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House Democrats Pass Anti-Hate Resolution

After nearly a week of wrestling with the text, the House passed a resolution on Thursday that condemns many different kinds of hate, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia to white supremacy. The vote was 407-23, with all 23 "nay" votes coming from members of the GOP caucus. Those 23 did not explain their objection to condemning hate (Rep. Steve King, R-IA, voted 'present,' in case you were wondering).

The resolution was an attempt by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smooth over the single-biggest divide that has emerged in her caucus since they retook the House. The focus of the controversy is Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN), who is one of three Muslim members of the House, and who has gotten into hot water with some of her comments recently. Several weeks ago, she took to Twitter to comment on the relationship between Israel and the United States, specifically focusing on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies in Washington. Omar wrote a number of things that caused offense, most obviously, "It's all about the Benjamins, baby." Then, last weekend, she appeared at an event, and had some very nice words about interfaith tolerance, but then declared, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country."

Quite a few people found Omar's remarks to be anti-Semitic, since "it's all about the money" and "they're disloyal foreign agents" are tropes that have been used to slur Jews for generations and generations. Others defended Omar, arguing that she's a rookie when it comes to this kind of public attention, and that any dog whistles that came across were inadvertent. Still others say that the response to the Representative proves her point, namely that it's not possible to ask questions about Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism. It is not (Z)'s place, as a non-Jew, to weigh in on this particular question. However, here are a number of pieces on the subject from Jewish commentators:

  • Joshua Leifer, writing for The Guardian (UK), says that Omar's situation illustrates the ongoing "weaponization" of anti-Semitism, and that there's a clear distinction between what she said and actual anti-Semitism.

  • Slate's Yascha Mounk believes that Ilhan Omar's remarks were unquestionably anti-Semitic.

  • The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, who grew up in the Congressional district that Omar now represents, says that Omar is right to criticize AIPAC, but that she's wrong about Israel.

  • Haaretz's Gideon Levy encourages Omar to keep speaking truth to power.

  • Slate's Jordan Weissman thinks that Omar raises some good points, even if she did so in a tone-deaf manner.

  • The New York Times' Bret Stephens sees something very nefarious here, and declares that Omar "knows exactly what she is doing."

In short: It's complicated.

Anyhow, while Omar is the one who brought this matter to the forefront, all she really did was shine light on one of the biggest and most difficult fissures that exists within the modern Democratic Party. Broadly speaking, the customary position of the Party, since the 1940s, has been strongly pro-Israel. After all, it was Democrat Harry S. Truman who helped create the modern nation of Israel. Further, American Jews have been loyal Democrats since well before the 1940s, and have made certain the Party embraced their strongly pro-Israel views. However, the last couple of decades or so have seen the addition of a fair number of Muslims to the Democratic fold. Further, many younger voters are not so sure about Israel, and are somewhat-to-very sympathetic to the Palestinians. The growth of this sentiment has been partly a response to the leadership of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, whose policies and whose public rebukes of Barack Obama, have made him very unpopular with younger Americans (and, to be fair, many older Americans, and many American Jews).

Add it all up, and there's a sizable faction of the Democratic Party that remains staunchly pro-Israel, and that sometimes suspects that those who disagree are anti-Semitic. And, there's a sizable faction of the Democratic Party that is pretty staunchly pro-Palestinian, and that sometimes suspects that those who disagree are anti-Arab or are Islamophobic. These tensions were reportedly on full display at a Wednesday meeting that Pelosi held with members of her caucus, in which quite a few of the members who are sympathetic to the Israelis expressed anger that the Speaker did not do more to punish Omar for her remarks.

