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Political Wire logo My Reaction to Tonight’s Democratic Debate
The First Democratic Debate – Night One
DNC Chairman Says Debates Won’t Get Nasty
Sanders Won’t Commit to Supporting Nominee
The Knowns and Unknowns of the Debates
Mueller Testimony Could Make or Break Impeachment

Mueller Will Speak With Congress

Thus far, House Democrats haven't gotten much out of their committee investigations into Russiagate, inasmuch as everyone they call to testify either doesn't show up, or else doesn't say anything. Late Tuesday, however, their fortunes took a turn for the better, as former special counsel Robert Mueller agreed not to fight the subpoenas he's received, and to appear before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on July 17.

Mueller does not particularly want to testify, and would prefer to allow his report to stand on its own. It is extremely unlikely that he's going to provide any new information; after all, if he knew something that was both relevant and unclassified, he would have put it in the report. However, House Democrats aren't really looking for new information. They know that coverage of Mueller's appearance will be intense, and they want everyone in the country to see him (once again) saying damning things about Donald Trump. Chairmen Adam Schiff (D-CA; Intelligence) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY; Judiciary) are undoubtedly going to spend their time crafting the perfect questions, but expect things like this: "Mr. Mueller: If you were a member of Congress, would you vote to impeach the President?" His testimony, and how it comes off, could well be the deciding factor in whether or not impeachment proceedings actually happen.

Even if Mueller plays things close to the vest, and doesn't say much of anything, his appearance will serve to remind the entire country that the report was not actually favorable to Donald Trump. It will also serve to aggravate the President, and to trigger one or more rants. In fact, the ranting has already begun. Shortly after Mueller's appearance was announced, Trump tweeted this:

That may not have been the best choice of wording just days after Trump was (once again) accused of sexual harassment, since his replies are now full of references to Jean Carroll and the other women who have lodged accusations against him.

Anyhow, between Mueller, and another round of Democratic debates, and the SCOTUS ruling about the citizenship question, and Iran, and (probable) additional turnover in the administration (see below), July is shaping up to be yet another month with more political drama than Barack Obama gave us in a good year. (Z)

Debate Day Is Here

Some of the Democrats are probably raring to go while others are dreading it, but the first Democratic primary debates are upon us, with 10 candidates up today and 10 tomorrow. Most of the candidates have been hunkered down for days, studying thick briefing books, engaging in mock debates, and watching videos of the 2016 Republican debates. No matter how much they practice, though, the real deal is always different than what they prepared for and a single clever quip can send a candidate shooting through the roof while a single mistake can send them plummeting through the floor.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and some of the others have been holding formal mock debates, with their staff members acting like opponents. In contrast, Joe Biden has been spending a lot of time reviewing his record, since he knows some opponent could suddenly say: "Hey, Joe, how come you voted "yes" on H.R. 3355 back in 1994? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) isn't doing mock debates because his strength is being authentic, so he doesn't like rehearsing. Besides, he knows what he believes in and just says it out loud, with the chips falling where they may. One thing he has to consider, though, is whether to attack front runner Biden directly or focus on his own program.

Today's lineup consists of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and nine much lesser known candidates, all of whom need to break through. Some of them have no business even being on stage, and are taking advantage of DNC Chairman Tom Perez' fear of alienating anyone. Probably half of them won't even make the third debate.

Warren's image is that of a competent, if slightly boring, policy wonk. She is rising in the polls and has no need to change her image. She can spend all of her 10 minutes or so talking about how her specific proposals will help the middle class and how she will pay for them. The others are going to have to use all their time to introduce themselves to a national audience for the first time, and make the case that they are better than the 23 other candidates. It won't be easy, but a couple of them might stand out.

