• Clinton Slams Sanders
• SCOTUS Won't Hear Obamacare Case Until Next Year
• Under the Radar, Part I: A New Travel Ban
• Under the Radar, Part II: Andrew Peek
• Boy, Trump Really Is Unpopular
The first full non-ceremonial day of the impeachment trial took place yesterday. It was mostly 100 U.S. Senators arguing and demonstrating their expertise in parliamentary procedure. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Democrats got some of what they wanted, but not everything, albeit with the early edge going to McConnell.
To start, the biggest development of the day, and the biggest victory for the Democrats, was that McConnell backed off his plan to hold marathon 12-hour trial sessions. Instead, the prosecution and defense cases will each be presented over three 8-hour days. In addition, it will be slightly easier for the House impeachment managers to introduce the evidence they collected. Previously, the senators had to vote to allow any particular bit of evidence. Now, evidence will be allowed automatically, unless the senators specifically vote to disallow it.
That was the end of the victories for the Democrats, though. Led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), they introduced nearly a dozen different amendments to the impeachment procedures, most significantly one that would have opened the door for former NSA John Bolton to testify. All of the amendments were voted down, generally on a straight party-line vote.
So, what happened, here? That is to say, McConnell usually rules his caucus with an iron fist. And he said he had the votes to get the rules approved, as he wrote them. Clearly, that was not entirely true, as it was pushback from several GOP senators, led by Susan Collins (ME), that forced him to change course. Undoubtedly, Collins & Co. did not care for the optics of holding impeachment hearings that stretch deep into the night, and they also did not care for the thought of sitting still for 12 hours. The point is, there is now at least a small chink in the Majority Leader's armor.
What remains to be seen is how big that chink in the armor grows by the time the Senate holds its next vote on witnesses. While it is true that the senators gave the thumbs down to Bolton, et al., on Tuesday, what they really did was punt the decision into the future. They will make a decision once the two sides have presented their cases, and then the senators have has their 16 hours of question-asking. In other words, the final decision will be made sometime late next week.
Obviously, McConnell will do everything he can to stop witnesses from being called. However, he's working with a pretty thin margin of error, and polls are not a source of good news for him. For example, CNN's latest reveals that 86% of Democrats, 69% of independents, and even 48% of Republicans want to hear from additional witnesses. That's going to make it awfully hard to announce "We thought about it, and we see no need for further witnesses!" And that's before the impeachment managers have put on their case, and shared any aces they might have up their sleeves. For what it is worth, Donald Trump's legal team suspects and fears that Bolton ultimately will testify, and they are already maneuvering to have that happen behind closed doors.
In any event, the rules are set, at least for now. Today, the House managers will begin presenting their case, and we'll see if they do indeed have any surprises in store. (Z)
Anyone who thought Hillary Clinton would go gentle into that good night has not been paying attention recently, as she's been anywhere and everywhere, opining on anything and everything. There is a new documentary about her life premiering this week at Sundance. The Hollywood Reporter got a sneak peek, and it turns out that Clinton said a mouthful about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the segment about the election of 2016. More than a mouthful, in fact. Her exact words:
He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him [in 2016]. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It's all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.
The Reporter talked to Clinton after the viewing. She said she stood by that assessment, and in the interview, she refused to commit to supporting Sanders if he's the Democratic nominee (although later in the day on Tuesday, she affirmed that she will support anyone the Democrats nominate).
Naturally, Clinton was widely attacked after this news broke, with the two primary criticisms being: (1) She's helping make it more likely for Donald Trump to be re-elected, and (2) that this is all sour grapes, and it's time for her to move on, as it's been more than three years since she lost to Trump. The first is a matter of opinion, and reasonable people can disagree; but the second is almost certainly not correct. Clinton has been biting her tongue for 30 years, and is capable of continuing to do so, as needed. No, this wasn't sour grapes, it was a maneuver as calculated as anything she did while she was still officially in the politics business. She clearly believes two things: (1) that Sanders could plausibly become the nominee, and (2) that his nomination would be a bad thing, making a Trump victory more likely. Although he has handled it with more subtlety, Barack Obama has made clear behind closed doors that he is in agreement.
