Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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New polls: NV TX
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NV TN
GOP pickups vs. 2012: ND

Two Former Administration Officials Dispute Woodward's Book

Former director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter have disputed parts of Bob Woodward's new book, which was released yesterday. However, neither one identified any specific items that were inaccurate. Cohn said: "This book does not accurately portray my experience at the White House." Porter said: "I am struck by the selective and often misleading portrait it paints of the President and his administration." However, when asked what specifically was wrong, neither one of them had an answer.

When people say something is "wrong" but are unable to come up with even one specific statement that is incorrect, it generally means that the book is accurate but that they just don't like its conclusion. The book states that on at least one occasion, Cohn swiped a document off Donald Trump's desk to keep him from signing it and Trump never noticed. What is noteworthy here is that Cohn didn't say: "That never happened," even when given a clear oppotunity to do so. It is reasonable to conclude from his failure to deny a specific and somewhat explosive piece of reporting that Woodward got it right and for some reason, Cohn just wants to keep in Trump's good graces as best he can now. It might have worked. Trump said of them: "I really appreciate their statements." But the bottom line is that nobody in the know has refuted anything in the book so far, so there is a pretty good chance that Woodward was very careful and didn't make many mistakes.

Woodward, incidentally, is still making the rounds of the talk shows, and so is sharing lots of anecdotes that, if true, certainly do not make the administration look good. The latest revelation, which also involves Cohn, is that Trump's plan for paying off the national debt—which he promised to do in just eight years during his campaign—was to simply print as much money as is needed. Cohn had to gently explain to the then-candidate that this is not how it works, and that to try it would create runaway inflation and ruin the nation's credit rating. It is scarcely imaginable that someone elected president of the United States could seriously think that is a viable solution, but the story certainly squares with the general poor understanding of macroeconomics that Trump has displayed in the last three years. (V & Z)

New Hampshire Votes

Primary season is nearing its end, and one of the last states in line, New Hampshire, went to the polls on Tuesday. There's no Senate seat up this year, so the only major statewide office on the ballot was governor. On the Democratic side, attorney and former state senator Molly Kelly outdistanced her opponent, Steve Marchand, by a 2-to-1 margin. She will face incumbent governor Chris Sununu (R), who has a 61% approval rating, and is a member of the state's most prominent political family. So, Kelly is a clear underdog heading into the general.

Of considerably more interest was the contest in NH-01, an R+2 swing district that is being vacated by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), meaning that both parties have their eyes on the seat. The GOP picked Navy veteran Eddie Edwards, a fire-breathing Trump supporter who would be New Hampshire's first black congressman if elected. He has the enthusiastic backing of Rudy Giuliani, although the question of whether that is a net positive or a net negative is not known. Edwards outpaced the early favorite, state Sen. Andy Sanborn, 48% to 42%. Sanborn's campaign was seriously hurt by allegations that he made inappropriate sexual comments to some of his staffers several years ago.

On the Democratic side of that race, it will be Chris Pappas, a member of the New Hampshire Executive Council. He easily dispatched his nearest competitor, former U.S. Marine and Obama staffer Maura Sullivan, 42% to 30%. The pair were the clear favorites among the 11-person field, and the deciding factor appears to have been that Pappas is a native of the state, whereas Sullivan moved there only recently, and so was perceived as something of a carpetbagger. Meanwhile, finishing a distant seventh place was Levi Sanders, who clearly doesn't have any of his old man's magic, and wasn't even able to get Bernie's endorsement.

In the state's other Congressional district, the D+2 NH-02, Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D) was unopposed, and learned on Tuesday that her opponent will be State Rep. Steven Negron, an air force veteran who has not gotten a single bill passed during his time in office. His key campaign plank is stopping illegal immigration, which is undoubtedly a major problem up there in New Hampshire. All those unruly Canadians, you know. In any case, although demographics might suggest NH-02 is a swing district, Kuster's incumbency and Negron's being a fairly weak candidate mean that the seat is expected to remain in Democratic hands.

