The courts have repeatedly told Donald Trump that he cannot add a new question about citizenship to the census without at least having some fig leaf for explaining why it is needed. "It will help Republicans take control of the House" is not considered a good answer. Trump was very close to issuing an executive order to include the question under the ancient legal principle of "L'état, c'est moi." It may have worked for Louis XIV, so why not for him? But in the end, he caved and decided not to include the question, most likely because his staff told him that would lead to the courts overturning it, making him look weak.
So, yesterday afternoon he threw in the towel and said the question would not be on the census form. However, he added that the government would get the citizenship data from existing records. Saying that is just a simple way to save face with his base. He doesn't want the data and can't do anything with it if he got it. What he wanted was to scare immigrants into not filling out the census form so they would be undercounted and states like California, New York, and Illinois (but also Texas and Florida) would appear to have smaller populations than they really do, and thus lose House seats, electoral votes, and federal money that is allocated by population. Getting citizenship data some other way doesn't help with that cause.
Nevertheless, the whole story may scare some immigrants into not filling out the form at all, since they may have heard about the citizenship question but missed (or forgot) that in the end it won't be on the form. This whole sequence of events is typical of how Trump operates. He proposes something that is illegal, gets batted down by the courts, and then presents it to his base as a victory. As long as his base continues to believe whatever he tells them, he will continue to do it and get away with it. (V)
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to authorize Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to issue subpoenas for a dozen people special counsel Robert Mueller interviewed. These include Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Michael Flynn, John Kelly, Rob Porter, David Pecker, Jody Hunt, Rick Dearborn, and others. Some of them may memorize the line "I respectfully decline to answer that question on the basis of my Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate myself," and use it to answer every question.
However, Nadler is not powerless in the face of such obstruction. There are two approaches that Nadler, who has a law degree, could take. First, he could reject the attempt to stonewall, claiming that the question asked is not related to any potential crime for which the witness could later be indicted. If the witness continued to stonewall, the House could cite the person for contempt of Congress and try to enforce it in the courts.
Second, Nadler could ask a federal district court for an immunity order barring anything the witness said before Congress from being introduced as evidence in a subsequent criminal case against the witness. This means that if the witness continued to refuse to answer questions, a citation for contempt of Congress would be a certainty. Some of the witnesses, such as Kushner, would probably risk going to prison because they know they would get a presidential pardon, but one or more of them might not be willing to risk their future on the hope that a pardon would be forthcoming. With Donald Trump, loyalty is notoriously a one-way street and all the witnesses know this. And all it would take to put Trump in deep doodoo is for one witness to state unambiguously that Trump gave him a direct order to obstruct justice.
The thing to keep in mind here is that what really matters in the end is public opinion. If it turns against Trump, and say, 2/3 of likely voters think that Trump has to go, that is the one thing that would make Republican senators be willing to vote for conviction in an impeachment trial. If the senators think that a "not guilty" vote is the end of their careers, that will be the beginning of the end for Trump. If there is a "Barry Goldwater moment," with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) playing the role of Goldwater, Trump might go to Mike Pence and ask about a pardon, but Pence might refuse to play ball since he knows very well what happened to Jerry Ford after Richard Nixon resigned and Ford pardoned him. Then Trump is really on the spot. (V)
They have been "on" and "off" so many times, at this point, that you can never be sure until they actually happen, but the Trump administration is reportedly going to move forward with the President's long-threatened ICE raids in 10 cities this weekend. Many of the details, and the identities of some of the cities, are hazy, though it's a pretty safe guess that the names of some of the targeted cities will rhyme with "Fran Sancisco" and "Os Langeles." Whether this timing is coincidental, or just so happens to be the weekend after losing on the census question, we will leave readers to decide for themselves.
