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Political Wire logo Amash Quits House Freedom Caucus
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Backs Down on Tariffs
      •  You Have to Kill the Bear
      •  Biden Increases Lead in Iowa
      •  Iowa Democrats Say "Jump" and 19 Presidential Candidates Say: "How High?"
      •  How Old Should a President Be?
      •  Democrats Have Bold Plans
      •  Harris' Sister Is a Star in Her Own Right
      •  Jim Crow Law Could Determine Who Wins Mississippi Governor's Race
      •  Monday Q&A

Trump Backs Down on Tariffs

Donald Trump didn't impose tariffs on all imports from Mexico today, as he previously threatened to do. He backed down for two reasons. Nominally, it was because he reached an agreement with Mexico to have asylum seekers stay in Mexico until their cases are heard in a U.S. court. That could take weeks or months, during which time they could try to sneak across the border illegally. The resultant pile up of people in northern Mexico is going to put enormous stress on Mexico to house and feed all of them, something it is ill-prepared for.

But a second, and probably more important, reason that Trump canceled the tariffs (for the moment) is that the U.S. business community was dead set against the idea and made this known to all the Republicans in the Senate. As a consequence, many of the senators loudly opposed the tariffs. In the understatement of the week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: "There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that's for sure." Presumably, someone told Trump that the Senate was probably going to at least pass a resolution disapproving of the tariffs, which would be embarrassing.

Further, as with so much of what Trump says, there is a backstory here. Fundamentally, Trump is bragging that it was his tariffs that got Mexico to agree to allow the asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until their cases were heard in a U.S. Court. But the New York Times is reporting that Mexico didn't give in to Trump's tariffs. Not at all. The deal was hammered out by then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, in secret talks back in March. Trump is only announcing it now to save face and prevent an open rebellion among Senate Republicans.

Assuming the Times story is true, it is hard to know what Trump is really thinking. He may or may not even be aware of Nielsen's deal. If he (falsely) believes it was his tariffs that got concessions from Mexico, he may come to see tariff threats as a great tool that can be used again and again. Only the second or third time, Mexico might refuse his demands, leading Trump to pull the trigger and Senate Republicans to actually approve a resolution opposing the tariffs. As a general rule, when a bully gets his way, he doesn't discard the tactic that got him a win and look for a new one.

On the other hand, if Trump actually knows that the concessions Mexico made were due to Nielsen's negotiations and not his threats, he might be hesitant to play that game again. That is especially true if Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), or one of his other close allies in the Senate, told him that there was a real chance the Senate might pass a resolution opposing the tariffs, making him look weak. The one thing he cannot tolerate is looking weak. (V)

You Have to Kill the Bear

Long-time Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf put it succinctly: "If you want to survive and you want to get the nomination, you have to kill the bear." The bear in question is Joe Biden. Maybe he is a bear, but he is definitely not an 800-pound gorilla. All the other Democratic presidential candidates are keenly aware of the fact that if Biden makes it to the Iowa caucuses 10 points ahead of whoever is #2, they are in deep trouble. For any of them to succeed, he needs to be taken down, and fast.

Biden fumbled last week and the other candidates started cautiously to go after him. His flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the expenditure of tax money to fund abortions, gave them all an opening. His vote on the Iraq war, his role in the 1994 Crime Bill, his tendency to plagiarize campaign material, and his treatment of Anita Hill won't be far behind.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said: "We cannot go back to the old ways." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized (unnamed) Democrats who "believe the only change we can get are tweaks and nudges." Pete Buttigieg warned Democrats that "the riskiest thing we could do is try too hard to play it safe." Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) gave Biden a backhanded compliment by pointing out that it takes courage to admit you are wrong. Marianne Williamson said Biden was "behind the times." In an effort to win some support among poor people and minorities, Beto O'Rourke helpfully noted: "Perhaps he doesn't understand who the Hyde Amendment hurts most." Of course, this artfully also suggests that perhaps Biden doesn't have as many marbles now as he did in his youth.

