Whitaker Will Return to Clarify Testimony
Biden’s Family Wants Him to Run
White House Sours on Kris Kobach
House Votes to Block Trump’s Emergency Declaration
Sanders Town Hall Finished Third in Ratings
Jones Taunts Roy Moore to Run Again
• Warren: No Sucking Up to Wealthy Donors for Me
• Former Klobuchar Staffers Come to Her Defense
• New York Goes After Trump's Taxes
• Former Campaign Staffer Sues Trump for Unwanted Kiss, Discrimination
• White House to Set Up Anti-Climate Change Panel
• Trump Takes the Oscar Bait
The daily ins and outs of the Trump presidency have been compared to a reality TV show roughly one billion times. As they say, though, "If the shoe fits." This week's episode is on location at the U.S. Capitol building, where today the House will vote to rescind Trump's declaration of a wall-building emergency at the Mexican border.
There is little doubt that the measure will make it through the House with room to spare. As we have pointed out, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would not move forward if she did not have a clear idea that she was going to win. On top of that, the thinking of the House's GOP whips is not "maybe we can win this thing." Instead, it's "how can we scrape together enough 'nay' votes to keep this from being a complete embarrassment for the President?" And perhaps most ominous of all for Trump: While plenty of representatives, including some Republicans, have said they will vote against him, not one has publicly said they will vote for him.
Once the measure passes the House, it will land with a thud on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who surely spent all weekend thinking about how to proceed. In theory, he has 18 days to bring the resolution up for a vote. However, it is hard to see what the benefit would be in waiting. Unlike, say, changing the tax code or gutting Obamacare, this is not a particularly complicated issue, and there aren't specific stakeholders that need to be consulted. Meanwhile, if McConnell takes the full time available to him, then his caucus gets to spend weeks twisting in the wind, and dealing with constant questions about a situation that is lose-lose for them. Either they poke Trump in the eye, or they tacitly endorse the notion that there are no real limits on a president's "emergency" powers, a point of view that the next Democrat to occupy the White House will find helpful. Anyhow, it is likely the Majority Leader will conclude that it is best for the GOP to take their medicine and to get this situation in the rear-view mirror as quickly as is possible, and that he will hold a vote sometime this week.
Whenever the Senate does vote, what will happen? Well, what we said above about the lower chamber—that nobody has committed publicly to taking the President's side—is also true of the upper chamber. Meanwhile, a pair of GOP senators have already come out against the President. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a semi-moderate who is undoubtedly thinking about her tough 2020 reelection campaign, has said she will vote with the Democrats. On Monday, Thom Tillis (R-NC) said that he would, too. Just two more votes, assuming no Democratic defections, and the resolution passes. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Cory Gardner (CO) have not formally announced their plans, but both are strongly leaning toward joining Tillis and Collins. Sen. Mitt Romney (UT) is another very obvious potential eye-poker, as is Sen. Rand Paul (KY), who can hardly keep calling himself a libertarian if he signs off on such an obvious expansion of presidential power. Other Republican senators who are keeping their votes to themselves, but who have criticized Trump's choice to declare a national emergency, include Lamar Alexander (TN), Mike Lee (UT), Rob Portman (OH), Marco Rubio (FL), Ben Sasse (NE), and Pat Toomey (PA). In fact, given the way the winds are blowing, VP Mike Pence will visit the Senate on Tuesday, perhaps in an effort to win this thing, but more likely in an effort to minimize the carnage.
In any event, it will be very interesting to see how the vote turns out today, and how Republicans who decried Barack Obama for overreaching will justify their changes of heart. The general consensus is that the resolution will not pile up a veto-proof majority in either chamber, much less in both of them. However, with so many members playing their cards close to the vest, you never know. (Z)
The Democrats' 2020 presidential field is already very crowded, particularly when it comes to the progressive lane. In an effort to separate herself from the pack on Monday, and to burnish her credentials as a champion of the little guy and of incorruptibility, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent an e-mail to supporters advising that she would no longer hold the sorts of events that are meant to curry favor with fat-cat donors. She writes:
That means no fancy receptions or big money fund-raisers only with people who can write the big checks. It means that wealthy donors won't be able to purchase better seats or one-on-one time with me at our events. And it means I won't be doing 'call time,' which is when candidates take hours to call wealthy donors to ask for their support.
This is pretty heavy on spin. First of all, given her anti-Wall Street and anti-banker and anti-corporate platform, the Senator isn't exactly going to be reeling in big checks by the bushel, no matter what she does. Further, notice that she does not say she won't take the fat cats' money, merely that she won't beg them for it. If she's the nominee, and Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg or George Soros decides to back up the Brinks truck, Warren is not going to say "Scram. Go away."
With that said, in 2020 (and very possibly beyond), it's pretty clear that progressive candidates, and maybe all Democrats, will be expected to follow the path that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) blazed in 2016: Small donations, lots of them, and little or no corporate cash. It used to be that taking big donations from Wall Street, etc. was accepted as a necessary evil, but many Democratic voters now see it as a major strike against a candidate. This could be what ultimately derails Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), for example, since he's had his hand in the Big Pharma cookie jar, among others. Fortunately for the would-be Democratic presidents of the world, the Internet has made it much easier than ever before to collect vast numbers of small donations. Particularly if the candidate appeals to younger voters, since they are more likely to have a PayPal or an Apple Pay or a Venmo account.
