• The Chess Game Has Begun
• Some States Are Switching from Caucuses to Primaries
• Bernie Sanders Is in a Bit of Hot Water
• Ryan Zinke Is in a Lot of Hot Water
• Jerrold Nadler Introduces a Bill to Protect Mueller
• Brad Sherman Introduces a Bill to Impeach Trump
Editorial note: We have made a start on the 2020 Senate races. Follow the "Click for Senate" link above the 47 - 53 numbers atop the map. Be sure to scroll down to see descriptions of all the 2020 Senate races as they stand at the moment. In addition, below the legend are links to the page for this date in 2016, 2012, and 2008. Finally, the smartphone icon below the legend is now linked to a simple smartphone-friendly version of this page.
It wasn't a big surprise, but Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected speaker of the House of Representatives yesterday. She got 220 votes out of the 430 votes cast. All she needed was 216 and she got it. She knew that some of her members had promised their constituents that they would not vote for her, so she gave 15 of her 235 members permission to vote for someone else or to just vote "present." This is why she has been the Democratic leader of the House for so long (and why the Republicans hate her). She talks to her members and does everything she can to help them with their problems. The 15 members who can now go back to their constituents and say they fulfilled their promise not to vote for her are going to be grateful that she didn't pressure them at all. They are not going to forget her kindness anytime soon.
As part of the deal Pelosi made with her caucus, she will serve at most two terms as speaker and then step down. This will please members who have nothing against her personally, but feel that the top Democrat in Congress shouldn't be someone on the wrong side of 80. And Pelosi may be relieved to put the burden of the speakership on someone else in 2022. She is going to have her hands full trying to please the young leftists who were just elected along with the moderates who won in Trump districts. It won't be an easy job, but if any Democrat is up to it, it is Nancy Pelosi.
If anyone thought she was going to be a meek lapdog and sit when Donald Trump yells "sit," she made it clear that this is not going to be the case. In fact, when she was asked if she considers herself an equal with the president, she said: "the Constitution does." It's going to be a bumpy ride with two people trying to turn the steering wheel of the government jalopy in different directions at the same time (more below). (V)
Nancy Pelosi & Co. made no secret of what they would do the moment they got down to business. And, late Thursday, they followed through, passing a pair of bills that, if also passed by the Senate and signed by Donald Trump, would promptly re-open the federal government. One of the bills would fund most of the shut down parts of the government for the rest of the year. The other would provide funding for the Department of Homeland Security through February, but not for Donald Trump's border wall.
Nothing is going to happen as a result of these bills passing the House, other than the Democrats going on every TV show they can find his weekend in order to throw up their hands and say, "Hey, we've done our part to reopen the government!" Donald Trump has already reiterated that he won't sign the bills, and he dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to the Hill to communicate that to leaders of both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for his part, is being quite passive, and declared Thursday that he has "no particular role" in ending this argument. That's a very strange interpretation of his job description, but there it is.
Trump's countermoves, besides reiterating that no signature is forthcoming, were as follows: First, he appeared in the White House Briefing Room for the first time since he became president. He did not do a briefing, exactly, since those involve questions and answers, and neither he nor White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders likes that. No, the President just railed against the Democrats and for the wall for several minutes, and then stormed out. He also took to Twitter, of course, offering up his fifth or sixth different explanation for what's really going on here:
The Shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential Election. The Democrats know they can’t win based on all of the achievements of “Trump,” so they are going all out on the desperately needed Wall and Border Security - and Presidential Harassment. For them, strictly politics!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2019
It's only 280 characters, but it raises so many questions. Like, for example, what does the President think he's communicating when he puts "Trump" in quotation marks? Is that like the royal "we"? And does he honestly believe that only the Democrats are playing politics here? Similarly, did he forget that he's been running for re-election since approximately his second day in office, which is the whole reason he has to have this wall?