More than a few Democratic officials are scared to death of the debates, fearing that the candidates will tear each other apart and leave the winner badly bloodied and the losers angry. The idea of the candidates shooting at each other for months and then having one of them take on a sitting president with 40% of the country solidly behind him is nerve-wracking, at best. But the 2016 model—only two candidates and not a lot of personal sniping—didn't end up so well, either. Further, some progressives see the hand wringing from the party pooh-bahs as a thinly disguised way of saying that they should just fall in line behind Biden and stop whining. (V)

House Democrats Pass Border Aid Bill

After much debate within the Democratic caucus, the House has passed a bill, largely along party lines, that would appropriate $4.5 billion to aid with what is going on at the Southern border. The Senate has a bill that enjoys bipartisan support, and that would allocate $4.59 billion for the same purpose. The bills are somewhat different at this point, but they also have some areas of agreement, including substantial funds for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and zero funds for border walls. A conference committee will try to iron things out, and given that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has described the Senate legislation as a "good bill," there's a decent chance they can come up with something acceptable to both chambers.

What this means is that Donald Trump may be looking at another self-created pickle. He's supposedly holding off on ICE raids for a couple of weeks to give House Democrats time to act. However, he also hates the two bills that are currently under consideration, which means he's sure to hate any compromise bill. If and when such a bill reaches his desk, he could sign it, but that would be a surrender, and would make it even more likely there will be no new walls in place by November 3, 2020.

If he vetoes, which is more likely, he could unleash ICE, but then he'd have to bear responsibility for any bad PR generated by children in cages, or whatever other horrors might result. A photo is said to be worth 1,000 words, and if there are too many more border photos like this one of a toddler and her dad lying dead in the Rio Grande, it could chip away at Trump's support among independents.

Dead toddler

Trump may try to pass the buck to House Democrats in that scenario, but that wouldn't fly too well with anyone beyond the base, given that he presumably would have just vetoed a bill they sent him. The American people can tell who is, and who is not, trying to do something productive in terms of the border, just like they can tell who is, and who is not, responsible for shutting down the government. Alternatively, Trump could veto the bill and also keep ICE at bay, but then it would look like Democrats called his bluff and he blinked.

The denouement of this little drama will soon be upon us, so we won't have to wait long to see how it plays out, but it certainly appears that Trump is currently in the weaker position. We are also reminded of the observation we made yesterday: The President's "make surprise threats that get your opposition to back down" negotiation strategy does not appear to be working. (Z)

Judge Hands Trump a Setback on Emoluments Case

Currently, two lawsuits relating to the Constitution's emoluments clause—one brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington D.C., the other brought by about 200 Democratic members of Congress—are working their way through the courts. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected an attempt by Donald Trump to kill the case brought by the members of Congress. Trump's attorneys argued that all the emoluments clause forbids is out-and-out bribes, but the Judge called that "unpersuasive and inconsistent," and said the case will proceed.

By letting the case go forward, Sullivan is opening the door for the Democrats to issue subpoenas for Trump's financial records to see if he has received any emoluments from foreign governments. Sullivan said he hopes to wrap up the case within 6 months. However, it is likely that Trump's lawyers will try to drag it out as long as possible. Then if they lose they will surely appeal to the Court of Appeals for D.C. and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. The process could easily take a year or more, possibly moving the final ruling past the 2020 elections. However, what Trump is really worried about, much more than a court ruling he took illegal emoluments, is that damaging information in his financial records could see the light of day. That could happen well before the end of the process, very possibly while his case is dealt with in Sullivan's court. So, Tuesday's ruling was definitely not good for the President. (V)

Trump Is Tiring of Mulvaney

Politico is reporting that Donald Trump is tiring of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. He has been snapping at "Mick the Knife" of late, and expressing frustration with him. When Mulvaney coughed during a recent TV interview, Trump ordered him to leave the room if he needed to cough again.

Mulvaney is not in any danger of losing his job, since he is Trump's third chief of staff, and finding someone even slightly competent who would be willing to be number four would be challenging. Chiefs of staff don't need Senate confirmation, so that's not an issue; the problem is that the nature of the job is to inform the boss about what is going on in the White House, the country, and the world, and Trump is not willing to hear bad news. So, any possible replacement knows that when bad news shows up, he will either have to tell Trump and be yelled at or lie to Trump and later be yelled out when Trump discovers what transpired. Not many talented folks are interested in serving as a whipping boy (or whipping girl). For this reason, insiders think Mulvaney is safe for the moment.

