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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Who Needs Election Security?
      •  Judge Blocks Asylum Rule
      •  Federal Government to Resume Executions
      •  Governor of Puerto Rico Resigns
      •  Today in Schadenfreude
      •  Good Polls for Biden
      •  Two GOP Representatives Won't Run for Reelection

Who Needs Election Security?

On Wednesday, former special counsel Robert Mueller appeared before two House committees and declared that he is certain the Russians interfered with the 2016 election, will try to interfere with the 2020 election, and will keep interfering into the foreseeable future. On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its bipartisan report on this subject, and reached the exact same conclusion.

With such an overwhelming consensus, it would appear the time has come to act. And fortunately, the Senate already has two bills before it that have passed the House, and that would help address the problem. One would require the use of paper ballots in elections (and would provide funding to aid with that), the other would require political candidates and their staffs to contact the FBI if a foreign power offers them aid. On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) proposed that the upper chamber move forward with consideration of the bills.

As anyone who follows politics knows, however, it's never time to act on this issue as long as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is running the show. He quickly refused to take up either bill, declaring the legislation to be "clearly partisan" and "not a serious effort to make a law." He has offered up no alternatives, naturally, which would seem to confirm that he's also clearly partisan, and that he's not making a serious effort to govern.

Of course, the political calculation here is as clear as day. Republicans believe that non-secure elections, specifically those that are tinkered with by the Russians, work to their advantage. And as long as they continue to believe that, nothing is going to change, as they currently have the twin roadblocks of McConnell and Donald Trump to derail any attempts at reform. The only thing that might change their minds is credible evidence that China is trying to interfere in the elections to help defeat Trump.

This issue could be a winner for Democrats if they focus on it (and one or two other issues that have general appeal) and hammer on it over and over (the way that Trump was basically a two-trick pony in 2016, between "Lock her up!" and "Build the wall!"). It is unlikely that the blue team will develop that kind of laser focus, however, because that is not their style. (Z)

Judge Blocks Asylum Rule

A little over a week ago, Donald Trump tried to change the rules governing asylum, declaring that because Mexico is a "safe" country, any refugee who crosses it must request asylum there, and not in the United States. This was a dubious contention, considering the President's own words to the effect that Mexico is very dangerous and full of crime. Nonetheless, on Wednesday, the first judge to consider the matter—U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee who sits in Washington, D.C.—refused to grant a temporary restraining order against the new policy. And so, there was much rejoicing in the White House.

The party was short-lived, however. Just hours later, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, an Obama appointee who sits in California, granted a nationwide injunction against the order. Tigar's ruling trumps Kelly's (no pun intended), and so the new policy will not go into effect unless the administration can win in court. Given the weaknesses of this specific case, as well as the general problems that tend to emerge when the administration does things hastily, Team Trump is not likely to prevail. That said, it will likely take a while for the matter to work its way through the system, and during that time the President can say he's taking strong action to curb immigration. With Trump, what matters is the announcement, not the actual policy or its execution, so Wednesday's ruling isn't all that much of a setback for him. (Z)

Federal Government to Resume Executions

Speaking of taking "strong" action, AG William Barr announced on Thursday that the federal government would resume executing inmates after a 16-year gap, and identified five different inmates who are currently on death row and who will be first in line. If these plans are carried out, it would dramatically increase the total number of federal executions since capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia . Since the 1976 decision, the U.S. government has put only three people to death, all of them during the George W. Bush presidency.

