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What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part I: The Quid Pro Quo

There's a famous story about Franklin D. Roosevelt—we've mentioned it once or twice before—and the speeches he delivered in Pittsburgh in 1932 and 1936. In the 1932 speech, FDR said quite a few things that he would come to regret, like that it was imperative to cut government spending immediately. When preparing for the 1936 speech, the President was trying to figure out a way to give a strongly pro-New Deal address without appearing like a complete hypocrite and flip-flopper. One day, presidential adviser and speechwriter Sam Rosenman said that he had thought of a solution to the problem. FDR was, of course, eager to hear it. "Deny you were ever in Pittsburgh," said Rosenman.

We bring this up because the current administration, although it would hate the thought of following FDR's lead, is particularly enthusiastic about the notion that yesterday's story has no real bearing on today's or tomorrow's. It was late last week when "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney put his foot in his mouth on the Ukraine mess, admitting that aid had been withheld to put pressure on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, which de facto confirmed there was a quid pro quo. On Sunday morning, Mulvaney went on Chris Wallace's show on Fox News, and tried to rewrite history. Blaming the media for taking his remarks out of context, Mick the Knife said, "Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely. But I never said there was a quid pro quo because there isn't." Quite reminiscent of Alan Greenspan's old line: "I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

The first problem here is that while Mulvaney keeps claiming he was misunderstood, he's not providing any sort of alternate explanation (much less a plausible one) for what he meant when he said: "We do that all the time with foreign policy...I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy." On top of that, other details of the story keep changing. For example, during his now-infamous press conference on Thursday, Mulvaney said there were three reasons that the aid to Ukraine was delayed. By Sunday, the list had somehow shrunk to two. Even the friends and supporters of Donald Trump were not impressed with the appearance, with one of them describing it as a "self-immolation," (more below).

Mulvaney was not the only one doing damage control on Sunday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on ABC's "This Week," and was inevitably asked about Mulvaney's quid pro quo admission. Pompeo said that "I never saw that in the decision-making process." Note that is neither a defense of Mulvaney, nor is it an actual denial. Pompeo can afford to be a little more circumspect, because he's not the one on the hot seat, at least at the moment.

In any event, the administration's efforts to fix this mess, and their inability to settle on a single story about what happened, appear to be digging the hole deeper and deeper. Former Ohio governor John Kasich formally endorsed impeachment this weekend. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) conceded that Trump might indeed be impeachable, if more evidence comes out. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) declared that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry had better comply with the House's subpoenas (more on Rooney below). And Wallace, following his Sunday morning chat with Mulvaney, reported that a "well-connected Republican" told him that if Trump is impeached, there is a 20% chance that Senate Republicans will vote to remove him. So, the administration will need to get to work on the newest version of their Ukraine story, because the current version clearly isn't getting it done. (Z)

What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part II: The G-7 and Doral

Ukraine is not the only subject where the Trump administration's story seems to change on a daily basis. When the announcement was made last week that the 2020 meeting of the G-7 would be held at Trump Doral, near Miami, there was near-universal condemnation. The media and the Democrats observed that this appeared to be a crystal clear violation of the domestic emoluments clause of the Constitution. Some Republicans agreed, while others were simply aggravated that Trump would make such an obvious unforced error for them to deal with, in the midst of all the other Trump-related messes they get to help clean up. The administration absolutely insisted that they had looked very carefully at all of the options available, and that Trump Doral was simply the best.

This weekend, however, Team Trump decided it wasn't the best anymore, and abruptly canceled the booking. The President announced the news via Twitter:


So, as with Mick Mulvaney's words being "misunderstood," it's the media's fault. Trump returned to Twitter later in the day to complain that the media did not give any coverage to his offer to host the event free of cost.

Either Trump does not realize, or else does not care, that—yet again—the new story he is telling makes clear that the previous story was a lie. If Doral really and truly was the best option, some public pressure should not change that fact. Further, if there really was a thorough search process that identified Doral as the best option, it should take no time whatsoever to pick an alternative. All the administration would have to do is change to the runner-up choice.

