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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Administration Doesn't Quite Know What to Do with Martin Luther King Jr.
      •  Kamala Harris Makes it Official
      •  Biden/Beto 2020?
      •  Reports of RBG's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
      •  Giuliani Tries to Walk Back His Words, Yet Again
      •  Pompeo, Staff Hate One Another
      •  Trump Tell-All Leaks

Trump Administration Doesn't Quite Know What to Do with Martin Luther King Jr.

When Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday rolls around every year, it puts the current iteration of the GOP into something of a pickle. On one hand, he's an icon and an American hero, and his birthday is a federal holiday. On the other hand, most of the modern GOP platform is the polar opposite of what King fought for, particularly when we think about things like educational opportunity, voting rights, and combating discrimination. And that is before we talk about the current administration (and many of its allies), and ongoing efforts to curry favor among those voters whose racial politics belong in a different century. Like, say, the nineteenth.

On Sunday, for example, VP Mike Pence took a shot at appropriating King's legacy. Appearing on Face The Nation, Pence was (naturally) asked about the federal government shutdown, and how the administration's efforts to end the shutdown can be considered good faith when they don't involve talking to the Democrats. The Veep went through some of the usual talking points, and then suggested that the wall is what King would have wanted:

Honestly, you know, the hearts and minds of the American people today are thinking a lot about it being the weekend we are remembering the life and the work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

Pence also proposed that Donald Trump is really like a modern-day MLK, because they both "inspired us to change." He managed to say this with a straight face; you can see for yourself in video of the appearance (the material about King starts around 3:45):

If we really want to compare Trump to a prominent black leader from the 1960s, then maybe one could make a case for Malcolm X. Both were provocative, both had a lot of enemies, both gave lots of public speeches criticizing those enemies, both generally preferred confrontation over compromise. But to compare Trump to King—a man who was a legitimate Christian, abhorred white supremacists, saw little value in direct confrontation, and who preferred passive resistance, patience, and non-violence—is laughable. Certainly, King's son feels that way. On Monday, he blasted Pence for making the comparison:

The Vice President attempted to compare the president to Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder. Martin Luther King Jr. would say: "Love, not hate, will make America great."

Presumably, King's own son has a better sense of the man than an ultraconservative 59-year-old white man from Indiana.

Monday morning, meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to Twitter to see if she could do better than Pence. This is what she came up with:

As noted above, it may not be possible for a member of this administration to honor King without aggravating people. Still, with her somewhat clumsy command of the language, Sanders managed to stick her foot in her mouth. If she had written "devoted his life," or "committed his life," or "dedicated his life," she would still have communicated the sentiment she presumably meant to communicate. However, "gave his life" implies that he willingly died for the movement, in the same way that a soldier "gives his life" for his country. Inasmuch as King was assassinated by a white supremacist, and so most certainly did not die voluntarily or willingly, that verbiage did not sit too well with a lot of people.

Donald Trump, for his part, was apparently ready to proceed as if the holiday doesn't exist. Whether that was a calculated decision, or he legitimately didn't know, or he got confused because every day is a federal holiday these days, nobody seems to know. However, when even the right-wing media began commenting on the lack of a single MLK-related event on Trump's calendar, the President sprung into action. He had his motorcade drive to the MLK Jr. memorial in Washington, hopped out of the limo, put a wreath down, hopped back in, and zoomed off. All taken care of in under two minutes. Here is the video that Trump posted of his visit which, as you can see, lasts 24 seconds:

Needless to say, this faster-than-a-trip-to-McDonald's approach did not go over well, either. Again, it may have been impossible for Trump to commemorate the occasion without being criticized. On the other hand "in and out in 120 seconds" just screams "I did the bare minimum" (or else "bank robbery"). In any event, the day is over now, and Team Trump has 364 days to think about how they will handle it next year. (Z)

Kamala Harris Makes it Official

With Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) having already declared their presidential bids, the "progressive female Trump-hating member of Congress" lane is getting crowded. And so, it was very probable that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who has a very similar pitch, would enter the race sooner rather than later. On Monday, she made it official, with an appearance on "Good Morning America" and a video posted to her Twitter feed:

Actually, if we want to be technical, she made it semi-official. The formal kickoff for her campaign comes next Sunday in her hometown of Oakland.

