Jul. 25

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

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Democrats Offer "Better Deal" for America

In an obvious nod to other liberal political "deals"—i.e., the Square Deal, the New Deal, and the Fair Deal—Congressional Democrats issued forth with the "Better Deal" on Monday. Actually, the full title is "A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future." It doesn't quite roll off the tongue like the other three but, then, it hasn't had 75 or 100 years to sink in, either.

The plan was announced in complementary editorials, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) publishing his in the New York Times and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) publishing hers in the Washington Post. The two op-eds are, naturally, quite similar. Here's Schumer, for example:

Americans are clamoring for bold changes to our politics and our economy. They feel, rightfully, that both systems are rigged against them, and they made that clear in last year's election. American families deserve a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests. Today, Democrats will start presenting that better deal to the American people.

And here's Pelosi:

What motivates us is that the costs of living keep rising, but families feel their incomes and wages aren't keeping up. Special interests are given special treatment, while hard-working Americans are ignored. Working people from the heartland to the cities are struggling in a rigged economy and a system stacked against them.

There's also a website, naturally.

The plan focuses on all manner of bugaboos in American society, particularly those that have made a lot of headlines (no coincidence there, obviously). The Democrats are promising good-paying jobs, of course, along with infrastructure improvements, corporate regulation, and better health care. They also have some highly specific targets, like runaway cable bills, and bad behavior by airlines, and prescription drug price-gouging. The cost of HBO might not be quite as important as, say, North Korea's nuclear capabilities, but these things do resonate with voters.

From a tactical standpoint, the Democratic leadership's thinking is plain. They're going populist, but not too far left. Given the issues that are being highlighted, the verbiage used in both editorials, and the deliberate effort not to tack too far in the direction of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the audience for the Better Deal is clearly the white working class voters who jumped ship to Donald Trump in 2016 (aka, the Obama-Trump voters). Whether that's a demographic that presents greater opportunities for the Party than trying to consolidate the Romney-Clinton voters is hard to say, but Schumer, Pelosi, & Co. presumably have some data that guide their thinking.

Needless to say, the right wing media is unimpressed. They don't matter, though, what matters is the current (and former) Democratic base. Time will tell if the plan strikes a nerve, but the good news for the blue team is that they are now offering an official alternative to what Trump is selling, as opposed to just being the opposition party. The bad news is that a program that is meant to distance the Party from Hillary Clinton—and Schumer pointedly slammed her for her failures as a candidate just this weekend—looks an awful lot like the program that was advanced by...Hillary Clinton. She was even calling her platform "A Better Deal" for a while (though it's true she had little to say about the cost of HBO or about getting dragged off of airplanes). We know how well a Better Deal worked for her, although in the context of 2017 and 2018—and perhaps with better messengers—it certainly could work this time. (Z)

Kushner: Me Collude? No way!

Unlike either of the Donald Trumps, Jared Kushner listens very, very carefully to what his lawyers tell him. That became obvious when the 11-page statement he gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee became public. Specifically, in the portion about the meeting he, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort had with several Russians in which Junior was salivating to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, Kushner went to great lengths to indicate he had no idea of what the meeting was about, thought it was a waste of time, and left as fast as he could get out. This can be summarized as: "I see nothing, I was not here, I didn't even get up this morning." In other words, if anything illegal was done there, it was Junior's doing, not mine. This is precisely what an experienced lawyer would have told Kushner to say. Junior is not going to be able to pull this off due to an email trail in which his reaction to the offered dirt was, "I love it."

Maybe Kushner's statement is true, maybe it is not. Perhaps we will one day find out. What we already know is that Kushner did not dispute any of the facts about the case. He didn't dispute the email chain, the meeting itself, or the participants who were present. All he did was effectively say: "I am personally innocent because I did not personally collude with the Russians." This sounds exactly like what his own lawyer would tell him to say. Don't dispute known facts. Just say it wasn't your fault. Let Junior's lawyer solve Junior's problem.

