Feb. 08

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Border Security Deal Appears to Be Near

In theory, the Congressional committee that is negotiating a border security deal has another week to get things done in time for the Feb. 15 deadline. As a practical matter, they need to wrap up business no later than Monday or Tuesday of next week to have time to get the bill before Congress and to deal with all the procedural niceties. According to several members of the committee, they are in a good position to make it in time, and may even have an agreement in place by the end of the day today.

Nobody is being terribly specific about what's in the deal, which is obviously wise when nothing is set in stone yet. However, it's generally understood—and entirely predictable—that there will be some money for improving (and maybe slightly expanding) the existing fencing along the border, but that there won't be $5.7 billion for new wall construction. In other words, it's set up in such a way that both sides can theoretically claim victory, with Donald Trump bragging about whatever new/improved wall is built, and Democrats saying they held firm on the $5.7 billion demand.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has already indicated that she will get behind the deal the committee hammers out. She would not say this if she did not have a pretty good idea of what the final deal will look like, and that it will be acceptable to her caucus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not made a similar promise, but there's no question that he's watching and giving feedback behind the scenes, and that the final deal won't actually be final until he's given his assent.

What this all means, then, is that a compromise bill, passed by both houses of Congress, is likely to land on Donald Trump's desk sometime next week. He could veto it, and shut the government down, but it's nearly inconceivable that he would do so. If he owned the previous shutdown, then he really would own this one. Plus, he'd be at risk of a veto override. He could sign it, and then declare a national emergency, but that course of action would also be fraught with peril. The underlying reasoning for a president's ability to declare emergencies is that sometimes Congress is not available to act. It would be rather hard for Trump to sign a funding bill from Congress where the ink hasn't even dried, and then turn around and invoke a power rooted in the non-availability of Congress. It's not impossible that Trump will try it, but surely those around him are warning him that he's setting himself up for an embarrassing loss in court.

Consequently, Team Trump is now signaling that they plan to pursue a third option. Namely, that the President will sign what Congress sends him and will hold off on a national emergency, but then will find some other way to come up with money for wall construction. Chief of Staff/OMB Director Mick Mulvaney is taking the lead on trying to figure out exactly how this might work, and he might even come up with something. If he does, it would be a pretty obvious poke in the eyes of Congress, and a very flagrant imposition on their power of the purse. It would also be subject to a court challenge. On the other hand, the current Senate has tended to roll over whenever Trump steps on their toes, and this approach could be the only one that has any likelihood of getting significant new mileage of wall built. So, there's a good chance that this little drama is going to extend well beyond next week. (Z)

So Much for No Investigations

Speaking of drama, in his SOTU address, Donald Trump did his best to bully House Democrats into not investigating him. There was no chance it would work. The only surprise is how very quickly it failed, as the blue team shifted aggressively into "investigate" mode just hours after the speech was completed. Obviously, they were just waiting until after Trump no longer had a national platform to kvetch about specific aspects of their activities.

There were two particularly big items of news on this front on Thursday. First, it was reported that the Democrats are about to issue a subpoena for Donald Trump Jr.'s phone records, so they can figure out who he was talking to around the time of the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. CNN already reported that the unlisted numbers he called were those of business associates, and not his father, but it would seem the Democrats want to confirm that for themselves.

The other news is that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has hired several former National Security Council officials to help with his examination of the Trump administration. That's a pretty obvious shot across the bow, since Trump likes the NSC about as well as he likes reading books, eating properly-cooked beef, or engaging in physical exercise. In response to this development, Trump unleashed a Schiff-storm of tweets, among them:

So now Congressman Adam Schiff announces, after having found zero Russian Collusion, that he is going to be looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal, even though there is no reason to be doing so. Never happened before! Unlimited Presidential Harassment....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2019

....The Dems and their committees are going “nuts.” The Republicans never did this to President Obama, there would be no time left to run government. I hear other committee heads will do the same thing. Even stealing people who work at White House! A continuation of Witch Hunt!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2019

Of course, these are just the opening moves of the Democrats' chess game. So grab some popcorn and get ready for the fireworks, which are getting started well before July 4, and will continue well after. (Z)

Democrats May or May Not Be in Agreement over Green New Deal

Whether one likes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or not, it cannot be denied that she's hit the ground running at the start of her Congressional career. She's been in office for just over one month, and already she enjoys the kind of influence and attention that generally takes a member decades to achieve, if they ever achieve it at all. On Thursday, partnering with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), she formally announced her proposed resolution for combating global warming, which is known as the "Green New Deal."

The bill is pretty short by modern standards (14 pages), which necessarily means it's pretty thin on specifics. It calls for the U.S. to aim for zero net emissions by the middle of the century, and in a manner that improves the nation's infrastructure and creates jobs. These goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive (for example, building mass transit would reduce emissions, improve infrastructure, and create jobs simultaneously), but covering the costs will be a significant challenge. Ocasio-Cortez' resolution has little to say on that point.

On Wednesday, before the official rollout, Nancy Pelosi seemed to be none-too-enthused by the proposal. In an interview with Politico, the Speaker was asked about it and said, "It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it right?" Needless to say, Pelosi does not say such things without choosing her words very carefully. Perhaps her disdain is because she doesn't like a rookie getting too big for her britches. Or maybe Pelosi thinks that this is not the time for the Democrats to take on such a hot-button issue. Or she might be ok with the issue, but would prefer to focus on one thing (i.e., the wall and border security) at a time.

