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Political Wire logo Trump’s Talks With Kim Jong-un Collapse
Just a Slice of Cohen’s Story
House Democrats Won’t Bite on Impeachment
Virginia First Lady Handed Cotton to Black Students
GOP Didn’t Defend Trump Against Cohen Accusations
U.S. Drops Demand for Accounting of North Korea Nukes

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  House Votes to Kill Emergency Declaration, 245-182
      •  Cohen Testifies
      •  Background Checks Bill on Deck
      •  Trump Meets with Kim Today
      •  2020 Won't Be 2016 Redux for Democrats
      •  Hogan Clearly Prepping for a 2020 Primary Challenge
      •  Harris Is Out in NC-09
      •  Next Mayor of Chicago Will Be a Black Woman

House Votes to Kill Emergency Declaration, 245-182

Donald Trump has declared that there is a national emergency along the United States' southern border, and begun rerouting already-allocated funds toward wall construction. House Democrats don't agree, and on Tuesday they and 13 of their Republican colleagues voted to cancel the declaration.

The 13 GOP members who joined with their Democratic colleagues include a few who are from purplish districts and are holding Trump at arm's length (Brian Fitzpatrick of PA, Will Hurd of TX, Jaime Herrera Beutler of WA), but they are mostly rock-solid conservatives who agree with the thinking of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI):

A full list of the 13 is here. Of course, 245 votes is well short of the roughly 285 that would be needed to override the inevitable presidential veto. So, barring a significant change in circumstances, this is all just political theater.

The resolution now heads to the Senate, a chamber that did not have much good news for Trump on Tuesday. To start, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced that she will join Susan Collins (R-ME), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and the Democrats in voting against the President's declaration. Assuming no Democratic defections, that means that the measure is now one vote (or abstention) from passage by the Senate. Even more ominously for the President, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters that he's just not sure whether the presidential declaration is legal, noting that, "I haven't reached a total conclusion." McConnell is not Trump, and does not say such things off the cuff. For him to make such a declaration publicly is tantamount to giving his caucus permission to vote as they see fit, and is also a crystal clear warning to the President that bad news is likely coming down the pike.

McConnell has not yet decided when the vote will be held, other than saying it will take place before the next Senate recess on March 18. Since that is after his legally mandated deadline to introduce the measure on the Senate floor, McConnell is hardly making a bold commitment there. Given how many members of his caucus have expressed skepticism about Trump's declaration, it is not impossible that the measure will not only make it through the upper chamber, but will do so with more than 2/3 of the votes. If so, could that persuade roughly 40 members of the GOP House caucus to reconsider? Anything is possible, but many members of the House come from Trump-loving districts and will have to face voters a bit more than a year from now, with Trump himself ostensibly on the ballot. Most of the senators are insulated from that sort of thing, by virtue of representing a whole state and/or not being up in 2020. So, it is very unlikely that House Republicans will have 40 changes of heart. (Z)

Cohen Testifies

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former fixer (who also officially became a former lawyer after his disbarment on Tuesday) sat down for a closed-doors chat with the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first of three consecutive days' testimony before various congressional committees. He reportedly apologized to members for lying to Congress during his previous appearances. Beyond that, not much is yet known about what he said.

It is today that the fireworks will really fly on the Cohen front, as his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee is the only one of the three appearances scheduled for this week that will be public. Politico obtained a copy of Cohen's opening remarks and is claiming that Cohen will tell the Oversight Committee that Trump is a racist, a conman, and a cheat. Specifically, he will tell it that Trump knew about the Wikileaks dump in advance and also that Trump and Donald Trump Jr. briefly discussed the upcoming meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower in July 2016. Cohen is also expected to say that while Trump didn't give him a specific order to lie to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow, he made it clear that lying was expected, much in the style of a mob boss who told an underling: "It's up to you what you tell Congress and by the way, I saw a picture of your baby daughter. Cute kid. I hope nothing happens to her to make her less cute." The link above contains the full text of Cohen's prepared remarks, although, of course, he could deviate from them while actually speaking to the Committee.

Republicans on the Committee are certain to attack Cohen as a known liar and convicted felon. Cohen is aware of this, of course, and has thoughtfully brought along some documents for Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to peruse at his leisure, including:

  • A copy of a check Trump wrote to (partially) reimburse Cohen for paying off Stormy Daniels
  • Copies of financial statements Trump gave to Deutsche Bank in 2011-2013
  • A copy of an article with Trump's handwriting on it about one of his illegal self-dealing schemes
  • Copies of letters Cohen wrote at Trump's direction telling his former schools not to release his transcripts

The Hill has a list of five things to watch for:

  • How much will Cohen actually say?
  • Will Cohen come off as a credible witness?
  • How will Cohen fuel other Democratic investigations?
  • How will Republicans seek to defend Trump?
  • How does Trump react?

