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Political Wire logo Trump Warns Iran Not to Threaten U.S.
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Trump Scrambles to Reverse Rust Belt Slide
How a Full-Scale Trade War Could Slam Trump
The Profanity Presidency
Democrats May Use ‘Power of the Purse’ Next

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Unveils Immigration Plan
      •  Trump Clips Hawks' Wings
      •  Trump Says He Made $434 Million in 2018
      •  Flynn Sang Like a Canary, Disregarded Influence from Unknown Congressman
      •  Walmart to Raise Prices due to Tariffs
      •  Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bill de Blasio

Trump Unveils Immigration Plan

Donald Trump revealed his much-ballyhooed plan to reform the United States' immigration system on Thursday. He called it "pro-American" and the members of his administration went on TV to sell the proposal as the most sweeping overhaul of the country's immigration system since 1954. That situates it as the proud inheritor of the legacy established by...Operation Wetback.

The central element of the plan is an aggressive shift toward merit-based immigration. The United States already has that, of course, but the Trump proposal would essentially base all admission decisions on a point system, where potential new arrivals would be judged based on the skills they have, how much money they have in the bank, if they have a job offer in the U.S., and whether they speak English. In all fairness, this is similar to the Canadian system, which is based on the principle of "Ask not what Canada can do for you, but what you can do for Canada." Having relatives in the U.S. would not add points, which would thus end most so-called "chain migration." The proposal also calls for beefed-up border security (including a wall, of course), to be at least partly paid for by charging fees to folks crossing the border.

The plan was primarily crafted by Jared Kushner, with some input from Stephen Miller, and (allegedly) lots of input from border patrol agents. You will notice that nobody on that list has any particular expertise or skill in the art of politics. And so, consistent with that, the proposal is basically dead on arrival, and has little chance of becoming law. Democrats don't like any talk of more aggressive border security, given that this is an administration that has already separated families and locked children in cages. The blue team, and even some members of the red team, are also unhappy that the plan has nary a word about the millions of DACA recipients in the country. On the other side of the debate, many anti-immigrant advocates are unhappy that Trump's plan would not reduce the total number of immigrants allowed to enter the country, and that it's pretty fuzzy on how the wall is actually going to get built. Given these issues, all of the top Democrats in Congress, and quite a number of Republican senators—Susan Collins (ME), Chuck Grassley (IA), Shelley Moore-Capito (WV), and Jerry Moran (KS) among them—said they see no way that the proposal can get through both chambers or Congress. Or either chamber of Congress, for that matter.

With that said, the plan was not really intended to become law. Its purpose, as with nearly every "policy proposal" that comes from Donald Trump, is to help him win his next election. His verbiage at Thursday's press conference made clear exactly what his expectations are, and exactly how he intends to wield the plan as a weapon over the next 18 months. "If for some reason, possibly political, we can't get the Democrats to approve this merit-based high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election, when we take back the House, keep the Senate, and of course, hold the presidency," he declared.

Given the fuzziness on the wall and on exactly what beefed-up security would look like, as well as the decision not to go for a reduction in the number of admittances, the administration is making a play for voters beyond the base. In other words, it's a proposal that even moderates and independents can get behind, as Team Trump sees it. That makes this the clearest indication so far that Trump 2020 realizes that the base alone is probably not going to be enough to win reelection. (Z)

Trump Clips Hawks' Wings

Ronald Reagan sent troops to Lebanon. George H. W. Bush invaded Iraq. George W. Bush not only invaded Iraq, he started a war there that lingered beyond his presidency. Perhaps you notice a theme for what seems to happen these days whenever a Republican president is elected. There are a number of folks in the current administration, many of them alumni of the last GOP administration, who would like to make their own contribution to this legacy. The most notable of these is NSA John Bolton, and the Middle Eastern country he'd like to get violent with is Iran. To that end, the United States has adopted an aggressive posture in that part of the world recently. Several naval ships have been deployed, and there has been talk this week that the Pentagon is working on a plan to deploy 120,000 troops to that part of the world.

As it turns out, there is someone who is apparently not on board with this: Donald Trump. He does tend to leave his underlings to their own devices, and he does like shows of strength (in many different varieties). However, he's also politically savvy enough to recognize how much damage the Iraq War did to George W. Bush. Further, Trump is instinctively isolationist. This is not because he opposes war, per se, but because he doesn't like spending American money to assist non-American people. In any event, he has reportedly read the riot act to Bolton and to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and told them he has no intention of approving an invasion. He could always change course, as he so often does. However, given that isolationism (along with protectionism) has been among his few consistently held political positions, the odds are pretty good that there will be no Iran War. (Z)

Trump Says He Made $434 Million in 2018

On Thursday, Donald Trump filed the financial disclosure forms he's required to complete each year. And, if they are to be believed, he made at least $434 million in 2018. The biggest profit center, it would appear, is Trump International Hotel in Washington, which raked in $40.8 million. That, of course, would be the same hotel that is at the center of both of the emoluments cases currently pending against the President.

