The Senate doesn't do much these days, besides approve judges and rename the occasional post office. The House, on the other hand, is as busy as a beehive. And even by its usual standards, Wednesday was a big day.
The story that grabbed the most headlines, predictably, was the vote on Rep. Al Green's (D-TX) call to begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Green hoped that his caucus would stay together but, in the end, only 93 Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) sided with him. Donald Trump bragged about that result, but the total of "yea" votes keeps growing. The last two times that Green put forward impeachment resolutions, he got 58 votes (2017) and 66 votes (2018). At this pace, if Trump gets reelected, House Democrats will have just enough votes to impeach him by his last year in office.
Trump also got another "victory," though we put that word in quotation marks, because he had nothing to do with what happened. Anyhow, it was on the Obamacare front, as the House voted overwhelmingly, 419-6, to kill a provision of the law known as the "Cadillac Tax." This provision, which has already been pushed back a couple of times, would require the recipients of high-value insurance plans to pay a tax on the value of those plans over a certain threshold. Its purpose was threefold: (1) to raise some money to balance out the costs of Obamacare, (2) to discourage employers from shifting taxable wages to non-taxable, expensive healthcare plans, and (3) to discourage insurance plans that could lead to overuse of the healthcare system. Economists argue that the reasoning behind the tax is very sound, but "my healthcare is being taxed" is not exactly music to voters' ears, and so the Cadillac Tax is on its way out, as the House bill will undoubtedly pass the Senate.
Meanwhile, although the House did not decide to impeach Trump, they did poke him in the eye a couple of times. First, they voted to block his plan to sell arms to the Saudis. That bill had already passed the Senate, so it will now head to the President's desk, where he will presumably veto it (having vetoed two similar bills previously). The smart money says that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will eventually stick the provision into a budget bill, knowing that it is fairly popular in both the House and the Senate, and will dare Trump to deny funding to say, homeland security, so that he can sell bombs to a murderous dictator.
In addition, the House also voted to formally hold Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for their roles (i.e., their lies under oath) in the census citizenship question dispute. The vote was 230-198; with all but four Democrats and Amash on one side, and the other four Democrats plus all the Republicans on the other. This is the first time the full House has voted on a contempt charge, and it won't be the last. So, the gears are definitely turning, if slowly. (Z)
We don't normally write about Donald Trump's rallies anymore, because they're usually the same old, same old, and there really isn't much new to be learned. We also don't normally quote ourselves. However, we're going to break both of those general rules right now. To start, here is a quote from yesterday's item about the President's now-notorious tweets:
The President is laying the groundwork for his 2020 campaign, and it's going to be ugly. As noted, he says he's trying to force the Democrats into a weak position by causing them to embrace "the Squad" (Omar; Ocasio-Cortez; Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-MI; and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-MA). It's possible that even he doesn't believe that, but whether he does or not, it's just convenient cover for what's really going on here: he's going to run another xenophobic, nativist campaign in 2020, likely one that is even more over the top than the 2016 campaign (since there's no more "crooked Hillary" to run against).
It is not often that a politician so clearly and so rapidly confirms our assessment, but that is what Trump did at his rally. There was a lot of the usual bragging, and lying, and cheap-shotting, but he also devoted a sizable chunk of it to trashing the Squad in general, and Omar in particular. And during that segment, he was thrilled when the crowd broke into chants of "Send her back!" Here's the video, should you care to see for yourself:
So, we officially have 2020's version of "Lock her up!" Presumably, the Trump 2020 website will be offering hats, t-shirts, bathing suits, and onesies with that in short order. "I Still Like Ike" or "Forward with Roosevelt," it ain't. This development puts Omar and Hillary Clinton into an exclusive club of two. And like Clinton, Omar is not going to get down in the gutter with Trump. Here's her response to the "Send her back!" chants:
You may shoot me with your words,— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 18, 2019
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B
Of course, whatever she says, or doesn't say, won't change Trump's course one bit. Omar is foreign-born, Muslim, female, and dark-skinned, so she checks all the boxes for him and his base. And since Trump is going to spend the entire campaign as a "serious" candidate, as opposed to just part of the campaign, that means vastly more time for ugliness than in 2016. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) is already looking into extra security for the Squad, as well he should, before a fanatical Trump supporter decides to take matters into his own hands. Or, another fanatical Trump supporter, we should probably say. (Z)
Federal prosecutors in New York have taken a long, hard look at the role of the Trump Organization in making hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and other women in exchange for their silence. Now, their work is complete, and the documentation related to it will be made public, per an order from U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley III. Although this doesn't guarantee there will be no charges against Trump Organization employees, it is likely that none are coming.
