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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Wants to Make Shanahan Permanent
      •  Burr Holds Firm, But So Does Trump Jr.
      •  Not All Former FBI Directors Are Robert Mueller
      •  After 2020, Democrats May Think Citizens United Is Not So Bad
      •  Plame to Run for Congress
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Wayne Messam

Trump Wants to Make Shanahan Permanent

Since James Mattis left at the start of this year, Patrick Shanahan has been running the Pentagon. It would appear that he passed his audition, because Donald Trump has decided he wants to remove the "Acting" from Shanahan's title, and make him the nation's 27th Secretary of Defense.

Most secretaries of defense have at least some military service on their résumés. Shanahan's entire career, by contrast, has been spent on the other side of the military-industrial complex. Prior to joining the Trump administration in 2017, he spent 30 years working for Boeing, much of that as general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. Part of the reason it has taken as long as it has for Trump to promote Shanahan is that he was accused of improperly using his government position to advocate for his old employer. However, a recently concluded investigation by the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General cleared the Acting Secretary of wrongdoing.

Like many Trump nominees these days, Shanahan faces a tough confirmation battle. His relative paucity of military or DoD experience will be an issue, as will the ethical concerns—just because the Pentagon's IG is satisfied doesn't mean 100 U.S. senators are. Further, Shanahan wouldn't be getting this job if he hadn't been an enthusiastic supporter of the President's military policies, including the ban on transgender soldiers, the use of military funds to build the border wall, and the aggressive posture towards Iran. These policies aren't popular with Senate Democrats, and a number of Senate Republicans don't much care for them, either. As a reminder, it takes just four Republican "nays" to kill a nomination, as long as no Democrats defect. The fun is expected to begin in a couple of weeks. (Z)

Burr Holds Firm, But So Does Trump Jr.

A lot of Republicans, in both the executive and legislative branches of the government, are not at all happy that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) has hit Donald Trump Jr. with a subpoena. Among the folks who piped up on Thursday were Donald Trump Sr., White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). Still, Burr is sticking to his guns, thus far refusing to withdraw the subpoena.

Burr's issue is that Trump Jr. declared on Thursday that he has no intention of showing up. You may not know this, because it so rarely comes up these days, but the two chambers of Congress each have the power to hold someone in contempt. If Burr wants to pursue that course, he would first need a majority of his committee to vote for it. That would presumably be no problem, since a majority already voted for the subpoena in the first place. Then, the full Senate would have to vote for it, which is likely a big problem. Are there really three GOP senators who are loyal enough to Burr and/or to the cause of congressional oversight that they are willing to poke the President in the eye, big-time? That seems unlikely. Maybe we will find out in the next few days, or maybe Burr will give in and we won't. Of course, if one of the House committees subpoenas Junior, he may not get off so easily. (Z)

Not All Former FBI Directors Are Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller has been very quiet since he finished his report and delivered it to Attorney General Bill Barr. That is, at least in part, because the special counsel is a no drama kind of guy. It may also be that because he is still on the federal payroll and/or he has classified information, he is legally required to button his lip.

Not all former FBI directors are so constrained, however. There's James Comey, for example, who has few compunctions about sharing his opinions on all things Trump. So, he sat for a CNN-hosted town hall on Thursday and said all the things that Democrats are dying to hear Mueller say. Comey slammed Barr, for example, opining that he has "lost most of his reputation" by effectively acting as the President's personal lawyer. He also said it's entirely possible the Russians have kompromat on Trump.

Comey's strongest opinion of the evening, however, was reserved for the question that's on everyone's minds: obstruction on the part of the president. On that, the former director was clear, declaring that it "sure looks like" Donald Trump had criminal intent to commit obstruction of justice. On one hand, Comey is no fan of the president who fired him, and so maybe his opinions should be taken with a few grains of salt. On the other hand, he's one of the foremost experts in this particular crime, so maybe his opinions can be consumed salt-free.

