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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Defense Wraps Up
      •  Trump Unveils Middle East Peace Plan
      •  Casualty Figures for Iran Strike Revised Upward
      •  Deficit Officially Reaches $1 Trillion
      •  Democratic Senate PAC Raised $61M in 2019
      •  GOP Braces for Collins Run
      •  Republicans Nervous about House Fundraising

Trump Defense Wraps Up

As expected, Donald Trump's defense team concluded their case early, leaving about six hours of time on the table. Now, the impeachment trial enters the questions phase, although the biggest question on people's minds is one that won't be asked in open session: "Will the Senate hear from witnesses?"

There wasn't much different between Tuesday's defense presentation and Monday's. In the end, you have about a dozen lawyers performing for an audience of one, who in turn is performing for an audience of about 43%. The case is utterly lacking in cohesion, and exists primarily to create soundbites and video clips that can be repeated on Fox News, Twitter, etc. Oh well, everyone knows that impeachment is a political process more than a legal one.

By the end of the day Monday, it was looking very much like the Senate would end up calling former NSA John Bolton, and very possibly other witnesses. By the end of the day Tuesday, on the other hand, there was a fair bit of momentum in the other direction. The GOP caucus had a meeting at the end of the day's proceedings, and came out of that expressing confidence they would hold the line on witnesses. Trump, for his part, issued a call (a warning? a threat?) for the Republican senators to hold the line. And the senators who are most in danger at the ballot box in November, and have the toughest decision before them, apparently feel that a long, drawn-out trial is a guaranteed loser for them.

So, maybe witnesses won't be called. That said, it's not a done deal yet. There will be two days of questioning, and nobody knows how that will change the narrative. Further, every single one of the 100 people in that chamber knows full well that poll after poll shows that voters, including many Republicans and the great majority of independents, want to hear from witnesses. The latest is from Quinnipiac, and reports that 49% of Republicans, 75% of independents and 95% of Democrats feel this way.

And finally, of course, there's the small matter of John Bolton's pending book. The Republicans are trying to navigate that little problem by securing a copy they can review behind closed doors. The clear purpose here is to figure out exactly how damaging it will be if they shut Bolton down now, and then let him make some headlines when the book is released in March. The government has a copy of the book draft, since it was submitted for vetting in terms of classified information, but it's not clear if it would be legal to send a copy over to the Senate chamber. It is also the case that Bolton has not yet said anything publicly; he could change the equation all by himself if he comes out and announces that everything you've heard about the book's contents is true.

The upshot is that the Bolton/witness question is definitely still up in the air, particularly with at least 48 hours of known unknowns, and possibly unknown unknowns, before us. For now, however, it's question time. And the Democrats have undoubtedly been preparing carefully for this. Although only senators can officially ask questions (in writing, transmitted through the Chief Justice), you can bet that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and the other impeachment managers have given them a fair bit of input. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin has taken the time to draft a long list, organized by category, of possible inquiries the Democrats might make of the President's defense team. The categories, along with an example from each:

  • The questions that expose the lies: Why did you falsely state that Republicans were not allowed into the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility)?

  • The questions that obviously require new documents and witnesses: Mick Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo and then walked it back. Could he tell us why? Could he tell us if Trump directly ordered the hold-up in aid?

  • The questions that can be termed "So what?": How does Mr. Schiff's mocking the president once relate to his abusing his power?

  • The questions that expose the logical inconsistencies in the defense case: If Trump is concerned about adult children benefiting from their father's name, why did he allow his sons to run his company during his presidency and give his unqualified children a place in his administration?

  • The questions that go to "Holy cow, we cannot leave this guy in office!": Will the president stop taking foreign policy advice from Rudolph W. Giuliani and Vladimir Putin?

And Rubin, of course, is just one reporter. The Democrats have an army of politicians, lawyers, and politician-lawyers at their disposal to help craft the most penetrating questions possible.