Whether this kind of sniping has any impact remains to be seen. Biden's strength is not that he has strong policy positions that people like or that he has taken tough votes in the past. His main attraction is that many people think that he is the strongest candidate to take on Donald Trump, in part because he appeals to a wide spectrum of voters, from blue-collar men in the Midwest, to suburban women, to black voters in big cities. A few stumbles are not likely to be fatal, but there could come a point where it all adds up and at least seriously wounds the bear. (V)

Biden Increases Lead in Iowa

Not only is the bear not dead or wounded, he is getting stronger. A new Des Moines Register/CNN poll of likely caucusgoers in Iowa, run by the legendary pollster Ann Selzer, puts Joe Biden ahead by 8 points over Bernie Sanders, up from his 2-point lead in March. Most of Biden's gain came from Sanders, but Elizabeth Warren is also gaining and breathing down Sanders' neck. So is Pete Buttigieg. Here are the 14 candidates polling at 1% or more:

Candidate Pct.
Joe Biden 24%
Bernie Sanders 16%
Elizabeth Warren 15%
Pete Buttigieg 14%
Kamala Harris 7%
Amy Klobuchar 2%
Beto O'Rourke 2%
Michael Bennet 1%
Cory Booker 1%
Julián Castro 1%
John Delaney 1%
Tulsi Gabbard 1%
Jay Inslee 1%
Andrew Yang 1%

At this point, the field can be divided into three tiers: (1) Biden, (2) Sanders/Warren/Buttigieg, and (3) everyone else. But once again, it's very early in the cycle and in politics 2 weeks is a long time. Actually, if you want to be picky, former British prime minister Harold Wilson said 1 week, not 2 weeks, but the first Democratic debate is in 2 weeks, and that could shake things up. For candidates polling below 5%, if they don't break out after the first or second debate, their supporters may switch horses and the funding will dry up, forcing them out of the race.

Polling the Iowa caucuses has never been easy, due to the way they work. People may go in favoring one candidate, but after hearing pitches from supporters of all the candidates, may change their minds. Also, any candidate not clearing the 15% mark in a round of voting is eliminated and that candidate's supporters have to pick someone else in the next round.

In 2020, polling the caucuses will get even harder due to a rule change. Ann Selzer, who understands polling the Iowa caucuses better than anyone else in the world, has written an article describing the problem. Basically, in 2020 for the first time, people will be able to attend virtual caucuses using their phone or computer. However, the virtual caucusgoers will account for exactly 10% of the delegate equivalents reported, no matter how few or how many people attend virtually. This means that in addition to asking people how they plan to vote, she also has to ask if they will vote in person or remotely, and create two different pools and weight them accordingly.

Needless to say, this creates a little uncertainty in the process. According to rules set by the Iowa Democratic Party, folks have to "declare" virtual vs. in-person attendance by January 17. However, since this it the first time it's been done in this way, Selzer and other pollsters are going to have a tough time predicting how it will affect the in-person results (which, again, ar 90% of the final total). Virtual caucusing could appeal mostly to younger people, giving the in-person vote an older (and presumably more centrist) skew, which would help someone like Joe Biden. On the other hand, the virtual caucusing could appeal mostly to older people who don't like traveling in the dead of winter, giving the in-person vote a younger (and presumably more leftist) skew, which would help someone like Bernie Sanders.

Selzer (and other pollsters) will certainly ask people what their plans are, but it's possible they won't know until close to the January deadline. It's also possible that some Iowans don't know about the rules, and won't realize that they can't choose "online" at the last minute. Anyhow, add it all up, and there is more uncertainty this year than in any year in recent memory, so we might get some real surprises (unfortunately). (V)

Iowa Democrats Say "Jump" and 19 Presidential Candidates Say: "How High?"

Iowa likes to ride its "first in the nation" status for all it's worth. This weekend, the state Democratic Party held a fundraiser and meet-up for the party faithful, and advised the Democratic field that if they would like to drop in, they'd get a chance to speak to the attendees. Nineteen of them accepted, and each got a grand total of five minutes to address the crowd, alongside participating in other kinds of events, like meet-and-greets and 5K runs in honor of Pride Week.