Meanwhile, folks on the right (like Stephens, above) have been getting much mileage out of the whole situation. If you are tempted to think the Party has suddenly become "woke" on this subject, don't believe it. This is a party that remains firmly behind Donald Trump, a man who has repeatedly been happy to overlook anti-Semitic behavior from others, or to say anti-Semitic things himself. For example, the time he told a roomful of Republican Jews that, "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money." Or the time he tweeted that, "I'm much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz—I mean Jon Stewart" (the Times of Israel has a full rundown of the President's record in this regard). Further, while Republicans spent much oxygen this week condemning Omar, they had nary a word to say about this tweet that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) sent on Sunday:

Given that Nadler and Steyer both come from Jewish families, this is at least as problematic as Omar's words, if not more, given his use of the dollar sign.

The GOP's motivations here are clear. To start, if they can create the impression that Democrats also say offensive/racist things, then it has less impact when Republicans (like the guy in the White House) say offensive/racist things. Further, being staunchly pro-Israel (and strongly anti-Omar) pleases the evangelicals (and the xenophobes) in the Party. It also allows the red team to make a play for Jewish voters. For a number of years now, AIPAC and Netanyahu have seen the GOP as a more natural ally for them and for American Jews than the Democrats. Maybe they know what they're talking about, although that conclusion seems to be at significant odds with the longstanding political dynamics of the U.S., not to mention the culture and the values of American Jews, in general.

This story, then, illustrates some useful points about the current dynamics of both of America's major parties. What happens in terms of the GOP, Israel, and Jewish voters is a long-term question, though one that could be affected profoundly by the upcoming elections in Israel, as well as the pending corruption charges against Netanyahu. As to the Democrats, we will likely learn much more quickly if Thursday's resolution, which was entirely symbolic, will be enough to soothe tensions within their House caucus. Pelosi has some big votes coming up, including one on Friday (see below), and she does not want to be sidelined by infighting. (Z)

House Expected to Vote on Anti-Corruption Legislation Today

Given the need to respond to Donald Trump's national emergency, as well as the controversial remarks from Ilhan Omar, HR-1 is not actually going to be the first resolution the new house votes on. However, the bill, which Democrats have christened the "For the People Act of 2019," is supposed to come up for a vote today. The measure, which is designed to fix all the things that Democrats think are wrong with America's political system, would, among other things, overhaul campaign financing, take strong steps to make sure everyone is afforded the chance to vote, and establish stronger ethical standards for politicians, particularly regarding sexual harassment and the release of their personal income taxes.

The vote, just like the anti-hate one on Thursday, is purely symbolic. The bill will undoubtedly pass the House (or Pelosi wouldn't bring it up); the only drama will center on how many Democrats (if any) defect, and how many Republicans (if any) vote for it. At that point, the matter will be at an effective end, because—despite much public shaming from the blue team—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already made clear he will not bring the bill up for a vote in his chamber.

The purpose of all this kabuki theater, of course, is to set the stage for the 2020 elections. The presidential contest, to an extent, but even more so the Senate elections. Democrats hope to develop a long list of the things they will do if only they can get a majority in the upper chamber (they won't mention the whole filibuster problem). Republicans hope to show what they will stop if they are allowed to retain control in the upper chamber. McConnell's explanation as to why he won't bring the bill up for a vote makes clear the argument that the GOP intends to put forward. Calling it the "Democrat Politician Protection Act," the Majority Leader said that HR-1 solves a problem that does not exist because "people are flocking to the polls," and that it's merely a transparent attempt to tilt elections in the blue team's favor. In general, the Democrats would seem to have the better of that argument, both in terms of what voters want and in terms of evidence, but the GOP tends to be better at selling their spin. So, we shall see in 2020 which side wins this particular debate. (Z)

And Speaking of Corruption...

Mitch McConnell may think that political corruption is a non-issue (see above), but as we say, the evidence is not on his side. Two, or perhaps three, stories this week make that very clear.

The first, with reporting from CNN, examines the decisions that Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has made since taking over for Ryan Zinke. Like his colleague Andrew Wheeler, who now leads the EPA, Bernhardt was a lobbyist before joining the administration. And in the two months he's been acting secretary, he's made at least 15 decisions that directly benefited his former clients, primarily greenlighting projects that had been held up due to environmental concerns, and rolling back pesky Obama-era regulations.