Finally, speaking of "unknown unknowns," what could prove to be one of the bigger developments of the week happened outside the courtroom. On Monday night, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was talking to reporters and said this:

Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening. And I'm really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus goers. Will they be supporting VP Biden at this point?

That is dangerously close to an admission that all of this was about hurting Biden and the Democrats, and not about national security. It's really quite remarkable that a veteran U.S. senator would speak so carelessly. Biden has already seized upon Ernst's remarks, saying that she "spilled the beans." Could this rebound on the Republicans in general, or Ernst in particular? Could it serve to make Biden a victim, and engender some sympathy votes for him? These things are certainly possible, which is why we say this could prove to be a big development. On the other hand, it could also be quickly forgotten as a result of whatever wild and crazy stuff happens on the impeachment front today. (Z)

Trump Unveils Middle East Peace Plan

Donald Trump promised that he would reveal his plan for peace in the Middle East on Tuesday, and warned that the Palestinians won't like it. Well, he did. And they don't.

Really, all that you need to know is that the administration has been in close contact with the Israeli government and PM Benjamin Netanyahu (who was present for Tuesday's unveiling/photo-op) throughout the process, while not having spoken to the Palestinians (who did not get an invite on Tuesday) for more than two years. And the details of the deal confirm exactly what you should expect from a "process" like that: It's extremely one-sided. The Israelis would be allowed to re-annex most of the West Bank, would enjoy a net gain in territory from the Palestinians, and would control most of Jerusalem. Eventually, the Palestinians would be "allowed" to establish a government with limited sovereignty and a small portion of Jerusalem as its capital. After the unveiling, Trump son-in-law/advisor Jared Kushner was all over TV lecturing the Palestinians about how they have "blown" their previous chances, and they will just have to accept that this is what is best for them. If you are able to discern the substantive difference between this approach and, say, the African colonialism of the late 19th century by the European powers, then you are a cleverer historian than (Z).

Put another way, it's not a serious effort at bringing peace to the Middle East. Analysts writing for Haaretz, Vox, The Washington Post, Politico, CNN, and The New York Times, among other outlets, agree. So too does a former White House official who was privy to the plan before it was released, and who described it on Tuesday as "a total shitshow." The real motivation here could not be plainer: it's a right-wing plan for a right-wing audience. The President is on trial right now, has an election in a little over 9 months, and needs to keep Christian evangelicals on board the S.S. Trump. The Prime Minister was formally indicted on corruption charges on Tuesday morning (hours before the announcement of the peace plan), has an election in 6 weeks, and needs to keep right-wing Israelis on board the S.S. Netanyahu.

Just because the peace plan has no chance of bringing about, you know, peace, does not mean it will have no effect, however. As Politico's Nahal Toosi (and others) wrote on Tuesday, the proposal may change the terms of the discussion in Israel, leaving them less willing to make certain key concessions to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian trust in the United States as a neutral arbiter has been damaged, perhaps irreparably. So, the Trump peace plan probably did change the odds of peace coming to that part of the world, just not in the right direction. (Z)

Casualty Figures for Iran Strike Revised Upward

Speaking of actions taken in the Middle East with an eye toward short-term political gain, but with little regard for any possible long-term pain for the United States, the Trump Administration has once again revised the casualty figures for the allegedly casualty-free Iranian strike on a U.S. base in Iraq. We're now up to 50 soldiers who suffered traumatic brain injuries, some of them serious enough that they have been returned to the United States for extended hospitalizations.

