Leaning Media Work to Discredit Ford
      •  Today's Kavanaugh Revelations
      •  McConnell Moves Forward With Kavanaugh Vote
      •  Trump Probably Won't Be Punished for Tax Offenses
      •  Almost Nobody Votes
      •  Nobel Peace Prize to Be Announced Today
      •  Today's Senate Polls

PW logo Gardner Waffles On Kavanaugh
Trump Mocks Franken Over Resignation
Kavanaugh’s Drinking Buddies Oppose His Nomination
Kavanaugh Walks Back ‘Emotional’ Testimony
Washington Post Urges ‘No’ Vote on Kavanaugh
Daines Says He Won’t Be Available for Saturday Vote

Swing Senators Condemn Trump over Ford Remarks

If all the Democrats vote "no" on Brett Kavanaugh—which is not entirely certain, but is probable—then the Republicans will need the votes of at least two Republican senators currently on the fence. These are understood to be Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), and Jeff Flake (AZ). Antagonizing Murkowski, Collins, and Flake is probably not a good idea, but that is precisely what Donald Trump has done by launching a personal attack on Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her while they were in high school. The three senators were very angry with Trump for that. That doesn't mean they are "no" votes—they are waiting for the FBI report—but they are trying to do their jobs carefully and don't like Trump acting like a bully.

Those three senators were not the only ones to push back on Trump. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who defended Kavanaugh vigorously at the hearing last week (and who is running for attorney general, should Trump happen to need a new one anytime soon) yesterday said: "President Trump went through a factual rendition that I didn't particularly like and I would tell him to knock it off." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said Trump's broadside "would have been better left unsaid." Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who knows Kavanaugh personally and who talks to Murkowski and Collins regularly, said of Trump's remarks: "They were not appropriate."

Murkowski, especially, is under a lot of pressure. Alaska's largest indigenous organization (and one of her most powerful supporters), is dead set against Kavanaugh. So are the state's governor and lieutenant governor. A wide variety of national groups have also targeted Murkowski, but she is far more sensitive to what Alaskan groups want. Unlike Flake, who is probably just grandstanding and will vote like a loyal Republican to confirm Kavanaugh in the end, Murkowski appears to be genuinely torn between party loyalty and what Alaskans want. Also a factor is that she is pro-choice, and Kavanaugh would likely be the fifth vote to gut Roe v. Wade. (V)

Right-Leaning Media Work to Discredit Ford

Perhaps Donald Trump's mockery of Christine Blasey Ford has given right-wing media outlets the go-ahead to begin trying to tear her down. Or maybe their efforts to tear her down gave him the idea that it was now ok to lay into her. Whatever the case may be, there is now a palpable effort to throw her credibility into question.

Let's start with the most substantive of the attacks upon her. On Wednesday, Fox News reported that Ford's ex-boyfriend says that she once helped a friend prep for a polygraph test (which, if true, would contradict her testimony last Thursday). Although Fox granted him anonymity, the man in question was quickly outed, and his name is Brian Merrick. Merrick also said that Ford never expressed a fear of flying to him, and that she was willing to live in a 500-square-foot apartment for several years, so he finds her claims of claustrophobia to be fishy. Actually, she never claimed claustrophobia. Some people who don't have it still find it scary to be in an aluminum tube 6 miles above the ground. These things fall down sometimes; small apartments don't.

Now, just because Merrick's charges against Ford are the most substantive of the ones currently floating around doesn't mean that they are actually substantive. To start, the relationship dissolved under less-than-happy circumstances more than 20 years ago. So, not only should his words be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, so too should his recall. It's true that Ford's testimony relies on memories that are even older than that, but "I was almost raped" is considerably more likely to make it into long-term memory than "I once saw my ex-girlfriend have a conversation about polygraph tests." Further, even if Merrick's recall is correct, it is entirely plausible that Ford simply forgot a conversation from two decades ago. In fact, the main thing this actually suggests, given how oddly specific the questions that prosecutor-for-hire Rachel Mitchell asked on this subject were, is that Mitchell (or someone else working for the GOP) talked to Merrick before Thursday's testimony and were trying to lay a trap for Ford. Which is arguably unethical behavior for a prosecuting attorney, since they are supposed to reveal who their witnesses are.

