Dem 47
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GOP 53
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New polls: AZ FL
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ
GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IN ND
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Rosenstein Might Quit
      •  Kavanaugh Will Not Withdraw
      •  More Kavanaugh Accusations Coming Soon
      •  Trump Goes to the U.N.
      •  China Goes to Iowa
      •  GOP Favorability Reaches Seven-Year High
      •  Florida Congressional Candidate Passes Away
      •  Today's Senate Polls

PW logo Arizona Prosecutor Will Question Kavanaugh Accuser
Trump Thought Kavanaugh Was Weak
Rosenstein Likely to Leave After Midterm Elections
Kavanaugh Vote Set for Friday
Steyer to Spend Millions Backing Gillum in Florida
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day

Rosenstein Might Quit

Yesterday, a rumor circulated in D.C. that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein was thinking of resigning, presumably as a direct result of the New York Times story that last year he was at least thinking of invoking the 25th Amendment to declare Donald Trump unfit to serve as president. For the moment, Rosenstein is still employed by the Justice Dept., but he and Trump have a meeting scheduled for Thursday. There could be at least three possible outcomes: (1) Rosenstein resigns, (2) Trump fires Rosenstein, or (3) the status quo is maintained until the midterms.

Trump hates Rosenstein and would love to be rid of him, but his advisers are certainly warning him that firing Rosenstein before the midterms would generate a firestorm that could cost the Republicans the House, the Senate, dozens of governorships, and hundreds of seats in state legislatures. Of course, if Rosenstein goes voluntarily, the blowback will be a lot milder.

The issue on everyone's mind is what would happen to special counsel Robert Mueller if Rosenstein is no longer there to protect him, something he has done fiercely from the start. There is zero doubt that Trump is very worried about Mueller, not only about Russiagate, but also about what Mueller has discovered about Trump's financial past, including possible money laundering for Russian oligarchs. Getting rid of Mueller is Trump's top priority, even more than building a wall on the Mexican border, and this could be his chance.

If Rosenstein quits or is fired, and AG Jeff Sessions stays put, then in principle the associate attorney general would inherit control of Mueller. However, that position has been vacant for months ever since Rachel Brand saw this coming and didn't want to be on the hot seat, and so left for the greener pastures of Walmart. That being the case, the #4 at the Justice Dept. would take charge of Mueller. That would be Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who has a grudge against the FBI in general and its former director James Comey in particular. In 2016, while in private practice, Francisco accused Comey of overstepping his authority. He also successfully argued that the Supreme Court should throw out the conviction of his client, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who had been convicted on corruption charges. Francisco is also known for condemning the FBI for letting Hillary Clinton off the hook with regard to her email server. And he once argued a case before the Supreme Court in which he maintained that the Constitution clearly gives the president the power to fire anyone in the executive branch for any reason he chooses. In short, he is Trump's ideal candidate to replace Rosenstein.

If Trump ordered Francisco to fire Mueller, who knows what would happen. During the Watergate affair, it was ultimately Solicitor General Robert Bork who fired special counsel Archibald Cox, after the #1 and #2 Justice Dept. officials resigned rather than do it. Bork was later rewarded with a Supreme Court nomination. He didn't make it, but did create a new verb in the process: "to bork," often used in the passive voice, as in "he was borked." It means "to get turned down for a prestigious job, largely because people don't forget your past misdeeds."

Francisco knows all of this, of course, and if ordered to fire Mueller might try to convince Trump that a better approach would be to hamstring him. He could fire some of Mueller's staff, cut his budget, order him not to look at Trump's business affairs, and give him 30 days to issue a final report, which he could keep secret from Congress and the public.

If Francisco doesn't want to play ball, Justice Dept. rules dictate that a specific sequence of U.S. attorneys are next, but Trump could probably change that by executive order. In short, we are very close to uncharted waters now.

On the other hand, if the Democrats win the House, they could simply hire Mueller and his whole team as lawyers for the House Government Oversight Committee. The likely chairman of that committee in the event of a Democratic takeover of the House, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), an outspoken Trump critic, would have subpoena power and would wield it vigorously. Also, Letitia James, who is virtually certain to be elected New York attorney general on Nov. 6, could pick up the ball and run with it. One of her campaign promises is to prosecute Trump for any state laws he may have broken. (V)

Kavanaugh Will Not Withdraw

Despite two women claiming that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them (and maybe three, see below), Kavanaugh vowed yesterday to stay the course and not request that his name be withdrawn.