The bad news for the President is that the wall is starting to show cracks. Well, support for the wall is starting to show cracks. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) called for Congress to pass a budget without funding for the wall. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) didn't go that far, but she suggested that the Senate should vote on the Democrats' first bill, and get most of the government re-opened, so as to minimize the pain to federal employees as much as is possible. Gardner represents a state that is getting bluer by the year, and is the only Republican to have won a senatorial or gubernatorial race there since 2006. Collins' home state is also getting bluer, and she drove her opponents into a tizzy with her "yea" for Brett Kavanaugh. Both are up in 2020, and will be among the Democrats' top targets (along with Martha McSally, R-AZ). They cannot afford the extra baggage of an extended shutdown, and know that as things stand, Republicans are going to get the blame. You might say that they really don't want to be Trump's pawns.
There were other Republicans who aren't quite so vulnerable as Gardner and Collins but who nonetheless broke ranks in one way or another. To start, five GOP members of the House joined the Democrats in voting for the funding bills. Meanwhile, quite a few Senators, including Joni Ernst (R-IA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) expressed displeasure with what's going on, while quite a few more are apparently working behind the scenes to light a fire under McConnell. John Cornyn (R-TX), who also happens to be up in 2020, when he might end up facing off against Beto O'Rourke, suggested that there may be a deal to be made, wherein the wall money is given in exchange for amnesty for the dreamers. It is not clear if Cornyn has inside information, or if he was just twisting the President's arm through the press. Probably the latter.
Note also that this little chess game is not limited to Americans. Anyone can play, it seems. Earlier this week, Kim Jong-Un sent a very flattering letter to Donald Trump that promised absolutely nothing, but talked about how eager he is to have another summit. Kim, shrewd operator that he is, knows that the President can use any positive press he can get. And indeed, the Trump administration made a point on Thursday of announcing that they are scouting sites for Summit 2.0. This despite the fact that talks between the two nations are completely stalemated, because of a fundamental disagreement on what denuclearization means (for North Korea, it's all nukes on or near the Korean peninsula; for the U.S., it's only North Korean nukes).
In short, everyone has now made their opening moves, and who knows what comes next? If only Bobby Fischer were still alive, maybe he could tell us. (Z & V)
Caucus, schmaucus. What difference does it make if a state holds a caucus instead of a primary to determine who it will send to the 2020 Democratic National Convention? Actually, the mechanics of how the delegates are chosen may sound like inside baseball, but they are important.
Primaries work like this: You show up, you vote, you go home. Caucuses are different. You show up and then go into a room for your designated candidate. The people in each room discuss their candidate's strengths and then elect a spokesperson. Then everyone comes back to the main room and each of the spokespeople gives a pitch on why their candidate can walk on water, orange juice, and beer. Then there is a vote that determines what fraction of the delegates go to each candidate. Then there is an election for the actual delegates who will go from the precinct caucuses to the county caucuses a few weeks later. At the county caucuses the process is repeated to elect delegates to the congressional district-level caucuses. Then there is another round for the state caucus. There the delegates to the national convention are elected. Democracy in action.
As you may have noted, primaries are simpler. Everyone votes on the same day (or maybe in the week or two leading up to the election), and that's it. Caucuses are a tad more complicated, taking up an entire evening for each of the precinct, country, district, and state levels if you are one of the lucky ones. The consequence is that candidates with a number of very dedicated supporters do disproportionately well in caucus states. In a rural state, where a lot of driving is required to get to the various caucuses, a candidate with 10,000 truly dedicated supporters can pick up a lot of delegates. Especially if it is a small state/territory, or a very red state with relatively few Democrats.
This is precisely what happened in 2016, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) picked up lots of delegates in caucuses in states like Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Alaska, Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, and Idaho, not to mention American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also get to send delegates to the convention. In contrast, in the South, where almost all states hold primaries, he was wiped out.