As to Merrick's other claims, it's hard to take them too seriously. There are, again, the same questions about sour grapes, and the passage of time, and the accuracy of his recall. Beyond that, phobias are funny things that don't always play by nice, tidy rules. Something that seems "obviously" triggering may have no impact, while something that seems benign may prove not to be so. Further, depending on age, circumstances, comfort level, and so forth, people don't always reveal fears like these, even to intimate partners. So, Ford could have kept her feeling about airplanes to herself. There's also this fair question: If Ford only had the money to afford a tiny little apartment, exactly how much jet-setting around the country was she doing? Maybe the issue didn't really come up while they were together.

Still, Merrick's claims are meaty enough that right-leaning media are all over them, with many demanding that perjury charges be brought. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has also glommed onto the news, and is demanding documentation from Ford's lawyers, possibly with an eye toward perjury charges. They might want to be careful what they wish for, given that Brett Kavanaugh certainly appears to have told some whoppers of his own, many of them more easily disproven than Ford's alleged lie. Alternatively, Democrats might say, "All right, I think we can agree that neither Ford nor Kavanaugh is apropos for a seat on the Supreme Court".

Another claim against Ford, this one even more dubious, is that she perjured herself at a different point in the proceedings, namely at the very beginning when she introduced herself as a psychologist. The argument is that, since she is not licensed to practice in her home state, that was a lie. This particular line of attack has spread far and wide, though it's a particular favorite of alt-right provocateur/troll Milo Yiannopoulos and of InfoWars. Which, in the end, kind of tells you everything you need to know. All that Milo and Alex had to do was check with literally anyone who teaches at any university in the country, and that person could have confirmed for them that someone who has a Ph.D. degree in psychology (as Ford does), and who conducts research in an academic context (as Ford does), is as much entitled to call themselves a psychologist as a clinical psychologist is. There is nothing illegal, dishonest, or unethical about it.

And finally, the really wild line of attack is unfolding mostly on Twitter, where opponents of Ford have been sharing photographs of her with pretty much every prominent Democrat in the country, ostensibly proving that she's a Democratic operative. For example, with Bill Clinton:

Uh, that's Kirsten Gillibrand

Or, with George Soros:

Uh, that's Lyudmyla Kozlovska

Whoever came up with these apparently wasn't even trying. As anyone who looks at the images will quickly notice, neither of these women is Ford, and neither of them even looks remotely like her. The person with Clinton is actually Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), while the person with Soros is Ukrainian activist Lyudmyla Kozlovska.

Obviously, given his reaction, these kinds of attacks are having an impact on Chuck Grassley. However, his loyalties in this situation have always been crystal clear, while his faculties have not been. It's much less likely that the fence-sitting senators will pay such things any attention as they make their decision. Consequently, the main impact that such attacks might have is to encourage Donald Trump to keep slamming Ford, which in turn increases the likelihood of an angry backlash on November 6. (Z)

Today's Kavanaugh Revelations

People who know, or once knew, Brett Kavanaugh continue to come out of the woodwork, generally not to his advantage. The biggest one on Wednesday was Jamie Roche, who was Kavanaugh's college roommate. Roche wrote a not-so-friendly op-ed for Slate, in which he says he did not particularly want to come forward, given that most of his friends and family are Trump lovers. However, he finally decided to speak up and says that Kavanaugh is lying through his teeth about his drinking behavior, and about the entries in his yearbook. Roche also says that he's never once been contacted by anyone conducting a background investigation into Kavanaugh (and has not heard from the FBI this week), so anyone who puts stock in all the background checking that has been done should think twice about that. Roche also believes Deborah Ramirez's story, about the penis-waving, and says it should be fully investigated.