We profiled Harris back in September; you can read that for a fuller biography and commentary on her presidential hopes. However, the central fact of her campaign will be that she was a long-time prosecutor who sent quite a few people to the crowbar hotel. On one hand, that should appeal to centrists and "law and order" types. On the other hand, it's pretty far out of step with a lot of progressive activism right now, particularly Black Lives Matter. According to half a dozen Harris confidants who talked to Politico, she is going to try to massage that by presenting herself as a "progressive" prosecutor who put some very bad people away, but who also showed compassion to those who deserved it. That's a very fine line to walk, especially with a Democratic field that is so crowded. On the other hand, the only other native Californian to become president managed to sell himself to both racial moderates and white supremacists, and to both "end the Vietnam War" and "expand the Vietnam war" voters. So, stranger things have happened.

Harris' strength in the Democratic primary (an ethnic minority and child of immigrants) might turn out to be her weakness in the general election, though. The working-class white men of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, and environs made it clear in 2016 that they were not interested in a white woman, even a very experienced one. Might a less-experienced black woman be the key to their votes? That point might just come up between now and Election Day 2020. (Z)

Biden/Beto 2020?

This comes from the New York Post, so take it with a handful of salt. However, they report that Joe Biden, if he runs, is thinking that he would very much like Beto O'Rourke as his running mate. The article does not make clear if they would be a package deal from the outset, or if O'Rourke would merely be Biden's preferred running mate if and when the former VP lands the nomination.

On one hand, this is an intriguing pairing, with Biden appealing to the Democratic establishment, to Eastern coastal types, to working-class voters, and to white ethnics, while O'Rourke would presumably connect with young voters, progressives, Southerners, and maybe Latinos—at least as much as an Irishman can. On the other hand, neither of them is actually a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, and they are both male and white. Among the seven or eight major Democratic candidates who have already declared or formed exploratory committees, six are from the progressive wing of the party, five are people of color, and four are women. So, it's hard to believe a white guy-white guy ticket will get it done.

Meanwhile, we answered a question recently about Democrats running as a team, and interpreted the inquiry to mean two or three or four candidates running as a sort of "executive committee" that would split up presidential functions. It would appear we misunderstood the question, and were actually being asked about pairs of Democrats forming tickets early in the process (like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Carly Fiorina did in 2016) in an effort to get a leg up on the competition. It's possible, but very unlikely. Generally, when aspiring presidents try this, it tends to come off as presumptuous, and is generally a turn-off for voters. Certainly, that's what happened with Cruz/Fiorina (whose campaigns were, admittedly, on life support by then, anyhow).

On top of that, and as we have pointed out before, nobody particularly wants to accept the bucket of warm piss until they're 100% sure they can't claim the big prize. Further, for whomever gets the nod, there are major benefits to waiting. They can pick a running mate that fits whatever area of need presents itself during the campaign, whether they are weak with women voters, or Southerners, or free traders, or young people, or whomever. And the announcement of the VP is a big PR boost for a few days (often timed to happen right before, or during, the other party's convention). Add it all up, and we think it is unlikely that any duo will get an early start on forming a Democratic ticket, even with a crowded field. (Z)

Reports of RBG's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Fox News had an embarrassing gaffe on Monday, as they briefly aired this graphic during "Fox & Friends":

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2019

She's not dead, of course. In fairness to Fox, because the 24-hour news cycle does not afford enough time to put together a proper obituary, it is customary to prepare the majority of the necessary material in advance. Many prominent people who are still walking the Earth, particularly those whose time may be running short, have already been memorialized. The New York Times, for example, has around 2,000 pre-written obits at any given time, a practice that occasionally results in a dead person's obit carrying the byline of someone who actually expired before they did (for example, the paper's obit of Elizabeth Taylor, who died in 2011, was written by Michael T. Kaufman, who died in 2010). Still, it would have been less embarrassing for Fox if some random person's death graphic—say, Kirk Douglas, or Prince Philip, or Chuck Yeager—had run, as opposed to the graphic for someone whose actual passing will likely trigger a party in the Fox newsroom.

