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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Anarchy in the U.K.
      •  Trump Cancels Poland Trip
      •  Ghosts of Trump Administration's Past
      •  Trump's Personal Assistant "Resigns"
      •  Judge Won't Fast-Track Tax Return Lawsuit
      •  Is Something Rotten in the State of Georgia?
      •  Friday Q&A

Anarchy in the U.K.

It's coming sometime...maybe. As he seeks to fulfill his self-proclaimed destiny as a modern-day Churchill, and to execute Brexit at all costs, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked for and received permission from the Queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks. This is called prorogation, and while it may not be popular (or politic), it is legal. The Queen could technically have said "no," and there was some speculation she might try it, but in the end her commitment to remaining above the political fray (and to keeping the monarchy intact) won out. If she had stepped in, it would have been the first time a monarch overruled their ministers in over 300 years.

Officially, Johnson said that he wants to shut down Parliament to give everyone a "fresh start" and also to give him time to put the finishing touches on his "exciting" plans for the United Kingdom. Nobody believes that any more than they believe that Donald Trump's "exciting" plan for replacing Obamacare is forthcoming. The prorogation, assuming it happens, will shut Parliament down for nearly five weeks, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 14. The deadline for Brexit is Oct. 31. And so, Johnson would be in a position to ignore the legislature through most of remaining time before B-Day.

What is the PM thinking here? Well, it could be as it appears, that as he tries to negotiate with the EU for a better deal, and also to prepare for the likelihood that none is forthcoming, he wants to be as unconstrained by troublesome MPs as is possible. On the other hand, Johnson is many unpleasant things, but he's not stupid. And so, there's a possibility that he's playing 3-D chess here, and that his real game is to provoke a frantic response from the opposition, up to and including them forcing a new election, and then to use the whole mess in order to persuade British voters to return a Parliament much more friendly to Johnson's needs.

Whether it was part of his plan or not, a frantic response is what he got, from all across the political spectrum. Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party are apoplectic with rage, and Corbyn has vowed to use any means possible to halt the prorogation. There's also at least one lawsuit, as Scottish MPs have asked Scotland's highest court to issue an injunction. Johnson's move was also met with much outrage from British conservatives. David Lidington, who was Teresa May's unofficial right-hand man, blasted the PM, while Ruth Davidson resigned as the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, and Lord Young quit as the Tory whip in the House of Lords, explaining that he is "very unhappy at the timing and length of the prorogation, and its motivation." These folks are all old-guard Tories; to give crude American equivalents, it would as if Donald Rumsfeld publicly blasted Donald Trump, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) quit the Republican Main Street Partnership, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) stepped down as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Anyhow, we are hardly experts on British politics around here, but the general consensus seems to be that Johnson holds all the cards right now. The Scottish lawsuit is being described as "the longest of long shots," Corbyn doesn't actually have many options at his disposal (if he has any), and high-profile resignations may make some headlines, but they also get opponents out of the way. So, if Johnson is prepared to go through with the prorogation, and to stake his future on a no-deal Brexit, he can almost certainly make that happen, although it could cost him the premiership.

And speaking of our area of expertise, you might ask why a site focused on American politics is leading with an item about events in Britain. The obvious answer is that if Brexit goes through, the economic aftershocks will certainly reach the United States, and will make an already-somewhat-likely recession into a even more likely recession. That, in turn, would have a significant effect on the 2020 elections. In addition, there is much in common between Trump and Johnson in terms of their personal styles, their political styles, their agendas, and their hair. They've also made a point of being buddy-buddy, and hitching their wagons to one another. So, if Johnson succeeds brilliantly, it will be an indirect victory for Trump. And if Johnson goes down in flames, he will drag Trump down with him, at least a little bit. So, this is a foreign affairs story that is unusually relevant to American politics. (Z)

Trump Cancels Poland Trip

Speaking of foreign affairs stories, Donald Trump was supposed to make a trip to Poland this weekend, but on Thursday he backed out, and said he will send Vice President Mike Pence in his stead. Fortunately, the president and prime minister of Poland are both men, so it won't be necessary to cancel any dinner plans. Trump's explanation for the cancellation is that it is "very important" for him to remain in the U.S., so he can monitor the hurricane that is bearing down on Florida.