More and more, however, it is looking like the FBI investigation is going to be far from thorough. Perhaps the Bureau is going to fall back on "we didn't have time," or maybe they are operating on orders from Donald Trump, or maybe it is something else. However, they have about 48 hours left, and apparently have not spoken to most of the key players, starting with Ford, Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, and continuing from there. Most folks who have tried to volunteer information also say they haven't heard back. Reportedly, the members of the Judiciary Committee are going to receive a report from the FBI this morning; it is unclear if this is just "here's what we've found so far" or it is "we're pretty much done." If the FBI does a half-baked job, and next week the news is full of reports from key actors who say "nobody talked to me," then that will be even worse politically than having done no investigation at all, and will also complete the process of politicizing the FBI. It's hard to believe that Director Christopher Wray would accept such a crushing blow to the Bureau's reputation, but at this point an awful lot of people in Washington seem to be counting on the notion that the voting public is either dumb, or has a very short memory. (Z)

McConnell Moves Forward With Kavanaugh Vote

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is apparently willing to pay just about any price for that precious seat on the Supreme Court. And so, on Wednesday evening, he filed cloture on the Kavanaugh nomination. If the GOP is going to vote as quickly as they possibly can, it was a necessary procedural move. It is now possible, with a majority vote, to end all debate on the nomination on Friday, and then to move forward with the actual confirmation vote shortly thereafter (probably on Saturday).

This is pretty bad optics, since it is very close to loudly announcing, "The GOP doesn't really care what the FBI finds!" It's interesting that McConnell didn't just wait another day or two, until the report is done, but apparently he feels that's too risky, as that's another day or two for additional accusers or detractors of Kavanaugh to come out of the woodwork.

Wednesday night's activities did produce one interesting and unexpected development, however. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) delivered an address from the floor of the Senate in which he said he's very concerned about sexual violence, that he doesn't think the legislature is currently capable of dealing with such matters, and that he urged Donald Trump not to nominate Kavanaugh in the first place, preferring instead that the President choose a woman (like Joan Larsen and Amy Coney Barrett). Is Sasse a surprise fence-sitter? It seems unlikely, particularly given his softball questioning of Kavanaugh during Thursday's hearings. However, it's at least possible. After all, nobody knew John McCain's vote to save Obamacare was coming until he walked up to the podium and gave the thumbs down. (Z)

Trump Probably Won't Be Punished for Tax Offenses

The New York Times published a bombshell report describing how Donald Trump made his money, in no small part by breaking multiple tax laws. However, it is unlikely that he will go to prison or even be fined for any of his crimes, for at least half a dozen reasons:

  1. Most of them happened long, long ago, and the statute of limitations has long since expired, making it impossible for New York State to indict him.

  2. He inherited undervalued assets (thus evading gift and inheritance taxes), but the tax liability falls on the donor, his father Fred, who has been dead for years.

  3. Proving criminal fraud is very difficult, especially when a lot hinges on how much certain properties were actually worth decades ago.

  4. The IRS did look at some of the transactions years ago and approved them (after adjustments).

  5. A possible Trump defense would be that his finances were very complicated and he relied on tax professionals and followed their advice. So, if anything untoward happened, it could be their fault.

  6. If there are problems with his tax returns (which the Times didn't have), the statute of limitations has also run out on all but the most recent ones.

In short, while the story got a long of attention, it is not likely to land Trump in prison. Rather than just let sleeping dogs lie, though, Trump just had to attack the Times for the story, calling it a "hit piece." Interestingly enough, he didn't deny the contents or say any part of it was incorrect. He merely added that 97% of their stories about him are bad. The President's lawyer suggested Trump might file a defamation suit against the paper. In reality, that is the last thing he would do, because proving that a story is true is a valid defense. The trial would then be all about whether it is true, and given how careful the Times generally is (and how Trump didn't even claim they got the facts wrong), he would surely end up losing. Besides, those kinds of threats (with no follow-up) have been Trump's modus operandi for decades.

One somewhat unexpected development came from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee. In response to reporters' questions, Hatch suggested he would be "happy" to look into the allegations against the President, and that Trump "may have to give up" his tax returns. Take that threat with a few handfuls of salt, though, since Hatch is leaving office in less than 100 days, and the next time he does anything adverse to Donald Trump will be the first time. Hatch also suggested that there was something untoward going on with the timing of the Times' reporting, remarking that it is "funny they wouldn't bring that up by the election."