In any case, we mention this primarily because it allows us to talk a bit more about what happens if Ginsburg does not pass, but is also unable to perform the duties of her office. There have certainly been justices who, once they realized they could no longer answer the bell (or, more accurately, the oyez), threw in the towel, even if the president did not share their politics. The most notable recent example is civil rights icon and liberal lion Thurgood Marshall, whose sudden decline and retirement during the George H. W. Bush presidency paved the way for the very different Clarence Thomas to assume Marshall's seat. However, given the manner in which the appointment of justices has evolved, the current 5-4 conservative balance of the court, and Ginsburg's personality, she is not likely to resign while Donald Trump is in office, regardless of how poor her health gets.

If Ginsburg is clearly unable to do her job, is there anything that anyone can do? The answer is: No. The only "remedy," such as it is, would be to impeach Ginsburg. Such an action would run up against at least four major obstacles. The first is that all impeachments begin in the House. If you think speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would bring up a resolution to impeach Ginsburg for a vote, you clearly have been smoking something that is now legal in her state and inhaling it. The second is that it would take at least 14 Democratic senators to convict her if it ever got to a trial, and there is no way Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could get that many votes from the blue team. The third is that being sick/incapable is not a high crime or a misdemeanor, and is certainly not bribery or treason. The fourth is precedent; the Supreme Court has a long history of dubious judges who were allowed to keep their jobs until they voluntarily quit or died. For example:

  • Roger Taney authored the worst decision in SCOTUS history (Dred Scott), and also engaged in highly improper political negotiations with President James Buchanan related to the decision. That didn't affect his job status one bit, though, nor did the fact that in his final years he was so infirm he could barely walk or write. He stayed on the bench until he died at the age of 87, in a time when being 87 was like being 100 today.

  • James Clark McReynolds was, as we've noted previously, a racist, a sexist, and an anti-Semite who refused to sit for photos with his Jewish colleagues. He was also lazy, often spending only a few hours writing opinions when other justices would spend days or weeks. That was when he could be bothered to show up for work; quite often he cut out to go fishing or hunting.

  • Alfred Moore served on the Court for nearly four years (1800-04), and managed to produce one five-paragraph opinion in that entire time. Similarly, there was Thomas Todd, who served five times as long (1807-26), and managed to produce only 14 opinions.

  • Nathan Clifford needed the paycheck, and so he remained on the court well into his seventies, and after a severe stroke. His capacity was so reduced in his final years that his SCOTUS colleagues referred to him as the "babbling idiot."

  • William O. Douglas also suffered a severe stroke, and was so dysfunctional that his colleagues agreed that they would postpone any case where he was the deciding vote.

  • Frank Murphy spent the last several years of his decade-long tenure going in and out of hospitals. During this time, his clerks and/or his friend Wiley Blount Rutledge wrote most of the opinions that bore Murphy's name. There's also considerable evidence that he became an opioid addict from all the painkillers he was prescribed.

  • William Rehnquist also spent part (and possibly most) of his term with a drug dependency; in his case it was sedatives that sometimes caused him to hallucinate. One can only hope he wasn't hallucinating when he voted to award the presidency to George W. Bush.

There have been proposals meant to solve this problem, including term limits, mandatory retirement ages, and a panel of former federal judges that would have the power to remove incapacitated justices. None of them went anywhere, which means Ginsburg will stay on the Court until she leaves her job voluntarily, leaves this plane of existence non-voluntarily, or gets in the habit of committing high crimes and misdemeanors. (Z)

Giuliani Tries to Walk Back His Words, Yet Again

There is an old joke about lawyers, which we have related before, that asks: "How do you know when a lawyer is lying?" The punchline, of course, is: "His lips are moving." There are quite a number of people in Donald Trump's orbit who barely make headlines anymore for this reason, namely that pretty much everything that comes out of their mouths is a lie. Actually, it's worse than that: Not only do they lie, but then they deny they said anything, or claim to have been misinterpreted, or give whatever other excuse the next day. Kellyanne Conway is in that group of folks, and so are Katrina Pierson, and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ted Cruz, and even Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It's probably not a coincidence that more than half these folks have law degrees.

