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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Pompeo Plot Thickens
      •  Burr Plot Thickens, Too
      •  Trump Is Taking Hydroxychloroquine
      •  The One-Two Punch: Eric Trump...
      •  ...and Donald Trump Jr.
      •  Trump Is Doing Well in Swing States...or Not
      •  Oregon Stay-at-Home Order Is Struck Down
      •  Biden Will Cancel Keystone Pipeline
      •  Val Demings' Star Is Rising
      •  Today's Presidential Polls

Pompeo Plot Thickens

Back in the 1970s, it really was possible for a president to blunt the coverage of damaging news by announcing it over the weekend. Network newscasts attracted far fewer viewers than on weekdays, and Sunday editions of newspapers had to be put to bed very early because of their industrial-sized length. In a world with cable news, Twitter, and the Internet, however, that is no longer true. Perhaps Donald Trump will eventually figure out that trying to do his dirty work on Friday nights just increases the attention he gets, because it's like a bright red flashing alarm that he's trying to pull something. So it is with the termination of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Friday; a maneuver that has already turned into a burgeoning scandal.

There were at least two pieces of news on this front on Monday. The first is that, as rumored, Linick was indeed looking into a complaint that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used department staff to run inappropriate personal errands, including dog walking and dry-cleaning pickup. The second is that Pompeo told reporters that Linick was fired at his request, because the IG was "undermining" the State Department. When asked for details about what exactly that means, Pompeo declined to answer.

At the very least, this is pretty swampy, with Trump covering Pompeo's rear end by firing Linick and Pompeo covering Trump's rear end by taking responsibility. However, it's also just a little hard to accept that this is the complete, unvarnished truth. If Trump and Pompeo believe they are invulnerable, then why should they care about the results of Linick's investigation? And if they believe they are not invulnerable, how could they possibly believe that "the Secretary was caught sending people to walk his dog" would do more damage than "the Secretary and the President conspired to eliminate any meaningful oversight of the Secretary's behavior"? Surely, by any standard of judgment, the latter is several standard deviations more corrupt than the former.

At risk of sounding conspiratorial, it sure looks like the dog-walking story is a red herring, and the truth is something more substantial. The news also broke on Monday that Linick had nearly completed an investigation into last year's $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, consummated without congressional approval with the excuse that it was "an emergency." This may be what the President and the Secretary were actually trying to bury. It certainly makes more sense, since it's a more serious matter, and so more worth taking a risk to try and bury. Further, unlike the dog-walking story, it potentially implicates both men. Trump doesn't usually stick his neck out unless that is the neck he's trying to save.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has declared that he will "try to get to the bottom" of the whole matter. Maybe he actually will, though Republicans have often been strong in words but soft in action during the Trump presidency, so don't hold your breath. House Democrats also said they're going to look into it, and surely Linick will be happy to respond to their subpoena. So, this story is not going away, despite the attempt to bury it. (Z)

Burr Plot Thickens, Too

There's also a bit more news about Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee last week after plausible accusations of, and an FBI investigation into, insider trading in violation of the STOCK Act. As it turns out, he has conducted quite a few transactions that involved companies with business before his committee. In other words, companies where he had inside information.

Nothing has been conclusively proven yet, but right now there are an awful lot of coincidences. The curious pattern of the Senator's pre-COVID-19 stock transactions. That he bought and sold stocks with laser-like precision after getting information about the looming COVID-19 pandemic. That his brother-in-law showed the same sort of Buffet-like insight on exactly the same day. That Burr is retiring soon, and so has some motivation to get while the gettin's good. He certainly seems to have dug quite a hole for himself; the questions now are if he has to resign in time for a replacement to be voted on in November, and whether his junior colleague Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) or his colleague to the south Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) is affected by the swampy stench that Burr is currently emitting.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has suggested, with at least a little bit of exasperation in his voice, that maybe members of Congress should not be allowed to own stocks, or that they should be allowed to invest in only mutual funds. That actually sounds pretty good to us if they are restricted to very broad funds and not funds focused on specific industries, sectors of the economy, or foreign countries. Given that it is nearly impossible for individual investors to outperform mutual funds long-term, and given that members of Congress are supposed to be kinda busy, and given the potential for abuse when members are allowed to trade stocks individually, this seems to be a situation where elected officials would suffer very minor pain in exchange for very large gains in terms of integrity and reducing corruption.

