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Political Wire logo Warren Pitches Corruption Attack as Campaign Theme
Warren Draws 20K to New York City Rally
Intelligence Chief Told to Turn Over Complaint
Democrats Shut Down Kavanaugh Impeachment Push
Lewandowski Cleared to Testify in House Inquiry
Bolton Already Contacting Literary Agents

This May Be the One

When Donald Trump was elected, one of the concerns expressed by many people was that his impetuousness, lack of diplomatic aplomb, and itchy trigger finger might well land the United States in yet another war. Those fears grew more acute when all of the grown-ups, like Rex Tillerson and James Mattis, fled the administration, to be replaced by folks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and the hawkish NSA John Bolton. When Bolton was canned last week, however, it certainly seemed that the possibility of a war, particularly with Iran, got a little more remote. Maybe not so much, as it turns out.

This weekend, somebody attacked Saudi Arabia's energy-production facilities with drones (and possibly cruise missiles), cutting that nation's oil output by half. Oil prices have already shot up, the U.S. is tapping into its strategic reserves, and it is likely the stock market is going to have a rough day today. The question is: Who was behind the attack? The Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group sometimes backed by the Iranian government, is a possibility. They have claimed responsibility, but they really lack the firepower to carry off something of this magnitude, and everyone with intel says the attack did not come from the direction of Yemen.

On Sunday, Pompeo said he knows for certain who did it: the Iranian government. Since diplomacy is always best when conducted via tweet, that is how he let everyone in on his assessment:

On Sunday night, following the same principle, Trump made this announcement:

Inasmuch as it is not possible to interrogate a tweet, everyone is left to guess what this means. However, it certainly seems like the President's finger is on the trigger, and he's just waiting for Saudi Arabia to order him to attack. If so, then the U.S. is indeed as close to war as it's been since Trump took office.

At this point, Trump (and everyone else) better hope that Iran is not behind the attack. It would be very embarrassing to the administration if the Secretary of State was wrong, and went off half-cocked on Twitter. Still, that is better for Trump (and everyone else) than the alternative.

The alternative, that Iran did do it, would put Trump (and the U.S.) in a bad place. To start, he would get the blame for the economic turmoil that will be wrought by all of this, and for destabilizing the United States' relationship with Iran by pulling out of the Obama nuclear pact without having an alternative (or even a plan for an alternative) in place. If he chooses not to retaliate against Iran (which has been his M.O. thus far), he will look weak, and will also encourage the Iranians to push their luck even further. On the other hand, if he does retaliate, he will draw lots of attention to how badly his Iranian policy has gone, he will potentially initiate a game of tit-for-tat (possibly including attacks against the U.S. itself), he may start another long and ugly war the U.S. cannot afford, and he will make it look like Saudi Arabia is calling the shots when it comes to U.S. military action.

There is, of course, a way out of this. Members of the Trump administration could sit down with the leaders of Iran and find a solution that does not involve bombs and drones. However, that would require cooler heads to prevail, and thus far there is scant evidence that those exist on either side of the conflict. It would also involve pursuing an agreement that looks an awful lot like the Obama nuclear deal. In fact, it might involve re-joining that very agreement. Is that possibility something that Trump can handle? We wouldn't bet on it. (Z)

Warren Gained the Most from the Debate

An Ipsos poll for FiveThirtyEight shows that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was the biggest winner from last week's debate. Before the debate, 44% of respondents had a favorable impression of Warren. After, the number was 48%. Joe Biden went from 56% to 57%. Thus, it appears that Warren continues to inch up, slowly but surely. She hasn't caught Biden yet, but the momentum is with her. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dropped slightly from 42% to 41%. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also went down a tad, from 28% to 26%. Julián Castro, who attacked Biden for being forgetful, saw his favorability drop from 8% to 7%. It wasn't a smart move on his part. He's almost certainly toast now and not likely veep material either.

