Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Price Crashes and Burns

There was a time when politicians tried to break unpleasant news on Saturday night. With newspapers the dominant journalistic medium, this was a good way to deprive a troublesome story of its legs, since oversized Sunday editions had to be finished early, leaving late-breaking Saturday news to languish for 36 hours until the Monday editions came out. Hence, for example, the Saturday Night Massacre. Richard Nixon may have been paranoid, dishonest, and corrupt, but he was no fool.

With today's 24-hour, 7-day-a-week news cycle, with newspapers withering on the vine and most people getting news from their televisions and Internet browsers, the old "wait for the weekend" trick would seem to be of limited utility. And yet, it cannot be a coincidence that nearly every time a high-profile member of the Trump administration gets their head lopped off, it happens on a Friday. The latest victim is Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, who "resigned" his post yesterday. As if to prove our point about the 21st century news cycle, it took mere minutes for Twitter to be filled with bad puns, among them:

Price had too much baggage
The Price is wrong
Price's slashed
Trump administration is Priceless
Price fixing
Jet-tisoned

And those are the better ones. Though the Daily Beast's Sam Stein did pretty well with his line that, "If Tom Price were a stock, Tom Price would have sold all his shares 3 weeks ago."

The Secretary's crime, of course, was his recently-exposed habit of enjoying the spoils of office a little too much, and chartering private planes at an enormous, and unnecessary, expense to the federal government. Nobody has made such unwise decisions about their flight plans since Icarus. Once Price was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he tried to save himself by reimbursing the government for his seats on the flights (about 1/13th of the cost), a somewhat empty gesture that implied that his staff was on their own business (and not there to help him). This move obviously did not achieve its goal, and may have even made things worse. One wonders if the Secretary's first call, on losing his job, was to his bank to put a stop payment on that check.

You could make a strong argument that there are other things Price did that were far more troublesome, and far more worthy of termination, than bilking the government out of a million bucks worth of flights. For example, his extensive and well-documented habit of investing in companies that had business before his Congressional committee, and about whom he had insider information. Or, perhaps, his overt attempts to wreck Obamacare. Price opposes the program, of course, which is his right. But as long as the ACA remains the law of the land, it was his duty to administer the program to the best of his ability, which he most certainly did not do. Those who support the ACA will be pleased to hear that Price's likeliest successor, Seema Verma—who currently heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—may not be a fan of Obamacare either, but is also disinclined to be a saboteur.

In any case, regardless of the reasons that Price probably should have lost his job, he did lose it because of his airplane usage. This has to have other members of the administration nervous, because abuse of airplane privileges has been rather commonplace as Team Trump worked so very hard to drain the swamp. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken $58,000 worth of charters, when he wasn't busy spending $25,000 on a soundproof booth for his office. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may very well have used a government plane for travel so he could see the recent eclipse better, and he also tried to use one for his honeymoon. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin charged his wife's travel costs to the government, and also took a trip to Wimbledon while on the government's dime. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has chartered at least one private flight, at a cost of $12,000. And that plane just so happened to belong to Wyoming oil and gas executives, the same people whose actions he is supposed to be regulating.

None of these other plane-abusers is quite in Tom Price's class, at least not yet. But we should recall that the Price story began with the revelation of just a few flights, and then a few more, and so forth. Presumably, lots of enterprising journalists are now going through the travel itineraries (and other expenses) of every single high-ranking official in the Trump administration. So, all of these people should probably be a bit nervous, especially if something troublesome comes to light on, say, a Thursday. (Z & V)

First Analysis of Tax Plan Says It Helps the Rich

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has analyzed the tax plan President Donald Trump presented to the nation on Thursday and concluded that it mostly helps the rich. The benefits would be unevenly spread over different income groups. The top 1 percent would get 80% of the benefits and households with an income above $900,000 would get a $200,000 tax cut on average. Most households making between $150,000 and $300,000 would see a tax increase. About 30% of households whose income is in the $50,000 to $150,000 range would also see a tax increase. Here is the breakdown for different income groups:

tax plan effects

As can be seen, people in the lowest quintile get a break of $50 while those in top 0.1% save over $1 million. When trying to sell this to the country, the Republicans are not going to emphasize this distribution, but will spin it as "the average person will save hundreds of dollars." That the average billionaire will save millions of dollars probably won't be in the official talking points. (V)

