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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Muslim Travel Ban v3.0 Blocked
      •  All Eyes on the Senate as Congress Takes up Taxes
      •  Temporary Agreement on Obamacare Subsidies Reached
      •  Trump Waves His Saber at McCain
      •  Trump Says Obama Did Not Call Kelly After His Son Died
      •  Trump Not as Rich as He Was Last Year
      •  Collins Being Investigated for Insider Trading

Muslim Travel Ban v3.0 Blocked

Beware of those judges on an island out in the ocean. Hours before the third version of President Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban was set to go into effect, Judge Derrick Watson—the same fellow who granted the first injunction against travel ban v2.0—ruled that he would stay the new ban. In his 40-page explanation, Watson found that v3.0 "plainly discriminates based on nationality" and "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor."

The response to the Judge's decision was predictable. Democrats cheered, with Hawaii's attorney general Doug Chin leading the way. "Today is another victory for the rule of law. We stand ready to defend it," he said. The White House expressed irritation, courtesy of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who blasted the ruling as "dangerously flawed." The President has yet to weigh in; that's likely to come via Twitter on Wednesday morning. The DoJ says they will appeal with all due haste, but in the end, this is surely going to wind up in the Supreme Court. And since their docket is full for the current term, it is likely that the fight over the travel ban is going to extend well into a second year. (Z)

All Eyes on the Senate as Congress Takes up Taxes

After the failed effort to repeal Obamacare, Congress will spend much of the remainder of 2017 attempting to overhaul the tax code. It's a tall order under the best of circumstances, not made any easier by the fact that the body has less than 30 days left during which it's scheduled to be in session. GOP bigwigs around Washington predict that the Senate will be the maker or the breaker that decides if the Party is going to be successful.

Absent any other information, one might expect the House to be the real challenge, as it is badly divided between Freedom Caucus budget hawks and more moderate Republicans. However, senators—with their six-year terms—are more likely, on average, to buck the party line. Further, the GOP has a bit of maneuvering room in the House with its 46-member majority, while in the Senate it takes just three Republican defectors to sink a tax bill (now that Thad Cochran, R-MS, is back at work). For these reasons, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said:

We look at the Senate and go: "What the hell is going on?" The House passed health care, the House has already passed its budget, which is the first step of tax reform. The Senate hasn't done any of that. Hell, the Senate can't pass any of our confirmations. You ask me if the Republican-controlled Senate is an impediment to the administration's agenda: All I can tell you is so far, the answer's "yes."

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) concurs. When asked about the biggest barrier to changing the tax code, he answered, "You ever heard of the United States Senate before?"

In the early going, the administration has already gotten some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that two GOP senators, Rand Paul (KY) and Lindsey Graham (SC), are already publicly squabbling about targets for government spending. The strongly-libertarian-leaning Paul prefers to slash funding with a machete, and threatened to vote against any budget or tax plan that does not do so. Graham expressed irritation with a clearly unrealistic position, and observed—rightly—that the GOP should consider Paul's vote a lost cause. "I don't know how long it takes to figure out where this guy is coming from," the South Carolinian said. "He is never getting to yes. He's always got a reason to vote no. We have 51 Republicans plus Rand Paul."

The good news, on the other hand, is that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signaled on Tuesday that he supports the GOP's budget for 2018. Passing that is key to the Party's tax plans, since they plan to use the resolution process to sneak cuts through the Senate on a straight majority vote. "I have long supported efforts to fix our burdensome tax system," McCain declared, "and hope Congress will produce meaningful reform that simplifies the tax code, strengthens America's middle class and boosts our economy."

The GOP and the administration still have a long way to go in less than 30 working days, and again, everyone seems to be overlooking the serious divides that exist within the House. However, if the Republicans can pass the budget that they envision, they will have already made more progress toward changing the tax code than they ever made on the Obamacare front. (Z)

Temporary Agreement on Obamacare Subsidies Reached

In a development that is not too surprising, given that no politician wants to face voters just months after they lose their insurance, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to stabilize Obamacare, at least in the short term. For the next two years, the low-income subsidies that Donald Trump killed last week will be paid, and $100 million will be sunk into outreach and publicity efforts. In exchange for these concessions, favored primarily by Democrats, the Republicans insisted on greater flexibility for states as they decide how to spend the money. Not coincidentally, this two-year arrangement kicks the can down the road until just after 2018's midterm elections are over.

Donald Trump's response to this news was all over the place. At one point on Tuesday, he indicated his support for the compromise, suggested that he had been a part of the negotiations, and claimed credit for bringing the two parties together. Later, however, Trump said that Obamacare was "virtually dead," and the White House walked back his support for Murray's and Alexander's work. Who knows how he will eventually play his hand, but there is little question that the 44th president's signature accomplishment—while it's taken a hit due to the current administration's actions—is far from dead. Soon, people will begin purchasing insurance plans for 2018, and by the end of this year we will learn exactly how many millions of citizens have done so. That will mean yet another year for Obamacare to plant its roots even more deeply in the U.S. economy. At some point, Trump's advisors may try to persuade him that his only path forward is to find a way to co-opt the program, rather than to keep trying to kill it. (Z)

Trump Waves His Saber at McCain

John McCain took a thinly-veiled swipe at Donald Trump's foreign policy in a speech on Monday night; chances of a presidential response on Tuesday were right around 99.999%. It came during an afternoon interview with radio host Chris Plante; when asked about the Senator's remarks, The Donald declared:

Yeah, well I hear it and people have to be careful because at some point I fight back. You know, I'm being very nice. I'm being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back and it won't be pretty.

