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Political Wire logo The End of the Mueller Investigation
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Trump's Fought the Law and, So Far, the Law Has Won

Some people have a bad day in court, or a bad week in court. Thus far, Donald Trump has had a pretty bad two-and-a-half years in court. According to a new analysis from the Washington Post, federal judges have ruled against the administration 63 times, an unprecedented number of setbacks for a chief executive, particularly one barely halfway through his first term.

The courts have been pretty well stacked with judges favorable to Republicans in general, and to Trump in particular, but the administration has nonetheless been getting adverse rulings from the appointees of both parties. 45 of the 63 rulings came from judges chosen by Democratic presidents, while the other 18 came from judges chosen by Republicans. It has also been true that when multiple judges, appointed by presidents of different parties, ruled on an issue (say, DACA), they've often come to the same legal conclusions.

The main problem, cited in fully two thirds of the adverse rulings, is the slapdash quality of much of what the administration does. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) was adopted in 1946; its purpose was to make certain that the policy initiatives of the executive branch are implemented thoughtfully and carefully, and are not arbitrary. On average, when a presidential administration is accused of running afoul of the APA, they prevail about 70% of the time. The Trump administration's success rate in such cases, so far, is a paltry 6%.

Also not helping things is a president who shoots himself (and his lawyers) in the foot on a regular basis. A dozen of the 63 adversarial rulings were based, at least in part, on Trump's ill-advised public statements or his tweets. In particular, several judges cited his "sh**hole countries" remark in determining that various administration initiatives had discriminatory intent.

Many of Trump's allies and supporters, eager to take advantage of deregulation, are frustrated by the administration's lack of progress. Unfortunately for them, things are not too likely to change, because all of this is a product of the type of man and the type of politician that Trump is. There's his tendency to attract something less than "the best people" to work for him, of course. But beyond that, what he fundamentally cares about is attention and adulation. He has no particular commitment to most of the initiatives he pursues. For him, once he's made a big announcement, maybe with a signing ceremony, and then possibly added a few snarky comments on Twitter or in an appearance on Fox News, his goals have been fulfilled. There is little value to him in followthrough.

Many of the cases that Team Trump has lost are still on appeal, and thus far the Supreme Court has been particularly friendly to him, for obvious reasons. So, Brett Kavanaugh may save Trump from himself, at least in some instances. Still, it will be a partial rescue, at most, particularly since SCOTUS hears only a limited number of cases. And while Trump's base is not likely to hold his lack of progress against him in 2020, some of the folks who voted for him based on policy, and some of the big donors who care about specific policy issues are likely to think twice. (Z)

Trump Wants U.S. To Recognize Israeli Ownership of Golan Heights

In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel occupied the Golan Heights, an approximately 700-square mile piece of territory (about half the size of Rhode Island) in western Syria. In 1981, the Israelis de facto annexed the territory, although the United Nations pointedly refused to recognize the move. That is pretty much where things stand today, with the Heights under Israeli control, but the international legality of the situation in question. On Thursday, Donald Trump declared that the time has come to eliminate all ambiguity, and for the international community to recognize Israel's ownership of the disputed area.

The President's motivation here is plain: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a tough reelection next month, and is doing poorly in the polls due to both his leadership and his indictment on corruption charges. So, he pushed hard for Trump to give him a shot in the arm by calling for recognition. Later in the day on Thursday, Trump insisted that is not what is going on, and that his announcement was merely coincidental. Given that he's on pace to tell his 10,000th lie right around June 1 of this year, we can confidently dismiss his denial.

And whatever Trump's purpose was, this is yet another case of him putting his own, short-term needs first, and not worrying about the broader consequences of his actions. It goes without saying that the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East is fraught, and any move that threatens to heighten tensions even further should not be taken so cavalierly that it is announced on Twitter. Further, it will make it harder for the U.S. to continue demanding that Russia return the disputed territory in Ukraine if taking the exact opposite position with Israel. Although, given Trump's cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, he's probably not too concerned about that inconsistency. (Z)

Trump-McCain Feud Continues

Can it properly be called a "feud" if one of the two sides is not participating by virtue of having been dead for six months? Maybe, maybe not, but whatever it is, it kept going on Thursday. For the fifth day in the last six, the President laid into the former Arizona senator, calling him "horrible" and reiterating that he should never have brought his concerns about Trump to the FBI's attention.

