• Things Go From Bad to Worse with China...
• ...And Venezuela, Too
• Mueller Redactions May Soon Be Unredacted
• Impeachment Recommendation May Be Coming
• California Tax Return Law Officially Challenged in Court
• Democratic Party Starts Hiring Staff
As a politician, Donald Trump concerns himself with two things: self-promotion and self-preservation. Those were the two consistent themes on Monday, as he tried to manage the fallout from this weekend's mass shootings.
The President's first response of the day, delivered via Twitter of course, was this:
We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019
....this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019
The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country. Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019
In other words: "Not my fault" (self-preservation) and "if Democrats give me some of what I want on immigration, I may give them some of what they want on gun control" (self-promotion). Is Trump really so myopic, or so thoroughly ensconced in a bubble, that he did not realize how these tweets would be received? Apparently so. In an entirely predictable turn of events, he was quickly lambasted for his ham-fisted attempt to turn the deaths of at least 31 people into political capital.
Several hours later, Trump spoke to reporters, and was singing a somewhat different tune. Gone was the talk of linking immigration to gun control. Actually, gone was any talk of gun control at all, except for vague support for red-flag laws, which would allow family members and/or various kinds of public officials to warn police if a gun owner appears to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others. Beyond that, however, Monday's press availability was entirely an exercise in self-preservation for Trump, as he pointed the finger in many directions, including white supremacists, poor mental health care, and video games. The careful reader will note that "my own rhetoric" did not appear on Trump's list of scapegoats.
The President's overt rejection of white supremacy is a step in the right direction, though it is remarkable that it is headline news for him to do so. For any other president of the last half-century, it would be a given. In any event, one big question that we are left with is: Why did Trump change directions so rapidly in the span of just a few hours? Was it pressure from his advisors? Republicans' distinct lack of enthusiasm for linking gun control and immigration? Arm twisting from lobbyists? Something else? An even bigger question, though, is: What are Trump's real feelings on the matter? Or, as the Washington Post put it, should we believe "Twitter Trump" or "Teleprompter Trump"? If it's the former, you might end up hearing more about the immigration-reform-for-gun-control idea, despite the negative response on Monday. Similarly, one cannot be entirely confident, as yet, that the President has left his partial embrace of white supremacists and other hate groups behind him. After all, they are an important part of his base and angering them does not bode well for 2020.
There were some other developments yesterday that will definitely complicate many people's narratives about the shooting. To start, while the El Paso shooter embraced a far-right-wing ideology that shared much with Donald Trump's worldview, it appears that the Dayton shooter sometimes embraced far-left-wing ideology on Twitter, including support for Antifa. Of course, there is a substantial difference between embracing numerous ideas that Donald Trump has also embraced and promoted, and embracing those that have not been adopted by even the most lefty of Democratic officeholders. Similarly, there is a difference between writing an entire manifesto about your beliefs and firing off a handful of fringy tweets. However, Trump and his supporters will undoubtedly paper over these distinctions, as they make the case that Republicans are no more to blame than Democrats for what happened.
Also complicating people's narratives is that it is now clear that stricter background checks would not have prevented this weekend's shootings, since neither perpetrator had a criminal record or any history of mental illness. For that matter, red flag laws would have been ineffectual as well. The Dayton shooter gave off substantial warning signs, including advising his classmates of a "hit list" of people he wanted to "get." And yet, no action was taken, and on the day of the shooting, he was even in the company of a family member (his sister, who was among the dead). Clearly, even some pretty serious red flags were not enough to prompt action. And so, even if Congress somehow does pass a red-flag law, or more comprehensive background checks, the politicians can't really announce "ok, problem solved!"
There are some initiatives that might be useful, though. Toward the tail end of the Obama administration, grants were awarded to several groups whose purpose is to reduce violence by extremists. One program is "Life After Hate," which helps people to leave neo-Nazi and other white supremacy groups. Another was a research project at the University of North Carolina, which enlisted young people's help in preventing their peers from following the hate- and fear-oriented path that leads to violence. Exactly how effective these programs might be is unknown, however. Because they were the work of Team Obama, the grants were among the first things that Team Trump canceled after The Donald took office.