The raids will be conducted under the leadership of Mark Morgan, who has been acting director of the agency for almost six whole weeks. He replaces John Sanders, who quit after he was unable to reconcile his humanitarian inclinations with the tasks he was being told to perform. We may learn this weekend if Morgan has the same dilemma or not. (Z)
James O'Keefe created fake videos of ACORN workers that, when debunked, ended up costing him a judgment and $100,000 out of his own pocket. Charlie Kirk maintains a list of university professors who "advance leftist propaganda in the classroom," so that conservative students can avoid taking their classes. Benny Johnson is only 32, but he's already been fired from multiple media outlets for plagiarism and for faking his evidence. Bill Mitchell is a radio host who played a key role in promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. Sebastian Gorka is a pseudo-academic, an Islamophobe, and has ties to neo-Nazi groups. And what all of these folks have in common is that they are among the most notorious propagandists working in America today.
Another thing they have in common is that they attended a "social media summit" hosted at the White House yesterday. That descriptor, crafted by the administration, can hardly be taken seriously since there were no actual representatives of major social media platforms at the "summit." The real theme of the day was made clear in a tweet that Donald Trump sent out yesterday morning:
A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer. The Fake News Media will also be there, but for a limited period..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2019
At the actual event, the President delivered a meandering speech that included observations like this one, about his Twitter account:
When I put out something, a good one that people like, right? A good tweet. It goes up. It used to go up, it would say: 7,000, 7,008, 7,017, 7,024, 7,032, 7,044. Right? Now it goes: 7,000, 7,008, 6,998. Then they go: 7,009, 6,074. I said, what's going on? It never did that before. It goes up, and then they take it down. Then it goes up. I never had it. Does anyone know what I'm talking about with this?
In fact, nobody in attendance did seem to know what he was talking about. His followers? Retweets? Likes?
There was also some shallow flattery of the folks in attendance and the standard railing agains the media, the Democrats, the deep state, and so forth. And a fair bit of kvetching about the census citizenship question. O'Keefe, Kirk, et al. were really hoping to get clear marching orders for 2020, and reportedly came away disappointed. Gorka was so upset, in fact, that he threatened to kick the crap out of a legitimate reporter who was covering the proceedings. In any case, it appears it will be on the propagandists to make up their own lies, misrepresentations and distortions going into 2020, so Trump has something to retweet. (Z)
A new NBC/WSJ poll shows that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is continuing her upward climb and is now firmly ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in second place among Democrats. Here are the results for all candidates polling above 1%:
Warren and Harris are generally seen as having done well in the first round of debates and their momentum is increasing. Warren's gains come largely at the expense of Sanders, since the two of them are largely going after the same voters. If Warren keeps it up, at some point Sanders may have to face the reality that progressive voters prefer her and he is finished. We are not there yet, but things are moving in that direction.
Biden does best with older, moderate, and black voters. Warren does best with voters under 49 and liberals. (V)
In an ominous development for Marianne Williamson, Wayne Messam, Bill de Blasio, and the other people who have no business running for president, along with another batch who do have some business making a run but aren't doing so well, the top five Democratic candidates are slowly but inexorably pulling away from the field, and it is increasingly hard for anyone to stop them. See the poll above for yet more evidence. The top five in terms of polling, fundraising, and media attention are (in alphabetical order) Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Their standing in the polls gives them media attention, media attention brings in money, and money allows them to hire field staff, which in turn brings in new voters and raises them in the polls. All of them raised over $10 million in Q2 and none of the other 18 somewhat-major contenders have come close to that. If, by the end of the year, these five are the only candidates left standing, the remaining debates will become more meaningful and voters will be able to focus much better on the specific differences among the candidates. It will become a much more orderly process then, and it seems to be heading rapidly in that direction. Democratic voters will still have plenty of choice, but the contest will no longer be a 23-way freestyle mudwrestling event.
