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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down
      •  Trump Lashes Out
      •  Trump to Formally Nominate Kelly Knight Craft to the U.N.
      •  SCOTUS Appears Ready to Allow Citizenship Question on Census
      •  Buttigieg Will Do Fox News Town Hall
      •  Iowa's Longest-serving GOP Lawmaker Switches Parties
      •  Wednesday Q&A

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down

It's not just talk anymore. In the last couple of weeks, House Democrats have kicked their investigative activities into high gear, with the release of the Mueller report pushing the 'turbo' button. The Trump administration has, at the same time, signaled an intent to dig its heels in, and to offer zero cooperation. On Tuesday, that approach became official, as Team Trump formally defied the Congress in two ways.

The first of these, of course, was in the case of Carl Kline, who used to handle security clearances for the White House, and who was subpoenaed to speak with the House Oversight Committee yesterday morning. Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has quite a few questions about the 25 individuals who did not qualify for clearances, and yet got them anyhow. Donald Trump ordered Kline not to show up, and since he wants to keep his new job in the Dept. of Defense, Kline bowed to the President's command. Cummings has already begun the steps necessary to find Kline in contempt of Congress. Since the executive branch obviously isn't going to help out here, and Congress hasn't enforced contempt charges by itself since the 1930s, it will be up to the courts to decide.

The second act of defiance, meanwhile, came when the Treasury Dept. officially failed to make the Democrats' deadline for turning over Trump's tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that a final decision on the matter would be made by May 6. Translation: "You're not getting the taxes, but by pretending we're still thinking about it, we can buy the President a couple more weeks before the legal process gets underway."

Beyond those two specific acts, the President also announced that he does not want any of his current or former staffers to testify because, as far as he is concerned, "There is no reason to go any further." Trump does not think about or care about the implications of his words, but if he did, he might take note that a political system where the decision whether or not to investigate the president is in the hands of the president has a name—it's called a dictatorship. In addition to expressing his broad opposition to any cooperation from any of his "people," Trump also made clear that he's going to do everything possible to stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from talking to Congress. Given that McGahn no longer works for Trump, that he's evinced a willingness to talk, and that Trump specifically waived executive privilege in this case, the President would seem to have a pretty weak hand to play here.

Needless to say, the members of the blue team are not shrinking violets, and are going to give as good as they get. While not Mueller related, they did poke the President in the eye on Tuesday, asking U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden to issue an injunction against the use of any non-approved funds for the border wall. That will not please Trump. Nor will the flurry of subpoenas, lawsuits, and counter-suits that the Democrats unveil in the next few weeks and months. In other words, brace yourself, because this is going to get ugly. (Z)

Trump Lashes Out

If there were any doubts that Donald Trump feels like he is besieged, and he is losing control of the Mueller report narrative, he removed them all on Tuesday with his behavior on Twitter. Yes, he sometimes goes a little nuts on the social media platform, but not like this. In 24 hours, he sent 52 tweets, including 24 in a 30-minute span. The outburst was heavy on the Fox News retweets, and very heavy on the Mueller report bashing and the media bashing.

The President also found another way to lash out at the media: he announced that all members of his administration are forbidden to attend the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) dinner, scheduled for Saturday. Trump himself has broken with precedent and skipped the dinner every year he's been in office, primarily because he cannot stand jokes made at his expense. However, many others in the White House, including Jared and Ivanka, have been invited and have attended. The invites and the acceptances were largely about being polite; the First Family is likely thrilled to be off the hook, and the WHCA is probably pretty happy not to have them there.

In any event, Trump really is quite the enigma. On one hand, there is no president who cared as much about his public image as the Donald does. JFK, Ronnie Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, FDR, and TR were all particularly mindful on this point, but Trump leaves them all in the dust. It's an absolute obsession with him. At the same time, there is no president who did so much to hurt his own image as Trump does. Nobody outside of Washington cares who does and does not attend the WHCA dinner, and every one of the 43 men who preceded him would have recognized that skipping the dinner looks bad, while banning one's staff just looks petty, and turns a non-story into a negative story. There's an old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity, except your obituary. Maybe that thought is what governs Trump's approach. (Z)

Trump to Formally Nominate Kelly Knight Craft to the U.N.

