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Political Wire logo Trump Will Postpone State of the Union Speech
Pompeo Discourages Speculation on Senate Bid
Ex-Homeland Security Chiefs Issue Warning on Shutdown
Watching Kellyanne Conway Leak to the Media
Trump Thought Pelosi Was Bluffing
Kushner Thrusts Himself Into Shutdown Debate

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senate to Perform Some Bipartisan Kabuki
      •  Giuliani Is in the Doghouse
      •  SCOTUS Gives Trump a Win and a Loss
      •  Judge Refuses to Make Ruling in NC-09
      •  Small Donors Are Playing a Big Role in Campaigns These Days
      •  Senate Could Change Confirmation Rules
      •  Trump Loses Weight on the Photoshop Diet

Senate to Perform Some Bipartisan Kabuki

Tuesday afternoon, news came out of the Senate that a bipartisan deal on the shutdown had been reached. For a very short while, it appeared that there might just be a light at the end of the tunnel. However, it turns out that the deal that has been reached is just for show.

The plan is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will hold two shutdown-related votes on Thursday. One will be on the proposal that Donald Trump offered up in his weekend speech, which includes his $5.7 billion in wall money and a three-year amnesty for the dreamers. The other will be on the package of bills that the House has already passed, which would reopen the government but would not fund the wall. There is no chance that either of the measures can reach the 60-vote threshold needed to kill a filibuster and move them forward. In fact, it's unlikely that either measure can make it to 50 votes, since Republicans aren't going to vote for the House Democrats' bills, and immigration hawks and Democrats aren't going to vote for Trump's proposal. And even if one option or the other does, by some miracle, get 60 votes, they are still DOA. Trump is not going to sign off on the Democratic bills, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) isn't going to bring Trump's proposal up for a vote in the House, much less pass it.

The real question here is: For whose benefit is this performance being staged? There would appear to be two possibilities. The first is that it's for the benefit of voters in states like Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Arizona, who are all going to be voting on Senate seats that are at risk of flipping in 2020. This could be giving cover to Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Martha McSally (R-AZ), so they can claim that the shutdown wasn't their fault, and they tried their best to move things forward. The other possibility is that this is for Donald Trump's benefit, to send him the message that time's running out for him to take the lead in breaking the stalemate. It could be either or both of these.

Meanwhile, the pressure is growing on the various dramatis personae. In poll after poll, Donald Trump keeps getting bad news. The latest is The Hill-HarrisX poll. Their numbers show that Republicans are growing more confident in blaming Democrats for the shutdown, and Democrats are growing more confident in blaming Republicans. That's not surprising, and is exactly what we would expect. The bad news for the President is in the Independent column, where, since December 30, 7% of folks have gone from blaming both sides to solely blaming Trump and the GOP for the shutdown. That means that 46% of independents now point the finger at the White House and the GOP, 35% at both sides, and only 17% solely at the Democrats. Among the voting public as a whole, given the shift among independents and the fact that there are more Democrats than Republicans, 49% of voters solely blame Trump/the GOP, 24% blame both sides, and 26% solely blame the Democrats. Put another way, about three-quarters of voters assign at least part of the blame to the red team, and voters are twice as likely to point the finger solely at Trump and the Republicans than solely at the Democrats.

There's also a bit of pressure on Pelosi, as some of the centrist members of her caucus are leaning on her to try to break the impasse, and are specifically suggesting that she promise to bring Trump's wall up for a vote in the House once the government is reopened. This only represents a little bit of pressure on the Speaker, though. The House Democrats are still holding firm, and even if she grants the centrists' request, agreeing to hold a vote about the wall is not remotely close to actually passing a bill paying for the wall.

Indeed, the greater pressure on Pelosi is coming from the things that affect both sides negatively. For example, the situation at the TSA is getting dire, as the number of "sick" staffers has reached 10% daily, with the result that some airports are grossly understaffed. Meanwhile, the federal courts are running out of money, with the coffers expected to be completely empty sometime in the next week or two. At that point, it will be very difficult for them to function, as many of their expenses involve private entities that cannot be ordered to work and/or provide goods without pay. In the end, the situation in the courts and the airports is much more likely to push this thing toward a resolution than the show votes the Senate is going to hold on Thursday. (Z)

Giuliani Is in the Doghouse

Donald Trump's TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, keeps going on TV and (apparently) admitting to far more than he's supposed to admit to. In the last few days, America's former mayor conceded that maybe there was collusion between members of the Trump campaign (Paul Manafort) and Russia, acknowledged that negotiations over Trump Tower Moscow lingered deep into the 2016 campaign, and then tried to walk back all of it. Reportedly, Giuliani's loose lips have infuriated Trump, such that Rudy might be a short-timer.