The death penalty is, of course, one of the most contentious issues in American politics. And if the administration offered up a policy-based rationale for their decision, then we could have a fair debate on the merits of the decision. But Barr offered no such rationale and if anyone was expecting one, well, they haven't been paying attention for the past three years. Given the timing, and the #1 overarching goal of Team Trump, this is clearly about next year's election. If the five men are actually executed, then Trump can brag about how "strong" he is when it comes to enforcing the laws. And if their lives are spared, due to the inevitable legal challenges that are coming, then the President can complain to crowds about how he is trying to keep them safe, but that the Democrats are the party that wants convicted rapists and murderers to be let out of prison so they can roam the streets freely and rape and kill again. In other words, shades of Willie Horton. This isn't even the first occasion where Trump has been willing to let people die if it helps him get reelected. (Z)

Governor of Puerto Rico Resigns

And speaking of places where Donald Trump was willing to put his political calculus ahead of human lives, Governor Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico got himself caught up in a huge scandal centered on his use of the messaging app Telegram. Screen captures of his conversations on the platform were leaked, and they contained some very problematic remarks written by the Governor. Some were homophobic, many were vulgar, a sizable number smeared his fellow politicians, and the real killer was the snarky remarks about Hurricane Maria victims. Rosselló tried to weather his own storm, but couldn't, and so announced his resignation late Wednesday night, to take effect Aug. 2.

We haven't said anything about this story, thus far, because our focus is on national politics, and it's hard to connect the dots between the Rosselló scandal and the state of affairs in Washington. Trump has certainly tried to get some mileage out the matter. For example:

However, the President's attacks didn't really land with voters, because anti-Rosselló sentiment does not translate cleanly to the political factions Trump is dealing with. The two main parties in Puerto Rico are the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party; Rosselló is a member of the latter. He has nominally allied himself with the Democratic Party, but many other members of the NPP ally with the Republicans, so he's not quite as easy to vilify as an actual Democratic senator or state governor would be. Further, hitting him too much could remind voters of Trump's own poor performance in the aftermath of Maria.

In terms of next year's presidential elections, Rosselló's constituents get to participate in just one way: the people of Puerto Rico are allowed to vote in the Democratic primaries. That's actually the last event on the primary calendar (June 7) before the Democratic Convention starts on July 13, so they will almost certainly be rubber stamping a candidate who already has the nomination locked up. Unless they move to the United States, Puerto Ricans have no role in choosing the Republican presidential nominee, nor do they get to vote in the general election. So, the Rosselló scandal is unlikely to have any effect on 2020 presidential politics simply because Puerto Rico is allowed very little say in the process. (Z)

Today in Schadenfreude

There are lots of people who do not like Donald Trump. Few of them, however, have the chance to make him the butt of a high-profile joke. An employee of the right-wing PAC Turning Point USA (TPUSA) had that rare opportunity, and he seized it, even though it cost him his job. Working as an audiovisual aide while Trump was appearing before the group, this employee—who is apparently a NeverTrump Republican—was responsible for projecting the presidential seal on the screen behind the President. Here's a picture of Trump's appearance (left), along with a clearer copy of the seal that was projected (right):

That's not the presidential seal

The careful viewer (and, apparently none of the folks at TPUSA belong in that category) will notice numerous differences between the actual presidential seal and the one created by the jokester: (1) instead of holding arrows and an olive branch, the eagle is holding golf clubs and a wad of cash; (2) the eagle has two heads, like the one on the coat of arms of Russia; (3) the stars on the shield have been replaced with hammer and sickles; and (4) the motto has been altered to "45 Es Un Titere," which means "45 is a puppet."

There actually is a substantive element to this story; it's not just a few laughs at Trump's expense. The president's team should, and in any other administration would, have total control of all details related to a public appearance, including control over what is shown on screen. This incident is just a reminder of how often Team Trump conducts business in a manner that is slapdash and not detail-oriented. One would hope they do better when dealing with something serious, like deciding whether or not to bomb Iran, but we all know they don't. (Z)

Good Polls for Biden

In the past two days, two new polls have been released that are full of good news for former VP and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The first is a Fox News poll of the Democratic field, published Thursday. Here are the current numbers from the poll, as well as the results from the three previous polls, including all candidates who polled above 1% at least once:

