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Trump vs. His Own Party, Part I: Trade War with Mexico

Donald Trump may be on the other side of the Atlantic right now, but he's still managed to do a fair bit of butting heads with the members of both parties nonetheless. The big story of the week continues to be the looming trade war with Mexico, which the President apparently has every intention of moving forward with. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, are not so sure.

The President's main contribution to the discussion on Tuesday was a little bit of bluster, as he warned Republicans in Congress that it would be "foolish" to oppose him, and asserted that the tariffs will "likely" go into effect on Monday. But the more important news came from behind the scenes, as key GOP senators and key members of the administration met to try to hash this thing out. The meeting was long, tense, and unsuccessful in making any progress.

In fact, Team Trump can't even decide exactly what its plan is, in terms of laying the legal groundwork for the tariffs. This is a source of much frustration among the Republicans on the Hill. The White House could add the new rates to the existing declaration of a state of emergency with Mexico—the one that was already used to justify rerouting Dept. of Defense funds to border wall construction. The problem with this, from the administration's perspective, is that it could increase the chance that the whole shebang gets voted down the next time it comes before the Senate, and that the wall project dies (for good). The declaration can be considered by Congress once every six months, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co. already have the next opportunity circled on their calendars. The alternative is to issue a second emergency declaration. The problem there, again from the administration's perspective, is that a second declaration could be even more vulnerable to a legal challenge than the first one (which is still working its way through the courts). And even if it stands up in court, the White House would be setting itself up for embarrassing votes in Congress every three months, as the legislature alternates between their twice annual thumbs down for declaration #1 and declaration #2.

That said, it may never get to that point. Trump certainly does not appear to be bluffing here. However, neither are Senate Republicans, and their reactions after Tuesday's meeting should certainly give the administration pause. Among the senators who openly hinted that the President might not have their support if he tries to move forward with this, were James Lankford (R-OK), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and John Kennedy (R-LA). Some of those folks went against him when the Senate voted down emergency declaration #1 (an event that forced a rare Trump veto). However, Johnson and Lankford, in particular, are among the most conservative members of the Senate, are almost invariably presidential loyalists, and definitely supported him last time. If they are not on board this time, then there is a real chance Trump could find himself slapped down again, except this time with his veto overriden. Cramer, for his part, said on Tuesday that he thinks it is entirely possible that 20 GOP senators are ready to vote against the President on this. If the administration is persuaded that is true, they may have no choice but to back down. After all, if there is anything that Trump values even more dearly than tariffs, it's saving face.

Incidentally, even though the major tensions on this front were between the Republican president and the Republican senators, there was still time for a Democrat to get caught in the crossfire. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) delivered remarks on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday in which he said that he thinks the President is bluffing, and encouraged his colleagues to remain firm, until Trump backs down. The response, via Twitter naturally:

So, even if this whole thing does blow up due to a rebellion in the red team's ranks, the President is still prepared to lay the blame at the feet of the blue team. (Z)

Trump vs. His Own Party, Part II: Ken Cuccinelli

Donald Trump's fellow Republicans may be preparing to hand him a major defeat on the trade war front. Even more certain, however, than that is that they're ready to hand him a defeat on one of the other parts of his ongoing "immigrants are bad" campaign. Namely, the GOP members of the Senate are sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches in eager anticipation, should Ken Cuccinelli dare to come before them for approval as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

One might hope that the problem with Cuccinelli is that he's adopted positions on immigration in the past that are very extreme, even by the standards of the modern-day GOP. For example, he wants to amend the Constitution to take away birthright citizenship. However, the actual problem is that he's spent years challenging the Party establishment, and recruiting the sorts of Senate candidates that give incumbents headaches in primary season (forcing them to veer rightward, and to burn through their cash). If you want to do something to irritate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), other than interrupt his dinner with wife (and Transportation Secretary) Elaine Chao where they are discussing her family's Chinese shipping business, then that would be it. And so, he is leading the pitchfork and torch brigade. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the fellow whose job it is to whip votes, said that approval for Cuccinelli is "a long shot," at best. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who spent several election cycles fighting off Cuccinelli-backed candidates as the leader of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that "It's unlikely he's going to be confirmed if he is nominated."