And then there is Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that the Secretary "acted in bad faith," "broke several laws," and "violated the constitutional underpinning of representative democracy" when he tried to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Supreme Court is set to review the matter, so this ruling is not final. Still, it's very likely that the citizenship question is dead. Whether Ross will suffer any punishment for his misdeeds is not clear.

The actions of Bernhardt and Ross are pretty swampy, particularly in view of Donald Trump's campaign promise to drain said swamp. The third story of the week, that may or may not belong on the list, is the likely appointment of Jessie Liu as associate attorney general, which would make her the third-ranking person in the Justice Department. As Liu has done excellent work while serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia (USA-DC), the promotion is not inherently problematic. However, the President has left that job open for more than a year, ever since Rachel Brand jumped ship. Further, the USA-DC would assume responsibility for prosecuting any legal violations committed by members of the executive branch if, say, any were to be documented in Robert Mueller's report. With those bits of information in mind, observers are left to wonder if the "promotion" is more a case of nullifying a prosecutor who is known for her competence and tenacity, and who could become a real headache for the administration. (Z)

Manafort Sentenced to 47 Months

Former Donald Trump campaign manager and current convicted felon Paul Manafort got some good news, in a manner of speaking, on Thursday. Prosecuting attorneys in Virginia had asked Judge T.S. Ellis to impose a sentence of 19 to 25 years, but the Judge decided that was too harsh for a first timer and imposed just 47 months. Time already served knocks that down to 38 months, and if Manafort keeps his nose clean, he can get another 54.75 days per year of his sentence shaved off for good behavior. In other words, he may be able to pay this particular debt to society by the summer of 2021.

Of course, this is not the only debt to society that Manafort owes. Next week, he will be sentenced in Washington, D.C., where Judge Amy Jackson Berman is none too amused that he violated the terms of his plea bargain, and lied to special counsel Robert Mueller. She could throw the book at him (or, if not the book, then a thicker magazine than Ellis threw at him). And even if she's liberal in the sentencing, Manafort is still 69 years old and (reportedly) in poor health. So, he's not exactly out of the woods, even with Ellis taking mercy.

There were also a couple of other items on Thursday for the Trump legal blotter (which, truth be told, could be a whole site unto itself these days). Former fixer Michael Cohen sued the President for nearly $4 million. He claims that he is owed $1.9 million to cover his legal costs, and another $1.9 million to cover the penalties he had to pay to the government, since he accrued all of these costs due to his work for Trump. Cohen has an indemnification agreement with the Trump Organization, which would suggest he's got a strong case. However, that agreement was probably written by Cohen himself, so maybe not.

And finally, we are not lawyers around here, but we do know that the RICO Act was written to be quite broad, and to give prosecutors a lot of options for pursuing folks who are up to no good. Following Cohen's testimony, quite a few folks who are lawyers have suggested that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization are now prime candidates for a RICO prosecution. That could include the possible insurance fraud we noted yesterday, but also bank fraud, charity fraud, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, and suborning perjury. The complexities are a bit too much to lay out here (read the linked article), but the executive summary is that the commission of multiple types of crimes (say, insurance fraud and tax fraud) can trigger a RICO action, at which point guilt attaches very broadly to everyone who knew about or profited from the illegal acts, even if they did not personally commit them. Oh, and penalties are often quite severe, since the legislation was initially developed to give the feds tools to go after the Mafia. The rumor is that of all the areas where the President has legal exposure, this is the one that worries him the most. It would seem he is right to think that way. (Z)

Trump Responds to DNC Decision to Withhold Debates from Fox News

On Wednesday, as we noted, the DNC announced that it would not allow Fox News to be a partner in any of the dozen candidate debates it has scheduled. This was, to be blunt, a very reasonable decision. It's not a secret that Fox is in the bag for Donald Trump, and the recent reporting from The New Yorker's Jane Mayer makes clear how far they have crossed the line between partisan and propagandist. The behavior she documents includes feeding then-candidate Trump debate questions in advance, killing stories that would be embarrassing to him, and pulling strings at the Justice Dept. to trigger an investigation of rival Time Warner (owner of CNN). In other words, there is no reason to believe that Fox can stage a fair and dispassionate debate, and with the broad variety of alternatives out there, it was an easy call for the DNC to say, "No, thanks."