Some White House aides have begun grumbling that Mulvaney has gotten too used to the trappings of power. He has stacked the West Wing with loyal staffers and takes them to Camp David, a retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains that has traditionally been used only by the president. Other aides don't like the way Mulvaney badmouths his predecessors, especially Gen. John Kelly. Another minus for Mulvaney is that Senate Republicans don't like him.

However, a big plus is that he leaves Trump alone to do whatever he wants, even if it is stupid and counterproductive to Trump's agenda. In the end, that may be what saves Mulvaney—for the moment. However, it looks like his relationship with Trump is heading to the same place that the Kelly-Trump relationship ended up, with both men still in the White House and "on the job," but Trump essentially ignoring his chief of staff. (V)

Mike's Choice

While Mick Mulvaney might leave the administration because the president has used him up and has no need for him anymore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might leave it for a different reason. Donald Trump still likes him, so he is in no danger of being fired. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) very much wants him to quit and run for an open Senate seat in Kansas. Pompeo previously was elected four times to the House in KS-04 and is by far the strongest potential candidate the Republicans have. Pompeo has previously ruled out a Senate run, but people who know him say that was because expressing interest would have made him seem disloyal in Trump's eyes.

Kansas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1930, so why is McConnell wetting his pants? Most of the statewide officials are Republicans and there are 28 Republicans in the Kansas state Senate. It isn't like McConnell can't find a Republican willing and able to run. His nightmare is that extreme right winger Kris Kobach wins the Republican primary and former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius wins the Democratic primary. That combination might just turn the trick for the Democrats. McConnell feels that the only Kansas politician who would be guaranteed to take out Kobach in the primary is Pompeo. So, Mike has a choice to make.

A complicating factor is that Pompeo is one of the few adults left in the foreign policy establishment and if he leaves, Trump could appoint NSA John Bolton to be (acting) Secretary of State, possibly leading to a war with Iran. Pompeo certainly does not want that. On the other hand, he surely knows that Trump burns through personnel at a pretty high clip, and is no doubt aware of how Trump is souring on Mulvaney. The filing deadline for the Senate is in June 2020, but if Pompeo waits too long, he may be out of his State Dept. job involuntarily and have many competitors in the Senate primary. So he has a bit of time, but not forever, if he's going to throw his hat in the ring. (V)

Border Protection Chief Has Resigned

Our first administration personnel story today is about a guy whose only job security is that it might be impossible to find someone to replace him. Our second is about a guy whom the second most powerful Republican in the country is urging to quit. The third and last one (but only for today) is about a top official who just resigned. A stable administration, this is not.

Yesterday, the acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, tendered his resignation. The exact reason for his resignation is not known, but it is possible that it is related to a report from a group of lawyers from some of the nation's top law schools who visited a detention facility in Clint, TX, and saw that over 100 migrant children were being housed in a facility for weeks without access to showers, clean clothing, or sufficient food. When the report came out, the public reaction was not great, so Sanders moved 270 of the children elsewhere. Yesterday, it came out that 100 of them had been moved back, but no additional resources have been allocated. To make it worse, the CBP has said it will not accept private donations. Sanders discovered the hard way that putting kids in cages isn't as easy as it sounds, so he quit.

Sanders was left with an impossible job to do. It isn't that the government is incapable of taking care of a few hundred kids, or finding outside companies that would be happy to do so if the contract provided enough money to do the job right. The horrible conditions are a feature of the administration policy, not a bug. Donald Trump wants to discourage immigrants. It is one of his core policies. He probably senses that he is not getting his wall, so how else can he stop the flow of people?