In the end, regardless of the extent to which Donald Trump might have encouraged one or both shooters with his rhetoric, or failed to take substantive action on gun control, or undermined violence prevention by canceling grants, he's going to come out of this unscathed with the base, because he comes out of everything unscathed with the base (though stay tuned on the trade war with China; see below). The guy who appears to be taking actual damage is...Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Although the various behaviors that have earned him the nickname "Moscow Mitch" have nothing to do with mass shootings, they are under the microscope at the exact same time that his obstructionism on gun-related legislation is getting a lot of attention. And so, everything is swirling together to eat away at his reputation. Meanwhile, despite being an ostensibly skilled politician, he made a huge, unforced error on Twitter this weekend, sending out this:
The gravestones with ideas ("Green New Deal" and "Socialism") were probably ok. However, putting the names of political opponents (Merrick Garland, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Amy McGrath) was in poor taste. And tweeting that out on the same weekend as a mass shooting was in very poor taste, indeed. McGrath, McConnell's Democratic opponent for next year's election, already expressed her indignation:
Hours after the El Paso shooting, Mitch McConnell proudly tweeted this photo. I find it so troubling that our politics have become so nasty and personal that the Senate Majority Leader thinks it's appropriate to use imagery of the death of a political opponent (me) as messaging. pic.twitter.com/2x5kO5jwPi— Amy McGrath (@AmyMcGrathKY) August 5, 2019
If things keep going as they are, McConnell could find himself in serious trouble next year.
So, the pressure is on the Majority Leader. And the Democrats aren't going to let it subside; they continue to press him to call the Senate back into session. Even if he does not agree to do so, the blue team may return to Washington anyhow to show the world that they're ready to act. Alternatively, there could be movement on the Supreme Court front, as the justices are set to take up a case regarding gunmakers' congressionally granted immunity from lawsuits. Oh, and the NRA continues to flail around, hamstrung by a lack of both money and leadership. Maybe the time has come for some change on this front, then. If not, this issue is going to be front and center in the Democrats' 2020 campaign platform. (Z)
Although there was much singing of kumbaya on the China front as recently as a couple of weeks ago, there has been a pretty vicious game of tit-for-tat since. It started with Donald Trump, who announced yet another round of tariffs last week. Assuming they go into effect, and there's no reason to think they won't, then it will mean that 100% of Chinese imports to the U.S. will be subject to tariffs by the time September rolls around.
Xi Jinping's government fired back on Monday. First, they stopped the purchase of all U.S. farm products. On top of that, the Chinese devalued their currency, such that one dollar is now equal to 7.03 yuan. This is the first time in a decade that number rose above 6.99. China's purpose in doing this was to undercut Trump's tariffs. If the yuan has less value, then foreign currency has more buying power in China, encouraging foreigners to purchase Chinese goods. Meanwhile, the yuan has less buying power, making it more difficult for Chinese people to purchase foreign goods.
It did not take the Trump administration long to respond; late in the morning on Monday the White House formally designated China as a currency manipulator. This is a rare step, last undertaken in the 1990s, when the country that was so designated was...also China. In other words, the President is not imagining things, here. Indeed, the decision has bipartisan support, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), among other Democrats, supported the decision.
So, what does this mean, in practice? Well, this status makes it possible for the administration to take some more aggressive steps when dealing with the Chinese, although most of them involve working with the International Monetary Fund, which is not exactly consistent with Trump's disdain for international bodies like that. Ot also takes a fair bit of time (up to a year) to invoke most of the special measures that "currency manipulator" status unlocks. This administration is not known for that kind of patience. So, what it really looks like is that Team Trump made this announcement primarily for PR purposes: to symbolically thumb its nose in China's direction, and to project "strength" to the base.
The main story, though, is that a trade deal with China surely won't be happening on Trump's watch. The President is angry, and appears to have personalized things, which means there won't be any olive branches coming from his direction. Meanwhile, as Claremont McKenna professor Minxin Pei explains, Team Xi isn't particularly interested in negotiating with Trump, either. As an honor-shame culture, they don't much care for being shown up publicly, over and over. More significantly, they don't believe they can successfully negotiate with the President. Trade deals require long-term commitments, as they are fundamentally about the building of supply chains. Inasmuch as Trump moves the goal posts every time he negotiates, the Xi administration does not believe he is capable of negotiating in good faith, or of making the long-term commitments that are required.
