May 16

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Trump Will Stonewall Congress on Everything

The battle between Donald Trump and Congress heated up (again) yesterday, with a letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) basically stating that the White House will not hand over any documents in response to subpoenas and will not allow any current or former government officials to testify before Congress. In coarser language, Cipollone told Congress to go shove it. Specifically, Cipollone said that Congress does not get to have a do-over on the Mueller report and Congress is not a law-enforcement agency, so it can't investigate whether Trump has committed any other crimes that Mueller didn't examine. In effect, he rejects the very concept of congressional oversight and came very close to saying that the president is a king.

No one knows how this will end. In fact, we don't even know what Nadler will do next. One possibility is to cower under his desk, but that is not Nadler's style. Another is to formally open an investigation into a possible impeachment of Trump, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and others. This would give Congress a legitimate purpose for its subpoenas, namely to see if any officials broke the law and should be impeached.

If Nadler goes down that road (which he won't do without permission from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA), the case is certain to end up in the Supreme Court. That will put Chief Justice John Roberts on the spot. It is unlikely that he wants to go down in history as the guy who ended American democracy and turned the president into a monarch, but he may or may not be able to get the other Republican-appointees to go along with him, and Trump might argue that he doesn't have to obey the Court if there is a 5-4 decision against him. Roberts is fond of baseball analogies and Trump could say that with a 5-4 decision, he was hitting .444. Even Ted Williams never hit above .406.

If the Court rules 9-0 for Congress and Trump then either refuses to turn over anything or turns over a hodge podge of random, heavily redacted documents, we will be in uncharted territory. At that point the ball will be in the court of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Pelosi will undoubtedly go to McConnell and ask what his position will be in the event of an impeachment. If McConnell says he is with King Donald I, he will risk a Democratic wave in 2020. If he tells Pelosi that he will vote for conviction and urge his members to do likewise, every Republican in the Senate who is up in 2020 could face a primary from a Trumpist. Not a good place to be. But this is all speculation so far. The next move is Nadler's. (V)

Two New Polls Have Biden in the Lead among Democrats and Independents

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll among Democrats and independents has Joe Biden at 29% (up from 24% last month). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is second at 13%. Tied for third place at 5% are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Beto O'Rourke. All the others are below 5%. Sixteen percent of the respondents don't know yet whom they support.

An Emerson College poll also released yesterday also has Biden ahead of Sanders, but much closer, 33% to 25%. Emerson has Harris and Warren tied for third place at 10%, Pete Buttigieg fourth at 8%, and the rest at 3% or lower.

The polls are quite different, but that is normal this early, when people are not glued tightly to a candidate and could give different answers on different days or to questions that are worded slightly differently. Also important is how the polls were done. Ipsos used an online panel. Emerson's poll was a mix of robocalls to landlines plus an Internet panel provided by Amazon Turk. Both pollsters then weighted their samples by gender, age, and a dozen other factors, but differences in their respective models of the electorate could make a big difference in the results. For example, if Ipsos assumed that only 20% of millennials will vote in the primaries, the result would be a lower score for Sanders than if Emerson assumed a massive turnout of millennials (25% would be massive). The bottom line is that polls this early, especially ones with technologies in which the model means more than the sample, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, just about every poll in the past 2 weeks has shown Biden to be ahead, so he probably is, at least for now. (V)

Buttigieg Hits an Obstacle

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Make that sooner. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is gay and is married to a man. Among millennials, that is really cool, except that some of them are going to have trouble deciding whether nominating a gay white man is a bigger barrier to break than nominating a straight black female. Then there is the enticing prospect of nominating the first vegan candidate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Democrats love to break through barriers.

Unfortunately for Buttigieg, not all voters are quite so enlightened. In particular, for many black voters, especially older and more religious black voters, being a (white) man married to another (white) man is not a plus. It's a definite minus, especially in a race featuring two black senators and a white guy who served for 8 years alongside the country's first black president.

Buttigieg is keenly aware of the problem, and is also aware that if he comes in eighth or fourteenth in the South Carolina primary with 2% of the vote, he will be toast, since black voters are the most loyal demographic the Democrats have, and if they don't like the Mayor, it's back to South Bend for him.