In any event, neither Clinton nor Obama will be on the ballot this year, or any future year. So the important question, as far as 2020 is concerned, is: How does this affect Sanders' chances? CNN's Chris Cillizza, for one, thinks that Clinton just gave the Vermont Senator a great gift. He writes that Sanders has made the case that he's an outsider who is hated by "the establishment," and Clinton's disdain (not to mention Obama's) just proves that he's right, and strengthens his argument.
We agree with Cillizza that Clinton's remarks fit very nicely with Sanders' narrative. We're not so sure that helps him, though. The folks who are open to that argument are already on board Team Bernie, and are already highly enthusiastic about him. What new votes will he gain as a result of this new criticism? We're not seeing a good answer to that question. He will probably inherit much of the "Yang Gang," if and when Andrew Yang drops out, but that has little to do with Clinton.
On the other hand, it could be in the near future that supporters of other candidates, particularly Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) will be shopping for a new candidate and won't like what they are seeing in Sanders. It has been our view that Sanders' handling of the "a woman can't be president" situation did him more harm than good with fence sitters, particularly women fence sitters. It is very possible that Clinton's assessment will hurt him with those same fence-sitters, and will send them into the Joe Biden camp.
For what it's worth, Sanders clearly does not think Tuesday's news works to his benefit, as he labored behind the scenes throughout the day to encourage his supporters to let it go. They surely won't, as they loathe Clinton with a white-hot passion. So we are definitely going to learn, once the polls and ballots tell us, whether Sanders will surge, sink, or stay steady in response to these spats with prominent female Democrats. (Z)
All the Republican state AGs, supported by the Trump administration, are trying to kill Obamacare through the use of a loophole, of sorts. The law requires that people who don't have insurance pay a special tax. In the tax bill that gave a trillion bucks to corporations and rich people, the GOP set the Obamacare tax to zero. The argument is that now that the tax is zero, the law is invalid. The Republican AGs got a favorable ruling from federal judge Reed O'Connor, but that isn't terribly instructive, as he's an ultra-conservative George W. Bush appointee whose legal reasoning in the case was flayed by both pro- and anti-Obamacare legal scholars.
That means that the hot potato is on its way to the Supreme Court, undoubtedly for a 5-4 decision of some sort. On Tuesday, SCOTUS denied Democrats' request to fast-track the case. That means that there will be no final resolution until after this year's elections.
That news was a relief to Trump and his supporters, as it blunts the ability of Democrats to use healthcare as a wedge issue. It certainly says something interesting that the President wants a particular outcome, but not until after voters can't punish him for it. Anyhow, it's true that a strike-down of the ACA would have provided the blue team with a potent weapon. That said, they will still be able to argue—credibly—that the President and his party want to take away the health insurance of millions of Americans. So, the SCOTUS announcement on Tuesday probably just turned a big sledgehammer into a medium-sized sledgehammer. But a medium-sized sledgehammer is still a sledgehammer. (Z)
We have suggested that one way in which the Trump administration may turn lemons into lemonade with the impeachment trial will be to sneak a few things in under the radar while the nation's attention is elsewhere. We now have our first candidate for such suspicions: the President is considering an expansion of his travel ban, to possibly include some visitors from Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
The White House refused to explain its thinking, beyond confirming the possibility of an expanded list, and the additional countries under consideration. We would suggest skepticism is warranted, however. The administration never made much of a case for the original travel ban(s), and it continues to exclude some rather obvious entries, like Saudi Arabia. One also has to wonder exactly what clear and present danger is presented by, say, Belarus, or by Kyrgyzstan.
