Jun. 26

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Koch Brothers Want Health Care Bill Changed

The Koch brothers' network is working hard with conservatives to get some changes made to the Senate health care bill. They also did this when the first version of the House bill was presented. They aren't talking about what they want, but it is a safe bet that they like eliminating the ACA taxes and want to cut the credits, subsidies, and other features that allow poor people to get health care. They are strict libertarians and believe that the market should determine who gets what and at what price, not the government. In particular, it is known that they strongly oppose Medicaid, which gives poor people health care for free or a nominal cost.

The Koch brothers' method is to use the $400 million in their warchest to get senators to support amendments they want. Senators who do their bidding get money. Senators who oppose them get primaried. It's pretty straightforward and everyone understands the rules. The only fly in the ointment is what the voters think. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday found that 75% of the public, including 60% of Republicans, have a positive view of Medicaid. This puts senators in an awkward position: Do what your sponsors want or do what your voters want.

Another factor senators must consider is that the bill is not popular with hospitals. Bruce Siegel, president of America's Essential Hospitals, a coalition of 300 hospitals that treat many low-income patients, said: "Let's not mince words. This bill will close hospitals. It will hammer rural hospitals, it will close nursing homes. It will lead to disabled children not getting services...People will die." Passing a bill that causes many of your voters to die is typically not popular. (V)

Vote on Health Care Bill Before July 4 Looking Doubtful

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to hold a vote on the Senate's health care bill, the BCRA, before the July 4 recess. Two of the senators who have expressed unhappiness with the bill appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to make clear that they will need more time than that. Susan Collins (R-ME) opined on "This Week" that, "It's certainly going to be very difficult" to get her vote in that timeframe, and that "It's hard for me to see the bill passing this week." Meanwhile, Ron Johnson (R-WI) went on "Meet the Press" and added, "There's no way we should be voting on this next week. No way."

McConnell is working with a very, very small margin for error here. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the man whose job it is to line up the votes, has been working the phones all week and acknowledged that, "[I]t's going to be close." He also conceded that, "We don't have the luxury of waiting around. It's not going to get any easier." McConnell and Cornyn both know that the timing of Independence Day this year could not be worse in terms of their needs. Barring a change of schedule, the Senate is set to adjourn Thursday night and to remain out of session until July 5, which is next Wednesday. That is another five days for the CBO and other analysts to issue reports, and another five days for senators to get an earful from constituents.

So, waiting—as Collins, Johnson, and at least a few other senators want to do—is something GOP leadership would very much prefer to avoid. On the other hand, trying to ram the vote through gives just four days to do the tricky horse-trading and arm-twisting necessary to cobble together 50 votes, to deal with Democratic foot-dragging and bill-amending, to offer "concessions" to the conservative senators, and to actually hold a vote. Even for someone with McConnell's considerable political skills, that's a tall order. Either way, we're set for another week of drama in Washington. (Z)

Trump Lashes Out at Obama, Clinton

Donald Trump might want to take a look at Disney's hit "Frozen," paying particular attention to the theme song, because he just cannot let it go. On Sunday, he appeared on "Fox and Friends," where he admitted to calling the GOP health care bill "mean." Remarkably, however, he managed to turn this into a criticism of Barack Obama, declaring that the former president stole that word for use in his anti-BCRA Facebook post Thursday. "Well he actually used my term, 'mean.' That was my term," Trump said. In other words, Trump wants you to know that it is definitely his idea that the bill is mean, not Obama's. Credit where credit is due.

And apparently, slamming Obama did not fill Trump's Sunday quota, because he also took to Twitter to launch yet another salvo at Hillary Clinton:

Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders. Is she allowed to so collude? Unfair to Bernie!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2017

Trump, as he so often does, is playing the role of victim here. His newfound concern for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is a bit hard to swallow, inasmuch as he slurs the Senator as "crazy" within the same tweet. No, the point the President is trying to make is, "How come I get investigated for Russia, when Hillary doesn't get investigated for DNC shenanigans?" If he truly doesn't understand the answer to the question, we are happy to provide it: Because one is (potentially) illegal, and the other is not. Further, while Clinton was not investigated, she and high-ranking DNC staffers did pay a price for their malfeasance. Then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz lost her job, as did several of her lieutenants, while Clinton's bridges to some Sanders supporters were permanently burned. Maybe even enough to sway the election, given Trump's small margins of victory in some states.