As with so many things that Trump says these days, this explanation is not remotely credible. First of all, everyone knows that there's about a window each year when nearly all hurricanes strike. If he really needed to be in the U.S., he could have kept that window clear and not planned any non-golf trips. On top of that, what can he do in Washington that he could not do in Poland? Even if he decides to order a nuclear strike against Hurricane Dorian, the nuclear football goes wherever he goes. (We are hoping that last line is a joke, although given the news that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced yesterday that they are looking for underground tunnels they can use, and that they need to receive proposals by 5:00 p.m. today, you never know.)

Anyhow, only Trump knows for sure what's really going on here, but we have three pretty good guesses. The first is that he hates to travel abroad, because he doesn't adapt to the time changes very well, which means that such travel leaves him exhausted. Given that he spent last weekend in France, another trip to Europe in such short order presumably did not sound appealing. The second is that the Poland trip was also supposed to be the one where he visited Denmark, before he got "angry" about the Danes' unwillingness to sell Greenland. He may have wanted to avoid any more embarrassing stories about that (or, alternatively, embarrassing stories about protests in Poland, although we are inclined to discount that because it's one of the handful of countries that likes him better than Barack Obama). The third is that some staffer told him of the bad press George W. Bush got when Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans while he was partying with the late senator John McCain in sunny Arizona and Trump wanted to avoid a similar story. Anyhow, whatever the truth is, Trump National Bedminster will need to hustle and make sure the Presidential suite is ready for the weekend. (Z)

Ghosts of Trump Administration's Past

Multiple former members of the Trump administration were in the news on Thursday. First up is former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump inherited and then pretty promptly fired, so he probably only counts as a semi-member of the administration. In any case, the Inspector General of the Dept. of Justice released its findings based on an investigation of the famous memos that Comey wrote about Trump (and then leaked to the press). The executive summary: Comey violated FBI policy, but he didn't break the law, so there's no basis for prosecuting him. AG William Barr has already said he will abide by that recommendation.

That finding, of course, could be read as vindication of either side in this dispute. And, naturally, both Trump and Comey took to Twitter to do a little crowing:

A little illustration of how adherents of the two political parties experience two entirely different realities when it comes to what is going on with the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, former Sec. of Defense James Mattis has a new book out entitled Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. In it, he has some not-so-nice things to say about the leadership of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He also has nothing to say about Donald Trump, despite having resigned from the administration out of frustration with its poor leadership. Jeffrey Goldberg, interviewing Mattis for The Atlantic, noted that rather glaring admission, and Mattis says that he had "no choice but to leave," but "If you leave an administration, you owe some silence." He added, however, that when it comes to his silence, "It's not eternal. It's not going to be forever."

Mattis actually expands on that quite a bit in the interview, and tries to carve out a justification for his "I know stuff, but I'm not sharing it right now" position. In essence, he thinks that he should not be creating more difficulties for an administration that already has plenty of serious ones to deal with (the General mentions North Korea, specifically). The whole thing, however, comes off as very weaselly. For a man who claims to live by the core values of the Marine Corps (honor, courage and commitment), he's not exactly demonstrating any of those qualities. His duty is not to the president of the United States, it's to the American people, and if he knows things that the voting public should know, he should share those things before people cast votes in 2020. Alternatively, if his personal code simply won't allow him to speak up, then he should remain entirely silent. And if a book-publicity tour makes it impossible to avoid comment, then he shouldn't do a book-publicity tour. As it now stands—with Mattis implying that shocking revelations are coming, and then clamming up—he serves neither the People nor the President. He spent 40 years building up a sterling reputation, but the final chapter or two of his career has done a lot to tear it all down.