With that said, for those who are not fans of corruption, there is a little bit of good news. The possibility has been suggested, including by some of our readers this weekend, that the Burr investigation was instigated by the Trump administration as a way of keeping the Senator from finishing his investigation into Russian election interference. If that was indeed the plan, it didn't work, as submitting his final report for declassification review was one of the last things Burr did before stepping down. So, the report is going to find its way into the hands of folks in Congress, and may even see the light of day. (Z)

Trump Is Taking Hydroxychloroquine

On Monday, Donald Trump held a semi-press conference at the White House. That is his preferred format, because it means he can leave if the questions get too tough. And during that time, the President casually mentioned that he's been taking hydroxychloroquine for a week, so as to prevent his getting COVID-19. "A lot of good things have come out," the President said. "You'd be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front-line workers. Before you catch it."

It is becoming quite difficult to keep track of the White House's official story as regards the science of COVID-19. As far was we can tell:

  • The scientists were wrong when they warned Trump to do something about COVID-19 back in January, but...
  • The scientists were right when they said the disease probably emerged in China, but...
  • The scientists were wrong when they said Trump should wear a mask, but...
  • The scientists were right when they said everyone else in the White House should wear a mask, but...
  • The scientists were wrong when they said Trump should self-quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19...
  • The scientists were right when they said everyone who interacts with Trump should get tested regularly...
  • The scientists were wrong when they said hydroxychloroquine has not proven to be a treatment for COVID-19, and it may even be harmful

Trying to keep the party line straight really makes one's head spin.

In any event, Trump's admission is yet more evidence that he knows this thing is more serious than his public pronouncements would suggest. That said, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial for the second time today, we wonder if we're getting the full, unvarnished truth here. Yes, the President is prone to believing things unsupported by evidence, and so he may well have persuaded himself that hydroxychloroquine is his own, personal, magic COVID-19 shield. On the other hand, he's a germophobe who is not generally willing to take these sorts of prophylactic steps to protect his health, especially when it might, you know, kill him. So, this might be a lie, designed to bolster his claims that the drug really is a magic pill. Alternatively, maybe he inadvertently gave everyone a clue that he's already got COVID-19, and he's begun a Trump-prescribed course of treatment. We shall see if a different truth than the one currently being offered by the President leaks out in the next week or two.

If Trump does get COVID-19 and ends up in an ICU, possibly as a precautionary measure, it will be interesting to see if he invokes the 25th Amendment and hands the ball off to Mike Pence. Admitting that he is not capable of doing something is not his style, but if he is offline for a week without putting Pence in charge, then no one is in charge and America's enemies might just take notice. (Z)

The One-Two Punch: Eric Trump...

There aren't too many limits to what Donald Trump will say if he thinks he's helping himself and generating some useful publicity. But there do appear to be a few lines he would prefer not to cross, presumably because he knows that he'll be peppered with unanswerable questions, perhaps even by the Fox Newses of the world. Fortunately for the President, there are absolutely no limits to what his sons will say when given their marching orders.

The PR problem of the moment, of course, is COVID-19. There are now about 92,000 Americans dead, according to the official numbers. Undoubtedly the true total is already above 100,000, and the official total will get to six figures sometime late this month. That is a bad look, since that means the country has left the years-long Vietnam War in the rearview mirror in just a matter of months (with the much larger, also-years-long World War I on deck). Further, the U.S. has a little more than 4% of the world's population and yet nearly 28% of the world's deaths. Sooner or later, Donald Trump is going to have to explain that, and he's going to need an explanation that doesn't involve his own mismanagement.

To that end, the administration is currently putting two non-presidential scapegoats out there. The first of these is predictable; it's the CDC, which is being accused of having "let the country down" by not having enough testing capacity when COVID-19 hit. You might point out that they begged and pleaded with the White House for help prepping back in January, but, well...details, details.

The second non-presidential scapegoat is...the American people. This is the explanation being championed by HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who appeared on Jake Tapper's CNN program "State of the Union" to opine that COVID-19 is so bad in the U.S. because "we are unhealthier than the rest of the world." There's probably some truth to that, but usually pointing the finger at the voters themselves in the midst of a crisis is not a winning strategy. Abraham Lincoln did not wax poetic about four score and seven pounds ago; FDR did not run in 1944 on the message that the war would have already ended if Americans had just gotten off their fat, lazy rear ends; and Bill Clinton did not win the White House by declaring "It's the BMIs, stupid."

Anyhow, Eric Trump is a part of the official Trump administration COVID-19 finger-pointing team. It was on Fox News, naturally, that young Trump went off the deep end this weekend. Speaking to Jeanine Pirro, he declared:

And they think they're taking away Donald Trump's greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time, right? So they will and you watch. They'll milk it every single day between now and November 3, and guess what? After November 3, coronavirus, will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.

There is so much nonsense there, it's hard to know where to start. On the less consequential side, the President has never been able to consistently attract a crowd of that size to his rallies, which is why he favors smaller venues (small and full looks better on camera than large and half-empty). We're also unpersuaded that the rallies, attracting true believers as they do, have much impact at all, much less being the Donald's "greatest tool."