Now here's the bottom line: Four of the caucus states that Sanders won, namely Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Idaho, are switching to a primary for 2020. The argument against caucuses is that they disenfranchise the elderly, people with disabilities, people afraid to defend their candidate in public, and those whose work schedule doesn't allow them to attend an evening caucus. This change could hurt Sanders and any other candidate who has relatively few, but extremely fervent, supporters who are willing to walk over broken glass barefoot for their candidate. How much of an effect this has remains to be seen, but in a tight race, 100 delegates could make a difference. (V)
Speaking of Bernie Sanders, he's got another problem to worry about that is probably much bigger than caucuses vs. primaries. In the past week or so, several female staffers from his 2016 campaign have come forward and said they were subjected to pervasive sexism, both in terms of being paid less than their male colleagues, and also in terms of being sexually harassed. The story has gotten big enough that the Senator appeared on CNN to address it. Asked by Anderson Cooper if he knew what was happening, Sanders rolled his eyes and replied: "I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case." That is what is known as the wrong answer. Later in the interview, he got closer to the mark, declaring, "I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately and, of course, if I run we will do better next time."
This situation, and in particular this interview, speak to a pair of problems Sanders has, if and when he chooses to run in 2020. The first is that this is the exact wrong time to be weak on this issue, in view of #MeToo and #TimesUp, especially since there are quite a few potential 2020 rivals, like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are going to make equal treatment a centerpiece of their campaigns. It's good that Sanders is taking the issue seriously now, but past lapses, and Thursday's flippant answer, are not helpful.
The second problem is that Sanders has never truly been under the microscope. Hillary Clinton largely handled him with kid gloves, because she knew she could not afford to alienate his supporters. And since he didn't get the nomination, he was never subjected to the Trump/GOP sausage grinder. But the fact is that he's prone to putting his foot in his mouth, as he did with CNN. Further, there's a reason that only five U.S. Senators have been elected to the presidency since 1900, with only two of those having spent more than a decade there, as Sanders has (Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson). The reason is that Senators vote on a lot of bills, and have to make a lot of tricky choices, any of which can come back to bite them in the rear during a presidential run. If Sanders runs again, oppo researchers from both parties are going to go through his past votes with fine-toothed combs, looking for embarrassing ones. To name just one area that might give Sanders a bit of trouble in the primaries: He's from a rural state where gun control is not popular. In the House in 1993, he voted against the Brady bill (which expanded background checks for gun purchases). Count on other Democrats to proudly announce their F- rating from the NRA and compare it to Sanders' record.
The point is that the gap between "plucky challenger" and "serious contender" is much larger than it seems, and the recent harassment revelations certainly aren't going to make it any easier for Sanders to bridge it. (Z)
Bernie Sanders' headaches (see above) are entirely political in nature. Ryan Zinke, who ended his time as Secretary of the Interior on Wednesday, may well have issues that are much more serious. While he was being investigated for two different major ethics violations by inspectors from Interior, they concluded that he was lying to them, and referred the matter to the Justice Dept., so it could figure out whether he broke any laws.
In the end, Zinke may skate on the lying, because it can be hard to prove that someone lied knowingly. Plus, since he's out of office now, the folks in Justice might decide their time is better spent elsewhere. Time will tell. In terms of the two ethics charges, on the other hand, he's in very bad shape. And, in any case, being the target of three different investigations is not exactly the best way to leave political office. (Z)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill yesterday that states that a special counsel (any special counsel, but he probably has one specific one in mind) can be removed only for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause. Further, any attempt by the Justice Dept. to fire a special counsel must be given to the counsel in writing in advance to allow the counsel to challenge the firing in court. There is a good chance that the House will pass the bill. There is zero chance the Senate will even vote on the bill, let alone pass it.
That doesn't make the exercise pointless, though. It sends a message to the public that Democrats want to preserve the integrity of special counsels' investigations and Republicans don't. That's not a position many Republicans want to run on in 2020. (V)
He did it before, and now he has done it again: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) celebrated the start of the new Congressional term on Thursday by introducing a measure to impeach Donald Trump. He said, "I didn't do this as some political move," and insisted that his only goal is to force his colleagues to have a conversation about impeachment, so they are ready for all possible scenarios when the Mueller investigation is complete.