At this point, Trump's pettiness and his willingness to put score-settling and his own hurt feelings above...well, pretty much everything else, are well known. The most interesting dimension to this story might actually be the response of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was ostensibly McCain's closest friend in the Senate, and was once a staunch critic of the President. The Senator has hugged Trump close in recent months, of course, and during the recent spate of attacks on McCain, has been noticeably passive in defending his one-time friend. One might consider such behavior to be disloyal, spineless, and unprincipled, which would be far from the first time that Graham has been described with those words. However, the Senator's political instincts are, as usual, dead on. When he was criticizing Trump, his approval rating back home was middling, particularly among Republicans. A new poll from Winthrop makes clear that while Graham is still doing poorly with Democrats, he's now got a nearly 75% approval rating among Republicans. In ruby red South Carolina, that translates into no serious primary challenge, and then an easy re-election, in 2020.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the Trump-George Conway feud continued on Thursday, as well, with the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne declaring that the President is the "worst kind of dumb." Which leaves us with just one question: What's the best kind of dumb? (Z)

New Zealand Bans Assault Rifles

That didn't take long. Just 72 hours after the mosque attacks that took 50 lives, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the nation will ban all "military-style" assault weapons by mid-April. Money will be set aside to compensate folks who voluntarily surrender their guns, and steps will also be taken to see that people cannot stock up on illegal guns before the ban takes effect. Reportedly, the vote in New Zealand's parliament was 119-1.

This has, not surprisingly, led to the publication of a great many articles like this one, contrasting the speedy actions of the New Zealanders with the United States' inability to do much of anything on this issue. Of course, that is somewhat comparing apples to oranges, since New Zealand has a parliamentary system, which is very well situated for quick decision-making, while the U.S. has a divided government (not to mention the Senate filibuster, and a Supreme Court with an awful lot of power and a consistent love of the 2nd Amendment).

Still, there are signs that America's current gun gridlock may not hold all that much longer. Polls make clear that the voting public's enthusiasm for the current "Wild West" approach to guns is waning. The Parkland shootings, in particular, appear to have been a transformative event. Further, as The Atlantic's Peter Beinart points out, conservatives approached gun ownership as a cultural issue, linked to free speech and religious freedom and the sanctity of marriage, and so forth, rather than as a public policy issue. And as the culture wars fade in intensity, mostly due to the deaths of the older, white voters they were created for, the whole house of cards could collapse, taking gun ownership with it.

The most visible sign of a possible sea change is the declining fortunes of the NRA, far and away the most famous and effective gun lobby in the U.S. (largely because of its ability to get voters to do its bidding). Membership in, donations to, and corporate support for the organization are all down considerably these days. This is due, in part, to the Association's tone-deaf responses to various incidents of mass violence. It's also due, in part, to their association with Russia, and whatever shady business might have taken place there. They are having trouble paying their bills, and reported a $55 million loss in their most recent annual tax filing. In fact, the 2018 midterms marked the first election cycle in half a century where anti-gun organizations spent more money than pro-gun. It is unlikely that the NRA, or the 2nd Amendment, will go the way of the dodo, but we might be headed for a return to the circumstances of the 1980s and 1990s, where folks on both sides of the aisle could at least agree on some reforms to gun laws. (Z)

Times, They May Be A Changin' at Fox News

The NRA isn't the only pillar of American conservatism that may look quite different in the near future. Fox News is in a time of transition, and once the dust settles, it's not clear what it might look like, or exactly how Donald Trump-friendly it will remain.

The most important development here has to do with the Fox Corporation, the Rupert Murdoch-owned company that includes Fox News as part of its portfolio. Many of Fox's media properties (the film and television divisions, in particular) were just sold to Disney. The remainder, including Fox News, are now under the leadership of Rupert's son Lachlan. Lachlan is a libertarian conservative (think: Koch brothers) and has been openly critical of the President. Further, his primary concern is the financial health of the channel, which might also be sold off in the near future. He is worried that its reputation as a Trump propaganda machine could hurt its value and its profitability.