Not surprisingly, this infuriated Trump. He responded thusly via Twitter:

His meaning, as is often the case, is not entirely clear. Is he saying he will not appear at debates hosted by ABC, CNN, NBC, etc.? Or that he won't debate at all? Or that he will appear, but he won't allow non-Fox stations to televise the debates? Whatever the case may be, it's not surprising he made this announcement. He's quick to anger and very impulsive, of course, but he also loves to lambaste the non-Fox media. Further, debates are not his cup of tea. He runs the risk of minor or major gaffes, of being held to account for any number of false statements or unfulfilled promises, and all of that in front of an audience that is not cheering wildly for him. He would much rather hold three more rallies than participate in the (typical) three presidential debates, especially since he does not care about reaching beyond the base, anyhow. So, it would be no surprise if he uses this as pretext for eventually canceling all of the 2020 presidential debates. Of course, if he does that, then those debates will be turned into town halls—that is, free two-hour-long commercials for the Democratic candidate—so Trump's people may talk him out of skipping the debates.

There was also another bit of news on Thursday about Trump's relationship with the media. According to reporting from NBC's San Diego affiliate, the administration waged a secret war against nearly 60 journalists, lawyers, and activists who pushed back against Trump's immigrant caravan fearmongering. These folks were surveilled, sometimes harassed by federal employees, and some had their passports flagged. The story only saw the light of day because an employee of the Dept. of Homeland Security leaked the (copious) evidence. This, of course, is positively Nixonian, with shades of his infamous enemies list. Everyone knows what happened to him, but with Trump the shocking news comes so fast and so furious that this story will probably be forgotten by breakfast time on Saturday. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidates are Dropping Like Flies

This week, a sizable chunk of the Democrats' possible 2020 field decided to take a pass. Hillary Clinton was the first to deliver a full Sherman, followed by Eric Holder, Michael Bloomberg, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). On Thursday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also announced he was going to take a pass. Although much of the groundwork had been laid for a possible Brown bid, including staff that had already been hired and fundraising events that had already been scheduled, the Senator decided his heart just wasn't in it, and so he pulled the plug on it all.

On one hand, this is bad news for the Democrats, in that Brown was a very strong candidate that had a legitimate shot to attract the Clinton wing of the party with his unassuming, pragmatic, Midwestern style of politics and the Sanders wing of the party with his commitment to key progressive issues. On the other hand, it is also good news for the blue team. The 2020 field is already crowded enough, and every entrant just divides up the available money, campaign talent, and press coverage that much more. Further, if Brown were to somehow win the White House and give up his Senate seat, it would likely end up in Republican hands. If the Democrats are to have any hope of recapturing the upper chamber, they simply cannot afford that.

Brown's announcement means that the two biggest questions remaining, when it comes to the race for the Democratic nomination, are: (1) What about Beto O'Rourke? and (2) What about Joe Biden? It appears that an answer to the second of those questions is imminent, as the former VP has gotten his family's enthusiastic support for a run, and has been actively recruiting staff, connecting with donors, and lining up endorsements. The odds are that he's just waiting for a premium opportunity to announce; a slow news day when he can dominate the headlines. The problem for him is that there aren't too many of those these days, thanks in large part to all the maneuvering in Congress and the various legal entanglements of Donald Trump.

Biden isn't the only would-be 2020 candidate who is noticeably getting his ducks in a row. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz believes that with Bloomberg's withdrawal, he has the "billionaire candidate" lane all to himself. So, he's been recruiting GOP operatives to work on his potential third-party presidential bid. This will be somewhat happy news for the Democrats, since it presumably means Schultz's plan is to siphon votes from the Republican side of the contest. It's also somewhat happy news for the Republicans, however, because all the campaign strategy in the world will not change the fact that Schultz is more of a Democrat than a Republican, and he could well hurt the Democratic nominee in a three-way race.