Buttigieg does have an ace in the hole, though, and he is using it like there is no tomorrow. He is a practicing Christian, something that might score points with older, religious, black voters. He once told Vice President Mike Pence: "If you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator."

A recent Pew poll puts support for same-sex marriage among black voters at 51%, well behind the national average. Among black folks over 65, it is only 40%. This is the hill Buttigieg has to climb. He knows it and he is trying, but with black voters supporting Joe Biden in record numbers and Democratic senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris also in the mix, Buttigieg has his work cut out for himself. (V)

Federal Employees Are Illegally Campaigning for Trump

The Hatch Act makes it illegal for federal employees (except the president and vice president) to campaign for candidates for public office. Nevertheless:

And these are just a few examples of administration officials more-or-less openly violating the Hatch Act. The number of formal complaints about violations is over 100 during Trump's term so far. It is pretty clear that Trump expects government officials to help his campaign, law or no law. Besides, it seems very unlikely that AG William Barr is going to prosecute them for doing so.

Having government employees campaign would have startled Thomas Jefferson, who called attempts to influence the voters "inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution." But it was only in 1939, during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that Congress formally made it a crime by passing the Hatch Act. As an aside, while former senator Orrin Hatch is old, he is not that old; the Act was named after then-senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico (no relation).

Watchdog groups say that the use of federal employees as freelance campaign aides is yet another example of the administration's ethical lapses. But Trump just shrugs, even when the actions clearly violate federal law. As long as officials do what he wants, it's fine with him. (V)

Some Republican Senators Are Beginning to Complain about the Tariffs

Donald Trump's tariffs are starting to hurt farmers in red states and they are complaining to their senators. In turn, the senators are beginning to ever-so-cautiously speak out against the tariffs. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said: "I'm not sure if you talk to him [Trump] face to face, he hears everything you say." That's a little bit of pushback, but is slightly different from, say, introducing legislation to repeal the law that gives the president the ability to levy tariffs in some cases, even though the Constitution explicitly grants this power to Congress.

Mitch McConnell was equally oblique: "Ultimately, nobody wins a trade war unless there is an agreement at the end, after which the tariffs go away." Trump has directly and repeatedly contradicted that by saying that trade wars are easy to win. What McConnell is worried about is the possibility that Trump has no end game. He keeps imposing tariffs and China responds in kind. Then what?

One problem that Trump is going to have to deal with sooner or later is that many of his supporters are very angry with the tariffs, especially producers of a variety of agricultural products. If they start going bankrupt, they might decide to sit out the 2020 election or conceivably even vote for the Democrat in desperation. One possible solution is a bailout. Last year, Trump gave farmers $12 billion in compensation before the midterm elections to mitigate the effects of the tariffs. He could do something like that again. Democrats would point out that giving people money for free is precisely the kind of welfare Republicans always rail about, but it is unlikely to have any effect—unless Trump can't find any money in the current budget and needs Congress to appropriate some. The Democratic-controlled House is not too likely to sign off on that, needless to say.

Another option would be for the government to buy up the products farmers can no longer sell to China and do something with them. For example, Trump could give them to poor countries (but not sh*thole countries). However, not all countries can use soybeans and Muslim countries might not welcome millions of pounds of pork. Further, a program to buy up large amounts of agricultural products would probably require a new law, and the House version of said law might well contain some provisions that Trump was not fond of, such as repealing all the tariffs he has imposed and also repealing the law giving him authority to impose tariffs. So we may be back to McConnell's point: What's the end game? (V)

Trump Is at Odds with One of the Parties--the Republican Party

One of Donald Trump's campaign promises was to lower the cost of prescription drugs, something very important to seniors, who make up a disproportionate percentage of voters in Florida, the mother of all swing states. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) wants to import drugs from Canada, where they are cheaper than in the U.S. Trump has asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, to work with DeSantis on this. Azar has called the plan a "gimmick" and clearly has no intention of making it happen. He knows very well that if Florida tried to import drugs from Canada, U.S. drug companies would limit the number of pills shipped to Canada to the number they shipped last year, so as to foil the plan.