This was treated as a big story by most media outlets. We're not entirely sure why. Nobody really thought that Trump Organization employees were going to get popped for the payments to Daniels. The reason that Trump had a fixer (namely Michael Cohen), and used shell corporations to handle the payments, was to keep his other employees from getting their hands dirty. Eric, Don Jr., CFO Allen Weisselberg, or others might have known what was going on, and might even have been involved on some level. However, they might also have been entirely in the dark and, either way, their involvement was never going to be proven. For that reason, the U.S. Attorney's Office and employees of the Trump Organization haven't even been in contact since January.
If Trump Organization employees (outside of Eric and Don) do have any role to play in this whole drama, it will almost certainly come as part of a prosecution for money laundering or other financial crimes committed prior to the Trump presidency. As a reminder, Weisselberg has already been immunized, and Dept. of Justice policy won't allow Trump to be prosecuted until he's out of office. So it is going to be a while until we actually find out the ending to the Trump Organization chapter in this whole story. (Z)
We're two weeks from the next round of Democratic debates, which means it's time to start figuring out some specifics. To start, the field has been set. The short version: it's the same candidates who qualified for the first debate, minus Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who has dropped out of the presidential race, and plus Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), who entered the race too late to have a viable chance at making the cut for the first debate. That means that, once again, Mayor Wayne Messam (D-Miramar), Mike Gravel, and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) are on the outside looking in. The time to stop including that trio on lists of "serious" candidates may be nigh upon us. Late-declaring former representative Joe Sestak and California billionaire Tom Steyer (who, unlike New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, actually is running for president) will also be excluded.
The DNC is also making a slight tweak to how they choose the field. In an effort to avoid what happened the first time, when all of the heavyweights besides Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) were on the same night, the candidates will be grouped into three separate "draws," based on their polling and fundraising numbers. The first draw includes all the folks for whom this debate could well be the last rodeo. The second draw includes the candidates who are mostly still viable, but need to make a move pretty soon. And the final draw includes the frontrunners. Here are the lists:
These groupings are a little wonky; Yang probably belongs in the first draw and Buttigieg probably belongs in the final draw, but the DNC needed each of the totals to be an even number, so that the groups could each be split evenly. We shall see what happens, but this approach could still deliver undesired results. One of the two debates could still be pretty top heavy if, say, Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Booker, and Castro all end up on the same night. Similarly, there is a decent chance that the field sorts into a "mostly white men" night and a "mostly women and minority candidates" night, which would probably not be a good look for the Party.
And speaking of the draw, it's tonight. Just in case we haven't already done enough in America to turn politics into a spectator sport, as opposed to a serious undertaking that actually affects people's lives, CNN is going to televise it as it happens, à la the NBA draft lottery. For those who want to watch, the show begins at 8:00 p.m. ET, on Anderson Cooper's program on CNN. New York Knicks fans should probably make a point of tuning in; it's the only program of this sort that won't leave them feeling sick afterward. (Z)
Since the last round of debates, Elizabeth Warren has been a little bit on the rise, and Kamala Harris has been a lot on the rise. On Thursday, the latter got some good news, as a new poll from Quinnipiac has her (technically) in the lead in her home state of California. Here are the totals for all candidates who registered in the poll:
We say that Harris is technically in the lead because the margin of error for the poll was close to 6 points, which means that Harris could actually be anywhere in the top four.