More significantly, of course, it is full-on nuts to suggest that blue-state governors' stay-at-home orders exist solely (or even partly) to prevent Trump rallies. We would be interested to hear, for example, about exactly which rallies scheduled for the shut down state of California were foiled, especially since he has never once held a rally in California as President. And truthfully, it's more than full-on nuts to make this claim, it's offensive—it dishonors the more than 90,000 dead Americans, as well as their friends and families, to so cavalierly use them as a political prop like this. Of course, that's just par for the course for the family Trump. (Z)

...and Donald Trump Jr.

And speaking of the family Trump, it is typically Don Jr., and not Eric, who is called on to say the things that even Poppy Trump can't say. While Eric was on Fox News this weekend spreading conspiracy theories, Don Jr. was on the "beat Biden" beat. The Trumps know they can't quite go after Biden on the Tara Reade situation, as that reminds folks of Don Sr.'s own checkered record. And so, Junior instead went on Instagram this weekend and implied that Biden is a pedophile. When called on it, Don Jr. claimed it was "a joke," but it's also entirely consistent with an ongoing right-wing meme campaign wherein photos of Biden with children are doctored and/or cropped to make it seem as if something untoward is going on.

There is, of course, no actual evidence whatsoever of Biden being inappropriate with children. In fact, if we are searching for a political party that has been willing to look the other way with candidates credibly accused of such behavior, well, that party is not the Democrats. In any event, what the Trumps know—and put into practice in 2016—is that if you say enough nasty things about your opponent, even if few or none of them are true, you can create a general air of corruption, dishonesty, unfitness, etc. And the family is much more desperate in 2020 than they were in 2016, so things figure to be even nastier. Which means the nastiest presidential campaign in U.S. history, most likely (and that is saying something).

The problem for the Trumps, and the thing that they undoubtedly don't want to hear, is that when there is a sitting president, the election is primarily a referendum on that person. And so, while the 2016 playbook worked well in 2016, when Americans were choosing someone new to sit in the big chair, it's not likely to work as well in 2020, even if applied more aggressively. Put another way, slamming Joe Biden six ways to Sunday isn't going to matter all that much if the COVID-19 death total keeps rising and the economy keeps declining, and that's before we consider all the other baggage the President has. (Z)

Trump Is Doing Well in Swing States...or Not

CNN is the latest outlet to publish a poll finding that while voters on the whole prefer Joe Biden (51% to 46%) to Donald Trump, voters in battleground states prefer Trump (52% to 45%).

We are not entirely sure what to make of polls like this, especially since they don't break their numbers down by state. After all, it could be the case that Trump has a small lead across all of the battleground states, or it could be that he's well ahead in a few of them. Those scenarios would both produce the same polling result (but, most likely, a very different electoral result). On top of that, CNN's finding in the swing states cannot be reconciled with the state-level polls that we're seeing. You could go through our database, and take Trump's best recent poll in each of the 15 battleground states (as the list is defined by CNN), and he still wouldn't be up 7 points on Joe Biden. We have to wonder if their model of the electorate is a little wonky.

Affirming our sense that the CNN poll has missed the bullseye (and also affirming the previous item, as well) is this piece from Politico, for which they talked to a dozen prominent Republicans (former governors, members of Congress, party leaders) in the battleground states. Those folks are in agreement that the President is on shaky ground, and also that "Joe Biden is bad" is not going to be enough to get him reelected. Over and over, they used the same word we did, namely "referendum." And they are particularly concerned about the Midwestern states of Michigan and Wisconsin and the not Midwestern state of Pennsylvania. While the plural of anecdote is not "data," it is the case that the pros' sense of things lines up much better with the state-by-state polling data than these odd polls that treat the battleground states as one cohesive entity. (Z)

Oregon Stay-at-Home Order Is Struck Down

Another day, another dead stay-at-home order. Last week, it was judges in Wisconsin who told a Democratic governor to shove it. Monday, it was a single judge in Oregon, the Baker County Circuit Court's Matt Shirtcliff, who said the same to Gov. Kate Brown (D). His conclusion was that Brown lacks the authority to issue such orders, and that only the legislature can make such rules. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Shirtcliff was appointed to his post by a Democrat. In fact, he was appointed by Brown. Traitor!

Undoubtedly, there will be some variance based on state law, but we now have a court that is about as unfriendly to the governor as possible (Wisconsin) and one that is about as friendly to the governor as possible (Oregon), and they've both reached the same conclusion. It's only a sample size of two, but it suggests that the majority of the lawsuits pending in other states will conclude in the same manner.

