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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Coats Breaks with Trump
      •  Stone Pleads Not Guilty
      •  Abrams, Becerra to Give Responses to Trump SOTU
      •  GOP Hasn't Staffed House Intelligence Committee Yet
      •  Invisible Primary Claims Another Victim
      •  Tulsi Gabbard's Campaign is Flailing
      •  Some Democrats Are Talking About a Primary Challenge for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Coats Breaks with Trump

Most people have never heard of (or have only vaguely heard of) John Negroponte, Mike McConnell, Dennis C. Blair, or James R. Clapper. Those were the first four men to hold the title of Director of National Intelligence, a post that's quite important behind the scenes, but that generally stays off the public's radar. The current DNI, Dan Coats, apparently did not get the memo, as he made headlines on Tuesday by openly expressing his view that most of Donald Trump's foreign policy is not based in reality.

Coats' most pointed criticism was aimed at Trump's approach to Kim Jong-Un, with whom the President is scheduled to hold a second summit within the month. The DNI reiterated what everyone outside the White House thinks as regards Kim's nukes:

We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.

This stands in stark contrast to Trump's stated position that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat.

Coats also struck at other tentpoles of Trump's foreign policy. For example, he opined that, "We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device." This stands in marked contrast to the President's position; he used the "imminent" threat posed by Iran as an excuse to withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear accord the Iranians signed. In addition, Coats said that ISIS remains a serious threat, and that withdrawal from Syria is not advisable, as it will strengthen the terrorist group's hand. Again, this is the polar opposite of what Trump says.

Coats can hardly be considered a deep-state operative; he served 8 years in the House and 16 in the Senate as a Republican. He also has a fair bit of expertise in diplomacy and intelligence; he served on both chambers' intelligence committees, and was also the U.S. ambassador to Germany during George W. Bush's first term. As the DNI, he serves at the pleasure of the president, of course. Once Trump gets wind of what Coats had to say on Tuesday, he might be pleased to show Coats the door. Whatever happens, however, it is clear that it isn't just the folks in the cheap seats who are skeptical of the President's foreign policy initiatives. (Z)

Stone Pleads Not Guilty

Roger Stone made his first appearance in court on Tuesday and, as expected, entered seven "not guilty" pleas. The hearing was brief enough, and offered so little additional insight to the proceedings against the former Trump operative, that most reporters were forced to detail Stone's sartorial choices in order to pad out their stories (he wore a navy blue suit and a blue knit tie with a light blue pocket square).

In addition to entering his pleas, Stone also had to affirm the terms of his bail: He cannot have a passport, can travel only to Florida, New York City, and D.C., and he has to call the court and check in once a week. He did make sure to tell reporters that his attorneys think he can beat this thing. Perhaps he's not aware that an attorney who tells his clients, "It's hopeless; you shouldn't waste money on a retainer for me," will not last long in the profession. In any event, Stone's next appearance before Judge Amy Berman Jackson will be a status hearing on Friday. (Z)

Abrams, Becerra to Give Responses to Trump SOTU

On Monday, the date for Donald Trump's (delayed) State of the Union address was set: February 5. And on Tuesday, the Democrats announced their choices to give the responses to the address. Stacey Abrams, fresh off a close-but-no-cigar loss in the Georgia gubernatorial race, will handle the English-language response. California AG Xavier Becerra will take care of the Spanish-language response.

Like the keynote addresses at the presidential conventions, the SOTU response gives a party a chance to highlight up-and-coming stars, if they so choose. In selecting a black woman and a Latino, the Democrats are floating a trial balloon for their 2020 strategy. Are they going to try to rebuild the Obama coalition (and thus go after NC, FL, and maybe even GA) as opposed to trying to win back the Midwest? Further, they are probably cluing us into their plans for future senatorial elections. There have already been serious preliminary discussions about Abrams running for Sen. David Perdue's (R-GA) seat in 2020. And Becerra will run up against the term limits for his current office in January 2025, which just so happens to be when Sen. Dianne Feinstein's current term ends. The blue team presumably would not push their dean out if she did not want to go, but inasmuch as she will be 91 years old at that point, they want to make sure to be ready if she decides to throw in the towel.

Responding to the SOTU is not without its risks, of course. Think Marco "water bottle" Rubio or Bobby "deer in the headlights" Jindal. However, if Becerra and Abrams—particularly Abrams—do well, then there could be very big things in their futures. (Z)

GOP Hasn't Staffed House Intelligence Committee Yet

Of the 23 House committees that need to be staffed, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has managed to fill 22 of them. Somehow, some way, however, he has not managed to come up with members for the House Intelligence Committee, beyond affirming that former chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) will be ranking member. "That will be announced when it is ready," said McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks.

Thus far, House Democrats are refraining from calling "foul," though the observation has been made that new chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) wants to send copies of the testimony collected last term to special counsel Robert Mueller, and he cannot do so until the committee is fully staffed. In other words, the conspiratorial explanation is that McCarthy & Co. are delaying in an attempt to stymie Mueller and to help Team Trump as much as they can.