To give some concrete examples of how the process is unfolding, Buttigieg plans to have 300 paid staffers on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire by Labor Day. Harris now has 65 paid staff in Iowa, 49 in South Carolina, and 35 in Nevada. Warren has over 300 paid staff across the early states. Biden has been rapidly expanding his staffing and Sanders has an army of volunteers already on board. The other candidates don't even come close, so absent a breakthrough moment in the second or third debates, it is hard to see how they could win the nomination. Most of them will probably exit in the fall. (V)
CNN will broadcast the second Democratic debate from Detroit July 30 and 31. It has now announced the moderators (Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper) and the rules. It didn't announce the candidates however, since they have until July 16 to qualify, and if more then 20 qualify, then the excess ones will be eliminated based on polling averages.
Each candidate will be allowed to make an opening statement and a closing statement. They will each be given 60 seconds to answer questions. Rebuttals will be 30 seconds. Candidates will see colored lights to warn them when time is running out. Yellow means 15 seconds left, flashing red means 5 seconds left, and solid red means shut up. When a candidate is attacked by name, the attackee will get 30 seconds to respond. Anyone who interrupts too much will be docked time. CNN said it will talk to many voters in the week before the debate to see what topics they are interested in. (V)
File this item under "N," and index it as "Nose, cutting off to spite face." Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who is as plugged into Alabama politics as anyone, has told The Hill that he and Donald Trump discussed a potential Senate run by former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions. Trump's reaction according to Shelby, was: "How do I say it? He was not on board, OK?"
While it is too early for Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) to be opening the champagne, he could at least go buy a bottle, just in case. Trump undoubtedly is bearing a grudge against Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, thus paving the way for then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel. The only problem is that Sessions is probably the only person who could easily block child molester Roy Moore from getting the Republican nomination to run against Jones. If Trump backs one of the many other candidates and this discourages Sessions from even running, it helps Moore get the nomination. That, in turn, helps Jones keep his job. If Trump were to listen to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), he would encourage Sessions and not try to veto him, but listening is not one of Trump's strong suits. (V)
Generally speaking, if it is only a couple of days after announcing you are running for a major office, you shouldn't state something and then change positions less than 24 hours later. Kentucky Senate candidate Amy McGrath apparently didn't get the memo, though. On Wednesday, she told the Louisville Courier Journal that she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Then, less than a day later, she saw the reaction on social media and changed her mind, saying that she would have voted against confirming him. It's not a great way to start a campaign.
Her problem, of course, is that Donald Trump and Kavanaugh are very popular in Kentucky, but not so popular in her party. She hasn't yet mastered how to avoid answering questions about what she might have done in some past situation in which she wasn't involved. The correct answer is usually: "I wasn't there. I don't have all the facts at hand. Besides, I want to focus on the future, not the past." You know, the usual politician doublespeak. It's tough enough running for office when you have an actual voting record to defend, but avoiding the defense of a record you don't have ought to be pretty easy. The campaign is yet young and this won't be fatal to McGrath, but she needs to get a lot better to take on a politician as skilled at avoiding getting pinned down as her opponent, Mitch McConnell. (V)
When Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) announced his retirement, everyone assumed Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was going to be the next senator from the state that her dad once represented in the House. But yesterday, former representative Cynthia Lummis interrupted Cheney's coronation by announcing her candidacy for the Senate seat. Assuming Cheney also soon announces, it sets up a real barn burner of a primary. It could be a real brawl, as Lummis called Cheney "the shiny new pony" of Wyoming politics.
Cheney is currently the #3 ranking House Republican, which is impressive, but Lummis was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus. Before joining the House, she was a two-term state treasurer, so she is well known back home and has plenty of supporters there. A lot of bad blood exists between the two women, so it could be a very nasty primary. Whoever wins it, though, is certain to become the next senator from Wyoming since the Democrats have no candidates to speak of, and the state hasn't sent a Democrat to the Senate in 50 years. They probably won't even bother contesting the race unless they can find a patsy...er, a brave volunteer who is willing to self-fund. (V)
There was a particularly high number of very good questions this week; hopefully, we picked the most interesting ones to answer.