Rudy Giuliani is dangerously close to getting his membership card in that club. Like Sanders, he is a major Trump spokesperson, so it's awfully hard to just ignore him. On the other hand, nothing that he says is ever allowed to stand; he's constantly denying, or revising, or claiming that everyone misunderstood him. Maybe this is by design, maybe it's because the cheese is slipping off the cracker, maybe it's for some other reason. But in any case, it's getting to the point that listening to him, much less writing or talking about what he said, is becoming a waste of time.

The latest example is the former mayor's remarks on Trump Tower Moscow, which are now on version 5.0 or so, with an update to v6.0 sure to come in the next day or two. On Monday, Giuliani offered the latest to CNN:

My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow "project" were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the President. My comments did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions. The point is that the proposal was in the earliest stage and did not advance beyond a free non-binding letter of intent.

In other words, "When I went on TV to talk about this subject, everything I said was completely made up by me, and had no basis in fact whatsoever." It seems very improbable that Giuliani would never have discussed this with Trump. It's also very odd that on something as major as this, Team Trump still doesn't have their story down. In any case, if Giuliani's remarks to CNN on Monday are truthful, then it means he's willing to go on TV, pull something out of his Big Apple, and present that as a factual answer. And if his remarks are not truthful, then he is a liar. Either way, it leads back to the conclusion that he's really not worth listening to anymore. (Z)

Pompeo, Staff Hate One Another

In theory, the main job of the State Department is to avoid wars with other countries. At the moment, despite being understaffed and largely unpaid, they are doing a good job of it. On the other hand, they haven't been able to avoid an internecine war between Secretary Mike Pompeo and his subordinates.

The problems at State date back to the beginning of Donald Trump's presidency. The President's general disdain for diplomacy and international organizations like NATO and the UN have not exactly done wonders for morale. Nor has his failure to fill key posts—the Donald just passed the halfway mark of his first term, and there are still no permanent ambassadors in Egypt, Jordan, Ireland, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chile, Iraq, Malta, or South Africa, among others; a sizable number of undersecretaryships are also unfilled. And then there was the appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary; the former corporate CEO did not really have the résumé to justify that hiring decision, and his close-to-the-vest management style was not well suited to a federal agency.

So, when Tillerson left last year, the situation was already bad. The choice of Pompeo as his replacement only made things worse, as the Secretary also has a résumé that does not justify the appointment. Further, he shares Trump's isolationism and low regard for the federal bureaucracy and the diplomatic corps. In fact, as a leading tea partier, Pompeo might be even more committed to those viewpoints than the President.

The shutdown has brought things to a boil. A great many State Dept. employees are deemed essential, and most of them aren't getting paid. Pompeo, on the other hand, is still drawing a paycheck, and even got a $10,000 raise. That incongruity is pretty grating. On top of that, he's either been thoughtless or deliberately callous towards his underlings, depending on whose interpretation you believe. For example, Pompeo had to travel abroad recently, and he took his wife along with him. That means extra lodging, extra security, extra everything for a non-essential person at a time when the essential people aren't being paid. To take another example, the Secretary insisted on going forward with an after-hours meeting/training session, which put additional work above and beyond the regular duties of staffers who are, once again, not being paid right now.

The upshot is that the poor morale of the Tillerson-led department has managed to sink even lower. As one staffer put it: "Unfortunately, the kind of cynical predictions at the outset have proven themselves to be not necessarily cynical but to be perceptive and accurate. Where Tillerson just eschewed the expertise of the building, Pompeo acts like he cares but doesn't actually listen to people or care to." Another predicted mass departures, opining that, "There was damage enough over the last two years. I feel like this was the last straw for a lot of people."

As it turns out, Pompeo might not be long for the Department, either. Maybe he doesn't like the work, or his relationship with Trump isn't as good as it seems. Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side, or he suspects this job might last two more years (at best), or he's tired of eating so much kimchee. In any case, the Secretary is giving serious consideration to running for the Senate seat that Pat Roberts (R-KS) is planning to vacate in 2020. Mitch McConnell is very enthusiastic about the idea, and is twisting Pompeo's arm in an effort to get him to throw his hat into the ring. If he does leave, Trump is going to have a heck of a time finding a third person to take on that job, given the circumstances. (Z)

Trump Tell-All Leaks

Cliff Sims is a former aide in the Trump White House, one whose service lasted roughly 500 days. He's not a well-known name, and by all evidences he was a backbiter and a pretty lousy employee who alienated virtually all of his colleagues and who failed in several attempts to get a security clearance. The one thing he has going for him, though, is that he's willing to spill his guts for a price. So, he reportedly got a seven-figure advance for a tell-all entitled Team of Vipers (a not-so-clever play on Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about the Lincoln administration).