Of all the things Cohen might say, it is Trump's advance knowledge of the Wikileaks dump that could be the most damaging. That would come dangerously close to creating a clear chain of conspiracy from Russia to Wikileaks to Stone to the President. One aspect of this story that rarely gets attention, but is actually important, is why the Wikileaks dump mattered at all. So people saw Clinton's emails? What's the big deal? The answer, unpleasant as it may be, is that Roger Stone correctly surmised that when the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) saw that Clinton was real tight with the Democratic establishment (Surprise!) some of them would be so furious that they would vote for Jill Stein or not vote. If they had all reacted by thinking: "She's awful, but Trump is even worse, so I will hold my nose and vote for her" the dump wouldn't have actually had any effect.

One thing The Hill doesn't mention but is worth keeping in mind is whether the Republicans on the Committe actually try to refute Cohen. Saying: "You are a convicted liar so why should we believe you?" is not actually the same as refuting any of the specific allegations Cohen will make. If telling some lies in the past means that nothing you say from now on should be taken seriously, where does that leave Donald Trump, who has more than a few whoppers in his past?

In just a few hours, we will know what juicy stuff Cohen has to share. Whatever happens, it is very likely (to Trump's chagrin) that this will be the lead story across the country on Thursday, as opposed to the summit with Kim Jong-Un (see below). (V & Z)

Background Checks Bill on Deck

There is a new sheriff in town. And like Andy Taylor in Mayberry, this sheriff is no fan of guns. Moving forward with a key item on their agenda, House Democrats will vote today on a measure that would require background checks for all people who purchase guns. Currently, only licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct such checks, which means that at most gun shows—and, in many cases, online—any Tom, Dick, or Jared Lee Loughner can purchase a gun without difficulty.

The bill is expected to pass the House easily, and then to head to the Senate, where it is undoubtedly dead on arrival. Mitch McConnell is not likely to bring it up for a vote, and if he does, there are quite a few GOP Senators (along with some Democrats, like Joe Manchin, WV, and Jon Tester, MT) who either like guns, and/or have lots of constituents who like guns, and/or like the generous donations the NRA makes to their campaigns. Were the bill to somehow make it through the Senate, then—with pigs flying overhead, unicorns dancing in the streets, and global warming having been solved by virtue of hell freezing over—it would head to the White House for a quick veto.

In short, then, this is all a performance in anticipation of the 2020 elections. The last time the Democrats regained control of the House, back in 2007, they were scared witless of aggravating the NRA and/or gun lovers, and so did very little on this issue. Now, following countless mass shootings, it's become a hot-button issue with the base. So, the blue team will go into 2020 having demonstrated that they are willing to take (some) action on the gun control front.

At the same time, this will also force Republican candidates to explain what the problem is with making sure someone is not a psychotic or a convicted felon before selling them a weapon with the capacity to kill dozens or hundreds of people in the span of a few minutes. Those candidates will likely respond with a slippery-slope argument along the lines of, "First it's background checks for everyone, and then the next thing you know, it will be illegal to protect yourself with anything more dangerous than a salad fork." We shall see in 2020 which party gets the better of that discussion. Incidentally, 2018 was the worst year ever for school shootings, and given that the country is averaging one school shooting every 11.8 days since the notorious Parkland shootings, it's possible 2019 will be even worse. (Z)

Trump Meets with Kim Today

Donald Trump will be in Vietnam for two days (or possibly three), as he and Kim Jong-Un hold their second summit. Given the time difference between Vietnam and the United States, the show will get underway at 6:30 a.m. EST.

And make no mistake, a show is all it is. The hard truth is that Trump is in a bad way on the domestic front, between the Democratic-controlled House and all of the various investigations of him and court cases against him, and so foreign affairs may be the only place left where he can score "victories." The problem in Hanoi is that any meaningful progress is inconceivable. Trump is unprepared, doesn't really know what he's doing, and has refused to accept the reality of the situation—that he and Kim have radically different ideas of what "denuclearization" means, and that anything Kim promises is almost certainly a lie. This reality is so clear to everyone else, on both sides of the political aisle, that even Trump's own Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has publicly contradicted the President on the subject.