The census belongs to Congress, but at some point Congress saw fit to delegate most or all of the actual work of the count to the Executive. However, under the Constitution, the census remains a Congressional responsibility. What happens if the Executive Branch produces a census count that's so laughably and obviously wrong that only the pack of brain-damaged clowns in the Executive would dare pretend is an honest and accurate count of the population? Does the House have the authority to certify or reject it like they do the Electoral College? J.H., Tulalip, WA
Given where we are (over the hills and vales of the political rubicon), could a future Democratic president invoke a "national emergency" due to Trump's illegal inclusion (in violation of SCOTUS ruling) of the citizenship question and conduct a do-over of the census? R.K., Denver, CO
First, your questions are similar enough that we thought we should answer them together, but different enough that we thought we should include them both. Second, note that we try to maintain the integrity of our correspondents' questions, including their editorial voice, as best we can. That means we sometimes allow strongly worded phrasing that we would not use ourselves.
Anyhow, this is one of so many areas that have revealed themselves, in the last few years, to be much less spelled out than they really ought to be. Title 13 of the U.S. Code is all about the census, and it spells out many things. But when it comes to the completed census, the rule is that it is presented to...the president. So, if there's anyone who theoretically could reject it, it's the occupant of the Oval Office, although the law does not explicitly grant that right.
Needless to say, Donald Trump is not going to reject whatever his administration comes up with, so the 2020 census is going to be the census, at least for the purposes of handing out money and apportioning seats in Congress in 2021 and 2022. However, if whoever is in power as of January 20, 2021 really wants a new census, that's probably legal. A "national emergency" might not fly (after all, Trump's "national emergency" isn't doing so well in the courts right now), but if Congress wants to spend the money (something like $20 billion), it probably could commission a new survey of the populace. The Constitution does not say a census can only be conducted every 10 years, merely that it must be conducted at least every 10 years. Further, it gives the Congress pretty broad authority to decide how best to carry out that mandate.
Incidentally, this may all seem moot, since Trump has backed down on the issue (see above). However, that's not 100% correct. First of all, the administration already "surrendered" once on this matter and then changed its mind. Beyond that, however, the President has done a fair bit to undermine the integrity of the 2020 census. There's the fact that non-citizens may be scared to respond, of course, but he also slashed more than $2 billion from the Census Bureau's budget. They wanted to use a new kind of Spanish-language form this year (ha!), to try out new ways of counting rural populations, and to do a better job of setting up their computers to be secure. Also, because unemployment is so low, it's going to be much more expensive to hire temporary workers (the last census took place in the middle of a recession). There's a good piece on the subject here, written by the fellow who oversaw the 2010 census.
Has a US president ever defied a ruling from the Supreme Court? G.S., Amsterdam, Netherlands
There are a handful of well-known examples of this:
As we said, this kind of open defiance is pretty rare, and usually only happens under wonky circumstances. Even Richard Nixon, who knew that turning over the Watergate tapes would be the end of him, refused to defy the Supreme Court. And it would certainly appear that Trump, for all of his court-hating rhetoric, was cowed as well.
As you summarize recent political news, you often speculate on the motivations of politicians, offering up several possible explanations, which I find quite informative. However, with Donald Trump, there is one explanation for his actions that I believe you have rarely used, namely that he is mentally disturbed. I am a physician and I agree with many mental health professionals that his behaviors are consistent with sociopathy, likely compounded by pre-dementia and stimulant abuse. As a fellow academic, I recognize the desire to explain everything, but offering rational explanations for his thought processes normalizes Mr. Trump's dysfunctional behavior which instead should be recognized as such and repudiated. One does not waste time speculating on the motivations of a man-eating shark. A shark will do whatever sharks do and Mr. Trump will do whatever Mr. Trump can get away with. Could you please comment? R.J., Westerville, OH
Recently, we had a handful of questions and answers debating whether or not the President has suffered cognitive decline. We felt basically comfortable commenting on that issue because, even if we're not neurologists, our jobs require us to evaluate the cognitive abilities of our students, so we do have some claim to expertise, at least of a sort.