That said, the blue team does not want to appear divided just weeks after taking power. And they know that, one way or another, global warming is going to be a central element of their platform going forward. And so, on Thursday, everyone was playing nice. "Nancy Pelosi is the leader on climate change, she has always been a leader on climate and I will not allow our caucus to be divided up on silly notions, we are in this together," said Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi, striking a very different tone from the interview she'd finished just 24 hours earlier, commended the supporters of the plan, and said, "Quite frankly, I haven't seen it, but I do know that it's enthusiastic."

In the short term, then, there may be some disagreement among Democrats about specific goals and approaches, but they are certainly going to have to develop a clear program for combating global warming by 2020. A sizable percentage of the Democratic base demands action on the issue, and it's also going to be key to getting young voters to the polls. And since the U.S. the world's second largest producer of greenhouse emissions, any viable plan is going to involve significant reductions on that front. In other words, Ocasio-Cortez and her plan may be a little early to the party, but the odds are good that pretty quickly—as happened with the $15/hour minimum wage—something very much like it will become dogma for many Democrats. (Z)

There Is a Fly in the Klobuchar Ointment

Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced earlier this week that she's planning an "announcement" this weekend. Approximately 50% of people who were born yesterday, and approximately 100% of everyone else, think that she's going to announce a presidential bid. And that is indeed the plan. However, a wee problem has presented itself: The Senator is having difficulty finding someone to serve as campaign manager.

Part of the problem is circumstantial. The list of declared and probable Democratic candidates is so large that much of the top talent has already been snapped up, or is waiting for the candidate of their choice (Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, Beto O'Rourke, Joe Biden, etc.) to make a decision. An even bigger part of the problem is Klobuchar. Her public face is very warm and appealing, but behind the scenes, she's got a reputation for mistreating underlings. "It is common for staff to wake up to multiple emails from Klobuchar characterizing one's work as 'the worst' briefing or press release she'd seen in her decades of public service," said one former aide. Making things worse, and in a breach of workplace etiquette so egregious it's hard to believe a U.S. senator could be guilty of it, she likes to cc: co-workers of whoever committed the alleged offense, so that the shaming is very, very public.

Presumably, Klobuchar will move forward with her announcement this weekend, even if she's still without a manager. And presumably, she will eventually find someone willing to take on the job. Still, with a crowded Democratic field, a reputation this bad is a very serious liability. It's not fatal, necessarily—Donald Trump is, and always has been, abusive to underlings too. Still, it is definitely not good. (Z)

And So It Begins: Rep. Rob Woodall Is Retiring

Leading up to the 2018 midterms, an unusually high number of Republican members of Congress decided to retire (34 of them, to be exact). Some were the usual turnover, and others were running for some other office, but many looked at the lay of the land and decided that it wasn't worth the time and energy to mount a likely futile reelection bid. On Thursday, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) became the first Republican to jump ship in advance of the 2020 election. He won in November by an ultra-slim 419-vote margin, and he decided that with a big target on his back, it wasn't worth it to spend two more years raising money and kissing constituent cabooses, only to probably lose. So, he's out.

Undoubtedly, a number of Woodall's colleagues will eventually reach the same conclusion that he did. It's no fun being in the (almost totally powerless) minority in the House. Further, with a presidential year electorate, GOP members who barely squeaked by in 2018 are all-but-certain to get washed away in 2020, particularly if the economy and/or Donald Trump has a rough next 18 months. On the other hand, it's unlikely that the number of premature retirements will be anywhere near as large as it was in 2018, because there just aren't all that many vulnerable Republicans left. In fact, as measured by PVI, there is currently only one Democratic-leaning district that has a Republican representative (John Katko in the D+3 NY-24). On top of that, every one of the seven districts with a PVI of even is represented by a Democrat, as are 22 of the 26 districts that have a PVI of R+1 to R+3. In fact, every GOP member representing a district of R+5 or bluer could decide to wave the white flag, and that would still only be 19 people. So, while Woodall is the start of a movement toward the exit, he's probably not the start of a stampede. (Z)

John Dingell Dead at 92

John Dingell, the longest-serving representative in the history of Congress, remembered for being an early advocate for environmentalism and racial equality, succumbed to cancer on Thursday at the age of 92. He held his seat for 59 years, taking it over when his father died suddenly in 1955. Since John Sr. served 22 years, and John Jr.'s wife won the right to succeed him after his retirement in 2015, it means that the Dingells have kept the seat in the family for 85 years and counting.

Dingell's 59 years outdistanced #2 all-time Jamie Whitten (D-MS) by 6 years, and is nearly 15 years longer than the current longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Early- and mid-20th century improvements in medical care made such lengthy careers possible, but more recent changes in Washington make it unlikely that we'll see any more four- or five- (or nearly six-) decade members again. Most obviously because Washington has become so partisan, it's hard for a person to bear the strain for that long. Also because fundraising, which is one of the most unpleasant parts of the job, now takes up so much of a member's time. The vogue in aggressive gerrymandering/redistricting is none too helpful, either. It's also more likely than not that, within the next few decades, Congress will be subjected to term limits—even though careers like the one Dingell had are an excellent argument against them. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tim Ryan

Now batting: Tim Ryan, a candidate who some folks feel is a very strong contender for the Democratic nomination. We are not among that group, however.

Tim Ryan

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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