If he fights until the last dog dies, it could be a close vote in the 51-49 Senate. There is enough cover for all the Democrats to vote "no," so it could come down to whether two Republicans defect. Everyone is looking at Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as the most likely candidates. Their votes could depend on how the hearings with Kavanaugh and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, go Thursday. Neither one is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but if the Committee approves Kavanaugh's nomination, it will be up to the entire Senate to ratify the Committee's verdict.

In a very unusual step, Kavanaugh took his case to the public by appearing on Fox News yesterday, accompanied by his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh. Needless to say, the White House was thrilled with his performance, and behaved as if he just delivered the Gettysburg Address, the "I Have a Dream" speech, and Pericles' funeral oration consecutively. Viewers can decide for themselves (clips here, transcript here), but our view is that this dog and pony show did not do the Judge any favors.

To start, the whole "prime-time interview" plan was ill-conceived. No prospective justice has ever done anything like this during the confirmation process. Indeed, even once they are confirmed, justices tend to be leery of doing these sorts of interviews. The reason, of course, is that it politicizes the court. Making things even worse is the outlet Kavanaugh chose: Fox News. Not only does this further politicize the whole thing, it makes clear that he was either (1) afraid of tough questions, or (2) only concerned about peddling his tale to the base, or (3) both of these things. If he absolutely had to go on TV, and he wanted to show the American people (all of them) that he has nothing to be afraid of, why not select as centrist and as far-reaching an outlet as is possible? One of the big three networks, for example?

Now, it is true that for the interview, Fox chose someone from the news side of their operation, and not the opinion side, in Martha MacCallum. She was not a total disaster, perhaps, but she certainly did not impress with her performance. Consider this exchange:

MacCallum: So you're saying that through all these years that are in question, you were a virgin?

B. Kavanaugh: That's correct.

MacCallum: Never had sexual intercourse with anyone in high school?

B. Kavanaugh: Correct.

MacCallum: And through what years in college since we're probing into your personally life here?

B. Kavanaugh: Many years after. I'll leave it at that.

This line of questioning does nothing except appeal to prurient interests. Given what Kavanaugh is accused of (attempted rape of one woman, waving his junk in the face of another), the date on which he did or did not lose his virginity is entirely irrelevant. He could have lost his virginity last night, and it would neither prove nor disprove the claims being made by Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez. After all, neither one is accusing him of an actual rape.

Similarly, there was also this exchange:

MacCallum: Do you believe there should be an F.B.I. investigation into these allegations and that a pause should happen and, you know, sort it all out? If there's nothing to worry about and nothing to hide, why not have that process, Ashley? And then I'll ask you that, Brett.

B. Kavanaugh: I mean, I've said all along and Ashley, too, I want to be heard. I was first interviewed last Monday, the day after the allegation appeared by the committee staff under penalty of felony, and I denied this categorically and unequivocally and I said twice during that, I said, "I want a hearing tomorrow," last Tuesday, a week ago.

I want an opportunity—a fair process. America's about fairness, I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity and clear my name as quickly as I can in whatever forum the Senate deems appropriate.

Notice that the transformation from judge into politician is complete. Kavanaugh deployed the classic politico's trick of not actually answering the question, and MacCallum let him get away with it.

There was also the presence of Kavanaugh's wife, which further supports the conclusion that this was nothing more than a carefully staged political ad for the benefit of the base. Inasmuch as she was not in the Judge's life during the events in question, she has nothing to offer in terms of the charges that have been made against him. All she can possibly do is serve as a prop, one there to sell the audience on what a great fellow Kavanaugh is. For example, in this exchange:

MacCallum: Let me ask Ashley, when this came out what did you say to your husband? Did you question him and have moments where you wondered if he was telling you the truth?

A. Kavanaugh: No. I know Brett. I've known him for 17 years. And this is not at all character; it's really hard to believe. He's decent, he's kind, he's good. I know his heart. This is not consistent with—with Brett.