In any event, Trump has once again shown us his Achilles heel when it comes to politics: He's very good at running against things, but that's all he can do. Whenever he has delved into specifics, either as president or candidate, it has almost always been to oppose something: Clinton, Obama, Obamacare, Muslims, Mexican immigrants, etc. Whenever he is for something, it's only something very vague like "terrific" health care, or making America great again. His problem is that midterm elections, and even more so re-election campaigns, are referenda on the person who is in the White House, and not the guy who lived there previously. There is simply no example in all of U.S. history of a president who gained re-election by running against the guy who left town four years earlier. The closest thing is probably Harry S. Truman's 1948 campaign, in which he ran for re-election against the "Do Nothing Congress." That's not likely a great choice for Trump, though, since (1) It barely worked for Truman, and (2) Congress is controlled by Trump's party, and not the opposition. So, if The Donald wants to mount a viable re-election bid, he's going to have to fundamentally change his approach at some point, which has not generally been something he's proven capable of doing. (Z)

Republicans Will Campaign Against Nancy Pelosi in 2018

In the GA-06 special election won by Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA), the Republicans spent millions of dollars trying to convince the voters that Democrat Jon Ossoff was Nancy Pelosi's puppet. Corry Bliss, whose Congressional Leadership Fund spent $7 million in the Georgia race, said that the strategy was so successful that it will be repeated nationwide in 2018. The idea of turning a Democrat into the devil incarnate worked before (see: Clinton, Hillary) and works especially well when the devil in question is female (a devilette?), though a black devil also works in a pinch.

Bliss didn't get this idea out of nowhere. He did extensive polling in Georgia and discovered that Pelosi's approval was 33% there, against a disapproval of 54%. No doubt he will do polling in all House races in 2018 to discover where she is a liability to the actual Democratic candidate and then run against her rather than against the candidate in places where she is unpopular. Of course, Republicans had better look at the crosstabs of the polls. If Pelosi is very unpopular with Republicans but viewed neutrally by independents and loved by Democrats, attacking her is a waste of money.

Although there is some bellyaching about Pelosi in Democratic circles, she is such an effective fundraiser for the party that she is likely to survive any attempt to dump her. (V)

It's Not Just Rusted-out Factories; It's Also Rusted-out Stores

Donald Trump got a lot of mileage talking about how he was going to get workers who used to work in now rusted-out factories new jobs. But that idea needs some updating already. When factories closed, many workers looked for and found jobs in retail. Sometimes that was big-box retailers like Walmart, which many people feel destroys the mom & pop shops on Main Street, but at least these retailers provided jobs. Now e-commerce and online shopping are wiping out stores, especially in rural areas.

E-commerce also creates jobs, but these tend to be in programming and marketing and are located in big cities like Seattle and San Francisco, not in small, rural towns. For a former factory worker and now former retail worker, things are looking pretty grim. If either party can come up with a plausible plan to actually help these people, there are a lot of votes to be had. One idea is a major upgrade of the national infrastructure, including roads, bridges, dams, and small airports in rural areas, not to mention bringing broadband to every town in the country. That would create a lot of jobs. Another idea is health care. Creating small hospitals and clinics in rural areas would provide employment for doctors, nurses, aides, technicians, administrators, orderlies, ER workers, ambulance personnel, and more.

As entire malls shut down, another opportunity presents itself: raze them to the ground and put housing there. That would not only create construction jobs, but the end result would be more housing. But, of course, these ideas cost money, and lots of it, so the Republicans are unlikely to grab these ideas and run with them. But the Democrats could. (V)

"I Do Not Recall" Is Not a Magic Amulet

It is truly amazing how many high government officials have really crummy memories. It is hard to understand how they get any work done at all. When testifying before a Senate committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "I do not recall" more than 20 times. Bill Clinton also had major memory problems when testifying before a grand jury. Quite a few of Richard Nixon's aides also couldn't remember anything when they were under oath.