Consequently, the young Murdoch has made a few moves in the last week that were decidedly not pro-Trump, appointing former Speaker Paul Ryan to the Fox Corp. board, and hiring former DNC chair Donna Brazile as a commentator. Reportedly, Lachlan has been treading somewhat lightly and waiting until the deal with Disney was formally closed, for fear that there might be some last-minute, Trump-ordered federal government interference. However, since the closing date was March 20 (i.e., Wednesday), that obstacle has been removed and it's full steam ahead for whatever Murdoch is planning.

Meanwhile, there is also a fair bit of tension within the halls of Fox News. Jeanine Pirro remains suspended due to her anti-Muslim remarks, and with many advertisers making clear they're done with her, she may never be un-suspended. Tucker Carlson is in some hot water for past offensive statements that have been dragged up from his appearances on a shock radio program. The news division is unhappy, believing that the opinion division has damaged the reputations of everyone who works there. And Sean Hannity, who has been the face of the network since Bill O'Reilly got canned, is unhappy. He thinks Fox is not pro-Trump enough, is angry about the firing of Roger Ailes and former Hannity producer Bill Shine, and thinks the whole Murdoch family has turned traitor. The outspoken pundit has told friends he's leaving when his contract is up in early 2021, and while that could be just a negotiating ploy, Lachlan Murdoch (or the new owner of Fox, if it comes to that) may be happy to show him the door, given his penchant for attracting controversy, and the fact that his demo gets older and less advertiser-friendly by the day.

For the last several years, there have been predictions of an imminent change of direction at Fox News, so take all of this with a few grains of salt until a change actually happens. That said, if anyone is in tune with Fox News' coverage, and in particular the enthusiasm of its pro-Trump coverage, it's the fellow living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And the fact that he took a number of potshots at the outlet on Twitter this weekend suggests that he is very worried. (Z)

Today's Skeleton-in-the-closet News: Amy Klobuchar's Prosecutorial Record

Now that the Democratic field has more than a dozen candidates, it's time for the reporters to roll up their sleeves and get to work. And so they have, digging up all sorts of dirt on the various folks who are running. In just the last week, there have been revelations about Beto O'Rourke's teenage hacking, Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) three houses, Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) secret meetings with Jared Kushner's felonious father, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) clumsy handling of sexual misconduct by one of her staff members.

The latest candidate to come under the microscope is Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN). Before her congressional career, she served as County Attorney of Hennepin County for 8 years. And, as the Washington Post reports, she had a record that probably pleased the voters of the 81% white county, but that may not go over well with some parts of the Democratic base in 2020. In particular, she declined to pursue charges in more than two dozen cases where people were killed in encounters with the police, while at the same time she vigorously prosecuted relatively minor offenses like vandalism and marijuana possession. The overall result of her decisions was to deny full hearings to families of color whose loved ones died at the hands of police, while also disproportionately incarcerating minority citizens.

Time will tell if this hurts Klobuchar or not (or, for that matter, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, who, as a former prosecutor, has some of the same baggage). However, in terms of the overall 2020 race, one wonders if the Democrats aren't getting an unexpected benefit out of the unusually early start to the horse race. If most of the skeletons are dug out of closets 18 months before people go to the polls (and before most voters are paying close attention), then by summer of 2020, they could be old and stale news. That could certainly work to the advantage of the blue team, particularly its eventual nominee. (Z)

"Fredo" Trump Lectures the British on How Things Are

Note that it wasn't our idea to call him Fredo; it's a name used by Trump campaign insiders to refer to Donald Trump Jr.'s perceived lack of acumen in business, politics, or much of anything else, thus leaving him to ride on dad's coattails, just as Fredo Corleone did in the Godfather movies. In any case, it does not appear that, Don Jr. has gotten the message that he's better off keeping his mouth shut, because in an op-ed published by the right-wing newspaper The Telegraph, he presumed to tell the Brits that the Brexit would have been a piece of cake if they had just listened to his father's advice.

A bit of skepticism is warranted here, to say the least. Like her or not, Theresa May is a veteran politician and a shrewd cookie, and if she hasn't been able to figure it out, it's rather unlikely that a politically inexperienced Yank has some sort of magic solution in his pocket. Especially when that Yank has been unable to address any of the allegedly "easy" issues in his own country, like solving the opioid crisis, bringing peace to the Middle East, building a wall along the southern border, reducing the national debt, or replacing Obamacare.

