• Team Trump Losing the Battle of Spin
• Trump: Nobody Disobeys My Orders
• Social Security Trust Fund Will Be Tapped Out by 2035
• One Fed Nominee Down. One to Go?
• Democratic Candidates Jockey For Position
• SCOTUS Will Consider Census Citizenship Question Today
Now that the Mueller report has dropped, House Democrats are ready to really remove the wrapper from their subpoena powers and take them out for a spin. And so, the subpoenas are already flying around Washington, while the Trump administration tries very hard to frustrate the blue team's ambitions.
In addition to laying claim to Donald Trump's tax returns (which is not technically a subpoena) and to his financial records (which is), we know that former White House counsel Don McGahn has already gotten his subpoena, and that former White House staffer Carl Kline, who used to oversee security clearances, has gotten his. The unredacted version of the Mueller report has also been subpoenaed, and undoubtedly the Democrats have more subpoenas ready to go, or possibly even already in the hands of folks who simply haven't announced yet that they got one.
Trump & Co. are fighting back as hard as they can. The President is resisting the demand for his tax returns, of course, and he and his sons also filed a lawsuit on Monday in an effort to stop the disclosure of the financial records. The administration has also told the recipients of the subpoenas not to comply with them, arguing executive privilege. McGahn, who no longer works for Trump and has been happy to spill his guts, is not too likely to pay attention. Kline, who still works for the federal government (Dept. of Defense) says he will abide by the president's orders and clam up, unless he is accompanied by an attorney from the White House, or is ordered by a court to talk to Congress. Since Kline's subpoena commands him to appear today, we may soon find out what House Democrats plan to do in the event that their subpoenas are defied.
In what is going to be a recurring theme of today's posting, Team Trump is surely fighting a losing battle here. Oh, they may score the occasional win, but the bottom line is that House Democrats have the right to issue subpoenas, and the right to exercise oversight of the executive branch. Preemptively exerting executive privilege in response to the subpoena itself, as opposed to specific questions asked of the recipient of that subpoena, is a particularly broad and novel interpretation of that power, worthy of Richard Nixon himself. Ultimately, the Supreme Court, especially Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, are going to have to decide if they support the Constitution or Donald Trump. (Z)
We have made the case, even before the Mueller report was released, that Team Trump was losing the battle of spin. Yes, there's the base, and there's also Fox News to tote the administration's water. But beyond that echo chamber, the ham-fisted attempts to pre-write history, particularly on the parts of Donald Trump, his TV attorney Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr, quite obviously spoke to an administration that knows it is badly exposed. The headlines the day after the report went public spoke to the extent to which the administration had already surrendered a lot of ground.
We now have our first approval poll conducted entirely after the report went public. It's from Politico/Morning Consult, and it won't inspire much joy in the White House. Trump is at a dismal 39%, which ties his lowest number in that particular poll, equaling the number he pulled in the wake of the Charlottesville fiasco. He's also at 57% disapprove, which puts him 18 points under water. Rasmussen Reports, for what it's worth, also has a new poll out that covers the three days after the report, but also two days prior. In that one, Trump has dropped three points, from 50% to 47%.
Everyone knows, at this point, that the President tends to bounce around within a fairly narrow range of approval ratings. When things go poorly, he sinks to the mid-to-low 40s/high 30s, and when things go well, he rises to the high 40s (remarkably, he's never once broken 50 in a non-Rasmussen poll, with his non-Rasmussen high water mark being a 48, achieved a few times in the weeks after his inauguration). However, the Mueller report story can only get worse for him from here on out. There is not likely to be anything new that is positive or exculpatory for Trump; all his team will be able to do is repeat "no collusion," which they've already been doing for almost two years. Meanwhile, there is every chance that the Democrats (or one of the dozen ongoing Mueller-initiated investigations) will come up with new stuff on a regular basis that is negative or incriminating for the President. So, a PR battle that Team Trump appears to be losing will only get worse, and we may find that he actually can go below the 37% or so approval that has thus far been his floor. (Z)
Among the more interesting elements of the Mueller report was that the special counsel's team documented numerous instances of Donald Trump's underlings pushing back against his orders, or outright disobeying them. The President probably should be grateful about this, since some of the orders he allegedly gave were illegal, and his staffers' failure to follow them might have saved him from obstruction charges. Trump is not grateful, though, he's angry. And, on Monday, he declared that Mueller has no idea what he's talking about, and that everyone in the White House does what they are told.
It hardly needs to be said which side is correct here. One can compare Mueller's track record vs. Trump's, and figure out who is likely to be telling the truth. Or, one can just recall the many instances of White House staffers defying Trump that were already publicly known, like Don McGahn's refusal to fire Mueller, or the DHS leadership's unwillingness to execute the "bus undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities" plan. It's also entirely believable, given the President's ability to see the "truth" he wants to see, as well as his aides' fear of being blasted by him, that they would allow him to think his orders are being followed, even if they are not. After all, he forgets nearly everything he says within the hour.