It became just a tad bit more likely on Thursday, incidentally, that Robert Mueller will be chatting with Congress in the near future, as Donald Trump flip-flopped again, and put the decision about whether to allow that back in Bill Barr's hands. This might mean that Trump wants Barr to be the guy who puts his neck on the line by saying "no," but more likely it's an acknowledgment that the President knows he can't really stop Mueller, and that if he tries it would just result in an embarrassing and high-profile defeat. If it is the latter, and if the original timetable holds, Mueller could be on the Hill as early as next week. (Z)

After 2020, Democrats May Think Citizens United Is Not So Bad

Thus far, the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which allowed unlimited donations to super PACs, has primarily worked to the benefit of the GOP. In 2020, however, it is possible the script will be flipped. First of all, the liberal PAC Democracy Alliance has just committed to spending at least $100 million in key swing states in an effort to defeat Donald Trump. George Soros is a member of the group (albeit on the periphery), so Breitbart and InfoWars will now have enough material to carry them through to 2022.

Meanwhile, one of the GOP's most important financial backers is in trouble. That would be the NRA. The gun lobbying organization, as we've noted, is in the midst of a bloody leadership struggle, and is also facing an investigation by the office of New York AG Letitia James. Their balance sheet is a mess, possibly in part because the muckety-mucks involved in the leadership struggle have been on the take. In 2016, the NRA spent nearly $70 million on the election, with $30 million of that directed specifically to getting Donald Trump elected. In 2018, their spending dropped to less than $10 million, and in 2020 it could be lower. Perhaps even as low as $0.

We remain skeptical that money matters as much in political campaigns today as it did, say, 20 years ago, because of the reduced efficacy of (expensive) TV advertising in a fragmented, on-demand broadcast market. Case in point: Hillary Clinton had more money than Donald Trump in 2016, but it didn't do the job. To the extent that it does matter, the signs are pointing to the blue team having the upper hand, despite the fundraising advantages that come with controlling the White House. (Z)

Plame to Run for Congress

The 2020 election is going to have a few blasts from the past. The current Democratic frontrunner, for example, launched his first run for president when Ronald Reagan was still in office. Rudy Giuliani is apparently set for a high-profile role in the Trump reelection campaign, performing the Kellyanne Conway job of going on television and telling lies with a straight face. This will mark the first time he's been a major part of a national political campaign since 2008. And, after announcing on Thursday, Valerie Plame will be running for Congress.

Plame, of course, is the former CIA operative who was outed by Richard Armitage. This was done as retaliation for criticism of the Bush administration by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. It was one of the great scandals of the Bush years, and eventually got Scooter Libby convicted of a felony when he lied about it to investigators. Libby's sentence was commuted by George W. Bush, and he later received a full pardon from Donald Trump. Trump never gave much of an official explanation for his decision, but the general understanding is that it was a message to loyalists that pardons would be available if they kept the Donald's secrets. In any case, Plame's candidacy could bring new attention to this issue, though it is hard to imagine it will hurt the scandal-proof Trump. Given that she has the backing of the Democratic establishment, and that New Mexico is quite blue, she is likely to win the right to succeed Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Udall (D-NM). (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Wayne Messam

This is the last of the candidates rated as "serious" by Wikipedia, Ballotpedia, FiveThirtyEight, and the New York Times. After this week, we're going to do something a little different with this series.

Wayne Messam
  • Full Name: Wayne Martin Messam

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 46

  • Background: Messam was born to immigrant parents from Jamaica who had a fifth grade education, and who worked very hard in the cane fields of Florida to support their family. A good student and a stellar athlete, he went to Florida State University on a football scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Information Systems. After a decade of working for various employers, Messam launched a successful construction company, which he still owns.

  • Political Experience: Messam was elected as a city commissioner in Miramar, Florida (a suburb of Miami) in 2011, and became that town's mayor in 2015. He was reelected easily in March of this year.

  • Signature Issue(s): While he's had a successful run as mayor, Messam doesn't seem to have a signature accomplishment, or an issue he identifies particularly strongly with. For what it is worth, the first issue mentioned on his website is gun violence, which makes sense, since Miramar is not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (about 20 miles). He also talks a lot about canceling the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student debt.

  • Instructive Quote: "As an American, it is my duty to keep it real and speak truth to power."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Messam, if elected, would be the second president to have won a college football national championship. He was a part of the 1993 championship team, while Gerald Ford was part of Michigan's championship teams in 1932 and 1933. Dwight D. Eisenhower would also be on the list, as a member of Army's 1914 championship team, if he hadn't wrecked his knee in 1912, thus ending his football career.