There are a few storylines from the event. The first is that the only "top" candidate who did not attend was Joe Biden, making that two weekends in a row where he skipped an event that most or all of his rivals were attending. A few folks took potshots at him (Andrew Yang, Kirsten Gillibrand), but not too many. The second storyline is that nobody got booed, unlike in California last week. Either Iowans are more polite than Californians, or they are more amenable to snarky comments about socialism, or both. The third, and final, storyline is that folks in the audience agreed that nobody really stood out, in part because they had only five minutes, but also in part because they were all talking about the same basic issues. We shall see what happens, but the availability of a wide selection of candidates, scattered across the spectrum, may blunt some of the bitterness that resulted from having an apparently stark choice in 2016 (though the gap between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wasn't nearly as big as it seemed).

Biden's strategy is obvious: stay above the fray and act like the nomination is already in the bag. If he were to start showing up at these cattle calls, he would be just another of two dozen participants, no better and no worse than, say, Andrew Yang. He clearly doesn't want to be reduced to the situation of "just another candidate." But at some point the others are going to seriously start thinking about killing the bear and suggest he is afraid to come and discuss the issues in front of voters. How long he can get away with being the only major candidate missing at this kind of event remains to be seen, and also depends on how much pressure the others put on him.

If you are looking for a short take on how each of the 19 candidates did, the Des Moines Register has one. (Z)

How Old Should a President Be?

You have to be at least 35 on Inauguration Day, but other than that, the Constitution doesn't give any guidance on how old you should be to be commander-in-chief. The Democratic candidates currently range from 37 to 77. Some Democrats want new blood, while other ones want a well-tested candidate. Of the most recent five Democratic presidents, three were in their forties when first elected (John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama) and two were in their fifties (Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter). In fact, the last time the blue team elected a person in his sixties to a first presidential term was...1856 (James Buchanan). The GOP, by contrast, has elected three 60+ presidents since 1980.

An article about presidents and age in the New York Times groups the 23 major candidates into four generations (based on birth year), as follows:

Generation Candidates
Millennials (1981-96) Buttigieg, Gabbard
Gen X (1965-80) Booker, Bullock, Castro, Gillibrand, Messam, Moulton, O'Rourke, Ryan, Swalwell, Yang
Boomers (1946-64) Bennet, De Blasio, Delaney, Harris, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Klobuchar, Warren, Williamson
Silent Generation (1928-45) Biden, Sanders

The candidates have treated age in various ways. The kids, Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard, have pointed out that we need new ideas because the old ones aren't working. And who is better prepared to introduce new ideas than people barely old enough to be eligible? The geezers, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, say they are in good health and that policy positions and experience are what counts. The ones in the middle don't talk about age so much. A recent Pew poll showed that only 3% of Americans think that candidates in their 70s are ideal. Of course, Donald Trump was past 70 on Election Day 2016, and 46% of the voters picked him nevertheless. (V)

Democrats Have Bold Plans

The Democratic presidential candidates have been burning the midnight oil coming up with bold plans. There has been some sniping—especially in the direction of Joe Biden—but many of them are trying to put their main focus on policy proposals. Some of the more recent ones they have pitched include these:

Candidate Plans
Joe Biden Climate change
Cory Booker Housing
Julián Castro Over-aggressive policing
John Delaney Climate change, national service for young people
Kirsten Gillibrand Abortion rights, family bill of rights
Kamala Harris Teacher pay, maternal mortality
Jay Inslee Climate change
Amy Klobuchar Infrastructure, mental health
Beto O'Rourke Government and electoral reform
Elizabeth Warren Climate change and much more

Warren, in particular, has been issuing a stream of policy proposals, to the extent that one of her more popular T-shirts is this one:

Warren T-shirt

The danger for her is that people see her as Hillary Clinton v2.0. Clinton had some 40-odd major policy proposals, all described in detail on her website. But the media ignored all of them and just talked about her e-mails. For Warren, just substitute "ancestry" for "emails," and you could have the same story. At the other extreme, with Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) it is climate change for breakfast, climate change for lunch, and climate change for dinner. He's betting that voters for whom climate change is the key issue will think of him when it is time to vote. He may have a point in that voters can't focus on 10 or 20 things at once, so being Gov. Climate Change is a plausible strategy. The big question is whether any one issue (other than beating Donald Trump) has enough supporters to carry a candidate to victory. (V)

