Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  More Russiagate Trouble for Trump
      •  More Polling Trouble for Trump
      •  Pat Cipollone May Replace McGahn
      •  Canada-NAFTA Negotiations Stall; Trump Makes Situation Worse
      •  Trump to "Study" Federal Pay Raise
      •  Let the Midterm Triage Begin
      •  Trump Administration Wants You to Know that Marihuana is Evil

More Russiagate Trouble for Trump

There aren't too many days where the Russiagate plot doesn't thicken, at least a little. And on Friday, it thickened thrice.

First of all, Washington lobbyist W. Samuel Patten—an associate of Paul Manafort—pleaded guilty on Friday to acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist, lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and funneling a Ukrainian oligarch's money to Donald Trump's Presidential Inaugural Committee (through a Cypriot bank account, no less). Patten is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, and so he will be charged with only one criminal count, which carries with it a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Donald Trump's television lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was quick to talk to reporters so he could start spinning like a madman. He said:

I think Mueller has turned out to be a private prosecutor. What does this have to do with President Trump? Not a single thing. It has nothing to do with collusion, some guy who donated to the inauguration? My goodness, they had 500,000 people donate to the inauguration—every time they get a speeding ticket is Mueller going to do it?

It's Giuliani's job to peddle stuff like this, of course. However, this is most certainly tied to Trump, inasmuch as it's yet another person who is both (1) In close proximity to the President, and (2) Involved in shady financial deals, as well as the seamy side of Russian/Ukrainian politics (is there any other side?).

On top of Patten, there is also Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department lawyer who has been accused by Republicans of improper conduct because he is friends with Christoper Steele (of dossier fame), and because his wife worked for Fusion GPS while the dossier was being compiled. There's no evidence of impropriety, especially since Ohr came forward with what he knew as soon as he developed an awareness of what was going on. In any case, he was called to testify before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees this week. And though his testimony was behind closed doors, it leaked Friday. The big revelation: Steele told him that Russian intelligence agencies believed that they had Trump "over a barrel." This certainly lends even more credence to the notion that Vlad Putin, et al. have kompromat on the President.

And finally, late on Friday, the legal team for convicted former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos filed a brief on their client's behalf in advance of his sentencing. In it, Papadopoulos declares that he was present at the meeting where Donald Trump and then-senator Jeff Sessions discussed the possibility of meeting with Putin during the campaign, and that Sessions thought it was a peachy idea. This is a little bit bad for Trump, since it reminds people of how much Putin was on his mind during the campaign. The person whom it's really bad for, however, is Sessions, since he told Congress emphatically that he "pushed back" on the idea of a meeting with the Russian president. If Papadopoulos is telling the truth, that would make Sessions guilty of perjury. Perhaps the AG (at least for now) will claim he "misremembered"—which would be the third time he would have invoked that particular excuse. (Z)

More Polling Trouble for Trump

Early in the summer, Donald Trump's polling numbers had a bit of a renaissance. They were still pretty bad by most presidents' standards, but for him they were as good as they've been since he took office. However, we are now in the midst of months' worth of disasters for him, from unhappy Russiagate developments, to family separations, to Michael Cohen and Omarosa Manigault Newman turning traitor, to a veritable avalanche of controversial tweets. Add it all up, and things are now on the downswing for Trump on the polling front.

In terms of Trump's overall job performance, there is a new poll from the Washington Post/ABC News. Nearly half of respondents would like to see him impeached, and more than half think he's obstructed the Mueller investigation. Further, his disapproval is up to 60%, against a 36% approval rating, which is as underwater as he's ever been in that particular poll. There is also no specific aspect of his job performance where he's above water, even including his handling of the economy (45% approve, 47% disapprove).

The President is also doing poorly at selling his particular version of events to the general public. According to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, 64% of respondents believe that Cohen is telling the truth when he says that Trump ordered him to pay off Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford). An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reveals that more than half of Americans think Trump has not been truthful about his dealings with Russia. And a Suffolk/USA Today poll says that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe Trump should sit down for an interview with Mueller.

Particularly unhappy for the President, perhaps, is a poll from the usually supportive Fox News, which shows he's losing the battle on his signature issue. It finds that only 39% of respondents think he is handling immigration properly, as opposed to 57% who think he is not. He didn't do much better on border security (44%/51%). Meanwhile, 58% would like to see undocumented immigrants be given a path to citizenship.