But it turns out, saying you don't remember is not some kind of magic amulet that protects you against perjury charges. If a prosecutor later thinks the person testifying remembered the answer very well, he can bring a perjury charge. Ultimately, it may be up to a jury to decide if they believe the defendant. Nixon's aides Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were both convicted of perjury and sentenced to prison for saying they didn't recall things. The jury simply didn't believe them. (V)

Are Republicans Crooks?

Sooner or later, given the controversies that are already in full bloom, several members of Donald Trump's administration may need to get measured for leg irons and black-and-white striped suits. If so, they will be maintaining what has become a proud GOP tradition. since the Watergate years. Considering only presidential hirees (and not career bureaucrats), here's a breakdown of the times Republican executive branch officeholders have gotten in hot water since 1969:

President Years in Office Criminal Indictments Criminal Convictions Prison Sentences
George W. Bush 8 16 16 9
George H. W. Bush 4 1 1 1
Ronald Reagan 8 26 16 8
Gerald Ford 2.4 1 1 1
Richard Nixon 5.6 76 55 15
Republican Total 28 120 89 34

Those numbers look pretty bad at first glance. However, they do not become truly remarkable until we add the Democratic presidents to the equation:

President Years in Office Criminal Indictments Criminal Convictions Prison Sentences
Barack Obama 8 0 0 0
Bill Clinton 8 2 1 1
Jimmy Carter 4 1 0 0
Democratic Total 20 3 1 1

That's right, it's 89 convictions for the red team versus 1 for the blue team. For those who are curious, the one is Ronald Blackley, who was chief of staff to Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, and spent 27 months in the big house after being convicted of perjury. It's actually hard to say what is more amazing about the Democrats' totals. Is it that Barack Obama managed to spend eight years in the White House without a single misstep, despite the Fox-sized microscope that was trained on his administration at all times? Or is it that the constantly-under-investigation Bill Clinton managed to leave Washington almost entirely unscathed?

In any case, how can we explain this disparity, which is enormous even if we correct for the fact that there are 28 years of GOP leadership and 20 years of Democratic? Here are four theories, along with some comment on how they might apply to the current administration:

So, are Republicans crooks? While most of them are not, the GOP presidents of the last few decades have certainly managed to hire more than their fair share of shady customers. And whatever theory or theories we use to explain the discrepancy, it's hard to see how Donald Trump's administration is not headed down the same road. (Z)

Kushner Finalized Loan Shortly Before Election

And speaking of potential shady dealings, the Washington Post is reporting that Jared Kushner finalized a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank just one month before Election Day, and at a point that he was deeply involved in his father-in-law's presidential campaign.

So, was there anything untoward going on here? Well, Deutsche Bank was in trouble with New York state regulators at the time, in part due to their involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme, and in part due to their involvement in—wait for it—Russian money laundering. Those troubles are now settled, having been resolved shortly after Donald Trump was elected. None of this proves anything, of course, but there's no doubt that Robert Mueller will have quite a few questions about all of this. (Z)

Russia Recalls Kislyak

And speaking of Robert Mueller's job, it job just got a shade bit harder, as Moscow has recalled ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak is at the epicenter of the Russiagate scandal, due to his repeated clandestine meetings with Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and former NSA Michael Flynn, all before Donald Trump was inaugurated.