In short, then, none of these three fellows—Trump, Comey, or Mattis—came out of Thursday's "blast from the past" smelling like a rose.(Z)

Trump's Personal Assistant "Resigns"

Speaking of former Donald Trump underlings, executive assistant Madeleine Westerhout joined the list on Thursday. She had been with the President since day one of his administration, but she committed two major sins, and was told that she no longer had a job. So she "resigned," right after her passwords were revoked and her name was taken off the White House access list.

What were the two sins? The first was that, like so many in Trump's orbit, she tried to expand her powers at the expense of others. In particular, she tried to assume many of the duties that more properly belong to "acting" White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. You don't want to get into a turf war with Mick the Knife. The second sin, and the truly fatal one, was that she had one or more off-the-record dinners with reporters where she shared things about the Trump family that the Trump family did not want shared. So, she had to go.

One wonders how someone could work for Trump as long as Westerhout has without figuring out that you don't ever take sides with anyone against the family. After all, what did Trump do to deserve such treatment? Anyhow, it's another highly placed member of the administration exiting through the revolving door. (Z)

Judge Won't Fast-Track Tax Return Lawsuit

House Democrats would very much like to see Donald Trump's tax returns. And they think that if there is something troublesome in them, particularly evidence that the President is in hock to the Russians, it would be better to know that sooner rather than later. So, they asked Judge Trevor N. McFadden to fast-track the lawsuit. He refused, noting that "It may be appropriate to expedite this matter at some point, but not now."

That seems a very strange argument. Why would it be apropos to expedite in, say, December, but not now? It may not surprise you to learn that McFadden is a Trump appointee. In addition, he volunteered for the Trump transition team helping to vet potential cabinet nominees. It also may not surprise you to learn that this is the second decision he's made that has raised some eyebrows; he was also the judge who said it isn't the judiciary's business if the President wants to redirect funds toward wall construction. The latter decision ran contrary to several other rulings on the same metter from judges on other circuits. Perhaps McFadden is ruling in a manner consistent with the law as he understand it, or perhaps Trump is reaping the rewards of appointing judges who are friendly to his political program. We report, you decide. (Z)

Is Something Rotten in the State of Georgia?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently requested 15,000 pages of documents related to the 2018 election, as it was conducted in Georgia. The paper's staff has been going through the documents, and they noted some...interesting anomalies, two of which have gotten substantial reporting so far.

Anomaly #1 involves the vote totals in the race for lieutenant governor. There were far fewer votes cast for that office than for governor (159,000 fewer, in fact). That's not entirely unusual, as voters sometimes cast votes for the "big" offices and skip the "lesser" ones. However, there were also fewer votes for lieutenant governor than there were for labor commissioner, insurance commissioner and every other statewide contest (about 80,000 fewer). It is rather unusual for people to vote for the #1 office on the ballot, skip #2, and then vote for #3, #4, #5, etc. It is even more unusual for close to 100,000 people to do that. And it is even more unusual, still, that the drop-off effect was more pronounced in districts with a substantial population of black voters than it was in districts with a substantial portion of white voters.

Anomaly #2 involves a voting machine located at Gov. Brian Kemp's (R-GA) home polling location. The machine has already earned infamy as "Winterville No. 3." There were six machines at Winterville, and on five of them the Democrats came out ahead in every race. On machine number 3, on the other hand, the Republicans came out ahead in every race. A mathematician consulted by the Journal-Constitution said the odds of that happening naturally are less than 1 million to 1.

There are four possible explanations for what's going on here:

  1. Nothing untoward happened, and these anomalies are just that: anomalies. Given how much other questionable behavior took place during that election, like aggressive purges of voter rolls, we are disinclined to accept that explanation.

  2. Georgia's ancient, outdated voting machines malfunctioned. This may be part of it, but again, we are disinclined to accept this as the entire explanation, given the aforementioned questionable behavior.