In any case, this poll is great news for the Senator, for two main reasons. The first is that she was previously polling very poorly in her home state. If she had been unable to turn that around, it would have been nearly fatal to her campaign, with the logic being "If people in her own state don't want her to be president, then why would I want her to be president?" And there's a pretty good chance that Harris' support in the Golden State still has room to grow. Normally, senators have near-universal name recognition back home, but the fact that her career was spent in Northern California prior to being sent to the Senate, and that she's been a senator for only 3 years, means that her recognition is lower than might be expected in the more populous southern half of the state.
The other reason that this is good news for Harris is that a path to the nomination is coming into focus. If she can perform credibly in Iowa and New Hampshire, she will likely follow that with solid showings in South Carolina (many black voters) and Nevada (next to California). And then, she'll be heading into Super Tuesday, the day on which that rich trove of California delegates will be awarded, with momentum. She could emerge as the compromise alternative for Democrats who don't want someone who's too lefty, but also don't love the idea of voting for someone who's 70 years old, centrist, and white. Harris will need to follow up her strong performance in the first debate with another one in the second, but she's definitely a "buy" right now on PredictIt. (Z)
Yesterday, we talked about the presidential candidates' fundraising for the quarter that ended on June 30. Today, a couple more bits on that general subject. To start, the Democrats' online fundraising platform ActBlue is an absolute machine, taking in $246 million last quarter. ActBlue allows donors, if they wish, to direct the money to the candidate of their choice. So, a sizable chunk of that $246 million was covered by the presidential candidates' totals we listed yesterday. Still, a quarter of a billion dollars more than a year before the general election is nothing to sneeze at.
Certainly, the GOP isn't sneezing. They would badly like to replicate ActBlue, but they are operating with several disadvantages. First, their voters aren't as technically savvy, on average, as Democratic voters are. Second, the red team is playing catch-up, as the blue team has been building ActBlue up for nearly a decade. Third, there has been a war going on between two different Republican ActBlue alternatives, Give.GOP and the Trump-backed WinRed. On Thursday, the RNC took aggressive steps to kill Give.GOP, removing the site from its domain registration (thus denying it the .gop domain extension) and also establishing punishments for campaigns that do not use WinRed. So, the third problem appears to be solved, but WinRed did not announce its take for Q2, which suggests the platform didn't do so well.
Meanwhile, let's take a look at some of the senate candidates' fundraising totals. Here are the Top 10 from Q2 (actually, top 12, since there was a four-way tie for 9th place). Asterisks indicate an incumbent:
|Mark Kelly (AZ)||$4.2m|
|Martha McSally* (AZ)||$3.4m|
|Mitch McConnell* (KY)||$3.1m|
|Lindsey Graham* (SC)||$3.0m|
|John Cornyn* (TX)||$2.5m|
|Gary Peters* (MI)||$2.4m|
|Cory Gardner* (CO)||$2.0m|
|Doug Jones* (AL)||$2.0m|
|Susan Collins* (ME)||$1.9m|
|Jeanne Shaheen* (NH)||$1.9m|
|Thom Tillis* (NC)||$1.9m|
|David Perdue* (GA)||$1.9m|
Clearly, that race in Arizona is going to be a barnburner. And it sure is nice to be an incumbent; in particular, if Gardner, Jones, Collins, or Tillis goes down it won't be for a want of money.
Outside the top fundraisers, the most interesting totals were probably Democrat M.J. Hegar, who pulled in $1 million after launching her bid to unseat Cornyn, and Republican Roy Moore, who only collected $17,000 toward his bid to unseat Jones. It's true that Moore announced only very recently, but it's also true that the first day of a campaign usually triggers a quick burst of fundraising, as eager supporters signal their enthusiasm. So, that figure is pretty bad news for the judge, 2018 Senate candidate, and credibly accused child predator, and suggests he might not claim the GOP nomination in 2020 after all. (Z)
As you no doubt guessed, we had more than a few questions about Donald Trump's recent tweets.
