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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump "Launches" 2020 Campaign
      •  Shanahan Removes His Name from Consideration for Secretary of Defense
      •  Hope Hicks on Deck
      •  Budget Talks Look Promising, Except for the Fly in the Ointment
      •  Everybody Hates Tom
      •  Roy Moore to Announce Plans on Thursday
      •  A Master Class in Kissing Ass

Trump "Launches" 2020 Campaign

Donald Trump held his much-hyped rally in Orlando, FL, on Tuesday night. This event will be the lead story in newspapers across the country today, because it ostensibly marks the beginning of an incumbent president's reelection campaign, which is an inherently newsworthy event.

The rally itself was the usual pastiche of greatest hits:

  • A large, boisterous crowd? Check.
  • But not as large as Trump claimed? Check.
  • Chants of "lock her up!"? Check.
  • Promises that Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails will be found? Check.
  • Potshots at Trump's rivals (e.g., "Sleepy" Joe Biden)? Check.
  • Factually dubious attacks on the Democratic Party? Check.
  • Bragging about how much he has accomplished as president? Check.
  • Kvetching about fake news and the deep state? Check.
  • "No obstruction, no collusion!"? Check.
  • Large numbers of falsehoods? Check.

In short, anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Trump's rallies would recognize that this one was no different from any of the others.

So if the content of the rally is not what made it distinctive, then the timing is, right? Well, not so much. One might be left with the impression that, in some way, Trump made his 2020 candidacy "official" on Tuesday night, but that is not the case. He's been running for re-election, in fact, for over two years. And not just "running for reelection" in the sense that every first-term president runs for reelection during their first term. No, he formally filed the paperwork declaring his candidacy on January 20, 2017, the day he was inaugurated. Trump has been an official candidate for president in 2020 for, quite literally, every single moment he's been in the White House.

The only reason that this is a news story, then, is that Trump made it one by fiat. He declared it to be important, and so everyone (including us) was pretty much compelled to treat it as such. That means it's news that's not really news. In fact, one might even call it fake news. In any event, absent the contrived significance of Tuesday's event, Trump's rallies—with their usual litany of brags and bomb throwing—are very much in "dog bites man" territory these days. There's really nothing much to see, and nothing much worth commenting on. Even Fox News has been significantly reducing their coverage of them. And now that Trump has used the one silver bullet in the "you must pay attention to my rally" gun, and given that he's apparently not much of a ratings draw anymore, one wonders exactly how much attention the next 50 rallies will get. Our guess is, not nearly as much as his rallies did in 2016, despite the fact that he's now a sitting president.

Incidentally, as long as the other trappings of a presidential campaign—debates, rallies, heavy TV advertising, cattle calls, etc.—are being visited upon us a year earlier than is really necessary, the Orlando Sentinel decided to get a jump on the competition, and to make the first newspaper endorsement of the campaign, a mere 504 days before Election Day. One might wonder how that is possible, given that the Democrats don't even have a candidate yet. No matter, however, because the Sentinel's endorsement is: Not Donald Trump. That technically means that the Democrats could nominate Satan, the Unabomber, Santa Claus, Hillary Clinton, a talking donkey, or Forrest Gump, and that individual would already have more newspaper endorsements than the President does. And to make it worse, the Sentinel is a Republican paper. With the exceptions of 1964, 2004, and 2016, it has endorsed the Republican every time for six decades. It's going to be quite a campaign. (Z)

Shanahan Removes His Name from Consideration for Secretary of Defense

Pat Shanahan has been the Acting Secretary of Defense for about six months now, ever since Jim Mattis quit in disgust. And as recently as last week, the submission of his name to the Senate for approval as the permanent secretary was supposedly imminent. Not anymore, though, as Shanahan withdrew from consideration, which not only ends his candidacy for promotion, but also his tenure as acting secretary.