  3. Georgia election officials managed to cook the books. Given that the man who was responsible for overseeing the election, in his then-capacity as Georgia secretary of state, was Kemp, who was elected governor by a narrow margin, it's certainly possible.

  4. The Russians cooked the books. We've never been entirely sold on state and federal officials' declarations that the Russkies may have sniffed around in some places, but they didn't change any votes with their hacking. Our skepticism comes, in part, from the fact that so many of the folks making those declarations don't seem to take election security very seriously. And it comes, in part, from the fact that many of those folks have a lot of motivation to behave as if everything is copacetic, even if it's not.

In other words, we are inclined to believe that something is indeed less-than-peachy in the state of Georgia.

There are a gaggle of lawsuits pending over all of this. Our guess is that it is unlikely they will be successful. Courts are very leery of overturning election results, particularly when the evidence of fraud is circumstantial (even very compelling circumstantial evidence). However, it is likely all of this will work to the benefit of Democrats in 2020. At very least, a judge has already ordered Georgia to have new voting machines in place by 2020. The replacements are not likely to be ideal, but they will surely be better than the current ones. On top of that, Georgia is going to be under the microscope in 2020, which will make shenanigans more difficult to accomplish and more risky. And finally, Georgia Democrats are going to be angry, and anger gets voters to the polls. It should make the two U.S. Senate races that will take place, due to Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) being at the end of his six-year term and to Sen. Johnny Isakson's (R-GA) resignation, very interesting, indeed. (Z)

Friday Q&A

We're tinkering around with the schedule, but we may move this feature to Fridays on a regular basis, so folks can read over the weekend, if they wish.

I was under the impression that citizenship for U.S. citizens born abroad was a question of statutory law, not presidential whim. Two of my children were born outside the U.S. and in each case I went to the consulate with a birth certificate and my wife's and my passports, filled a couple forms and a certificate of citizenship was immediately issued. How can Trump fail to enforce whatever law this is? M.B., Montreal, Canada

First of all, note that the two different statements/sets of rules that the administration announced were both clumsily worded and somewhat contradictory. So, it's not 100% sure exactly what the new rules are. You can read this story from the Los Angeles Times for more detail on that point.

Anyhow, you are right that this is a statutory question, and not one decided by presidential whim (or executive order), per se. However, the executive branch does get to interpret existing statutes, and also to decide what rules are or are not enforced. What the Trump administration has done is decided that, in some circumstances that were interpreted by past administrations to confer automatic citizenship, those children actually need to submit paperwork and go through the naturalization process. Their argument is that they are just making actual practice consistent with existing rules. In theory, that should mean that just as many people become citizens. In practice, some folks may not go through the hassle for one reason or another (like, say, it's really arduous to do in a foreign country), or else the government might suddenly decide to start denying some of those applications.

For all the attention paid to the race-based fear and loathing in the current administration, the one thing this group hates more than immigrants is women, (even, apparently, the women serving in the administration). A very specific reality about the new citizenship edict is that it can only apply to women serving abroad. If the wife is in America, the males serving abroad do not have to worry about the citizenship of their offspring. So, the ruling is built on a foundation of sexual discrimination. While there are likely to be legal challenges, is it likely that one or more will be based on sexual discrimination? S.H., Raleigh, NC

Just so everyone is clear, what you are pointing out is not that the newly announced rules explicitly grant different status to women than they do to men. What the rules definitely do, albeit not intentionally, is incentivize birthing children in the United States, as opposed to U.S. military bases and embassies abroad. Consequently, a pregnant woman who is serving abroad and has concerns about her child's citizenship, might have to hustle back to the U.S. while nine months pregnant. Or, she might not be in a position to do so, and so would be subject to the new policy by virtue of having been sent abroad by her employer, the U.S. government. Needless to say, since men do not deliver children, they would never be stuck in either of these situations.