If the man pulling the strings here was a more shrewd political operator than Donald Trump—say, Bill Clinton, or Dick Cheney, or Lee Atwater—then it's at least possible that this whole sequence of events was performed for the benefit of the public, with an eye toward muddying the waters. However, Trump is not that skilled a chess player, and Giuliani is not that good an actor. That leaves us with only one plausible explanation, namely that Giuliani really did reveal information he wasn't supposed to reveal, that he got snapped back for doing it, and that his post hoc rewriting of the record (e.g., "I never actually talked to the President; I was just speculating") was not truthful. The conclusion is also consistent with Giuliani's trying to play both sides of the street (e.g., "I'm not saying that Trump was negotiating over Trump Tower Moscow until deep in the campaign, but even if he was, it's no big deal!").

What this means, then, is that we have to operate with the understanding that Giuliani has confirmed Manafort's sharing of polling data with the Russians, and that the Trump's Organization's negotiations for Trump Tower Moscow went on far longer than it first seemed, that Trump & Co. lied when they claimed otherwise. It also means that Giuliani is probably an endangered species. As we've noted before, Trump's TV lawyers tend to last about 10 months, and Rudy is about three weeks short of that mark. (Z)

SCOTUS Gives Trump a Win and a Loss

Although most of the federal courts are running out of cash (see above), the Supreme Court is still humming along. On Tuesday, it made a couple of decisions about White House policies. First, the justices denied Solicitor General Noel Francisco's request, and will not get involved in the ongoing lawsuits over DACA until the lower courts have their say. That makes it extremely unlikely that SCOTUS will consider the matter this year. That will leave it up to the lower courts, or to the Congress, and in neither place is Trump going to get the audience he wants. It's possible the matter could reach the Supreme Court next year, but it's not clear that would be to Trump's benefit at the height of the 2020 campaign. And even then, it would take years to actually take action against the dreamers, by which time there could well be a new administration.

So, that's a setback on the DACA front. On the transgender soldiers front, on the other hand, Trump got some news that will make him happy. The Court stayed two injunctions that were blocking the Pentagon from implementing the President's anti-transgender policy. There is still one injunction in effect, from the famously liberal United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. However, Supreme Court watchers suspect that the Ninth Circuit will take Tuesday's ruling as a strong suggestion that they should lift their injunction, as well. And even if the Ninth doesn't see it that way, Tuesday's ruling suggests the administration will have a majority when they appeal to the Supreme Court. In short, it's not likely the President will get his way on DACA anytime soon (or ever, most likely), but he probably will get what he wants when it comes to transgender soldiers, perhaps even by the end of the year. (Z)

Judge Refuses to Make Ruling in NC-09

The North Carolina GOP would very much like to seat Mark Harris, who won the congressional seat representing NC-09 by 905 votes, but who may have done so thanks to illegal shenanigans. The Republicans' best hope was to get a state judge to certify Harris' victory, since that would theoretically end the investigation of the election, and would make it harder for the House to refuse to seat Harris. Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway wasn't having it, however. On Tuesday, he ruled that, "Certification is not appropriate until the investigation is concluded."

With the judge staying out of it, that leaves the decision in the hands of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which does not currently exist. The old board, which refused to certify the result, was deemed to be unconstitutional and was disbanded. The new board will not be formed until January 31. At some point thereafter, they will render their decision, which is likely to be that the election was null and void. Even if they do not reach that conclusion, House Democrats are likely to reject Harris' credentials. So, the Judge's ruling on Tuesday made it overwhelmingly likely that NC-09 is going to have to hold a new election. (Z)

Small Donors Are Playing a Big Role in Campaigns These Days

A fair number of the fat-cat donors that have spent decades writing big checks to the political parties are nearing their exits from the political stage. The 85-year-old Sheldon Adelson, for example, or the 88-year-old George Soros, or the 73-year-old (and in poor health) David Koch. It's not entirely clear that there's a new generation of billionaires ready to take their places (particularly on the GOP side). On the other hand, politicians—undoubtedly inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in particular—have really awakened to the power of large numbers of small donations. It takes longer to build the foundation of a small-donor network, but long-term it can be more lucrative, while offering better political optics, and leaving the recipient less beholden to corporations and billionaires (who just might not have the best interests of the country in mind).

