Dec. 07

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Dem pickups: (None)
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Democrats Call for Franken to Resign

A seventh woman has come forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) of sexual misconduct. The first accusation came from a right-wing radio host and the photo that accompanied it strongly suggests it was a gag. But since then, six other women have accused Franken of sexual misconduct. Senate and House Democrats have had enough and now dozens of them are calling for Franken to resign from the Senate immediately. The Senate's #1 and #2 Democrats, Sens. Chuck Schumer (NY) and Dick Durbin (IL), are among those calling for Franken to quit. Franken will hold a press conference today. Reports are already circulating that he will step down.

No doubt many Democrats are repulsed by his behavior, but there are also a couple of political angles here. First, if all the Democrats accused of sexual misconduct resign, as did former representative John Conyers Tuesday, the Democrats are in a much stronger position going after Republicans who have done worse things and haven't resigned. And yes, that means Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Roy Moore, and Donald Trump. Their point will be that both sides do it, but when Democrats are caught they do the proper thing and get out of politics, but when Republicans are caught, they pretend nothing happened. There is at least a chance that women voters will notice the difference in 2018.

A second point is that if Franken resigns, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) will appoint another Democrat to replace Franken until the Nov. 2018 election, when the new appointee will be able to run to fill out the rest of Franken's term, which ends in Jan. 2021. Minnesota is a relatively blue state and the Democratic bench there is deep, so the Democrats have a good chance to hold the seat. One complication is that if Franken resigns, both Senate seats will be on the ballot in 2018.

Five of Minnesota's eight representatives are Democrats. If Dayton has to appoint someone to a vacant seat, it could be one of these. Here is the list.

Photo Representative District First elected Age PVI
Tim Walz Timothy Walz MN-01 2006 53 R+5
Betty_McCollum Betty McCollum MN-04 2000 63 D+14
Keith_Ellison Keith Ellison MN-05 2006 54 D+26
Collin_Peterson Collin Peterson MN-07 1990 73 R+12
Richard_Nolan Richard Nolan MN-08 2012 73 R+4

Which one might Dayton pick? Walz, Peterson, and Nolan come equipped with some giant red flags. They are in (deeply) Republican districts and hang on only because they are personally popular. If Dayton picks one of them, he is giving up a House seat. Furthermore, Peterson and Nolan are 73, not a good age for someone just starting in the Senate.

But there are two left. Keith Ellison is wildly popular with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and they would shower him with money. However, Dayton might well conclude that although Minnesota is somewhat blue, it isn't blue enough to elect a black Muslim. If he has to run in 2018, Republicans are likely to say, in not so gentle tones, that he ought to go back to wherever he came from. In his case, that is his native Michigan.

That leaves us with Betty McCollum. Replacing someone accused of sexual misconduct with a woman would be a real statement. With 16 years in the House, she clearly has the experience for the job. Her district is so Democratic that any Democrat could hold it. Finally, she is very liberal, with 100% ratings from ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign. In contrast, FreedomWorks puts her at 15%, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity rates her at 4%, and the Club for Growth gives her a big fat 0. That should be enough to keep Sanders' supporters on board.

Of course, Dayton doesn't have to pick a representative. He could pick Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (50), for example. She has the advantage over the representatives that it would not put a House seat at risk and she has already won statewide election, something no representative has. Of course, he could also pick a state senator or someone else.

Republicans are also thinking ahead to 2018. Possible Republican candidates include former governor Tim Pawlenty, State House Speaker Kurt Daudt, and former congresswoman Michele Bachmann. One of the Republican representatives could also make a run, although that seems less likely since 2018 could be a Democratic wave year and they have something to lose, whereas Pawlenty and Bachmann don't.

In any event, a Franken resignation would put another Democratic Senate seat in play in 2018, something that will make it harder for the Democrats to win back the Senate in 2018, even if by some miracle Doug Jones (D) wins in Alabama next Tuesday. (V)

Bredesen Will Run for Senate

400 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton advised us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, it may be apropos that on the day Al Franken's Senate career could be coming to an end, Phil Bredesen's could be getting underway. Though he hasn't made it official yet, the Democrat and former Tennessee governor has been calling supporters and raising funds, with an eye toward running for the seat that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) will vacate next year.