Whether that is the goal or not, this situation can only linger for so long. The current House rules declare that:

The standing committees specified in clause 1 shall be elected by the House within seven calendar days after the commencement of each Congress, from nominations submitted by the respective party caucus or conference.

So, McCarthy would already appear to be in breach of the rules. Further, each committee (except for the Appropriations, Ethics, and Rules committees) has to present an oversight plan for the next two years' business by March 1. So, there's work to be done, and a limited timeline on which to do it. Further, Schiff might eventually decide to send Mueller the transcripts anyhow, even without Republican assent, and then to face the "consequences" doled out by the House Oversight Committee which, like all the other House committees, is currently controlled by members of his own party. Add it up, and whatever is going on here appears to be a minor, short-term annoyance at most. (Z)

Invisible Primary Claims Another Victim

Among the many, many Democrats who have spent the last two years looking in the mirror and seeing president #46 is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He has made more than a few noises about launching a run, and there was a chance he might even declare as early as this week. As it turns out, he did indeed declare, but that declaration was: "I'm out."

Garcetti, like so many of the candidates who have pondered (or who have launched) a run, has an impressive résumé. He went to Columbia, was a Rhodes Scholar and a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and has extensive experience in politics. Further, like all of the California hopefuls, he was undoubtedly eager to take advantage of the fact that the Golden State has moved near the front of the primary calendar. That said, he is not especially popular or well known in his home city, much less the rest of the state or the country. As we have pointed out many times, only three mayors have gone on to be president, and none made the jump directly. It's just not a high-profile enough job to serve as a launching pad for a presidential campaign (as even "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, found out).

Garcetti also has a few potential issues that could come back to haunt him. For example, as he was laying the groundwork for a possible White House run, he met with, and became fairly friendly with, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hard to understand why a mayor needs to meet with the leader of a Middle Eastern nation, but in any case, bin Salman is now toxic thanks to the Jamal Khashoggi murder. There are also a few other things like that in Garcetti's past, though it is still his lack of national profile that's the biggest problem. If he really wants to move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he's going to have to run for and win statewide office first. Or, failing that, star on a reality TV show where he "hires" and "fires" people.

The big winner from Garcetti's announcement is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). She may end up being the only Californian in the presidential race, and if she gobbles up the majority of California's delegates on March 20, 2020, that will give her an enormous boost. (Z)

Tulsi Gabbard's Campaign is Flailing

Unlike Eric Garcetti, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) actually does have a national profile, and actually has declared herself as a candidate for the presidency. Like Garcetti, her chances of actually winning that office in 2020 are rapidly approaching zero.

The Representative already had some serious liabilities on the day she announced. A certain portion of the electorate is not going to get behind someone who is a woman, a person of color, and a Hindu. Another portion, including many of the folks who are supposed to be her base, are going to have trouble with her sometimes hawkish views on terrorism, and her past anti-LGBTQ activism. And now, the infrastructure of her campaign is crumbling.

Reportedly, Gabbard's staff was caught completely by surprise when she threw her lei into the ring. This weekend, she will make it official with a kickoff event in Hawaii. And then, shortly thereafter, her manager Rania Batrice and her consulting firm Revolution Messaging will jump ship, frustrated by a combination of impulsiveness and indecisiveness on the part of the candidate. On top of that, Gabbard is in the midst of a very public squabble with the popular Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), accusing the Senator of "religious bigotry" after her questioning of a nominee to the federal bench.

In short, Tulsi 2020 is currently a mess. She's going to turn to her sister Vrindavan to right the ship. Because, of course, nepotism always works out so well in politics. Not only do her national hopes appear dim, but Gabbard has ruffled enough Hawaiians' feathers that she's drawn a serious primary challenger (state Sen. Kai Kahele) for 2020. She was probably only running to increase her national profile, or to put herself out there as a VP candidate, but whatever her goals might be, she may need to drop out and focus on getting her house in order at home. (Z)

Some Democrats Are Talking About a Primary Challenge for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Tulsi Gabbard isn't the only well-known progressive congresswoman who could face a serious primary challenge in 2020. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has already aggravated some of her centrist colleagues with her support of potential progressive primary challengers in 2020. Since turnabout is fair play, some of those colleagues are thinking about recruiting a centrist candidate to challenge her in 2020.

The primary source of tension here is Ocasio-Cortez' alleged eagerness to see a progressive candidate challenge Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) in NY-08. Jeffries is the #4 Democrat in the House, and is also a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus. It is the latter group that is particularly up in arms, and so is the driving force behind the "primary Alexandria" movement. That said, a few cranky whispers are a far sight from actually finding and running a viable challenger, especially since Ocasio-Cortez is an excellent fit for her heavily-Latino, deep-blue district. Most likely, the only thing that will happen is that Ocasio-Cortez—who, lest we forget, is just three weeks into her political career—will learn to tread a bit more carefully. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan29 Mueller Probe Reportedly Nearing Its End
Jan29 White House Won't Rule Out Stone Pardon
Jan29 State of the Union Scheduled for February 5
Jan29 Harris Veers Hard Left
Jan29 Clinton Keeps Door Open on 2020 Run
Jan29 Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part I: The Arizona GOP
Jan29 Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part II: The California GOP
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