Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  President vs. President
      •  Trump Wants Sessions to Find the Author of the Times Op-ed
      •  Trump-Mueller Situation Likely to Reach its Denouement Soon
      •  George Papadopoulos Gets a Sentence of 14 days
      •  By All Indications, Trade War with China Is a Go
      •  Kavanaugh Looks to Be in the Clear
      •  Trump Makes a Strange Endorsement

President vs. President

Until yesterday, Barack Obama had been keeping a low profile. No more. Delivering an address in Illinois on Friday, he came out swinging, saying point blank that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy itself. In addition, he called congressional Republicans hypocrites and said they have all abandoned everything that Republicans stand for and everything Americans stand for. Finally, he took a swipe at the politics of division and resentment, which is pretty much all the Republicans offer these days (unless you are very wealthy, in which case there are also tax cuts). There was nothing subtle about the speech at all. He went for the jugular directly and repeatedly. Here are some of the points he hit Trump hardest on:

  • A big juicy tax cut for the ultrarich while blowing up the deficit (something Republicans claim to abhor)
  • Charlottesville: How hard can it be to say that Nazis are bad?
  • Politicizing the Justice Dept. and calling on the AG to protect GOP congressmen who have been indicted
  • Cozying up to Vladimir Putin
  • Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Attacking the Affordable Care Act
  • Letting thousands of American citizens die in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Historically, ex-presidents don't go after their successors in a big way like this—and Obama has promised to spend the entire fall campaigning. After George W. Bush left office, he didn't travel around the country attacking Obama as a threat to democracy. No, he took up painting. But Obama knows exactly what he is doing. Midterm elections are all about turning out your own base, and Democrats need much more prompting than Republicans. What Obama is going to do is try to fire up Democrats, reminding them of why they hate Donald Trump so much, and get them to the polls on Nov. 6. Will they listen? They might. Obama's most recent approval rating was 63% and much higher than that with Democrats. Actually, Trump's approval rating is somewhat similar—same digits, just a different order (36%). If Obama can galvanize Democrats and get them to vote, it could make a difference.

Trump was immediately asked what he thought of Obama's speech. He claimed he watched it but fell asleep. That reaction won't last. If Obama continues to tear into him, Trump is soon going to lose his temper and start tweeting. He might say things that his base likes but are more likely to fire up the Democrats than not. (V)

Trump Wants Sessions to Find the Author of the Times Op-ed

Donald Trump can never let go. If he were to stop talking about the notorious op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week, the story would eventually die off. But he ordered AG Jeff Sessions to find out who wrote it, thus giving the story new legs. Trump noted that it can't be anyone high up, because all the high-ups have denied it. It is very hard to believe that the Times would have published it if the piece had been written by a summer intern. It was surely by someone fairly high up the totem pole. However, if it really wasn't someone at the very top, but a deputy assistant secretary in some department or lower, there are potentially hundreds, maybe thousands, of possible candidates, especially if staffers are included. That said, White House insiders told the New York Times during the day on Friday that the list of suspects had been narrowed down to a dozen, and later in the day, that number had become "a few."

It's far from clear what would happen if Sessions does manage to find the author of the piece. One scenario is that the author lies and denies it. What does Trump do then? Fire him, while much of the country yells "innocent until proven guilty"? But suppose the author is fairly high up, say DNI Dan Coats or Defense Secretary James Mattis, and admits it. Trump will presumably fire him, which will lead every television station in the United States to issue an invitation to come talk on the air about the White House and why he wrote the piece. Not only will this inject new life into the story, but the author, now freed from being Trump's underling, could really let him have it.

Trump also pushed back at one of the specific items in Bob Woodward's book. Woodward claims that former National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn stole a piece of paper from Trump's desk to prevent him from signing it. Trump said that if Cohn had done that, he would have been fired in two seconds. In reality, Trump is so disorganized and has so little awareness of what goes on in the White House that Cohn could have taken 10 things from his desk and Trump would never have noticed. (V)

Trump-Mueller Situation Likely to Reach its Denouement Soon

On Thursday night, Donald Trump's television lawyer Rudy Giuliani dropped a bit of a bombshell, announcing that his client was not only refusing to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller, but that he would not provide written answers to questions, either. "That's a no-go. That is not going to happen," Giuliani said.