Congressional Republicans have generally been averse to importation, which wouldn't work for the reason outlined above. But they have also been historically against the idea of allowing Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and other government organizations to negotiate with the drug companies. If Congress really wanted to lower drug prices, it could pass a law authorizing these agencies to do just that, with the proviso that if the two sides couldn't come to terms, Congress could authorize the manufacture or importation of generic versions of the drugs, even if they were still on patent. That would definitely get the drug companies' attention. But as to Trump's plan, best to think of it as another campaign promise that will never be fulfilled. (V)

How Trump Could Refuse to Accept a Defeat in 2020

Donald Trump has toyed with the idea of not accepting defeat in the 2020 election, especially if it is close. Jeff Greenfield at Politico has worked out three scenarios for how Trump could try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as follows.

Could any of these scenarios take place? It might depend on who the Democratic nominee is. Probably, the GOP at all levels would pull out all stops to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning, but might not be willing to start a new civil war to block a more moderate Democrat. That said, given the level of partisanship these days, maybe they would. (V)

Make Way for Another Mayor

Just in case any Democrats felt that current South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, current Miramar, FL, mayor Wayne Messam, former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, former Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, and former Burlington, VT, mayor Bernie Sanders did not give them quite enough mayors to choose from, a sixth mayor is about to enter the race. It's Bill de Blasio, who currently leads New York City, and who said he will make a formal announcement early this morning.

His entrance comes as something of a surprise to...well, everyone. There were rumors he would jump in, but after the field swelled to nearly two dozen candidates, it appeared the Mayor was not interested. Perhaps he decided that AARP-eligible white progressives from the Northeast were not represented well enough in this year's horse race. In any event, we thought we'd profiled everyone who might plausibly declare, but it would appear we thought wrong. We'll do him tomorrow, and then next week we will move on to the next phase of the candidate profiles series. (Z)

North Carolina State Senator Who Sponsored "Bathroom Bill" Wins NC-09 GOP Primary

After the results of the general election in NC-09 were tossed out due to Republican chicanery, new primary elections were called. Democrat Dan McCready ran unopposed, but there was a contentious primary on the Republican side. The winner was Dan Bishop, the original sponsor of the infamous North Carolina "bathroom bill." Bishop beat nine other Republicans, so he will face McCready in the special election.

Bishop's bill, HB 2, was signed into law by then-governor Pat McCrory (R) in March 2016. It mandated that where public toilets were designated as "men" and "women," people could use only the one corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. In North Carolina, transgender people who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery can have their birth certificate altered to reflect their new gender, but people who merely identify with a different gender (or no gender) cannot have their birth certificate changed.

The law was widely criticized by transgender people and many activists. Protests around the country led various companies and organizations to boycott North Carolina. It is estimated that the state lost over $400 million as a result of these actions. The bill and the reaction to it may well have cost McCrory his job, as he was beaten by now-governor Roy Cooper (D) in 2016 in a campaign in which the law played a significant role.

The law is certain to come up in the special election, and Bishop will have to defend it. However, the district, which is southeast of Charlotte on the South Carolina border, has a PVI of R+8, so in principle the Republican (Bishop) is favored. But the district also contains some Charlotte suburbs as well as about half a dozen rural counties, so anything can happen. The special election is on Sept. 10. (V)

California May Lose a House Seat after the Census

California is still growing, but not as fast as some other states. The Public Policy Institute of California is predicting that California may lose one or more House seats when the next census is completed. In 2018, California grew by 0.47%, the slowest rate in its history. The slow growth is due to a decline in birth at the same time the baby boomers are starting to die off.

Another problem for California is that it has a lot of "hard to count" people, including undocumented immigrants. If a citizenship question is added to the census, as the administration wants, there may also be a substantial undercount. If that happens, the districts in East Los Angeles, namely CA-27, CA-32, CA-38, and CA-40, are the most at risk. All four are represented by Democrats, namely Judy Chu, Grace Napolitano, Linda Sanchez, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, respectively. One or more of them could lose their seats to redistricting.