When it comes to mental dysfunction, however, that is getting pretty far afield. It is clear that there's something going on there, whether it's sociopathy, or megalomania, or delusions of grandeur, or dissociative disorder, or whatever. But we just don't have the expertise to know which of these it is, or how these things might be affecting Trump. Even someone with training probably couldn't make any firm assertions, since diagnosis requires in-person consultation and examination, and Trump is never, ever going to sit for something like that.
There's also one other issue. If Trump does do things that are wholly irrational and are driven by mental dysfunction, there is nothing much for us to talk about. Such actions would have no strategic thinking behind them, no clear-cut purpose, and no real predictive value for the future. These are the things we write about. To attempt to give a crude parallel, (Z) once had a student who answered an essay prompt about the reasons for dropping the atomic bomb by declaring that it was God's will. (Z) had to call the student into his office, and point out that explanation may or may not be correct, but it's not the basis for a history paper, because it involves no analysis, and cannot be supported with evidence. Similarly, if Trump is driven by madness of some sort, there's no great way for us to prove it, nor nothing for us to add to it. It just is what it is.
You state in your item on ranked-choice voting that "the votes of any candidates polling under 15% will be redistributed to the second choice on those ballots." Are they really going with a different system that cuts off everyone who doesn't get 15% of first place votes and gives those votes to the highest ranked of the remaining candidates? M.A., Austin, TX
We got a fair number of questions about that, so clearly our explanation was not as clear as we thought. Let's start with how ranked-choice voting works in general. People rank their top two, or three, or five, or however many candidates on the ballot (different jurisdictions allow lists of different lengths). Then, if nobody has 50.001% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and their ballots are redistributed to whomever their voters had ranked second. Then, if nobody has 50.001% of the vote, the remaining candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and their ballots are redistributed to the highest-ranked candidate on those ballots that is still standing. This is repeated as many times as is necessary until someone reaches the 50.001% threshold.
To give a specific example, if someone cast a ranked-choice ballot with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) in first place, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) in second, Bernie Sanders in third, and Elizabeth Warren in fourth, then at such point as Gabbard was eliminated, that ballot would become a "de Blasio" ballot. If and when de Blasio was eliminated (or if he had been eliminated prior to Gabbard), it would become a "Sanders" ballot. And if and when Sanders was eliminated (or if he had been eliminated before de Blasio), it would become a "Warren" ballot.
The reason that Iowa is a little tricky is that they are not trying to get one candidate above 50.001%, they are trying to make sure that all surviving candidates (however many there may be) are above 15%. So, what will happen there is that after the ballots are counted, the non-15% candidate with the fewest first-place votes will be eliminated, and their ballots will be redistributed. That will be repeated as many times as is necessary, until all surviving candidates are above 15%. What this means is that if there is a candidate who checks in at, say, 14% after the first round of voting, there's a good chance that they eventually make the cut and will claim some delegates once the 1% and 2% candidates' ballots are redistributed.
Oh, and note that the ranked-choice voting in Iowa only applies to the ballots that are being submitted beforehand, under the new "you don't have to show up to vote" system. Since the in-person caucuses are themselves a form of ranked-choice voting, there's no need for a special setup.
If ranked-choice voting were widely adopted, do you think it would lead to a more-than-two-party system in the US? Or are there other reasons that we have maintained a two-party system while other countries do not? If ranked-choice voting were to lead to a multiparty system, how would you see this happening—for example, would new parties emerge along the lines of existing caucuses (such as the Freedom Caucus) and continue to caucus with existing parties? M.H., Boston, MA
It's a great question, and there is no way to know the answer for certain. However, our guess is that it would lead to more of a more-than-two-party system than we have now, but still far less of a more-than-two-party system than we see in countries with proportional representation.