FBI Director Sworn in; Nobody Shows Up

Well, not nobody, but not Donald Trump and not the previous FBI directors, as is usually the case. Trump was invited to come to the swearing in of Christopher Wray, of course, but given that the Bureau is currently investigating him for potentially obstructing justice and maybe more, he decided to break with tradition and avoid the swearing-in ceremony. The previous director, James Comey, was fired by Trump and also thought it better not to be there. Same is true of Robert Mueller, who served as FBI director for 12 years. Mueller, of course, is now investigating Trump and his associates. In the past, all living former directors attended the ceremony to wish the new director well. Of course, with the way this administration functions, maybe they figured they'll just wait for the next one in six months. (V)

Bernie Supporters Won't Challenge Democratic Senate Incumbents

Most supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) aren't too keen on many of the Senate Democrats up in states Donald Trump won. From their point of view, Democratic senators Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Heidi Heitkamp (SD) are only marginally better than Republicans. Nevertheless, there don't appear to be any challengers to these four from the left. Most likely they have come to realize that a challenger even a millimeter to the left of any of these would have no chance in these deep red states. Furthermore, incumbents have a huge advantage in name recognition and fundraising over challengers, and giving that up could be fatal in these states.

That doesn't mean the Democratic left is going to sit out 2018. Far from it. But much of the action will be in swing districts in the House with a Republican incumbent, which left-leaning groups want to replace with a progressive Democrat. (V)

DOJ Wants Facebook Information about Anti-administration Activists

Another day, another story that raises some deeply concerning questions. On Friday, we learned that the Trump administration has been working hard to get the personal information of at least three prominent anti-Trump activists on Facebook, and perhaps the information for many thousands of other such individuals. In February, the DoJ served the social media giant with three warrants, as well as a gag order forbidding them from revealing the existence of the warrants. Facebook's attorneys successfully fought the gag order, so they can at least warn users that the government is after their information. Now, both Facebook and the ACLU are trying to quash the original warrants.

It is unclear exactly what the DoJ is after, since they have been unwilling to make any statement or answer any questions about the matter. It is clear that the three specific individuals who are being targeted—Emmelia Talarico, Lacy MacAuley, and Legba Carrefour—are all anti-Trump political activists who have organized demonstrations of various sorts. There is no evidence they have done anything illegal, and all three have denied breaking the law. In the absence of better information, it certainly looks like the administration is trying to use its vast power in order to silence dissent. This is something the country hasn't seen since the days of Richard Nixon, who was particularly keen on using the IRS to harm his enemies.

Given Donald Trump's recent engagement with the NFL, and his willingness to publicly declare that athletes should be forced to stand at attention for the national anthem or risk losing their jobs, it's entirely plausible that he's got a Nixon-style "enemies list" and that he's willing to act on it. Actually, the existence of such a list has already been confirmed, so the only question is whether Trump is actually acting upon it. Is he the type of president who might engage in score-settling, abuse of power, and bending the law to his own needs? Readers can decide on the answer to that question for themselves. (Z)

Sinema Will Challenge Flake in Arizona

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has made the decision to run against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). That is, if Flake is the Republican nominee. Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon is going to do everything in his power to make sure that Flake is not the GOP's candidate, so Flake is going to have to win a nasty and bitter primary before he can even start to think about the general election. Donald Trump is probably also going to support Flake's primary challenger, Kelli Ward, along with Bannon. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is going to support Flake, so we will have a configuration different from that in the Alabama runoff. There Trump and McConnell both supported the incumbent, with Bannon supporting the challenger.

Sinema has both a law degree and a Ph.D. (in justice studies). Before being elected to the House, she served in both chambers of the Arizona state legislature. She is the only openly bisexual in Congress and also the only admitted atheist. She also is the only member to have completed an official ironman triathalon. She also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Clearly she is not your standard-issue politician.

While Sinema is the first person to announce on the Democratic side, she may not be the last. Arizona state representative Randy Friese, a surgeon who treated former representative Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head, is also thinking about a run. Given how vulnerable Flake is, there may be more Democrats entering the fray soon. (V)

Hurricane in Puerto Rico Could Affect U.S. Elections

Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They can't vote for Congress because Puerto Rico has no senators or representatives. They can't vote for president because Puerto Rico has no electoral votes. However, as soon as a Puerto Rican moves to the mainland, he or she can register to vote. In light of the recent hurricane that devastated the island, many of them are planning to do so. They are expected to come largely to New York and to Florida, the mother of all swing states. Since they are American citizens, they don't need passports or visas. All they need is a plane ticket.