So, there is bad blood between the Xi and Trump administrations, and it is all-but-certain to continue for the rest of Trump's presidency, however long that might be. Consequently, anyone who wanted to see what the economic impact of a trade war between the U.S. and its biggest trade partner would be is going to have their wish fulfilled. Thus far, it's not good; the stock market had its worst day of the year on Monday, with the Dow Jones dropping 767 points, and other indices suffering similar downturns. There will probably be a bounceback today, based on Dow futures, but the long-term trend doesn't look so rosy. It hardly needs to be said that a serious downturn would also deal a huge blow to Trump's reelection hopes. However, he appears ready to die on the China trade hill, if it comes to that. (Z)
As long as the Trump administration was slapping unfriendly countries with sanctions on Monday, they figured they might as well kill two birds with one stone. And so, at the same time the President announced that China would be labeled a currency manipulator, he also announced that the United States was imposing a total embargo on Venezuela. That means that any assets that country has in the United States are frozen, and that there will be no transactions between the two nations unless exempted from the embargo by the U.S. government.
This is a justifiable course of action, inasmuch as Nicolas Maduro's administration is regarded by many as illegitimate (he has the support of Vlad Putin, which certainly says something). That said, it's another reminder that when it comes to diplomacy, Trump tends to leave the carrot at home, and use only the stick. And for someone who came into office claiming negotiation skills that were second to none, it's another case of him being unable to negotiate...well, anything. (Z)
At the moment, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton (a George W. Bush appointee) is considering a case brought by BuzzFeed and the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, both of whom would like to see an unredacted version of the Mueller report. In their oral arguments on Monday, their attorneys made the case that the public interest is served by making as much information as possible available before people cast their ballots in 2020.
Walton hasn't ruled yet, of course. But in his questions, he was generally skeptical about the redactions, and was critical of the actions of AG William Barr. The Judge also observed that since Donald Trump has claimed exoneration, he should have no issue with the full report seeing the light of day. So, it certainly looks like an adverse ruling is coming, and pretty quickly, as Walton said he wants to leave as much time as possible for the inevitable appeal.
Walton, who is black, was the former presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That court is the one that issued the (secret) warrant that allowed the FBI to legally spy on Trump's former campaign adviser Carter Page. So Walton knows all about how that court operates and why and is not likely to be swayed by any bogus arguments about the need for keeping everything it ever did secret.
Given that the Judge was first appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, and then later elevated by George H.W. Bush, before being appointed to his current position by the younger Bush, it will be very tough for Trump to claim the fix was in. Not that he won't try, of course. (Z)
At the moment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) does not want to impeach Donald Trump, fearing that the inevitable acquittal by the Senate will backfire at the polls in 2020. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who would be the one to formally get the ball rolling, is not on the same page as the Speaker, but has nonetheless bowed to her wishes so far. That time may soon come to an end, however, as Nadler told MSNBC that his Committee might be prepared to recommend articles of impeachment sometime this fall.
Given that more than half of the Democrats in the House now favor the commencement of impeachment proceedings, this may be an effort by Nadler to drive the number up, and to compel Pelosi to join his side. On the other hand, his primary goal may just be to strengthen his Committee's position as they pursue various lawsuits against the Trump administration. Whatever the case may be, the Democrats are setting up a timeline that involves airing all kinds of Trump administration dirty laundry during election season. (Z)
Last week, the state of California passed a law that requires presidential (and gubernatorial) candidates to submit their tax returns if they want to be on the state's ballots. Lawsuits were inevitable, and the first couple have now been filed. The more weighty one is from right-wing activist group Judicial Watch, which found four California voters—two registered as Republicans, one as an independent, and one as a Democrat—who were willing to attach their names to a federal lawsuit challenging the law.
The main assertion of the suit is that the California law creates a new requirement for being president, and so is unconstitutional. As we wrote yesterday, that's probably not a great argument, since the new law does not discriminate against any group. It also does not, in and of itself, disqualify anyone. Some people are 35 or older and some are not, some are natural born citizens and some are not, some have lived in the U.S. for 14 years and some have not. All of those qualifications exclude many people from running for president. On the other hand, anyone can submit a copy of their tax returns.