Another post-debate poll also has good news for Warren. The Chegg-College Pulse poll found that 27% of Democratic college students say that Warren won the debate vs. 19% who picked Sanders. Joe Biden and Andrew Yang tied for third place at 9%. If this trend continues, Sanders is losing some of the young people his campaign depends on. Of course, not all millennials are college students, but they are often the most active in campaigns. If too many jump ship and go for Warren, it could hurt Sanders badly. (V)

Washington Post Ranks Warren as Most Likely to Be the Democratic Nominee

The Washington Post looks at the Democratic primaries periodically and ranks the top candidates from most likely to get the nomination to least likely. The rating is subjective, based on everything the political staff knows, including polls, fundraising, trends, history, how they perform on stage, what the moderates and progressives think of them, and more. Here is the current top 10:

Rank Candidate Last ranking
1 Elizabeth Warren 1
2 Bernie Sanders 3
3 Joe Biden 5
4 Kamala Harris 2
5 Cory Booker 4
6 Pete Buttigieg 6
7 Julián Castro 8
8 Amy Klobuchar 7
9 Beto O'Rourke 9
10 Andrew Yang -

What's interesting here, of course, is that the Post doesn't have all that much faith in Joe Biden. Yes, he is ahead in the polls, but he certainly doesn't have any momentum and is only grudgingly acceptable to the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party. In contrast, Elizabeth Warren is acceptable to pretty much all Democrats. The choice of Bernie Sanders ahead of Biden is perhaps a bit surprising, since he is not really acceptable to the Party pooh-bahs, as Warren is. The logic is that Biden is too old and is going to stumble badly sooner or later, while Sanders is the only candidate other than Warren who has a very strong base, all the money he can spend, and an authenticity no other candidate has. Of course, the Post writers don't have crystal balls, so their ranking could be all wet. (V)

Democrats Are Calling for Kavanaugh's Impeachment

In light of a book excerpt in the New York Times that provides new evidence that Supreme Court Justice sexually harassed a classmate at Yale, four Democratic presidential candidates—Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke, and Julián Castro—are calling for Kavanaugh to be impeached. It has been alleged previously that Kavanaugh pulled down his pants in front of Deborah Ramirez at a dorm party in 1983. During his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh said that if the allegation were true, it would have been the talk of the campus. New reporting by the Times indicates that it was true.

A classmate, Max Stier, saw Kavanaugh do it and notified the FBI about it. At the time of Kavanaugh's hearings, Ramirez provided the FBI with the names of at least 25 individuals who could corroborate her story. The bureau did not interview any of them. Some of them tried to reach the FBI themselves, but were rebuffed. Two FBI agents who interviewed her called her "credible."

Ramirez' allegation is not the only one against Kavanaugh, of course. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate that Kavanaugh tried to rape her. But that was largely her word against his. Now that it has come out that the FBI had a list of 25 people who could have potentially corroborated Ramirez' story and failed to act, Kavanaugh's behavior has become big news again. If he had said to the Senate something like "In college, I often got completely drunk and acted like a total jerk. I'm very sorry," he might have made the story go away for good. But now that there are potential witnesses out there, it may not, especially now with leading Democrats calling for Kavanaugh's impeachment.

Donald Trump, for his part, is furious. He fired off several tweets in response to the news, including this one:

One wonders what the President means by that bit about the Justice Department. Does he not know that libel (which he originally spelled 'liable' before correcting the tweet) has been a civil offense in the U.S. for something like 250 years (at least, on the federal level)? In any event, tweets like this just reiterate that Trump sees Justice as his personal enforcers, and not arbiters of the law. That is something that just might come up if he is ever, say, put on trial for obstruction of justice. (V & Z)

Why Don't the Democrats Who Have No Chance Drop Out?

At this point, it would take a near miracle for Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), or Mayor Bill De Blasio (D-New York City) to get the Democratic nomination. That also applies to about a dozen of the other candidates. Why don't they just drop out? The reason may be found in election law. Candidates who collect money running for one office can spend it when running for another office.

Case in point: When Bullock finally wakes up to the fact that he is not going to be president, he is likely to have collected a fair amount of cash from his aborted run. Every penny of that can go into his Senate campaign fund (assuming he suddenly discovers that while he is not a viable presidential candidate, he is a very viable Senate candidate). He will also have collected the e-mail addresses of quite a few people who might be willing to throw much more money his way as a Senate candidate.