One way is to try to make it clear to potential immigrants that if they come, their children will be ripped from them and treated in a way that, if done to POWs, would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The American Bar Association has also condemned the detention facilities, calling them a violation of the law. A physician, Dolly Lucio Sevier, who was called to the detention facility in McAllen, TX, examined 40 children and said they forced to endure "extreme cold temperature, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food," and compared the conditions to those at torture facilities. The head of CBP is responsible for carrying out this policy, preferably in a way that doesn't get too much bad publicity. But given how many people are watching, that's not doable. (V)

Stephanie Grisham Will Replace Sarah Sanders

Oops, we lied about there only being three administration personnel stories today. Sorry about that, although if ever we are going to lie, an item about Sarah Huckabee Sanders seems like the place to do it. Anyhow, the rumors that Donald Trump wouldn't bother to replace the departing Sanders were off-base. He has now selected Melania Trump's communications director, Stephanie Grisham, to be the new press secretary and White House communications director. She will continue to represent Melania as well.

The job is not an easy one. Sanders had an adversarial attitude toward the press and vice versa. Reporters felt that she lied to them all the time. She decided that since they didn't believe what she was feeding them, why bother? Consequently, Sanders hasn't held a press conference for nearly 100 days.

Whether Grisham can acquire any more credibility than Sanders remains to be seen. If she also lies all the time, probably she won't. On the other hand, if she generally answers questions truthfully, she may win grudging respect from the press, but Trump may become disenchanted with her quickly. It's kind of a no-win position for anyone. (V)

Biden Earned $200,000 a Pop for Speeches after Leaving Office

Hillary Clinton took a lot of flak in 2016 for accepting a $225,000 speaking engagement for Goldman Sachs. Now it is Joe Biden's turn. When he was in the Senate, he was one of the poorest senators. After finishing his two terms as veep, he decided to cash in and take up a career as a paid speaker, sometimes pulling in $200,000 for a single speech. His campaign has said that he gave fewer than 50 paid speeches, but even 49 x $200,000 = big number. For a guy who is running as "middle-class Joe," this could be a liability and one that his primary opponents will probably exploit. If he is the nominee, Trump will harp on it mercilessly.

While working on this story the Washington Post discovered, that Biden always ordered the same meal when speaking at a dinner: Angel hair pomodoro, a Caprese salad, and raspberry sorbet with Biscotti for dessert. If he had ordered baie-des-Chaleurs Lobster en Papillote with champagne, he would have been toast, but it will be hard for his opponents to ding him as an elite for always eating spaghetti with tomato sauce and ice cream with a cookie.

Clinton's speeches had two problems. One was the amount of money she received; the other was who she spoke to. Goldman Sachs has never won any "American's most beloved company" awards. Biden was more careful, and generally avoided speaking to politically contentious groups. Still, this is going to come up, whether he likes it or not. (V)

Another Swing-District Representative Has Called for Trump's Impeachment

When a House member from a deep-blue district calls for Donald Trump to be impeached, he or she can brag about that back home, and it will only help at reelection time. But when members from swing districts start doing that, it suggests that they have talked to the folks back home and popular opinion is moving toward impeachment.

Last week, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), a congresswoman from an R+3 district in Orange County, CA, called for Donald Trump's impeachment. Now, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) is also calling for the impeachment process to start. Her district is located at the southern tip of Florida and has changed parties twice since it was created in 2012. Mucarsel-Powell won her seat in 2018 by beating a two-term Republican, Carlos Curbelo. So far, 76 House Democrats have called for Trump to be impeached. Nancy Pelosi is not going there yet, but check back in a few months. (V)

Duncan Hunter Is in Deep Trouble

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is will soon go on trial, having previously been charged with wire fraud, falsifying records and various campaign finance violations. After a filing on Tuesday, things got a little more salacious, as prosecutors are also claiming that he used campaign funds to carry on extramarital affairs with both lobbyists and congressional staffers. They appear to have ample evidence of liaisons with numerous women.

Previously, Hunter's defense was that his wife was managing his campaign finances, and that if there were any irregularities, they were her fault. That already seemed dubious and now, well, it's rather unlikely that she was sending illicit checks to women so that her husband could cheat on her with them. Margaret Hunter has already copped a plea deal and agreed to turn state's evidence, so all will come out in September's trail, unless Duncan sees the light before then, and decides to reach a deal of his own.

