• Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?
• Spring Storm Was Apparently a Summer Breeze
• Another Day, Another Indictment
• Secretaries of State Give Trump Headaches
• Democrats: State of the Race
• Alabamians Want More Moore
• Tillis a Top Target...for Republicans
• The Backlash Continues...
• ...And it Claims Another Victim
Discretion is (sometimes) the better part of valor. D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland has apparently decided that putting himself on the case in which Donald Trump is trying to block his accountants from obeying a House subpoena was too controversial. So, he picked three other judges at random to hear the case: David Tatel, Patricia Millett, and Neomi Rao. In theory, it shouldn't matter who appointed the judges to the circuit court, but in the real world it matters a lot. Tatel was appointed by Bill Clinton. Millett was appointed by Barack Obama. Rao was appointed by Donald Trump to fill the slot vacated by now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. For what it is worth, that means that two of the three judges are women.
The three judges agreed with both sides to expedite the case. Oral arguments will be held on July 12. No matter how the court rules, the case will land in the Supreme Court, possibly as early as the fall, just as the 2020 campaign is starting to heat up. However, a decision might not come until early 2020, as the justices don't like to be perceived as hasty and it will take time to write a careful, detailed opinion that will set a major precedent.
From a legal point of view, Trump has a weak case. He can't claim executive privilege because he is not supposed to discuss government matters with his accountants, whose records the House wants. He is basically claiming it is a fishing expedition and the House has no business doing what they are doing. The House is claiming it needs his financial records as part of its oversight responsibilities—for example, to see if the President has violated the Emoluments Clause or if he is under the thumb of a hostile foreign government. This whole area has rarely been explored, so it is certain that the Supreme Court will take up the case.
When it gets there, the Trump appointees will be in a bit of a bind. They (especially Kavanaugh) might agree with Trump as a matter of principle, but siding with him in the first high-profile case involving him personally wouldn't look good. They don't have to run for reelection or reappointment, but no justice wants to be labeled as a sycophant, even if there are no direct consequences. In addition, there is always the dynamic that Chief Justice John Roberts cares very much about being seen as a neutral umpire calling balls and strikes, so he needs to rule against the Republicans from time to time on minor cases (like this one) so he can rule for them on the important ones (like gerrymandering and voter suppression).
This isn't the only case that is going to be appealed. A similar case is pending in New York. On Wednesday, Judge Edgardos Ramos refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking Deutsche Bank and Capital One from releasing Trump's financial records to the House. The case isn't over yet, but no matter how Ramos rules, that case will end up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and then almost certainly in the Supreme Court. Depending on how fast that one moves and what the Second Circuit Court does, the Supreme Court could take on both cases at once, since both revolve around the question of what Congress may or may not subpoena. The TV networks are probably busy signing up legal beagles with expertise in emoluments and subpoena law for appearances in the fall. (V)
On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that it intends to send an additional $16 billion in aid to farmers being hurt by the trade war. That's on top of the $12 billion that was previously announced, which—according to our staff mathematicians—adds up a running total of $28 billion. That is quite a lot of money, of course. In fact, according to a progress report filed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Thursday, it's enough for almost 31 miles of new border fencing (they've blown through $1.57 billion in order to build 1.7 miles of new fence).
Where, exactly, is this money coming from? Well, according to Donald Trump, and to Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, it's going to come from the monies collected from the new tariffs. Maybe so, although both Trump and Perdue have made the claim that "China will be paying the bill." This is not an honest description of how tariffs work, since the costs are borne by consumers, and maybe producers, but certainly not by national governments. So, it calls into question the truthfulness of all of their answers.
Determining exactly where the money is coming from is always a dicey question with something as big and complex as the federal budget. However, one cannot help but juxtapose the aid to farmers with some of the other belt-tightening that the administration is doing at the same time. For example, we are just weeks removed from Trump's proposal to cut over $8 billion from the Dept. of Education's budget. If funds are limited, and apparently they are, then are handouts for farmers a better expenditure of the nation's money than support for students (a.k.a., the future)? Probably not, though it is true that one of those groups is ready and willing to vote for Trump in 2020, while the other is not.