Exactly what the White House will do here is anyone's guess. The President could withdraw the nomination, though he might not be in a mood to do so, given that he just had two nominees for the Federal Reserve torpedoed by resistance from Senate Republicans. Alternatively, the administration could just create a post in the White House for Cuccinelli that does not require confirmation. He could share an office with Stephen Miller, and they could spend their days planning how they are going to Make America White Again. Or, Trump could go with the ever-popular "acting" designation. The issue there is that every high-level post in the Dept. of Homeland Security is currently occupied by an "acting" official who probably can't get confirmed. That's not a great look, politically, and it could also interfere with the Department's ability to exercise its authority, in some cases. In any event, it's clear that there is more than one buck stopped at Trump's desk right now, just waiting for him to return. (Z)

Trump vs. the Other Party, Part I: The Dreamers

Undoubtedly, Democrats on the Hill are sitting back and enjoying a fair bit of popcorn as they watch the internecine fighting taking place on the other side of the aisle right now. However, they also have their own disputes with him right now, mostly stemming from their efforts to turn up the heat and see if Trump gets out of the kitchen (note two Harry S. Truman references in the span of 100 words).

The biggest development on this front on Tuesday involved, as with the two stories above, the President's immigration policy. House Democrats managed to come together, along with seven of their Republican colleagues, to pass a bill that would permanently protect the Dreamers from deportation, and would create a path to citizenship for 2 million of them. The final vote was 237-187.

There is zero chance that this particular bill becomes law, as Team Pelosi did not even try to make it palatable to the Republicans (by adding, say, money for border security). And if there was any doubt on that point, Mitch McConnell has already announced that he won't bring it up for a vote, and the White House has already announced that the bill is dead on arrival. The House Democrats' purpose, primarily, is to give them a basis for claiming—both now and during next year's elections—that they are trying to help the Dreamers, and that it's the Republicans that are the holdup. A second benefit is that if somehow there is progress on this issue (not likely), it gives the blue team a starting point from which to negotiate (a strategy that negotiation experts call anchoring).

In any event, the President is getting poked in the eye so often while he's away that he'll be lucky if he can still see by the time he gets home. (Z)

Trump vs. the Other Party, Part II: Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson

The Dreamer bill may have been the big news of the day on Tuesday from the Democratic side of the aisle, but the main Donald Trump eye-poking the blue team is doing these days, of course, is all their investigating of him. On that front, the White House has officially ordered former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and former White House deputy counsel Annie Donaldson not to cooperate with House Democrats.

It is very possible that Hicks' and Donaldson's names just get added to the queue with AG William Barr's, and former White House counsel Don McGahn's, and all the other folks who (at the very least) won't be visiting the House until such time that the Supreme Court tells them they have to do so. However, Hicks' hasty departure from the White House suggests she may not be willing to risk her neck for a man she worked under for only a few years. Further, she's already complied with requests for documents, and the administration has no real means to punish her should she choose to speak to Congress. So, it's at least possible that she ends up on the Hill much sooner than the others. (Z)

Jared Kushner Is a Small Fish in a Big Pond

If Jared Kushner had not married Ivanka Trump, be wouldn't have a snowball's chance of landing a job in the White House, as he's hardly got the bona fides for it. Yes, he has a Harvard degree, but...well, let's just say he's lucky that the "parents buying their kids' way into elite schools" scandal hit about 10 years after he graduated. His business career has been something less than a success, as he's been swimming in a sea of red ink for years. And his background check raised so many red flags that his security clearance had to be rammed through by the President himself.

On Sunday, Kushner sat for an interview with Axios. To give a sense of how well he performed under the bright lights, here are some of the headlines from articles about the interview:

The words "cringe" and "cringeworthy" were also frequently deployed. It's true that these are all left-wing, or left-leaning, sources, but that is because most of the right-leaning sites didn't mention the interview. That, of course, is also instructive.

If you're wondering what Kushner screwed up, the answer is...well, pretty much everything. Axios isn't exactly "Meet the Press" or Andrew Neil, but the First Son-in-Law should have foreseen which issues were coming down the pike, and should have had some sort of viable answer ready, even if it was empty politician-speak. But no, when he was asked about whether the President's birther conspiracy theories were racist, he flopped around like a fish out of water. Here's the clip, which is only a minute long, for those who are interested:

Other less-than-stellar moments included Kushner's admission that if Russia offered help to the Trump campaign in 2020, he might not call the FBI; his unwillingness to rebuke the Saudi government for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and his suggestion that the Palestinians may not be capable of governing themselves (which Haaretz blasted him for).