It was clear that many of the GOP senators who would have had to give the thumbs up to Shanahan were not thrilled with him. Among the alleged strikes against him:

  • He has no military service on his résumé
  • He has no experience leading a large (or small) government bureaucracy
  • He is a career employee of Boeing, and worked as a lobbyist for them
  • Some of the contracts awarded during his tenure looked suspiciously like kickbacks
  • His people skills have not impressed anyone
  • His fashion sense is rather odd, and strikes some as inappropriate (really!)
  • He's done a poor job of setting boundaries and, in particular, has allowed NSA John Bolton to walk all over him

With all of that said, it appears that the fatal blow to his candidacy was a history of domestic violence in his family. Though Shanahan himself has not been accused of it (which would definitely be a deal-breaker), his ex-wife was arrested several years back for punching him in the face. Further, after their divorce, Shanahan's ex-wife and son got into a violent dispute that resulted in the son beating the ex-wife with a baseball bat, fracturing her skull. That led to an 18-month stint in juvie for young Mr. Shanahan. It is not clear if the folks who are holding all of this against the elder Shanahan think this just reflects badly on him, or if they suspect there are not-publicly-known details of these incidents that will make him look partly culpable, or if they believe this is a sign that there are other skeletons in the closet that could eventually see the light of day. In any event, he's out.

Replacing Shanahan, at least on a temporary basis, will be Army Secretary Mark Esper. He is also a defense industry careerist (with Raytheon) and a longtime lobbyist, so anyone worried that the Pentagon might get a little less swampy need not have concerned themselves. Unlike Shanahan, Esper does have military experience, having risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the army while serving in the Persian Gulf War. The Trump administration has not indicated if they will nominate Esper for promotion to permanent status. Several GOP senators are pressing for quick action, arguing (quite rightly) that the Dept. of Defense needs a leader with full authority to do his job. This is doubly true if Trump is planning military action against Iran. However, Team Trump is very comfortable relying on "acting" secretaries, so a decision on Esper could be a while in coming. (Z)

Hope Hicks on Deck

Today is the day that Hope Hicks, who is as much a Donald Trump insider as anyone besides his family, will talk to the House Judiciary Committee. By terms of the agreement that her lawyers negotiated with Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), she will testify behind closed doors, and without any cameras present. After, a transcript of her testimony will be released, roughly 48 hours after the hearing is complete.

The White House is rightly nervous about what she might say. Consequently, White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to Nadler asserting that Hicks is "absolutely immune" from having to answer questions about her time in the White House. "Because of this constitutional immunity, and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of President, the President has directed Ms. Hicks not to answer questions before the Committee relating to the time of her services as a senior adviser to the President," he explained.

As we have noted many times, we are not lawyers. However, Cipollone is clearly misusing the term "immunity," which refers to a situation in which a defendant's (or potential defendant's) criminal exposure is reduced in exchange for their information/cooperation. What he appears to be asserting, in fact, is executive privilege. It is probably safe to assume that Cipollone knows the difference between the two concepts, and that he did not accidentally confuse them. If so, then this would appear to be a tacit admission that executive privilege is not going to fly here, and a Hail Mary attempt to fashion a new variant of executive privilege out of whole cloth.

We shall see how well, and how long, Cipollone's gambit works. The first problem is that the Democrats are planning to ask Hicks about things that happened before Trump was inaugurated, which would not be covered by executive privilege, or immunity, or execumunity, or businessman-employee privilege, or HIPAA, or the law of the jungle, or any other "doctrine" Cipollone might try to dream up. The second problem is that it is not yet clear how much Hicks is willing to stick her neck out for the President, risking criminal and civil consequences for herself. If she does not buy into the "immunity" concept, then it won't matter what Cipollone wrote in his letter. And the third problem is that if Hicks is not properly forthcoming, Nadler & Co. are going to run to a judge and ask that judge to compel her testimony. We may have a clearer picture sometime later today or, failing that, sometime over the weekend. (Z)

Budget Talks Look Promising, Except for the Fly in the Ointment

It's almost that time again: Congress needs to pass a budget, raise the debt limit, and do all the other things needed to keep the government functioning (stop laughing!) for another year. The members desperately want to avoid a shutdown going into an election year, and there is much optimism on both sides that they can work things out. In fact, on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee even hammered out a tentative deal on a $4.6 billion funding package meant specifically to address the "humanitarian crisis" at the border. It includes nearly $3 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (which was in danger of running out of money), and $0 billion for wall construction.

And that, of course, brings us to the 800-pound fly in the ointment. Donald Trump resumed his anti-immigrant saber rattling on Monday night, threatening mass deportations and other sorts of punitive measures. He may be unwilling to sign off on a deal that includes "humanitarian" funding, particularly if there is no border wall funding (which remains a nonstarter for Democrats). He may throw wrenches into the works of other parts of the budget, possibly making unreasonable demands or, more likely, signaling a particular preference one day and then changing his mind the next. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, "Acting" White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and other administration insiders are set to chat with leaders of both houses of Congress today, but they don't truly speak for Trump, and even they can't account for his tendency to turn on a dime. The upshot is that folks on both sides of the aisle agree that the President is, far and away, the single biggest obstacle to getting a budget in place on time.