Meanwhile, the current version of events is also full of holes. It was entirely predictable that the choice of Doral would be met with howls of outrage from the Democrats and from commentators in the media. That hasn't affected the administration in the past (see Syria, Ukraine, tax "cuts," meetings with Vlad Putin, gutting the EPA, etc.). Quite clearly, someone in the GOP (Mitch McConnell?) got to Trump and persuaded him that he had created some serious legal exposure for himself here. Also untruthful, by the way, is the President's assertion that the media did not give coverage to his proposal to host the G-7 at cost. Every outlet we saw (at least two dozen of them) wrote about it, but they all pointed out the same thing we did: that there is no viable way for Trump to play host, and not to profit, since even if he comped the rooms he would get the benefit of various improvements made by the government, not to mention tens of millions of dollars in free advertising.

Indeed, Trump may have quieted this subject for now, but that may prove to be a temporary state of affairs. This weekend, Politico reported that Trump, in his private conversations with world leaders, is constantly promoting his properties. Asked about this during his appearance on Fox yesterday morning, Mick Mulvaney did not help things when he explained that he did not see this as a problem, and that Trump "considers himself in the hospitality business." Put another way, Trump may be President, but he's always selling the product(s) of his privately-owned business. This isn't getting quite as much attention as Mulvaney's remarks on Thursday, but it sure looks like another case of the "Acting" Chief of Staff delivering up proof of guilt on a silver platter. (Z)

Life Gets Harder When You're the Frontrunner

Some outlets, like CNN and the Washington Post, now see Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in sole possession of the lead in the race to be the Democratic nominee. Others, including us, have her and Joe Biden as co-frontrunners. Either way, it means a much brighter spotlight on the Senator, her ideas, and the successes of her rivals.

To start, Politico has a story about Warren's relationship with lobbyists. She has one. In fact, a pretty close one. The half-dozen lobbyists that Politico talked to say that trying to get a meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is generally a waste of time, but getting a sit-down with Warren is no problem. "It's not like she hates lobbyists," said one, "That's just not how she operates." Given the Senator's outspoken anti-lobbyist rhetoric, such as her description last month of lobbying as "an industry whose sole purpose is to undermine democracy and tilt every decision in favor of those who can pay," her willingness to play ball with the folks on K Street may seem a little incongruent. It is possible that she only meets with "good" lobbyists, in her view, like Greenpeace and the AARP, and avoids the "bad" ones, like the NRA and ExxonMobil, but she's certainly not making that distinction in her public pronouncements.

Meanwhile, the policy that Warren is most closely associated with is Medicare for All (the original version of which, of course, was written by Sanders). The problem is that Warren has been a little bit fuzzy on how she would pay for it, particularly on the question of whether she would raise taxes on the middle class. Since roughly 70% of Americans identify as middle class, that is no small matter. And while "fuzzy on the details" might get it done for a second- or third-tier candidate, it's not usually tolerable for a frontrunner. Under sustained pressure to bring clarity to the matter, the Senator said this weekend that she would unveil a detailed funding plan "over the next few weeks."

And finally, speaking of Sanders (once again), he held a mega-rally in New York City this weekend. There were 26,000 people in attendance to hear Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) say that the progressive she likes best is the Vermont Senator. If this had been a month ago, this would not have been quite as big a story. But with Warren taking a big lead as the progressive candidate of choice, it's now seen (in part) as a big poke in her eye. There were quite a few headlines like the one Politico had: "Sanders tops Warren with massive New York City rally."

This is probably the optimal time for Warren to move to the head of the pack; she gets some intense scrutiny, but not six months' worth, the way Joe Biden has gotten. She'll have the low-attention holiday season to figure out how to deal with her Achilles' heels, and then the primaries and caucuses will be upon us. That said, just because the timing is pretty good doesn't mean she'll weather the storm. Many a candidate has wilted once the really big target was squarely on his or her back. (Z)

Gabbard and Clinton Take Off the Gloves

While Elizabeth Warren is trying to get used to the yellow jersey, in a manner of speaking, her fellow candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is flailing. Her campaign has never gained traction, and she's not likely to make any future debate cuts. She's also resentful towards the DNC, which she sees as being hostile to her and to her efforts.