Ashley Kavanaugh may well be telling the truth, or at least the truth as she sees it. However, she also has enormous motivation to see only the best in her husband, and to ignore any evidence to the contrary. Put it this way: When was the last time a high-profile figure was accused of sexual misconduct, and their spouse immediately came out and said, "You know, I've pretty much always suspected as much." Roy Moore's wife, Jerry Sandusky's wife, Donald Trump's wife—in public, "Stand By Your Man" is the tune they invariably sing. In some cases, that may partly be due to politics, but in part it is because if they married an incorrigible lech and didn't realize it (or didn't care), it reflects very badly on them, too.

As carefully-staged as this all was, however, Kavanaugh did slip up a couple of times, as those who were watching very carefully might have noticed. The first occasion:

B. Kavanaugh: And yes, there were parties. And the drinking age was 18, and yes, the seniors were legal and had beer there. And yes, people might have had too many beers on occasion and people generally in high school—I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit, but that's not what we're talking about.

Anyone who trained to spot liars (FBI agents, for example) learns on the first day of interrogation school that shifting the action to an impersonal third party is a dead giveaway of someone who is trying to hide something. Remember Richard Nixon's "mistakes were made"? When Kavanaugh tells us that "people" may have had too many beers, he is tacitly admitting that it was he who had too many beers. Which is consistent with being the best friend of a man who literally wrote the book about getting fall-down drunk. And if there were nights that Kavanaugh had too many beers, of course, then there are nights he cannot possibly account for. Like maybe the night that Ford claims to have been assaulted.

That's not nearly as damning, however, as the screw-up of the night. Here it is:

B. Kavanaugh: Listen to the people who've known me best through my whole life, the women who have known me since high school, the 65 who overnight signed a letter from high school saying I always treated them with dignity and respect.

This is an outright lie. Nobody believes that Don McGahn (who was responsible for the letter) somehow managed to contact 65 people and get their signatures "overnight." That is physically impossible. Further, anyone who has not been living in a cave knows that many of the 65 have backed off their support, once they learned of the specific charges made by Ford. That includes Renate Schroeder Dolphin, who announced on Monday that she wishes that she had not signed the letter, and is now "disgusted" with Kavanaugh. She is potentially relevant because Kavanaugh included "Renate Alumnius [sic]" in his yearbook biography, implying a successful conquest. So did 13 other boys, including Kavanaugh's pal Mark Judge. Dolphin has denied "being conquered," but the mere fact that Kavanaugh chose to include this insinuation in his bio is disrespectful at the very least, even if it is not true. All that beer must have kept Kavanaugh and Judge from paying attention in Latin class since neither one was able to spell "alumnus" correctly. Kavanaugh knows all of this, and in claiming otherwise, he has thus made an egregiously dishonest statement in an interview ostensibly meant to show how honest and trustworthy he is.

Of course, it does not matter one bit how unimpressed we are with the interview. All that really matters is a handful of GOP Senators, and perhaps the voters who might twist their arms to vote one way or another. Given that the interview aired fairly late on Monday, we will have to wait until Tuesday to get a real sense of how it played. (Z)

More Kavanaugh Accusations Coming Soon

Michael Avenatti, Gloria Allred's wannabe successor as the go-to lawyer for women who have been sexually assaulted, announced yesterday that he has client who will go public by tomorrow with yet more accusations of sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh. Avenatti would look like a total fool if he couldn't produce the client by tomorrow, and he is far too sharp for that, so it is a virtual certainty that there will be a third accuser, in addition to Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. Avenatti has not released the name of the third woman yet, but did say that she has had multiple security clearances over the years. That means the FBI has investigated her and found nothing fishy in her background.

Avenatti also said that he is aware of evidence that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge would target women with alcohol or drugs to allow a train of men to subsequently gang rape them. If he can substantiate that claim—a very big if—Kavanaugh will be deader than the dodo.