To take another example, California firefighters helped to put out fires on federal land last year, and the state sent the federal government a bill for its costs. The administration decided that the bill was too high, and refused to pay it in full (shades of Trump's business career). So, barring a successful lawsuit, the Golden State is out $9 million. A relative drop in the bucket compared to $28 billion, although that is why state residents consider it to be so galling. In effect, residents who are already going to be paying more due to tariffs (which will theoretically go to the farmers), and who are paying more in taxes due to the GOP tax bill, and who were already paying more into the federal treasury, per capita, than those in any other state, are now being poked in the eye again.
The theme here is clear: Vote for Trump, and the government gives you money. Vote against him, and the government takes money away. The Donald is hardly the first president to do this, of course. FDR, for example, was a master at steering federal funds to friendly states, as was LBJ. However, the Trump administration is particularly obvious about it, and is also willing to be petty in a way that FDR, at least, was not (can't say the same for LBJ). Team Trump thinks that folks in California can't hurt him with their votes, and he's right about that. The Democrats could nominate a talking donkey in 2020, and they'd still have those 55 EVs in the bag. However, Golden Staters can send their money (what's left of it) to Trump's opponent, and to other Democratic candidates. They did so by the bushel in 2018 (a.k.a., a "blue wave" year), and will be highly motivated to do it again in 2020. (Z)
On Wednesday, Donald Trump showed up late for a meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), spent a few minutes tearing into them and not letting them speak, and then stormed out after declaring that he would not work with them on infrastructure until they stop investigating him and pass NAFTA v2.0. The whole thing was clearly scripted, a throwback to Trump's days as a reality TV host. The only thing missing was that the President never told Pelosi, "You're fired."
Needless to say, reporters were eager to hear the administration's side of things on Thursday. And the story du jour is that this was all Pelosi's fault. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that this was no stunt, and that if Pelosi would put an end to all the impeachment talk, then Trump wouldn't need to abruptly leave meetings with her. Given that the two Democratic pooh-bahs never spoke, Sanders' account is a bit hard to swallow. Further, she apparently hasn't been paying attention, but Pelosi is the unquestioned leader of the "let's not impeach" Democrats.
Donald Trump told the same basic story when he talked with reporters later in the day. Actually, what he said is that there was no "temper tantrum," and then he went on an angry half-hour-long rant in which he slammed Democrats as "bad people," Pelosi as "crazy Nancy," and then reminded everyone that he is "an extremely stable genius." There is, of course, no better way to demonstrate that you didn't lose your temper than by losing your temper.
All of this is a little bit strange, even by the standards of this administration. After all, if you're going to stage a little kabuki theater, then why deny it the next day? Slate's Jim Newell has a pretty good theory, though. He suggests that there is no way to turn the $2 trillion infrastructure plan into reality, given the price tag, and there's definitely no way to do it without the Democrats getting much of the credit. In other words, moving forward could lead only to bad outcomes from Trump's vantage point, either (1) a(nother) high-profile policy failure, or (2) a "win" for the Democrats. So, Wednesday's performance was a way to push the eject button without admitting the truth. It's a pretty good theory, and we'll go with it until we've got something better. (Z)
Another person in Donald Trump's orbit has been indicted. This time, it is Stephen Calk, who—in his capacity as CEO of the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago—arranged for $16 million in loans for Paul Manafort that the then-campaign chair did not actually qualify for. It was supposed to be a quid pro quo—loans in exchange for a plum position in the Trump administration. It didn't work out too well for Calk, though. He didn't get the appointment, he lost his job at the bank, and now he's facing 30 years in prison.