The point here is not to dump on Kushner, though. It is to point out that he is supposed to be the point person on the administration's Middle East peace plan. And if he cannot even handle a simple little TV interview, how can he plausibly take on a diplomatic challenge so great that it has stymied folks with foreign policy chops a hundred times more substantial than his? The answer is that he can't, which is why he's even getting pressure from many Trump allies to drop the whole thing. And that is before we consider the current turmoil in Israeli politics that makes negotiating rather pointless right now. It's true that part of the world is known for miracles, but if Kushner does not get several of them, then this initiative is surely at its end. (Z)

Virginia Beach Shootings: A Tale of Two Parties

By now, most folks know there was yet another mass shooting this past weekend. This one took place in Virginia Beach, and saw a disgruntled city employee go an a wholly unexpected rampage (he even had polite, entirely normal conversations with his co-workers just minutes before the incident). Utilizing a gun that had a silencer and a high-capacity magazine, the gunman killed 12 people before he was killed by police.

We waited to write something about this story until it had a political angle, and now it does. To start, just four months ago, the Virginia legislature considered a bill that would have banned the sale of high-capacity magazines in the state, of just the sort that was used in Virginia Beach. The bill died in committee, on a party line vote. Undoubtedly, you can guess which party was on each side of that line. Now, the folks who were responsible for that are busily justifying their actions with the usual arguments, such as, "Guns don't kill people," and "Banning high-capacity magazines would not have helped." One wonders exactly what the family members of the 12 victims think of those arguments. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) called for a special session of the state legislature, so that they can reconsider the bill that was voted down in January, along with possible additional measures, including a ban on silencers.

Northam's maneuvering is going to put Virginia Republicans in a tricky position. On one hand, GOP voters in the Old Dominion are very gun-friendly, which is part of the reason that NRA headquarters are located there (proximity to D.C. is the other). On the other hand, public sentiment is running against the red team right now, and Virginia is one of the states that holds its elections the year before most of the rest of the country. Already, the GOP is hanging on to control of the state house by a thread (21-19 in the state senate, 51-49 in the house), and this could be the issue that dooms them if they stick to their guns.

Whatever happens here, the long-term trend does not favor the pro-gun forces. Recall that we are just a bit more than a generation removed from a time when a conservative Republican president endorsed the most sweeping gun-control legislation of the past century. The recent success of the gun lobby and its supporters is a historical aberration, not the norm. Today, the NRA is in deep financial trouble, and 78% of millennial voters, who are about to become the single-largest generation in the country, favor stricter gun control measures.

Incidentally, while this issue is obviously a very tough nut to crack, The Guardian has a very interesting piece about ongoing, and quite successful efforts to reduce gun violence in Northern California. The centerpiece is an initiative that has been deployed in many cities and that is called Ceasefire. It's somewhat complex, but the short version is that the program is something of a "carrot and stick" situation in which community workers target the 1% of young people responsible for most of the gun violence, rendering various forms of assistance if they do not commit violent acts, but pushing for strong criminal sentences if they do. The surrounding community is also targeted with affirmative messaging that there are alternatives to using guns to solve problems. In any event, the article is worth a read, and makes clear that even a very tricky issue is not insurmountable, if government officials get serious about it. (Z)

Biden Unveils Someone Else', His Climate Change Plan

Gun violence is not the only issue where young voters are (eventually) likely to push the country in a new direction. Millennials, who may have a use for planet Earth in 50 or 60 years, are generally not thrilled by climate change denial. Polls make clear that more than 80% of them believe global warming is real, and that the overwhelming majority of those think that it's partly or completely man-made, and that strong action is needed.

The immediate implication of this is that anyone running for president as a Democrat in 2020 better have a plan for combating climate change, and better not be taking money from fossil fuel companies. This puts Joe Biden, in particular, into something of a bind. He hasn't collected much money from oil and gas companies (which are not thick on the ground in Delaware) in his career, so that's not a problem. What is a problem, however, is that he's counting on the support of blue collar folks who fear that efforts to stop global warming will cost them their jobs.