The plaintiffs have a few other things to be concerned about. Since the four voters who are suing are not themselves running for office, they may or may not have standing to sue. The lawsuit tries to cover that by claiming that the new law also violates those folks' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but that's at least a little bit of a stretch. Maybe a lot; it's worth noting that the same claims have been made in nearly all of the unsuccessful lawsuits challenging ballot access laws. The other suit, by perennial candidate Roque de la Fuente, presumably does not have that problem, but it also does not have the lawyerly firepower that the Judicial Watch suit has. Another problem, for both suits, that the clock is ticking. The deadline set by the California law is November 25, which isn't much time for lawsuits plus appeals. (Z)
The DNC has started the process of hiring lots and lots of staffers for the 2020 campaign. The focus, at the moment, is on six "battleground" states, where the Party will need as many people as possible to organize events, make phone calls, and assist with get-out-the-vote operations.
None of this is particularly interesting. What is interesting, however, is the six states that the Party is currently focusing upon: Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That's a pretty clear-cut commitment to one version of the blue team's future, namely that it lies in the past, and in winning back the states of the Midwest that went for Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, et al. And that, in turn, could imply a backdoor endorsement of one candidate, namely Joe Biden. The Party still has time and money to adjust, of course, should another candidate and another path to the White House become more promising. But at the moment, at least, the hiring process gives some insight into what Tom Perez and the party pooh-bahs are thinking, even if they won't say it openly.
However, it may not be that Perez, et al., actually prefer Biden. It may be that they have carefully looked at the polling data and decided there are two ways to win. First is win back the Midwest. Second is win the diverse states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. They may well have concluded that the former is easier because it merely requires getting 77,000 votes properly distributed over three states, whereas winning North Carolina is a stretch, even though Barack Obama pulled it off in 2008. Winning the diverse states would mean nominating a candidate the millennials love and then getting them to actually vote. Given their track record, the pooh-bahs may well have concluded that getting 77,000 more votes in the three states is simply easier and it isn't really an endorsement of Biden. He just happens to be the strongest candidate in those states. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug05 Another Trump Nominee Goes Down in Flames
Aug05 New Poll: Debate Changed Nothing
Aug05 Another Texas House Republican Hangs Up His Cowboy Hat
Aug05 Are Immigrants Useful?
Aug05 Trump Plans to Woo Black Voters
Aug05 Buttigieg's Fundraising Secret: New Bundlers
Aug05 Colorado Republicans Are Fighting a Rear-Guard Action against the NPV Compact
Aug05 Gravel Meets the Dirt
Aug05 Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows--and Enemies
Aug05 Monday Q&A
Aug02 Debate Postmortem
Aug02 Bettors Are Betting on Biden
Aug02 More than Half of House Democrats Now Support Impeachment
Aug02 Trump Will Impose New Tariffs on China
Aug02 Trump Rallies in Cincinnati
Aug02 Soros Creates a Democratic Super PAC
Aug02 Kelly Craft Is Confirmed as Ambassador to the United Nations
Aug02 Hearing Set in Fight over Trump's New York State Tax Returns
Aug02 Lewandowski May Run for the Senate in New Hampshire
Aug02 Hurd Joins the Herd Heading for the Doors
Aug02 Friday Q&A
Aug01 10 More Democrats Debate in Detroit
Aug01 Fed Cuts Interest Rates
Aug01 Today's Racism News, Part I
Aug01 Today's Racism News, Part II
Aug01 Yet Another GOP House Retirement
Jul31 Democrats Debate in Detroit
Jul31 Second Debate Figures to Be Different From the First
Jul31 Trump Gets Another Court Victory
Jul31 California Will Require Presidential Candidates to Provide Tax Returns
Jul31 Today in Bad Optics, Part I: Trump's Speech
Jul31 Today in Bad Optics, Part II: McConnell's Donors
Jul31 Today in Bad Optics, Part III: Tax Cuts
Jul30 Trump Feels Threatened...
Jul30 ...And So Does McConnell
Jul30 Time for Democratic Debates, Round Two
Jul30 Polls Are Mostly Good News for Biden
Jul30 Another Republican Is Leaving the House
Jul30 DCCC a Mess Right Now
Jul29 Trump's Attacks on the Squad and Cummings Are No Accident
Jul29 Good Economy May Help the Democrats in the Midwest
Jul29 Black Democrats Want a Public Option
Jul29 Nadler: No Deadline for Impeachment
Jul29 Government Shutdown in the Fall is Still Possible
Jul29 Axios: Trump Will Nominate Texas Representative as DNI
Jul29 Trump and Johnson Are Working on a Trade Deal
Jul29 Mueller's Testimony Didn't Increase Demand for Impeachment
Jul29 Monday Q&A
Jul27 Trump Can Start Building His Wall