It is hard to understand what Sherman's game is here. The notion that this is not a political move is just as laughable as Donald Trump's pretensions (see above) that his support for the wall is not a political move. As to having a conversation about impeachment, that has consistently been topic of discussion #1 among Democrats since about 10:00 p.m. on November 8, 2016. Our best guess is that Sherman, whose district is D+18, is protecting his flank against a challenge from the left. Whatever the case may be, he's certainly putting individual ahead of party, since his bill isn't going to go anywhere, and it will serve primarily to give Republicans ammunition when they claim that if Trump is impeached, it will be politically motivated, and not because he did anything wrong.
For an example of someone with greater political savvy, we turn—once again—to Nancy Pelosi. Somehow, among being re-elected as Speaker and passing two budget bills, she found time to chat with NBC News. And during that interview, she observed that the question of whether a sitting president can be indicted is "an open discussion." She's right about that; as we've pointed out several times, that "rule" is merely a Justice Dept. policy, and has no Constitutional or statutory basis. Beyond that, however, that remark usefully signals to the base that Pelosi & Co. are going to hold Trump accountable, and it potentially also gets the ball rolling on an approach to Trump that actually may be more fruitful and/or more apropos than impeachment. In other words, she helped her team's cause a lot more, with considerably less damage, than did introducing an impeachment bill. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan03 Trump Goes Easy on Pelosi So Far
Jan03 Trump Attacks Romney: "I Won Big and He Didn't"
Jan03 Five House Chairs Will Drive Trump Nuts
Jan03 Pittenger Won't Run in NC-09 Primary If There Is One
Jan03 Beto vs. Bernie: It's On
Jan03 Thursday Q&A
Jan02 Russians Arrest Alleged U.S. Spy
Jan02 Kim Jong-Un Issues Threats
Jan02 Trump Shoots Down Democrats' Funding Proposal
Jan02 Trump Slams McChrystal
Jan02 Romney Slams Trump
Jan02 The Year Ahead, Part I: Races to Watch
Jan02 The Year Ahead, Part II: Predictions
Jan01 Warren Is In
Jan01 Mattis Is Out
Jan01 House Democrats Have Their Plan in Place
Jan01 Federal Employees Sue
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: The Highs and Lows
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: By the Numbers
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: Twitter
Dec31 Trump Can't Find a Consistent Way to Blame the Democrats for the Shutdown
Dec31 McChrystal Says Trump Is Immoral
Dec31 Kelly Gives an Interview with the Los Angeles Times
Dec31 Pay No Attention to Lindsey Graham
Dec31 The Environmental Impact of the Wall
Dec31 Democrats United against Trump but Split on Everything Else
Dec31 Where Will Trump Be Tonight?
Dec31 Monday Q&A
Dec30 Russians Pressured Manafort while He Led Trump Campaign
Dec30 Trump Keeps Tweeting; That's How the White House Staff Likes It
Dec30 This Is What Fake News Looks Like
Dec30 And This Is What Corruption Looks Like
Dec30 How Will History Remember 2018?
Dec30 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jerry Brown
Dec29 Cell Phone Data Puts Cohen in Prague Despite His Claim He Has Never Been There
Dec29 No Movement on Shutdown, Despite Trump's Pretending Otherwise
Dec29 Trump to Freeze Federal Employees' Pay
Dec29 North Carolina Election Board Is Disbanded before Certifying the NC-09 Election
Dec29 House Republicans Conclude Investigation into FBI's Handling of Clinton E-mails
Dec29 Democrats Will Have $129 Million Extra to Spend on Staff in January
Dec29 Putin Seems to Be Favoring the GRU over the FSB
Dec28 Congress Reconvenes and Nothing Happens
Dec28 Federal Government Advising Its Workers on How to Deal with Creditors
Dec28 Poll: More Blame Trump for Shutdown than Democrats
Dec28 For Trump, Desperation Appears to Be Setting In
Dec28 Two Texas Democrats Are on a Collision Course in 2020
Dec28 How Russian Money Saved Trump
Dec28 MSNBC Tops Fox in the Latest Ratings
Dec27 Trump Finally Visits the Troops