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Political Wire logo GOP Donors Worried Trump Has No Strategy for 2020
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Former Lawmakers Urge Vote Against Trump Declaration
Ex-Security Officials Oppose Trump Emergency
How Mike Pence Wields Power
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  House Will Vote on National Emergency Resolution Today
      •  Stone Gets Rocked
      •  California and the Trump Administration Are Basically at War
      •  New Jersey May Not Be Far Behind
      •  Hillary Clinton, Kingmaker?
      •  New Election in NC-09
      •  Pompeo Won't Run for Senate
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Steve Bullock

House Will Vote on National Emergency Resolution Today

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spent the day on Thursday whipping her caucus into line behind a resolution that would cancel Donald Trump's national emergency declaration. The vote is scheduled to be held sometime today.

Pelosi would not let the vote move forward if she did not know it will be successful, as it would be very embarrassing for her if the resolution went down to defeat. Further, Democratic voters are so disdainful of Trump in general, and his national emergency declaration/border wall in particular, that for most Democratic representatives, a "nay" vote would be at their peril. They don't want the dual headache of an angry constituency and an angry Speaker. What will be most interesting is to see how the GOP representatives' votes shake out. There are some Republicans who are pretty likely to side with Pelosi, like Rep. Will Hurd (TX) or Rep. John Katko (NY). The rest will have to choose between the short-term pain of poking Trump in the eye and the long-term pain of undermining the legislative branch and also giving future Democratic presidents cover to declare a few "emergencies" of their own.

Once the resolution passes the House, it will land on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He will have a maximum of 18 days to wrestle with the same dilemma as the GOP members in the House. On top of that, he will have to decide how hard he wants to work to get his caucus in line behind whichever unpalatable option he chooses. Actually, it is possible that this is beyond his control. Several Republican senators, such as Susan Collins (ME) have already signaled that they will support the Democrats' resolution. Others, such as Marco Rubio (FL) and John Cornyn (TX), have expressed unhappiness with the President's use of his emergency powers. Further, they all know that the eventual court battle over the declaration is likely to go against Trump. So, there may be several members of McConnell's caucus, maybe even a sizable number of members, who are firm "yea" votes. In any case, the Majority Leader is going to earn his pay this month. (Z)

Stone Gets Rocked

The good news for former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone is that he's not going to be moving to the crowbar motel quite yet. The bad news is that for a while he's going to live the life of a Trappist monk, known for their vows of silence.

Only Stone knows why he felt the need to turn his pending court case into a PR war. Maybe it's instinct, honed over decades of dirty tricks and Nixon-worship. Perhaps he was trying to raise money for his defense. Or he might have been trying to get a new judge. Whatever the case may be, it was very unwise for him to post a picture of Judge Amy Berman Jackson to Instagram, with a crosshairs above her head, and a caption implying that she runs a sham courtroom.

On Thursday, in Jackson's courtroom, Stone learned exactly how unamused the Judge is. She did not care for the original posting, nor for Stone's inability to keep his story straight while testifying, nor for his less-than-heartfelt apology. Although she stopped short of revoking Stone's bail, she did impose a total gag order on him. And Jackson made very clear that she would not look kindly upon any attempt to skirt the rules, specifically forbidding statements on the radio, press releases, media interviews, and any Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat posts about the case. She also said that she better not see any such materials coming from Stone's friends, spokespersons, family members, or "volunteers."

In short, whatever benefit Stone was getting, or was trying to get, by turning this into a highly public dog and pony show is now gone. And if he steps out of line again, he will step into a jail cell soon thereafter. (Z)

California and the Trump Administration Are Basically at War

It's not a secret that the majority of California voters, along with the officeholders they elected, do not much care for Donald Trump. The state has a dozen pending lawsuits against the administration, including taking the lead in this week's attempt to strike down the President's declaration of a national emergency. Meanwhile, Trump's disdain for California is no secret either. In contrast to nearly all recent presidents, he basically never visits the state. And whenever a disaster befalls Californians—like, say, a massive wildfire—his schadenfreude is palpable.