The United States' ambassadorship to the U.N. has been vacant ever since Nikki Haley resigned and ran for the hills. After Heather Nauert, Donald Trump's first choice to replace Haley, was compelled to withdraw from consideration, he settled on Kelly Knight Craft. She is currently serving as the nation's ambassador to Canada, eh. After turning the idea over in his head for nearly two months, Trump is now ready to formally nominate Craft.

The reason for the delay, and the basic problem with Craft, is that she's not really qualified for the job. While it's true that she's ambassador to Canada, this is one of those ambassadorships that was "earned" through hefty donations to the Trump campaign/GOP, and not through merit. Craft and her husband are worth $1.4 billion. That means with the departure of Linda McMahon, Craft and Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos and Sec. of Commerce Wilbur Ross may be the only billionaires left in the cabinet. Anyhow, since the U.S. and Canada do not often go to war with each other, nor threaten to lob nukes at each other, the ambassadorship is not too tough a job. Eat a bowl of poutine, attend a hockey game, cut the ribbon at the opening of the newest Tim Horton's and you're done for the day.

The U.N. ambassadorship, by contrast, is one of the most senior positions in America's diplomatic corps, very possibly outranked in importance by only the Secretaryship of State. Senate Republicans seem to have some funny ideas about who is and is not qualified for important postings, so we will soon see if they balk at her appointment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is on board, but he hasn't been doing the greatest job of whipping his caucus lately when it comes to Trump's appointments. It takes only a few Mitt Romneys (R-UT) and Susan Collinses (R-ME) and Craft will be in trouble. (Z)

SCOTUS Appears Ready to Allow Citizenship Question on Census

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about the citizenship question that the Trump administration wants to put on the census. According to observers, the questioning went according to form, with the four liberal justices asking very critical questions, four of the conservative justices asking very affirming questions, and Clarence Thomas asking no questions. Given this, just about everyone is predicting a 5-4 vote in favor of allowing the question.

Maybe the predictions will be right, although reading the tea leaves of the justices' questioning is always a dodgy business. What this might well come down to, in fact, is not the law in question, but instead the reputation of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts does not want to appear to be in the bag for the GOP, but that's exactly what it will look like if SCOTUS issues a 5-4 decision here, particularly when three other courts already disagreed with the administration.

Nevertheless, there might be some good news for the blue team even if Roberts sides with the conservatives in a 5-4 decision to allow the citizenship question. Roberts very much wants to be seen as a neutral umpire who just calls balls and strikes. But he also has a keen sense of what is important for conservatives and what is not. A vote to allow the citizenship question would have immense consequences for power in the U.S. for at least a decade. But a vote to require IRS to hand over Trump's tax returns to Congress means nothing to him. So he might be mulling "yes on citizenship question" and "yes on giving Congress the tax returns." Superficially it seems evenhanded, although in the long run this split decision greatly helps the Republicans by giving them more seats in the House and more electoral votes, even if it helps the Democrats in 2020. (Z & V)

Buttigieg Will Do Fox News Town Hall

These days, all the cool kids running for the Democratic presidential nomination are doing Fox News town halls, it would seem. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did one and got rave reviews. Now, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) has signed up for one, to be aired sometime in May. The theory here, of course, is that going on Fox is the only way to reach certain segments of the electorate (though one wonders how "reachable" Fox News viewers really are for any Democrat). Buttigieg should be able to shine like Sanders did, since he's very good on his feet, and he generally manages to present his policy ideas without attacking Donald Trump or the Republicans.