If the Congressman does survive the trial, he's still got some serious issues. As you may have heard, it's a no-no these days for members of Congress to sleep with their staffers, given the power imbalance. Sleeping with lobbyists is also a wee problem, ethics-wise. And if that were not enough, Hunter created some additional baggage for himself last week by publicly defending Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who is on trial for war crimes. Though Gallagher's casual attitude about killing civilians was so problematic that his own men turned him in, Hunter (who is also a veteran) said Gallagher should be "given a break," essentially arguing that everyone does inhuman things while in a combat zone.

Whatever happens, it is likely that CA-50 is going to be open when next year's elections roll around. It's R+11, so it would be a tough flip for the blue team, but Ammar Campa-Najjar got 48.3% of the vote last year, so it's not impossible. The question is whether an incumbent who is plausibly accused (but not yet convicted) of a crime (i.e., Duncan in 2018) is a stronger candidate than a non-incumbent who is not tainted (i.e., whomever the Republicans come up with to run in 2020). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun25 Iran: The Plot Thickens
Jun25 White House: No Way Cummings Gets His Way on Conway
Jun25 Economic Trade Wind May Soon Become a Head Wind for Trump
Jun25 Sanders Unveils Student Debt Plan
Jun25 And Then There Were Two...Dozen
Jun25 Tuesday Q&A
Jun24 Trump Aggressively Shifts Gears, Twice in Two Days
Jun24 The Subpoenas May Fly This Week
Jun24 Poll: There Are Too Many Candidates
Jun24 Why Isn't Trump Benefiting More from a Good Economy?
Jun24 What If Trump Loses But Won't Concede?
Jun24 Conway Is at It Again
Jun24 Democrats Are Divided on Health Care
Jun24 Republican Senators Are Divided over Election Security
Jun24 Early Democratic Primaries May Influence the Senate Races
Jun24 Withdrawal from the Postal Union May Help Trump
Jun24 Nadler and Donaldson Reach a Deal
Jun21 Iran Pokes Trump in the Eye; Trump Blinks
Jun21 Senate Pushes Back on Saudi Arms Deal
Jun21 Hicks Transcript Is Out
Jun21 Roy Moore Is In
Jun21 Biden Steps In It, Again
Jun21 It's Summer, and That Means Fish Fry Day
Jun21 RNC Raises $14.6 Million in May
Jun21 DCCC Outraises NRCC in May
Jun21 Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend)
Jun20 Hicks Refuses to Answer Questions
Jun20 Sanders Takes a Potshot at Warren
Jun20 New National Poll: Biden First, Warren Second, Sanders Third
Jun20 Trump Raises $25 Million in 24 Hours
Jun20 Judge May Reopen Census Case
Jun20 Fed Believes Trump Cannot Remove Powell
Jun20 The Past is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past
Jun20 Senate Bipartisanship Is Coming Up Roses
Jun20 Thursday Q&A
Jun19 Trump "Launches" 2020 Campaign
Jun19 Shanahan Removes His Name from Consideration for Secretary of Defense
Jun19 Hope Hicks on Deck
Jun19 Budget Talks Look Promising, Except for the Fly in the Ointment
Jun19 Everybody Hates Tom
Jun19 Roy Moore to Announce Plans on Thursday
Jun19 A Master Class in Kissing Ass
Jun18 Trump Administration to Launch Another Crackdown on Undocumented Immigrants
Jun18 Mulvaney: Secret Mexico Deal May Remain Secret Forever
Jun18 Iran Situation Is Deteriorating
Jun18 Bad Numbers All Around for Trump
Jun18 Democrats Prepare Ad Blitz
Jun18 SCOTUS Hands Democrats Two Wins
Jun18 Rep. Katie Porter Endorses Impeachment Proceedings
Jun17 The Lineups for the First Democratic Debates Are Set