This being the case, the summit will undoubtedly produce some beautifully staged photo-ops. It will also give us countless tweets from Trump claiming that it was an overwhelming success. There is talk that it might even result in a formal end to the Korean War. That war never formally ended, as the hostile powers never got past the armistice stage. It is also the case that there has been no active combat since 1953, and that the Korean border will remain heavily fortified regardless of what happens this week. So, the "end" of the Korean War, if it does indeed come this week, will be entirely symbolic, and without meaningful substance.

Unhappily for Trump, even the right-leaning media don't appear to be too interested in this story. With just hours to go before the confab, sites like RedState, Hot Air, and the Drudge Report don't have any summit-related stories at all. At the Wall Street Journal, it's the sixth item on the page, below pieces on Michael Cohen, WalMart, and the Brexit. On Breitbart, it's at the bottom of the page, right below a very important story headlined "Transgender Runners Take 1st and 2nd in Connecticut HS Track Championships." On The Blaze, the summit story is also buried deep, right after an item headlined "Feminist icon Gloria Steinem likens anti-abortion conservatives to Adolf Hitler." On Fox News, the only summit-related story reports that Dutch customs officials seized 90,000 bottles of Russian vodka that were apparently meant for Kim.

Presumably, the coverage of the summit will pick up once it's actually underway. Nonetheless, the apparent lack of enthusiasm (also to be found in centrist and left-leaning media) does not bode well for Trump's ability to use his "success" in Hanoi as a distraction from his domestic woes, and in particular from whatever dirt Michael Cohen is going to dish today (see above). (Z)

2020 Won't Be 2016 Redux for Democrats

For a time, it appeared that the blue team might just be looking at a rematch of 2016, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both running. However, after several months of keeping her options pointedly open, Clinton said on Monday that she "can't imagine" running for president again. It's not the full Sherman, but it is a 90% Sherman, give or take a few percentage points. This declaration is also consistent with reports that the Democrats' 2016 nominee is taking meetings with 2020 hopefuls, like Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), who want her endorsement.

Sanders, of course, is running. However, there will also be some pretty big changes for him in 2020. On Tuesday, Mark Longabaugh, Julian Mulvey and Tad Devine—who collectively make up the consulting firm Devine Mulvey Longabaugh (DML)—announced that they would not be part of the Senator's second presidential bid. DML played a central role in Sanders' first campaign, with primary responsibility for his media and messaging strategies. Their exit means one of two things: (1) They are not sanguine about his chances in 2020, and prefer to hitch their horses to a different wagon, or (2) Sanders recognizes that what worked in 2016 isn't going to work in 2020, and he needs to bring in people with a fresh perspective and a different approach. Of course, it could also be both of these things. Whatever the case may be, Sanders 2020 is clearly going to be different from Sanders 2016.

The other news on this front comes from the general direction of the DNC. Channeling Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment of politics, namely "Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican," the party wants all of the leading candidates to sign off on a "non-aggression pact" that commits them, in essence, to not attacking the other Democrats. The guidelines, which are still being discussed, are being written to reflect the realities of modern campaigning—call it Reagan's 11th, v2.0. In 2016, Clinton and Sanders largely did not attack each other directly, beyond a bit of passive aggression. However, neither was particularly proactive about stopping their supporters from firing slings and arrows at the other side, particularly online. The pact that is under discussion would definitely establish expectations for the online conduct of Democratic campaigns, specifically prohibiting fake, racist and sexist memes. It might also establish a specific expectation that candidates rein in followers who do not play by the rules.

Needless to say, since the agreement is a work in progress, there has been no buy-in from any of the candidates so far. However, assuming the kinks can be worked out, there is much wisdom for them in agreeing to it. One of Donald Trump's biggest advantages in 2020 will presumably be the lack of a primary challenger (though see below). If the Democrats spend the next year battering and bruising one another, that works to his advantage. "Even Kamala Harris' fellow Democrats think she is heartless," or "Even Bernie Sanders' fellow Democrats think he's a wild-eyed loose cannon," or "Even Elizabeth Warren's fellow Democrats call her 'Pocahontas'," the GOP commercials will say once the nominee is chosen. The other benefit to the pact—and this has most certainly not escaped the DNC's attention—is that it will make it easier to identify the influence of outsiders who might be trying to sway the election. If a group called, say, Booker for America 2020 starts taking potshots at, say, Beto O'Rourke, it will stick out like a sore thumb and will allow the Party to laser-target their investigation. (Z)

Hogan Clearly Prepping for a 2020 Primary Challenge

Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) is a fairly conventional Republican (as that term was understood circa 2000), has very high approval ratings in his home state (high 60s/low 70s), and won re-election in 2018 by something of a landslide (12 points, despite Maryland being deep blue, and 2018 being a Democratic wave year). In short, if the GOP of George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Dwight D. Eisenhower is to make a return from beyond the grave, he is an excellent candidate to lead that charge. To that end, Hogan is doing the kinds of things that would-be 2020 presidential candidates do, like find excuses to visit New Hampshire, as he very obviously lays the groundwork for a potential primary challenge of Donald Trump. He's also been complaining a fair bit about how the RNC is stacking the deck in order to hand the President renomination.