Still, the reality of the modern Democratic Party is what it is, and so on Tuesday Biden unveiled a $1.7 trillion plan to fight climate change, and also promised not to take any gas and oil money. By the standards of the current administration, $1.7 trillion is a substantial commitment to the problem. On the other hand, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, if implemented, could easily cost ten times that much, or more. So, from the point of view of the progressives, $1.7 trillion is a down payment, at best. In other words, Biden is trying to travel the middle of the road here, consistent with his 2020 strategy.

There is at least one problem, however, beyond the question of whether $1.7 trillion is too much or not enough. The folks who know about these things were reading over Biden's plan, and certain parts seemed to be kind of familiar. It turns out they were lifted from the work of other folks without attribution. Once this was pointed out, the Biden campaign said it was an oversight, and that they accidentally left out the proper citations. That may be true, but as any professor in the humanities can attest, it's also the excuse that every student uses when they get caught plagiarizing. Further, for a candidate who already has a plagiarism scandal in his past, it's the kind of error—if it really was an error—that simply should not have happened. This then raises another theme that is sure to be a recurring part of the Biden campaign: needless, unforced blunders. If he does get the Democratic nod, it's going to be quite a roller coaster ride.

There is a fair chance that Biden didn't personally write his plan, or even have much to do with it. He's not an expert on the environment and he is busy raising money, as well. Probably it was written by some junior staffer or intern. Nevertheless, it is Biden's responsibility to pound into all of his staffers the fact that it is fine to use other people's ideas provided there is a citation giving credit where it is due. So even if he didn't write the plan himself, he is guilty of negligence in not making sure his staff knows that plagiarism is grounds for being terminated instantly. (Z & V)

Team Trump Tries to Expand His 2020 Map

Pop quiz: Let us assume that the rust belt states are not looking too great for Donald Trump, and that his campaign wants to try to flip three Clinton states from 2016 as an insurance policy. What three states should he target? Team Trump's answer to this question is coming in a few moments.

Before that, however, let us observe that shakiness in the rust belt is definitely a problem for Trump 2020, and though they surely would not admit it in public, they are well aware of it. His approval ratings in those states are way down from Election Day 2016. The trade wars with China and Mexico, if they continue, are likely to hit people there especially hard. And in 2018, of course, the GOP took a pretty sound thrashing in the upper Midwest. The Flint, MI, water scandal, which has just reared its head again and ensnared former Republican governor Rick Snyder and several other GOP officials, could make that state particularly tough for Trump, especially given that he won it by only 10,704 votes. And so, in an effort to expand the map, Trump's people have decided that the lowest-hanging fruits for them, state-wise, are...Nevada, New Hampshire, and New Mexico.

Perhaps Team Trump has polling data that supports this targeting. Or maybe they just threw a dart at an alphabetical list of states and it landed in the middle. In any case, let's try to assess it on a numerical basis, as best we can:

State Indicator Democratic Republican
Nevada 6 EVs, last five elections 3 2
Nevada Statewide elected officials, current 6 2
Nevada U.S. senators, current 2 0
Nevada U.S. representatives, current 3 1
Nevada Total 14 5

State Indicator Democratic Republican
New Hampshire 4 EVs, last five elections 4 1
New Hampshire Statewide elected officials, current 4 4
New Hampshire U.S. senators, current 2 0
New Hampshire U.S. representatives, current 2 0
New Hampshire Total 12 5

State Indicator Democratic Republican
New Mexico 5 EVs, last five elections 4 1
New Mexico Statewide elected officials, current 6 0
New Mexico U.S. senators, current 2 0
New Mexico U.S. representatives, current 3 0
New Mexico Total 15 1

In short, Trump 2020 should not be wasting its time in New Mexico, and the other two states don't look much better. And that is before we consider that the President's approval rating is 11 points underwater in Nevada (42%/53%), 15 points underwater in New Mexico (41%/56%), and 19 points underwater in New Hampshire (39%/58%). Also, these are pretty small fish, worth a total of only 15 EVs, less than Michigan alone.