Avenatti continued to tease with this tweet yesterday:

Avenatti has a clear sense of how to maximize his publicity. By having his client hold a press conference the day before Kavanaugh is heard by the Senate again, he is giving the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee more ammo to fire at Kavanaugh. If Avenatti can produce multiple witnesses who corroborate his client, then the (Democratic) senators are going to be asking variants of: "Why should we believe your denials when there are three (or four or five) people who said you misbehaved badly in the 1980s?" Get ready for some action. (V)

Trump Goes to the U.N.

The new session for the U.N.'s General Assembly opened on Monday and, as is customary for the sitting president, Donald Trump was there. He did two major things on Monday, both of which have been greeted with much skepticism. The first is that he signed a new trade deal with South Korea, a revised version of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). The new KORUS is not all that different than the old one (which has been in effect for six years). The goal, as is generally the case for Trump, was to correct for the fact that the U.S. buys more stuff from South Korea than South Korea buys from the U.S. To that end, the main change is that the new KORUS raises the cap on the number of cars that don't meet Korean safety standards that U.S. automakers can sell in South Korea. The problem is that Koreans have so little interest in American cars that the cap wasn't being met anyhow. Ergo, raising the limit won't actually change much of anything.

Trump's other accomplishment on Monday, such as it is, was to announce that 130 countries had signed off on an agreement crafted by his administration to curb worldwide problems with drug addiction. That sounds good on the surface, but there are a pair of problems that experts point out. The first is that a lot of the 130 countries were apparently responding to heavy diplomatic pressure from the U.S., not because they believe in Trump's plan. In fact, the document was not open to any discussion or negotiation. This suggests that we should expect something less than vigorous adherence to the agreement. The second problem is that the plan doesn't actually do much of anything beyond encouraging a vague "war on drugs" approach that has been proven to be ineffective. Hannah Hetzer, an expert on drug policy, described the Trump plan as "not legitimate" and "an attempt to feign leadership on this issue while having proposed no real solution on countering drug addiction."

In short, we appear to have two agreements that are more about declaring a "win" than actually winning anything. The President will speak to the General Assembly this morning, and is expected to brag about the progress he's made with North Korea (another pseudo-win), and to rip into the Iranian government. For those who wish to watch, the livestream of the address will be here. (Z)

China Goes to Iowa

Presidential hopefuls often spend a lot of time in Iowa on account of its first-in-the-nation caucuses. But it is unprecedented for a country to campaign in Iowa. No longer. China is now active in Iowa politics. On Sunday, China Daily, the Chinese government's official newspaper, bought a four-page section in the Des Moines Register and ran articles on why Donald Trump's tariffs have resulted in China turning to South America instead of Iowa for its soybeans.

In one article, the vice president of the American Soybean Association, Davie Stephens, wrote: "As the largest importer of U.S. soybeans, China is a vital and robust market we cannot afford to lose." The message is clear to soybean farmers who have seen prices crash and sales plummet: "It's Trump's fault." While no remedy is specified, some farmers might just get the idea if the Republicans caused the problem, the solution might lie in getting rid of the Republicans.

We're not there yet, but we are certainly moving in the direction of having U.S. elections be determined by whether the Russians or the Chinese do better in their election interference. (V)

GOP Favorability Reaches Seven-Year High

On a weekly basis, the Gallup organization asks respondents if they have a favorable or unfavorable impression of each of the major parties. This month, the Democrats pulled a 44%, which is pretty much par for the course for them (the Party rarely moves outside the 40-45% range these days). The GOP, however, got its best number in seven years, with a 45%.

This is, uh, rather strange. Donald Trump's approval rating is at 40% in the same poll, so that means that 5 Americans in 100 apparently like what the GOP is doing, even though they think the Party's leader is performing poorly. It's not the Republicans in Congress that are pulling that number up, either. Their approval in Gallup's poll is below 20%, which means that there is some sizable population of Americans who hate the job that every Republican in the federal government is doing, but nonetheless think the Party itself is doing swell. This may be a response to the Kavanaugh confirmation; it's possible that those 45% specifically meant to signal their approval with his nomination to the Supreme Court. If so, then those numbers will tumble in the next iteration of the poll, since the current data was collected before the sexual assault allegations caused his popularity to take a dive.

