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Political Wire logo De Blasio Heads to New Hampshire
Deal Reached to Avert Shutdown
Utah GOP Defies Voters on Medicaid Expansion
Northam Plans ‘Listening Tour’
Former Aide Sues Trump for Going After Him
Iowa Democrats Propose ‘Virtual Caucuses’

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Shutdown Talks Have Deadlocked
      •  Poll: Virginians Split on Northam
      •  Schiff and Waters Will Work Together Investigating Deutsche Bank
      •  Democrats Are Already Digging for Dirt
      •  Klobuchar Is Running
      •  Warren Makes It Official
      •  Harrison Is Also Running
      •  Rep. Walter Jones Dies
      •  Monday Q&A

Shutdown Talks Have Deadlocked

If Congress doesn't pass a bill to fund part of the government by Feb. 15, there will be another shutdown. Republicans really don't want another one because they will probably be blamed for it. Democrats know this, which gives them leverage in the bipartisan conference committee that is trying to hammer out an agreement. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said yesterday on Fox News that the chances of a deal are now only 50-50.

The Democrats are blaming Shelby, who met with Donald Trump on Thursday and came back with a harder line once he knew what Trump wanted. One issue that is causing trouble is the Democrats' insistence on a reduction in the number of ICE detention beds to 16,500 in return for more money for fencing. The Democrats want this restriction in order to force ICE to focus on criminals and not on people who have merely overstayed their visas. For Republicans, this demand is unacceptable.

Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a wall isn't even on the table anymore. Democrats have said that they might go as high as $2 billion for some kind of fencing, and Republicans on the conference committee seem to have accepted this as the best they can do. If Trump doesn't get his money for the wall, he could fall back to his previous threat to declare a national emergency and use money for something else to build the wall. That would certainly be challenged in court, so Stephen Miller is already working on how to defend that action. His plan is to say it is necessary to protect the 5,000 active-duty troops currently at the border. However, Democrats are sure to counter that in court by saying: "Active-duty troops fully armed with military weapons do not need a wall to protect them from anything, and certainly not from unarmed people crossing the border in small groups." In short, anything is still possible. (V)

Poll: Virginians Split on Northam

After Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) admitted to having appeared in blackface at least once decades ago, the calls for his head have been incessant, especially from high-placed Democratic officials who don't want to be seen as condoning any form of racism. Republicans definitely want him out of there because Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA) is a dead man walking after two women accused him of sexual assault, and second-in-line Virginia AG Mark Herring (D) has also admitted to using blackface. If Northam, Fairfax, and Herring all go, the next in line is Kirk Cox (R), who is speaker of the Virginia House.

Northam has been doing the Hamlet thing: "To resign or not to resign, that is the question." A new Washington Post/Schar School poll of Virginians may give him some guidance. The poll found that Virginians are exactly split, 47% to 47%, on whether he should resign or not. If politicians were to resign when half the voters wanted them out, Donald Trump would be long gone.

But even more important than the total picture is that black Virginians want Northam to stay by a margin of 58% to 37%. If any group has a good case in demanding his resignation, it would be black voters, and they support him by more than 20 points. While partisan pundits like to play one-strike-and-you're-out baseball, the voters sometimes look at totality of what a politician has done over a career and can sometimes believe that a single bad vote or action is not necessarily disqualifiying (think of Democrats who didn't like the Iraq War but still voted for Hillary Clinton in spite of her voting for it in the Senate).

Presumably Northam has seen the poll by now and maybe even read James Comey's op-ed in the Washington Post about how the monuments to racist Confederate generals must come down. He could potentially conclude that apologizing and then promising to tear down the monuments and focus the rest of his term on racial justice might just save his bacon and allow him to remain in office.

Northam is currently in the midst of a PR tour, and may have managed to do himself more harm than good during an interview with CBS' Gayle King. In an obvious effort to convey his familiarity with, and sensitivity to, black history, Northam observed that, "We are now at the 400-year anniversary--just 90 miles from here in 1619. The first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe, and while..." He was immediately cut off by King, who said, "Also known as slavery," to which Northam assented.

This moment has sent quite a few commentators into a tizzy, since they believe that by using "indentured servitude" in place of "slavery" Northam is playing a verbal trick in order to soften the horrors of the slave system, much like using "enhanced interrogation methods" in place of "torture," or "collateral damage" in place of "dead civilians." It is true that this little verbal trick has been used to downplay the evils of slavery. However, it is also true that the status of the "20 And odd Negroes" that Northam is referring to is not clear, and that they may very well have been indentured servants.