One can't help but notice that the GOP muckety-mucks raise questions about "suspicious" timing regardless of when stories like this break. In this case, however, we already have the answer. The Times' investigation began only after reporter Susanne Craig noticed an oddity in the paperwork submitted by Trump's sister Maryanne Trump Barry when she was vetted to be a federal judge (namely, a $1 million payment to Barry by the shell corporation All County Building Supply & Maintenance). That discrepancy wasn't noticed until just a few months ago, and when you add on the time needed to fully dot all i's and cross all t's to get to the bottom of things, well, here we are. In any event, don't hold your breath waiting for Hatch to convene an investigation, but if the Times can figure out as much as they did without subpoena power or the ability to compel testimony, one or more House committees may look into the matter if the Democrats retake that chamber. (V & Z)

Almost Nobody Votes

Americans hate voting. Especially in midterms. They don't seem to understand that the parties and candidates are not interchangeable, regardless of what Jill Stein says. When the Democrats were in charge, they passed the Affordable Care Act. When the Republicans got control, the first thing they did was try to repeal it. These are not interchangeable actions.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of Americans act like it doesn't matter who is in charge of the government. If history is any guide, two-thirds of eligible voters won't bother to cast a ballot in November, even though voting is easier than ever, what with early voting in many states, no-excuse-needed absentee voting in every state west of the Mississippi and some east of it, and mail-in-only elections in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. Below is a graph showing turnout of eligible voters from 1828 to 2012.

voter turnout

Studies of nonvoters show that people typically cite one of two reasons for not voting. First, they are too busy. Second, they are not interested. This pattern of nonvoting is new, as you can see from the graph. During the latter part of the 19th century, civic engagement was much higher, with turnouts of 80% the norm. In fact, until about the 1980s, West Virginia, which now has a dismal voting record, had one of the highest turnout rates in the country, with 77% of eligible voters going to the polls in 1952, for example. Election Day then had a party feel, with people putting on nice clothes to vote and women bringing homemade food to the polling place to share with neighbors.

In other advanced countries, turnouts of 80% are still common now. In a recent international study of voting, Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark are the voting champions, with more than 80% of the voting-age population casting a ballot. The U.S. ranks 26th, just behind Estonia, but ahead of Slovenia. The French diplomat Joseph de Maistre once said: "Every country has the government it deserves." On the other hand, Winston Churchill once said: "The best argument against democracy is a 5-minute conversation with the average voter."

Voting is a class thing in the U.S., something not true in other countries. Over 80% of people with college degrees vote, compared to about 40% of people who lack even a high-school education. The people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder feel powerless, so they don't vote. Of course, that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they all voted, they would have tremendous power and could completely reshape the government's priorities to match their own.

One of the great paradoxes of American politics—and an enormous boon to the Republican Party—is that many millennials who hate Donald Trump with a passion probably won't vote because somehow they see the election of Trump as proof that voting doesn't matter. Actually, Trump's razor-thin margins in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are pretty good proof that a small number of votes matters a lot, but that is not how many millennials see it.

Some research on them shows that some millennials believe they don't know enough about the candidates to make a good choice, so rather than make an uninformed choice, they will make none at all. Another group of millennials wants change and doesn't think that is possible in a midterm election, so the solution is to not vote. Typically, turnout of 18-29 year-olds in midterms is in the 20-25% range, which is abysmal compared to just about every other demographic. (V)

Nobel Peace Prize to Be Announced Today

The various Nobel prizes, excepting literature (due to a sexual harassment scandal involving the prize committee), are being announced this week, and today it's the biggest of them all: Peace. The general consensus is that the most important developments this year, in terms of world peace, happened in Korea. This has some people wondering if this could be Donald Trump's year, given his role in thawing things out on the peninsula.

On one hand, it's certainly possible. Unlike the other Nobels, which reward past accomplishments, the Peace Prize is often aspirational, and is used to encourage promising developments and to try to keep momentum moving forward. If Korea is to be the area of the world that is recognized, then Trump could well get part of the credit, particularly if the list of winners goes three deep.

