Aug. 16

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No Israel Visit for Omar, Tlaib

Reps. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are notable critics of the Israeli government, and have repeatedly backed sanctions against that nation. Nonetheless, they had planned to make a joint visit this weekend, so that they might tour Israel, visit holy sites in Jerusalem, meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, and talk to representatives from human rights organizations. Further, Tlaib planned to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta. Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, lent his support to the plan, expressing his hope that dialog would create understanding.

But then, Donald Trump got involved:

It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019

To start, it is absolutely outrageous to declare that the Representatives "hate all Jewish people." We're still nearly a year and a half from the election, and Trump's tweets are as unhinged as they've ever been; we would argue that he has once again crossed the line into libel (just days after accusing Bill Clinton of murder). However, the outrageousness of the tweet is getting limited attention, because of the (apparently) even bigger story: Shortly after Trump tweeted, Benjamin Netanyahu's government decided to take Trump's advice and bar Omar and Tlaib from entering the country.

The implications of this are plain. Netanyahu and Trump are both trying to shore up their right-wing support in advance of tough elections, and they've decided to scapegoat the Representatives in order to do that. That rather strongly suggests that promoting tolerance, understanding, and compromise is not at the top of either man's agenda. Meanwhile, past Israeli leaders have generally avoided taking sides with one American political party or the other, in part because it's rather inappropriate to do so, and in part because they recognize that whatever party is in power in the U.S. today might not be in power next year. However, Netanyahu is all-in on the GOP, after years of holding Barack Obama at arm's length. That may be the best thing for Bibi's political career, but it's probably not the best thing for the long-term health of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Netanyahu probably realized that maybe Trump won't be president forever and that he'd better cover his rear end. Early this morning he relented and agreed to let Tlaib visit her grandmother in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds. Generally when a politician says "NO!" and then when there is an outcry changes that to "well, all right, then" it doesn't make him look strong. But Netanyahu's base is like Trump's base and probably will not leave him, no matter what he does.

Naturally, Democrats have expressed their outrage at the original decision by the Israeli government. Also unhappy, interestingly enough, is AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. They normally side with Netanyahu on just about everything, but in this case they do not:

We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.

— AIPAC (@AIPAC) August 15, 2019

The general consensus seems to be that Netanyahu hurt himself with this decision, which makes him look petty and/or bigoted, and also makes him look like a puppet of Donald Trump. Certainly, some op-ed writers in Israel are letting him have it with both barrels. He and his party have to face voters on Tuesday, September 17; maybe this will come back to bite him. (Z)

This Is What Corruption Looks Like

Here's a story that has a somewhat less than pleasant odor to it. This January, a Kentucky entrepreneur named Craig Bouchard, who is well connected to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was trying to get a project off the ground. The project: A large aluminum-rolling mill, the first new one built in the U.S. in four decades. The planned location was Northeastern Kentucky, where the new jobs would be very welcome. Of course, an aluminum-rolling mill needs aluminum, so Bouchard had a nice dinner meeting with the head of sales for Rusal, a large Russian aluminum producer. There was one small obstacle to consummating a deal, however: On the day of the meeting, the U.S. had sanctions in place against Russian aluminum, albeit sanctions that Donald Trump wanted to lift. In an oh-so-lucky coincidence, on the day after the meeting, the McConnell-led Senate managed to kill a Democratic plan to keep the sanctions in place, despite 11 GOP defections.

Similarly, you may have heard that the Democrats would like to take steps to make the 2020 election more secure. McConnell has consistently blocked such efforts. His official reason is that the bills are too "partisan," while his real motivation is presumably that he believes unsecure elections will help Republicans at the ballot box. However, his thinking may also be influenced by the fact that he's received generous donations from four of the top voting machine lobbyists in the U.S.

Needless to say, McConnell denies that there's anything untoward going on here, and in particular he says he had no idea that Bouchard was meeting with Russian aluminum interests just one day before the Senate voted on Russian aluminum. However, these things certainly don't look good, and every politician in history who was on the take insisted they were not, until confronted with irrefutable proof. And even then, most of them still denied it. There is zero chance that a McConnell-led Senate will be launching an investigation, much less taking any sort of action against the Majority Leader. However, he's acquiring quite a reputation, and this is even more fodder for his opponents as he heads into what will probably be the toughest reelection campaign of his career. (Z)

Trump's Folly?