In any event, the horse race is definitely coming into sharp focus. Within the next few weeks, if not the next few days, we should have a pretty definitive list of the serious 2020 candidates. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi will be our 30th candidate profile, which means that we're largely out of candidates for whom there is a reasonable chance of being elected, and toward candidates for whom this discussion is largely a thought exercise, or a preview of someone more likely to be chosen as a VP, or as the Democratic nominee in future elections. Anyhow, for the next several weeks, we'll focus on candidates who could make a dent in the race, but who almost certainly aren't running.

Nancy Pelosi
  • Full Name: Nancy Patricia Pelosi (nee D'Alesandro)

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 80

  • Background: Some people are born into politics, and some are really born into politics. Pelosi is squarely in the latter category. The daughter of Italian-American parents, Pelosi began to practice her craft at an early age, as her father served as Baltimore mayor from 1947-59. When she was 12 years old, she took over responsibility for keeping track of which Democrats owed her dad favors, which may just have been useful training for her current job. She attended her first Democratic National Convention in that same year (1952), and was hobnobbing with presidents before she graduated college, even attending John F. Kennedy's inaugural in 1961. She took her bachelor's degree in political science from Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University) in 1962, and married Paul Pelosi the next year, raising five children with him while also amassing a fortune in excess of $20 million. They will celebrate their 56th anniversary in September of this year.

  • Political Experience: While her children were still at home, Pelosi took on behind-the-scenes jobs with the Democratic Party. After the family relocated to San Francisco in 1969, she worked on political campaigns (like Jerry Brown's first gubernatorial run, which was successful), served as a Democratic National Committee member from California, and was party chair for Northern California from 1977 to 1981 and then party chair for the whole state from 1981 to 1983. Her closest ally was Rep. Philip Burton (D-CA), who died in 1983 and passed his seat to his wife Sala. When she became ill a few years later, she recruited Pelosi to be her successor. By then, all of the Pelosi children were grown, so she was happy to join the fray. After a tough primary against San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, Pelosi secured the Democratic nomination, and then crushed her Republican opponent. She's been in the House ever since, which means she is now serving her 17th term. She rose rapidly up the ranks, garnering a lot of praise for her work on tough issues like combating AIDS and banning assault weapons. This earned her spots on some of the House's most powerful committees, including Intelligence and Appropriations. In 2002, she became House Democratic Whip (the second- or third-ranking member of the caucus, depending on which party is in the majority), and then minority leader in 2003, and Speaker in 2007. She has remained her party's leader in Congress ever since.

  • Signature Issue(s): If she were to run, she would undoubtedly make the electoral reforms embodied in the For the People Act of 2019 (the subject of today's vote) the centerpiece of her campaign.

  • Instructive Quote: "Don't underestimate your opponent, but don't overestimate them, either."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: When it was announced that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had raised $6 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, Pelosi was one of the few people who likely wasn't all that impressed. When she first decided to run for the House, she threw 100 house parties and raised $1 million in seven weeks. That's pretty remarkable in the pre-Internet era, especially since that $1 million translates into nearly $2.2 million in 2019 dollars.

  • Recent News: She's all over the news, all the time. See the first two items above, for example.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) A Catholic mother of five who stayed at home to raise her kids should have some appeal to ethnic white voters and to Latinos; (2) There are few political strategists who are a match for Nancy Pelosi; and (3) In a year when Democrats appear to want a staunchly anti-Trump candidate, her finger has been in his eye more than anyone's.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) If there were an Olympics for the Democratic women that Republicans hate the most, the medalists would be Hillary Clinton, Pelosi, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in some order, which means that lots of Republicans would make sure to donate money to Trump and to vote in order to stymie her; (2) There's a reason only one Speaker has ever become president (James K. Polk), and that is that the necessary skill sets are awfully different; and (3) Speaking of skill sets, Pelosi is not a great public speaker or debater. If this was the era of back-room deals and cigar-filled rooms, she might make it work, as that plays to her abilities. But a public campaign under the world's most intense microscope? Not so much.

