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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Mueller Probe Reportedly Nearing Its End
      •  White House Won't Rule Out Stone Pardon
      •  State of the Union Scheduled for February 5
      •  Harris Veers Hard Left
      •  Clinton Keeps Door Open on 2020 Run
      •  Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part I: The Arizona GOP
      •  Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part II: The California GOP

Mueller Probe Reportedly Nearing Its End

Speaking to reporters on Monday, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker dropped a moderate-level bombshell: Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is, in Whitaker's words, "close to being completed."

The reason that this is only a moderate-level bombshell is that there had already been a number of clues that Mueller was wrapping up. To start, most of his cooperating witnesses either have been sentenced, or will be soon. Further, the special counsel has been handing the actual prosecutions of key figures (like Roger Stone) off to other offices, making clear that he does not plan to see this process through to the bitter end. That is also consistent with the fact that several members of Mueller's team have left for other jobs. And finally, it has been widely assumed that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein would have announced his departure from the Justice Dept. only if he no longer needed to hang around to protect Mueller.

Assuming that the end really is near, it appears that there are loose ends that Mueller has decided not to follow up on, for one reason or another. For example, former-friend-of-Roger-Stone Jerome Corsi might just skate, although he did announce Monday that he's willing to testify against Stone. Mueller has not pinched any member of Trump's family (though he may feel that's out of his purview). And, he seemingly has not gotten all of the answers from Donald Trump that he wanted.

That said, even if Mueller finishes this week, or this month, or before the next federal shutdown, or whenever, it's not the end of this story by any means. There's likely to be a struggle over making the report available to Congress and/or to the general public, although a bipartisan bill is making its way through Congress that would largely take that decision out of Whitaker's (or AG-Designate Bill Barr's) hands. Then there is whatever reckoning comes to the Trump administration and/or the Trump family, depending on what Mueller's findings are. On top of that, once the special counsel is done, state-level authorities (e.g., New York AG Letitia James) will have free rein to pursue whatever leads they want to, without stepping on Mueller's toes. So too will the various House committees and their chairs (e.g., Reps. Adam Schiff, D-CA, Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, and Elijah Cummings, D-MD). In other words, a major chapter may be about to conclude, but the book is still being written. (Z)

White House Won't Rule Out Stone Pardon

Speaking of Roger Stone, he came up in Monday's White House Press Briefing. Actually, the fact that there was a briefing is news unto itself. The White House had hinted that they would be done away with entirely, with the reason being that the media is not fair to Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Donald Trump. Consistent with that position, when Sanders walked up to the podium on Monday, it was the first time she'd done so in 41 days.

Anyhow, Sanders was asked about the possibility of a pardon for the newly-indicted Stone, and she danced around the question very carefully, and said "I'm not aware of that," and that "I'm not going to get into that at this point," and that it is "ridiculous" to consider such "hypothetical" questions. None of that, of course, comes close to: "No, the President is not going to pardon Roger Stone."

It is implausible that Sanders would not ask Trump about this "hypothetical" scenario, since it was literally the first question that everyone had when news broke that Stone had been arrested. And so, it must be concluded that a pardon for him is still on the table. Whether or not he gets one will likely come down to three questions: (1) Is Stone also on the hook for state-level crimes, which are not pardonable by Trump?; (2) Does Stone have dirt that Trump would rather he not dish?; and (3) Can Team Trump convince themselves that the President will not get nailed for obstruction if he pardons Stone? That third issue is significant enough that Stone probably should not hold his breath waiting for a Get Out of Jail Free card. (Z)

State of the Union Scheduled for February 5

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has decided that she will be able to squeeze the State of the Union address into her schedule on Tuesday, February 5, and invited Donald Trump to address Congress on that date. He accepted, and so the speech will take place exactly one week later than it would have, if not for the government shutdown.

This will certainly be among the most anticipated SOTUs in recent memory. On one hand, Trump continues to engage in some heavy posturing about his wall; he declared on Monday that he "doubts" Congress can come up with a compromise he will accept. So, he might be inclined to use the speech to fire up the base on that subject. On the other hand, turning the SOTU into a Trump rally would be a little gauche, even by his standards, and would serve to remind a national audience of his recent, high-profile misstep. The extent to which the speech ends up being wall-focused probably depends on how well Stephen Miller can continue to bend Trump to his will, while persuading the President to ignore the fact that his senior advisor actually gives terrible advice.

Meanwhile, it is remarkable how thoroughly Pelosi seems to have cowed Trump. He continues to bow so very much to her will that one is left to wonder if Vlad Putin sent the Speaker a copy of whatever kompromat he's got. Can this dynamic continue? Will Trump stand for it? Will the base? These are all good questions. In any event, there are surely a fair number of Democrats out there who weren't too happy when Pelosi re-took the Speaker's gavel, but are now thinking better of that. (Z)

Harris Veers Hard Left

Although she is a former prosecutor with a record that is pretty moderate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is going all-in on a progressive platform. Appearing on CNN for a town hall, she wholeheartedly embraced Medicare for All, calling for an end to private insurance as we know it. She also endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' "Green New Deal," which calls for the U.S. to work toward getting 100% of its energy from renewable sources.