There are two reasons that it is necessary to be cautious about these numbers. The first is that the forms require reporting only within a range, and the ranges do not envision a billionaire (or near-billionaire) president. Most obviously, the filer has to check a box for each outstanding loan he or she has, and the topmost box is "over $50 million." Trump checked that box for five different loans. That means that, along with the smaller outstanding loans he reported, he has at least $315 million in debt. However, he could also have $500 million in debt, or $3 billion, or even 500 billion rubles ($7.74 billion U.S.) worth of debt, and the forms would be filled out in exactly the same way.

The second reason for caution, of course, is that Trump has much motivation to exaggerate his prosperity, and much ability to do so. There isn't a great way to verify most of the figures he provided and, as he's demonstrated throughout his entire career, it's pretty easy to make a business look profitable or unprofitable at will, based on how you juggle the balance sheets. High-end real estate projects are kind of like Hollywood movies—somehow, none of them ever seem to make any actual money. And Trump's claims of success run contrary to reporting from, for example, Forbes, which reports that Trump National Doral resort in Miami (the crown jewel of the empire) is not "on fire" as the Trump Organization claims, and instead has seen a steep decline in revenues since he became president.

In any case, all of this is why the Democrats have a legitimate claim for seeing the President's tax returns and financial documents. Though he says that the federal disclosure forms tell them all they need to know, the forms don't actually tell them all that much. (Z)

Flynn Sang Like a Canary, Disregarded Influence from Unknown Congressman

One of the many sealed filings from Robert Mueller's investigation was unsealed on Thursday. It turns out that former general and NSA Michael Flynn gave the special counsel a lot of juicy stuff, including some evidence of collusion with the Russians, and even more evidence of obstruction of justice. Flynn revealed that a number of Trump allies, within the administration and without, contacted him to try to persuade him not to cooperate with the investigation. He even had recordings of voicemails that he turned over to Mueller.

Naturally, these revelations have given Democrats more ammunition to use as they make the case that they not only need to see the unredacted Mueller report, but also the underlying evidence he collected. Further, at least one of folks who tried to twist Flynn's arm is a sitting congressman (though we don't know who, as yet). That person, whoever they may be, should be a tad bit nervous right now. Obstruction is, once again, a crime, and the members of Congress have many tools at their disposal to punish one of their own. (Z)

Walmart to Raise Prices due to Tariffs

Retail giant Walmart gets an awful lot of its inventory from China, either directly, or in the form of goods manufactured elsewhere but using Chinese raw materials. They also have very low margins. So, it makes sense that their prices would be affected by Donald Trump's tariffs. On Thursday, however, they made a point of announcing it very loudly and very publicly, with CFO Brett Biggs telling reporters, "We're going to continue to do everything we can to keep prices low. That's who we are. However, increased tariffs will lead to increased prices, we believe, for our customers."

At the very least, this news means that the effect of the tariffs will be felt in a very noticeable way, not only on Wall Street, but also on Main Street. Walmart does a lot of business in red states, and in semi-rural areas (i.e., Trump Country). One also suspects that this is meant as a shot across the bow of the administration, and a strong suggestion that they consider backing off their plans. The President should probably expect a visit from Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman (both R-Walmart) very soon. Given that much of the base is starting to pitch fits about the trade war, and that some GOP senators are also unhappy, maybe Trump will change course. On the other hand, given that protectionism was the second-biggest plank in his 2016 platform, behind only the border wall, we wouldn't bet on it. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bill de Blasio

One last profile, and the set will theoretically be complete. Unless some village council member for East Cupcake says: "What do I have to lose?" and throws his hat in the ring. Then we shall move on to the next phase of this series.

Bill de Blasio
  • Full Name: Bill de Blasio (though his birth name was Warren Wilhelm Jr.)

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 59

  • Background: Born in New York, de Blasio spent much of his youth in Massachusetts. His parents' marriage was troubled and abusive, and his alcoholic father abandoned the family when the future mayor was seven years old, and committed suicide a decade later after developing terminal lung cancer. Adopting his mother's maiden name, in honor of her (essentially) single parenthood, de Blasio's graduated high school with honors, and as class president. He took a BA in metropolitan studies from NYU, and then a Master of International Affairs degree from Columbia. After finishing his undergraduate education, and while completing his graduate education, de Blasio worked in several public-sector or semi-public-sector jobs. He served in New York City's Department of Juvenile Justice, for example, and also worked as an organizer for the openly-Marxist social-justice group the Quixote Center. In that capacity, he visited Nicaragua during its revolution, and expressed admiration and support for the Sandinistas, which put him on the opposite side of that issue from Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, et al.