If one actually reads the op-ed, one's skepticism grows even further, since young Trump doesn't actually mention what the solution is, merely that it exists and it would have made things easy. That approach runs in the family, of course, as Trump Sr. has consistently neglected to describe exactly what his magic pills are for all the things he allegedly has magic pills for. In this particular case, however, we actually do know what the proposal was, because May spilled the beans several months back. It turns out that the President recommended the Trump family solution for all ills: a lawsuit. Specifically, he advised that the UK sue the EU. When the Prime Minister revealed this, she had trouble controlling her laughter.

In any event, particularly following on the heels of the news about the ambassador to Germany, we are reminded that the Trumps are not doing the U.S. any favors when it comes to America's reputation among the powers of Europe. Meanwhile, for Trump Jr. to write such an op-ed with no sense of irony suggests that a total lack of self-awareness can apparently be passed through DNA. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Andrew Yang

He's been on the to-do list for a while, and now that he's qualified for a seat at the Democratic debates, his turn is up.

Andrew Yang
  • Full Name: Andrew Yang

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 46 (having reached that age just one week earlier)

  • Background: Yang is a first-generation American, born in New York to Taiwanese immigrant parents who met in grad school at Berkeley. His father made extensive use of the scientific training he got at Cal, ultimately registering nearly 70 patents. His mother used her stats degree for a while, and then became an artist. Andrew, for his part, was educated at a number of elite prep schools, and then took a B.A. in economics from Brown and a J.D. from Columbia. Thereafter, he worked briefly as an attorney before helping to found or run a number of tech-based startups, many of them civic minded, like (fundraising from celebrities), Manhattan Prep (helping students prepare for standardized tests), and Venture for America (encouraging budding entrepreneurs, particularly in smaller cities and towns).

  • Political Experience: Yang has held no full-time political office, either elected or appointed. The only things he has on his political resumé are several appointments to blue-ribbon political commissions, including being named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship by the Obama administration.

  • Signature Issue(s): There's no guesswork here. Yang has made very clear that his top priority is a universal basic income of $1,000 a month to every American over the age of 18. He calls this "The Freedom Dividend," and he argues, with some justification, that this is a necessary corrective to the rise of mass-automation, and would pay the costs of the program by taxing the corporations who have benefited most from said automation. He has also written a book on the subject.

    It is worth noting that he has a number of other policy positions that are somewhat unorthodox, and that are getting a fair bit of attention. He wants to make April 15 a holiday, called Revenue Day, in order to "make taxes fun." He wants to subsidize people who are willing to move from big cities to more rural communities. He wants to outlaw robocalls and force airlines to hold auctions for any seats they overbook. He wants to make it easier to add pork to bills, arguing that it makes it easier for those bills to get passed. And, he wants to redirect 10% of the military budget to infrastructure, to fund what he calls "The Legion of Builders and Destroyers."

  • Instructive Quote: "I probably looked pretty conventionally successful as a 24-year-old getting paid $125,000 a year, plus bonus, wearing suits, and living in a Manhattan apartment. But I hated my job, I didn't admire the people I was working with, and I felt that I was becoming a smaller, less imaginative, less risk-taking, less likable version of myself."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Let's do this as an actual trivia question. If Yang, or Kamala Harris, was to be elected, either would be far and away the highest-ranking person of Asian descent in the history of the executive branch, and of the federal government. Whom would they supplant? Answer below.

  • Recent News: In an event that nobody has been waiting for, Yang and conservative pundit Ben Shapiro announced this week that they will have a debate about the merits of circumcision, another of Yang's campaign planks. Shapiro, an orthodox Jew, will take the pro- position, and Yang will take the anti- position. Yang's strategy really ought to be to cut Shapiro off, very early. We will now summon all of our willpower and limit ourselves to just the one circumcision joke.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Creativity will get you far in life, more so than many people realize, and Yang may be the most creative thinker in this year's field; (2) If the voters decide they want someone who will shake things up, Yang fits the ticket; and (3) He inspires the sort of devotion from followers that we don't see with too many other candidates this year (Bernie Sanders and Beto O'Rourke being the exceptions).