Harris' Sister Is a Star in Her Own Right

Usually, campaign managers keep a low profile, but in the case of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), that is not the case. Her campaign manager is her kid sister, Maya Harris, who is involved in every aspect of the campaign, and who looms large on the campaign trail. Sometimes she goes to campaign events and doesn't bother to bring the actual candidate. A lot of her appeal and power come from the fact that the two sisters are very close, and that when Maya says that Kamala believes something or will do something, that is as good as hearing it from the candidate herself. Think: Bobby and Jack.

Maya became a single mother at 17. That notwithstanding, she graduated from Berkeley with a B.A. and then from Stanford Law School with a J.D. degree. After law school, she clerked for a federal judge, worked at a law firm on civil and criminal cases, and became a professor of law at the University of San Francisco. This is not the background of a typical campaign manager, and it certainly adds to her clout. It probably doesn't hurt, either, that her husband, Tony West, was the third-ranking official in the Dept. of Justice in the Obama administration. A number of people have expressed the view that had Hillary Clinton won, Maya Harris would probably have had a job in the DoJ. Maybe even the big job.

One of Maya's biggest challenges, and one she is keenly aware of, relates to the law, a subject about which she knows quite a bit. Specifically, many of the decisions Kamala made as the San Francisco district attorney, and later the California attorney general, are coming back to haunt her now. For example, she defended the Dept. of Corrections when it decided not to allow transgender inmates to get gender reassignment surgery. She defended the death penalty. She did little to combat racial bias among police officers. She fought to keep people in prison even after they were shown to be innocent. The list is a long one and it is not progressive at all, as her view was "tough on crime." In the modern Democratic Party, this is about as popular as supporting the Hyde Amendment. To a large extent, it is Maya's job to try to deal with all the criticism her sister is getting on account of her track record. But if any campaign manager can do it, Maya can. (V)

Jim Crow Law Could Determine Who Wins Mississippi Governor's Race

Mississippi will choose a new governor in 2019, and it won't be Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS) because he is term limited. But the new governor is nearly certain to be a Republican, even if the Democratic candidate, probably state AG Jim Hood, gets the most votes. The reason the Republicans have a virtual lock on the governorship is a provision of the state constitution added in 1890 with the express purpose of making sure all future governors were white. The provision states that to win the governorship a candidate must (1) win a majority of the votes and (2) win a majority of the 122 state House districts.

Although black citizens make up 37% of the state's population, they are largely located in about a third of the state House districts. As a consequence, even if Hood gets all of the black vote and a quarter of the white vote, which would give him a statewide majority, there is no way he could possibly win a majority of the state House districts. In the event that no candidate passes both tests, the state House chooses the governor. The state House has 72 Republicans and 50 Democrats. The Republican gubernatorial candidate is not known yet. No matter who it is, Hood, who is white, has a decent shot at winning the popular vote, having won statewide races for the AG job four times, all of them by double digits.

Former AG Eric Holder has filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the Jim Crow provision and elect the governor by popular vote only. In a bit of irony, the person in charge of defending the Mississippi Constitution and laws in court is ... Jim Hood. However, the state legislature could hire outside counsel if it feels the AG has a conflict of interest. The case will probably land in the U.S. Supreme Court, but given how slowly the courts move, the case might not get there until after the November election. (V)

Monday Q&A

Today, we will begin by answering a question we are likely to get 200 times in the next six to nine months. We will probably have to re-run the answer on January 15 or so.

With each of the many Democratic presidential candidates seemingly trying to capture a particular "demographic" and concentrating on different states, how likely is it that none will secure a majority of the delegates during primary season, resulting in a brokered convention for the first time in many years? G.A., Berkeley, CA

Let's start with the general caveat here: people say "this is the year there might be a brokered convention" in pretty much every election cycle, for one party or the other. In 2016, talk of a brokered GOP convention lingered into late May before it became clear that the nominee would definitely be Donald Trump. The Republicans also had that conversation in 2012, until Mitt Romney pulled away from the Herman Cains and Newt Gingriches of the world, while the Democrats had it in 2008 until Barack Obama finally put Hillary Clinton away.