If this is tue, it is a pretty big development, since it would amount to a line in the sand. "Either you try to subpoena the President, or you give up on talking to him" would be the message. However, Giuliani's declaration was greeted with wide skepticism, given his tendency to say things that later turn out to be untrue. And indeed, on Friday the counselor had to backtrack, telling Politico that, "We're very opposed to that [but] we're not closing it off 100 percent." At this point, Giuliani is really not even worth listening to. Either he is just making things up as he goes, or else he's accurately communicating Trump's mindset, only to have Trump change his mind the next day. Whatever it is, his words are all but meaningless at this point.

With that said, the holding pattern that is in place between Trump and Mueller is not likely going to hold much longer. It is abundantly clear that Trump is not going to sit for a verbal interview, since that would be disastrous for him. While the Special Counsel could try a subpoena, Trump would spend months fighting that (probably unsuccessfully), and then would spend months fighting over his right to invoke executive privilege (maybe successfully, maybe not), and then would make liberal use of the Fifth Amendment. Only Mueller knows his thinking for sure, but the odds are that it just wouldn't be worth it for him. This is probably why he has signaled an openness to written questions and answers, because it may be all he can get. And pretty soon, Team Trump is going to have to decide if they're on board or not. Unless Mueller beats them to it, and concludes that a bunch of answers actually written by the President's lawyers aren't worth much, so it's not even worth waiting for the likely "no". (Z)

George Papadopoulos Gets a Sentence of 14 days

"Coffee boy" George Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI yesterday. This represents something of a defeat for special counsel Robert Mueller, who had argued for a 6-month sentence to make the point that lying to the FBI is a serious crime. However, the judge felt that Papadopoulos admitted that what he did was wrong and felt remorse, so he let him off with a very light sentence. Papadopoulos was also fined $9500 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

Papadopoulos cooperated with Mueller, but it is not known exactly how useful he was to the Special Counsel, since he was a fairly low-level operative. He did appear on CNN on Friday to tell his story to Jake Tapper, and said that he was aware that the Russians had damaging e-mails about Hillary Clinton, that he doesn't think he told anyone in the Trump campaign about it, but he "can't guarantee" that. Papadopoulos also insisted that then-senator Jeff Sessions was enthusiastic about the possibility of Donald Trump meeting with Vladimir Putin, an assertion that—if true—would mean that Sessions lied to Congress. In any event, it seems likely that Papadopoulos' 15 minutes is about up, and that his chapter in this little drama has reached its conclusion. (V & Z)

By All Indications, Trade War with China Is a Go

There isn't much that Donald Trump has been consistent about, particularly if we extend the timeframe back to the years when he was still a Democrat. One thing he hasn't wavered on, however, is his belief that other nations (especially China) are sticking it to the U.S., and that high tariffs are the medicine needed to cure that disease. On Friday, while speaking to reporters on Air Force One, the President made clear that nothing has changed. Tariffs on $53 billion in Chinese goods are already in place, Trump said, and tariffs on another $200 billion in goods are coming soon. He also advised that "behind that, there's another $267 billion ready to go on short notice if I want." Assuming that all three sets of tariffs are implemented, it would effectively mean that all Chinese imports into the U.S. would be targeted.

There is simply no reason to think that Trump will back down at this point. That means that the only plausible way a trade war is averted is if the Chinese blink, and agree to some of the concessions demanded by the administration. Maybe they will, but that is not really Xi Jinping's style. Further, Xi's dictatorial hold on power means that he can afford to play a long game more than Trump can. To put that another way, there are no Chinese midterms in three months, there is no Chinese donor class who may send their dollars to another political party, and Xi certainly has no reelection campaign to worry about in 2020. So, the smart money (or, maybe, the dumb money) is on the trade war proceeding as scheduled. (Z)

Kavanaugh Looks to Be in the Clear

Brett Kavanaugh, like most modern SCOTUS nominees, has perfected the art of the non-answer answer. During a week's worth of grilling from the Senate Judiciary Committee, he aggravated Democrats with his evasiveness, but he did not make any serious errors. And none of the dirt that's come out, like Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) leaked e-mails, appears to have dented Kavanaugh's armor. So, he's now overwhelmingly likely to be confirmed as an associate justice. The Committee will vote in about a week, likely along party lines, and then the whole Senate will vote shortly thereafter. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expects Kavanaugh to be on the job when the Court starts its new term October 1.

