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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Border Security Deal Appears to Be Near
      •  So Much for No Investigations
      •  Democrats May or May Not Be in Agreement over Green New Deal
      •  There Is a Fly in the Klobuchar Ointment
      •  And So It Begins: Rep. Rob Woodall Is Retiring
      •  John Dingell Dead at 92
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tim Ryan

Border Security Deal Appears to Be Near

In theory, the Congressional committee that is negotiating a border security deal has another week to get things done in time for the Feb. 15 deadline. As a practical matter, they need to wrap up business no later than Monday or Tuesday of next week to have time to get the bill before Congress and to deal with all the procedural niceties. According to several members of the committee, they are in a good position to make it in time, and may even have an agreement in place by the end of the day today.

Nobody is being terribly specific about what's in the deal, which is obviously wise when nothing is set in stone yet. However, it's generally understood—and entirely predictable—that there will be some money for improving (and maybe slightly expanding) the existing fencing along the border, but that there won't be $5.7 billion for new wall construction. In other words, it's set up in such a way that both sides can theoretically claim victory, with Donald Trump bragging about whatever new/improved wall is built, and Democrats saying they held firm on the $5.7 billion demand.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has already indicated that she will get behind the deal the committee hammers out. She would not say this if she did not have a pretty good idea of what the final deal will look like, and that it will be acceptable to her caucus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not made a similar promise, but there's no question that he's watching and giving feedback behind the scenes, and that the final deal won't actually be final until he's given his assent.

What this all means, then, is that a compromise bill, passed by both houses of Congress, is likely to land on Donald Trump's desk sometime next week. He could veto it, and shut the government down, but it's nearly inconceivable that he would do so. If he owned the previous shutdown, then he really would own this one. Plus, he'd be at risk of a veto override. He could sign it, and then declare a national emergency, but that course of action would also be fraught with peril. The underlying reasoning for a president's ability to declare emergencies is that sometimes Congress is not available to act. It would be rather hard for Trump to sign a funding bill from Congress where the ink hasn't even dried, and then turn around and invoke a power rooted in the non-availability of Congress. It's not impossible that Trump will try it, but surely those around him are warning him that he's setting himself up for an embarrassing loss in court.

Consequently, Team Trump is now signaling that they plan to pursue a third option. Namely, that the President will sign what Congress sends him and will hold off on a national emergency, but then will find some other way to come up with money for wall construction. Chief of Staff/OMB Director Mick Mulvaney is taking the lead on trying to figure out exactly how this might work, and he might even come up with something. If he does, it would be a pretty obvious poke in the eyes of Congress, and a very flagrant imposition on their power of the purse. It would also be subject to a court challenge. On the other hand, the current Senate has tended to roll over whenever Trump steps on their toes, and this approach could be the only one that has any likelihood of getting significant new mileage of wall built. So, there's a good chance that this little drama is going to extend well beyond next week. (Z)

So Much for No Investigations

Speaking of drama, in his SOTU address, Donald Trump did his best to bully House Democrats into not investigating him. There was no chance it would work. The only surprise is how very quickly it failed, as the blue team shifted aggressively into "investigate" mode just hours after the speech was completed. Obviously, they were just waiting until after Trump no longer had a national platform to kvetch about specific aspects of their activities.

There were two particularly big items of news on this front on Thursday. First, it was reported that the Democrats are about to issue a subpoena for Donald Trump Jr.'s phone records, so they can figure out who he was talking to around the time of the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. CNN already reported that the unlisted numbers he called were those of business associates, and not his father, but it would seem the Democrats want to confirm that for themselves.

The other news is that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has hired several former National Security Council officials to help with his examination of the Trump administration. That's a pretty obvious shot across the bow, since Trump likes the NSC about as well as he likes reading books, eating properly-cooked beef, or engaging in physical exercise. In response to this development, Trump unleashed a Schiff-storm of tweets, among them:

Of course, these are just the opening moves of the Democrats' chess game. So grab some popcorn and get ready for the fireworks, which are getting started well before July 4, and will continue well after. (Z)

Democrats May or May Not Be in Agreement over Green New Deal

Whether one likes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or not, it cannot be denied that she's hit the ground running at the start of her Congressional career. She's been in office for just over one month, and already she enjoys the kind of influence and attention that generally takes a member decades to achieve, if they ever achieve it at all. On Thursday, partnering with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), she formally announced her proposed resolution for combating global warming, which is known as the "Green New Deal."

