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Political Wire logo Manafort Faces 19 to 24 Years in Prison
Mueller Has Stone’s Communications with WikiLeaks
O’Rourke Actively Discussing White House Bid
Fact Checking Trump’s Emergency Declaration
Ann Coulter Fires Back at Trump
Trump Attorneys May Have Lied About Cohen Payments

Trump Will Sign Bill, Then Declare National Emergency

This current episode of America's border security reality show will come right down to the wire, presumably because Donald Trump has planned it that way. In any event, on Thursday, both houses of Congress passed the compromise bills that will keep the federal government open and operating for the rest of the budget year. Donald Trump has communicated through intermediates, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), that he will sign the bills and then promptly declare a national emergency.

Apparently, McConnell has agreed to support the emergency declaration; that was the price of getting Trump to sign the bill. Needless to say, they are playing with fire. As we and many others have pointed out many times, you can't un-ring this bell. Once the emergency genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to put him back. One can easily imagine one of the Democratic presidential candidates soon announcing:

Mass shootings are a national emergency, and the Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Consequently, on day one of my presidency, I will issue an executive order requiring all gun purchasers to file an affidavit with the government giving the name and address of the militia of which they are a member and then will let the courts determine if that militia is well-regulated or not.

The list is really endless; the state of the country's healthcare system could be an emergency, or global warming, or the water in Flint, MI. Actually, those things really are emergencies that are taking people's lives. So, it will be easy as pie to sell in a world where a border wall was an "emergency."

Not every Republican in Washington is as confident as McConnell in this course of action. At least one of them believes that the use of executive actions is "very, very dangerous," and "should absolutely not pass muster in terms of constitutionality," and is very possibly impeachable. Of course, the Republican who said those things was Donald Trump, in reference to executive actions taken by Barack Obama in relation to...wait for it...immigration policy. It's possible that the Donald has changed his opinion on this matter; someone should really ask him.

Once Trump follows through on his threat, the ball will be in the Democrats' court, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) taking the lead. She said on Thursday that she has not decided on a course of action yet, and is waiting to hear Trump's justification for his actions. She really has two basic options, though, and could pursue either or both.

The first possibility would be to initiate a joint resolution that would reverse Trump's declaration. It would take a two-thirds majority in each chamber, which is likely doable in the House, and may be doable in the Senate. Either way, it would put Republicans in a difficult bind. They could vote for the resolution, but then they would be defying Trump, who currently has the GOP base in his pocket. Or, they could vote against it, but then they would be on the record as supporting the denigration of the legislature's power of the purse, and as approving the use of emergency declarations for whatever "emergency" a president cooks up. And, incidentally, this is not the kind of thing that McConnell can just bury and refuse to bring up for a vote. This sort of joint resolution is privileged, which means the Majority Leader is required to bring it before the full Senate in no more than 18 days.

The alternative would be to file a lawsuit in federal court. This would, at very least, tie things up for a while. And the Democrats would have the stronger hand, arguing that Trump's action would be an abrogation of the first article of the Constitution, because only Congress gets to decide how money is spent, and it can hardly be argued they were unavailable to make that decision on literally the same day that Trump signed a bunch of spending bills. That said, Pelosi & Co. might be thinking dreamily of all the "emergencies" they might declare the next time the Democrats take the White House, and may prefer to allow Trump and the GOP to set a precedent.

Given how fully the Speaker has outdueled the President so far, the smart money says she'll do it again, once she has all the pieces of the puzzle and decides on a course of action. The only thing we can say for sure right now, however, is that this particular reality show is far from reaching its end. We should know more about the plot of the next episode later today. (Z)

Barr Confirmed

As expected the Senate voted Thursday on William Barr's nomination to be the next Attorney General of the United States. And, as expected, he was confirmed with a little bit of breathing room, 54-45. He replaces acting AG Matthew Whitaker and, indirectly, original Trump AG Jeff Sessions. Everyone will be watching closely to see how Barr handles the Mueller investigation. Undoubtedly, the special counsel just made an extra hard drive with a copy of everything he's collected, just in case. And if New York AG Letitia James is smart, she will already have asked Mueller for it, just in case individual 1 may have committed some crimes in New York State. (Z)

FBI Officials Discussed Removing Trump

Maybe that "deep state" stuff wasn't completely off the mark. Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe sat for an interview with CBS News on Thursday (though it will be aired Sunday). During that sit-down, he confirmed that high-level staffers at the FBI talked about the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, and removing Donald Trump from the presidency. The conversations got far enough that the names of possible cabinet officers who might be on board were discussed.