The Mueller investigation may be over, then, but it still lives on, since Calk's was one of the 14 sealed indictments filed by the special counsel before he turned in his magnifying glass. Also living on are Team Trump's efforts to prove that the whole thing was a sham, rooted in shady behavior by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the Democrats, the FBI, the intelligence community, the 1977 Pittsburgh Steelers, D.B. Cooper, and the Easter Bunny. To that end, Trump ordered all the major US intelligence agencies to assist AG William Barr in his efforts to discover the truth about the surveillance of Trump's 2016 campaign. That means that the FBI is now tasked with investigating...itself. It also means that the entire intelligence apparatus of the United States and three different U.S. attorneys have joined Don Trump and Sancho Barr in tilting at what looks suspiciously like a windmill. (Z)
Donald Trump's first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, visited Congress earlier this week to share a few anecdotes from his time serving under the President. Much of that conversation remains secret, but a few pretty juicy details have leaked out. Tillerson said, for example, that when Donald Trump first met Vlad Putin, Putin was much better prepared. We already basically knew that, since Trump never prepares for anything, while Putin is a former spy (i.e., information fanatic). However, now we have confirmation. Tillerson also said that Jared Kushner knows nothing about foreign policy, and did not bother to talk to any experts in order to make up for his deficiencies, leaving him open to manipulation from more savvy foreign officials.
Surprisingly Trump did not like this news. After shouting at reporters for half an hour (see above), the President got on Twitter and sent this out:
Rex Tillerson, a man who is “dumb as a rock” and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. I don’t think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2019
That makes Tillerson the latest in a long line of Trump underlings who were brilliant and fantastic while they were working for him, and then promptly became stupid and incompetent once they were no longer in his employ. Although if the Secretary truly was ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the job, it does raise an obvious question: Why did Trump hire him? After all, during the campaign he said he would hire only the best people.
Tillerson wasn't the only Secretary of State making headaches for the President this week, though. NSA John Bolton and current Sec. of State Mike Pompeo are on the outs, primarily because Pompeo does not appreciate Bolton's tendencies to be manipulative, to be aggressive, and to assume more power than is rightfully his. The NSA hasn't thrown a stapler at the Secretary yet, but it's probably only a matter of time. Pompeo is already hinting that this White House may not be big enough for the two of them, and so Trump may soon have to choose which one of them he's going to send Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to fire. Of course, Pompeo could make the first move and decide that he would prefer to be senator from Kansas, basically a lifetime gig. We'll see who goes first. (Z)
Before we move on to the next iteration of the Democratic candidate profiles, we thought it would be useful to answer a question we got from reader J.O. in Raleigh, NC, and do an update on where the Democratic debates stand.
As a reminder, the first debate(s) will be held on June 26 and 27 in Miami, FL. There are 10 spots available each night, and candidates will be randomly assigned to one evening or the other. There are two ways to qualify: (1) Collecting at least 65,000 donations, with at least 200 donors in 20 different states; or (2) Clearing 1% in at least three reputable polls. Here is how things stand for each of the candidates in terms of the two benchmarks:
|Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)||✔||✔|
|Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend)||✔||✔|
|Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)||✔||✔|
|Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)||✔||✔|
|Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN)||✔||✔|
|Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)||✔||✔|
|Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)||✔||✔|
|Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT)||✔|
|Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)||✔|
|Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA)||✔|
|Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)||✔|
|Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)||✔|
|Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)|
|Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY)|
|Mayor Wayne Messam (D-Miramar, FL)|
|Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)|
As you can see, 12 candidates have fulfilled both criteria, while another 7 have fulfilled one of the two. It is very probable that de Blasio, a very recent entry, will clear the 65,000-donor threshold in the next month or so. Surely a sitting U.S. Senator (Bennet) will also be able to hit that mark, so we're looking at 21 (or more) qualifiers. If the number is indeed more than 20, then the DNC will break ties through a secret formula that gives weight to: (1) meeting both thresholds, (2) highest polling average, and (3) largest number of unique donors.
The 20-person cap means there are at least four people on the list above who won't be getting a ticket to the first debate (and probably not to any of the others, either). Messam, Moulton, and Gravel are all in trouble, obviously, but it will be interesting to see who the fourth person to be cut is. Undoubtedly, the DNC would prefer to cashier one of the non-politicians (Yang or Williamson), but they would need all of the folks who currently have one check mark to pick up that second check in order to consider doing that. It would also be not too surprising if the Democrats, softies that they are, magically find room for everyone who qualifies. After all, is there really that much difference between having 10 debaters vs. having 11?