It is possible that one or two folks might suffer a concussion or other brain injury, and that injury might not manifest symptoms for a day or two or three. There is no chance that it could happen with 50 people. What that means is that when Trump announced that there were no casualties, he either was lying, or he was deliberately not looking for information he didn't want to know. Either way, it was dishonest, which is—of course—par for the course for him. It raises the question of exactly how serious the casualties in that attack actually were. Will we learn in a week or two that there were actually fatalities? Maybe. Meanwhile, should Trump decide to get violent again, one should take any claims he makes about damage to the adversary, or about lack of damage to the United States, with a barrel of salt. (Z)

Deficit Officially Reaches $1 Trillion

Everyone knew this moment was coming once Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress adopted a tax bill that gave very generous breaks to corporations and wealthy people without trimming expenses in any meaningful way. And now, it has arrived. On Tuesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office announced that the federal budget deficit for this year will exceed $1 trillion.

As a practical matter, there is not much difference between a $995 billion deficit and a $1 trillion deficit. However, human beings have a propensity to take particular notice of round numbers. Economists have a term for it: they call it the "round number bias." Yes, they worked very hard on that name. There was a time, many years ago, when the United States crossed a similar kind of threshold. In 1890, with Republican Benjamin Harrison in the White House, the federal government's budget (not the deficit) crossed $1 billion for the first time. Democrats were outraged, arguing that the Republican-controlled White House and Congress had squandered the strong economy of Harrison's Democratic predecessor, Grover Cleveland, and were now being careless with the people's money in an effort to compensate:

The cartoon shows Benjamin
Harrison dumping a bag labeled '$100 million surplus left by Grover Cleveland' into a hole labeled 'billion dollars in the

Perhaps this basic line of attack sounds familiar. In any case, the $1 trillion deficit might just become a potent sound bite for the Democrats in 2020, particularly if they also remind folks of Trump's promises to balance the budget and to pay off the national debt. (Z)

Democratic Senate PAC Raised $61M in 2019

And continuing on the money theme, Senate Majority PAC, the PAC that works for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), raised $61 million in 2019. That's a record haul for the committee, by a large margin, and also outdistances the take of its direct rival, Mitch McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund, by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

In an era of fractured TV audiences, and cheap and effective online advertising, it's a little hard to know how much that cash will help the Democrats as they try to gain three (or four) seats and thus control of the Senate. The one thing that we can say confidently, however, is that money is a good proxy for enthusiasm. And if Democratic voters are getting their credit cards out to the tune of $60 million in an off year, then it means they feel pretty good about their chances of demoting McConnell. (Z)

GOP Braces for Collins Run

Speaking of Democratic enthusiasm, Team Blue also has to be feeling good about the messy situation that is already developing in the race for the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson. The Republican establishment wants Gov. Brian Kemp's (R-GA) appointee, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), as their candidate. They believe, with good reason, that she is the most electable option at a time when suburban women are deserting the GOP in droves. The Trump Rump, on the other hand, wants Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who signaled on Monday that he's jumping into the race. And so, the lines for a battle royale are already forming.

When we first noted Collins' de facto entry into the race on Monday, we overlooked something rather significant that reader R.Z. in Atlanta brought to our attention: Because the seat is considered "open" under the terms of Georgia law, there will be no primary. Any candidate who qualifies will be on the ballot on Nov. 3, which means Collins and Loeffler will be fighting with each other right up until the bitter end. That means that if the Democrats can settle on a single candidate (no guarantee), they might just win the seat outright on Election Day. More likely, however, is that there will be a runoff between the top two finishers on Jan. 5, 2021. That kind of timeline would leave the remaining Republican with no time to pivot to the center, no time to raise additional funds, and no time to heal the breach in their caucus. If control of the Senate rests on that election, which is well within the realm of possibility, it will be very interesting, indeed. (Z)

Republicans Nervous about House Fundraising

It's not just the Senate where the GOP is getting bad news, including on the money front, these days. Holding the Senate is going to be tough; retaking the House is an even longer shot. And as they try to do it, the money (and, by extension, the voter enthusiasm) do not appear to be there.