These discussions had long been rumored, but Thursday was the first time that there was public confirmation. And although the news will indeed play into the "deep state" conspiracy theories, the conversation was not off the mark. Trump's erratic behavior and trampling of constitutional norms are the exact kind of thing the 25th Amendment was meant to address. Meanwhile, if the thought crossed the minds of McCabe & Co., it must also have occurred to other muckety-mucks in the government, very possibly even Mike Pence, although those folks aren't free to speak their minds in the manner that McCabe is. In any case, the cabinet is now staffed with enough Trump cronies and interim appointees that he's undoubtedly quite safe right now. The chance that Trump could actually be removed under the 25th Amendment was always small though, since it allows the president to say: "Nope, I'm perfectly capable of serving," in which case he can only be removed if two-thirds of each chamber of Congress votes to remove him. (Z)

The Democratic Frontrunners, According to the Trump Campaign

On January 20, 2017, a bit after 12:00 p.m., Donald Trump was sworn in as president. And approximately five minutes later, Trump's 2020 campaign got underway. Given that Team Trump is spending his first four years worrying primarily about his next four years, it's not surprising that their oppo research operation is already in full swing.

It's not so easy to keep these things a secret, and so the data gathering has clued in everyone in Washington to the Democratic candidates that frighten Team Trump the most. There are three of them, and they are all U.S. senators, namely Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Insiders say that there is a fourth senator who will join them if he declares, namely Sherrod Brown (D-OH). It's interesting that Kirsten Gillibrand is not on the radar, given her prominence and her public battles with Trump. No Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Beto O'Rourke, either, though it's possible that formal announcements of candidacy could move one or both up the list.

This strategizing is being done entirely by the president's campaign operatives, who are not exactly the A-Team of political strategists, but who presumably have some idea of what they're talking about (likely backed by internal polling data). As to Trump, he doesn't much pay attention to polling data (unless it's about him, and it's positive), and he also doesn't hold women, people of color, or women of color in all that much regard. Further, his worldview, as many have observed, is perpetually stuck in the 1980s. So, it is no surprise that the candidate that he personally fears is Joe Biden, a white man who was already a prominent national figure when Trump came of age in the Reagan years. Undoubtedly, the President's people are humoring his assessment, but only superficially, as they are persuaded Uncle Joe cannot survive the primaries, given his long and often controversial record. Anyhow, that's the view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Z)

Democratic Candidates Work to Tame the California Tiger

Actually, that should probably be the California bear, given what's on the state flag, but we are unaware of anyone who has "bear tamer" as their job title (well, outside of Warhammer). In any case, the Golden State has moved its primaries near the front of the calendar this year, which means California is actually an important part of the nomination process for the first time in a long time. With its rich trove of roughly 500 delegates, the various Democratic candidates are licking their chops, while also trying to figure out exactly how to proceed.

It is true that California, as a whole, is very blue. However, its size, its diversity, and various other quirks present candidates and strategists with a very interesting set of problems to solve. Specifically:

  • Northern California is quite different from Southern California; in particular, the latter is more centrist, has far more people, and Latinos make up a much larger percentage of the population.

  • The coastal areas, which are home to most of the pinko commie types, are quite different from the inland areas, which skew more conservative. To paraphrase James Carville, it's San Francisco/Marin Counties up north and Los Angeles County down south, with Texas wrapped around them.

  • Orange County is another pickle. Is it really blue now? Or is it just reddish-purple and cranky with Donald Trump?

  • The state's early voting will allow candidates with solid data operations to read the tea leaves and fine-tune their messaging heading into Election Day.

  • The state's recently legalized "ballot harvesting" laws will give an advantage to candidates with a strong ground game.

Because California is so large, and has numerous very expensive media markets, candidates will not be able to cover all the bases. And that is before we consider that eight other states, including Texas, Virginia, and Massachusetts, will also cast their primary ballots on the same day (March 3), so each candidate's attention and resources will necessarily be divided. If they hope to claim a big chunk of those 500 delegates, it's going to require a lot of decisions. Target the urban areas, or the suburban and rural areas? If the former, will the focus be on the poorer parts of the cities or the wealthier ones? Emphasize Southern California, which has more votes, or Northern California, which has more big-time political donors? Go with more traditional television advertising, which is expensive and won't reach young people, or get creative and make your pitch on social media? The candidate who finds the magic combo could very well find themselves as the frontrunner when the sun rises on March 4. At which point, they will never visit California again, except for $20,000-a-plate fundraisers with George Clooney and Elon Musk. (Z)

The Next Justice to Go?

Between Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health issues and her advanced age (she'll turn 86 next month), she is the odds-on favorite to be the next justice to depart the Supreme Court. However, she wants to hang on as long as is possible, something that Democrats wholeheartedly support. That means that if she becomes incapacitated, she may keep her seat until she shuffles off this mortal coil. Consequently, as the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin points out, it may be that the justice who is actually the most likely to depart next is...Clarence Thomas.

The basic logic here is pretty simple. Thomas is not a spring chicken either (he's 70), and he's been on the Court longer than any of his colleagues (28 years). He is also notably unenthusiastic about the work, seeing it as a duty rather than a privilege. If he retires this year, he is certain to be replaced by a fire-breathing conservative. If he waits until 2020, the outcome is probably the same, although it will hurt the GOP a bit politically, as it will force Mitch McConnell to violate his "principle" of no SCOTUS confirmations in an election year (something the Majority Leader will undoubtedly gladly do, presumably concocting some sort of exception, like the rule doesn't apply in years where the Summer Olympics are in Asia). By 2021, however, Thomas and the GOP could be looking at a four- or eight- or even twelve-year wilderness, in terms of the White House. Does the Justice really want to try to hang on until he's in his eighties, particularly given that would take him into his fourth and possibly fifth decade of service in a job he doesn't enjoy?