Why was he recalled? Well, Vladimir Putin does not tend to open up about these things, and even when he does, he's usually lying. So, we are left to guess. It's possible that, after 10 years in the post, Kislyak reached his expiration date. If so, though, the timing is awfully convenient. So, experts tend to discount this explanation. Another possibility is that Kislyak is being disciplined, given that the Russian interference in the election appears to be backfiring badly. That explanation is also problematic, since Kislyak is not headed home, but instead is being sent to New York to head up the Russian delegation to the United Nations. The likeliest explanation is that Putin does not want Kislyak to be available for conversations with members of the Trump administration or with Robert Mueller, all of which could make a bad situation worse. Mueller, of course, could not compel someone with diplomatic immunity to talk to him, but he might have tried to have a friendly (and voluntary) chat. Now, that's a bit more difficult. Fortunately for the special counselor, he's got plenty of other people to talk to. (Z)

Democrats' Fortunes May Pick Up in November

The Democrats have lost 4 out of 5 special elections so far in 2017, winning only in CA-34 (which pitted a Democrat against another Democrat). They are virtually certain to lose the special election for senator from Alabama (Jeff Sessions' seat) and representative from UT-03 (Jason Chaffetz's seat). Then they will be 1 for 7 this year. However, the streak of mostly losing will likely come to an end in November, when New Jersey and Virginia hold their regularly-scheduled gubernatorial elections.

Based on historical precedent, the omens look good for the Democrats in both states. Here are the results of the last 10 Virginia gubernatorial elections. NJ Governors

Below the green line is the name of the incumbent president. With the exception of McAuliffe, in each case the party in the White House lost the Viginia gubernatorial race a year later, no doubt in part due to dissatisfaction with the president. If the Republicans break the tradition and Ed Gillespie (R) beats Ralph Northam (D), the Democrats are in deep doodoo.

What about New Jersey. Here are the past 10 gubernatorial elections in the Garden State:

NJ Governors

Here the party that is not in the White House has won the last seven, but lost the three before that. Of the 20 elections, the party in the White House has lost 16 of them. Using this model, the Democrats have a 90% chance of winning Virginia and a 70% chance of winning New Jersey. In practice, the Democrats' odds in New Jersey are probably better than 70% because the Republican candidate, Kim Guadagno, served 8 years as the lieutenant governor for Chris Christie, whose approval rating is currently 15%. The Democrats' ads are going to write themselves: "If you love Christie, then vote for Guadagno to continue his administration." All they need to do is create a group called "New Jerseyites for Christie/Guadagno," have it pay for the ads, and display its name prominently in them. (V)

How to Blunt Gerrymandering

Jordan Ellenberg at Slate has an interesting piece about gerrymandering. It is highly relevant because the Supreme Court is about to take up a Wisconsin gerrymandering case. His article cites a study done at the University of Michigan that had a computer generate 200 state Assembly maps without taking partisanship into consideration, and making an attempt to avoid splitting counties across districts. The result was a set of maps in which the distribution of state representatives better reflected the actual vote than the (highly partisan) actual map.

Ellenberg makes an unusual suggestion for fixing the gerrymandering problem (other than letting a computer do it): Increase the number of seats in the state legislature. Currently the Wisconsin Assembly has 99 members, only two more than it had in 1860, despite the population now being eight times what it was then. Imagine the following thought experiment: The maximum size of the Assembly is equal to the population of the state, so each assembly member represents just one person. The partisan distribution would then exactly mirror that of the state. At the other extreme, imagine a state Assembly with one at-large member. There would be no gerrymandering and the majority party would control the body, 1 to 0. So size clearly has an impact.

The Michigan study suggests that making districts smaller makes gerrymandering the state legislative districts harder. Also, if the Assembly had 300 members instead of 99, every town of 20,000 would have its own legislator, meaning a person well known in town would have a credible chance of being elected, even without being very rich or having rich friends. A 300-person Assembly is not totally crazy. The lower chamber in New Hampshire—a much smaller state—has 400 members. Although if you try to apply the same standard to a large state like California, you end up with a 2,000-person lower chamber, which could prove a tad unwieldy.

Of course, a larger state legislature wouldn't affect congressional gerrymandering directly unless the House of Representatives was greatly expanded. The current size of 435 members was set in 1911, when the U.S. population was less than 30% of what it is now. Still, a non-gerrymandered state legislature would at least lead to the congressional gerrymandering being done by the state's biggest party, rather than the one that gerrymandered the state legislative map. (V)

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