Lindsey Graham Gets a Challenger
Democrats Take Trump On Over Deferments
Amash Gets Standing Ovation at Town Hall Meeting
Democrats May Need Impeachment to Win
McConnell Says He’d Confirm Justice During 2020 Election
Moulton Will Disclose PTSD
• Bolton Under Attack
• Judge Halts Border Wall Construction
• Trump's Clumsy Legal Strategy
• Bernie Sanders Wants to Be President
• The War Against Climate Science Is in Full Swing
• Voter Registration Meets Voter Suppression
• With Women Candidates, GOP Not Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is
• Faithless Electors Hit With Fines
Donald Trump was in Japan on Monday for yet another day of golf and meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. And he was asked, yet again, about Kim Jong-Un's recent missile tests. And, of course, the President doubled down on his remarks from this weekend, declaring that he is not "personally bothered" by what Kim is doing, and that he's "very happy with the way it's going [in North Korea]."
That answer is really very revealing. Trump has an enormous personal investment here. First, because he badly wants and needs the "I resolved the North Korea" feather in his cap. Trump is short on foreign policy successes, and this one would not only be major, it would also mean that the Donald succeeded where his predecessors (including the hated Barack Obama) failed. On top of that, Trump prides himself in his ability to read people, and he's decided Kim is a swell guy (a conclusion aided by a fair bit of eongdeong-i kiseu on the part of the North Korean leader).
In short, Trump has committed to a particular narrative on North Korea, and he's going to stick with it, no matter what happens. So, he appeared at a joint press conference with Abe and took no notice when the Japanese leader described Kim's actions as a "regrettable act" that violates U.N. resolutions. Those are strong words in that part of the world. Trump's also ignoring his own advisers, most obviously NSA John Bolton, and freely admits that this is the case. "My people think it could have been a violation," Trump told reporters on Monday. "I view it differently." Of course, the President has the luxury of living in a place that is not reachable by Kim's missiles, while Abe does not, so that may also help explain the disparate responses.
Beyond that, the President also used the opportunity to take a potshot at Joe Biden. Recently, Kim—who was obviously tailoring his remarks for an audience of one—declared that the former VP and current Democratic presidential candidate is a "fool of low IQ" and an "imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being." Trump told reporters that he agrees with that assessment (something that the President also communicated via Twitter this weekend, though he initially misspelled 'Biden'). We thus have a situation where the President of the United States is siding with one of the world's most repressive and dangerous dictators against a citizen of the United States, and one who has spent his entire adult life in public service. It's yet another way in which #45 is going where his 43 predecessors would not go. (And yes, we can do arithmetic: Stephen Grover Cleveland had two nonconsecutive administrations, which messes up the numbering.) (Z)
In case it is not enough that his boss is loudly and publicly disagreeing with him, John Bolton is under attack from abroad as well. The Chinese are not happy because he is scheduled to have a meeting with the leaders of Taiwan. For many decades, of course, Taiwan (a.k.a. The Republic of China) has claimed that it is the "real" China, and China (a.k.a. The People's Republic of China) has claimed that they are. Since the 1970s, most countries have taken China's side of this debate, as long as the Chinese don't actually try to impose their will on the Taiwanese. The Trump administration has decided to push back against this status quo, presumably as part of the trade war.
Meanwhile, the North Koreans don't much care for the NSA, either. They slammed Bolton on Monday as a "warmonger" and a "defective human product." This may have something to do with his willingness to criticize the Kim administration and to tell the President not to buy what the North Koreans are selling.
One wonders if Bolton is not a short-timer. His aggravating the Chinese is a feature, not a bug, as far as the President is concerned. However, the North Korea situation is more dicey. Trump has made up his mind (see above), and Bolton has made up his, and neither of them is the type of man to change his thinking or to keep his mouth shut. The problem for Bolton is that only one person in this relationship has the ability to fire the other, and he's not that person. Add in the tensions with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—a story that someone must have leaked for a reason—and the NSA's days could be numbered. (Z)
In case Donald Trump did not already dislike courts and judges, he's going to leave office with a deep animosity of the judicial branch, since—in contrast to the legislative branch—it tends to foil his plans rather than facilitate them. The latest setback came on the border wall front, where Judge Haywood Gilliam, an Obama appointee, has blocked the administration from using Dept. of Defense funds to pay for the wall. Gilliam's basic finding was that border wall construction is neither "unforeseeable" nor "an emergency," and so does not meet the legal requirements for redirecting money from the Defense budget.
Undoubtedly, the administration will appeal. They may also find money elsewhere, although if there was some easy alternative source to tap into, beyond the ones that have already been identified, it would presumably already have been tapped. In any event, building a wall takes a lot of time, from acquiring land, to soliciting bids, to doing the actual construction. Every day this lingers in the court system is one day closer to a presidential election in which no wall has actually been built, in which Trump will have come up short on his main 2016 campaign promise. (Z)
Speaking of judges and courts, Politico's Renato Mariotti, who is a former federal prosecutor, has an interesting piece on the weaknesses in the administration's legal strategy in its battle with Congress. He argues that not only is it unlikely to work, but that its ham-fistedness may be hastening ultimate defeat.