On the other hand, the Committee tries not to overreach too much, for fear of awarding a prize that later turns out to be an embarrassment (like the one given in 1973 for "ending" the civil war in Vietnam). Further, there is no question that the individual members of the committee find Trump to be personally repugnant, and would prefer not to award him, if they can avoid it. It is also not clear that he was actually properly nominated; the only Trump nomination that is publicly known turned out to be fraudulent. Fake news, as it were. In any event, we will know very soon. For what it is worth, the books have the Donald at 5/2 (28.6% chance of winning), which trails only Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In (both 4/6, or 60% chance). (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Most of the new polls are consistent with earlier ones except in New Jersey and Tennessee. A recent poll had New Jersey pretty close, but that may just have been a statistical outlier. More surprising is Marsha Blackburn's lead in Tennessee. True, it is a Fox News poll, but Fox's other polls today are consistent with other pollsters, so this could just be an outlier. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arizona Kyrsten Sinema 45% Martha McSally 42% Sep 27 Sep 30 Suffolk U.
Arizona Kyrsten Sinema 47% Martha McSally 45% Sep 29 Oct 02 Fox News
Indiana Joe Donnelly* 43% Mike Braun 41% Sep 29 Oct 02 Fox News
Michigan Debbie Stabenow* 53% John James 35% Sep 30 Oct 02 Glengariff Group
Missouri Claire McCaskill* 43% Josh Hawley 43% Sep 29 Oct 02 Fox News
North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp* 41% Kevin Cramer 53% Sep 29 Oct 02 Fox News
New Jersey Bob Menendez* 43% Bob Hugin 37% Sep 26 Sep 30 Fairleigh Dickinson U.
New Jersey Bob Menendez* 53% Bob Hugin 42% Sep 25 Oct 02 Quinnipiac U.
Tennessee Phil Bredesen 43% Marsha Blackburn 48% Sep 29 Oct 02 Fox News

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct03 Trump Makes an Explicit Pitch to Men
Oct03 Ford Wants the FBI to Interview Her
Oct03 NYT: Trump is a Tax Cheat
Oct03 Two Attorneys Depart Mueller's Team
Oct03 House Republicans Need Split Personalities to Win
Oct03 The Most Important State Legislature Elections
Oct03 Nelson-Scott Debate Gets Down and Dirty
Oct03 Today's Senate Polls
Oct02 Trump Expands Scope of FBI Probe of Kavanaugh
Oct02 Immovable Object Meets Irresistible Force?
Oct02 Poll: More Americans Believe Ford than Kavanaugh by Small Margin
Oct02 Trump, Rosenstein Will Meet...Eventually?
Oct02 2020 Conventions Are Coming into Focus
Oct02 Congress Might Reject NAFTA 2.0
Oct02 California Passes More Gun Control Laws
Oct02 Today's Senate Polls
Oct01 Kavanaugh May Help House Democrats and Senate Republicans
Oct01 Even If He Is Confirmed, Kavanaugh May Not Be Home Free
Oct01 Everyone Weighs in on Kavanaugh
Oct01 New NAFTA Looks to Be a Go
Oct01 California Passes Net Neutrality Law, DoJ Sues
Oct01 Preview of the 2020 Senate Races
Oct01 Democrats Will Examine Trump's Tax Return If They Win the House
Sep30 Kavanaugh Investigation Begins to Take Shape...Maybe
Sep30 "Saturday Night Live" Pokes Everyone in the Eye
Sep30 Under the Radar No. 1: Democrats Can Sue Trump Over Emoluments
Sep30 Under the Radar No. 2: Michael Lewis Book
Sep30 Under the Radar No. 3: Meeting with Trudeau
Sep30 This Week's Senate News
Sep30 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Gavin Newsom
Sep29 Flake Demands--and Gets--FBI Investigation into Kavanaugh Allegations
Sep29 Kavanaugh-Ford Coverage Roundup
Sep29 Security Experts: Flaw in Popular Voting Machine Could Tip an Election
Sep29 Steyer to Spend $5 Million for Gillum
Sep28 Up First: Christine Blasey Ford
Sep28 Up Second: Brett Kavanaugh
Sep28 So, What Does It All Mean?
Sep28 Takeaways from Thursday's Hearings
Sep28 Rosenstein Meeting Rescheduled
Sep28 Today's Senate Polls
Sep27 And Then There Were Three...or Four...or Five
Sep27 Hearings Will Move Forward as Scheduled
Sep27 Democrats Prepare Hail Mary Passes
Sep27 Trump Gone Wild
Sep27 Rosenstein's Fate to Be Determined Today...Unless It's Not
Sep27 House Passes Spending Bill
Sep27 Democrats' Lead in Generic Ballot Is Growing
Sep27 Today's Senate Polls
Sep26 The World Laughs at Trump
Sep26 Kavanaugh's College Roommate Supports Ramirez