This week, the mutual loathing displayed itself in a couple of high-profile disputes over policy. The first has to do with the fact that California, being large and spread out, would like to connect certain population centers with high-speed trains. The federal government awarded nearly $3.5 billion in grants toward that end. The problem is that California is so large and so spread out (and has such high land values) that it's hard to build such a train in a cost-efficient fashion. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was compelled to admit as much in a speech last week; this led the White House to demand the government's money back. Trump even got into the act via Twitter. He may actually think this will work, and may be trying to calculate what percentage of his wall can be built with the refund. Everyone else knows, however, that California is under no obligation to return the money until 2022, and even then it would only be if they are unable to build any track whatsoever.

The other dispute has to do with car emissions. In brief, the very eco-friendly and very smog-prone California is quite happy about the more aggressive standards imposed by the Obama administration. The not-so-eco-friendly, and very beholden-to-the-petroleum-industry Donald Trump is not so enthusiastic, and has tried to roll those standards back. While California has no direct control over standards in, say, Alabama, the state is able to set rules for cars sold within its borders. On top of that, 13 other states have adopted emissions rules that basically amount to "we'll do whatever California does." And finally, it is tough for auto manufacturers to produce cars to two (or three, or five) sets of rules, so they tend to just adhere to whatever standards are most strict. Consequently, California has quite a bit of indirect power to set national standards. The Trump administration has been pushing back against that, but—not surprisingly—has had no luck in negotiations. And given the enumerated powers clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 8), which empowers states to make whatever laws they wish as long as they do not conflict with federal law, California has the upper hand here.

Will any of this squabbling have an impact on national politics? Maybe. On one hand, Republicans have targeted California with their slings and arrows for many years, so this sort of thing is old hat. On the other hand, the state has clearly emerged as a leader—maybe the leader—of the anti-Trump movement. That could give a little extra boost in 2020 to a strongly anti-Trump candidate from the Golden State. Like, say, Sen. Kamala Harris (D). (Z)

New Jersey May Not Be Far Behind

Politically, California and New Jersey have some very important commonalities. They are both very blue. They both have Democratic trifectas. And they are both home to one of the Democrats' leading 2020 presidential candidates; in New Jersey's case, Sen. Cory Booker (D). So, it makes sense that the Garden State is turning into another battleground for the anti-Trump movement.

On Thursday, the New Jersey state Senate fired a rather large salvo in the President's direction, passing a law that requires candidates who want to appear on the state's presidential ballot to release their tax returns. The legislature passed a nearly identical law in 2017, and is expected to pass this one in short order. Then it becomes a question of what Gov. Phil Murphy (D) decides to do; he's given no indications of his feelings so far.

Assuming the bill (or one like it, in some other state) becomes law, then Donald Trump will have a number of options. He could surrender and release the returns. Clearly this option has been a nonstarter in the past, but between the Democratic House and the possibility of other states passing "show us your taxes" laws, the President could conclude that this fight is lost, and that it's better to take his medicine as far from the election as is possible. Alternatively, the administration could challenge the law in court. However, past jurisprudence has given states pretty wide leeway in this area, and such a challenge would give even more oxygen to "what does he want to hide so very much?" questions. A third option would be to conclude that New Jersey is a lost cause anyhow, such that it doesn't really matter if Trump's name is not on the ballot. From a cold, hard, tactical standpoint, this is correct, but it would be pretty disrespectful to the state's GOP voters. And those folks may not be able to deliver electoral votes, but they do have money to donate. Plus, this approach would also raise "Boy, he really does have something dirty he wants to hide, doesn't he?" questions. In addition, a dozen other states are also run by the Democrats, and they could follow suit. All in all, a bunch of unpleasant options for Team Trump, which is exactly why the New Jersey legislature did what they did. (Z)

Hillary Clinton, Kingmaker?

As long as we are talking about the 2020 presidential race, CNN has an interesting piece about Hillary Clinton. Specifically, they report that at least two of the Democratic candidates, Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) have paid visits to the Clinton estate to kiss the ring and to talk about possible support from Hillary in 2020.