On one hand, those 20 individuals were the "overflow" cargo of a slave ship. If they had reached their original destination (the Dutch West Indies) they would definitely have ended up as slaves. On the other hand, the colony they joined (Jamestown) did not legalize slavery for another 21 years, and relied extensively on indentured servitude, for both white and (at least some) black laborers. The most relevant documents that still survive, a pair of censuses from 1623 and 1625, are ambiguous on this question, listing the black residents as "servants," but (in contrast to white indentured servants) failing to give the date when their indenture was expected to end. Point is, Northam may get fatally dinged for saying something that isn't necessarily wrong. Of course, if he didn't know the history well enough to promptly defend the point with the specific evidence that appears in this paragraph, he probably shouldn't have raised the example (or should have used "slavery," just to be safe).

Northam is also trying to deflect attention by calling for the resignation of Fairfax if the rape allegations are true. The big idea here is that compared to rape, wearing blackface is small potatoes. However, Fairfax has consistently said that the accusations against him are false and he is not going anywhere. He may not get a vote in the matter, however, as Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope (D) has announced plans to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax. There's no way to be sure what will happen until the process plays out, but the smart money says that the Lieutenant Governor is a dead man walking. (V & Z)

Schiff and Waters Will Work Together Investigating Deutsche Bank

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) yesterday raised doubts on "Meet the Press" about whether special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating the dealings Donald Trump had with Deutsche Bank. When word leaked that Muller might do this, Trump said such action would cross a red line and be grounds to fire Mueller. Trump backed down after being told Mueller wasn't going there.

Schiff believes someone should go there, preferably someone who can't be fired. He thinks he would be an excellent candidate to go there. A problem, however, is that House Banking Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters thinks that's her turf. However, they have now agreed that by working together and combining their staffs, they will bring more firepower to the issue. So now the two California Democrats are going to jointly look at Deutsche Bank, Trump's businesses, money laundering, and any connections among those pieces. (V)

Democrats Are Already Digging for Dirt

The Iowa caucuses are nearly a year away, but already Democrats are doing oppo research and trying to find dirt on the other candidates. This is much earlier than usual, but with so many candidates and so little difference in their platforms, it is inevitable that the folks in the back of the race will try to find nasty tidbits to feed to friendly reporters in order to take their opponents down a peg or two. For example, we don't know why a story about how mean Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) is to her staff turned up just before her announcement (see below), but it wouldn't be surprising if someone passed it to a reporter last week.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had a pact in which they really tried to keep the battle relatively mud free, and for the most part they did. With so many candidates jockeying for position now, that is going to be much harder in 2020. Long gone are the days in which presidential candidates of both parties reflexively followed the basic wisdom of Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment of Politics: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" (or, for those on the other side of the aisle, "fellow Democrat").

Republicans love dirt, too. In fact, they have already set up a group, America Rising Corp., to dig for dirt on Democrats. However, unlike 2016, when they knew a year in advance that it was going to be either Clinton or Sanders, now they have to research 20 or more candidates if they want to start throwing mud just after the conventions. It is also possible that America Rising will try to get an early start, and will work on taking down the candidates it sees as the toughest in the general election, regardless of how well known they are now. It is even possible that the story about Klobuchar being a rotten boss might have been from a Republican oppo operation.

Of course, while this might help the GOP to influence the Democrats' choice of candidate, it's not at all clear how well mud-slinging will work in the general election. After all, nearly any conceivable slur that could be lodged against the Democratic candidate (sexist, racist, adulterous, mean to staffers, dubious financial history, inconsistent on the issues, truth-challenged, poorly informed) is also applicable to Donald Trump. (V & Z)

Klobuchar Is Running

In an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, in 14 degree weather, during a snowstorm, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) showed that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays a woman determined to be president. As expected, Klobuchar is in. She picked a terrible week to announce, though, what with her being in the news for allegedly mistreating her staff. Her supporters have argued that those news stories are sexist, since a male politician who demanded nothing less than the best from his staff and berated them for not delivering would be considered "tough" and a "leader." Probably that story will go away soon, since it is hard to imagine her opponents calling her out for being too harsh. If they tried, she would surely come back with something like: "Yes, I can be tough, but for someone applying for a job that requires dealing with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, tough is a feature, not a bug."

