Nov. 02

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Trump Lashes Out after New York Attack

On Tuesday, a truck-driving Muslim named Sayfullo Saipov plowed into a crowd of bikers, reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar" as he left a trail of devastation in his path. Eight people are dead in what the authorities have declared to be a terrorist attack.

Donald Trump, who must have heard the news shortly after waking up, was outraged. He took to Twitter several times during the day to share his views:

In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely. NOT IN THE U.S.A.!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2017

We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2017

I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

The terrorist came into our country through what is called the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program," a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017

This is just a selection, but in case there was any doubt where the President stands, he also called Saipov an "animal," said that he might try to deprive Saipov of legal representation and a speedy trial, and described the U.S. justice system as a "joke" and a "laughingstock." One can only guess what will happen if Saipov ends up before a judge who is Mexican. Or a Muslim. Or a Mexican Muslim.

Meanwhile, consider the tweets that Trump sent immediately following the Las Vegas shooting:

My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2017

I am so proud of our great Country. God bless America!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 3, 2017

This is not a carefully-selected subset; these two tweets are it for the 48 hours after the Las Vegas incident. Clearly, the difference between the President's response when a Muslim kills people with a truck, and a white guy kills seven times as many people with an (effectively) automatic rifle, is profound. The easy explanation is that Trump knows what side his bread is buttered on, and that slamming Muslims pleases the base while slamming white folks and guns does not. However, the fury on display Wednesday—which lasted for hours and hours—did not appear to be for show, it seemed to be genuine. If so, that would mean that Trump really does get much, much angrier when a Muslim does something nasty than when a white person does. Which in turn would suggest that the notion that Trump is not himself a racist, he's just playing to the base, may not be quite correct. (Z)

Republicans Expect All Hell to Break Loose Today

If the Republicans release their tax bill today, as expected, many of them expect all hell to break loose when lobbyists learn the details. The problem is well known, but the solution is not. Any tax-reform measure has winners and losers, and the losers tend to make a lot of noise. Some estimates of the not-yet-released bill say that as many as 25% of middle-class taxpayers will see a tax increase. If that is true, expect to find many representatives hiding under their desks by Friday.

Making all this more difficult is that House members don't want to vote for painful provisions that they know the Senate will never stomach. They don't want to give their 2018 opponents ammunition while failing to accomplish anything. In fact, the House and Senate are working on separate bills, so even if each chamber passes its bill, there will be difficult discussions in the conference committee when the members have to cobble together a single bill and get it passed.

Also working against the Republicans is the calendar. They really want to pass something before Thanksgiving, which means they have all of 10 days to pass a bill that affects every person and every business in the country. That is going to be close to impossible. They probably couldn't name a post office in 10 days, let alone something that affects the entire economy. In short, the knives are going to be out very soon. (V)

Trump Wants to Use Tax Bill to Change the ACA

As if the Republicans don't have enough problems with the tax bill, yesterday Donald Trump chimed in by sending out a couple of tweets asking for the bill to also repeal the ACA mandate, which the Supreme Court said counts as a tax:

Wouldn't it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts.....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

....for the Middle Class. The House and Senate should consider ASAP as the process of final approval moves along. Push Biggest Tax Cuts EVER

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

With Trump, it is hard to tell if this is a serious proposal or it just popped into his head yesterday. Needless to say, just eliminating the mandate and doing nothing else would wreak havoc with the insurance markets as many healthy young people would just drop their insurance, leaving an older, sicker pool of people behind. That would lead to higher premiums and more people dropping their insurance. Maybe this is what Trump wants, but more likely he simply hasn't thought it through. (V)

Trump Was Not Immediately Opposed to Meeting with Putin

On Monday, it became public knowledge that George Papadopoulos tried to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The administration pooh-poohed this, with Trump suggesting he could barely remember such a low-level staffer. Now, a second, currently unknown individual has come forward to corroborate the general story, and to add that when the possibility of a meeting with Putin was raised, Trump did not immediately rule it out.

This is not exactly a smoking gun, of course, but it does add more paint to a picture that is not looking very good for Trump & Co. Between the Papadopoulos revelations, and Paul Manafort's dealings, and Michael Flynn's dealings, and Jeff Sessions' multiple meetings with Sergey Kislyak (that the AG conveniently forgot during his confirmation hearings), and the confab with Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Jared Kushner's attempt to set up a secret communications channel to Russia, and Trump's pondering a meeting with Putin, it certainly looks like the campaign was working with the Russians, or at least trying to do so. And even if Trump and/or his senior leadership was not privy to all of these machinations, there comes a point where the negligence and carelessness on display becomes a serious concern unto itself. (Z)

Powell Gets the Nod to Lead the Fed

By the end of the week last week, Donald Trump had narrowed his choices for the next chair of the Federal Reserve down to two people. And now, it's down to one: Jerome Powell, whose nomination will officially be announced on Thursday.

Though Powell is a lawyer and not an economist, he is a former investment banker and a current member of the Fed's Board of Governors, so he's certainly qualified for the post. Though a Republican, he's known for being pragmatic and flexible, and so was appointed a governor by Barack Obama. Because he's not an inflation hawk (someone who wants to keep inflation very low) and he is—gasp!—generally ok with the notion that the government needs to keep an eye on Wall Street, he had some opposition during his first confirmation. The final vote was 74-21, with all 21 "nay" votes coming from the Republican side of the aisle. It will be somewhat hard for the Democrats to suddenly desert him en masse, and it will be similarly hard for Republicans to turn their backs on a Republican nominee sent to The Hill by a Republican president, so the odds are good he'll be confirmed. (Z)

Pelosi: Stop Talking about Impeaching Trump

Many Democrats think that the most important thing for the country to do is impeach President Donald Trump. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is not one of them. She thinks such talk is very counterproductive until such moment that special counsel Robert Mueller comes with proof that Trump committed an impeachable offense. She thinks that talking about impeachment now is a distraction and will only antagonize independent voters the Democrats will need badly in 2018. She also told Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer to stop his $10 million ad campaign encouraging people to demand Trump's impeachment.