A relative loss of population would not only affect the state's representation in the House and the number of electoral votes it has in 2024 and beyond, but also how much federal money it gets. Numerous federal programs allocate money to states based on their populations, so a relatively lower population compared to the Sun Belt states means less money as well as less power. (V)

Thursday Q&A

A nice variety, as we head toward the weekend.

Is there a published specification for the barcodes printed on ballots in Georgia (and perhaps, in the future, Florida)? If so, it seems that someone could write an app that could be installed on cell phones to read the barcode and verify if it says the same thing as the printed text? I suspect enough voters might install this to provide a statistically significant sample to verify if the barcodes matched the text or not. A photo of the printed text and the output of the scan could provide evidence of fraud. D.J., San Tan Valley, AZ

There does not appear to be a published specification; certainly not one that we can find. That said, it would certainly be possible to reverse engineer the code, and to create an app of the sort you propose, even without the cooperation of Election Security & Software, who makes the machines. The problem is that, in Georgia, it is illegal to use a cellular phone in a polling place. In theory, the Republican-controlled legislature could change that law, so citizens could do what you propose. We wouldn't hold our breath waiting for them to do so.



Donald Trump lies a lot. How many of his supporters believe his lies? I would guess that this depends on the lie. In any event, I think supporters who believe he is telling the truth are more dangerous than those who accept that he lies a lot but support him anyways. R.H., Chicago, IL

There has been much study of this phenomenon in human beings. What the experts say, in essence, is that most people in these circumstances (i.e., Trump's supporters) know he's lying, but they have various strategies for rationalizing it. This is known as self-deception. Here are the main ways that the President's base jusitifies his falsehoods, all of them classic variants of self-deception:

Trump and his base definitely take self-deception to extremes, particularly by the standards of the political arena, but the behavior itself is not particularly rare.



Could you explain what you mean when you talk about "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party"? This expression isn't in widespread use. D.B., Mountain View, CA

This phrase was coined by former senator Paul Wellstone before he died in a plane crash while campaigning for reelection in 2002, and was popularized by Howard Dean. It means something like "progressive Democrats who have the spine to stand up to wishy-washy moderate Democrats who don't really stand for anything and make cooperating with the Republicans a priority, even if the result is that nothing really changes."



My question might be a bit of a conspiracy theory, but hear me out. I am one of those who believes the GOP has no intention of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned. Nothing is a bigger vote getter or a better wedge issue with evangelicals, and with it off the table they don't have much else to give evangelicals the "fire in the belly." Do you think that Republican politicians are making these laws so extreme that when they are brought before a judge they get thrown out? Then, the GOP can blame activist/liberal justices, and say, "This is why you need to vote for us so we can replace these judges," and the cycle keeps repeating? D.R., Massapequa, NY

You are correct that many Republicans, particularly at the upper echelons of the party, do not actually want to see Roe overturned. First, as you observe, because it would deprive them of a major wedge issue. Second, because they fear the mother of all voter backlashes. Third, because forcing millions of women to have millions of unwanted babies could have some pretty severe social consequences down the line.

With that said, we don't think your conspiracy theory is correct. First, because the lower-level folks who passed the bills (i.e., Alabama state legislators) really are true believers; they're not just doing this for show. Second, because it would be very difficult to pull off such a conspiracy, getting the hundreds of people necessary on board and keeping it from leaking out. Third, because you never know what the courts will do, and if you tee up Roe for them to take a shot at, they may just take that shot. And fourth because if SCOTUS declines to strike down Roe, it would be a little tenuous to argue that there just weren't enough conservative justices.



The wicked cynicism of this new Alabama (not Georgia) abortion-bill, by my understanding, is it doesn't impose any penalties on the woman getting the abortion, but rather it gives the doctor that performs an abortion the equivalent of a life sentence. What this effectively means is that the only person in Alabama who has standing to sue on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional is a doctor willing to defy the law and risk life in prison. Any woman seeking an abortion and can't find a willing doctor in Alabama has no standing to sue, because they're not subject to the law itself. Is that correct? M.G., Portland, OR

You're right that standing would indeed be an issue. There have been similar cases in the past where women were able to clear this bar when their only nearby clinic closed, and they were able to argue that they had been harmed by that, even if they did not immediately require its services. So, that might be the angle.