Klobuchar's angle is that she is from the Midwest and that she won in Minnesota in 2018 by 22 points more than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. In essence, she is going to make the case that the Democrats have to win back the Midwest or they are doomed, and it will take someone who is from that region and knows it well to do the job.

She said that she is not planning to match Donald Trump caustic tweet for caustic tweet. Instead, she is going to focus on her agenda. Of course, she will also have to focus on getting some attention in a field that could number as many as 20 candidates in 2020. Here is our profile of her. (V)

Warren Makes It Official

Presidential candidates try to maximize their publicity these days by twice announcing that they are running. The first announcement is that the candidate has set up an exploratory committee (which means the candidate is running), followed later by a new announcement that the committee determined that the candidate should run (which means the candidate is still running). Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took the second step this weekend and—to no one's surprise—announced that, yup, she's running.

Warren needs to get past the Native American DNA controversy but she has plenty of material. In particular, she grew up as a poor Okie. After her father had a heart attack, her mother, who had always been a housewife, had to get a job at 50. Warren has previously related a story in which, after her parents put her in bed, she would overhear them talking about "mortgage" and "foreclosure." If she can turn the story about her from DNA to her blue-collar Oklahoma roots, she can probably reboot her campaign. At her formal announcement yesterday, however, she didn't talk about her roots (although there is plenty of time for that later). Instead, she said: "By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be President. In fact, he may not even be a free person." Needless to say, this is sure to get his goat. From her perspective, getting into a Twitter war with him would be fantastic and keep her in the news every day. Our profile of her is here. (V)

Harrison Is Also Running

No, not William Henry Harrison. He died in 1841, 31 days into his presidency. Nor his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, who served a full term as president. It's Jaime Harrison who is running, and it's for the seat of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Harrison was the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party (yes, Virginia, there is a South Carolina Democratic Party).

Harrison's chances are slim to none. To start with, there aren't a lot of Democrats in South Carolina. Beyond that, Harrison is black. Although he has a good shot at the Democratic nomination, to win the general election, he is going to need quite a few white voters, and voting in South Carolina is heavily polarized by race. A Republican who is black (for example, Sen. Tim Scott) can obviously win, and possibly also a Democrat who is white (though the last one of those to represent South Carolina in the Senate was Fritz Hollings, who won his last election 20 years ago). A black Democrat is likely at least one bridge too far, and maybe two bridges. Further, Graham has stopped criticizing Donald Trump and started sucking up to him, big time. In South Carolina, that works well. Finally, Harrison is totally unknown in the state. In short, Graham is surely not sweating bullets yet. In fact, he's at far greater risk from a primary challenge than he is from any candidate the Democrats put up in the general election. (V)

Rep. Walter Jones Dies

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who had been in ill health, and had declined to the point of being moved into hospice care, died Sunday, which was his 76th birthday. He had just started his 13th term in Congress, although the health problems made it impossible for him to participate in the current session at all. Like John Dingell, who passed last week, representing his home state in the House was something of a family business, as Walter Jones Sr. was himself a long-serving Representative (who also died not long after the commencement of his 13th term). Jones Jr. was among the Democrats who flipped to the GOP after the 1994 "Contract with America" wave. Consequently, he sometimes rebelled against his new party's party line, most notably becoming an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) has made no announcement about the election that will be held to choose Jones' replacement, undoubtedly because he wants to wait a few days to avoid being gauche. Barring a big surprise, the R+12 district will remain in Republican hands. (Z)

Monday Q&A

Not surprisingly, the mess in Virginia—and related questions—are the hot topic du jour.

A few weeks ago I started reading The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan. The contents of the book are at odds with the "Georgia History" and the U.S. History I was taught in the Georgia high school system back in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights era. Given James Comey's editorial in the Washington Post, where can one find statues honoring General Longstreet and others who helped end chattel slavery and restore our Union? L.C., Jonesboro, GA

Not sure if you're reading that book because of our recommendation, but whatever the case may be, good choice!

Anyhow, the people of the post-Civil War era were somewhat monument-obsessed. The battlefield at Gettysburg alone has over 2,000 of them, for example. Generally speaking, these monuments tended to be built for one (or more) of three reasons:

  1. To make a political statement (most commonly one that justified the Southern war effort)
  2. To attract tourists
  3. To try and shape future generations' understanding of the war (for example, by highlighting the performance of a particular commander or unit)

It is true that many memorials were ostensibly built to honor prominent and/or deceased commanders/soldiers, but nearly all of those fit into at least one of the above categories.