So while a brokered convention is certainly possible, the smart money says it won't happen. And the reason is that, about 50 years ago, the two parties both changed their nomination rules to make it harder for a non-viable candidate to pile up delegates and become a fly in the ointment. The GOP made (most of) their primaries winner-take-all, while the Democrats created the infamous superdelegates, and also decreed that a candidate had to get at least 15% of the vote to claim any delegates at all.

Now, because the Democrats do not use a winner-take-all system, they are slightly more likely to set themselves up for a brokered convention. Recall that in 2016, there were a handful of Republican candidates who basically split the first dozen states, with Trump taking a few, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) taking a few, and John Kasich However, once Kasich and Rubio and Jeb! dropped out, Trump was basically able to lay claim to all the remaining delegates, and thus the nomination. For the blue team, by contrast, a non-frontrunner can still keep piling up delegates, and can hope for a late surge or a convention miracle (as Bernie Sanders did).

There's also a wild card this year, and nobody can predict its impact: front-loaded primaries, caused by California and Texas (in particular) moving their primaries earlier in the calendar. Normally, things are set up such that only two (or maybe three) candidates are still in the race by the time the mega-states vote. But if the first four (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) provide voters with mixed signals, then it's possible that half a dozen folks could walk away from Super Tuesday with enough delegates to justify staying in for the long haul.

With all that said, the odds are still against a brokered convention. And even if it does happen, there's a second wild card that may un-broker it very quickly: the superdelegates. In the wake of the Hillary vs. Bernie animosity of 2016, the DNC changed the rules so that the superdelegates have to sit on their hands for the first round of voting. But, once the second round begins, the 750 of them (or so) are free to jump in. And given that they are overwhelmingly pragmatist and centrist, they are likely to line up behind the frontrunner, particularly if that person is a party insider, like Joe Biden. So, you could have the irony that, in trying to reduce the superdelegates' influence, the DNC might actually have set it up for them to be kingmakers for the first time.

I think someone asked about double jeopardy regarding impeachment, and the answer was that it isn't a protection, so, given the major risk of impeachment right now is that there's a quick acquittal, and given that the situation is very dynamic, and that Trump shows no respect for political conventions, could the House just keep impeaching the President, over and over, so that there's never a time that the Senate can wash their hands of it, claiming it's been resolved? D.C., San Francisco, CA

It's true, double jeopardy does not protect one against impeachment, including impeachment on the exact same charges. This was made crystal clear in the case of Judge Alcee Hastings. He was cleared of bribery charges by a jury, tried to argue that immunized him from impeachment, was told "uh, no" by the Supreme Court, and was impeached and convicted nonetheless.

With that said, if the Democrats decided they wanted to pull something like this, they probably wouldn't use the same charges over and over, but instead would come up with new charges each time. After all, there's plenty for them to work with.

The primary reason we chose your question, though, is because it gives us an opportunity to point something out: While Mitch McConnell has suggested he will use all of his powers to sweep an impeachment trial under the rug, he doesn't actually have much ability to do so. Recall that the presiding officer in a presidential impeachment is not the Majority Leader or President of the Senate (Mike Pence), it's the Chief Justice. Meanwhile, the "impeachment managers" (a.k.a. the prosecution) are members of the House (in Bill Clinton's case, it was the 13 GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee). So, unless John Roberts decides to start taking orders from McConnell (and there's no reason to think he'd go for that), then the Democrats would get their day in court, Majority Leader be damned. Yes, McConnell can whip votes to stop a conviction, but if all the Democrats want to do is make sure that Donald Trump's dirty laundry gets aired in public, they will be able to do so. And, of course, they will also have all the opportunity they want to display said laundry by having the House Judiciary Committee hold hearings until the cows come home.

