• It's (Not Exactly) the Economy, Stupid
• U.S. Envoy Says Trump Agreed to Pay $2 Million for Warmbier
• Rosenstein to Leave Justice Dept. May 11
• Now That Cain's Out, Just One Moore to Go
• This Is When Things Get Ugly for the Democrats
• No Senate Run for Abrams
Donald Trump, who is hardly a model of stability under the best of circumstances, is clearly feeling the pressure of...something right now. Maybe he's concerned about how the Democratic presidential field is shaping up, and how many candidates there will give him all he can handle. Maybe it's the Mueller report, and the failure of his team to keep the genie in the bottle. Maybe it's the parade of lawsuits and subpoenas coming from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Whatever it is, he did a fair bit of flailing about on Monday.
To start, Trump opened yet another front in his efforts to stymie the Democrats, and officially filed suit to stop Capital One and Deutsche Bank from sharing any financial information about him, his family, or his business. Monday's suit, filed in New York, is actually the second such suit to come from Team Trump in the last week. The first was filed in Washington, and targets accounting firm Mazars USA and the House Oversight Committee. Nobody seriously believes these suits are going to be successful, as courts have sided again and again with the Congress under these circumstances. Still, every day of delay is presumably a victory for the Trumps.
Meanwhile, as you may have heard, the NRA is in a mess. They have mismanaged their finances, they are losing control of the PR battle over guns, and the two top dogs hate each other, such that CEO Wayne LaPierre just forced out president Oliver North. The New York AG's office is investigating, having been tipped off by a whistleblower that some folks might be using the organization to line their pockets. Trump knows a little something about using a non-profit to line one's own pockets, and does not approve of the matter being looked into. So, he slammed NY AG Letitia James for running an "illegal" investigation. What makes it illegal, he did not specify.
In addition, the President also announced a new policy initiative of the exact sort that he tends to come up with when he needs to rally the base. That is to say, it appears to have been put together hastily, it involves the use of executive authority (so no interference from those pesky members of Congress), and it's anti-immigrant. More specifically, the new initiative is a memo that will compel asylum-seekers to pay a fee before their case will be considered, and will also forbid them from being employed before asylum is granted. Since most of these folks do not arrive with fat wallets in their back pockets, this will create a Catch-22: You can't be granted asylum until you have money, but you can't make money until you have been granted asylum. Clearly, Stephen Miller sensed an opening while the President was feeling vulnerable, and took it.
All of this comes as Trump has just passed the 10,000-lie mark. That's pretty remarkable unto itself, but even more remarkable is that it took over 600 days for him to reach 5,000, but just 226 more days to reach 10,000. In other words, his lie rate has tripled in the last six months or so. That doesn't happen by accident. He could be feeling particularly under attack in recent months, or he could be feeling pressure to keep outdoing himself outrageousness-wise, reality star that he is. Alternatively, this could be a sign of heightened cognitive decline. Whatever it is, it is further evidence of his shaky mental and emotional state, and it is likely to get much worse in the next year. (Z)
There was a time—roughly 1788 to 2012—when the single best predictor of presidential election outcomes was the state of the economy. If it was good, the party in the White House stayed there. And if it was bad, then the party holding the White House got kicked to the curb.
In 2016, obviously, it didn't work like that. And in 2020, it might not work like that, either. It's true that, at least at the moment, things appear to be humming along. The stock market is doing well, unemployment is low, and inflation is right where it should be. However, that does not mean all Americans are feeling the benefits equally or, more importantly, that sizable numbers of Americans think they are better off than they were before Donald Trump was elected. In fact, a new poll from the Washington Post/ABC News finds that 81% of Democrats and 66% of Independents think that the economic system is set up to favor those who are wealthy and/or in power, and those are the folks who are flourishing right now.
That's not the only worrisome indicator for the GOP and its president. The newest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that middle-class wages are stagnant, and have been for a year. Gas prices are at their highest levels in years and, coupled with smaller tax refunds, could lead some consumers to tighten their belts. That's often the precursor to a recession, and it's definitely not a circumstance that leads to votes for the party in power.