The bill is pretty short by modern standards (14 pages), which necessarily means it's pretty thin on specifics. It calls for the U.S. to aim for zero net emissions by the middle of the century, and in a manner that improves the nation's infrastructure and creates jobs. These goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive (for example, building mass transit would reduce emissions, improve infrastructure, and create jobs simultaneously), but covering the costs will be a significant challenge. Ocasio-Cortez' resolution has little to say on that point.

On Wednesday, before the official rollout, Nancy Pelosi seemed to be none-too-enthused by the proposal. In an interview with Politico, the Speaker was asked about it and said, "It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it right?" Needless to say, Pelosi does not say such things without choosing her words very carefully. Perhaps her disdain is because she doesn't like a rookie getting too big for her britches. Or maybe Pelosi thinks that this is not the time for the Democrats to take on such a hot-button issue. Or she might be ok with the issue, but would prefer to focus on one thing (i.e., the wall and border security) at a time.

That said, the blue team does not want to appear divided just weeks after taking power. And they know that, one way or another, global warming is going to be a central element of their platform going forward. And so, on Thursday, everyone was playing nice. "Nancy Pelosi is the leader on climate change, she has always been a leader on climate and I will not allow our caucus to be divided up on silly notions, we are in this together," said Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi, striking a very different tone from the interview she'd finished just 24 hours earlier, commended the supporters of the plan, and said, "Quite frankly, I haven't seen it, but I do know that it's enthusiastic."

In the short term, then, there may be some disagreement among Democrats about specific goals and approaches, but they are certainly going to have to develop a clear program for combating global warming by 2020. A sizable percentage of the Democratic base demands action on the issue, and it's also going to be key to getting young voters to the polls. And since the U.S. the world's second largest producer of greenhouse emissions, any viable plan is going to involve significant reductions on that front. In other words, Ocasio-Cortez and her plan may be a little early to the party, but the odds are good that pretty quickly—as happened with the $15/hour minimum wage—something very much like it will become dogma for many Democrats. (Z)

There Is a Fly in the Klobuchar Ointment

Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced earlier this week that she's planning an "announcement" this weekend. Approximately 50% of people who were born yesterday, and approximately 100% of everyone else, think that she's going to announce a presidential bid. And that is indeed the plan. However, a wee problem has presented itself: The Senator is having difficulty finding someone to serve as campaign manager.

Part of the problem is circumstantial. The list of declared and probable Democratic candidates is so large that much of the top talent has already been snapped up, or is waiting for the candidate of their choice (Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, Beto O'Rourke, Joe Biden, etc.) to make a decision. An even bigger part of the problem is Klobuchar. Her public face is very warm and appealing, but behind the scenes, she's got a reputation for mistreating underlings. "It is common for staff to wake up to multiple emails from Klobuchar characterizing one's work as 'the worst' briefing or press release she'd seen in her decades of public service," said one former aide. Making things worse, and in a breach of workplace etiquette so egregious it's hard to believe a U.S. senator could be guilty of it, she likes to cc: co-workers of whoever committed the alleged offense, so that the shaming is very, very public.

Presumably, Klobuchar will move forward with her announcement this weekend, even if she's still without a manager. And presumably, she will eventually find someone willing to take on the job. Still, with a crowded Democratic field, a reputation this bad is a very serious liability. It's not fatal, necessarily—Donald Trump is, and always has been, abusive to underlings too. Still, it is definitely not good. (Z)

And So It Begins: Rep. Rob Woodall Is Retiring

Leading up to the 2018 midterms, an unusually high number of Republican members of Congress decided to retire (34 of them, to be exact). Some were the usual turnover, and others were running for some other office, but many looked at the lay of the land and decided that it wasn't worth the time and energy to mount a likely futile reelection bid. On Thursday, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) became the first Republican to jump ship in advance of the 2020 election. He won in November by an ultra-slim 419-vote margin, and he decided that with a big target on his back, it wasn't worth it to spend two more years raising money and kissing constituent cabooses, only to probably lose. So, he's out.