In any case, for a monument to be built, a person or organization or government entity had to decide that the monument was worth building, and then money had to be secured for the purpose. In the specific case of Longstreet, that basically wasn't going to happen. Even if the money and motivation to build a monument to him had existed in the 19th century, doing so would have been like building a monument to Donald Trump in East Los Angeles. It would not have gone well. As to monuments to others who helped smash slavery, well, those did not fit in so well with the national trend toward white reconciliation. So, there generally wasn't a lot of appetite for those, either. And among those who might have had such an appetite (say, black folks in the Northern states), there wasn't the financial means. Even back then, statues and monuments were very expensive.

The major exception to the rule is this:

Mass. 54th monument

This is a monument to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first black units in the Civil War (and far and away the most famous today, thanks to the movie Glory). The piece is the work of the famous Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who also designed a number of other prominent Civil War monuments, as well as several coins for the U.S. treasury. It was unveiled in 1897, and was paid for by prominent former abolitionists and their descendants. Note that, even then, a white man (Col. Robert Gould Shaw) is front and center, and indeed the full name of the monument is "Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment."

In the decades since the 19th century came to an end, Americans' understanding of the Civil War has changed, and so too have the nation's racial politics. Well, at least among some segments of the populace. However, modern Americans also no longer have a taste for this particular type of monumental architecture. And so, the existing monuments to the opponents of slavery are very few in number, are generally of recent vintage, and are meant specifically as a counterpoint to all the nineteenth-century stuff. For example, there is a statue of Frederick Douglass in Maryland, there is one of Harriet Tubman in New York City, and there are twin installations, across the Detroit River from each other (in Windsor, Canada and Detroit) that honor the Underground Railroad. All of these were completed in the last 20 years.

As to Longstreet, there are two prominent monuments to him. The one on the left is near the site where he died, and the one on the right is at Gettysburg:

Longstreet statues

As is par for the course for "Old Pete" (Longstreet's nickname), the Gettysburg statue was designed to be placed on a pedestal, but the necessary funds could not be raised. So, it sits on the bare ground, despite not having the correct proportions for viewing from that angle. The photograph does not entirely capture this, but in person it looks quite odd. Also, the upturned hoof usually has a bunch of cigars on it left by admirers.

If you're interested in reading more about this subject, you might want to take a look at James Loewen's Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, which has several dozen very brief pieces on monuments and museums in the United States, and how and why they misrepresent the past.

In your coverage on Saturday of the political turmoil in Virginia, you discuss James Comey's op-ed published in the Washington Post. With your introductory phrase of "who should enter from stage right" you suggest that you think Comey is an unlikely figure to weigh in on the situation. But as surprising as it might be, you don't mention any motivation for him to do so beyond "becoming woke." Recognizing that any discussion here is merely dabbling in speculation, why do you think he decided to contribute to the national dialogue on the state of Virginia? E.D., Tempe, AZ

We also suggested that he's doing penance. That wasn't just a joke; it's very plausible that as a long-time dedicated public servant, he feels guilty about the last year of his career and is trying to make amends for having clearly fumbled several aspects of his job in relation to the 2016 election.

Beyond that, however, it's not all that surprising that this is a subject in which Comey would take an interest. He's always been a student of public intellectuals, and wrote his senior thesis in college on Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell and their shared belief in public action. On top of that, Comey has spent much of his adult life in or near Virginia, and he would not have been able to rise as high in the FBI ranks as he did without regular training in, and thought given to, issues of diversity and representation.

Anyhow, whether we are right about the reasons for his interest, he clearly does have an interest, as he couldn't have written that op-ed without having done some significant reading on the subjects of monuments and memory. In fact, it would not surprise us if he has read the aforementioned The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, as it raises these exact same issues. And given that he's got the interest and the knowledge, he must have quite reasonably concluded, given his prominence, his race, his law enforcement background, and his centrist politics that his message was more likely to be heard by those who need to hear it than if it was coming from, say, an outspoken leftist black editorialist like Cornel West or Spike Lee or Barbara Fields.