The Mayor also got some more positive polling news on Tuesday. In the latest edition of Monmouth's national poll of Democratic voters, he's now tied for third place with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), with each of them getting 8% of the support, compared to 27% for frontrunner Joe Biden and 20% for second-place Sanders. In the latest edition of Morning Consult's national poll, Buttigieg has third place to himself, with 9% of the responses, compared to 30% for Biden and 24% for Sanders. And in Gravis' poll of Iowa voters, Buttigieg is also in third place, taking 14% of the pool, compared to 19% for both Sanders and Biden. Given that he's also in third place in the latest poll of New Hampshire voters, as we noted yesterday, he is clearly surging. The Democratic debates in June, as his first national test, will likely be as important for him as for the candidates who are polling in the 1%-2% range and who desperately need a shot in the arm. (Z)

Iowa's Longest-serving GOP Lawmaker Switches Parties

State Rep. Andy McKean (D) is the longest-serving member of the Iowa legislature, and is now in his 35th year there. For all of that time, he was a Republican. Note the verb tense, however, because as of Tuesday, he is now a Democrat. At a press conference, he explained his decision:

With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I feel as a Republican that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party. Unfortunately, that is not something I am able to do. He sets, in my opinion, a poor example for the nation and particularly for our children by personally insulting—often in a crude and juvenile fashion—those who disagree with him, being a bully at a time when we are attempting to discourage bullying, his frequent disregard for the truth and his willingness to ridicule or marginalize people for their appearance, ethnicity or disability.

Of course, there's nothing in that paragraph that wasn't true two years ago, so it's interesting that it took McKean this long to make his decision.

The immediate impact of McKean's defection is to trim the GOP majority in the lower chamber of the Iowa legislature to 53-47 (the upper chamber is 32-18 for the GOP). Given his state of residence, and the fact that he has his finger on the political pulse there, it's also possible that his decision is a sign of things to come. Is Iowa turning against Donald Trump, perhaps because of the tariffs? Is the state drifting blueward? Are we approaching a turning point, presaging a broad-based GOP rebellion against the President?

On the latter point, there was another somewhat high-profile defection on Tuesday. J. W. Verret, who is Professor of Law at George Mason University, was enough a Trump supporter that he worked as part of the President's transition team. Not anymore, though. In an essay for The Atlantic, he says that reading the Mueller report was the final straw, and that he believes the time has now come for impeachment. He concludes:

Republicans who stand up to Trump today may face some friendly fire. Today's Republican electorate seems spellbound by the sound bites of Twitter and cable news, for which Trump is a born wizard. Yet, in time, we can help rebuild the Republican Party, enabling it to rise from the ashes of the post-Trump apocalypse into a party with renewed commitment to principles of liberty, opportunity, and the rule of law.

Maybe these two fellows are just blips on the radar. But maybe they aren't, a possibility that should have RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel sweating bullets. (Z)

Wednesday Q&A

We did an all-Mueller edition on Monday, so this will be an all-non-Mueller edition. We still have one more Q&A scheduled for this week; some more Mueller questions will find their way into that one, including a number of impeachment-related questions.

You wrote that there's a simple fix to the Social Security shortfall, namely eliminating the cap on how much of a person's income is subject to the Social Security tax. Given that the shortfall has been in the news for at least a decade, and if the fix is truly so straightforward, what in your opinion is the reason that Barack Obama dithered and didn't just fix social security in 2009 or 2010 when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress? E.C.R., Kirkland, WA

The short answer to your question is that there were only a handful of months of Obama's term where the Democrats (plus Independents) had 60 seats in the Senate (July 7, 2009, to August 25, 2009, and September 25, 2009, to February 4, 2010). So, the available window for this sort of thing was fairly narrow, and would have required getting the entire Democratic (and Independent) caucus on board in order to override a filibuster. Not an easy task with something so fraught as Social Security, particularly when you've got some very conservative Democrats, like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and some very liberal Democrats, like Al Franken, to deal with.