The cynic in us notes, on the other hand, that Trump needs things to brag about at all the rallies he's got scheduled this year, and that Nigeria is chock-full of black people, Muslims, and black Muslims, Further, Trump has said racist things about that nation in the past, like claiming that whenever Nigerians come to the U.S., they never "go back to their huts." If the administration can escape as much scrutiny as possible (and this story is getting very little coverage from non-right-wing outlets), and can use a Belarus or a Myanmar to avoid charges of anti-Muslim bias, they can give the President some red, red meat to deploy during campaign season. (Z)
Actually, Tuesday gave us two entries for the "is this being snuck by during the impeachment?" file. Andrew Peek worked many years for the State Department, primarily on issues related to Iran and Iraq. A couple of months ago, he moved over to the White House to serve as the National Security Council's senior director for European and Russian affairs. He's not in the White House anymore, though, as he was escorted off the premises on Monday. The administration says that they are awaiting the results of a pending "security-related investigation."
It's entirely possible that something came up during Peek's background checks, and that the White House's story is true. That said, it would be awfully hard for someone to work for the State Department for years, and to work for Army intelligence before that, with some major skeleton in their closet. Further, "we need to do some more work on your background check" does not generally lead to a forcible ejection from the White House.
There are two alternate, more conspiratorial explanations out there. The first is that Peek did something problematic/embarrassing, and Team Trump is sneaking him out the back door while nobody is looking. The second is that Peek is prepared to sing like a canary about something (or has already sung), and he's being booted at a time when there won't be too many uncomfortable questions about why. For what it is worth, the two folks who held Peek's job before him—Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison—both gave testimony unfriendly to the President in the House's impeachment probe. (Z)
In the last two days, five different polling houses (The Hill/HarrisX, Monmouth, Rasmussen Reports, CNN, and Gallup) have released surveys of Donald Trump's job approval. If the President is hoping that impeachment is going to give him a bump, à la Bill Clinton, well, he's certainly not getting it yet.
Here's how the five have it:
|Pollster||Trump Approval||Trump Disapproval||Net Rating|
|The Hill/HarrisX||47%||53%||Disapprove by 6|
|Monmouth||43%||52%||Disapprove by 9|
|Rasmussen Reports||47%||53%||Disapprove by 6|
|CNN||45%||51%||Disapprove by 6|
|Gallup||44%||54%||Disapprove by 10|
Trump's numbers are historic, and not in the way he likes. No president in the polling era (the last 75 years) has ever had such a low ceiling. There have been 995 different Trump approve-disapprove polls, and he's never gotten an approval rating higher than 57%. Even that was only once, and was a Rasmussen poll (Rasmussen famously has a strong pro-Republican house effect, though even that isn't saving Trump these days, as you can see above). If you drop that 57%, which came the week Trump was inaugurated, then his high is a 53%, which he's pulled three times in other Rasmussen polls. And if you drop Rasmussen from the sample, which leaves us with 866 Trump approve-disapprove polls, the President has—amazingly—never even gotten to a 50% approval. His best non-Rasmussen number is a 49%, which he got twice from TheHill/HarrisX, once from USA Today and once from Reuters/IPSOS.
Similarly, out of 995 polls, his approval rating has only been above water 28 times (2.8%). And if we drop the Rasmussen entries, then he's only been above water 11 times (1.3%), never by more than 4 points. On the other hand, he's been 10 or more points underwater, as he is in the current Gallup poll, 606 times.
If Trump were any other president, this would be unsurvivable. The basic rule of thumb has been that a sub-50% approval rating, which he's obviously got, is fatal for an incumbent. However, he's also historic in a manner that confounds the ability of psephologists to make predictions based on these numbers. The gap between his approval among Republicans and his approval among Democrats is far and away the largest ever; for most presidents that gap is in the 40s or maybe 50s, but for Trump it's consistently in the high 70s and low 80s. And that is potentially a survivable situation for him. The 45% or so who consistently support him are all going to be at their polling places on Election Day. The question is how many disapprovers show up to counteract that. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan21 Emoluments? What Emoluments?
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Jan19 Sunday Mailbag
Jan18 Saturday Q&A
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