I'm a progressive who is also a Mets fan, so I'm used to leadership futzing things up on a regular basis. But is it possible that Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) very public reluctance to pursue impeachment is strategic? That she's waiting for/pushing her caucus to insist on impeachment, so she can say, "well I didn't want to put the country through this, but the outcry is too great!"? Could this be a strategy to build public sympathy? Are there precedents from impeachments past of House leadership waiting for momentum to build, or "leading from behind" in this way? M.R., New York, NY

Sorry about the Mets; that's a situation that isn't going to improve until the Wilpons leave town.

The Speaker takes the counsel of only a very few people and, needless to say, we are not among them. Our guess is that even she doesn't really know how this will all turn out, and that she is keeping her options open. But if impeachment does indeed happen, you're right that it behooves her to look like a "reluctant" participant. And she surely knows that. So, regardless of what fork in the road she ultimately takes (impeachment or not), she is currently served best by digging her 4" heels in.

There have been so few impeachments or near-impeachments in U.S. history that there isn't a great parallel of that sort. Obviously, the Republicans were not at all reluctant when they impeached Bill Clinton, and they did not pretend otherwise. However, there are all kinds of non-impeachment examples of politicians leading from behind, and appearing to be more reluctant than they actually were. Perhaps the most famous is Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. As late as December of 1862, he was telling Congress that what he really wanted to do was return the slaves to Africa, and that he would issue the Proclamation only if he absolutely had no other choice. It's true that the Whiggish Lincoln was once an enthusiastic supporter of colonization, but it's also the case that he was clever enough to know by 1862 that it was a non-starter. So, that December 1862 speech (which was his State of the Union address) was just a little theater for the benefit of the voters, so he could claim he'd tried every other alternative, and that he issued the Proclamation because he had no choice.

You've written about the likelihood of Donald Trump being prosecuted once he leaves office, even stating boldly, "it will take a near miracle for him not to end up as a defendant." I cannot fathom the political upheaval in the U.S. if a Democratic administration chose to pursue criminal charges against Trump, nor what the next Republican administration would do in retaliation to the next outgoing Democrat. Given Republican leadership tends to be ruthless, and Democratic leadership tends to be conciliatory, what justifies such confidence in his prosecution? R.S., San Mateo, CA

We will make three observations in response to your question. First, if we assume this is entirely a political calculation, then it is true that (some) Republicans would be very angry if Trump was prosecuted. However, we think you forget how angry the Democratic rank-and-file currently is. They would be equally outraged, if not more so, if the Donald is allowed to go quietly into the night, and is never held to account for his (alleged) misdeeds.

Second, the folks who make these decisions are supposed to be immune from political considerations. That doesn't always happen, but it often does, and it's hard to imagine that the next Dept. of Justice would be willing to throw up their hands and say "What're ya gonna do?" if they really believe Trump is guilty of one or more crimes. And given that over 1,000 former prosecutors have signed a letter opining that he committed obstruction of justice, the odds are pretty good that the new DoJ staff will think he's worthy of prosecution.

And finally, there's the thing that should really be keeping Trump up at night: New York state. That is the place where Trump likely committed financial crimes. Those crimes are likely to be fairly easy to prove since they often leave paper trails, and they cannot be pardoned, except by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and it is extremely unlikely he will do so. New York AG Letitia James has largely stayed out of the way of House Democrats, but she and her team are undoubtedly laying the groundwork to go after Trump once he is a private citizen again.

With the baby boomer generation retiring at the rate of nearly 10,000 employed people per day (300,000 per month), when the economy generates only 75,000 new jobs in a month, does that mean the economy contracted by 225,000 jobs or were there really 375,000 jobs created? D.M., Shallotte, NC

Remember, before Trump was president, when he pooh-poohed the jobs numbers as "fake news"? He doesn't do that anymore, since those numbers now work to his benefit. However, he was actually right to be skeptical, although not for the reason you suggest.

To start, the retirements of baby boomers may affect other measures (like unemployment rates or workforce participation), but they don't affect the jobs numbers (unless their positions happen to eliminated upon their departure). The jobs report speaks to how many jobs are available, regardless of whether or not they are currently filled. So, if it is announced that "75,000 new jobs were added in May," it is supposed to tell you that at the start of May there were, say, 100,000,000 jobs in the economy, and at the end of May there were 100,075,000 jobs in the economy.