With that said, the real question is: Are there better pickup opportunities for Trump than these three? If one absolutely had to provide an alternative, it would be Virginia, where Trump is only six points underwater (45%/51%). However, that 45% is probably a ceiling for him, the GOP has not done well in the Old Dominion in recent elections, and then there's the gun control issue (see above). The real bottom line is that the President's only plausible path to reelection is to hold most of his 2016 states, including at least two of the Midwestern states that he won narrowly. And that, in turn, would mean that the correct strategy is not to send campaign workers on wild goose chases in Nevada and New Hampshire, but to back off the trade wars. (Z)

Tar Heels Feeling Blue?

Speaking of states that Donald Trump really needs to hold onto, things are not currently looking great for the GOP in North Carolina. According to a new poll from Emerson, he would lose a hypothetical matchup to Joe Biden (56%/44%), to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT, 54%/46%), and to Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, 52%/48%). He would tie Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, 50%/50%), and among the folks Emerson asked about, Trump would only be able to beat (just barely) Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA, 49%/51%). That's not so good for an incumbent president with universal name recognition, particularly when some of his hypothetical opponents are not well known yet, and so their support has room to grow.

The really bad news in the poll, however, was not for Trump but for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). In a hypothetical matchup against State Senator Erica Smith (D), the poll says he would lose pretty big, 46% to 39%. That is absolutely terrible for a sitting senator, particularly against an opponent who is barely known in more than half the state. Tillis was already near the top of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's list, and with a few more polls like this, he may soon move into first place. Well, maybe not, but third place, after Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), is realistic. Whatever the ranking, Tillis could be in serious trouble. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun04 Judge Gives Trump a Victory
Jun04 Trump Meets, Greets, and Tweets
Jun04 GOP Members of Congress Not Sure What to Do About Trade Wars
Jun04 House Democrats Prepare to Hold Barr in Contempt
Jun04 Is the Right Time to Impeach...November 2, 2020?
Jun04 Facebook, Google Get Some Bad News from the House
Jun04 Another Mueller Indictment Is Revealed
Jun03 Division Among Democrats Is Very Apparent in California
Jun03 California Democrats Elect a Union Leader as Party Chairman
Jun03 Labor and Progressives Are at Odds over the Green New Deal
Jun03 Deutsche Bank Appeal Will Be Fast Tracked
Jun03 Trump Will Launch His Campaign in Florida in 2 Weeks
Jun03 Iowa and New Hampshire Are No Longer the Only Games in Town
Jun03 Trump's Approval Holds Steady but Support for Impeachment Rises
Jun03 Hoyer Supports Statehood for D.C.
Jun03 Monday Q&A
May31 About That Citizenship Question...
May31 Trump Lashes Out, Part I: Mueller
May31 Trump Lashes Out, Part II: Mexico
May31 Moore Punches Back
May31 Kushner Peace Plan
May31 Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
May30 Mueller: Congress, the Ball is in Your Court
May30 How the Media Reported Mueller's Speech
May30 Fox News Legal Analyst: Mueller Wanted to Indict Trump but Couldn't
May30 Trump Is Restructuring His Legal Team
May30 Perez Raises the Bar for the Third Debate
May30 Poll: Americans Don't Believe China Is Paying the Tariffs
May30 National Journal Ranks the Most Competitive Senate Races
May30 Trump Warns Moore Not to Run for the Senate
May30 Democrat Jaime Harrison Will Challenge Lindsey Graham
May30 Not so Fast, Bibi
May30 Thursday Q&A
May29 To Impeach or Not to Impeach, That Is the Question
May29 SCOTUS Sends Mixed Messages on Abortion
May29 McConnell to Ginsburg: Don't Die
May29 Elaine Chao Turns Out to Be Kinda Swampy
May29 The States of the Democratic Field
May29 Roy Moore Plans to Run
May29 Texas Secretary of State Falls on His Sword
May28 Trump Sides With Kim Again
May28 Bolton Under Attack
May28 Judge Halts Border Wall Construction
May28 Trump's Clumsy Legal Strategy
May28 Bernie Sanders Wants to Be President
May28 The War Against Climate Science Is in Full Swing
May28 Voter Registration Meets Voter Suppression
May28 With Women Candidates, GOP Not Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is
May28 Faithless Electors Hit With Fines
May27 In Japan, Trump Plays Golf and Supports Kim Jong-Un