The President's trade wars are also exacting a toll on folks in many industries. For example, the New York Times has an item documenting that Wisconsin's dairy farmers are taking an absolute beating right now, and the entire industry is in risk of collapse in the Badger State. It's not just the tariffs, of course, but they're certainly not helping. You may recall that Trump won Wisconsin by just 22,748 votes, so his margin for error there is nonexistent.
If Trump does win reelection, it will be the economy that saves him, because he's got little else to run on that will get him the votes beyond his base that he so badly needs. That means he is really dependent on avoiding a recession or a depression. But even if he does avoid a downturn, it's far from a guarantee that he'll be safe. (Z)
Late last week, news broke that North Korea demanded $2 million for Otto Warmbier's medical bills before they would agree to release him. The Trump administration claimed ignorance, and said they most certainly did not agree to pay any money. That was hard to believe, since the North Koreans don't generally play nice until they get paid. And, as we learned on Monday, the administration did indeed agree to pay the money, and Donald Trump likely signed off on the deal personally.
The source for his information is Joseph Yun, the former State Department Special Representative for North Korea, who just so happens to be the person responsible for signing the agreement to pay the money. Yun did so on orders from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and says that he was given to understand that Trump had given approval. The story passes the smell test, since it is unlikely that Tillerson would go rogue and make that decision without presidential input.
What this means, then, is that the administration lied last week. That's par for the course, though. A bit more worrisome is that they effectively paid ransom or a bribe (either is a pretty apt description) in order to score a "win" for the President. Undoubtedly, this is far from the first time that Donald Trump has greased the skids like this in his half-century as a not-entirely-straight businessman. However, making it so clear that the administration is ready to pay up for hostages (and other considerations?) is not great for the safety of Americans abroad. It also raises the question of what other boons Team Trump might be paying foreign countries for under the table. (Z)
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been a short timer for months; he made very clear that he was going to submit his resignation once the Mueller report was complete. Now that it is, he made it official, and announced on Monday that his last day on the job will be May 11.
Rosenstein is going to be a popular target of House subpoenas, particularly since Donald Trump no longer has the means to silence him. The big question is where his loyalties lie, exactly. On one hand, he allegedly once offered to wear a wire to record Trump and collect evidence for a possible 25th Amendment invocation, and he risked his job several times to protect Mueller. On the other hand, Rosenstein played a role in cashiering James Comey, he pledged his loyalty to the President in person, and he's watched silently while AG William Barr spun Mueller's findings like a madman. In fact, Rosenstein literally stood right behind Barr on the day the report was released to the public, lending his good name to the less-than-noble proceedings.
If the soon-to-be-former Deputy AG wants to help House Democrats, or to cash in by writing the mother of all tell-all books, he's in a position to do so. On the other hand, he might also clam up, and dare the blue team to hold him in contempt. Presumably, he will be forced to reveal his hand pretty soon. (Z)
One of Donald Trump's picks for the Federal Reserve, Herman Cain, was done in by his lack of relevant qualifications. Ultimately, some of the more fiscally responsible GOP senators, led by Mitt Romney (R-UT), made clear they weren't raising Cain to such an important position, and that was the end of the road for the former presidential candidate and pizza magnate.
Trump's other pick, Stephen Moore, also has a qualifications problem (though not as big a one as Cain did). He's also got a sexism problem, as in he's said quite a number of problematic things about women over the years. Monday morning, the White House admitted that they were looking into the matter. While they later backed off that admission, and said they were still fully supporting Moore, it's not good news for the nominee. And their support may not matter, since a number of women GOP Senators are not enthused about Moore. That includes folks like Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who are up for reelection in 2020, and who are in some hot water with constituents over their support for Brett Kavanaugh. Add it all up, and it remains the case that Moore shouldn't be signing any long-term apartment leases in Washington just yet. (Z)
As we noted yesterday, the Democratic presidential horse race has moved into its second phase, as the field is now set, and it's time to jockey for position. In the piece yesterday, we pointed out that candidates are going to have to decide which state (and county, and municipal) party events to attend, and how to approach the debates, and how to squeeze as much money as possible from donors, at risk of running out of cash. What we didn't note, quite so overtly, is that this is when the various Democrats are likely to go negative. First, because they all have a need to distinguish themselves from the pack and to thin the field. Second, because there's plenty of time for voters to forget about any 2019 negativity before primary time and general election time arrives in 2020.