Those around Thomas say he's committed to sticking with it, out of a sense of responsibility. He cannot say so openly, but he probably also likes the chance to push American jurisprudence in a conservative direction, not to mention to serve alongside a president that he and his wife are best buds with. Still, Thomas is not stupid, and in Ginsburg he has a living, breathing example of what can happen if a justice rolls the dice. If he has any sort of health scare in the next year or so, he probably will throw in the towel. And even if everything is ok on that front, he may still read the decide to get out while the getting is good. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Michael Bennet

He is most certainly not among the frontrunners right now, but if you have to bet on a dark horse, you could do far worse.

Michael Bennet
  • Full Name: Michael Farrand Bennet

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 56

  • Background: In his half-century plus on the planet, Bennet has had quite a wild ride. His grandfather worked for FDR, and his father was in the diplomatic service, with the result that the Senator was born in New Delhi, India. The family returned to a series of postings in Washington, DC, and so that is where Bennet spent most of his formative years. Though he struggled as a student, eventually being diagnosed with dyslexia, he took a BA in history from Wesleyan University, making him the third generation of the family to attend that school. He then had a brilliant career at Yale Law, where he served as editor in chief of the law journal. After graduation, Bennet was all over the place, doing a wide variety of private- and public-sector jobs. Among the non-political stops on his journey were clerking for the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and working for seven years as director of the Anschutz Investment Company, where he managed to save several billion-dollar companies from going under.

  • Political Experience: Like his father and grandfather, Bennet served in a number of advisory and appointed positions. He was Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration, served as chief of staff to Denver mayor (later Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper, and then had a four-year run as superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Educationally, those four years went pretty well. Financially, not so much, as a bond issue that Bennet lobbied for went poorly and the interest payments ended up being much more expensive than expected. He avoided having to deal with the fallout, however, as he was appointed by then-governor Bill Ritter to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar (who left to become Barack Obama's Secretary of the Interior). In other words, Bennet managed to make it all the way to the United States Senate without his name ever having appeared on a ballot. He did win re-election in his own right in 2010, and was reelected in 2016.

  • Signature Issue(s): Although he and his wife are both noted environmental activists, every Democratic candidate is going to be talking green this year. So, the issue that would be more distinctive is education; Bennet has a fair bit of expertise, and could spend much time lamenting what Betsy DeVos has been doing as Secretary of Education.

  • Instructive Quote: During the clip linked below, and in reference to an immigration bill that got through the Senate but died in the House: "That bill passed the Senate, but it couldn't get a vote in the House, because of the stupidest rule ever created, called the Hastert rule, named after somebody that is IN PRISON!"

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Bennet's brother James runs the op-ed page for the New York Times. One can already imagine what the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world would do with that.

  • Recent News: A few weeks ago, a clip of an emotional Bennet blasting Sen. Ted Cruz (and, more broadly, the GOP) over the government shutdown went viral. More recently, Denver teachers went on strike; some saw that as a product of Bennet's not-so-successful bond initiative.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) He's a shrewd political operator, and no less an expert than Barack Obama described him as a "gifted Democratic politician"; (2) He comes from a swing(ish) state and has mostly centrist positions that will appeal to independents and possibly Midwesterners; and (3) For those who like to break down barriers with their votes, Bennet would be the first Jewish president.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) He is simply not telegenic, and even in the viral clip above, he speaks with an odd cadence and wanders around the Senate floor with his arms crossed; (2) His positions on the issues mean that there's something there for everyone to like, but it also means there's something there for everyone to dislike—for example, he has a C+ from the NRA, which is the kind of grade that leaves partisans on either side of the gun control debate unhappy; and (3) His record is actually pretty thin; in a decade in the Senate, he has sponsored a grand total of one bill that became law ("A bill to revise the Federal charter for the Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc. to reflect a change in eligibility requirements for membership").

  • Is He Actually Running?: He appeared on "Meet the Press" this week and gave the kind of interview, in which he talked about what the Democrats need to do to win in 2020, that aspiring candidates tend to give. He's also going to visit Iowa later this month, presumably not to negotiate a corn-for-Coors trade agreement. In other words, he may not be running yet, but he's definitely thinking about it.

  • Betting Odds: He wasn't on the board before the Cruz missile; after that the books started to give 66-to-1 odds on him, which implies a 1.5% chance of landing the nomination.

  • The Bottom Line: There's probably room for one person in the "centrist white guy from a Western state" lane. If Bennet can fill it, as opposed to his former boss Hickenlooper, or Steve Bullock of Montana, then he's got a shot. But that's a big if.

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
Feb14 Bloomberg Will Spend $500 Million Trying to Defeat Trump in 2020
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