The main problem is, perhaps apropos for Trump, a total lack of nuance. For example, House Democrats claim that they can subpoena Trump's financial records, and Team Trump says they can't. This is a fairly simple question based on fairly clear-cut laws, which makes for quick adjudication (as we are already seeing). If Trump really wanted to gum up the works, he would surrender some documents (presumably trivial ones), and then his lawyers would craft more specific arguments tailored to particular portions of the remainder.
For example, the President's lawyers might construct an argument that Trump doesn't have to give up his tax returns because that would violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that he doesn't have to give up his financials for 2010-2015 because that would violate FCC guidelines, and that he doesn't have to share his bank account balances because that would run contrary to his rights under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Each of these arguments might be silly, but they would also take time to unravel. Further, the more complicated the arguments are, and the more ways in which the desired documents are sliced and diced into groups, the longer that time would be. This is how the Obama administration managed to avoid coughing up documents related to Operation Fast and Furious for years—they gave up some, but made nuanced arguments about the rest that took a long time to straighten out.
A secondary problem is that none of this happens in a vacuum. Any judge who is asked to rule in a Trump case is going to be aware of all the other Trump cases. The fact that the President is making such broad assertions in response to literally everything that Congress is asking for makes it pretty easy to conclude that he's not acting in good faith. Further, judges 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc. are likely to be influenced by the unfavorable-to-Trump rulings that judges 1 and 2 have already issued. Mariotti suspects that once the President loses his current cases, his lawyers will go back and take more bites at the apple, building more nuanced arguments. However, by then, it will likely be too late, as the judges in round two will not be inclined to overturn the rulings from the judges in round one. Hence the conclusion that Trump's lawyers are hastening his demise with their current approach. (Z)
Let's be realistic. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) jumped into the presidential race in 2016, he knew the chances of getting the Democratic nomination, let alone winning the general election, were pretty close to zero. But he wanted to give a voice to progressive Democrats. This time he actually could win the nomination. If he does, he probably has something like a 50-50 chance at winning the general election.
The realization that he has a serious shot at becoming president has changed Sanders' whole approach to the campaign. Last time he went it alone. He didn't ask Democratic politicians, union leaders, or anyone but the voters for support. This time he is kissing a lot of rings and schmoozing with the pooh-bahs big time. This is hardly unusual for a politician running for high office. All the others are certainly doing it, but for Sanders it is a marked change from last time around. It is a sign that he is running this time to become president, not to just make a point.
Sanders has talked to numerous union leaders, especially those on the left, such as Randi Weingarten of the AFT, Mary Kay Henry of the SEIU, and Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers. He is also actively collecting endorsements, including 15 from state legislators in New Hampshire and South Carolina. He knows that if in the end of the primary season it comes down to him vs. Joe Biden, he doesn't want a repeat of 2016, in which the entire establishment was on Team Hillary. He wants to lock down enough institutional support so that if it ends up Biden vs. Sanders, it will be a choice of a centrist establishment politician vs. a progressive establishment politician, not an insider vs. an outsider like last time. (V)
When it comes to Roe v. Wade, it is clear that anti-abortion forces feel that now is their moment. If ever abortion is going to be outlawed, it's going to be with a Republican in the White House and a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Hence all the new abortion laws, which run so contrary to existing case law that the first of them (the one in Mississippi) has already been stayed by a federal judge.
Similarly, the time has come for climate-change deniers to make their last, best stand. Donald Trump is a willing partner in this, for a number of reasons. Among them: (1) it pleases the base, (2) he's always been skeptical about science and those pointy-headed scientists, and (3) Barack Obama felt climate change was a major threat, and Trump reflexively takes the opposite stance from his predecessor. Anyhow, the administration has already withdrawn from the Paris accord and rolled back a bunch of Obama-era regulations. Now, it is time for the next phase.
In the next few months, Team Trump will finish erasing any and all Obama-era rules designed to combat climate change, particularly the aggressive steps the 44th president took in the area of automobile efficiency. The State Department will also advise other countries that the U.S. is not to be challenged on this subject, and that any nation that does not play ball could be sanctioned. And finally, the rules for government scientists will be changed in a bunch of different ways. For example, instead of projecting the impact of climate change through the end of the century, they will be allowed to project only to 2040. Since the really scary stuff is expected to hit around 2050, this is an obvious effort to distort the narrative and to justify the administration's actions.
The administration is fighting an uphill battle here, however. When it comes to regulations, the big, blue states are going to step up and pick up much of the slack. For example, if California decrees that cars must get 35 MPG by 2040, the automakers will have to meet that standard, regardless of what the federal government says. As to sabre-rattling in the direction of meanies on other continents who insist on talking about climate change, that might work on Saudi Arabia, Israel, and a few other countries that are particularly beholden to the administration. However, the Emmanuel Macrons and Angela Merkels of the world will just laugh. And as to the scientists, it's likely that the exodus to the private sector and to the world of education will continue. And, of course, there is nothing that the administration can do to force scientists at MIT or Berkeley to cook the books.