The press and other analysts such as yourselves, focus entirely on the "racistness"—a given, I'll grant you—of Donald Trump's tweets. But the tweets also contain specific accusations: the Congresswomen hate Israel, they hate America, their statements are vile, they are anti-Semitic. I have heard absolutely no discussion of what he is referring to, and the extent to which there could be substance to the accusations. For example, no one has told me why "It's all about the Benjamins" is an anti-semitic characterization of some Americans' position on Israel. Cable News is not ever going to dive this deep; would you care to? San Francisco, CA
There is virtually no merit to Trump's claims; they are a combination of exaggerations and logical non sequiturs.
For example, the Congresswomen have been critical of some aspects of modern America and modern American policy. The healthcare system, for example, or the country's current approach to the environment. They are outspoken, and are at the left end of the spectrum, so their criticisms have been more pointed than most. But criticizing the United States and its policies, even very loudly, is not equivalent to "hating America." Recall that "Make America Great Again" is itself a critique of America, as it implies that the country is currently not "great." However, Trump is not accusing himself and his supporters of hating America.
As to hating Israel/being anti-Semitic, that is primarily because the four Congresswomen (like many young and/or liberal Democrats) are somewhat critical of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu or else are sympathetic to the Palestinians' side of the story. But again, neither of these things means that a person necessarily hates Israel or is anti-Semitic. What is on display here, very probably, is a version of the logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent. The (faulty) logic, in short, goes something like this: People who are anti-semites are critical of Israel's government, these four Congresswomen are critical of Israel's government, therefore these four Congresswomen are anti-Semites.
As to "it's all about the Benjamins," that is specific to Ilhan Omar. Several times this year, and once in 2012, she said or tweeted things that were intended to be critical of specific policies of the Israeli government (the Pillar of Cloud operation) or of the lobby that advances the Israeli government's interests in Washington, which is known as AIPAC. The "Benjamins" remark, which was definitely expressed clumsily, was meant to communicate her view that AIPAC has undue influence in the U.S. due to being well funded. However, many listeners interpreted it as a slur against all Israelis or all Jews, and a reference to the long-standing anti-Semitic trope that Jews are guided more by their love of money than their loyalty to any country.
I imagine that Trump's recent racist comments may lead to credible threats towards his targets, "The Squad," and that Congress has protocols in place to provide appropriate security details for Representatives who are the subjects of such threats. Is there any record of how much these remarks are costing taxpayers? D.M., Granite Bay, CA
As we noted in the item about his rally, the process of acquiring security for the four Congresswomen is underway, but there has been no public indication that they have a detail yet. When and if they get protection, we'll never really know the costs, as they are rolled into other expenditures of the federal government, and as they will vary dramatically based on how long the congresswomen have to be protected, how thoroughly, how often they travel to their home districts (or abroad), and a host of other factors.
By virtue of their offices, the Speaker of the House, President Pro-tempore of the Senate, majority and minority leaders in both houses, and majority and minority whips in both houses are assigned security details. This task is handled, in most cases, by the Capitol police, and not by the Secret Service. In the past, people have tried to find out how much these details cost, and have been rebuffed by the Congressional Budget Office. So, all we can really say is that protecting the members of the Squad would run into six figures pretty quickly, and could get into seven figures depending on how long they need protection. Given that Trump apparently plans to keep up the "Send her back!" bit through the election next year, that seven figures total seems likely.
This is a follow-up question to the proposition that the Republicans may only have one or two electoral cycles where their current rural white and Christian fundamentalist focus will sustain them. You have posited this theory before, that the U.S. voting population is skewing more and more Democratic: in particular it was this conclusion—not just by yourselves—that led everyone to believe that Hillary Clinton would win the last presidential election handsomely. And we all saw how that turned out. Why are you so confident in this proposition now, when prior experience was so conclusively wrong? T.W., Norfolk, UK
Well, the underlying demographic changes are not theoretical, they are objective facts. There is ample evidence that the electorate is growing less rural, and less white, and less evangelical. The tenuous nature of the GOP coalition is more broadly indicated by the fact that the GOP has won a majority of the votes in just one of the last seven presidential elections (Bush 2004). They have been rescued twice by the Electoral College in that time, and in both of those "rescues" the Party squeezed by with a razor-thin margin, while in one of them they also needed a wonky ballot in Florida and some legal shenanigans on top of that. If just a few things had broken differently, the U.S. might easily have had a Democrat in the White House for 6 of those 7 terms (instead of just 4 of 7).