Today, Rhode Islanders will take their turn, and then tomorrow it will be New Yorkers. That will be the end of primary season, and then it will be just 54 days to the general election. (Z)

Hurricane Season Is Upon Us

Because of the specific climatic and atmospheric conditions that are necessary for them to emerge, the vast majority of Atlantic hurricanes take place within a very narrow window each year; roughly three weeks between the end of August to mid-September, with the peak date being September 10. This year is no different, as the massive Hurricane Florence is headed toward the Carolinas at this very moment, bringing with it the potential for "unbelievable damage," according to experts.

As George W. Bush taught us, a badly managed hurricane can be absolutely poisonous for a president. Indeed, his ham-fisted handling of Hurricane Katrina was, in effect, the starting point for the "lame duck" period of his presidency. Donald Trump, in case he doesn't have enough things dragging down his approval rating less than two months before the midterms, clearly fears the damage that Florence might do. Not to the Carolinas; there's no particular evidence he cares about that. But to him and to his party. So, he's been making a big point on Twitter of announcing how ready he and his administration are for when the hurricane makes landfall. For example:

Including video showing exactly how big and scary the hurricane is seems a tad bit insensitive, but Trump has never done empathy well. Other presidents might also try to lay off other subjects, such that the "I care about the hurricane" tweets are not interspersed with attacks on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Barack Obama, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Eric Holder, and Rep. Maxine Waters (that's three black people out of five, incidentally), but Trump is not most presidents.

Of course, even if Florence turns out to be a tempest in a teapot, or even if the administration responds brilliantly to whatever damage it inflicts, Trump still has a problem, namely that he and his team botched last year's hurricanes so very badly. Clearly, the President knows this, and in response he has decided on his usual strategy: to try to reinvent reality to suit his needs. Despite all evidence to the contrary, most obviously nearly 3,000 Americans dead (about the same as the 9/11 terrorist attack caused), he insisted once again on Tuesday that his administration handled Hurricane Maria brilliantly, calling the efforts in Puerto Rico an "incredible, unsung success." Asked to grade the administration's handling of hurricanes in Florida and Texas, he modestly gave himself a pair of A-pluses.

At this point, we know that Trump's base tends to drink whatever flavor of Kool Aid he serves up. However, is it possible to suspend disbelief when one's house has been washed away by floods, or one's town has been destroyed by rain? We may find out. Texas, Florida, and the Carolinas have lots of GOP voters, and three of those four states are purple, or are becoming so. If Florence wreaks havoc, and Team Trump blows it again, the GOP could pay a stiff price at the polls in November.

There is also one other, more specific, way in which this might come back to bite Trump in the rear. On Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released documents that suggest that almost $10 million in funding that was supposed to go to FEMA was instead rerouted to ICE and to more stringent enforcement of the borders. The Trump administration says that particular $10 million wasn't part of the "disaster fighting" part of the FEMA budget, it was from other parts of the agency's budget (training, IT support, infrastructure maintenance, etc.). Budgets and bookkeeping being what they are, this is something of a matter of interpretation. But with that said, if a narrative takes hold that the administration was willing to sacrifice human lives in order to split up a few more families and to keep a few more immigrants out of the country, that could be a killer. (Z)

Anti-Kavanaugh Forces Are Still Fighting On

Given that Brett Kavanaugh did not make any huge blunders during his hearings last week, it is very probable that he will be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court sometime this month. But liberal groups aren't yet giving up hope, and continue to do everything they can to try to put the kibosh on his nomination.

In terms of specific chinks in Kavanaugh's armor, there are two things his opponents are focused upon. The first, of course, is his stance on reproductive rights. As a judge, he ruled in just one relevant case, so there isn't too much direct evidence of his feelings on the subject. However, in that one case, he refused to allow a 17-year-old woman to have an abortion without parental consent, despite the fact that her parents were in Mexico and were allegedly abusive. Between that, the Judge's religion (he's a practicing Catholic), and his conservative politics, the anti-Kavanaugh forces feel it is pretty clear where he comes down on Roe v. Wade, even if he has called that case "settled law."