In any case, this particular number does not appear to have much predictive value. In some elections, the Party that was doing better in this measure (for example, the Republicans in 2010) performed well in the midterms. And in others, the Party that was doing better (for example, the Democrats in 2002, who were at 58%) got trounced in the midterms. It remains the case that approval or disapproval of the fellow in the White House is more important in the midterms than favorable or unfavorable impressions of the respective parties. (Z)

Florida Congressional Candidate Passes Away

April Freeman was the Democrats' nominee for FL-17, the seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Rooney (R). She waged a vigorous campaign, and was working the phones into the wee hours on Sunday night. And then, according to an announcement made by her husband on Monday morning, she went to bed and never woke up. She was 54.

At this late point in the process, her name cannot be removed from the ballot. If she were to win, the Florida Democratic Party would choose someone to serve in her stead. That likely will not come to pass; the district has a PVI of R+13 and was won by Donald Trump by 27 points. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arizona Kyrsten Sinema 45% Martha McSally 39% Sep 19 Sep 21 Emerson Coll.
Florida Bill Nelson* 45% Rick Scott 45% Sep 17 Sep 19 U. of North Florida

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep24 And Then There Were Two
Sep24 Ford Will Testify Thursday
Sep24 Trumpworld Split on When to Fire Rosenstein
Sep24 New Tariffs Take Effect
Sep24 House Republicans Desperately Want to Adjourn This Week
Sep24 Democrats Hold Double-Digit Lead in Generic House Poll
Sep24 Democratic Primary Turnout Shot Up More than Republican Turnout
Sep23 Kavanaugh Accuser Will Testify...Probably
Sep23 Trump Changes Course on Classified Document Dump
Sep23 This Week in Commercials
Sep23 Professor Who Unmasked Anonymous: It Was Mattis
Sep23 This Week's Senate News
Sep23 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Michael Bloomberg
Sep22 NYT: Rosenstein Wanted to Wear A Wire to Record Trump
Sep22 We Should Know Sometime Today if Ford Will Testify...Maybe
Sep22 With Tax Cuts Fizzling, Republicans Return to Culture-War Ads
Sep22 Moore Film Opens
Sep22 Ratings Changes from Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball
Sep22 Ratings Changes from Politico
Sep22 Ratings Changes from the Cook Political Report
Sep22 Cruz and O'Rourke Debate
Sep22 Today's Senate Polls
Sep21 Cohen Has Been Talking to Mueller for Weeks
Sep21 Christine Blasey Ford Wants to Testify, but Not on Monday
Sep21 Kavanaugh Preferred Clerks That "Looked Like Models"
Sep21 Kavanaugh Battle Could Affect the Supreme Court Itself
Sep21 Heller Eats Crow, Embraces Trump
Sep21 Trump Rallies, Can Barely Contain Himself on Kavanaugh Situation
Sep21 Another Day, Another Racist Incident for De Santis
Sep21 Today's Senate Polls
Sep20 GOP Is Increasingly Confident Kavanaugh Will Be Confirmed
Sep20 GOP May Get Kavanaugh, But May Not Get Its Wish
Sep20 Trump: I Don't Have an Attorney General
Sep20 College Students Don't Vote Because They Don't Know How to Buy a Stamp
Sep20 Indicted Congressman Will Actively Campaign for Reelection
Sep20 You'll Probably Be Disappointed on Election Night
Sep20 A Tale of Two Polls
Sep20 Today's Senate Polls
Sep19 Judge Won't Testify before the Senate on Monday
Sep19 How to Tell the Strength of the Blue Wave
Sep19 Why Are the Russians Visiting Mariia Butina in Prison So Much?
Sep19 National Debt Reaches post-WWII levels
Sep19 Polish President Proposes "Fort Trump"
Sep19 Stormy Daniels Hits Trump Where It Hurts
Sep19 Ronan Farrow May Have the N-Word Tapes
Sep19 Democrat Tony Evers Is Leading Scott Walker in Wisconsin
Sep19 Today's Senate Polls
Sep18 Both Kavanaugh and His Accuser Are Going to Testify in the Senate
Sep18 Pro-Kavanaugh Forces Settle on Their Strategy
Sep18 $200 Billion in Tariffs Are a Go