As The Atlantic's David A. Graham observes, this is not a sustainable situation. It is the job of the president to make decisions and dictate policy, and it is not proper for a bunch of unelected underlings to be operating as laws unto themselves. The problem, and this is why the same pattern keeps playing out over and over, is that Trump himself thinks he's above the law. That leaves his revolving cast of subordinates with the choice of either breaking the law themselves, or ignoring him, and most of them (the occasional Stephen Miller excepted) choose the latter. In this circumstance, when the president himself is the problem, it is the job of the other branches of government—consistent with their oversight responsibilities—to address the issue. House Democrats are clearly doing their part (see above), but if the Senate and/or the courts don't partner with them, then the blue team's efforts won't matter much. In other words, the system designed by the Founding Fathers is about to get the mother of all tests. The ultimate test of the system will come if the Supreme Court makes a 9-0 ruling against Trump in some case and he says: "John Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it." Then we will truly be in uncharted territory. (Z)
The trustees who oversee the Social Security trust fund issued their annual report on Monday, and it had some unhappy news. Assuming nothing changes, then the pot of gold will run dry by 2035. At that point, the only source of funding for Social Security will be the money collected from wage-earners, which will force the program to cut benefits by about 25%. The Medicare trust fund, which is also covered by the report, is not in much better shape, as costs are rising (thanks, Baby Boom!) and the amount of money coming in is level.
From the perspective of GOP leadership, everything is proceeding according to plan. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that in order to keep the tax cut from blowing a massive hole in the budget, it will be necessary to take a hatchet to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In his view, shrinking entitlements in order to reduce the tax burden of wealthy folks and corporations is a good trade-off. He feels that the Democrats have been unwilling to rein in the "big three" for too long, and he's pleased by the possibility that circumstances might force their hands.
McConnell is a shrewd politician, so maybe he knows something that we do not. However, Social Security is the single-most popular government program extant, enjoying the support of 83% of voters. Medicare is second (77%), and Medicaid (63%) is not far behind. Further, these are the mothers of all pocketbook issues, particularly Social Security. It is not like the folks who depend on these programs are living in luxury; for many of them, a 25% drop in monthly payments will be devastating, forcing some below the poverty line. Does the GOP really want to run on a platform of, "It's totally worth it to cut your benefits, so a $1 trillion company like Apple or Amazon can have more of their tax money back?" Remember, old people vote, and there are a lot of them in Florida, a.k.a. the mother of all swing states. It is just very hard to discern what McConnell's thought process is here, unless it's "Hey, by 2035, I'll either be out of office or dead."
If the Democrats win all the marbles in 2020, they can fix the problem by changing a single sentence in the law, and they can probably do it using the budget reconciliation process, which requires only a bare majority in the Senate. Currently, only income below $132,900 is subject to Social Security tax. By simply removing that limit and subjecting all income to the tax, the Social Security trust fund will be solvent forever. (Z & V)
It was inevitable that Herman Cain, Donald Trump's would-be nominee for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, would have to fall on his sword. He's got too few qualifications and too much baggage for the job. On Monday, he finally jumped ship, explaining that he simply can't accept the pay cut that the job would entail. Uh, huh. The salary ($183,100/year) is not exactly hard to find on the Internet, and Cain has $18 million in the bank in the event that six figures is not enough to cover the bills. One would think that a candidate for such a powerful position would be able to come up with a better face-saving story than that one.
Meanwhile, past media appearances and op-eds by Stephen Moore, Trump's other nominee, are the gift that just keeps giving (at least, for the reporters who work for CNN's KFile). The latest dirt they've dug up is a series of op-eds in which Moore blasted women's participation in sports. He was particularly aggrieved at the notion of female basketball referees, wondering if there's any place left "where men can take vacation from women." He suggested that the annual March Madness men's basketball tournament would be better with "No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer vendors, no women anything." Given the other skeletons that have emerged from Moore's closet, like his messy divorce, his propensity for writing op-eds filled with falsehoods, and his loudly announced disdain for democracy, as well as the fact that he's also unqualified for the post, it would not be surprising if the same GOP senators who said Cain was a no-go (Kevin Cramer, ND; Mitt Romney, UT; Cory Gardner, CO; and Lisa Murkowski, AK) decided Moore was unacceptable, as well. On the other hand, Moore is a devoted evangelist for supply-side economics, and Republicans tend to love that, so maybe he'll skate through. (Z)
It's 560 days until the 2020 general election, but the Democratic horse race is already well underway. On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made a big move, announcing her plan to not only make college more affordable, but also to cancel $640 billion of the $1.5 trillion in student debt that is currently outstanding. Finding the funding for such an expensive proposition is a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-level tall order. Getting it through a GOP-controlled Senate (assuming they hold their majority) is a Burj Khalifa-level tall order. Still, we have spent the last three years getting an object lesson in overpromising and underdelivering as a path to the White House, so Warren might as well shoot for the moon. If she can get young voters (in other words, college students) excited about her candidacy, that would be quite a coup.
Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) continues to surge. The newest edition of the University of New Hampshire's Granite State Poll (conducted roughly once a month) shows that he's shot up 14 points, from 1% a month ago to 15% today. That leaves him in third place, trailing only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT; 30%), and Joe Biden (18%). Given that he's less well known than the other two fellows, his support still has room to grow. It's unlikely that he could overtake Sanders, who—given that he hails from next-door Vermont—is basically a native son. However, a third- or a second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary would cement his status as an insurgent, particularly since the Mayor figures to do well in the Iowa caucuses. Of course, the primary is still 295 days away, and the road to the White House is littered with the charred remains of campaigns that burned brightly early on (see: Cain, Herman), and then flamed out in crunch time. So, we're still taking a wait-and-see approach to Buttigieg.
And finally, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) officially announced his presidential candidacy on Monday. Based on Wikipedia's list, that gives us 20 major declared candidates, with Joe Biden set to become the 21st later this week. Just one more, and they can have a post-debate football game. Anyhow, Moulton plans to run a somewhat hawkish campaign based on national defense. That seems a tad bit out of step with the Democratic electorate, which has about two dozen issues on its list that rank higher than national defense. Moulton is not just up against a daunting field of candidates, he's also up against a daunting lack of historical precedents. Only one sitting member of the House of Representatives has been elected president, and that was James Garfield almost 140 years ago. So, he's a long shot, to say the least. Our profile of him is here. (Z)
The Trump administration would very much like to add a question to the census that asks people whether or not they are citizens. Officially, the reason is to better serve the states where large numbers of non-citizens live, in terms of funding and other decisions. However, since many such states are blue states (ahem, California, New York, Illinois, and Washington), and the Trump administration has evinced little concern about the well being of such states, this explanation is a little hard to swallow. A more plausible explanation is that the administration wants to encourage certain kinds of non-citizens (i.e., undocumented immigrants) to skip the census altogether, thus causing them to be undercounted and to reduce federal funding and congressional representation for "sanctuary" cities/states.
Three different federal courts have ruled against the administration, and now, the Supreme Court will take its turn. Today, the justices will hear arguments for and against the proposed change. The law here is actually pretty clear; the executive branch has the right to add a question like this to the census, but they have to give a valid, non-discriminatory justification for doing so. Since three courts have already been somewhat less than impressed with the case made by Team Trump, and since the administration has struggled to get its story straight, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross having offered at least three different accounts of his level of involvement with the plan, this should be something of a slam dunk. On the other hand, there is a reason that Mitch McConnell & Co. took so many gambles to stack the Supreme Court with GOP appointees. So, you never know. (Z)Programming Note: We're scheduled for one extra Q&A this week, due to devoting last Friday's post entirely to the Mueller Report. We'll do them on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to space them out.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Apr22 Monday Q&A
Apr19 "Document of the Decade" Drops
Apr19 Takeaways from the Mueller Report
Apr19 Mueller Report Headlines
Apr18 Let the Spin Begin
Apr18 Trump Administration Announces New Sanctions Against Three Countries
Apr18 Trump Officially Vetoes Yemen Resolution
Apr18 Rick Perry to Exit
Apr18 Buttigieg for Governor?
Apr18 Democrats Are Struggling in Virginia
Apr18 McAuliffe Won't Run in 2020
Apr17 Barr Announces Major Change to Immigration Policy
Apr17 Both Trump Fed Picks Are in Trouble
Apr17 Sanders' Town Hall Was Apparently Quite Successful
Apr17 Democrats' Q1 Fundraising Totals Are In
Apr17 Trump's Fundraising Is In, Too
Apr17 Green New Deal Has Solid Bipartisan Support
Apr17 Guess Who Is Atop the Senate Polls in Alabama?
Apr16 Mueller Report Coming on Thursday
Apr16 Let the Subpoena Wars Begins
Apr16 Sanders Releases His Tax Returns
Apr16 Tax Cuts Apparently Not What the Doctor Ordered
Apr16 Buttigieg Officially Declares
Apr16 So Does Weld
Apr16 It's Trump vs. Omar
Apr15 Trump Told CBP Head He Would Get a Pardon If He Broke the Law
Apr15 Sanders Woos Trump Voters--by Attacking Trump
Apr15 Harris Releases 15 Years of Tax Returns
Apr15 Neal Gives Mnuchin More Time to Produce Trump's Tax Returns
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Apr15 Joe Manchin Invades Susan Collins' Personal Space While Endorsing Her
Apr15 New Mexico Secretary of State May Run for the Senate
Apr15 Rep. Dave Loebsack Will Not Run for Reelection
Apr15 Monday Q&A
Apr12 Miller-initiated Policy Was a Bridge Too Far for Nielsen
Apr12 Assange Arrested; Trump "Forgets" What Wikileaks Is
Apr12 Cain Is Dead in the Water
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Apr12 Even if Trump Loses, He Wins?
Apr12 Former Obama Counsel Indicted
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Apr11 Barr: Government Spied on Trump Campaign