So, for some candidates, a presidential run is merely a way of getting attention, raising money, and building up a donor database for some future run. Bennet is certainly going to run for reelection in 2022, De Blasio could run for governor of New York when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) decides he has had enough, and most of the other minor players could well run for some other office. In a few cases, candidates are staying in to be considered veep or cabinet material. And at least a couple...ahem, Marianne Williamson...are selling lots of copies of their books. (V)

Fourth Debate Is (Almost) Set

The DNC has announced that the fourth Democratic debate will be on Oct. 15, with a possible overflow to Oct. 16. Currently, 11 candidates have qualified. If it remains at 11, the DNC could try to wedge them into one night, or split it into two nights. If any more qualify, it will have to be two nights. The debate will be at Otterbein University in Westerville, OH, not far from Columbus, OH. Otterbein is associated with the United Methodist Church, so this is clearly an attempt by the Democrats to woo churchgoers. The debate is sponsored by CNN and the New York Times. The moderators will be Anderson Cooper (CNN), Erin Burnett (CNN), and Marc Lacey (NYT).

On stage will be the same crew as the third debate, with the addition of billionaire Tom Steyer, who is largely campaigning on two primary issues: (1) impeaching Donald Trump and (2) dealing with climate change. He is also interested in restructuring the FEC, repealing Citizens United, limiting congressional terms, having national referenda, and allowing people to vote at home. The first in the latter list can be done by Congress. The second would require packing the Supreme Court. The third would require a constitutional amendment and would have zero chance of being ratified. The fourth has the potential for all kinds of mischief, as special interest groups will try to hold referenda on all their pet topics. The last is out-and-out dangerous as the country can't even secure elections held at polling places. Trying to secure 130 million computers and smartphones is totally out of the question.

The big question now is what the criteria will be for the fifth debate. If the DNC were to raise the bar for the November debate to, say, 5% in five polls and 250,000 donors, that would separate the wheat from the chaff pretty fast. We'd probably end up with five candidates on stage (Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg), which would lead to a more substantial debate. (V)

Trump's Challengers Are Not Happy Campers

Not surprisingly, the three Republicans who are challenging Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination are none too thrilled with four states canceling their primaries and caucuses. The insurgents are Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and Bill Weld. They have expressed their mutual disgust with the state parties being in the bag for Trump by writing a joint op-ed in the Washington Post.

Their point, not surprisingly, is that when the people currently in power eliminate elections to prevent challengers from beating them, that is the end of democracy. They also make the point that the Republican Party used to stand for the rule of law, not arbitrary decisions made by authoritarian leaders. They ask if the Republicans want to use the Russian or Chinese systems for nominating leaders, rather than the American one. They even cite the ongoing Democratic primary as a good thing. The Democrats differ on many points and it will be up to the Democratic voters to decide which one they like best. The piece ends with: "The primary nomination process is the only opportunity for Republicans to have a voice in deciding who will represent our party. Let those voices be heard." (V)

No More Pie in the Sky

Congress is supposed to decide how the government spends its money. Soon it won't be able to, and not because Donald Trump has usurped (all of) its power. It's campaign season and both parties have ambitious plans. (Some) Democrats want Medicare for All, free college, and a Green New Deal. (Some) Republicans want more tax cuts, a wall on the Mexican border, and increased military spending. All they have to do is win and then the rest is easy.

Well, actually, no. In fact, simple math makes it very difficult. This year, only 31% of the federal budget was discretionary. The rest is eaten up by previous commitments, including paying interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, and a number of other programs that require mandatory funding due to laws already on the books. Finding new money for ambitious plans requires either finding a lot of new revenue sources (hard) or cutting back on existing programs (nearly impossible).

By 2029, the government will take in $1.2 trillion more than it is now taking in. That could be used for various ambitious programs. The only problem is that 128% of that amount has already been committed by law to funding programs already on the books. And this assessment assumes there are no wars or recessions in the next 10 years.

Getting out of this mess requires some fairly drastic changes, such as raising taxes appreciably, slashing spending appreciably, or some combination of the two. Here is a chart from the Congressional Budget Office showing federal expenditures. As noted, 69% of spending is mandatory based on current laws and only 31% is discretionary, half of which is for the military.