This situation also creates an interesting tactical question for the Democrats. They've been thinking about attaching things that they want—like election security—to the budget bills so that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has no choice but to bring them up for a vote. That's a clever way to get around McConnell's obstructionism, but it also gives Trump and the GOP a potential avenue for blaming the blue team if the government shuts down again. "We wanted to fund the government, but the Democrats insisted on sneaking their dirty, socialist agenda into the budget bills," they will say. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co. will have to decide how much that line of attack worries them before they decide exactly how to approach this budget situation. (Z)

Everybody Hates Tom

Being chair of the DNC comes with a lot of prestige and fame, but the person who holds that post, like Rodney Dangerfield, don't get no respect. Tom Perez, who took over from interim chair Donna Brazile a little less than two years ago, is currently receiving an object lesson in that particular reality, as he's currently under withering fire from all directions of his caucus.

The first thing that has raised just about everyone's hackles is the standards that Perez set for debate participation. The folks who didn't make the cut for the first round of debates are aggravated that he is such a meanie and that he made it so hard to qualify. The folks who barely made the cut for the first round are upset that it's going to get much harder to qualify, starting with round three. And the folks who easily made the cut are upset that so much valuable time is going to be expended on candidates who have no actual chance of winning the nomination. Incidentally, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) has now qualified for round two, so we officially have 21 candidates for 20 chairs. In other words, Perez' headaches are about to get even worse.

The other thing that has a lot of Democratic pooh-bahs griping is Perez' move to declaw the superdelegates, at least for the first round of voting at the convention. Quite a few of those individuals, particularly the ones who are currently serving in Congress, are unhappy that they are a little less special, and that their voice in the process has been partly muted. Some of them are very clearly sulking, and are threatening to skip the convention entirely. For example, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) has delivered a speech at each of the last four Democratic conventions, but says that in 2020, "I can watch it on TV."

Obviously, Perez made both of these choices in an effort to heal the divide that hampered the Party in 2016. The great news for him is that if everything works out well, and the Democrats win the White House next year, the victory will be attributed to the brilliance of the party's presidential candidate. And if everything blows up, and Donald Trump is reelected, Perez will take much of the blame, and will probably have his head lopped off, just as Debbie Wasserman Schultz' was. It's definitely a thankless job. You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time (with apologies to A.L.). (Z)

Roy Moore to Announce Plans on Thursday

Roy Moore has organized a press conference for Thursday, at which he will announce his decision about another Senate run. This week, he and his wife have been contacting friends and supporters and asking them to be there. People who aren't running don't hold major media events, and they certainly don't ask their friends and allies to take time out of their day to be there to hear them say "Nah, not interested." So, it's fair to conclude that Moore is in, and will make it official at his press conference tomorrow morning.

This news will undoubtedly bring a smile to poor Tom Perez' face (see above). At very least, it guarantees a bloody and difficult primary on the Republican side of the aisle while Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) sits on the sidelines and counts his campaign money. Then, by all indications, Moore will advance, giving Jones the one opponent he has a reasonable chance of beating (inasmuch as he already did so once before). Put another way, a Senate seat that has no business being in the "tossup" column is about to be in the "tossup" column. (Z)

A Master Class in Kissing Ass

For now, at least, Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of Israel. And as a very shrewd politician, he knows: (1) what side his bread is buttered on, and (2) how to get people to do what he wants them to do. So, earlier this week, Bibi announced the creation of a new landmark in the Golan Heights:

Trump Heights

Israeli signage typically includes Hebrew, Arabic, and English lettering. Someone appears to have forgotten the Arabic lettering here, for some reason. Hmm...

Most folks, on either side of this transaction, would find this to be a little...icky. If Barack Obama had announced the establishment of Angela Merkel Park in Chicago, it would have been a little embarrassing for all involved. However, Netanyahu has no problem with doing icky things, which may help explain why he's about to be put on trial for corruption. Meanwhile, Trump loves to have his name on...well, anything. He's already expressed appreciation for the gesture:

The only little problem with Trump Heights is that it is a Potemkin village. The Israelis have no plan to put anything there besides the sign. There is no blueprint for a town, no funding, nothing. Just a sign. And if Bibi loses the election on Sept. 17, the sign may come down as well. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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