The fundraising for the DCCC and the NRCC for 2019 is in, and it's not especially close. Team Blue took in $125 million, while Team Red collected $85 million. Our back-of-the-envelope math (sorry, the staff mathematician is on vacation) tells us that's a gap of $40 million. Not good, and even the most prominent Republican in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted it, noting "They are kicking our ass." He didn't say that for public consumption; it was at a private meeting of Republican pooh-bahs. But you know how long things like that remain secret these days.

It can be rather difficult to judge the two parties' fundraising numbers, as there are so many places people can give their hard-earned cash: individual candidates, the parties themselves, party-aligned PACs, non-aligned PACs, politically oriented activist/charitable groups, politically oriented fiber art projects, and so forth. Often, you end up comparing apples to oranges. However, apples to apples comparisons—equivalent Senate PACs, equivalent House PACs, Democratic presidential candidates vs. Donald Trump, House Democrats as a group vs. House Republicans as a group—are fair game and are usually instructive. And in each comparison, going down the list, the Democrats are in the lead, by a fair stretch. Even the Democratic big money (e.g., Michael Bloomberg) appears to be on the rise, while the Republican big money (e.g., the Kochs) appears to be on the wane. This is probably better evidence than even the polls that, at least at the moment, 2020 is shaping up to be a good year for the Democrats. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan28 Trump Defense Hit with a Lightning Bolton
Jan28 Democratic Muckety Mucks Are Scared Witless of Sanders
Jan28 Which Democratic Candidate Is Being Hurt Most by Having to Be in Washington?
Jan28 Supreme Court Gives Trump a Victory on Immigration
Jan28 Pompeo Situation Is Turning Ugly
Jan28 Collins Expected to Run for Senate
Jan27 John Bolton Is Complicating Things for Trump....
Jan27 ...And So Is Lev Parnas
Jan27 Nadler Will Miss Part of the Impeachment Trial Due to Wife's Cancer
Jan27 Pompeo Melts Down
Jan27 Sanders Is on a Roll
Jan27 Des Moines Register Endorses Warren
Jan27 Buttigieg Appears on Fox News
Jan26 Trump Team Begins to Lay Out Its Case
Jan26 Sunday Mailbag
Jan25 Democrats Conclude their Case
Jan25 Saturday Q&A
Jan24 And the Beat Goes On
Jan24 Next Week, Trump Will Try to Change the Narrative...
Jan24 ...This Week, on the Other Hand
Jan24 Who Are the Vulnerable GOP Senators?
Jan23 Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case
Jan23 Democrats Nix Witness Trade
Jan23 Poll: Slight Majority Wants to See Trump Removed from Office
Jan23 Poll: Sanders Moves into the Lead Nationally
Jan23 Clinton Walks Back Comment about Sanders
Jan23 Gabbard Sues Clinton
Jan23 Time to End Newspaper Endorsements?
Jan22 You Win Some, You Lose Some
Jan22 Clinton Slams Sanders
Jan22 SCOTUS Won't Hear Obamacare Case Until Next Year
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part I: A New Travel Ban
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part II: Andrew Peek
Jan22 Boy, Trump Really Is Unpopular
Jan21 McConnell Finally Reveals Impeachment Rules
Jan21 Emoluments? What Emoluments?
Jan21 About Trump's Popularity with Republicans...
Jan21 ...Which Leaves No Room for a "NeverTrump" Challenger
Jan21 And Then There's Trump's Popularity with Black Voters
Jan21 Biden Doing Well in Iowa
Jan21 Where Will the Trump Presidential Library Be?
Jan20 Battle over Impeachment Trial Witnesses Heats Up
Jan20 Trump Has His Defense Team
Jan20 Klobuchar and Yang Supporters May Be Kingmakers in Iowa
Jan20 White College-Educated Democrats Can't Make Up Their Minds
Jan20 New York Times Makes Double Endorsement
Jan20 Jayapal Endorses Sanders
Jan20 Supreme Court Meets the Electoral College
Jan19 Sunday Mailbag
Jan18 Saturday Q&A