In short, then, the administration may win the battle, but they are going to lose the war. It says something when David Gergen, who would not be mistaken for a left-winger, writes that the failure to confront climate change is very possibly the biggest black mark against the Trump administration. And there will come a time when voters start punishing the GOP for their anti-climate change positions. We will see if 2020 is that year. (Z)
Democrats are worried that people are being prevented from voting. Republicans are worried that people ineligible to vote are doing so anyway. The conflict has become very visible in Tennessee, with both sides blaming the other.
Specifically, last year the Tennessee Black Voter Project made a massive effort to register black voters in Shelby County (Memphis) and Davidson County (Nashville). A small army of paid workers went to parking lots outside stores, churches, and other places where potential voters are to be found and asked if they were registered to vote. If not, they could fill out a form on the spot and register. Over 90,000 people registered this way. This operation, using paid workers, is perfectly legal in Tennessee. However, not surprisingly, some of the forms were incomplete or had errors. Some people who were already registered may have registered again. In short, not every form turned in was valid.
Mark Goins, the state's top election official, said that the situation was "dangerous," in part due to all the applications being turned in at once just before the deadline, making it difficult for election workers to verify them in time.
That's when the Republican-controlled state legislature sprung into action. It passed a bill that imposes a civil penalty of $2,000 for each county in which an organization turns in more than 100 deficient forms. If the number of deficient forms exceeds 500, the fine goes up to $10,000 per county. This is a transparent attempt to dissuade civil rights organizations from conducting voter-registration drives. Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) signed the bill earlier this month. It will go into effect on Oct. 1.
Republican legislators see the problem as rampant voter fraud, even though local officials say that most of the problems were minor omissions (like a potential voter not knowing his or her zipcode). The local NAACP sees the law as a naked attempt to suppress the black vote and, along with three other groups, filed a federal lawsuit to block the law from going into effect. The groups are worried that if the law works as intended (i.e., reduces the registration of new voters), other states will adopt similar laws, so they want the courts to rule that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. (V)
There are 17 Democratic women serving in the U.S. Senate right now, as compared to 8 Republicans. There are also 89 Democratic women in the House, as compared to just 13 Republicans. These numbers are not a good look for the GOP, as they suggest that the Party has turned its back on women (a perception that the new abortion laws do nothing to dispel). Given that women make up 52% of the electorate, and that suburban women appear to be moving leftward, this is not a helpful perception for the red team. Consequently, there is much talk among GOP pooh-bahs about recruiting more women candidates (something the Democrats started doing several cycles ago, with much success). Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said she was taking the lead in this area, and a new GOP super PAC called "Winning for Women" was created.
In the recent primary election in NC-09, the GOP had an opportunity to take this new commitment to women candidates out for a spin. One of the Republicans running was Leigh Brown, who is not a career politician, and would have presented a strong contrast to original Republican "winner" Mark Harris. However, Brown says she never heard from Stefanik, and that once "Winning for Women" convinced her to join the race, they never contacted her again. She still finished fourth, which is not bad, but is not great, either. There were three other women in the race, and they got no support either.
Various GOP muckety-mucks, including the folks who run "Winning for Women," say they can afford to support only "viable" candidates, which is why the Republican establishment coalesced behind bathroom-bill author Dan Bishop. Maybe so, but if the Party really wants to get women candidates elected, they will need to take some gambles. After all, the single biggest indicator of whether or not someone can win an election is...if they have already won an election. If the red team backs only existing officeholders, they will perpetuate the very dynamic they say they are trying to change. (Z)
Of all of the thousands of electors who have cast Electoral College ballots for presidential candidates over the years, roughly 200 of them have voted for a candidate other than the one to whom they were pledged. There is nothing in the U.S. constitution about this, but some of these "faithless electors" violated state laws that, in theory, impose a fine or nullify a ballot as punishment for such behavior. These laws, which may or may not pass constitutional muster, have never been enforced, however.
Until now, that is. In 2016, four Hillary Clinton electors from Washington went faithless, with three voting for former general Colin Powell and a fourth deciding to make Faith Spotted Eagle the first Native American to receive an electoral vote. Consistent with state law, each member of the quartet was hit with a $1,000 fine. They appealed, and last week, the fine was upheld by an 8-1 vote of the Washington Supreme Court.
While this story is an interesting real-world update on a quirky little corner of American civics, it likely has little practical import. It's not clear if the four faithless electors intend to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but until they do (or someone else does), the principle will remain effectively untested. And if SCOTUS does weigh in, the stronger argument is probably for the faithless electors, not against them. After all, if the framers of the Constitution did not expect the electors to exercise some amount of free will, then why did they create the Electoral College at all? Further, if there really does come a time when the Electoral College decides en masse to overrule the will of the voters, a fairly nominal penalty is not likely to pause them in their tracks. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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