The other chink in the armor has to do with Kavanaugh's testimony when he was previously appointed to the federal bench. In short, a group of Republican senators' staffers stole e-mails and other documents from the computers of Democratic senators, among them Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT). These ill-gotten documents were used to help secure the appointment of arch-conservative judges. This happened primarily in 2003, when Kavanaugh was working in the White House. Among his duties was helping to shepherd judicial nominees through the approval process. When he himself was nominated as a judge (in 2004, and then to a higher court in 2006), he was asked by six different senators if he knew about the purloined documents, and he insisted he did not. Leahy says that Kavanaugh was lying. If so, that would be perjury, which is not a great thing for a Supreme Court judge to do.

Anyhow, wielding these two potential weapons, as well as anything else they can come up with, Kavanaugh foes are putting the full court press on the two GOP senators they think are most likely to flip: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), because she's a moderate and a supporter of abortion rights, and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who could stand to curry favor with independents and moderates right now, given his tough reelection race against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). They are being bombarded with phone calls, and the air waves in their states are saturated with anti-Kavanaugh ads. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is also getting the treatment, but to a much lesser extent than her two colleagues.

For the Democrats to pull off a near-miracle, they would have to get two Republicans (either two of the three above, or one of them plus a surprise "no") and they would have to keep their whole caucus together, which is a tall order. Still, Collins, Heller, Murkowski and the red-state Democrats up for reelection this year (Claire McCaskill, MO; Joe Manchin, WV; Joe Donnelly, IN; Jon Tester, MT; etc.) have not yet announced their votes. Presumably, all are waiting for the others to commit, so as to provide some cover. Still, until these folks make it official, that means there is at least some chance of the Democrats cobbling together 51 "nay" votes, but it is only slightly greater than the chance of a meteorite coming out of the sky and landing on Kavanaugh's head today. (Z)

New York State Going after Michael Cohen

Traditionally, when a federal investigation is going on, the states lie low until it is over. However, New York state investigators have decided not to play it that way, and are looking into whether Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, violated any New York tax laws. The feds don't like this one bit, since there is still the possibility that Cohen flips and gives them valuable information. Having the state throw a monkey wrench in the works is not welcome at all. It is even more complicated than that since the state is also looking to see if the Trump Organization has violated any tax laws.

Further muddying the waters is that the New York tax department is using information gathered by the feds. For example, after he paid $130,000 in hush money to adult actress Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford), Cohen billed the Trump Organization for reimbursement, calling it legal fees. The company paid him and deducted the expenses on its tax return, which would be tax fraud since he didn't provide any legal services. The tax department can't bring charges on its own, but can refer the matter to the state attorney general.

In any event, it looks like New York state and the federal government seem to be working at cross purposes here. Time will tell if they manage to play nice, or if their disagreement makes it harder to extract whatever is wanted from Cohen. (V)

Some TV Talking Heads Are Contractually Bound to Be Nice to Trump

Omarosa Manigault Newman just exposed a little secret that few people know, and which could affect how they interpret people who talk politics on TV. Most people who are in Donald Trump's orbit have been required to sign a nondisparagement agreement (NDA). This means he can theoretically sue them if they say anything nasty about him. Many such people have appeared on TV and said nice things about him without disclosing that they are contractually required to do so, even if they don't believe a word of what they are saying. If the networks disclosed that the people they are interviewing are not allowed to criticize Trump, by terms of contracts they signed, that would allow viewers to make a better judgment of the truthfulness (or lack thereof) in what they have to say.