  • Is She Actually Running?: There is absolutely no indication that she's running. She's already in the second- or third-most powerful job in the land, and one that suits her skill set well. For her, the White House would be something of a lateral move, at best.

  • Betting Odds: The bookies know she's not going to run, and so are not offering odds.

  • The Bottom Line: It's a rare politician, indeed, who is successful as a member of both the executive branch and the legislative branch. Pelosi knows that for every Polk or LBJ, there are a half-dozen James Buchanans, Warren Hardings, and Gerald Fords. Barring an earthquake during the Democratic debates, wherein the Earth opens up and swallows all of the candidates, she's staying put.

You can access the list of candidate profiles by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar07 Trade Deficit Balloons to a Record $891 Billion
Mar07 New York Is Investigating Trump's Insurance Policies
Mar07 Trump's Strategy: Stonewall the House
Mar07 The Other Mueller Report
Mar07 Poll: Americans Think Trump Committed Crimes before Taking Office
Mar07 Poll: Florida Voters Don't Want to Reelect Trump
Mar07 Fox News Will Not Televise Any of the Democratic Primary Debates
Mar07 Bernie Is Now a Democrat--Sort of
Mar07 Thursday Q&A
Mar06 House Enthusiasm for Investigating Trump Matched by Senate's Lack of Enthusiasm
Mar06 Trump Rammed Through Ivanka's Security Clearance, Too
Mar06 Mueller Is "An American Hero"
Mar06 Stone Likes to Live Dangerously
Mar06 ACA Premiums Getting Out of Reach for Many
Mar06 Merkley and Bloomberg Are Out
Mar06 Many Democratic Frontrunners Got Money from the Trumps in the Past
Mar06 Is McConnell Triangulating for 2020?
Mar05 Trump Is Headed for Certain Defeat in the Senate
Mar05 House Judiciary Committee Is Going to Talk to Everyone
Mar05 Trump Will Sign Executive Order Requiring Colleges to "Support Free Speech"
Mar05 GOP Activists Are Worried Trump Has No 2020 Strategy
Mar05 Hickenlooper Is In
Mar05 Clinton Is Out
Mar05 O'Rourke Is High
Mar04 Fourth Republican Senator Will Vote against Trump's Emergency Declaration
Mar04 House Judiciary Committee Will Start Investigating Trump
Mar04 Schiff: There is Already Evidence of Collusion
Mar04 Plurality of Voters Believe Michael Cohen
Mar04 CPAC Attendees Are Worried about Biden
Mar04 Voters Don't Want a Socialist President
Mar04 A Ranking of the Democratic Candidates
Mar04 A First Look at the Electoral College
Mar04 Three States Replace Vulnerable Voting Machines--with New Vulnerable Voting Machines
Mar04 Roger Stone's Trial Will Take 5 to 8 Days
Mar04 Monday Q&A
Mar02 All Kinds of Trouble for Trump
Mar02 Washington Governor Is In(Slee)
Mar02 Saturday Q&A
Mar01 Following Cohen Testimony, Members of Congress Make Their Next Moves
Mar01 GOP Senators to Trump: Drop the Emergency
Mar01 Trump Sides with a Strongman Again
Mar01 RNC Chair Tacitly Threatens Potential Trump Challengers
Mar01 Wheeler Confirmed to Lead EPA
Mar01 Netanyahu Indicted on Corruption Charges
Mar01 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jeff Merkley
Feb28 Cohen Channels His Inner Dean
Feb28 Collateral Damage from Cohen's Testimony
Feb28 Takeaways from the Cohen Hearings
Feb28 The View from the Right
Feb28 Summit Ends with a Thud