In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for the bargain price of $7.2 million. To many Americans of that era, spending that kind of money (about $110 million in modern dollars) seemed a big waste, given that as far as they knew, Alaska was just an empty, frozen tundra. The critics of the deal dubbed Alaska "Seward's Folly" (or, sometimes, "Seward's Icebox"). However, the Secretary was vindicated when the region became, in roughly this order: (1) an important base for trade with Asia, (2) an important base for military operations, and (3) a rich source of oil. That Alaska eventually provided aspiring vice president Sarah Palin with valuable foreign policy experience while sitting on her front porch looking at Russia is just a bonus.

According to numerous White House insiders, Donald Trump is toying with the idea of buying his own empty, frozen tundra, namely Greenland. His aides think he might be joking, but given that he's brought it up multiple times, and has asked the White House Counsel if it would be legal, he's gotta be at least a little bit serious. And maybe more than a little bit.

This is not the first time that the U.S. government has pondered this option. Seward reportedly looked into it before buying Alaska. More recently, the Truman administration offered Denmark (the current owner of the island) $100 million, and the Eisenhower administration thought about making an offer as well, in both cases because of Greenland's military value (the United States' most northerly military base, Thule Air Base, is located there). Strategically, the island affords air access to Europe, is a good location for missiles or anti-missile systems, and scientific research and collecting data about the weather.

As to Trump's motivations, he's not saying. Here are some theories, though:

In any event, the Danes were kvetching about the cost of maintaining Greenland, which is what put the idea in the President's mind. However, nobody knows if they would actually be interested in selling, nor what an appropriate price would be, nor whether Congress would play ball. Odds are, this idea disappears into the ether, as with so many other Trump "inspirations." That said, if he pulls it off, maybe it will be a success for him, like it was for Seward. (Z)

Trump Made Me Do It!

About a week ago, a man named Curt Brockway was attending a rodeo in Montana when he noticed that a 13-year-old boy had not removed his hat for the national anthem. Brockway demanded that the hat be removed, the boy refused, and so Brockway did what any good Trump supporter would have done, and body slammed the 13-year-old to the ground, fracturing his skull. At least, that is how the defendant explained it to the judge when he was arraigned.

Brockway is not the only person to employ Trump as part of his defense. A new study by ABC News finds that there are 36 different criminal cases in which the defendants have deployed the President's verbiage to explain their actions. Now, it's true that criminal defendants tend to grasp at any straws they can in order to deflect blame from themselves, so in some cases the invocation of Trump may be a stretch. But 36 times? By way of comparison, criminal defendants invoked George W. Bush and Barack Obama a grand total of zero times while those men were in office.

The point here is obvious: When Trump was campaigning, many people warned that his sort of rhetoric, delivered from the bully pulpit of the presidency, was going to inspire actual acts of violence. And it is clear that it has. One Cesar Sayoc or Curt Brockway could be a fluke, but not three dozen of them. And that, in turn, strengthens the case that there is much blood, including the blood of the El Paso shooting victims, on Trump's hands. (Z)

Team Biden Works on Solution to Gaffe Problem

Joe Biden has long been known for his habit of putting his foot in his mouth. Lately, however, the problem seems to have gotten much worse. Maybe it really has, and at 76 years of age, Uncle Joe is not really up to the task of running for president. Or maybe it's the heightened media attention that comes with a presidential campaign. Or maybe it's the heightened demands on a candidate's time and energy that come with a presidential campaign.

Since the Biden campaign does not know the location of the Fountain of Youth any more than Juan Ponce de León did, and since they cannot control the media coverage, the only one of these potential causes that's under their power is the demands placed on their candidate's time and energy. And so, there are discussions underway about limiting Biden's campaign events, particularly those in the late afternoon and early evening, when he gets gassed and becomes particularly prone to stepping in it.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver responded to this news with an essay in which he argues that voters don't care about Biden's gaffes, they care about his age. He also asserts that when people complain about the gaffes, they're just using that as a politically correct way to attack his senior citizen status without being accused of ageism.