Candidate July June May March
Joe Biden 33% 32% 35% 31%
Bernie Sanders 15% 13% 17% 23%
Elizabeth Warren 12% 9% 9% 4%
Kamala Harris 10% 8% 5% 8%
Pete Buttigieg 5% 8% 6% 1%
Amy Klobuchar 3% 2% 2% 1%
Andrew Yang 3% 2% 1% 1%
Cory Booker 2% 3% 3% 4%
John Hickenlooper 2% 0% 0% 0%
Beto O'Rourke 2% 4% 4% 8%
Julián Castro 1% 1% 2% 1%
Kirsten Gillibrand 1% 1% 0% 2%

It appears that Biden has weathered the storm following his ill-advised remarks about working with segregationist senators and his underwhelming performance in the first round of debates. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are on the rise, but their support appears to be coming at the expense of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and not Biden. This poll is also good news for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) and Andrew Yang, as it will count toward qualifying them for the third debate.

The other good poll for Biden was published Wednesday; it's a Quinnipiac survey of Ohio. In a head-to-head matchup against Trump, Biden beats him by 8 points (50% to 42%). All of the other Democrats that Quinnipiac asked about are tied with the President, or are trailing him. That includes Warren (45% to 46%), Sanders (45% to 46%), Harris (44% to 44%), Buttigieg (44% to 44%), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ; 43% to 44%). It should scare Donald Trump witless that he's doing so poorly in a state that's basically red, and that he simply can't afford to lose. And obviously, if Biden can plausibly claim "I've got Ohio in the bag," that does a lot to bolster his electability argument. (Z)

Two GOP Representatives Won't Run for Reelection

Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) is currently serving his sixth term in the House of Representatives, which will also be his last. On Thursday, he announced that he would not seek reelection in 2020, as he wants to be able to spend more time with his family.

Olson may be telling the truth, though his press release announcing the decision was full of not-very-genuine politician-speak, so maybe not. Had he stayed, he was looking at a difficult reelection campaign. Olson's district, TX-22, has a PVI of R+10, but in 2018 he managed to beat Democrat Sri Kulkarni by only 5 points. Kulkarni has already announced a second run, and has been raising lots of money for that purpose. Further, a primary challenge was looking likely, possibly from Sheriff Troy Nehls of Fort Bend County. Anyhow, when a race that was already close loses its incumbent, it moves squarely into "in play" territory.

Joining Olson in retirement will be Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI). He also says he wants to spend time with family. In his case, however, it's more believable, because his announcement was not full of not-very-genuine politician-speak. No, it was full of hard truths, as he declared: "You look at the rhetoric and vitriol, it overwhelms policy, politics becomes the norm. Everything's about politics. Everything's about an election. And at some point of time, that's not why I came here." Mitchell's district is R+13, and he won pretty easily in 2018 (60% to 35%), so it's not likely to be in play in 2020.

There are two recurrent themes worth mentioning here. The first is that in 2017, we saw an unusually high number of House Republicans throwing in the towel, for various reasons. If that phenomenon recurs in 2019, it strengthens the Democrats' already-good chances of holding the lower chamber. The second is that one would guess that Congress is a miserable place to work these days, and Mitchell is the latest to confirm that. He served only 1-1/2 terms before deciding to get out of Dodge. That kind of turnover, especially for that reason, is not good when it comes to the business of governing. (Z)

Programming Note: For a number of reasons, among them that there was a fair bit of news on Thursday and that the next Q&A is turning out rather long, we're going to push some stuff (including the Q&A) to Saturday. That will give folks some weekend reading, if they want it.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer, click here for submission instructions and previous Q & A's. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul25 Mueller Appears Before the House, Everyone Comes Off Badly
Jul24 All Eyes on Mueller
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Jul24 Trump Sues to Protect His Tax Returns
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Jul23 A Skeleton from Biden's Closet
Jul23 Cumulus Media Buries Pete Buttigieg Interview
Jul23 Tuesday Q&A
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Jul22 Russian Meddling, Yesterday and Today
Jul19 Trump, GOP Respond to "Send Her Back!"
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Jul19 Trump Nominates Scalia to Lead Labor Department
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Jul18 More on Q2 Fundraising
Jul18 Thursday Q&A
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