The obvious implication of this story is that she's not going to mount a third run of her own. It's not certain, of course, until we get the Full Sherman directly from her mouth, but it's a pretty good sign. The other implication is that she may nonetheless play a fairly large role in the election. It's true that she's wildly unpopular with many voters, but most of those folks aren't voting Democratic anyhow. Meanwhile, she collected 65 million votes in 2016, has a solid base of very loyal supporters, and still has a vast network of political connections and donors. Insiders say she currently plans to remain on the sidelines until the Democratic nominee is known, but that could change depending on what direction things appear to be headed. (Z)

New Election in NC-09

The newly constituted state elections board in North Carolina spent several days listening to testimony about shady electioneering that might have made Boss Tweed blush if he were alive to hear it. The grand finale came on Thursday, when Republican candidate Mark Harris' own son told the board that his father was well aware of the ballot shenanigans being perpetrated on his behalf.

Clearly sensing which way the wind was blowing, Harris announced that he had thought things over, and concluded that new elections were the best course of action. Just minutes later, the board made it official, with a unanimous 5-0 vote. Harris was trying to save his candidacy with his alleged change of heart, but it may be too late for him. At best, if he were to stand for reelection, it would be as an undemocratic cheater. That's not a good look. On top of that, part of his defense before the board was that he recently suffered two strokes, and that his mind and his memory aren't so sharp anymore. Also not a good look. And finally, because of these serious liabilities, the North Carolina GOP would prefer to move on to a different candidate, and may try to primary him in service of that goal. Add it up, and the new member from NC-09 is most likely to be Democrat Dan McCready, followed by a Republican who is not Mark Harris, followed by Harris. (Z)

Pompeo Won't Run for Senate

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) is retiring at the end of his term, which runs through January 2021. Mitch McConnell and the NRSC would very much like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be the GOP's candidate to replace him. Pompeo considered the offer, but on Thursday he decided that he preferred to stay in his current job, something that would be impossible to do while also mounting a proper Senate campaign.

This is mildly bad news for the GOP, and maybe even worse than that. At the very least, this sets the stage for a brutal primary battle in which much Republican blood and treasure will be spilled. At worst, it opens the door for a run by former secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, who is just popular enough to land the nomination, and just unpopular enough to lose a Senate seat in red, red Kansas. Undoubtedly, a top item on McConnell's to-do list will be to identify and recruit a strong alternative to Pompeo. Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R) and Roger Marshall (R) are among the possibilities, though neither of them is so fearsome as the Secretary, and so neither may be strong enough to forestall a primary challenge. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Steve Bullock

Up this week, another candidate in the "I can reach all wings of the Democratic Party" lane.

Steve Bullock
  • Full Name: Stephen Clark Bullock

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 54

  • Background: A native Montanan, Bullock is the son of parents who were educators. Unlike so many other Democrats this year, he wasn't quarterback of his high school's football team or class president, but he was a very fine student. He took his undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Claremont McKenna and then a law degree from Columbia University. Outside of his elective offices, much of his career has been spent in government jobs that are legal in nature, including stints as chief legal counsel to Montana secretary of state Mike Cooney and deputy to Montana attorney general Joe Mazurek. He also spent several years in private practice in both Washington, D.C., and in Montana.

  • Political Experience: He ran for state AG in 2000 and lost, then returned for a second run in 2008 and won. After one term, he ran for governor in 2012 and won, then won re-election in 2016. All three elections were very close, but all you need is one more vote than the other candidate. Well, unless you're running for president, in which case 3 million less than the other candidate will sometimes get it done. During his time in office, Bullock has been a "pragmatic progressive," taking pretty lefty stands on some issues (LGBT rights, Medicare-for-all, climate change) and more centrist stands on others (taxation, regulation, balanced budgets).

  • Signature Issue(s): Dark money. He talks about the influence of under-the-radar campaign donations more than anyone, with the possible exception of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

  • Instructive Quote: "It's no accident that Montana is the most fiscally prudent state in the nation."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: He's a huge fan of the Clintons. No, not those Clintons, the very-popular-in-Montana rock/pop/country band. He's also a huge foodie, with quite a few restaurants making the list of the 50 best things about Montana that Bullock put together for BuzzFeed a few years ago.