In fact, the hot new trend in fundraising (again pioneered by Sanders) is the "Netflix" model, wherein supporters sign up to make a small, recurring donation every month. It's a win-win; the candidate establishes a steady flow of cash, and it's easier on their supporters' monthly budgets than one big donation. Indeed, ActBlue—the online fundraising arm of the Democrats—now offers recurring donations as an option. That means that any member of the blue team who uses that tool (as Elizabeth Warren does) can use the Netflix approach. Take that, Citizens United. (Z)
As a U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) has a lot of former staffers. And on Monday, more than 50 of them published an open letter on the website Medium in which they came to her defense after two weeks of news reports about her bad behavior as a boss and colleague. Here is the full text of the letter, which primarily makes the point that the reporting on Klobuchar has been one-sided and has overlooked the good things the Senator does:
We previously worked for Senator Klobuchar and some of us were among the former staffers contacted by the New York Times and other media outlets to share our experiences about working in her office. Unfortunately, the positive anecdotes and stories we experienced have not been fully reported by the Times and other media. We do not believe these reports adequately describe our thoughts on Amy Klobuchar, many of which we shared with the authors.
Amy would be there for us after a loss in the family or help make an important call instrumental to our careers. She'd celebrate our professional accomplishments and be part of our lives, whether it was dancing at our weddings or visiting us after we brought our newborns home. She was there for us in the hard times, too. And at the office, she pushed us to be better professionals and public servants. We remain grateful for our time in Senator Klobuchar's office and still consider Amy a mentor and friend. Sadly, this was not fully conveyed in the recent news reports.
So, what are we to make of these two different Klobuchars; one who screams and throws binders at underlings, and one who dances at weddings and helps former staffers climb the political ladder? In the end, the two accountings of the Senator's behavior are not mutually exclusive. As anyone familiar with the various forms of abuse knows, habitual abusers are never "on" 100% of the time, and are often quite warm and charming when they are not behaving badly. Further, the careful reader will note that nothing in this letter contradicts what was previously reported; the authors are claiming only that the past two weeks' coverage is incomplete, and not that it's a vicious pack of lies. So while this new information does round things out a bit, it does not appear to change things all that much. (Z)
Last week, the New Jersey legislature began the maneuvering necessary in order to demand Donald Trump's tax returns, should he ever want to appear on a ballot in that state again. Following closely on the Garden State's heels is New York, where Assemblyman David Buchwald's (D) NY TRUTH Act now has 78 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 28 in the Senate. That means that co-sponsor votes alone will allow the measure to pass the lower chamber, and will leave it just four votes short in the upper. Buchwald is confident he's got the votes, and that he will get Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) signature.
Assuming that the bill does become law, then any candidate appearing on a statewide ballot in the Empire State would have to release their tax returns each year that they are in office. It's not clear that New York can apply that standard retroactively, and demand Trump's returns immediately, but it's not impossible. Meanwhile, as we pointed out in the Q&A yesterday, one of Trump's very best arguments for ignoring these proposed state laws is that federal law grants taxpayers privacy, and federal law trumps state law (no pun intended). However, New York would be going after his state taxes, which are not subject to federal law, so there would be no enumerated powers issue here. This would likely leave Trump and his lawyers arguing that the NY TRUTH Act unconstitutionally creates new qualifications for the presidency. That case is considerably weaker, as this analysis points out. So, it could prove to be that the President's Achilles' heel, tax-wise, is his home state. (Z)
Alva Johnson worked on Donald Trump's campaign, apparently serving as an advance person for rallies held in the South. According to a lawsuit she filed on Monday, Johnson was on an RV with a number of other volunteers while Trump was shaking hands, signing autographs, and extending his thanks. Then, per the court filing:
As Defendant Trump spoke, he tightened his grip on Ms. Johnson's hand and leaned towards her. He moved close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin. Ms. Johnson suddenly realized that Defendant Trump was trying to kiss her on the mouth, and attempted to avoid this by turning her head to the right. Defendant Trump kissed her anyway, and the kiss landed on the corner of her mouth.
Johnson says she told several friends and family about the incident shortly after it happened; those folks have already confirmed that the conversations happened. On the other hand, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi allegedly witnessed the attack, but when contacted by reporters on Monday, she said it never happened. Of course, Bondi also famously decided not to pursue fraud charges against Trump University after she received a $25,000 donation from the President's "charity," so she may not be the most trustworthy witness. Karen Giorno, then the director of Florida for Trump, was on the RV and is another possible witness, but she said on Monday that she doesn't remember anything and that she has no comment.
