May 17

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Trump Unveils Immigration Plan

Donald Trump revealed his much-ballyhooed plan to reform the United States' immigration system on Thursday. He called it "pro-American" and the members of his administration went on TV to sell the proposal as the most sweeping overhaul of the country's immigration system since 1954. That situates it as the proud inheritor of the legacy established by...Operation Wetback.

The central element of the plan is an aggressive shift toward merit-based immigration. The United States already has that, of course, but the Trump proposal would essentially base all admission decisions on a point system, where potential new arrivals would be judged based on the skills they have, how much money they have in the bank, if they have a job offer in the U.S., and whether they speak English. In all fairness, this is similar to the Canadian system, which is based on the principle of "Ask not what Canada can do for you, but what you can do for Canada." Having relatives in the U.S. would not add points, which would thus end most so-called "chain migration." The proposal also calls for beefed-up border security (including a wall, of course), to be at least partly paid for by charging fees to folks crossing the border.

The plan was primarily crafted by Jared Kushner, with some input from Stephen Miller, and (allegedly) lots of input from border patrol agents. You will notice that nobody on that list has any particular expertise or skill in the art of politics. And so, consistent with that, the proposal is basically dead on arrival, and has little chance of becoming law. Democrats don't like any talk of more aggressive border security, given that this is an administration that has already separated families and locked children in cages. The blue team, and even some members of the red team, are also unhappy that the plan has nary a word about the millions of DACA recipients in the country. On the other side of the debate, many anti-immigrant advocates are unhappy that Trump's plan would not reduce the total number of immigrants allowed to enter the country, and that it's pretty fuzzy on how the wall is actually going to get built. Given these issues, all of the top Democrats in Congress, and quite a number of Republican senators—Susan Collins (ME), Chuck Grassley (IA), Shelley Moore-Capito (WV), and Jerry Moran (KS) among them—said they see no way that the proposal can get through both chambers or Congress. Or either chamber of Congress, for that matter.

With that said, the plan was not really intended to become law. Its purpose, as with nearly every "policy proposal" that comes from Donald Trump, is to help him win his next election. His verbiage at Thursday's press conference made clear exactly what his expectations are, and exactly how he intends to wield the plan as a weapon over the next 18 months. "If for some reason, possibly political, we can't get the Democrats to approve this merit-based high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election, when we take back the House, keep the Senate, and of course, hold the presidency," he declared.

Given the fuzziness on the wall and on exactly what beefed-up security would look like, as well as the decision not to go for a reduction in the number of admittances, the administration is making a play for voters beyond the base. In other words, it's a proposal that even moderates and independents can get behind, as Team Trump sees it. That makes this the clearest indication so far that Trump 2020 realizes that the base alone is probably not going to be enough to win reelection. (Z)

Trump Clips Hawks' Wings

Ronald Reagan sent troops to Lebanon. George H. W. Bush invaded Iraq. George W. Bush not only invaded Iraq, he started a war there that lingered beyond his presidency. Perhaps you notice a theme for what seems to happen these days whenever a Republican president is elected. There are a number of folks in the current administration, many of them alumni of the last GOP administration, who would like to make their own contribution to this legacy. The most notable of these is NSA John Bolton, and the Middle Eastern country he'd like to get violent with is Iran. To that end, the United States has adopted an aggressive posture in that part of the world recently. Several naval ships have been deployed, and there has been talk this week that the Pentagon is working on a plan to deploy 120,000 troops to that part of the world.

As it turns out, there is someone who is apparently not on board with this: Donald Trump. He does tend to leave his underlings to their own devices, and he does like shows of strength (in many different varieties). However, he's also politically savvy enough to recognize how much damage the Iraq War did to George W. Bush. Further, Trump is instinctively isolationist. This is not because he opposes war, per se, but because he doesn't like spending American money to assist non-American people. In any event, he has reportedly read the riot act to Bolton and to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and told them he has no intention of approving an invasion. He could always change course, as he so often does. However, given that isolationism (along with protectionism) has been among his few consistently held political positions, the odds are pretty good that there will be no Iran War. (Z)

Trump Says He Made $434 Million in 2018

On Thursday, Donald Trump filed the financial disclosure forms he's required to complete each year. And, if they are to be believed, he made at least $434 million in 2018. The biggest profit center, it would appear, is Trump International Hotel in Washington, which raked in $40.8 million. That, of course, would be the same hotel that is at the center of both of the emoluments cases currently pending against the President.