You are right that this administration is less friendly to women and to women's rights than any since...maybe Woodrow Wilson? And even he eventually saw the light and threw his weight behind women's suffrage. It is interesting to note, for example, that Donald Trump's cabinet has exactly one more woman in it than Franklin D. Roosevelt's cabinet, despite the fact that Roosevelt was elected almost 90 years ago.

It is very likely that this new implementation of policy, if it stands, will be challenged on the basis of it discriminating against a protected class. And while we are not lawyers (as we often point out), that should be a slam-dunk argument. On the other hand, if the matter ends up before Trevor N. McFadden (see above) or Reed O'Connor, you never know.

Given Donald Trump's visceral and petty hatred of all things related to John McCain, and the fact that he was born in the Canal Zone, the first thing that occurred to me about this new rule denying birthright citizenship to (some) children born abroad was that this was an ex post facto dig at McCain, optics and common sense be damned (as always). Your thoughts? K.W., Providence, RI

Does the new policy requiring the children of U.S. servicemembers serving abroad to apply for naturalization mean those children will be unable to run for President? (And do you think this might be a bit of posthumous Trump-vs-John McCain score settling?) R.G., Dallas, TX

We liked the wording of both versions of this question, and couldn't pick one, so here they both are.

Anyhow, it's true that Trump hates McCain, and likes to do things to hurt the former Senator (or, his memory, at least). However, the new policy only applies to children born to at least one non-citizen. Since that does not describe either of McCain's parents, then the policy would not have affected him, had he been born next year, as opposed to being born in 1936. However, it is true that if he were still alive, he would be pitching a fit right now.

As to eligibility for the presidency, we will remind everyone that this is a gray area of the law that has not been explored very fully. However, the general consensus, until such time that the courts weigh in more fully, is that "natural-born citizen" means "citizen from the moment of birth." If the parents have to file paperwork, and even if that paperwork is approved within hours or days, then their child would become citizens sometime after being born, and thus would not be citizens "from the moment of birth." So, under current understanding of these concepts, Trump did indeed just disqualify a certain number of people from eligibility from the presidency. Because, after all, why would we want the children of people who were willing to move abroad, often to a hostile land, in service of their country? People like that would surely raise deadbeat children who care nothing of duty or of honorable public service.

In your item about Johnny Isakson's retirement, you talked about possible Democratic candidates for that seat (or for David Perdue's). You've also written a number of times in the past about possible candidates in Georgia Senate races, but one name that I have not seen come up is that of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). He is obviously someone highly respected in the Democratic Party, and beyond, and has a lot of name recognition nationally, as well as in the state. Do you assume that he would never be interested in a Senate seat, given his safe and powerful position in the House? Or has he made public statements that he is not interested in the Senate? Or do you believe he would not be a good candidate for statewide office? S.K., Holyoke, MA

We would suggest that three reasons you don't hear his name mentioned. First, while he's never said "no," he's also never said he's interested, which is close to the same thing for someone who would have instant frontrunner status if he threw his hat in the ring. Second, he would turn 81 years old a few weeks after assuming a Senate seat, were he to run and win in 2020. That's quite long-in-the-tooth to be starting a Senate career. Third, by virtue of his seniority in the House and his status as a civil rights icon (the last living member of the Big Six), he wields enormous influence in the lower chamber. He's almost certainly among the 10 most powerful members of the House, and he may well be in the top five. So, although he'd have a very good chance to win a Senate election, that would actually be something of a demotion for him. The only way he'd do it, we think, is if he was planning to wind up his House career anyhow, and he wanted to help the Party claim an extra Senate seat, out of a sense of duty.

I have some friends who believe the following scenario is quite possible: Trump sees he cannot possibly win, so he takes himself out of the running because he just cannot be seen as a loser. Then, the GOP runs Nikki Haley as a formidable if not an unbeatable candidate (female, conservative, executive and U.N. experience). I can certainly see both parts of the scenario happening—Trump out; Haley in—but I'm not so sure she'd be anything close to a sure thing for the GOP. What do you guys think? R.P., Northfield, IL

We think that this is very unlikely. First of all, we can all agree that Trump has a massive ego, even by presidential standards. If LBJ was alive, even he would tell Trump to take it down a notch. It is nearly inconceivable that Trump, who is also a master of self-deception, has the capacity to accept that defeat is certain. He also has a certain amount of motivation to keep himself immune from prosecution for as long as is possible. So, barring death or impeachment, he is going to be at the top of the GOP ticket on Nov. 3, 2020.