We do not agree with this analysis. Silver can suggest that there is no relationship between Biden's age and his foot-in-mouth disease, but that doesn't make it so. More importantly, Silver's opinion doesn't mean that voters won't perceive a relationship between the candidate's age and his gaffes, and that is all that really matters, since that perception will feed their concerns that he's too long in the tooth for the hardest job in the world. And given that there was a time when Biden could campaign all day and night, then when Team Biden dials back the campaign schedule, they are effectively telegraphing that they think his age is part of the gaffe problem.

Further, not all gaffes are created equal. Silver is probably right that voters don't care too much if Biden confuses Ohio with Michigan. However, the former VP's ideas about race and culture were formed in a political milieu much different than the one in which he currently exists. He tries to be careful, but he sometimes slips up and says unwise things about his former segregationist colleagues or about immigration, things that would have been ok to most Democrats 25 years ago but are not ok with today's Democrats. Those gaffes absolutely do matter, and they are starting to pile up. So, it's not terribly surprising that Team Biden thinks they have a problem to solve, and are thinking about limiting their candidate's exposure. That said, one wonders what they are going to do when we hit the thick of the campaign next year, when a limited schedule won't get it done. (Z)

Hickenlooper Exits the Presidential Race

It was widely reported Wednesday that former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper had figured out that his presidential campaign was going nowhere, that the embarrassment of missing the third debate was imminent, and so the time to drop out had arrived. On Thursday, he made it official, shrinking the still overly large Democratic field by one.

Since Hickenlooper's departure from the presidential race was inevitable, the real question that people have is whether he's going to pivot to a race for the U.S. Senate. His departure video addressed that question vaguely:

People want to know what comes next for me. I've heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought. I've been a geologist, a small businessman, a mayor, a governor and a candidate for president of the United States. At each step, I've always looked forward with hope. And I always will.

Given that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) is probably the GOP's most vulnerable senator this cycle, the race has attracted over a dozen Democratic challengers of varying levels of seriousness, some of whom would be very solid. However, nobody in the field has won statewide election in Colorado, so if Hickenlooper jumps in, he would not only be a heavy favorite, he would also clear out most of the other contenders. There hasn't been much polling of the state, but the one recent poll that was done had Hickenlooper up 13 points on Gardner (51% to 38%). Meanwhile, the Senator's current approval rating, per Morning Consult, is only 37%. By contrast, the last poll taken while Hickenlooper was governor had his approval at 48%, and he averaged 47% over the course of his term. (Z)

O'Rourke Does the Full Sherman

With Hickenlooper out of the way and possibly running for the Senate, eyes are turning towards Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) and Beto O'Rourke. Bullock is still in, but he could yet decide running for the Senate is a better idea. O'Rourke definitively killed off that idea last night by telling MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell: "I will not in any scenario run for the United States Senate." That sounds like he means it. When politicians want to hedge their bets, they say things like: "I do not have any current plans to run for the Senate." (V)

King Embraces Incest, Rape

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has said so many racist (or otherwise offensive) things that even the Party of Trump is holding him at arm's length these days, which really says something. He's lost all of his committee assignments, he's not getting money or other support from the National Republican Congressional Committee, and he essentially spends his days either wandering around the Capitol building, or wandering around Iowa and doing public events.

Right now, since the House is not in session and the Iowa State Fair is, King has been spending his time on the latter activity, holding town halls and meet-and-greets. And it's during those sorts of freewheeling sessions that the inner Steve King displays itself in its full glory. Across several different events, the Representative came up with these eyebrow-raising observations:

It is the rape and incest comment that is getting most of the attention, and that has many high-profile Republicans lambasting King, with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who is not exactly known as a bleeding-heart, going so far as to call for Iowans to vote him out of office next year. Clearly, King is determined to use Trumpian tactics, and to double- and triple- down on getting his base fired up, since just about everyone else is a lost cause, though he went so far that even Trump (mildly) rebuked him.

One would think that King would have learned, at some point, that there are two things that you never deploy when trying to score political points: Hitler/the Nazis, and rape. Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, Richard "Rapes are a Part of God's Plan" Mourdock, and many others have learned that the hard way, and the Congressman may soon join the list. He won reelection in 2018 by a narrow 3% margin (50%-47%), he's got a viable primary challenger this time, and he's going to face a much stronger Democratic challenge in the general election. And that's before we consider that the GOP isn't going to help him at all. So, he's got some troubles. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Time to take another look-see at one of the frontrunners.

Our original profile of him is here.

Bernie Sanders
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