This could be a double whammy for the Republicans. First, most Puerto Ricans are Democrats. Second, many of them are unhappy about how Donald Trump seems to have little interest in helping their devastated island. Republican candidates are going to have to answer for this. In close elections, another few thousand Democratic votes in Florida could make a difference. Not presidential elections, though. Those could never be swung by, say, 537 votes in Florida. (V)

Poll: Moore 50%, Jones 45%

Many Democrats think that the chance of a Democrat winning a special election for the Senate in Alabama is about as big as the chance of a Republican winning one in Massachusetts. Except that in 2010, Republican Scott Brown did exactly that. An Opinion Savvy poll just out shows Roy Moore (R) ahead of Doug Jones (D) by just 5 points, 50% to 45%. With more than 2 months to go and Moore a constant source of outrageous comments, Jones could possibly win this one, at least if the DNC decides to put some real money into the race. Of course, Republicans who supported primary loser Sen. Luther Strange may be angry now and say they will vote for Jones, but come December they may come and support Moore while holding their noses. On the other hand, it's not impossible that a Moore was a "lesser of two evils" vote, given the shady way in which Strange acquired his office (an apparent quid pro quo for helping quash the prosecution of then-governor Robert Bentley). There could be a segment of voters who were just waiting for the chance to vote for someone who is not Moore or Strange. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep29 Lobbyists Take Notice of the Tax-Reform Plan
Sep29 The Tax Plan Creates a Giant Loophole for Wealthy Professionals
Sep29 The Kushner Plot Thickens, Yet Again
Sep29 Price Will Reimburse the Government for 13% of His Chartered Jets
Sep29 Competing Factors Will Determine the Outcome of the 2018 Senate Elections
Sep29 McConnell Meets Kryptonite
Sep29 Trump vs. NFL Not Going Away
Sep29 Gorsuch's Behavior Raising Eyebrows
Sep28 Trump Announces "Wizard of Oz" Tax Reform Plan
Sep28 Trump to Issue Executive Order on Health Care
Sep28 Private E-mail Accounts All over the White House
Sep28 Price May Have Just Become the Trump Administration's Most Endangered Person
Sep28 Trump Is Rewriting History While it Happens
Sep28 Democrats Pick Up Two Republican Seats in State Legislatures
Sep28 Bannon Is Already Picking His 2018 Team
Sep28 Will the Democrats Contest Alabama?
Sep28 Democratic Recruiting Is a Mixed Bag
Sep28 House Republicans Are Planning to Appropriate $10 Billion for a Border Wall
Sep27 Score: Outsiders 1, Establishment 0
Sep27 McConnell Formally Admits Defeat on Health Care and Cancels the Vote
Sep27 Corker Won't Run for Reelection in 2018
Sep27 IRS Is Now Sharing Information with Mueller
Sep27 Blumenthal: Flynn and Manafort Will Be Indicted
Sep27 What Is Pruitt up To?
Sep27 Acting DEA Head Departs
Sep26 Moore Strange Bad News
Sep26 Collins Is a Firm "No"
Sep26 Supreme Court Cancels Travel Ban Hearing
Sep26 NFL v. Trump Enters Day 3
Sep26 Voter-ID Laws Probably Cost Clinton Wisconsin
Sep26 McCain: Doctors Give Me a Very, Very Serious Prognosis
Sep26 Rock Falls in Michigan
Sep26 Northam Leads in Virginia Gubernatorial Race
Sep26 People in New Jersey Want Menendez to Resign If Found Guilty
Sep26 More on the German Elections
Sep25 Now the National Anthem Divides the Country; Motherhood and Apple Pie Are Next
Sep25 Muslim Travel Ban v3.0 Is Announced
Sep25 Cruz Doesn't Support the Latest Health-Care Bill
Sep25 Bannon Is Still Ahead of Trump
Sep25 Democrats Will Spend $15 Million to Elect State Attorneys General
Sep25 Kushner Used Private Email for Official Government Business
Sep25 Opinion of the Republican Party Hits All-Time Low
Sep25 Merkel Re-elected as German Chancellor
Sep24 It's Trump vs. the NFL, NBA, and MLB
Sep24 Trump Continues War of Words with Kim
Sep24 What About Puerto Rico?
Sep24 Details of Trump's Tax Plan Leak Out
Sep24 Republicans Still Working on Obamacare Repeal
Sep24 Trump Hedges His Bets With Strange
Sep24 This Could Be Awkward