I understand blackface has been considered racist for a number of years, but as recently as a few years ago, Fred Armisen wore black makeup to play Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live. This is obviously much more current than Al Jolson or other references that you have made. I do not remember a huge outcry at the time of the Obama impersonation, or for that matter, any outcry at all. Armisen reprised the role numerous times. Obviously, SNL could have brought in a performer, such as they do with Alec Baldwin, to play the President. Playing the President on the show is not the same as dressing up along with a Klansman outfit, but it is pretty equivalent to the Michael Jackson story. These days, it is wrong and possibly unrecoverable, if you ever wore blackface in the past. Yet it seems even a few years ago it was accepted by certain liberal performers. What has changed so that now Democrats have become much more sensitive to the issue of blackface? E.L., Dallas, TX

The general trend of the past half-century, of course, has been toward greater sensitivity on matters of race, so we would expect people to be more touchy in 2019 than they were in 2009 or 1999. Undoubtedly, events of the last decade, including the election of a black president and the emergence of Black Lives Matter and other movements, have sped up that process. And finally, the fact that the current president is wildly insensitive on matters of race is part of the equation, too. Being "right on racism" and "right on sexual assault" have become critical ways in which Democrats differentiate themselves from Donald Trump. And if the blue team is not "100% right," then they open themselves up to charges of whataboutism. As in, "If it's so wrong for Trump to say there were 'good people on both sides' in Charlottesville, then how come it's ok for Ralph Northam to wear blackface?" Undoubtedly, cutting off that line of attack drives Democrats' reactions (or, some might say, overreactions).

In terms of this particular situation, things unfolded in a bit of an odd fashion. The first picture of Northam was the worst kind of picture, with him (apparently) in either 19th-century style blackface, or in a KKK robe. He admitted it, then denied it, then came up with the Michael Jackson story (which apparently was not memorialized in a photo). If this had begun with Northam being pictured in a Michael Jackson costume, and there was no hardcore blackface, or KKK, or flip-flopping involved, he'd likely be in far less hot water.

It is also true that some folks do get away with this without censure. In addition to Armisen, Billy Crystal also did it on SNL (albeit 20 years earlier) for his Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation. There have been a few movies a blackface character was key to the plot of the film, including C. Thomas Howell's character in 1986's Soul Man, and Robert Downey Jr.'s character 2008's Tropic Thunder. It's possible that the 1980s stuff (Crystal, Soul Man) wouldn't fly today; we can't know unless someone tries it. However, as to the recent instances, there are a number of possible mitigating factors:

  • It's a professional doing it as part of their job, rather than an amateur doing it for fun
  • The point is to satirize a single person (or, in Downey's case, blackface itself) rather than an entire race
  • The person performing is themselves a minority (as Armisen is; he's part Latino)
  • The makeup is not traditional coal-black blackface or shoe polish, but merely a base that slightly darkens the person's skin

That said, it's possible that people look at Armisen's portrayal in 50 years and cringe, the way that we do today when we see Amos 'n' Andy.

I can understand how Democrats would be concerned that their current, um, difficulties would adversely impact their goal of obtaining the trifecta this year. It's a little harder for me to see how people look at Northam, et al., and say, "Gee, I think I'll vote for the racist in the White House who put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court because, you know, the Blue team has issues," unless they were predisposed to doing so in the first place. I can see how national politics can affect local races (it did so in Connecticut the last two elections) but do local scandals really affect how people view the presidential race? K.B., Hartford, CT

You're thinking of the choice as a binary one: Either someone votes for Donald Trump, or they vote for the Democrat. However, there is a third option, namely not voting at all. There are quite a few people out there pushing the notion that the two major parties are basically the same, and there are also quite a few out there pushing the similar notion that both parties are inherently racist and don't care about minority voters. If this situation is taken as evidence for that assertion, it probably won't make people vote Trump, but it could make them stay home on Election Day.

I found the CNN poll about the Mueller Report to be very interesting, especially that 80% of Republicans believe the report should be public. At the same time, 88% of Republicans said the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russians. I would love to believe those 80% support the public release because they believe in transparency and are ready to accept the results no matter what. However, do you think that 80% might be that they have bought the "witch hunt" rhetoric hook, line, and sinker, regardless of the number of indictments, so they are convinced the results will exonerate Trump and that's why they want it public? Have there been any polls that indicate how open people will be to the report, no matter what it says? M.B., Melrose, MA

We see no other way to interpret CNN's numbers. If the majority of Republicans believe Trump is innocent, and yet the majority of Republicans want to see the report released, then it can only be the case that many of them want it to be released so that Trump can claim exoneration, and Trump's supporters can gloat that they were right all along.

We are not aware of any poll that has tried to assess how open people truly are to the report's conclusions. And really, there would be little value in asking such a question at this point. We cannot know how folks will actually respond to findings they don't agree with until they are actually forced to confront that reality. At this point in the process, everyone is going to say, "Of course I will be open-minded!"