This is pretty much par for the course, but Trump may want to rethink that position. It's not his nature to back down from fights like these, but he really needs McCain's vote on taxes (see above). Further, McCain is a dangerous adversary—a former prisoner-of-war and 30-year Washington veteran who does not like Trump and who need not worry about reelection. McCain observed as much when asked about Trump's comments: "It's fine with me. I've faced some fairly significant adversaries in the past." If the President is not careful, McCain could start accepting speaking invitations on a weekly basis. And he too has a Twitter account. (Z)

Trump Says Obama Did Not Call Kelly After His Son Died

There are three things that we can be confident about when it comes to the four U.S. soldiers who died in Niger two weeks ago. The first is that Donald Trump took a fairly long time to handle the often-customary niceties, in terms of contacting the fallen soldiers' families. The second is that the President badly wants everyone to believe that whatever happened here, Barack Obama was more careless or thoughtless in his handling of similar situations during his presidency. And the third is that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's son Robert was killed in action in 2010 while Obama was in office.

Once we move beyond those three things, the situation starts to get a little hazier. On Tuesday, Trump did an interview with Fox News radio and pointed the finger at Obama, just as he did on Monday:

You could ask General Kelly, "Did he get a call from Obama?" I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy. I can tell you my policy is I called every one of them.

Following this declaration, an Obama spokesman declined comment.

Getting to the bottom of this particular claim is not so easy. There is general agreement that Obama made a habit of contacting the families of fallen servicemen, but it is also the case that such contacts are not automatic, particularly in times when casualty figures are high (as they were in 2010). For a normal citizen, we might be able to resolve the matter one way or another by looking at phone records, but the president is not a normal person. Combing through seven-year-old phone records, covering thousands and thousands of presidential phone calls, would be prohibitively difficult. It is known that Obama hosted the Kellys at a breakfast for Gold Star families. And it is also the case that Kelly—the one person who likely knows the truth for certain—has not spoken up about the president's claims. The obvious interpretation (though not the only one) is that he doesn't want to be put in the position of having to lie on the record or to contradict his boss.

The weight of the evidence, then, would seem to suggest that Trump is in the wrong here. And regardless, he might want to consider dropping this issue. It's true that he's gotten a lot of mileage—really, a whole political career—out of scapegoating Obama. It is also the case, however, that this particular talking point politicizes the deaths of soldiers, which is a big no-no for most of the military, and for many of the people who make up Trump's base. Better to go back to tweeting about the NFL, whose players will still be allowed to kneel, after the league's owners decided on Tuesday that they did not prefer to risk a potential union grievance by rewriting their workers' terms of employment on the fly. (Z)

Trump Not as Rich as He Was Last Year

There is a theory, in some corners of the Internet, that one of Donald Trump's main goals in becoming president was to enrich himself by opening up new investment opportunities, making his brand more marketable, and giving himself leverage in negotiations. If that is the plan, it may not be working. Forbes issued its annual list of the 400 richest Americans on Tuesday, and they estimate that Trump has lost $600 million in the last year, dropping him 92 spots on the list, down to number 248. With that kind of setback, it may be time for some belt tightening. Trump may have to get rid of HBO, or start buying generic toilet paper, or stop forgetting to bring his 10% senior discount card when he eats at Applebee's.

While Forbes' valuation is getting a lot of attention, given Trump's high station, it means almost nothing. They certainly attempt to put their calculations on a scientific basis; the publication attributed Trump's decline to, "a tough New York real estate market, particularly for retail locations; a costly lawsuit and an expensive presidential campaign." But in all cases, they are just making their best guess based on incomplete information. And even their best guess about Trump is going to be on shaky ground, given that there has never been another person who claimed that most of their value was in their brand (and not their holdings), and who then became the most powerful person in the world. If Trump was asked to provide his estimate, he might say $10 billion or $15 billion or $20 billion (he's always higher on himself than Forbes is). There would really be no way to prove him right or wrong, because nobody is going to know until he's ex-president and we see which way the capital flows.

With that said, if Trump really is losing money, that fact could prove useful in the various emoluments cases he's facing. On Tuesday, his lawyers asked the judge to toss the first such case, though they are unlikely to prevail. The Emoluments Clause has never been put to the test, and experts agree that the plaintiffs in at least a few of the suits will get their day in court. At that point, since there is no real precedent, who knows what information a judge might consider useful in trying to determine whether or not Trump is profiting unlawfully from his office? Certainly, something like, "I lost $600 million this year" might be of interest as the President mounts his defense. (Z)

Collins Being Investigated for Insider Trading

On Tuesday, it became public that Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) is being investigated for insider trading. The Office of Congressional Ethics already found enough evidence to merit an examination of the matter, and so the House ethics panel is now looking into it. The charge is that he leaned on the National Institutes of Health to take actions favorable to pharmaceutical company Innate. Collins just so happens to serve on the board of Innate.

If Collins is sanctioned, or charged with a crime, it could attach itself to the President in some small way, since the Representative was the first member of Congress to publicly endorse Trump last year. However, this situation also raises a number of interesting questions unrelated to The Donald. To start, if a politician wants to avoid the appearance of impropriety, why wouldn't they put their investments in a blind trust, or at least in a well-known, publicly-traded index fund? Almost all of them are lawyers, not financiers, and surely would not do a noticeably better job than the pros. This would save some of their very precious time, and would remove any conflicts of interest. Indeed, it seems like the only good reason for a member of Congress to manage their own investments is so they can take advantage of their position. Beyond that, why is it legal for members of Congress to serve on corporate boards while they are still in office? That seems to be an engraved invitation for conflicts of interest and corruption. No wonder people think Washington is a swamp. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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