If Haley does run for president, either in 2020 or in the future, we think she is far from a sure thing. At the moment, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is in something of an "uncanny valley" as a candidate. Although she has much to recommend her, she's a bit too liberal for the moderates, and a bit too moderate for the liberals. We would expect Haley to suffer from a similar dynamic. That is to say, she's a little too connected to Trump for the tastes of independents, centrists, and NeverTrump Republicans. And she's a little too not-white and too not-male for much of his base.

The excerpt from Jim Mattis's new book published in the Wall Street Journal has made me wonder, not for the first time, if Trump's support among members of the military and law enforcement has been eroded by his shoddy treatment of so many leaders of the military, FBI, Justice Dept., etc., and his attacks on these institutions. If it has been, why hasn't this gotten more press? If it hasn't, why do you think that's so? G.M., San Francisco, CA

There is a little bit of polling on this question (more commonly of military personnel than law enforcement). In July, for example, Pew Research Center released a poll reporting that 57% of respondents approve of Trump's leadership of the armed forces, while 41% disapprove.

And now, let's talk about some issues that explain why you don't hear about this subject more, and why you shouldn't put too much stock in whatever numbers you do hear. First of all, you will notice that the Pew poll (and pretty much all others of the military) specifically asks about his performance as commander-in-chief, and not his performance in general. That is because military personnel are supposed to be non-political, and so answering opinion questions beyond military matters is verboten. It's likely that "I like how Trump is doing as Commander in Chief" equates to "I like Trump," but that's not certain.

Beyond that, you may have read one or more of our pieces about the challenges of modern polling. It's hard to reach people on cell phones, and it's very hard to get a representative sample. Well, imagine how much larger those challenges get when you're no longer dealing with people walking around the streets of Miami or Los Angeles or Chicago, and instead you're dealing with people who might be deployed to Afghanistan, or who are serving in Eastern Africa, or are on a ship that is out to sea.

And finally, military polls are likely to be particularly subject to a version of the Bradley effect, wherein people publicly proclaim what they think they are supposed to proclaim, and not necessarily what they actually feel.

Anyhow, what we can say is that Trump's support among the troops appears to have slipped a little, and that he's not doing all that well compared to other presidents. Beyond that, however, it's hard to be confident about much of anything, for the reasons outlined above.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug29 Biden Answered Questions from Black Reporters for an Hour and a Half
Aug29 Two New Polls: Biden Is Back on Top
Aug29 Only 10 Candidates Qualify for the Third Debate
Aug29 Another Candidate Bites the Dust
Aug29 Johnny Isakson Will Resign at the End of This Year
Aug29 Trump Thinks of a New Way to Support Our Troops
Aug29 GOP Pulls Out all the Stops in NC-09
Aug28 Trump Barely Even Trying to Avoid Conflicts of Interest Anymore
Aug28 FEC Rendered Toothless
Aug28 The Farmers Aren't Happy
Aug28 Deutsche Bank Clearly Has Trump's Tax Returns
Aug28 Trump Derides Republican Challengers as "Three Stooges"
Aug28 Warren May Still Have a "Pocahontas" Problem
Aug28 Wednesday Q&A
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Aug27 Democrats Target State Legislatures
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Aug27 Rep. Sean Duffy to Retire
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Aug24 Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Beto O'Rourke
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Aug23 Friday Q&A
Aug22 Poll: Public Perception of the Economy Is Getting Bearish
Aug22 Promises Made, Promises Kept?
Aug22 Trump Wants to Go After Birthright Citizenship
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