I have been looking at the President's approval ratings since he started in office. Understanding that such polls have not been around for very long, is there any precedent for someone never having approval ratings reach 50% or higher during an entire term in office? What do you see as the implications of this for the 2020 election? B.O., Columbia, MD

With the caveat that the President has gotten above 50 in the GOP- and Trump-friendly Rasmussen Reports poll seven times (a 57, three 53s, and three 51s), no, there is no historical parallel for this. We will work with Gallup's numbers, since they have been doing this consistently for seven decades. In their poll, every non-Trump president (Harry S. Truman through Barack Obama) not only broke 50%, they also broke 60%. In fact, other than Dick Nixon (high of 66%) and Obama (high of 69%), they all pulled at least one 70%. Trump's high in the Gallup Poll is 46%, and that was at the very start of his term. He's currently pulling a 37%.

Given how fully Trump cut every 2016 prediction off at the knees, there is a certain caution when one makes predictions for 2020. However, it seems fair to assume that the 46% he got at the start of his term was about where he was on Election Day 10 weeks earlier. And with a 46% approval, he eked out the narrowest of victories, aided substantially by the Electoral College (and, very possibly, by the Russians). It also helped that while he was the most-hated candidate in modern presidential history, he was running against the second most-hated candidate. It would be nearly impossible for the Democrats to nominate someone in 2020 who engendered such strong negative feelings as Hillary Clinton. So, it is unlikely that if Trump enters November of 2020 with the same mid-40s approval he had in 2016, he will win again. And if he enters that month with an approval rating in the 30s, then he's dead in the water.

You mentioned that, due to some probable resignations (Mulvaney, Kudlow), there may soon be more "acting" executives in the President's cabinet. What impact does this have on being able to successfully remove the President via the 25th Amendment? Can an "acting" executive vote to remove the President? J.A., Kansas City, MO

Nobody knows. Actually, there are two questions here that have no clear answer. The first is: "Can acting secretaries vote to oust the president?" Since the 25th amendment refers to the "principal" members of the executive departments, legal experts' best guess is that acting secretaries would not be so empowered, as they are presumably not "principals." But that is just a guess.

The other unanswered question is: "Do acting secretaries count toward the overall total?" The "kick the president out" quorum, for lack of a better term? What if we got to the point, for example, that there are only two Senate-approved secretaries left? Could Mike Pence and, say, Rick Perry get together over lunch and oust the president by themselves, since they would be a supermajority in that circumstance? Alternatively, if Trump replaces more than half his department heads with acting officials, does that make him immune to removal under the 25th Amendment?

In the end, these would all be questions for the Supreme Court, when and if the 25th Amendment is actually invoked. It's also likely to be academic. If we get to the point that Pence & Co. are ready to boot Trump, then we are also likely to be at the point that the House is ready to impeach and the Senate is ready to convict. With either path, the Congress has to sign off, and Pence and the others would not put their necks and their careers on the line unless they knew full well how the folks at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue were likely to vote.

I have heard that when any position that requires Senate confirmation is filled with a temporary, acting official, the authority of the official is curtailed to maintaining the status quo, and he or she may not initiate any new policies. Is that true, and, if so, then isn't the administration hamstringing itself with so many "acting" officials? M.M., San Diego, CA

That is true, although we run into the problem that it's not always so easy to define what is and is not a "new" policy. For example, if the EPA announces that it is going to allow drilling off the coast of California, is that a "new" policy, or is it merely the elimination of an existing restriction?

This being the case, having so many "acting" officials is likely not hamstringing the administration. First, because this administration does what it wants anyhow, and dares the courts, Congress, etc. to say "boo." Team Trump loves gray areas; they operate almost exclusively in them. Second, because the vast majority of what this administration does, especially at the level of the executive departments, is overturn past rules and initiatives rather than implement new ones.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb09 Things Go from Bad to Worse for Virginia Democrats
Feb09 Bezos-Enquirer Story Could Soon Get Political
Feb09 When It Comes to Mueller, Americans Wanna Know
Feb09 White House in Even More Turmoil
Feb09 Trump "In Very Good Health"
Feb08 Border Security Deal Appears to Be Near
Feb08 So Much for No Investigations
Feb08 Democrats May or May Not Be in Agreement over Green New Deal
Feb08 There Is a Fly in the Klobuchar Ointment
Feb08 And So It Begins: Rep. Rob Woodall Is Retiring
Feb08 John Dingell Dead at 92
Feb08 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tim Ryan
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?