The President is doing his best to pull a full ostrich and to stick his head in the sand. On hearing about the WaPo/ABC poll, he tweeted this:

We're not sure what "suppression poll" means, but it certainly sounds bad. Trump also continues to cling to the one polling house that's still giving him (relatively) good news:

It's true that he's doing better than Obama in this particular poll, by two points. It's also true that even the "good" poll has Trump underwater, so the Obama thing is kind of a case of looking for the silver lining. (Z)

Pat Cipollone May Replace McGahn

Since Donald Trump decided to send White House counsel Don McGahn packing, the favorite to take over for him has been Emmet Flood. The problem with Flood is that he's already taking the lead in the President's Russiagate defense, and he's the only member of that team who is truly competent at anything besides appearing on television. So, moving him into a new job could be a real problem for the Donald. Consequently, a new name appears to have moved to the top of the list for White House counsel: Pat Cipollone, a well-respected litigator and former Bush Jr. administration official who is currently partner at the Washington law firm Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner.

Cipollone's name is on the President's mind because he's already been informally providing advice about the Russiagate mess. It is not yet known if he actually wants the job, which would surely mean a big cut in pay, nor how his partners would feel about being linked to this administration. However, given that both lawyers who are under consideration for the job have already been working for Trump on the Russiagate matter, it is pretty clear that whomever is chosen will be expected to spend much of their time acting like a lawyer who works for Trump, and not like one who works for the government of the United States. (Z)

Canada-NAFTA Negotiations Stall; Trump Makes Situation Worse

The Trump administration is trying very hard to work out a NAFTA replacement, and feels (probably correctly) that it's on the clock. On the Mexican end of things, Andrés Manuel López Obrador takes over as that country's new president on December 1, and he and his ruling party are likely not going to be as willing to work with Trump as Enrique Peña Nieto apparently is (if they are willing to work with Trump at all). Meanwhile, in the midterms, the Republicans are nearly certain to lose seats in the House, and very possibly even their majority, which means it will be very hard to get Congressional approval for a new pact after January 3 of next year.

Given this time pressure, the administration has hammered out a tentative agreement with the current leadership of Mexico (albeit one that has some pretty big holes left in it). That means the next big question is: Can Canada be brought on board? If they cannot, it makes this mountain much harder to climb, since a Canada-free NAFTA replacement may or may not be legal, and, even if it is legal, would certainly create much chaos upon its implementation (particularly for the many, many companies that have built supply chains spanning all three countries).

On Friday, the office of the US Trade Representative conceded to reporters that negotiations with the Canadians have not yet been successful, but that negotiations will resume next Wednesday. They are going to be the tougher nut than Mexico for negotiators to crack, since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not leaving office this year (barring a surprise), and so has more to lose than a fellow whose political career is over, like Peña Nieto. Further, Canada's economy is somewhat less dependent on the United States than Mexico's is, so they are in a stronger bargaining position.

And just in case the dance with the Canadians was not already delicate enough, Trump managed to make things a fair bit worse with his loose lips. He gave an interview to Bloomberg, and while speaking with their reporter, made some remarks that he apparently thought were off the record. Perhaps one of these days, Trump will learn that nothing is off the record for him. Anyhow, the impolitic remarks somehow found their way into the hands of reporters at the Toronto Star, where they quickly became front page news. Among the less-than-politic things that are now public are Trump's assertion that any deal will be "totally on our terms," and that any offer made to the Canadians will be "so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal." He also observed that, "I can't kill these people." So, it would appear that a nuclear strike is off the table, at least, which means payback for the War of 1812 will have to wait.

It's not clear exactly how the Star got the quotes. Maybe Bloomberg betrayed Trump's confidence, but that would be very, very unusual among professional journalists, who know that doing something like that is likely to permanently burn important bridges. Given that the President has been careless about what he said, and who he said it to, many times before, the odds are good that he was somehow overheard by someone not working for Bloomberg. In any event, he has already admitted to saying those things, and has tried to put a positive spin on it:

At best, Trump weakened the United States' bargaining position. At worst, he took a situation that was nearly impossible and made it completely impossible. (Z)

Trump to "Study" Federal Pay Raise

On Thursday, Donald Trump announced that he was canceling the 2.1% raise that federal employees were due to receive in January of 2019, giving the (implausible) excuse that there simply wasn't room in the budget for it. The blowback was immediate, not only from the affected employees and from Democrats, but also from many Republicans. Senate candidate Corey Stewart, for example, is generally in lock-step with the President, but announced Friday morning that, "I almost never differ with President Trump, but in this case, I do...I encourage President Trump to reconsider his position." This may have something to do with the fact that Stewart is running in Virginia, a state that is home to about 178,000 federal employees (trailing only California and Texas).