And if that is not the angle, well, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are going to be gunning for this with all they've got, and their lawyers are very good at establishing a basis for suits. So, standing is unlikely to be an impediment, long-term.



On Monday, you had an item about several Democrats who have a good shot at a Senate seat but are instead running for president. Rather than actually trying to win the presidency, could it be a deliberate strategy for them to get in the spotlight by participating in the primary debates, and then to run for the Senate anyway? S.W., Utrecht, Netherlands

I'm wondering if Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper, and Beto O'Rourke might actually be planning Senate runs and are mostly using presidential candidacies to boost their profiles. Senate campaigns don't start for a while, but the presidential campaign is in full swing. Add to that the potential to get into a nationally televised debate on key issues, and it seems like a viable strategy. It's true that they are leaving the Senate primaries open for challengers this way—but it seems to me that each one could handle a primary fairly easily. By not declaring for the Senate, they get the added bonus of not having big targets on their backs, effectively being able to campaign for a while without real opposition. What do you think? E.H., Stevens Point, WI

You both make a pretty good case. Running for president right now conveys some pretty significant advantages over officially declaring for the Senate, while also minimizing some significant disadvantages. And E.H. is right that someone with the stature of a Hickenlooper or an O'Rourke could likely clear out any primary opponents pretty easily. In fact, as we've suggested, it's possible they've already communicated such intentions to the Democratic pooh-bahs, specifically to keep their soft landing spots open.

Anyhow, we will only add one thing to your suppositions: One more benefit of running for president is that you never know what might happen. Maybe your bid catches fire? And if not, the Senate is not such a bad consolation prize. Ask Mitt Romney.



You wrote: "There's still some pretty serious sexism in American politics, particularly on the right, and anyone who says otherwise was not paying attention in 2016." However, the left's four presidential primary ladies' poll numbers do not even equal second-place Bernie Sanders' numbers. If the left is so much more inclusive, shouldn't at least one of their women have some traction? Your statement was an unneeded stab at the right, which seems to be happening more and more with this site. J.B., Columbus, OH

We are always willing to hear criticism and corrections; we've even created an e-mail address for that very purpose. However, the question/comment you pose is, in fact, a series of logical fallacies. We will now go through them all.

First, you are making a straw man argument. We did not say Democratic voters are not sexist at all, we only said that Republican voters, as a group, are more sexist. Surely, as a purely mathematical problem, you would agree that it is much more likely that one side is more sexist than the other, as opposed to both sides being equally sexist.

Second, you are guilty of a form of tu quoque fallacy, in that you imply that the Democratic women's polling numbers are indicative of sexism (and thus hypocrisy) on the part of Democratic voters. That could be true, but it's nowhere near as clear-cut as you suggest. It is also worth noting that the two fellows atop the polls have something else in common besides their anatomy: They are far and away the most famous people in the field, at a time in the process when name recognition is king. It's also worth noting, while we are at it, that there are 106 Democratic women in Congress, as compared to 21 Republican women.

Third, you engage in a form of ad hominem fallacy known as appeal to motive, ascribing (in this case) Z's criticism to Z's personal political agenda. As we attempted to point out in our remarks on the Ben Shapiro interview, not all critical questions and not all critical remarks are in bad faith. In fact, we would say most of them are not. In this particular case, the more virulent sexism to be found on the right was entirely germane to the item, as we were discussing the political value (or lack thereof) of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) appearing on Fox News.

In short, we reject pretty much all of your premises. And we stand by our assertion about 2016; much of the criticism of Hillary Clinton was sexist, and the willingness to overlook some of Donald Trump's remarks, say about Megyn Kelly's bleeding, or about Trump's pu**y grabbing, was also sexist.

We also reiterate, however, that we are not claiming the Democrats don't also have an issue here. And given that the blue team has several female contenders for the White House right now, and the red team has none (and had only one out of 17 in 2016), it is on the left side of the aisle that this issue is more likely to show itself in the next year. The New York Times had a good piece on this very subject a couple of months ago.


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