If the Democrats are to torpedo the nomination, they would need to hold their caucus together, and to peel off two GOP votes. Both halves of that are tall orders. Some of the Democrats up for reelection in states that Donald Trump won, most obviously Seb. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), would be beaten over the head by their opponents if they voted no. Meanwhile, the Republicans who might have rebelled against Kavanaugh—Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Jeff Flake (AZ), Bob Corker (TN), Rand Paul (KY)—all appear to have fallen into line. John McCain might have been a "no," but his replacement Jon Kyl has been shepherding Kavanaugh through the confirmation process, so he's a certain "yes." Add it all up, and the Democrats are going to need to give some serious thought to court packing the next time they control the two houses of Congress and the White House. (Z)

Trump Makes a Strange Endorsement

California's jungle primary system resulted in a few general election contests that will be Democrat vs. Democrat, most notably the U.S. Senate race. It also produced exactly one Republican vs. Republican race, in the R+9 CA-09, where Rep. Paul Cook will face off against former state assemblyman Tim Donnelly. Cook is your garden-variety mainstream Republican, one who has generally held Donald Trump at arm's length. Donnelly is a fire-breathing tea partier and anti-immigration activist who helped create the California Minutemen (private citizens who "patrol" the border looking for undocumented immigrants), and who led hundreds of people in a "MAGA march" to the border to demonstrate support for Trump's border wall. So, who got the President's endorsement this week? You guessed it:

That endorsement thus puts Trump on the opposite side of the contest from Rep. Steve King (R-IA), failed Senate candidate Joe Arpaio, and Turning Point USA president Charlie Kirk. You know, the, uh...well, the racists. Donnelly, for his part, thinks it's a conspiracy. He believes that Trump was misled by Deep Staters and swamp dwellers, and so was tricked into endorsing Cook. "We are still living under a quiet tyranny...they have cut him off from the outside world," Donnelly said. "I don't believe he had any idea about that endorsement."

While Donnelly is likely in la-la land on most of those points, he surely hit the nail on the head with the final part. What this all reveals, for those who did not already know, is that Trump puts very little thought into his endorsements. He's right about Cook being a marine, but there is zero chance he can name a single specific thing the Congressman has done to support the military or to be strong on crime. Either Trump heard something on Fox News or Sinclair, or else someone caught him in his office and asked him to shoot off the tweet. Given the time (about 5:00 p.m. EDT), the latter is probably the case.

Interestingly, while Donnelly is deeply hurt that he did not get Trump's endorsement, Cook wishes he didn't have it. The "news" page of his website lists the "big" endorsements he's gotten, including from such key players as San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, the Hi-Desert Star, and KCDZ 107.7 ("Community Radio for the California Hi Desert"). Trump's tweet makes nary an appearance on the page, since Cook is trying very hard to court independents, centrists, and possibly even some Democrats. It used to be that the answer to the riddle "He who has it doesn't tell it. He who takes it doesn't know it. He who knows it doesn't want it" was "counterfeit money," but we might have to update it to "Donald Trump's endorsement." (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep07 The Molehunt Continues
Sep07 Who Was It? (Day 2)
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Sep07 Booker's 2020 Strategy: When They Go Low, We Go Lower
Sep07 House Republican Leadership Wants to Punish Members Who Buck Them
Sep07 Trump Could Hit China with New Tariffs Soon
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Sep06 Witch Hunt Becomes Mole Hunt
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Sep05 Former Senator Jon Kyl Appointed to McCain's Seat
Sep05 Kavanaugh Hearings Even More Theatrical Than Expected
Sep05 North Carolina Will Use Gerrymandered Map in November
Sep05 Generic Poll: Democrats Up by 14 Points
Sep05 Today's Senate Polls
Sep04 Trump Lashes Out at Sessions
Sep04 Giuliani Is Already Well-Prepared for Mueller's Report
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Sep04 Kavanaugh Hearings Get Underway Today
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