In any event, once a candidate finds out that they are shut out from round one, that's almost certainly the end of the road for their 2020 campaign. If they are not getting donors, and they are not getting even a nibble in the polls, and they aren't going to be given a national platform to bring some attention to themselves, what is their path forward?
Meanwhile, the Democrats have one more pair of debates that have been scheduled (July 30 and 31). The Party will probably keep the rules pretty similar for round two as for round one, so that they can say they gave candidates every chance to break through. But, significantly, the DNC has been very vague about round three, committing only to "sometime in September." It is likely at that point that the number of debates goes down (from 2 to 1), and the bar for qualifying goes up. If the DNC were to raise the polling threshold from 1% to 2%, which is still very modest and very reasonable, the field would shrink to just eight people (Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, O'Rourke, Klobuchar, and Booker, with Castro just missing). If the threshold were raised to 5% (still pretty modest), then Castro would definitely be out of luck, and Klobuchar and Booker would drop off the list. And again, without a debate slot, and with such a huge field, it's awfully hard to remain viable.
So that is, as best we can do with the information currently available, the state of the Democratic race. The field is likely to shrink a little bit in a few weeks, and then to shrink a bunch more near the end of summer. The odds are good that the Democrats enter 2020 with a somewhat leaner, meaner field than the Republicans entered 2016 with. (Z)
Mason-Dixon just released a new poll of Alabama voters, one focused in particular on next year's Senate race. And the preferred candidate of the state's Republicans is...Roy Moore. The former judge and credibly accused child molester has the backing of 27% of GOP respondents, with Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) coming in a pretty distant second, at 18% (which is rather embarrassing for him). Remarkably, Republican women (31%) are even more excited about Moore than Republican men (24%).
Moore is definitely thinking about running again, and polls like this aren't doing anything to dissuade him from taking the plunge. Maybe, aided by presidential coattails, he might even win on his third attempt. On the other hand, 40% of poll respondents said they would like to keep Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), and another 10% said they were not sure. That is the profile of someone who would be a dead man walking against a run-of-the-mill Republican opponent, but who might just eke out a victory over a deeply flawed Republican opponent. Like, say, a credibly accused child molester who has already lost two Senate races. Anyhow, we are getting closer to the possibility that the blue team may not lose any Senate seats at all in 2020, and might just be able to pick off the three (or four) seats they need for a majority, as Maine (Susan Collins), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Arizona (Martha McSally), Iowa (Joni Ernst), and North Carolina (Thom Tillis) are all definitely in play, and Georgia (David Perdue), Montana (Steve Daines), Kansas (open), and Kentucky (Mitch McConnell) might be, depending on how things unfold. (Z)
Speaking of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), he's likely facing a tough reelection battle next year. Not because of his opponent (who is unknown), but because it's North Carolina. The Tar Heel State is closely divided between parties, so every vote counts. It's also a presidential year, which tends to favor Democrats, so every Tillis vote counts even more. And the state's media markets are spread out and very expensive, such that the record for "most expensive Senate campaign," regularly changes hands between North Carolina and Florida. If he does win reelection, he'll be only the third North Carolina senator in the last half century to pull off that feat (out of 11 total, for a .272 batting average).
Now, it looks like Tillis will have to survive a tough primary if he's even going to make it to that tough reelection campaign. The ultra-conservative Club for Growth (CFG) thinks he's too liberal (which merely tells us that he's somewhere to the left of Benito Mussolini). So, they are trying to recruit Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), an outspoken evangelical and Donald Trump supporter, to try to knock Tillis off. Walker is particularly tight with Vice President Mike Pence, so it's fair to assume that Pence will campaign for Walker if he decides to make a run.