The Democrats really have no business fighting for a Senate seat in the Volunteer State, where all of the statewide partisan officeholders, both U.S. Senators, and 7 of 9 Representatives are Republicans. However, the retirement of Corker opened the door just a crack. And if any Democrat can win a statewide election in Tennessee, it's Bredesen, as he won two gubernatorial elections after a successful run as mayor of Nashville. Of course, the two parties have become even more polarized in the 10 years since he last won an election. And his likeliest opponent is Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is herself pretty popular. So, Bredesen would surely begin the race as an underdog. Still, if it's a wave year, he might just pull it off. (Z)

Flynn Told Business Associate that Sanctions Would be Ripped Up Immediately

No sooner had Donald Trump been sworn in than Michael Flynn told a business associate that the sanctions against Russia would be ripped up very soon, thus allowing their plan to get Russia to build nuclear reactors all over the Middle East to go forward. A whistleblower detailed the plan in a letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who made it public yesterday.

The implication here is that as NSA, Flynn could work to get rid of the sanctions on Russia quickly, and then he and his associates could carry out a business plan that would make all of the participants very rich. When a public official makes policy decisions for the purpose of making money off them, that is pretty much the textbook definition of corruption. Cummings no doubt gave the letter to special counsel Robert Mueller long ago, but Mueller didn't charge Flynn with corruption. He could still do so if the information that Mueller wants from him is not forthcoming. Most likely, though, Mueller already has what he wants from Flynn. (V)

The Sausage Machine Has Been Turned On Again

The House-Senate conference committee hasn't even been named yet, and already special deals are being concocted. House Republicans from high-tax states are deathly afraid of being mauled next year if state and local taxes aren't deductible. One compromise floating around is to allow up to $10,000 in combined state and local taxes to be deductible. For some people, that would still mean a tax increase, but fewer than if no state or local taxes could be deducted. Of course, that has to be paid for, and a likely source of revenue is raising the corporate tax from 20% (in both bills) to 22%. Donald Trump has even said he could live with that. That generates $200 billion over 10 years.

Another hot potato is the alternative minimum tax. The business community strongly wants to see it repealed for corporations, while Donald Trump strongly wants the AMT to be repealed for rich individuals, in particular, for himself. Also in play is how many rates there are (four in the House bill, seven in the Senate bill) and at what level each one kicks in. By moving the thresholds up or down, revenue can be gained or lost in a way that doesn't alienate major groups. Also in the back of everyone's mind is that the Senate bill passed by a vote of 51 to 49, so losing two senators would kill the final bill. This means that every Republican senator's pet projects have to be considered carefully.

In addition, tax laws are like software: They are full of bugs. This one was written so hastily (partly in pen in the margin at the last minute in the case of the Senate bill), which is surely going to lead to a lot of problems down the road. If the conference committee does its work carefully (exceedingly unlikely), it could try to debug the bill a little bit before sending it off for a vote. For example, pass-through businesses are taxed at a much lower rate than individuals. Every professional in the country from architects to prostitutes (in Nevada) to web developers is suddenly going to set up a pass-through to get the lower rate, wreaking havoc with the federal deficit. The entire basis for taxing multinational companies has changed and the lawyers and accountants for those companies are no doubt hard at work already looking for loopholes. One Republican lobbyist said of the change: "It's crazy. I don't think anyone could explain it, let alone comply with it by Jan. 1." Given that the bill is over 400 pages long and was written with almost no forethought, there are bound to be a vast number of new loopholes it creates and they won't be easy to fix later. (V)

Fallout from Jerusalem Decision Begins

Speaking of decisions made hastily, and primarily for political gain, the fallout from Donald Trump's decision to "recognize" Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. embassy there has already begun. The Palestinians have called for "three days of rage," while every other Middle Eastern country (except, of course, Israel) has denounced the move. It was like "pulling the pin of a grenade," said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, while the Saudi Arabian government described the move as an "irresponsible and unwarranted step." So, not only did Israeli-Palestinian peace just get that much harder, but so did working with the Saudis, the Turks, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, and the Egyptians, among others. And the negative response did not just come from the Middle East, either. China's state-run newspaper called Trump's decision "dangerously foolhardy," while the list of other countries to blast the move includes Australia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Malaysia.

Even the White House has been forced to admit that the decision will not be helpful in terms of bringing peace to the region. According to two senior administration officials, they recognize that the announcement will mean a "derailment" of negotiations, but that they are "Pretty sure it will be temporary." Nothing like a little confidence to boost Americans' faith in their government. Officials also said that it was better to get this out of the way now, before negotiations truly get underway, and also that they felt that President Trump has built up enough trust with the Palestinians that they will eventually let this slide. Exactly why it needed to be gotten out of the way at all, and exactly what Trump has done to cultivate a relationship with the Palestinians, was not explained. (Z)

Trump Slurred His Speech

When Donald Trump made his decision about Jerusalem official, he did so with an 11-minute speech delivered from the East Room of the White House. And those who were watching noticed something: Trump began to slur his words at the end of the speech. You can see for yourself in the video embedded at the linked page. The slurring becomes ever-so-slightly noticeable about a minute before the end of the clip, becomes somewhat pronounced with about 30 seconds to go, and is positively obvious in the last five seconds, particularly in his last utterance of "United States."