We are just four years removed from a time when those positions put someone on the far left fringe of the Democratic Party. Now they are getting close to being standard planks in the Democratic platform. Undoubtedly, candidates who embrace these ideas are going to be slammed by the Fox News crowd as commies and socialists and troublemakers and anti-American and all of that, but those folks aren't voting for the blue team anyhow. And Harris is probably right in concluding that with the crowded Democratic field, one that's soon to include an actual socialist, it's going to be necessary to go big or go home. Further, the Democrats just learned in 2016 what happens when they run a candidate who plays it safe and doesn't come out in favor of any big ideas (more on her below). It may well be that the best counter to Donald Trump and his bold policy pronouncements is for the Democrats to get behind some bold policy pronouncements of their own (albeit ones more realistic than building a wall and having Mexico pay for it, or replacing Obamacare with something that is both better and cheaper, or 6% annual growth for the economy). (Z)

Clinton Keeps Door Open on 2020 Run

Democrats across the country thought that, for better or worse, they were done with Hillary Clinton. Not so fast, though, as she's still telling people close to her that she hasn't ruled out a third run for the White House. CNN White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny said that he's talked to three people who are close to Clinton and all heard the same thing from her within the last week.

We profiled Clinton back in November, so you can read our breakdown of her potential candidacy there. In short, however, she does have a real chance in a rematch. She wouldn't neglect the upper Midwest again, and she could reinvent herself as someone a little less wonky and a little more willing to commit to a bold vision, a la Richard Nixon in 1968. On the other hand, if she really does launch a campaign, and her platform is "See! I told you about him," that would probably not go over so well. (Z)

Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part I: The Arizona GOP

Former senatorial candidate, right-wing firebrand, and Trump loyalist Kelli Ward pulled off a huge upset on Saturday when she beat incumbent Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines to become the new state party chair. No one saw this coming. To put it mildly, this is not the ideal time for a bomb-throwing right winger to take control of the Arizona GOP. The Grand Canyon State has been moving closer to becoming a purple state for years, and now with the 2018 victory of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), it may have achieved purple status. One person who is not so happy with Ward's victory is Meghan McCain, who tweeted: "Don't get me started on this ... great day for AZ Democrats."

Many Arizona Republicans regard Ward as a fringe figure who will not work well with national Republicans. In particular, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) is up for election in 2020, and she and Ward engaged in a nasty primary in 2018. It is entirely possible that rather than do everything possible to help McSally keep the seat to which she was appointed, Ward might look for a possible primary challenger who is too far to the right to win the general election. The Arizona Senate seat is going to be one of the top races in the country, and the last thing the GOP needs is an internal battle since the Democrats have two very strong potential candidates: Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and former astronaut Mark Kelly. In addition, for the first time in recent memory, Arizona's 11 electoral votes may well be up for grabs in 2020, especially if Gallego (a Marine Corps veteran and Latino) is his party's Senate nominee. (V)

Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part II: The California GOP

Recently, we did a piece about the decline of the California Republican Party. Though the GOP has been in the minority in the Golden State since the 1930s, they remained a powerful political force well into the 1980s, producing two U.S. presidents and a gaggle of senators and governors. Since the dawn of the 21st century, however, they have been sliding into something close to irrelevance, a development highlighted in 2018 by the Party's loss of every House seat in the once deep-red bastion of Orange County.

It would seem that, as with Arizona (see above), the response among California's GOP faithful has been to double down, rather than to adapt with the times. CAGOP is also in the process of picking a new leader, and while the final choice is still a few weeks away, the frontrunner is Travis Allen, who loves Donald Trump so much he might be mistaken for Sean Hannity. Inasmuch as the President isn't even all that popular with the state's Republicans, and is 29 points underwater overall with California voters (33% approve, 62% disapprove), that does not appear to be a proactive move.

The red team has also seen two high-profile defections in recent months, as California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye registered as an independent, and Assemblyman Brian Maienschein switched to the Democrats. Rather than treating this as a teachable moment, and trying to figure out what went wrong, party leaders contented themselves to slam their former fellows as "turncoats." Already, the Democrats control every statewide office, both U.S. Senate seats, more than 75% of the legislature, and more than 85% of the House delegation. If CAGOP keeps playing their cards in the same way, they might soon be an endangered species in the Golden State. If they aren't there already, that is. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan28 Stone Might Not Stonewall
Jan28 Mulvaney: Trump Will Use Executive Power to Build the Wall
Jan28 The Last Shutdown Might Be the Last Shutdown
Jan28 Sanders Is Expected to Announce a Run Imminently
Jan28 President Schultz?
Jan28 President Coulter?
Jan28 Monday Q&A
Jan26 Our Long National Nightmare Is Over (For Three Weeks, at Least)
Jan26 Stone Indictment Is Bad News for Team Trump
Jan26 Invisible Primary Claims Its First Victim
Jan25 Shutdown Inches Closer to Either Resolution or "National Emergency"
Jan25 Shutdown's Effects Grow More Serious Every Day
Jan25 Roger Stone Arrested
Jan25 Cohen Subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee
Jan25 Koch Network Won't Back Trump in 2020
Jan25 NBA Champions Visit President
Jan25 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Pete Buttigieg
Jan24 Cohen Postpones Testimony Due to Trump's Threats
Jan24 Trump Announces He Will Deliver the SOTU Speech as Planned—Or Not
Jan24 Buttigieg Is In
Jan24 The Conservative Take on the Democratic 2020 Primaries
Jan24 Kansas Republicans Are Scared of Kobach
Jan24 Why Is There No Liberal Federalist Society?
Jan24 Judge May End Stormy Daniels Lawsuit
Jan24 Thursday Q&A
Jan23 Senate to Perform Some Bipartisan Kabuki
Jan23 Giuliani Is in the Doghouse
Jan23 SCOTUS Gives Trump a Win and a Loss
Jan23 Judge Refuses to Make Ruling in NC-09
Jan23 Small Donors Are Playing a Big Role in Campaigns These Days
Jan23 Senate Could Change Confirmation Rules
Jan23 Trump Loses Weight on the Photoshop Diet
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
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