This is not to say that we are predicting the decline of the GOP as a national force, per se. The party will soon be at a crossroads, and it can choose one of two options. The first is to stick to their guns, and spend some time in the wilderness as the clear-cut minority party (as the Democrats did from the 1860s to the 1920s). The second is to re-calibrate, and rebuild themselves around a different kind of base (as the Democrats did in the 1930s). The one thing that is certain is that the current GOP coalition is not going to win them presidential elections for much longer.
We read all the time that "as long as the economy keeps up, Trump will have the support of his base and the GOP." What do you think would actually happen if the economy suddenly went south? Who's to say that Trump wouldn't find a scapegoat (e.g., Democrats, Mexico, globalists) to blame economic woes on, and that his base wouldn't gobble up such a narrative the way they do with everything else he says? R.W.P., Washington, D.C.
This could be a classic case of "immovable object meets irresistible force." On one hand, more than 200 years of American political history tell us that the two things that motivate voters the most are wars and pocketbook issues. And so, if the economy tanks, it should hurt Donald Trump badly, just as it hurt every other president who presided over a serious economic downturn.
On the other hand, Trump has generally proven to be bulletproof, so much so that even "Teflon Ron" Reagan would be impressed, not to mention "Slick Willy" Clinton. The Washington Post is tracking all of his lies, but what might be more interesting would be to track all the things he's done that would have been fatal to any other president. It's gotta be in the hundreds.
Anyhow, if the economy did tank, there's no doubt Trump would try to pin the blame on someone. House Democrats, the deep state, the Chinese, Mexico, Ilhan Omar, chemtrails, "the Curse of the Bambino," or maybe all of the above. But it would be a hard sell. It's a little easier for someone who lives in, say, Indiana to pretend that a wall is being built, or that America is "stronger" or "safer," since all of those things are basically abstractions. It's a little harder for them to ignore being laid off, or being unable to pay their rent. So, our best guess is that an economic downturn would cut into his base a fair bit, though it's not certain. It would definitely cost him most of the moderates and fence-sitters, though, and that would be more than enough to send him to defeat, given how slim his margin of error is. It might also cost him the support of many members of Congress, who are not bulletproof and would be getting an earful from constituents. That would also be bad for Trump.
I have seen you refer to "the hoosegow" a number of times on your website. I, and I am sure a number of other readers, are wondering, what is a hoosegow? B.R., Tampa, FL
It's slang for prison, and it's (Z) who tends to use that term. Perhaps that reflects a Western bias, linguistically, as the word is an anglicized form of the Spanish word "juzgado," which means "court." Maybe not, though, as he learned the word from his grandmother, and she was from Pennsylvania.
What are cross-tabs in polling, and how are they significant? H.B., Acton, MA
Most of the time, when there is reporting about polling data, it's the main findings of the poll. For example, the item above about Kamala Harris's position in the Quinnipiac poll of California. This information generally called the top-level data.
However, virtually every pollster also collects lots of additional information that breaks down the responses in various ways. Almost always, this includes the political party of respondents, their gender, and their ethnicity. Often it includes other things, like age, or income level, or enthusiasm level. All of this extra stuff is what is meant when we say "cross-tabs," a term that is short for "cross-tabulation."
There is often much of interest in the cross-tabs, as that information gives a much more thorough picture of a candidate's support (or lack thereof). To take one example, the crosstabs of recent polls show that not only are Cory Booker and Julián Castro performing poorly in the polls, they aren't getting much interest from black voters (Booker) and Latino voters (Castro). That is a very bad sign for the duo, as they are counting on those groups to be their base, voting-wise and fundraising-wise. Put another way, the cross-tabs tell us that the 1% or 2% those gentlemen are pulling the polls is even worse than it sounds.