  • Political Experience: From these various activist-type positions, de Blasio transitioned into behind-the-scenes political roles, including time working for New York City's municipal government, a stint at the Clinton-era Department of Housing and Urban Development, and running then-representative Charles Rangel's re-election campaign in 1994, and Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate campaign in 2000. The first time de Blasio stood for office himself was (technically) in 1999, when he was elected a board member for Brooklyn School District 15. He was elected to the New York City Council in 2002, serving 7 years, and then in 2010 as New York City Public Advocate (an ombudsman-style position that is also the mayor's successor, should he leave office). After 3 years as the #2 man in New York City's government, de Blasio ran for the top spot in 2013 and won it. He's been mayor ever since, claiming 2/3 of the vote in his 2017 reelection bid.

  • Signature Issue(s): Many of de Blasio's main accomplishments are in areas that only really matter at the municipal level (i.e., better police training), or are fairly standard progressive issues (i.e., making marijuana legal). However, he's had some success modernizing New York City's infrastructure. That could become the centerpiece of a presidential campaign.

  • Instructive Quote: "I didn't set out with the notion of running for elective office; it sort of grew over time. And I honestly at times questioned if progressive change can be effected through elected office."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Many folks know that Hiram Ulysses Grant and David Dwight Eisenhower did not love their birth names, and decided to tinker around with them. And Thomas Woodrow Wilson, John Calvin Coolidge, and Stephen Grover Cleveland all used their middle names. However, de Blasio would be the third person elected under a different last name than the one they were born with, following Leslie King Jr. and William Blythe III. Er, sorry, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton. In addition, de Blasio would be the second president to be fluent in Italian, after the polyglot Thomas Jefferson (who was fluent in Spanish, Greek, Latin, and French, in addition to Italian and English, and was also conversant in Arabic).

  • Recent News: The big news of the week was de Blasio's announcement that he's entering the presidential race. The adjunct to that story is that Thursday's rollout was "botched," to use Politico's word. There were a number of embarrassments, but the biggest was that when he appeared on "Good Morning America" (which has a "you can see actual people on the streets of New York" set, like the "Today" show does), he was surrounded by protesters chanting anti-de Blasio slogans. Not a great look for your launch announcement.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Like the other guy who entered the race this week, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), de Blasio has a track record of successfully blending progressivism and pragmatism; (2) He has a record of winning elections that people don't think he can win; and (3) There aren't too many members of this year's field (with Joe Biden the exception) who can brawl with Donald Trump as well as de Blasio can. Already, the President has sent out a nasty tweet about the Mayor's announcement, complete with video.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) He generates very negative reactions, and from many different quarters—the headline in de Blasio's hometown New York Post was De Blasio unites America—against his presidential bid; (2) The Mayor has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, which is ok in a deep blue city where he has some margin for error, but might not get it done on the national level; and (3) He's awfully lefty for the U.S. electorate; "devoted Marxist" remains a pretty poisonous descriptor.

  • Is He Actually Running?: As of yesterday, he certainly is.

  • Betting Odds: They are all over the place, from as high as 100-to-1 to as low as 25-to-1. That implies a 1%-4% chance of him claiming the nomination. That 25-to-1 seems rather optimistic, but it's being offered by William Hill, the dean of British bookmakers, so maybe they know something.

  • The Bottom Line: With a field this crowded, and an announcement this late, de Blasio couldn't possibly believe he has a real chance at this thing. He's done being mayor in 2021 (for four years, at least), so he could be setting himself up for a gubernatorial run if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) steps down in 2023 (though he's not term-limited). Alternatively, he may have one or two issues he wants to draw attention to, or he may have his eye on a future contract with MSNBC.

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
May16 Trump Will Stonewall Congress on Everything
May16 Two New Polls Have Biden in the Lead among Democrats and Independents
May16 Buttigieg Hits an Obstacle
May16 Federal Employees Are Illegally Campaigning for Trump
May16 Some Republican Senators Are Beginning to Complain about the Tariffs
May16 Trump Is at Odds with One of the Parties--the Republican Party
May16 How Trump Could Refuse to Accept a Defeat in 2020
May16 Make Way for Another Mayor
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May16 California May Lose a House Seat after the Census
May16 Thursday Q&A
May15 Winter Is Coming
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May15 Florida Governor Admits a Second County Was Hacked
May15 OANN: The Network for Those Who Think Fox News Isn't Trumpy Enough
May15 Warren to Fox: "No, Thanks"
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May14 Let the Trade War Commence
May14 Barr Orders Investigation of Russiagate Origins
May14 Republicans Launch Abortion Offensive
May14 Neil 1, Shapiro 0
May14 Trump Strongest Among "Semi" Evangelicals
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May14 The Amazing, Astounding, Vanishing Beto O'Rourke
May13 Judge Schedules Hearing on Trump's Financial Records Case for Tomorrow
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May13 House and Senate Republicans Are Fighting about a Black Man
May13 Monday Q&A
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May10 Burr Holds Firm, But So Does Trump Jr.
May10 Not All Former FBI Directors Are Robert Mueller
May10 After 2020, Democrats May Think Citizens United Is Not So Bad
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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
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May09 Feinstein Backs Biden
May09 Pelosi Does Not Want to Jail Administration Officials
May09 Florida Will Make It Harder for Former Felons to Vote