During this run, Gabbard has attracted support from a loyal cadre of supporters who largely think that she is not only the best candidate, she's the only one worth supporting (or, alternatively, that she and Bernie Sanders are the only ones worth supporting). She's also attracted much support from Russian troll farms, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It could be that they think she is friendly to their interests (which, at least on Syria, she is). Or, it could merely be that they think that she's a rabble-rouser who will cause the largest disruption among the Democratic candidates. The Russians' support for Gabbard is not in dispute, though it should be clear that there is no evidence the candidate has had any contact with the Russkies, or that she's done anything to encourage them.

That sets the stage for the podcast interview that Hillary Clinton sat for last week, which was first published on Thursday. Clinton follows politics closely, of course, and she knows a little bit about reading between the lines. And so, without naming specific names or suggesting that any American was a willing participant, Clinton opined that the Russians are grooming a Democratic candidate for a third-party run next year, so as to divide the electorate. Later, a Clinton spokesman was asked if the former secretary of state was referring to Gabbard, and the spokesman said, "If the nesting doll fits..."

This sent Gabbard into an absolute rage. She took to Twitter and ripped into both Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, declaring that "You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain." The Representative also accused Clinton and the DNC of orchestrating a conspiracy to undermine her and her campaign. This does little to assuage the criticism that Gabbard is hot-tempered, and has trouble keeping a level head. She apparently does not realize it, but her response also lends credence to the very concern that she's ostensibly seeking to dispel, namely that she's on Team Tulsi and not Team Blue, and that if the only role available to her is mud slinger and grenade thrower, she's open to that. Again, this does not mean she's consciously in cahoots with the Russians, but it does mean she's threatening to do exactly what they want her to do.

If Gabbard does run a third-party campaign, how would she affect things? Hard to say, given that nobody's polled the question. However, there is a fair bit of evidence that she attracts a fair percentage of Republican support, which means that she'd probably have pretty close to zero net effect. She has drawn a pretty strong primary challenger in Hawaii, however—Kai Kahele, who is also a veteran, and is a native Hawaiian—so if Gabbard spends all her time stepping on Democratic toes, she could find herself out of a job when the next Congress takes its seats. (Z)

Felons May Get to Vote in Florida, After All

In 2018, as many readers will recall, Florida voters adopted Amendment 4 by an overwhelming, 32-point margin. The amendment restored voting rights to most felons in the state (folks convicted of murder or sexual assault are the exceptions). Florida Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature as well as the governor's mansion, were none too happy with this. They recognize that the newly re-enfranchised voters would tend to skew Democratic, and that every vote counts in a state where elections often come down to a tenth—or a hundredth—of a percent of the overall vote. So, the state legislature passed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed, SB 7066, which says that convicted felons must repay any court costs or fines they owe before they get to vote again. Inasmuch as those liabilities can easily run into five- or six-figures, SB 7066 mostly nullified Amendment 4.

Until Friday, that is. After the passage of SB 7066, a group of 17 felons filed suit, arguing that the law amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. On Friday, federal judge Robert Hinkle (a Clinton appointee) largely agreed with them, and issued an injunction allowing those 17 folks to cast ballots in 2020. He also said that while the state cannot deprive people of their right to vote for non-payment, it can require them to show that they lack the resources to make restitution prior to them casting their ballots.

Hinkle's ruling, then, is not an unqualified victory for voting-rights advocates, since it applies to only 17 people, and since it allows some conditions to remain in place. However, it does suggest that broader challenges to the law, which are already in progress, will be successful. A little over a million Florida voters are disenfranchised for various reasons, including a staggering 23.2% of black men. Not all of those are felons, but a sizable percentage are. As a reminder, Donald Trump won Florida in 2016 by 112,911 votes, the 2018 gubernatorial race was decided by 32,463 votes, and the 2018 U.S. Senate race was decided by 10,033 votes. (Z)

Mattis Hits Trump Where it Hurts

Former general and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has been largely unwilling to dish any dirt on his onetime boss Donald Trump. Nonetheless, the two men loathe each other, as Mattis reminded everyone during a speech late last week. Among the zingers he fired off at the President's expense:

  • I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor.

  • I'm not just an overrated general. I'm the greatest, the world's most overrated. I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress. So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals, and frankly that sounds pretty good to me. And you do have to admit that between me and Meryl, at least we've had some victories.

  • The only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn't think is overrated is Colonel Sanders.