In other words, it's more likely that Johnson is telling the truth than that she is not, but it's not a slam dunk. What is much clearer is this: This is not likely to affect Trump very much politically. It is hard to see how a kiss, unwanted as it may have been, is worse than his openly bragging about his ability to commit sexual assault whenever he wants. Nor is it worse than at least a dozen of the other complaints and/or lawsuits that have been lodged against him. Meanwhile, the pro-Trump forces (i.e., the entirety of Fox News' primetime schedule) will observe that Johnson is after financial damages she claims she is owed due to discriminatory wages, and will dismiss her as a money-grubber. In fact, since Johnson is black, it is dollars to donuts they will compare her derisively to Omarosa Manigault Newman. And so, it's just another day in the life of Teflon Don. (Z)
This White House is, in many ways, no fan of science. And so, it's basically par for the course that the administration is planning to set up a panel of scientists whose task will be to demonstrate that global warming is not real, and that the 99% of scientists who say it is are off their Bunsen burners. Although it might actually be easier to find a scientist who believes in intelligent design over evolution, or who says that the moon landing was faked, or who believes that Albert Einstein was a fraud, the administration will undoubtedly find a few folks with letters after their names who are willing to sell the party line. After all, America's universities churn out thousands of PhDs and MAs each year, and there are always going to be a few black sheep.
This news does raise two questions, however. The first is: What is the point? The people who believe climate change is real aren't going to be persuaded by whatever quack from Upper Southwest Oklahoma State Polytechnic College and Barbers' School the administration comes up with. And the folks who reject climate change have already made clear that their philosophy is "evidence schmevidence." In short, this isn't going to move the needle one bit when it comes to public debate on the issue. It's plausible that these "scientists" are really just going to provide cover for the administration's pro-fossil-fuel and anti-environmental initiatives, except that the administration has been doing those things for two years without blinking. Why would they need cover now?
The second question is: Why is Trump so gung-ho on this issue, which he has clung to longer than just about any beyond tariffs? Is it personal? Is he doing the bidding of his friends Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens and others in the oil business? Is he trying to win back the favor of the Kochs? Is he being manipulated by someone in the administration, like Chief of Staff and fan of oil Mick Mulvaney? Does it have something to do with pushing back against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' Green New Deal? It's hard to say exactly what is going on here, and we may never find out. However, if the goal of Trump 2020 is to win over some moderates and/or some Independents, this is probably not a good way to do it. (Z)
The Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday night. And, as is usual these days, the ceremony featured a number of pointed remarks at the expense of Donald Trump (maybe a tad fewer than usual, since, for the first time in more than three decades, the Academy staged the event without a host). Anyhow, most of the snarky Trump remarks were somewhat veiled, and did not mention him by name. That includes the most notable anti-Trump moment of the night, when filmmaker Spike Lee took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and delivered these remarks:
The word today is "irony." The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History. Her story. 1619. 2019. 400 years.
Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can't see in the morning to can't see at night. My grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha, who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild—she called me Spikie-poo—she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!
Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let's all mobilize. Let's all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.
Again, as far as Trump critiques go, this is pretty mild. In fact, it doesn't actually say anything directly about the President at all, merely that people should gear up for the election. Still, we know full well that the Donald cannot let even the mildest of potshots go, and so he tore into Lee on Twitter on Monday morning:
Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts,etc.) than almost any other Pres!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2019
Trump is clearly demonstrating, once again, that he is not only unable to let things roll off his back, but that he does not understand what is and is not racist. In fact, the only type of person that speech really should have aggravated is anyone who personally took a hand in oppressing black folks, or in massacring Native Americans. Wonder which one of those possibilities hit a nerve with Trump? And as to critiquing Lee's delivery, well...pot, meet kettle.
In any event, the most interesting angle to this story might actually be this: This is the first time in a while that a Trump tweet has made headlines all by itself (as opposed to being a supplementary exhibit in a larger story). When he was new to the White House, it was an open question whether he would be able to keep up the shock and outrage (and his history on reality TV, where things started to get stale and repetitive in year two, suggested he would not). Now we have our answer: He cannot. His tweets barely raise eyebrows anymore, in part because just about everyone has grown numb to them, and in part because he rails about the same half-dozen or so things over and over (Mueller, Iran, MS-13, how great "his" economy is, etc.). And we're still about a year from election season really heating up. If Trump has managed to self-neuter his #1 publicity-generating flamethrower by deploying it too early and too often, then that puts him at a significant disadvantage relative to 2016. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb25 Trump Picks Billionaire GOP Donor for U.N. Ambassador
Feb25 Dozens of Former National Security Officials Denounce Trump's Emergency
Feb25 Pompeo Contradicts Trump on North Korea
Feb25 Harris Announces Her Plan
Feb25 Colorado Is Poised to Join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
Feb25 Bennet Visits Iowa
Feb25 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire
Feb25 Hickenlooper: I'm Not Cut Out to Be a Senator
Feb25 Monday Q&A
Feb22 House Will Vote on National Emergency Resolution Today
Feb22 Stone Gets Rocked
Feb22 California and the Trump Administration Are Basically at War
Feb22 New Jersey May Not Be Far Behind
Feb22 Hillary Clinton, Kingmaker?
Feb22 New Election in NC-09
Feb22 Pompeo Won't Run for Senate
Feb22 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Steve Bullock
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