Needless to say, Hogan is not stupid. He knows as well as anyone that as of this moment, Trump is immune to being primaried. However, he appears to be putting himself out there a bit more aggressively than other would-be GOP challengers like John Kasich and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). One wonders if he might be thinking back to 1991-92. For a long period of time after the successful Persian Gulf War, President Bush (with his high-80s approval rating) appeared to be so unbeatable that it was not only Republicans running for the hills, it was also the leading Democrats, who concluded the smart money was on biding their time until Bush's term was up in 1996. The dynamic was so obvious that Saturday Night Live even did a sketch in which Dick Gephardt, Bill Bradley, Mario Cuomo, Tipper Gore, and Lloyd Bentsen "debated," with each laying out their own personal shortcomings (or their husband's shortcomings) in great detail, and making the case that one of the other folks on stage should really be the sacrificial, nominee.

Of course, we all know what happened back then. Though he had botched his speech at the 1988 Democratic convention, and though he was a relative unknown from a small, Southern state, Bill Clinton was happy to throw his saxophone into the ring. And then, when the economy collapsed and took Bush's approval ratings with it, he was already there in the driver's lane, and Gephardt & Co. were no longer in a position to catch up. It's certainly possible that Hogan is positioning himself to be that guy, albeit on the GOP side, if and when Trump craters due to the Mueller report or any of the other potential disasters that are looming. (Z)

Harris Is Out in NC-09

During the hearings held by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, copious and compelling testimony was given that Republican Mark Harris not only benefited from shady behavior, but that he was aware of the schemes being perpetrated on his behalf, and that he was lying when he claimed otherwise. Harris chose an interesting line of defense, arguing that a series of small strokes had affected his memory. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't, but it certainly didn't impress the Board, which unanimously voted to toss out the results and hold a new election.

The whole sordid affair left Harris irreparably damaged. He barely won the election on the first go-round, and that was with the cheating. If he ran again, he would be saddled with a reputation for corruption and having admitted that his mind may no longer be too sharp. He would also have faced a significant primary challenge, probably against an opponent funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Adding it all up, Harris announced on Tuesday that he's throwing in the towel.

All of this puts Democrat Dan McCready in a fairly strong position, since he has name recognition, a couple million in cash on hand, and probably won't face a primary challenge, while the GOP doesn't even have a candidate yet. That said, NC-09 is fundamentally red (PVI of R+8), and Democrats tend to show up less reliably for special elections than do Republicans. Weighing all these factors, the Cook Political Report has the new election as a toss-up, at the moment. (Z)

Next Mayor of Chicago Will Be a Black Woman

Rahm Emanuel (D) decided not to stand for re-election as mayor of Chicago. And so, on Tuesday, the city's voters headed to the polls to start the process of choosing a replacement. We won't know exactly who it will be until April 2, but we do know that it will be a black woman, as that is the demographic of both of the top two finishers, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle. They won the right to advance to the general election.

The times, then, they are a-changin'. Not only will the eventual victor be Chicago's first black, female mayor, but Lightfoot—if she wins—would also be the city's first openly gay mayor. Further, the duo advanced by dispatching Bill Daley, who is the son of one legendary Chicago mayor and the brother of another. Clearly, that dynasty is dead. Given the size of Chicago, as well as the enormous influence the mayor there exerts over the local Democratic apparatus, Lightfoot or Preckwinkle will have a larger voice in national politics than any other mayor in America (with New York's mayor a close second). So, we will be hearing a fair bit from one or the other of these ladies in 2020. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb26 Congress Prepares for Vote on National Emergency
Feb26 Warren: No Sucking Up to Wealthy Donors for Me
Feb26 Former Klobuchar Staffers Come to Her Defense
Feb26 New York Goes After Trump's Taxes
Feb26 Former Campaign Staffer Sues Trump for Unwanted Kiss, Discrimination
Feb26 White House to Set Up Anti-Climate Change Panel
Feb26 Trump Takes the Oscar Bait
Feb25 Schiff: I Will Have Mueller Testify
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