Undoubtedly, a number of Woodall's colleagues will eventually reach the same conclusion that he did. It's no fun being in the (almost totally powerless) minority in the House. Further, with a presidential year electorate, GOP members who barely squeaked by in 2018 are all-but-certain to get washed away in 2020, particularly if the economy and/or Donald Trump has a rough next 18 months. On the other hand, it's unlikely that the number of premature retirements will be anywhere near as large as it was in 2018, because there just aren't all that many vulnerable Republicans left. In fact, as measured by PVI, there is currently only one Democratic-leaning district that has a Republican representative (John Katko in the D+3 NY-24). On top of that, every one of the seven districts with a PVI of even is represented by a Democrat, as are 22 of the 26 districts that have a PVI of R+1 to R+3. In fact, every GOP member representing a district of R+5 or bluer could decide to wave the white flag, and that would still only be 19 people. So, while Woodall is the start of a movement toward the exit, he's probably not the start of a stampede. (Z)

John Dingell Dead at 92

John Dingell, the longest-serving representative in the history of Congress, remembered for being an early advocate for environmentalism and racial equality, succumbed to cancer on Thursday at the age of 92. He held his seat for 59 years, taking it over when his father died suddenly in 1955. Since John Sr. served 22 years, and John Jr.'s wife won the right to succeed him after his retirement in 2015, it means that the Dingells have kept the seat in the family for 85 years and counting.

Dingell's 59 years outdistanced #2 all-time Jamie Whitten (D-MS) by 6 years, and is nearly 15 years longer than the current longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Early- and mid-20th century improvements in medical care made such lengthy careers possible, but more recent changes in Washington make it unlikely that we'll see any more four- or five- (or nearly six-) decade members again. Most obviously because Washington has become so partisan, it's hard for a person to bear the strain for that long. Also because fundraising, which is one of the most unpleasant parts of the job, now takes up so much of a member's time. The vogue in aggressive gerrymandering/redistricting is none too helpful, either. It's also more likely than not that, within the next few decades, Congress will be subjected to term limits—even though careers like the one Dingell had are an excellent argument against them. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tim Ryan

Now batting: Tim Ryan, a candidate who some folks feel is a very strong contender for the Democratic nomination. We are not among that group, however.

Tim Ryan
  • Full Name: Timothy John Ryan

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 47

  • Background: A lifelong Ohioan, Ryan was primarily raised by a single mother thanks to his parents' divorce when he was 7. He is yet another would-be 2020 candidate who excelled academically while also starring on his high school's football team. He tried to continue his athletic career at Youngstown State University, but a knee injury put an end to that, and he transferred to Bowling Green State University, where he took his B.A. in political science. He worked on the staff of Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant after graduation, and then left that position to go earn a J.D. from the University of New Hampshire in 2000.

  • Political Experience: Shortly after earning his law degree, Ryan ran for and won a seat in the Ohio State Senate. He stayed there for a couple of years until his former boss Traficant got popped for being possibly the most corrupt member of Congress in modern American history. Ryan ran for the suddenly vacant seat and won. He's been in the House ever since, which means he just started his ninth term. He's known as something of a rabble-rouser, and has generally been the most outspoken Nancy Pelosi critic/rival among the members of the House Democratic caucus.

  • Signature Issue(s): Ryan's biography page on his official website begins with the sentence, "Tim Ryan is a relentless advocate for working families in Ohio's 13th District." That certainly tells us what his angle would be if he were to launch a 2020 run. However, the bio is rather thin on specific accomplishments, relying instead on broad, vague assertions like, "He is a champion of efforts to make college more affordable, revitalize America's cities and improve the health and well-being of American families and children." The lack of specifics may have something to do with the fact that in 16-plus years, he's managed to secure passage of a total of three bills that he sponsored. Two of those renamed government-owned buildings (a post office and a courthouse), and the other was a bill "To provide for the conveyance of the real property located at 1081 West Main Street in Ravenna, Ohio." The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, or the GI Bill, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they ain't.

  • Instructive Quote: "I got kids that are growing up in a Donald Trump world because we screwed up because we haven't been able to craft a message and push policies that connect with working class people."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Like the candidate we profiled last week, Sen. Cory Booker, Ryan is known for being somewhat fanatical about food and nutrition. Unlike Booker, Ryan has actually written a book on the subject, The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm. It's a strange kind of hybrid, like if Michael Pollan and Ronald Reagan had written a book together.

  • Recent News: Ryan is trying to persuade his colleagues to censure Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for using his official House website to give attention to a white supremacist blog.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Ryan, as noted, is a rabble-rouser, and voters seem to like that these days, if the rabble-rouser-in-chief is any indication; (2) The Congressman is certainly the kind of person who could help the Democrats win back the Midwest; and (3) "I am Nancy Pelosi's nemesis" is the kind of thing that will perk up the ears of a lot of centrist Democrats and independents, and maybe even interest some Republicans.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) The Democrats could do well with someone who can win the hearts of progressives and/or minority voters and also appeal to working-class Midwestern types, but someone whose base is almost entirely the latter group and who would generate little excitement among the former groups would have a tough hill to climb; (2) It may sound silly, but the research supports it: Having such a generic name, particularly one so similar to another white, Midwestern politician (Paul Ryan), could be a real problem for someone trying to break out of a crowded field; and (3) Ryan has some serious liabilities. Having worked for Jim Traficant is not a good thing, for example, nor is his past opposition to federal funding for abortions.