What's going on, here? Not easy to say without additional information, and since the White House is denying that Trump slurred his speech at all, that additional information is not forthcoming. Trump could have been drunk, perhaps, except that he's a lifelong teetotaler. Not too many people wait until their seventies to become alcohol abusers. Another possibility is a stroke, or some other health condition, which—if it is the case—is not likely to remain secret for long. However, the general consensus—and this was our guess, as well, before hearing what others had to say—is that Trump wears dentures of some sort, and they were slipping. If it is dentures, it would explain why the White House is so adamant in their denials, since Trump hates to admit even the slightest imperfection. Still, given that his hair, his tan, and virtually every other part of his outward appearance is, shall we say, manufactured, then it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he had fake teeth, too. (Z)

Time Person of the Year:

Given that Donald Trump was Time's Person of the Year last year, and that he hasn't really given the magazine a new angle to cover since then—he's still a brash, arrogant, truth-challenged populist who is loved by many and hated by many more—it was pretty clear that this year's choice was either going to be Robert Mueller or else someone/something related to sexual misconduct. And, indeed, it's the latter, as the publication selected "The Silence Breakers" as their Person(s) of the Year.

Is this a poke in Trump's eye? You bet it is. First, because two of the specific "silence breakers" they name are Megyn Kelly, because she stood up to Trump's misogyny last year, and Summer Zervos, who is suing the President for sexual harassment. Second, because the magazine has a lengthy passage specifically about The Donald's behavior, which includes this:

Discussions of sexual harassment in polite company tend to rely on euphemisms: harassment becomes "inappropriate behavior," assault becomes "misconduct," rape becomes "abuse." We're accustomed to hearing those softened words, which downplay the pain of the experience. That's one of the reasons why the Access Hollywood tape that surfaced in October 2016 was such a jolt. The language used by the man who would become America's 45th President, captured on a 2005 recording, was, by any standard, vulgar. He didn't just say that he'd made a pass; he "moved on her like a bitch." He didn't just talk about fondling women; he bragged that he could "grab 'em by the pussy."

That Donald Trump could express himself that way and still be elected President is part of what stoked the rage that fueled the Women's March the day after his Inauguration. It's why women seized on that crude word as the emblem of the protest that dwarfed Trump's Inauguration crowd size. "All social movements have highly visible precipitating factors," says Aldon Morris, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University. "In this case, you had Harvey Weinstein, and before that you had Trump."

In view of all this, it's not a surprise that Trump tried to get out ahead of this story last week. He will just have to content himself with the fact that he was a runner-up, along with some of his very favorite people: Xi Jinping, Mueller, Kim Jong-un, NFL kneeler Colin Kaepernick, and "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins. (Z)

Democrats Try but Fail to Impeach Trump

Rep. Al Green (D-TX) introduced a bill to impeach Donald Trump and forced a vote on it yesterday. It failed, 58 to 364 in the House vote. It never had a chance for two reasons. First, the House Democratic leadership is dead set against an impeachment now. Maybe in 2019, but not now. Second, the articles of impeachment fail the Constitutional test. They cite Trump's remarks after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, his attacks on Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and his criticism of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Green has a law degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, but he was clearly asleep during his course on constitutional law. Presidents cannot be impeached because they are bigots, racists, unfit for office, or are otherwise not nice people. They have to have committed one or more specific high crimes or misdemeanors. Green's bill doesn't list any such offenses. (V)

Conyers III Not Likely to Be Your Next Representative from Michigan

On his way out the door, former Representative John Conyers endorsed his son as his replacement, whenever an election is held. There is a case to be made that someone who is leaving in disgrace should not be sharing their views about who their successor should be, but in any event, it turns out that John Conyers III may have a skeleton or two in his closet. In particular, depending on whom you believe, he may or may not have stabbed his girlfriend during a domestic dispute last year. The girlfriend says he did, Conyers III says he didn't, and the LA district attorney's office did not think they could secure a conviction so they dropped the matter.

Whether Conyers III is guilty or not, this probably ends his Congressional aspirations. Voters generally don't love these sorts of family dynasties, the Dingell family (which has passed a seat from father to son to wife for close to 100 years) notwithstanding. Under the circumstances, Conyers III would need to be unimpeachable as regards his treatment of women, and he is not. Further, he's not even clear he wants to run. Add it all up, and this "dynasty"—like Napoleon's or the Clintons'—is likely going to end at one person. (Z)

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