The longer answer is that Obama did try to work on Social Security, but he did so at a time when he was still trying to abide by his promise to reach across the aisle. So, instead of trying to increase taxes, which is a non-starter with today's Republicans, he focused on reducing the costs of the program. He wanted to do this in two primary ways: the first was reducing benefits for wealthy people who probably don't need them, and the second was by changing the way in which annual increases are calculated, using an approach called chained CPI. Republicans rebelled against the first idea, and progressive Democrats rebelled against the second, so Obama threw up his hands and decided to invest his political capital in Obamacare instead. Late in his term, he moved away from the bipartisan approach, and embraced an increase in payments. However, by then, there was no way any Obama-sponsored bill was getting through the Senate.

In light of the arguments before the Supreme Court, I am assuming the citizenship question will be allowed on the census. What would happen if Democrats in deep-red Texas protested by not returning their censuses? Obviously, the current administration would want everyone counted, to boost Texas's electoral votes, but it seems likely to me that by the end of 2020 they would be unable to establish an accurate count. If a Democrat is elected President in 2020, could they just validate a much lower census total for Texas and deprive the state of some Congressional representation? E.L., Dallas, TX

You never know what might happen when people get really angry, but there are four things we can think of that would make this unlikely. The first is that it's very hard to organize widespread resistance efforts like this. The second is that it's illegal to not respond to the census, and can result in a fine of as much as $5,000. The third is that the Census Bureau is really good at getting people to respond, and will send census workers to people's houses at all hours to basically hound them. The fourth is that this plan probably wouldn't cost the GOP a seat in the House, but it would cost Texas money that benefits both Republicans and Democrats (for example, federal funding for roads and schools).

President Trump's strategy for dealing with Congressional requests for his tax returns and Congressional subpoenas is to refuse to comply, thus forcing the issue into the courts. How long will the courts take to resolve these issues? Is there a mechanism to expedite moving the cases directly to the Supreme Court? What is the likelihood these cases will be resolved before Fall 2020? R.K., Bloomington, IL

In many court cases, including these, one side wants to move forward quickly, the other side has all kinds of reasons for delaying things, and it's up to the judges to decide which side's requests have the most merit. So, it is not really possible to guess how long this will take, though there are many issues here that are simple enough that it will be hard for Team Trump to drag their heels too much. It's not like they need to do three months of discovery about Congress' subpoena powers.

It is possible to fast-track things, and courts will often move a case that is obviously time-sensitive to the top of the docket. Making sure the president is not beholden to foreign agents is a pretty important thing, so the Democrats may well get a decision about the tax returns pretty quickly. It is also possible for the Supreme Court to take up a case without waiting for the appeals process to play out. The good news for Trump is that they rarely do this. The bad news is that the most recent major example of SCOTUS doing this is...when Richard Nixon tried to use executive privilege to withhold information from Congress.

You've mentioned that Donald Trump had a narrow electoral vote victory. What defines a narrow and landslide victory? How is a victory that falls in between narrow and landslide victories described? R.F., Long Grove, IL

You may be slightly misquoting us. Donald Trump's Electoral College margin was not particularly narrow; there were about a dozen (out of 58 total) presidential elections that were closer. What was narrow was, for lack of a better term, his margin of error. There are four presidential elections where if 50,000 votes (or less) had flipped in the right places, the outcome would have been different. Trump's was one of those, the others were 1876, 1960, and 2000. There's no formal definition of "narrow," but when someone wins a vote where 0.1% of the tally was their margin of error, it seems fair to use that word.

The word that is most commonly used for an election that is neither narrow nor a landslide is "comfortable," we would say.

Before Barack Obama came along, I would have said USA was a very long way from electing a president who was not 100% of northern European descent but I was proven wrong. Pete Buttigieg is now a credible LGBT presidential candidate. I have given up making predictions about politics. But how close do you think USA is to electing a LGBT president? C.L., Durham, UK

There is a discussion going on across various sites that, as remarkable as it may seem, Americans may be more comfortable having a gay man as president than a straight woman. There's no great way to prove or disprove that, but it's an interesting thought.