Should that come to pass, things will get...interesting. Undoubtedly, Republican-controlled legislatures will not exercise the authority that, apparently, only they have. Will Democratic-controlled legislatures? Maybe, though it's clear that even in blue states politicians are feeling the pressure to reopen. And if a bunch of states throw the doors wide open because the courts say they have to, and then there is a spike in COVID-19 cases (something already happening in re-opened states, by the way), then what? Will the legislatures finally take action? Or will thousands of Typhoid Marys be allowed to wander the streets unfettered because that is somehow an expression of "liberty"? It is interesting that after 9/11, which left about 3,000 Americans dead, people were willing to accept all sorts of new infringements on their freedom without much pushback. Now, with thirty times that many dead (and counting), the country is suddenly full of militant civil libertarians. (Z)

Biden Will Cancel Keystone Pipeline

As long as we are on the subject of national dysfunction, let us also note Joe Biden's campaign said on Monday that, if elected, he will "yank" the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, effectively ending the project. Coupled with the creation of the global warming task force chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), this is part of a clear effort by the campaign to reach out to environmentalist, progressive, and young voters.

That's not where the dysfunction lies, though. No, to discuss that, let us first recall that there are arguments in favor of the pipeline, most notably that it will create some jobs, be good for the economy, and reduce U.S. dependence on oil imported from unstable countries. There are also arguments against the pipeline, most notably that it will despoil Native American lands, will do environmental damage to the places where it is constructed, and will do environmental damage to the planet as a whole by facilitating the consumption of more fossil fuels. The point is that reasonable minds can disagree, so much so that it took the Obama administration a fair bit of time to decide on its official Keystone policy (opposed).

Since that time, Keystone has become—like virtually every other issue—a litmus test. Democrats oppose it, at least in part on the merits, but also because that is what Democrats do. Republicans favor it, at least in part on the merits, but also because that is what Republicans do. Obama foresaw this; in his remarks announcing the veto of the Keystone XL bill, he said "the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others."

There was a time that, when controversial issues arose, politicians in both parties would try to find a middle ground acceptable to a majority of them. Yes, there were some issues where the gap could not be bridged, but now it's pretty much all issues. And because a chamber of Congress controlled by one party won't pass much of anything coming from the other party, it encourages presidents to govern via executive orders and other bureaucratic maneuvering. That has the benefit of avoiding total gridlock, but it has the downside that as soon as the White House changes hands, most of those decisions go up in smoke.

Back in the day when there was some sort of consensus on most issues, especially the biggies—say, the threat posed by the Russians—it was possible for the country to maintain a consistent posture on those issues even as the presidency was handed off from one party to the other. But now, any decision made or agreement reached by Barack Obama is likely to last only until the end of his term. The same for Donald Trump or Joe Biden (if he's elected). And that, in turn, makes it rather difficult for private entities to commit to things like long-term infrastructure projects, or for foreign governments to commit to things like climate-change treaties. If the U.S. can't adhere to anything that needs to remain in force for more than 4 or 8 years, that surely is not good for the long-term health of the country. (Z)

Val Demings' Star Is Rising

The vice-presidential candidate sweepstakes remains in full effect. Last week, the candidate du jour was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). This week, it is apparently Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). She is black, a forceful public speaker, and has already occupied the national stage a bit (as one of the impeachment managers). So, she checks a lot of the same boxes as Harris. Unlike Harris, Demings does not have the baggage of having overseen prosecutions that many Democrats find too vigorous for their taste. However, she was chief of police in Orlando, which may be a real plus for anti-Trump, law-and-order Republicans in Florida and elsewhere. Further, while the Senator comes from the already-in-the-bag state of California, the Representative comes from the biggest and juiciest of swing states, where she and her husband are both prominent political leaders.

At this point, all of this is just trial ballooning to see how voters respond to the various possibilities. Nonetheless, even though we are working with a sample size of just two again (like the lawsuits in the item above), it is probably instructive that it was Harris and Demings whose names were the first to be floated. It possibly suggests that Biden is leaning toward a black running mate (sorry, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-MN, and Elizabeth Warren, D-MA). It also might suggest that he wants someone with Washington experience (sorry, Stacey Abrams).

On the other hand, it might suggest nothing at all other than Biden needs a way to stay in the news, and playing the veep-of-the-week game might be a way. He certainly needs to convince black women that he has binders full of black women, even if he ends up picking plain vanilla Amy Klobuchar or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). If that's the game Biden is playing, expect leaks in the future about the top two possible Latina running mates, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Colorado is one of the 15 battleground states in the CNN poll we discuss above (the full list is Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin). How can Trump be down 13 points in the Centennial State, not to mention being way down in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Maine, among others, and yet be up 7 across the battleground states as a whole? Something just doesn't add up. The kind of group poll CNN ran (see above) is pointless. It should do either national polls or state polls or both. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Colorado 53% 40% May 07 May 11 Global Strategy

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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