  • Recent News: Messam's campaign is having serious money troubles, having raised less than $50,000 so far. This has given him his first scandal, as several of his staffers apparently went unpaid.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Messam checks a lot of boxes—minority, son of immigrants, young, progressive, entrepreneur; (2) He would be in a good position to win Florida, and if he can do that, Donald Trump's path to reelection gets very narrow; and (3) He proudly embraces the label of "outsider," and we could be in an era where "outsider" presidents are "in."

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) Pete Buttigieg notwithstanding, only three mayors have gone on to be president (Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge), and all of them were governors in between their mayoralty and their presidency; (2) Messam's quite lefty without being populist, which means he's got virtually no angle for independents to get on board with; and (3) Consistent with someone who is new to the big time, he's a bit unpolished. When he appears on TV, take a drink every time he says 'um.' You'll be soused in the first 30 seconds.

  • Is He Actually Running?: Yes. He announced on March 28.

  • Betting Odds: He's getting 113-to-1, which implies a roughly 0.8% chance of getting the nomination. That's misleading, though, because the books basically won't give longer odds than that on people who aren't joke candidates (e.g., Kanye West), for fear of taking a bath. To put it in context, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is getting better odds (80-to-1) and he's already said he's not running.

  • The Bottom Line: He's got no money, the pollsters don't even bother to ask voters about him, and Vegas has him as less likely to get the nomination than Al Gore, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or Caroline Kennedy. Put another way, Messam is not really a serious candidate for president in 2020, regardless of what Wikipedia and FiveThirtyEight say. More probably, he's got his eye on Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) seat in 2022.

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
May09 Judiciary Committee Votes to Hold AG William Barr in Contempt of Congress
May09 Trump Claims Executive Privilege over the Original Mueller Report
May09 Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Trump Jr.
May09 Trump Implicitly Admits that He Lost a Billion Dollars in a Decade
May09 New York May Release Trump's State Tax Returns
May09 Feinstein Backs Biden
May09 Pelosi Does Not Want to Jail Administration Officials
May09 Florida Will Make It Harder for Former Felons to Vote
May09 Schiff Introduces a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United
May09 The Once and Future Senator?
May09 Charlie Cook Rules
May09 Half of White Republicans Are Bothered by Someone Speaking a Foreign Language
May09 Thursday Q&A
May08 Congress Punches, Trump Administration Counter-Punches
May08 Iran to Partially Withdraw from Nuclear Deal
May08 Stock Market Down for Two Straight Days
May08 Trump, by Contrast, Was Down for Ten Straight Years
May08 Trump Says His Administration Is "Looking Into" Facebook's Ban of Right-wingers
May08 Another Crook Turns Up in Trump's Orbit
May08 More on the Kentucky Derby
May07 Contempt for Congress, Part I: Robert Mueller and His Report
May07 Contempt for Congress, Part II: The Tax Returns
May07 SDNY Subpoenas Trump Inaugural Committee Records
May07 Trump Chatted with Putin about "The Russian Hoax" This Weekend
May07 Trump Laments Kentucky Derby Result
May07 Massachusetts GOP Wants to Protect Trump
May07 Buttigieg Hit Job Fails
May06 Trump Does Not Want Robert Mueller to Testify before Congress
May06 Trump Threatens to Raise Tariffs on China
May06 House Democrats Are Trying to Decide What to Do about Barr
May06 Ohio Court Tosses Out State's Congressional Map
May06 Sanders Goes after the Rural Vote in Iowa
May06 The Democrats' New Weapon: Podcasts
May06 Democrats Plan to Eat Their Own
May06 Mike Enzi Will Not Run for a Fifth Term
May06 Monday Q&A
May03 Barr Throws Down the Gauntlet
May03 Trump Explains How He Coped with Mueller Probe
May03 Moore's Demise Is Official
May03 Clinton Has a Sense of Humor
May03 California Senate Passes Tax-return-for-ballot-access Bill
May03 Friday Q&A
May02 Barr Snipes at Mueller at Senate Hearing
May02 Takeaways from Barr's Appearance
May02 Biden Is Skipping the Primaries
May02 The Democratic Party Is Not What It Used to Be
May02 Trump's Tweets May Be Hurting Him
May02 Which Team Is Putin On?
May02 Trump Won Iowa Due to Xenophobia
May02 Moderate Democrats Have a Better Track Record than Progressives