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) Being a year or two ahead, or a year or two behind, the public on the issues is a good place to be, but being 10-20 years ahead usually isn't; (2) Voters have generally been leery of candidates with no political experience, and the last four years may intensify that feeling; and (3) Donald Trump would have an absolute field day with the names, from "Robot Man" to "Yang likes Wangs." That sort of mockery shouldn't work, but it does.

  • Is He Actually Running?: He certainly is.

  • Betting Odds: He wasn't even on the board a month ago, now he's getting 20-to-1 to 12-to-1 at the books, implying a 5% to 9% chance at the nomination. That means he's now getting better odds than Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, or Kirsten Gillibrand, and reminds us that sometimes people bet from their hearts and not from their heads.

  • Completely Trivial Answer: At the moment, the highest-ranking Asians in the history of the executive branch are Norman Mineta and Gary Locke, who both served as Secretary of Commerce, putting them 10th in the presidential line of succession. This is well ahead of former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Current Secretary of Transportation/former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is not eligible to the presidency by virtue of being a naturalized citizen, and wouldn't have outranked that pair anyhow, while U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was a Cabinet-level officer, but not actually in the line of succession. The only person of Asian heritage to get within single digits in the line of succession is Daniel Inouye, who was 4th in line while serving as President Pro Tempore of the Senate from 2010-12.

  • The Bottom Line: The bad news for Yang supporters is that no candidate like him has ever won the presidency, or even a major party nomination. The good news is that the same was true of Donald Trump in 2016. He's still a longshot, but that's better than a no-shot, which is how we would have described him three months ago.

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)

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer, click here for submission instructions and previous Q & A's. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar21 Trump: Let the Public See Mueller's Report
Mar21 Hicks May Sing Like a Canary
Mar21 Trump Escalates Feuds with Conway, Ghost of McCain
Mar21 "Mick the Knife" about to Lose "Acting" Tag
Mar21 Germans Not Enthused about Trump's Ambassador
Mar21 Sanders Criticized for New Hire
Mar21 Thursday Q&A
Mar20 Cohen Picture Gets Bigger, Clearer
Mar20 Trump Heads to Ohio
Mar20 Nadler Gets Some of the Documents He Wants
Mar20 Politicians vs. Tech, Part I: The Democrats
Mar20 Politicians vs. Tech, Part II: The Republicans
Mar20 Republicans Think Whites Are Discriminated Against; Democrats Disagree
Mar20 Eric Giddens Wins
Mar19 Trump Gone Wild
Mar19 Deutsche Bank Loaned Trump $2 Billion
Mar19 Trump Administration Wants to Strike Back at Student Loans
Mar19 Trump 2020's Advantages
Mar19 O'Rourke's Launch Goes Well in Some Ways, Not Others
Mar19 A Not-so-average Joe
Mar19 What Is Going on With Steve King?
Mar18 Biden's First Gaffe of This Cycle: I'm Running
Mar18 Gillibrand is Definitely Running
Mar18 Trump Starts Deep in the Hole for 2020
Mar18 Trump Bashes McCain
Mar18 Sanders Bashes Trump
Mar18 Washington State Senate Passes a Bill Requiring Candidates to Release Tax Returns
Mar18 Monday Q&A
Mar16 Trump Issues First Veto
Mar16 Trump Downplays Significance of Mosque Attacks
Mar16 Castro Likely to Mount Senate Bid
Mar16 NC-09 Primary Will Be a Free-for-All
Mar15 Congress Hits Trump With a One-Two Punch
Mar15 Key Mueller Subordinate Departing
Mar15 Trump Creates Some Turbulence for Himself
Mar15 McConnell Will Bring Green New Deal Up for a Vote After Recess
Mar15 Could Omar Face Primary Challenge?
Mar15 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Stacey Abrams
Mar15 Friday Q&A
Mar14 Manafort Has a Big Problem
Mar14 Crunch Time for Senate Republicans
Mar14 Majority of Voters Oppose Trump's Emergency Declaration
Mar14 College-Admission Scandal May Help the Democrats
Mar14 Biden and O'Rourke May Have to Duke it Out
Mar14 Why Did the Democrats Pick Milwaukee for Their Convention?
Mar14 Donald Trump Has a Secret Ally: The Democratic Party's Rules
Mar14 Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti Break Up
Mar13 Biden Keeps Teasing 2020 Run
Mar13 So Does Larry Hogan
Mar13 A Party Divided?