There is one bit of information in the written testimony that is quite intriguing, though. Kushner said that a few minutes into the meeting he emailed an assistant and asked for the assistant to call him so he would have an excuse to leave the meeting. The committee may want to ask the assistant about this. If Kushner's story about the phone call to get him out is true (and it might well be, since he knows the committee is likely to interrogate the assistant), there are two ways to read this. First, Kushner really did think the meeting was a waste of his time and he had better things to do. Second, he quickly realized the meeting was illegal and wanted to get out as fast as possible. If it was the latter, we can conclude that Kushner is a lot smarter than Junior and exiting as fast as possible was the best he could do given the circumstances.

Not all the problems are on Junior's plate, though. It was Kushner who met with the Russian ambassador and tried to set up a secret hotline to Moscow, a project the ambassador instantly scuttled. In the statement, Kushner doesn't exactly deny that he made the request, but essentially says it is no big deal. Of course, it is a very big deal because a lot of people, starting with special counsel Robert Mueller, are going to want to know what kind of business Kushner wanted to transact over the line and why that couldn't be done over an official secured CIA line.

Another item that is sure to get more scrutiny is a meeting Kushner admits he had with Sergey Gorkov, head of a sanctioned bank closely linked to Vladimir Putin. At this meeting, he admitted that he got some dirt. Only it wasn't dirt about Hillary Clinton, it was a bag of dirt from the village where his grandparents were born that Gorkov gave him as a present. Kushner said that no business was discussed in the meeting. Unfortunately for him, Gorkov has already said that they did discuss business. Somebody is lying about this meeting and investigators may want to pursue the matter.

It will be interesting to find out what Kushner told the committee in his closed-door Q & A session. No doubt the leaks will start soon. But even more interesting will be what Junior and Manafort have to say. (V)

Senate May Vote on Health Care Today

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to force a vote on one or more of the Senate's health-care bills today, even though he knows they may all fail. Every one of the Senate's 48 Democrats will vote against them as well as Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). If McConnell can stop the bleeding there, however, he's got a shot. And someone must think that is a possibility, because Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will literally be putting his life at risk so that he can return to Washington in time for the vote. That said, McCain may be wasting his time. McConnell isn't even sure of 50 votes on the motion to proceed, which would be necessary before he could bring one or more bills to the floor for a vote.

The content of the Senate bill (or bills) has not yet been given to the senators, so they don't even know what they will be voting on. Furthermore, one or more provisions may violate the Senate rules about what can be in a budget reconciliation bill.

McConnell has at least four options:

Again, even bringing a bill up for a vote requires getting 50 votes on the motion to proceed, which is by no means a given. In fact, some senators may vote no on the motion to proceed to avoid a painful vote on any or all of the actual bills. In short, anything and everything might happen today in the Senate. (V)

Trump Floats the Idea of Giuliani as Sessions' Replacement

Donald Trump has expressed his dismay with Attorney General Jeff Sessions numerous times in the past week. He has complained that Sessions recused himself from the Russiagate investigation and that Sessions isn't spending his time prosecuting Hillary Clinton. Now Trump is taking his displeasure one step further He suggested yesterday that he might replace Sessions with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Such a move would be momentous. First of all, Giuliani would have to be approved by the Senate. The senators would surely ask things like: "Will you fire special counsel Robert Mueller?" Giuliani would undoubtedly obfuscate and refuse to answer. Depending on how long John McCain is present for duty, it would take either two or three Republican votes to deny Giuliani confirmation. Giuliani has been such an ardent Trump supporter from day one that it is easy to imagine some Republican senators voting "no."

Second, if Giuliani were to be confirmed, he would take charge of the Russiagate investigation. While most observers think that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would refuse an order to fire Mueller, Giuliani would almost certainly obey such an order. The political blowback would be enormous, but Trump might well risk it. Yesterday, we discussed what might happen in the hypothetical situation that Mueller were to be fired. With Giuliani as AG, that discussion completely ceases to be hypothetical. The result of the firing would not be a constitutional crisis, since Giuliani would clearly have the authority to fire Mueller, but it could be disastrous for the Republicans in 2018.