There are two reasons that it is necessary to be cautious about these numbers. The first is that the forms require reporting only within a range, and the ranges do not envision a billionaire (or near-billionaire) president. Most obviously, the filer has to check a box for each outstanding loan he or she has, and the topmost box is "over $50 million." Trump checked that box for five different loans. That means that, along with the smaller outstanding loans he reported, he has at least $315 million in debt. However, he could also have $500 million in debt, or $3 billion, or even 500 billion rubles ($7.74 billion U.S.) worth of debt, and the forms would be filled out in exactly the same way.

The second reason for caution, of course, is that Trump has much motivation to exaggerate his prosperity, and much ability to do so. There isn't a great way to verify most of the figures he provided and, as he's demonstrated throughout his entire career, it's pretty easy to make a business look profitable or unprofitable at will, based on how you juggle the balance sheets. High-end real estate projects are kind of like Hollywood movies—somehow, none of them ever seem to make any actual money. And Trump's claims of success run contrary to reporting from, for example, Forbes, which reports that Trump National Doral resort in Miami (the crown jewel of the empire) is not "on fire" as the Trump Organization claims, and instead has seen a steep decline in revenues since he became president.

In any case, all of this is why the Democrats have a legitimate claim for seeing the President's tax returns and financial documents. Though he says that the federal disclosure forms tell them all they need to know, the forms don't actually tell them all that much. (Z)

Flynn Sang Like a Canary, Disregarded Influence from Unknown Congressman

One of the many sealed filings from Robert Mueller's investigation was unsealed on Thursday. It turns out that former general and NSA Michael Flynn gave the special counsel a lot of juicy stuff, including some evidence of collusion with the Russians, and even more evidence of obstruction of justice. Flynn revealed that a number of Trump allies, within the administration and without, contacted him to try to persuade him not to cooperate with the investigation. He even had recordings of voicemails that he turned over to Mueller.

Naturally, these revelations have given Democrats more ammunition to use as they make the case that they not only need to see the unredacted Mueller report, but also the underlying evidence he collected. Further, at least one of folks who tried to twist Flynn's arm is a sitting congressman (though we don't know who, as yet). That person, whoever they may be, should be a tad bit nervous right now. Obstruction is, once again, a crime, and the members of Congress have many tools at their disposal to punish one of their own. (Z)

Walmart to Raise Prices due to Tariffs

Retail giant Walmart gets an awful lot of its inventory from China, either directly, or in the form of goods manufactured elsewhere but using Chinese raw materials. They also have very low margins. So, it makes sense that their prices would be affected by Donald Trump's tariffs. On Thursday, however, they made a point of announcing it very loudly and very publicly, with CFO Brett Biggs telling reporters, "We're going to continue to do everything we can to keep prices low. That's who we are. However, increased tariffs will lead to increased prices, we believe, for our customers."

At the very least, this news means that the effect of the tariffs will be felt in a very noticeable way, not only on Wall Street, but also on Main Street. Walmart does a lot of business in red states, and in semi-rural areas (i.e., Trump Country). One also suspects that this is meant as a shot across the bow of the administration, and a strong suggestion that they consider backing off their plans. The President should probably expect a visit from Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman (both R-Walmart) very soon. Given that much of the base is starting to pitch fits about the trade war, and that some GOP senators are also unhappy, maybe Trump will change course. On the other hand, given that protectionism was the second-biggest plank in his 2016 platform, behind only the border wall, we wouldn't bet on it. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Bill de Blasio

One last profile, and the set will theoretically be complete. Unless some village council member for East Cupcake says: "What do I have to lose?" and throws his hat in the ring. Then we shall move on to the next phase of this series.

Bill de Blasio

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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