Direct criticism of a sitting President by former members of the military is not only frowned upon, it can result in a loss of pension. So, Mattis is skirting the rules a bit here by couching his criticism in the form of jokes, while also driving the President—who hates to be mocked—absolutely nuts. At least one of Mattis' fellow former soldiers, CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (ret.) was not impressed, and described the appearance as "totally unprofessional and uncalled for." Maybe so, but it certainly suggests that if the General is ever subpoenaed by Congress, which would allow him to speak his mind without penalty, he'll be happy to oblige. Conveniently, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was present for Mattis' speech, and chatted with him afterward. (Z)

Another Apostate Will Leave the House

One week ago, Francis Rooney suggested that he was open to impeaching Donald Trump. This weekend, Rooney announced that he would retire from the House at the end of his second term, declaring that he originally thought he needed three terms to achieve his goals, "but I think I've done it in less than two."

We would be very interested to hear what "goals" a junior member among 435 can achieve in less than four years. In any event, if Rooney had really wanted a third term, he could have had it. His district (FL-19) is very red (R+13), and Donald Trump won it in a walk in 2016 (60% to 38%). However, continuing his career would have required Rooney to strongly oppose impeachment. Either that was unacceptable to him, or he's not enjoying life in the minority, or both. In any event, it's another Republican who's now free to vote his conscience should the House decide to adopt articles of impeachment. Rooney is the 18th Republican to have announced his retirement so far, as compared to five Democrats. (Z)


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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct20 Sunday Mailbag
Oct19 Saturday Q&A
Oct18 Mike Pence Practices "The Art of the Deal"
Oct18 "Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back
Oct18 Sondland Points the Finger at Giuliani
Oct18 Perry Is Definitely Exiting the Administration
Oct18 2020 G-7 Summit "Awarded" to Trump Doral
Oct18 Biden's Biggest Problem? It Might Be Money
Oct18 Would a Biden Collapse Create a Lane for Another Centrist?
Oct17 Elijah Cummings Has Passed Away
Oct17 The Parade of Witnesses Goes Marching On
Oct17 Trump's Inner Circle Could Be in Big Trouble
Oct17 Trump Is Betting That Isolationism Is a Winner
Oct17 This Is Not Normal Behavior
Oct17 ProPublica: Trump May Have Committed Financial Fraud
Oct17 Senate Democrats Will Force Republicans to Vote on Health Care
Oct17 Ohio Debate Takeaways
Oct16 Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio
Oct16 Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy
Oct16 No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now
Oct16 Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders
Oct16 Aspiring Collins Challenger Is Raking It In
Oct15 Fiona Hill Piqued By Giuliani's Behavior
Oct15 Trump Sanctions Turkey
Oct15 Trump Reportedly Wanted to Release His Tax Returns in 2013
Oct15 Administration Loses another Border Wall Ruling
Oct15 Hunter Biden Tries to Quell the Storm
Oct15 Warren Gets Three Good Polls on the Eve of Debate #4
Oct15 Will the Democrats Find New Ground to Cover Tonight?
Oct14 It's a Real Mess in Syria
Oct14 Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Testify
Oct14 Tomorrow's Debate Could Be Crucial
Oct14 CBS Early States Poll: Warren 31%, Biden 25%, Sanders 17%
Oct14 NBC Poll: 55% Want Impeachment Inquiry
Oct14 If Trump Isn't the 2020 GOP Nominee, Who Might Be?
Oct14 OutFoxed?
Oct14 Warren Buys Facebook Ads to Show the Need for "Censorship"
Oct14 General Election Debate Schedule Is Now Available
Oct14 Louisiana Gubernatorial Race Will Go to a Runoff
Oct13 Sunday Mailbag
Oct12 Three-Judge Panel: Surrender the Tax Returns
Oct12 Yovanovitch Appears Before Congress
Oct12 Giuliani Won't Work on Ukraine-related Matters Anymore
Oct12 Trump Has a (Trade) Deal, Sort Of
Oct12 Kevin McAleenan Quits Team Trump
Oct12 Shephard Smith Quits Fox News
Oct12 Saturday Q&A
Oct11 Two of Giuliani's Buddies Are Arrested
Oct11 Rick Perry Gets Subpoenaed
Oct11 Fox News Poll: 51% of Voters Want Trump Impeached and Convicted