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) just provided a useful object lesson in this style of fundraising. She's been plotting her presidential run since approximately one minute after Loretta Sanchez conceded their 2016 U.S. Senate race. Harris is, and always has been, keenly aware of the value of a large, grassroots funding network. On Monday, after she semi-officially threw her hat into the 2020 ring, one of the first things she did was shake the money tree. And the money tree responded, to the tune of a staggering $1.5 million in the first 24 hours. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of a modern presidential campaign (around $1 billion), but it's very impressive for a single day, more than 600 days before the actual election. Further, the average donation was $37, so she can return to those same folks again and again.

The Republicans, who tend to have more fat-cat donors than the Democrats, were a little slower to appreciate the value of lots and lots of small donors. However, they have started to catch on. In an attempt to copy the Democrats' ActBlue, which collected $700 million in small donations during the 2018 campaign, the Republicans officially established an equivalent on Tuesday that they call Patriot Pass. One wonders if they were influenced by this weekend's AFC Championship game in choosing that moniker. In any case, this development (which we've talked about previously) has been in the works for a while, and now its time has arrived. It will take a while for the GOP to catch up to the Democrats, since ActBlue has been operating (and figuring out, and overcoming, various pitfalls) since 2004. Still, it's looking like Citizens United could well be neutralized by technology and the Internet, without Congress having to get involved at all. (Z)

Senate Could Change Confirmation Rules

Now that he faces a Democratic-controlled House, Mitch McConnell could dust off his compromise skills, and try to find common ground with Nancy Pelosi. However, that's not really his style. The alternative is that he could focus on the things that the Senate can do without House input, most obviously approve Donald Trump's appointees (especially right-wing judges). It thus comes as no surprise that the Senate is strongly considering a change to the rules meant to ease the approval process.

It is already the case that most nominees cannot be filibustered. However, Senate Democrats have been availing themselves of the one tool they have left, namely insisting on 30 hours of floor debate on each nominee. This does not stop very many appointments, if any, but it does drag the process out. That is what McConnell & Co. want to change, reducing that 30 hours to something like 6 or 8 hours. It takes only 51 votes to change Senate rules, and thus to invoke the latest "nuclear option," so the only thing that is giving Senate Republicans pause is the recognition that they will be in the minority one day, and that Democrats will then be able to ram through their nominees at a blistering pace. That said, the whole process has been so thoroughly transformed from what it used to be, this change is inevitable, sooner or later. Presumably, McConnell will reach this same conclusion, and will pull the trigger in the next week or two. (Z)

Trump Loses Weight on the Photoshop Diet

Donald Trump is unquestionably overweight. Given his love of fast food and his disdain for exercise, the normal solutions to that problem are not available to him. So, he's got a bag of tricks to create the illusion that he's not overweight. For example, he wears suits that are too large, so that they hide his figure. He ties his tie too long, with the (questionable) belief that a longer tie is slimming. He has his doctors lie about his height, so he can avoid being saddled with a BMI in the obese range.

His latest trick was discovered by the folks at Gizmodo. Take a look at these two images; the original is on the right, and the version that Trump tweeted is on the left:

Even the 'thin' Trump is still fat

It's subtle, but if you look carefully, you can see that someone Photoshopped away the double-chin from the original image, tightened up the President's stomach a bit, and shaved a bit off his legs. As a bonus, since they had Photoshop open anyhow, they made Trump less orange, and also made his hands a little bigger. Take that, Marco Rubio!

Gizmodo found several examples (all included in the linked article), so it's clearly not an accident or an illusion or a one-time thing. Trump's certainly not the first president to alter images of himself for public consumption. For example, any painting you see of George Washington was done by an artist who knew not to paint the General's smallpox scars, at risk of not being paid. Still, it's remarkable (and yet totally apropos) that with Trump, even the photos are lies. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan22 Trump Administration Doesn't Quite Know What to Do with Martin Luther King Jr.
Jan22 Kamala Harris Makes it Official
Jan22 Biden/Beto 2020?
Jan22 Reports of RBG's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Jan22 Giuliani Tries to Walk Back His Words, Yet Again
Jan22 Pompeo, Staff Hate One Another
Jan22 Trump Tell-All Leaks
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Jan19 Trump to Speak to the Nation Today
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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
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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
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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
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Jan15 TV Ads No Longer a Priority for Priorities USA
Jan14 Americans Blame Trump for the Government Shutdown