It's true that Tillis is none too popular, with a 33% approval rating among all North Carolina voters, and only 45% among the state's Republicans. However, if the CFG drags him to the right and forces him to drain his war chest (he's got just $2 million in the bank right now), it's certainly not going to help in the general. And if the CFG does somehow knock him off, well, it's not going to be easy for a fire-breathing right winger to win in a fundamentally purple state. After all, it's been more than 20 years since Jesse Helms won his last election. Anyhow, the situation with the 2020 Senate is unfolding much like the situation with the 2018 House—something that seemed impossible for the Democrats to recapture suddenly begins to seem within reach. (Z)
Imagine a leader who lies regularly, demonizes his opponents, and gleefully sets the states that support him against the ones that do not. This leader thinks nothing of risking a nuclear war with foreign enemies, values his own "wisdom" over scientific evidence, and is willing to drive the nation's finances into the toilet in pursuit of his economic agenda. As he leads, this fellow appeals to ethnic and religious prejudices, claims that many of the votes that were cast against him were fraudulent, and enjoys the enthusiastic support of a fawning, basically propagandistic media establishment.
The fellow we are describing here, of course, is Narendra Modi, who has just won reelection as Prime Minister of India in a landslide. However, we might very well have been describing Jair Bolsonaro, who assumed the presidency of Brazil earlier this year. Or maybe even some other world leader, though we're still trying to put our finger on exactly who it might be.
The point here, which we recently made in our write-up of the Austrialian election, is that there is clearly a reactionary wave sweeping across the planet these days. Not all reactions are created the same, of course, as Australia's Scott Morrison is hardly in the same ballpark as Modi, Bolsonaro, etc. Still, they are riding the same wave, a wave that—in its very worst manifestations—produces leaders who are much further down the path to totalitarianism than is healthy for a democracy. The backlash will eventually end, of course, but how long that takes is anyone's guess. In large part it depends on how the establishment parties react. If they can convince working-class people that they really care about them, it could change things. As evidence, note that although West Virginia went for Donald Trump in a big way, in 1936 it gave 61% of its vote to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Z)
Few nations have been immune to the backlash that's hit the world in the last few years. That includes the U.K., of course, where many folks badly want to turn inward and cut many of their connections to the rest of the world. Hence the Brexit. However, Britain is not India (at least, not anymore), and so there's not a strong reactionary consensus. In fact, it's pretty close to a 50/50 proposition. Prime Minister Theresa May has very publicly struggled to navigate this divide for many months, and on Friday morning she officially failed, as she announced her resignation, effective June 7.
We have hardly the expertise around here to say what will happen next—which Tory will replace May, and whether he or she will be able to handle the Brexit better. It's probably like the Democratic presidential field; even the most expert observer can only hazard a vague guess about the outcome. However, what we can say is that the candidate who has been surging in polls lately, and is apparently the favorite, is...Boris Johnson. If he's the one living in 10 Downing Street when the dust settles here, well, we will have another entry for the list of reactionary populists who have risen to power in the last few years.
If he doesn't make it, he could try for something else: He could run for president of the United States. He was born in New York City, so he is clearly a natural-born citizen. One complication, however, is that he renounced his American citizenship in 2016. The Constitution doesn't say anything about whether a person who is unambiguously a natural-born citizen and then renounced his citizenship is eligible to be president. It just says "natural-born citizen," whatever that means. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May23 Judge Allows Deutsche Bank Subpoena to Stand
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May23 Schiff and Department of Justice Reach Agreement
May23 Trump and Biden in a Dead Heat in Florida
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May23 Thursday Q&A
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May22 Impeachment Pressure on Democratic Leadership Increases
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May22 Trump Also Appears to Be Losing the Financial Secrets War
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May21 Judge Rules Against Trump
May21 White House Orders McGahn Not to Testify
May21 Trump Slams Fox News
May21 Amash Becomes a Pariah
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May20 Republican Congressman: Trump Has Committed Impeachable Offenses
May20 Alabama Abortion Law Could Have Consequences
May20 Report: Deutsche Bank Employees Saw Suspicious Trump and Kushner Activity
May20 National Republicans Are Mobilizing to Stop Kris Kobach from Becoming a Senator
May20 A Surprise Down Under
May20 Monday Q&A
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May17 Flynn Sang Like a Canary, Disregarded Influence from Unknown Congressman
May17 Walmart to Raise Prices due to Tariffs
May17 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bill de Blasio
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
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May16 Trump Is at Odds with One of the Parties--the Republican Party
May16 How Trump Could Refuse to Accept a Defeat in 2020
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May16 California May Lose a House Seat after the Census
May16 Thursday Q&A