The Guardian (UK) has laid hands on a copy of the book, and was not overly impressed. In essence, and consistent with Sims' reputation, it's a collection of gossip about, and potshots at, his many enemies in the White House. Coming in for particular scorn and derision are former chief of staff John Kelly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, and former advisor Steve Bannon. The only people that Sims apparently liked (or, at least, that he had nothing bad to say about) are Hope Hicks and the Kushners. In the end, the book is essentially a collection of things that everyone already knew or suspected: Sanders is a mediocre liar, Conway badmouths all of her colleagues behind their backs (especially when speaking to the President), Steve Bannon might not be sane, and the Trump White House is a miserable place to work. The Guardian's reviewer predicts that the book will sell some copies to people who crave some anti-Trump porn, but that publisher Thomas Dunne Books isn't going to earn their seven-figure advance back. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan21 Giuliani Defends Trump, Attacks BuzzFeed
Jan21 Trump Fails to Drive a Wedge Between Schumer and Pelosi
Jan21 The "I'm Sorry" Primary Is Beginning
Jan21 Democrats Need to Focus on Midsize Cities
Jan21 Initial House ratings
Jan21 Trump's Base May Be Starting to Erode Slightly
Jan21 Monday Q&A
Jan20 Trump Makes an Offer That Everyone Can Refuse
Jan20 Women March Nationwide, But in Smaller Numbers Than in 2017 and 2018
Jan19 Cohen Soap Opera Takes Some Twists and Turns
Jan19 Trump to Speak to the Nation Today
Jan19 Pelosi Says Trump Put Her in Danger
Jan19 Second Trump-Kim Summit Is On
Jan19 President Hogan?
Jan18 Tit, Meet Tat
Jan18 Cohen Plot Thickens
Jan18 Trump Surprised by Barr-Mueller Friendship
Jan18 Giuliani Tries to Walk Back Collusion Remarks
Jan18 Rep. Tom Marino Resigns
Jan18 Schumer Recruits Gallego for Arizona Senate Race
Jan18 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jay Inslee
Jan17 Pelosi Asks Trump to Delay the State of the Union Address
Jan17 Nancy Pelosi Knows How Politics Works
Jan17 Schiff Hires Seven New Staffers to Investigate Trump's Connections to Russia
Jan17 Giuliani: Ok, Maybe There Was Collusion
Jan17 Money Isn't Everything
Jan17 Why the Shutdown Won't End Anytime Soon
Jan17 Majority of Americans Are Fine with a Marginal Tax Rate of 70%
Jan17 Thursday Q&A
Jan16 Barr Walks a Fine Line
Jan16 A Day of Shutdown Theater from Trump
Jan16 Mueller Filing Confirms Kilimnik Connection
Jan16 Gillibrand Makes It Official
Jan16 Gabbard Has Anti-LGBTQ Skeletons in Her Closet
Jan16 House Vaguely Rebukes King
Jan16 Brexit, May Both in Trouble
Jan15 Polling Continues to Be Grim for Trump
Jan15 Engineering 101: Why a Wall Is a Bad Idea
Jan15 GoFundMe Campaign for Wall Falls Apart
Jan15 Congressional Republicans Strip King of Committee Assignments; Some Demand His Resignation
Jan15 Abrams Exploring Senate Bid
Jan15 TV Ads No Longer a Priority for Priorities USA
Jan14 Americans Blame Trump for the Government Shutdown
Jan14 Barr's Confirmation Hearing Will Be All about Mueller
Jan14 Why Manafort's Polling Data is a Big Deal
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part I: Trump Hid What He Said to Putin from U.S. Officials
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part II: FBI Suspected Trump Might Be Working For Russians
Jan14 Giuliani Thinks Mueller's Report Will Be Horrific, But Has a Plan
Jan14 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1...Liftoff
Jan14 Monday Q&A