On one hand, a ranked-choice system would make third-party candidates much more viable as a protest vote, and would give them a more prominent seat at the table and a louder voice in the national discussion. Also, third parties often struggle to get onto the ballot in some places; this would presumably increase their odds of making the cut.
On the other hand, ranked-choice voting is specifically designed to create a "consensus" where the winning candidate ended up with at least 50.001% of the ballots. It would still be pretty hard for that consensus to settle upon a third-party candidate, as opposed to a major-party candidate. So, it's very difficult to see how ranked-choice voting would lead to the election of sizable numbers of non-major-party candidates.
In short: in a proportional system, if the Green Party gets 15% of the votes, then they get 15% of the seats in parliament, or congress, or whatever the name of the legislature is. And while it's certainly possible that a Green (or a Libertarian, or a Peace and Freedom) candidate could get 15% of the vote in the U.S. if a third-party vote is no longer a "waste," we just can't see how they can regularly get enough first-, and second-, and third-place votes to be the last candidate standing in a ranked-choice system.
Based on the bulk of coverage I've seen (including here), you'd think Jeffrey Epstein and Trump were best friends to this day. But a few days ago, I read an article that pointed out how old all the ties between the two are actually 15-20 (or more) years old, and that Trump seems to have distanced himself from Epstein since the charges came out. I'm no Trump lover (far from it), but based on this information it seems like people are so determined to tear Trump down that they've reached the "not letting facts get in the way" level. Or have I missed some more recent ties? M.N., Madison, WI
Well, first of all, everyone on the planet who was friends with Epstein is downplaying their relationship with him right now, and making it seem as if they hardly knew him, and that when they did associate with him, it was so far in the distant past that men were wearing bearskins and trying to figure out this whole "fire" thing. So, it could very well be true that Trump and Epstein's friendship faded multiple decades ago. Or, that could just be spin. Under these circumstances, and with this particular president, there's no great way to know.
Second, and more importantly, however, is that it doesn't really matter when or if Trump and Epstein stopped being friends. In fact, it doesn't even matter if they were ever friends at all. What matters is whether or not Trump did illegal things during the time they spent together (and everyone agrees they did spend time together). There is a reason that some crimes have no statute of limitations, and that is because they are so horrific they should be prosecuted whenever possible. Further, with crimes of sexual violence, the evidence does not present itself until long after the fact (again, see Christine Blasey Ford).
The reason this story is back in the headlines, and that Epstein is in trouble again, is that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) was troubled by the initial plea deal and asked the U.S. Attorney for Southern New York to look into it. If Sasse had pressed this matter 10 years ago, or had waited until 10 years into the future, it wouldn't change the underlying crimes that took place, merely the amount of time between commission of the crimes and prosecution of them.
Please clarify the meaning of the phrase "underage women" which you used on your piece about Epstein/Acosta on July 11. B.J., Boston, MA
Yes, we got quite a few e-mails about that issue. The general concern, which we assume you share, is that "underage women" could be read as a euphemism that serves to sanitize the crime that was committed, namely that Epstein (and possibly other men) had sex with girls who were too young to be able to consent legally, and so were raped.
Anyhow, we are obviously not in the business of excusing Epstein or any of these other leches, and we have repeatedly referred to him using terms like "sexual predator" and "convicted sex offender." The issue for us was that while "girls" refers to females under a certain age, it's also a slangy and dismissive term for women, along the lines of "chicks." And, keeping in mind that we have to produce material pretty quickly, "girls" or "underage girls" initially struck us as something that might come off as tacky or flippant.
Another reader sent in this piece that takes the view that "children" should be used, to avoid any and all risk of sanitizing Epstein's crimes. (V) and (Z) will discuss the matter and figure out the best possible verbiage going forward.