  • Recent News: Bullock made some of the wrong kind of headlines earlier this month when he got into a tiff with New York mayor Bill de Blasio. In short, one-time Bullock staffer Kevin O'Brien was fired for serial sexual harassment, and was able to move on to a job with the mayor because Bullock effectively buried the reason for the termination. Even worse, O'Brien was also fired from his previous job (before working for Bullock) for sexual harassment. So, the Governor badly dropped the ball here, and was compelled to make a public apology.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) He is pro-LGBT rights and pro-choice in a state that went for Donald Trump by 21 points, and yet still has sky-high approval ratings, so clearly he is doing something very right; (2) He will appeal enormously to midwestern and rural voters and might even put some mountain states in play; and (3) If Americans want a unifier and a person who reaches across the aisle after four years of the ultra-divisive Trump, Bullock has as strong a claim on that mantle as any Democrat.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) After years of being strongly pro-gun, he shifted positions pretty dramatically last year, which could make him look opportunistic and flip-floppy; (2) If Montana is in the bag, that's 3 whole EVs down, just 267 to go; and (3) This is not exactly the right time for a Democrat to have a sexual harassment-related black mark on his record.

  • Is He Actually Running?: This week, he made his fifth visit to Iowa in the span of a year. He's also chosen veteran operative Megan Simpson to run his ground game in the Hawkeye State. So, he's thinking seriously about it, at very least.

  • Betting Odds: He's generally getting 50-to-1 odds, which implies a 2% chance of landing the nomination.

  • The Bottom Line: He's an intriguing candidate, but the lack of name recognition is a big problem. If he can overcome that, he has frontrunner potential.

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
Feb21 Sanders Raises $6 Million in One Day
Feb21 CNN: Mueller May Wrap It Up Soon
Feb21 Trump Creates a Corporate-style Campaign Structure for 2020
Feb21 Will Democrats Nominate the Next Guy in Line?
Feb21 Are Coats' Days Numbered?
Feb21 Majority Opposes Emergency Declaration to Build a Wall
Feb21 Polls: Northam Should Stay on as Governor
Feb21 Are Never Trumpers Like the West African Black Rhino?
Feb21 Thursday Q&A
Feb20 Sanders Is In
Feb20 Trump Behind the Scenes, Part I: The Scales of Justice
Feb20 Trump Behind the Scenes, Part II: The Telephone
Feb20 Adventures in Corruption, Part I: Mr. and Mrs. McConnell
Feb20 Adventures in Corruption, Part II: Paul LePage
Feb20 Amy Berman Jackson Is Not Amused
Feb20 Democrats Release List of 2020 House Targets
Feb19 Well, That Didn't Take Long
Feb19 Sanders May Enter the Race Today
Feb19 Biden's "Strength" in Polls May Be an Illusion
Feb19 Elections Board Hears About Shady Behavior in NC-09
Feb19 John James Reportedly the Favorite to Replace Nauert
Feb19 Trump at Odds with SNL Again
Feb19 Stone Shoots Himself in the Foot
Feb18 Schiff: Evidence of Collusion with Russia Is in Plain Sight
Feb18 Republicans Complain about Trump's Emergency
Feb18 Two Witnesses Told Congress that Rosenstein Considered Recording Trump
Feb18 Putin Gets His Wish
Feb18 Nauert Has Been Bairded
Feb18 Wisconsin Will Get More Attention This Time
Feb18 Could a Vegan Bring Home the Bacon in Iowa?
Feb18 Election Board Will Meet Today to Decide NC-09 Race
Feb18 Monday Q&A
Feb16 Houston, We Have an Emergency
Feb16 Trouble for Two Russiagate Figures
Feb16 Weld Prepares a 2020 Run
Feb15 Trump Will Sign Bill, Then Declare National Emergency
Feb15 Barr Confirmed
Feb15 FBI Officials Discussed Removing Trump
Feb15 The Democratic Frontrunners, According to the Trump Campaign
Feb15 Democratic Candidates Work to Tame the California Tiger
Feb15 The Next Justice to Go?
Feb15 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Michael Bennet
Feb14 Bloomberg Will Spend $500 Million Trying to Defeat Trump in 2020
Feb14 Judge Throws the Book at Manafort
Feb14 Klobuchar Raised $1 Million in First 48 Hours
Feb14 Trump's Approval Is Way Up after Government Reopened
Feb14 Cohen Will Testify before Three Congressional Committees
Feb14 McCarthy Blames Freedom Caucus for Loss of House Majority
Feb14 House Democrats Are Planning a Vast Probe of Trump's Russian Connections
Feb14 Nate Silver Says O'Rourke Has the Best Chance--at the Veep Slot