Axios says that the leak gives some insight into Trump:

On the other hand, Trump has often floated names for jobs just to see what the reaction is. If the reaction among Republican senators is less than "WE WANT RUDY, WE WANT RUDY," he may scrap the plan. He could then give Christie a shot. Trump's real problem is that he wants somebody who will simply carry out his orders. The attorney general, unlike other cabinet officers, is not supposed to do that, and all the senators know this. So finding someone who is a toady enough to please Trump and independent enough to please 50 Republican senators might be a bit tricky. (V)

Trump Veers in a Fascist Direction, Once Again

With Russiagate and health care and Jeff Sessions dominating the headlines this weekend, this one flew under the radar a bit. However, anyone who follows Donald Trump's Twitter feed knows he spent part of the day Sunday commissioning the new carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford. And while he was there, he made a little speech. Normally, the speech given in such circumstances would be brief, laudatory, and apolitical. Trump got two of the three, but in a serious breach of protocol, he used the occasion to push the senate's health care efforts. "I don't mind getting a little hand," he said, "So call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get [health care]."

Slate's Philip Carter, himself a veteran and an experienced political operative, explains why this is such a problem. In short, Trump's statement could be read as giving the servicemen—whom he has already referred to as "his troops" on several occasions—an order to carry out his political agenda. The line between civilian and military power in the United States is deeply embedded in both law and tradition, and Trump seems determined to trample on that line, whether deliberately or because he just doesn't know any better. That's not good for the democracy. At the same time, it's also not good for the military, which should not have to guess which orders are/are not "for real," and which should not have to worry about politicking as they do their jobs.

This is far from the first time that the President has committed this particular sin. Carter holds out hope that Congress, the top leadership at the Pentagon, and the current and former generals that serve in Trump's cabinet will all step in and help to correct the President's course before he leaves the fabric of American civil-military relations in tatters. Unfortunately, we have the trio of problems that (1) People don't stand up to Trump, (2) Those who do get fired—or roasted on Twitter, and (3) Those who stand up to him and don't get fired, get ignored. So, we should probably not hold our collective breaths. (Z)

Trump Approval Is 50% or More in 17 States

While Donald Trump's approval rating is in the mid to high 30s nationally, in 17 states it is above 50% according to a new Gallup poll. His top three states are West Virginia (60%), North Dakota (59%), and South Dakota (58%). His worst states are Maryland & California (30%), Massachusetts (29%), and Vermont (26%). The map is shown below.

Trump's approval ratings

Not surprisingly, Trump's approval rating now correlates very strongly with how he did in the election. In none of the Clinton states is he above 40% and he is strongest in the reddest states. And in case you were wondering, the 17 states in which he is above water have 99 electoral votes among them (assuming we treat Nebraska and Maine, which can split their votes, as blocs). So, if the presidential election were to be held today, and everyone were to vote based solely on whether they approve of Trump (which is what re-election campaigns tend to be about), he would get swamped, 439 to 99. (V)

Judge Approves Collection of Voter Data

Yesterday, District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (a Clinton appointee) approved the proposal from Donald Trump's voter-fraud commission to collect detailed data about voters from all 50 states. The requested data include name, address, date of birth, party registration, partial Social Security number, as well as voting, military, felony, and overseas history, among other items. The electronic Privacy Information Center had sued to block the request because the panel did not do a privacy study. Kollar-Kotelly concluded that the law requiring privacy impact studies applies only to government agencies and since the voter-fraud commission is not a government agency, the law does not apply to it.

The ruling does not mean all the states will suddenly turn over vast reams of private data to the commission, though. Many states have said that state law prohibits their turning over personal data about voters. Furthermore, other cases about the issue are pending in multiple courts.

Opponents of the commission are afraid that when the commission discovers that 47,000 people are named John Smith, they will find many matches in multiple states and claim that is voter fraud, thus justifying laws making it harder to vote. In fact, being registered in multiple states is not a crime, only voting twice is a crime. Almost all secretaries of state and voting experts have said that voter fraud is close to nonexistent and that no new laws are needed to combat it, but Republicans have repeatedly tried to pass such laws because they effectively disenfranchise many more Democratic voters than Republican voters. (V)

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