Joe Biden, by virtue of leading in most polls, is the current king of the hill. And so, his many rivals are already taking aim, and trying to bring him back down to Earth. Democracy for America Chairman Charles Chamberlain, who supports progressive candidates, dismissed the former VP as a "corporate Democrat" on Monday, which was followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) poking Biden in the eye for his cozy relationship with Wall Street. Colin Strother, a Texas Democratic strategist, said that Biden really only appeals to white voters, and won't excite voters of color very much. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) both appeared on the weekend talk shows, and raised concerns about Biden's handling of the Anita Hill situation. The candidate is even getting blasted by marijuana advocates, who bluntly declare that he's a dope for being the only Democratic candidate to oppose marijuana legalization, and say his election chances will go up in smoke if he doesn't get down off his high horse.
None of the Democratic contenders has completely taken off the kid gloves quite yet, since they don't want to offend Biden's loyal supporters too much. However, expect the sniping to continue, and then to get sharper and louder once the debates begin, and some candidates get desperate. (Z)
The Democrats would really like to take back the Senate. And, in order to do so, it would be very helpful if they could pick up a Senate seat in Georgia, where David Perdue (R) is definitely a little bit vulnerable. The blue team has a black candidate whose entry into the race would make Perdue see red. However, Stacey Abrams announced on Monday that she's going to pass so that she can work on her ongoing voting rights project.
Perhaps Abrams has reason to believe her chances against Perdue weren't good, and that if she lost a second election, she'd be damaged goods. However, one does not generally give the Democratic response to the SOTU and then promptly retire from politics for 2-8 years. So, it's a pretty safe assumption that she has her eye on some other opportunity. The governor's mansion isn't open, of course, and a House seat is a big step down from a Senate seat. That leaves the vice presidency, which Abrams may already have spoken to Joe Biden about, and which she would be ideal for as a pairing to about half the Democratic field (including most of the current frontrunners). Adding her to a Biden ticket would help blot out memories of Anita Hill, while adding her to a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)-led ticket would help him with black voters. She would serve as a good yang to the yin of Pete Buttigieg or Beto O'Rourke, and an all-woman Warren-Abrams ticket would also be intriguing. Anyhow, it's our guess that Abrams did some calculations like this before jumping ship on the Senate race.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are now going to have to find some other candidate to run. None will be quite as strong as Abrams would have been, but if they can get Michelle Nunn or Jason Carter to return for a second statewide campaign (in 2014, Nunn ran for the U.S. Senate and Carter ran for governor), they would have a puncher's chance. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr29 The Democratic Primaries Move to the Next Phase
Apr29 Democrats Haven't Made Up Their Minds Yet
Apr29 Biden Raised $6.3 Million in the First 24 Hours
Apr29 Some Democrats Are Inching Back to the Center
Apr29 A Possible Economic Platform for the Democrats
Apr29 The Des Moines Register Is in Trouble
Apr29 McGrath Hasn't Ruled Out Challenging McConnell
Apr29 Monday Q&A
Apr26 Biden 2020 Launches
Apr26 Sanders Had a Rough Day, Too
Apr26 Trump Is Contemptuous of Contempt of Congress
Apr26 Senate Republicans Are Bleeding Support
Apr26 Trump Allies to Trump: Shut Up
Apr26 North Korea Situation Deteriorates Even Further
Apr26 Friday Q&A
Apr25 The Bunker Mentality Is Setting In
Apr25 Biden Throws His Hat in the Ring
Apr25 Trump's Reelection Team Confronts Reality on the Ground
Apr25 Don't Mention Russia to Trump
Apr25 FEC Is a Mess
Apr25 Financial Impact of Global Warming Is...Substantial
Apr24 The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down
Apr24 Trump Lashes Out
Apr24 Trump to Formally Nominate Kelly Knight Craft to the U.N.
Apr24 SCOTUS Appears Ready to Allow Citizenship Question on Census
Apr24 Buttigieg Will Do Fox News Town Hall
Apr24 Iowa's Longest-serving GOP Lawmaker Switches Parties
Apr24 Wednesday Q&A
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