As we said, however, there is considerable imprecision in this figure. To start, it is a blunt number that treats all (non-farm) "jobs" as equal, whether it's CEO of Walmart, or part-time dishwasher at the Waffle House. So, for example, when there are a bunch of "new" jobs in November and December, ahead of the holiday season, it's not necessarily a clear indicator of the health of the economy.

The other problem is that this number is an estimate, and a crude one at that. There's no way to actually survey every employer in the country, so the jobs figures are an estimate produced by, in effect, polling selected business owners. Given how many jobs and businesses there are in the country, and the margin of error implicit in any poll, the results should always be taken with a large handful of salt. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not make a point of announcing this, they admit that the actual number is ±120,000.

So, when we are told that 75,000 jobs were added in May, what that means is that the actual figure is somewhere between -45,000 jobs and +195,000 jobs. The Bureau also updates every figure one month later and two months later, though nobody ever talks about the updates. In the report for May, for example, they revised downward the figures from both March (189,000 to 153,000) and April (263,000 to 224,000). In other words, at the same time the Bureau announced 75,000 new jobs in May, it took away 75,000 previously announced jobs from March and April. Our staff mathematicians are still working on it, but their tentative conclusion is that leaves us with a net of zero. That's poor, especially leading into the summer, and suggests that the trade war with China is hurting the economy.

The Supreme Court has already heard arguments regarding the gerrymander of North Carolina's districts. Since then, new evidence has emerged that the defense misled (lied?) to the lower courts regarding not having enough time to redraw the lines. Can SCOTUS consider new evidence after hearing a case? A.S., Black Mountain, NC

Yes, they can, and attorneys aren't shy about urging them to do so. Nothing has been made public about any updates they've gotten on the North Carolina case. However, there's also the census citizenship question case, which similarly had new and relevant details come out after oral arguments. In that case, the plaintiffs filed a new motion in district court, and also sent a letter to SCOTUS, advising them of the new information and the new motion, and encouraging them to take that all under advisement. You can read the letter here, if you wish. The district court already heard arguments about the motion, and a ruling is imminent, so it will essentially be impossible for SCOTUS to ignore the new evidence.

What is the status of the line-item veto? I vaguely remember talk of instituting this at the federal level back in the 1990's, but I really don't know of anywhere it is used. I think there are states that have this feature, but I know it is not used at the federal level. It seems to me that having the line-item veto might be a way to get bills passed that are so polarizing only because of one provision. J.T.H., Little Rock, AR

First, let us note that the federal line-item veto was only for budget bills, and would not have been usable to eliminate other kinds of trickery. In any event, Bill Clinton had it available for a short while, and then the Supreme Court ruled that the law fundamentally changed the balance of powers between the branches, and thus a line-item veto could only be implemented by constitutional amendment.

About a decade later, George W. Bush tried to do an end-run around the Supreme Court decision by proposing a line-item veto that would have required Congress to "sustain" the veto with a majority vote. It was not entirely clear that this would have passed constitutional muster. Further, it was an obvious attempt to put individual members of Congress in unpleasant positions. For example, it probably wouldn't be too hard to find 51 votes in the Senate to kill $1 billion for a bridge in Alaska, but that would put Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) under the spotlight, and not in a good way. So, the Bush proposal went nowhere, and there's been very little movement on the line-item front since. Donald Trump has asked repeatedly for that power, since he's not exactly a constitutional scholar, and doesn't realize (or doesn't care) that it would be illegal. Even if such a thing were viable, however, it's highly unlikely that anyone in Congress (even Senate Republicans) would be willing to give the President that much budgetary discretion. Is there really any chance he wouldn't use such power punitively and arbitrarily?

Most states do have line-item vetoes, with various levels of scope. The most expansive is undoubtedly Wisconsin, where governors can cross out pretty much whatever they want, often allowing them to completely switch the intent of a piece of legislation. For example, deleting the word "not" can flip things around very quickly, indeed. The only states that have no line-item veto are Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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