Apparently in view of the response, Trump said on Friday that he may reconsider: "I'm going to be studying the federal workers in Washington that you have been reading so much about, people don't want to give them the increase, they haven't had one in a long time, I said I'm going to study that over the weekend." One wonders who these unnamed "people" are, and whether or not Trump realizes that he essentially admitted that he did not bother to study the issue before making his announcement in the first place. In any event, given that there are about 1.4 million federal employees in states that have a Senate race this year, it's likely that the raise cancellation will itself be canceled, or at least postponed until November 7. (Z)

Let the Midterm Triage Begin

Monday is Labor Day, and so is something of the last "breather" for Washington before the midterms. On Tuesday, once everyone gets back to work, the elections will be just over two months away (63 days), and things will begin to get real. In particular, the GOP—which is defending vastly more "in danger" House seats than the Democrats, by a margin of something like 10-to-1—will have to make some very hard decisions about who gets serious financial and logistical support from the Party, and who gets told, "It was nice knowing you."

According to reporting from Politico, the process of identifying lost causes has already begun. There are some GOP members who surely must know they're going to be among the odd men (and women) out, including Reps. Keith Rothfus (PA), Barbara Comstock (VA), and Rod Blum (IA). Several others aren't quite as endangered, but should probably still be preparing for bad news in the next week or so, particularly many of the members from California (Jeff Denham, Steve Knight, Mimi Walters, and Dana Rohrabacher), and a few of the Freedom Caucusers, like Dave Brat (VA).

The magic number for the Democrats, of course, is 24. And going by the judgments of the Cook Political Report (which are as good as any), if the blue team holds its two toss-up seats, and takes all 20 of the "lean" and "likely" Democratic seats (10 of them already in Democratic hands), that's already plus-10. So, even if the GOP gives up on the races that are essentially lost causes, and focuses entirely on "Republican toss up" (28), "Lean Republican" (27), and "Likely Republican" (26) seats, they would still need to win something like 82% of them. But that's spreading things thin, so the Party could decide that the "Likely Republican" folks can take care of themselves, and may invest all of their resources in the 55 most tenuous Republican-tilting seats. Even then, though, they would need to triumph in 75% of the races. In short, the GOP bean counters are going to be using a lot of aspirin in the next few weeks, as they try to pull a rabbit or 20 out of their hats. (Z)

Trump Administration Wants You to Know that Marihuana is Evil

We use the 1940s spelling of the drug's name because this story seems like something out of the decade that gave us this:


Anyhow, the Trump administration has launched a new, secret initiative meant to convince Americans of the evils of pot use. They are concerned, apparently, about the positive publicity that wacky tobaccy has been getting since Trump became president.

This has the fingerprints of Jeff Sessions—another product of the 1940s—all over it, because he abhors marijuana almost as much as he abhors undocumented immigrants and gay people. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) thought he had convinced the administration to drop this issue because he knows, as someone who comes from a pot-legal state, that it's a loser for GOP politicians. What Gardner forgot is that Trump only remains convinced on things until someone else gets his ear. It's unlikely that Sessions swung the President's opinion personally, since they despise each other these days, but he must have recruited an accomplice (Stephen Miller?). In any event, the administration is really working hard to give Democrats a whole smorgasbord of issues to choose from in the midterms. In particular, the sorts of issues that motivate young and/or minority voters, the exact people the blue team needs if they want to build a blue wave. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug31 Trump Sticks It to Federal Employees, Again
Aug31 Trump to Cancel UN Funding for Palestinian Refugees
Aug31 Donald Trump's Legal Situation is Getting Grim
Aug31 Sessions Better Not Count on His December Paycheck
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Aug30 McGahn Will Soon Be McGone
Aug30 Sessions May Well Be Next
Aug30 Puerto Rico Death Toll Soars; Trump Remains Impressed with His Administration's Response
Aug30 Trump Administration Denies or Revokes Thousands of Passports for Mexican-Americans Living on the Border
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Aug29 Appeals Court Rules that North Carolina's Congressional Map Is Unconstitutional
Aug29 More Details Emerge Regarding North Korea
Aug29 Trump Has a New Conspiracy Theory
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Aug29 Poll: Americans Believe Michael Cohen but Don't Want Trump Impeached
Aug28 Doug Ducey Has a Tough Call to Make about McCain's Replacement
Aug28 White House Flag Does Gymnastics: Up, Down, Up, Down
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