For Trump Organization employees or campaign workers, NDA agreements are probably legal and enforceable in court, but for government employees, it is questionable. University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser said that such a restriction probably violates the First Amendment and would not be enforceable in court. Of course, even a government employee might not want to take the risk of having to fight an expensive lawsuit, even if it can probably be won, so the NDAs have a chilling effect on their speech, which is the purpose, of course.

CNN has a policy of disclosing when its paid contributors have NDAs, but it doesn't necessarily do that for one-off unpaid interviewees. Other networks rarely disclose the NDAs of their contributors and guests.

The NDAs affect not only television, but also print media. For example, the Washington Post rarely, if ever reports: "According to a White House official who contractually may not speak ill of Donald Trump, Donald Trump is an excellent president and the White House is a well-oiled machine." Clearly, the burden here falls on the media outlets to determine if interviewees and sources have NDAs, and if so, to report that. (V)

Appeals Court: Koch Group May Not Shield Donor List from Law Enforcement

The Koch brothers main political vehicle, Americans for Prosperity, doesn't like to disclose its donors to anyone, and that includes law enforcement officers investigating crimes. When then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris didn't like that, she sued in U.S. district court and lost. Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has reversed the lower court and ruled that when law enforcement has a legitimate reason to know who has donated to the Koch brothers' foundation, the foundation must tell them. By law, the information that law enforcement gets is secret, and cannot be disclosed to the public, so privacy issues don't apply here. Still, some donors may not like the idea that their donations are not as secret as they were hoping, and may take that into consideration next time they are thinking of opening their checkbooks. (V)

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Nevada Jacky Rosen 42% Dean Heller* 41% Sep 05 Sep 10 Suffolk U.
Texas Beto O`Rourke 44% Ted Cruz* 47% Sep 06 Sep 09 Pulse Opinion Research

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep11 Trump's Approval Continues to Drop
Sep11 Trump Desperately Wants Credit for the Economy
Sep11 Rogue Billionaires Driving Both Parties Up a Tree
Sep11 Omarosa Plays Another Trump Tape
Sep11 Beto O'Rourke Is a Pain in the ... Bank for the Republicans
Sep11 House Races Are Tight in Bellwether Districts
Sep11 Florida Should Be an Interesting Case Study
Sep11 Today in Defamation
Sep10 Top Republicans Are Worried about the Midterms
Sep10 Bring on the Lie Detectors
Sep10 The Time Trump Almost Started a War with Twitter
Sep10 Trump: Deal with Stormy Daniels Was Not Valid
Sep10 Endangered Republicans Don't Want a New Tax Bill
Sep10 Cruz Becomes a True Trumper (For a Couple of Months)
Sep10 Trump May Well Draw a 2020 Primary Challenger
Sep10 Today's Senate Polls
Sep09 Trump Administration Considered Helping Overthrow Venezuelan Leader
Sep09 Apparently, There's Money in Fighting Climate Change
Sep09 Maybe the Author of the Op-ed Was...Jon Huntsman
Sep09 Roy Moore Sues Sacha Baron Cohen
Sep09 This Week's Senate News
Sep09 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Elizabeth Warren
Sep08 President vs. President
Sep08 Trump Wants Sessions to Find the Author of the Times Op-ed
Sep08 Trump-Mueller Situation Likely to Reach its Denouement Soon
Sep08 George Papadopoulos Gets a Sentence of 14 days
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Sep08 Kavanaugh Looks to Be in the Clear
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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 Anonymous, Insider New York Times Op-Ed Slams Trump
Sep06 Witch Hunt Becomes Mole Hunt
Sep06 Delaware Votes Today
Sep06 How Are the Endangered Senate Democrats Doing?
Sep06 Politico Predicts Every House and Senate Race
Sep06 The Republicans' New Weapon: Football
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Sep05 We Are Going Live Today
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Sep05 New Woodward Book Is Brutal for Trump
Sep05 Massachusetts Goes to the Polls
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Sep05 Kavanaugh Hearings Even More Theatrical Than Expected