Buttigieg is a serious candidate, so it may be that the U.S. is just two years from electing an LGBT president. Failing that, however, sexual orientation will soon be a non-issue among most of the electorate (and pretty much all of the Democratic electorate). LGBT folks make up between 5-10% of the population, and the first LGBT person to get the nomination will probably get a little bit of a "break the glass ceiling" boost. So, we'll guess that if Buttigieg does not win in 2020 (or in a future run), that an openly-LGBT president is probably going to happen sometime in the next 25-30 years. Things can't go all that quickly, of course, because the U.S. elects only one or two presidents per decade.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not note that there is much evidence that James Buchanan, the 15th president, was gay. He lived together with an Alabama politician, William Rufus King, in a boarding house before becoming president. Andrew Jackson refered to King as "Miss Nancy." Various contemporaries noted the closeness of Buchanan and King. Nevertheless, we will never know for sure, but it is at least possible that the U.S. has already elected an LGBT president, even if the voters didn't know it.

What are the differences and the similarities between Nazi-era propaganda and the apparent propaganda machine that Donald Trump appears to be (successfully) creating? K.J., Brussels, Belgium

We generally prefer to shy away from Nazi comparisons, but since the Nazis essentially invented propaganda as it is understood today, we'll allow it. Anyhow, here are six common elements of propaganda that we see from the Nazis, and also from Team Trump (note that this is based on the work of several scholars who pioneered scholarly analysis of this subject, most obviously Edward Bernays):

  • Repetition: Propaganda works best if it is kept simple, and repeated over and over. Like, say, "Lock her up" or "Make America Great Again." Adolf Hitler, incidentally, promised to make Germany great again, and declared that he would lead that nation to greatness for the third time in its history (hence the "third reich.")

  • Glittering Generalities and Name Calling: Propagandists say wildly flattering things about themselves, their movement, and their accomplishments, like "this is the greatest economy ever," while also tearing down their enemies through insults and snotty names, like "Little Adam Schitt."

  • Plain Folks: Propagandists declare themselves to be the representative and the defender of the "regular" people. Often the notion is that the "regular" folks have been oppressed or squeezed out of their rightful place by "not regular" folks, like immigrants or pointy-headed intellectuals or cultural elites.

  • Stacking the deck: Propagandists present information that is distorted, dishonest, or outright fabricated in order to rally support.

  • Appeal to emotion: Because propaganda does not tend to stand up to serious scrutiny, propagandists try to operate on an emotional level rather than an intellectual one.

  • Modeling: Propagandists hold themselves out as an exemplar of success that their followers can aspire to. This is why many propaganda-fueled leaders have wild military uniforms or insanely expensive cars or golden toilets. Or, they put their name on every building they touch.

As to the differences, that's harder to answer because Nazi propaganda spanned a wide spectrum. Some of it, such as "The Eternal Jew," is so wildly over the top that something similar would not be taken seriously today. This is true of much World War II propaganda from both sides of the conflict. On the other hand, some of the more skillfully executed stuff, well—let's just say that the first 10 minutes of "Triumph of the Will" has an awful lot in common with a Trump rally. Minus the Nazi salutes, of course. Well, largely minus the Nazi salutes.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr23 The Subpoena Wars Have Commenced
Apr23 Team Trump Losing the Battle of Spin
Apr23 Trump: Nobody Disobeys My Orders
Apr23 Social Security Trust Fund Will Be Tapped Out by 2035
Apr23 One Fed Nominee Down. One to Go?
Apr23 Democratic Candidates Jockey For Position
Apr23 SCOTUS Will Consider Census Citizenship Question Today
Apr22 Following Mueller Report's Release, Everyone Makes Their Next Moves
Apr22 Trump Administration Wants to Kill Iranian Oil Exports
Apr22 Biden Will Make it Official This Week
Apr22 For Many Young Christians, Jesus is Alright, but not Mike Pence
Apr22 Shaheen Wants to Derail New Hampshire Voter Residency Law
Apr22 United States Now Among the Most Dangerous Countries for Journalists
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
Apr15 Democrats Are Already Thinking about Super Tuesday
Apr15 See Dick Run. But Why?
Apr15 Gillibrand Raised $3 Million in Q1
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