Federal budget, with 
24% of the $4.1 trillion total committed to Social Security, 14% to Medicare, 9% to Medicaid,
14% to other entitlements, and 8% unspecified, leaving just 31% discretionary

It should be clear that spending a few trillion here and a few trillion there is going to require a fairly major restructuring of the federal budget. That isn't impossible, but it isn't going to be easy, even if one party has a huge majority in each chamber of Congress and the White House. For example, cutting military spending in half would free up about $3 trillion over 10 years. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said that her Green New Deal plan will cost $10 trillion, so cutting the DoD budget in half doesn't do the job. But halving defense spending would affect every state and every congressional district. Very few members of Congress want to explain to their constituents why that big military base in their district (which is a big employer) is closing. Nothing is impossible with enough will, but free pie in the sky is not going to happen. (V)

Romney Praises Trump for Doing Nothing

Anyone who said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) lacks a spine should read this item in Politico, in which Romney praises Trump for not breaking the law by trying to change the taxation of capital gains (indexing them to inflation) without bothering to ask Congress. The bar is definitely being lowered when a president who threatens to break the law is praised for not doing so. Just imagine the praise Romney would heap on Trump if the President vaguely threatened to nuke Denmark for not selling him Greenland and then pulled back, saying it was just a joke.

Will this get Romney a chapter in the next revision of JFK's book Profiles in Courage? Who knows, but we have our doubts, especially when everything Romney said and did in his 2012 presidential run stands in contrast to what Trump is doing and there is nary a peep from Mitt. And this silence speaks volumes because Trump has zero leverage over the 72-year-old multimillionaire Romney, since he (1) isn't up for reelection until 2024 and (2) probably isn't planning a long career in the Senate, culminating in the chairmanship of a key committee in 20 years. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep14 Saturday Q&A
Sep13 Warren Is the Lone Star in Democrats' Texas Debate
Sep13 Judiciary Committee Approves a Resolution to Move Forward on Impeachment
Sep13 Federal Charges Recommended for McCabe
Sep13 Democratic Group Will Spend $50 Million on Swing-State Rural Voters
Sep13 Warren Releases Social Security Plan
Sep13 Trump's Advisers Are Trying to Block His Tariffs
Sep13 Cruz Will Oppose a Trump Judicial Nominee
Sep12 It's Time for the Third Debate
Sep12 All Major Democratic Candidates Lead Trump
Sep12 Biden Is Slipping in the Primary Polls
Sep12 SCOTUS Allows Asylum Limitations to Take Effect
Sep12 Nadler and Hoyer Are Not on the Same Page about Impeachment
Sep12 Why Bolton Was Fired
Sep12 Senators Give Trump's Judicial Nominee a Hard Time
Sep12 Mulvaney Ordered Ross to Back Trump on Sharpiegate
Sep12 9/11 Day, the GOP Way
Sep12 Shaheen Leads Lewandowski by 10 Points
Sep11 Bolton Gets Broomed
Sep11 Trump Doesn't Like Foreign Assets
Sep11 Trump Administration Targets Homelessness in California
Sep11 Who's Really to Blame for America's Crummy Election Security?
Sep11 It's the Economy, Stupid
Sep11 Latinos Prefer Biden, Sanders
Sep11 GOP Goes 2-for-2 in North Carolina
Sep11 The End of Democracy?
Sep11 Wednesday Q&A
Sep10 Trump Scandal Update, Part I: The Resorts
Sep10 Trump Scandal Update, Part II: The Alabama Hurricane
Sep10 Trump Scandal Update, Part III: The Taliban Talks
Sep10 Trump Won't Debate Primary Opponents
Sep10 Ossoff Launches Senate Bid
Sep10 It's Showtime in NC-09
Sep10 Republicans Turn On Their Own
Sep09 Trump Won't Meet with Taliban Leaders at Camp David
Sep09 Trump Might Get Kilt by House Oversight Committee
Sep09 National Poll: It's Still Biden, Sanders, and Warren
Sep09 New Hampshire Activists Favor Warren
Sep09 The Early States Are a Mixed Bag
Sep09 Steyer Qualifies for the Fourth Debate
Sep09 Sun Belt vs. Rust Belt Dilemma Affects the Senate, Too
Sep09 Mark Sanford Is In
Sep09 Republicans Want to Scrap Primaries and Caucuses
Sep09 Howard Schultz is Out
Sep09 The Mooch Is Loose
Sep09 Sanders Is Struggling with Older Voters
Sep09 Maine Will Allow for Ranked-Choice Voting in the Presidential Election
Sep06 The Curious Case of the Alabama Hurricane
Sep06 China, U.S. To Talk Trade in October
Sep06 Mike Pence, Diplomat