  • Is He Actually Running?: Ryan almost launched a bid in 2012, and even wrote the standard campaign bio/"here's my vision" book in anticipation of that. Realizing that he would get eaten alive by the then-incumbent Barack Obama, he thought better of it. Ryan thought about it again in 2016, and again decided against it. Now, he says he's thinking about it a third time. Maybe he will actually pull the trigger without an Obama or a Hillary Clinton to suck up all the oxygen. On the other hand, given his nearly decade-long habit of getting cold feet, don't bet too much on him running.

  • Betting Odds: Nearly every book gives him a 50-to-1 shot, which implies a 2% chance at the nomination.

  • The Bottom Line: We recognize that the Vegas odds are not especially precise, since they reflect name recognition as much as anything at this point. So, we generally suggest that the odds are underselling a particular candidate. In this case, even at only 2%, we think they are overselling Ryan. The ledger of strengths and weaknesses just does not add up to a successful presidential bid, particularly with so many other strong candidates in the field. He could be a solid VP pairing for certain candidates, like maybe Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), but that is almost certainly the only way his name will appear on a presidential ticket next year.

You can access the list of candidate profiles by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb07 Takeaways from the State of the Union
Feb07 The Mess in Virginia Gets Worse
Feb07 Team Trump Prepares to Protect His Tax Returns
Feb07 On Sunday, Klobuchar Will Announce--Something
Feb07 Landrieu is Out
Feb07 House Intelligence Committee Will Send Transcripts to Mueller
Feb07 Cohen's Testimony Is Delayed Again
Feb07 Poll: Wealth Tax is Overwhelmingly Popular
Feb07 T-Mobile Executives Stayed at Trump's Hotel More than 52 Nights
Feb07 Thursday Q&A
Feb06 Trump Delivers FrankenSOTU
Feb06 Abrams Does Not Wilt Under the Spotlight
Feb06 Feds Want to Chat With Trump Organization Employees
Feb06 Nice Work, If You Can Get It? (Part I): Donald Trump
Feb06 Nice Work, If You Can Get It? (Part II): Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins, and Steve King
Feb06 Elizabeth Warren Did Claim to Be a Native American (at Least Once)
Feb06 Tulsi Gabbard Gets a High-Profile Endorsement--Unfortunately for Her
Feb05 Feds Subpoena Records from Trump Inaugural Committee
Feb05 Trump Set for State of the Union Address
Feb05 Democratic Turmoil in Virginia
Feb05 Trump Tries to Keep Evangelicals Happy
Feb05 Senators Concerned About Unfilled Posts
Feb05 Trump to Get Physical
Feb05 Patriots Will Avoid White House
Feb04 Trump: Pompeo Will Not Run for the Senate
Feb04 Some Democrats Want to Be White Knights
Feb04 Washington Post Ranks the Democratic Presidential Candidates
Feb04 Third Parties Don't Do Well in Presidential Elections
Feb04 Poll: Schultz Could Elect Trump
Feb04 A Brief History of the Mexican Border
Feb04 RedState Caves
Feb04 Monday Q&A
Feb01 Trump Jr.'s Mystery Calls Weren't to Trump Sr.
Feb01 Roger Stone Is in Deep Trouble (and, Very Possibly, So Are His Associates)
Feb01 Trump Is Clearly Preparing to Declare a National Emergency
Feb01 Trump's Numbers in Michigan Are Not Good
Feb01 Mick Mulvaney Has Big Plans...for Mick Mulvaney
Feb01 Cain for Federal Reserve?
Feb01 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Cory Booker
Jan31 Trump Orders Conference Committee to Fund the Wall
Jan31 What's an Emolument, Actually?
Jan31 McConnell Opposes Bill to Make Election Day a Federal Holiday
Jan31 Which Democrat Can Beat Trump?
Jan31 Trump Is Way Up with (Only) White Working-Class Men
Jan31 Schultz Is Serious about Running
Jan31 Can the Democrats Concede the Midwest?
Jan31 Could Texas Be the New California?
Jan31 Thursday Q&A
Jan30 Coats Breaks with Trump
Jan30 Stone Pleads Not Guilty