Her view is that impeachment talk may make some on the left feel good, but will not win any new hearts and minds. She wants the party to focus on its program, especially what it will do for people if it achieves power. She definitely does not support the actions of some Democrats, led by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), to introduce articles of impeachment into the House.

There is some (indirect) evidence that running on a platform of "we're not Trump" won't work. The evidence is that the closest match to Trump among world leaders is certainly Silvio Berlusconi, a flamboyant populist billionaire who dominated Italian politics for decades. His opponents campaigned by relentlessly pointing out that he was a crooked, sexist, liar who was convicted of paying an underage girl for sex. None of it worked. His supporters were jealous of him, not angry with him. Democrats could learn something here: People want to know what you are for, not what you are against. (V)

As many as 146 Million People May Have Seen Russian Ads on Facebook

Facebook keeps raising its estimates of how many people saw ads generated by the Russian trolls working at the Kremlin's Internet Research Agency. Initially Facebook's estimate was 10 million people. Then it zoomed up to 126 million. Currently Facebook says it is 146 million. By way of comparison, about 130 million people voted for president in 2016.

Quite a few of the Russian ads were made public (again) on Wednesday, along with information on where they were posted, who they were targeted at, and how much the Russians paid. They are all pretty ham-fisted, in the vein of this ad targeted at fans of Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage:

Jesus v. Satan

That's right, a vote for Hillary makes Jesus cry.

The fact that Facebook keeps changing its numbers suggests one of two things. Either they are being dishonest, or else nobody's minding the henhouse and they really have no clue what's happening on their own site. Neither of these possibilities is going to sit well with the members of Congress, who are about to decide whether to regulate the social media platform. (V & Z)

Most Senators Running for Reelection are Reasonably Popular

Republicans are hoping to knock off some of the ten Democratic senators running for reelection in states Donald Trump won. However, four factors argue against a wholesale slaughter of Democratic senators in 2018. First, historically the president's party gets whacked hard in the Senate and House in the midterms. In 17 of the past 20 midterms, the president's party lost seats in the Senate.

Second, the president's popularity matters a lot. The more popular the president, the better his party tends to do. The most recent poll of Donald Trump's approval rating puts him at 33%, the lowest on record for a first-year president.

Third, the reelection rate for incumbent senators is about 90%. It's not easy to unseat someone firmly entrenched in the Senate. It does happen, but it is the exception, not the rule.

Finally, candidates matter. If a senator is personally popular that often is enough to do the trick, even if the state normally favors the other party. To get an idea of where the senators stand, Morning Consult ran a poll asking about the approval/disapproval of each of the 100 senators. The three most popular senators (with net approval) are Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at 49%, Pat Leahy (D-VT) at 45%, and John Hoeven (R-ND) at 43%. The three least popular ones are Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at -22%, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) at -15%, and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) at -9%. Here are the ratings of the senators running for reelection.

State Senator Approve Disapprove Net
New Jersey Robert Menendez (D) 32% 41% -9%
Nevada Dean Heller (R) 39% 39% 0%
Missouri Claire McCaskill (D) 42% 39% 3%
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin (D) 41% 38% 3%
Utah Orrin Hatch (R) 46% 41% 5%
Michigan Debbie Stabenow (D) 45% 36% 9%
Nebraska Deb Fischer (R) 45% 35% 10%
Pennsylvania Robert Casey (D) 43% 32% 11%
Virginia Tim Kaine (D) 48% 35% 13%
California Dianne Feinstein (D) 47% 33% 14%
New Mexico Martin Heinrich (D) 45% 31% 14%
Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse (D) 49% 32% 17%
West Virginia Joe Manchin (D) 53% 36% 17%
Ohio Sherrod Brown (D) 47% 28% 19%
Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren (D) 54% 35% 19%
Montana Jon Tester (D) 53% 33% 20%
Texas Ted Cruz (R) 52% 32% 20%
Indiana Joe Donnelly (D) 47% 26% 21%
Washington Maria Cantwell (D) 50% 28% 22%
Connecticut Chris Murphy (D) 53% 31% 22%
Mississippi Roger Wicker (R) 49% 26% 23%
North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp (D) 55% 32% 23%
Florida Bill Nelson (D) 50% 26% 24%
New York Kirsten Gillibrand (D) 49% 24% 25%
Maryland Ben Cardin (D) 50% 23% 27%
Wyoming John Barrasso (R) 53% 26% 27%
Delaware Thomas Carper (D) 55% 24% 31%
Minnesota Amy Klobuchar (D) 59% 26% 33%
Maine Angus King (D) 61% 27% 34%
Hawaii Mazie Hirono (D) 60% 24% 36%
Vermont Bernie Sanders (D) 71% 22% 49%

From this table we see that none of ten vulnerable Democrats are under water, and seven of the 10 are more than 10 points above water. This doesn't mean they can't be knocked off, but defeating a (moderately) popular incumbent running against the president in a midterm election won't be as easy as some people think.

Case in point: Many observers have said that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is in trouble because West Virginia went for Trump by over 40 points. But the fact that West Virginians like Trump doesn't automatically mean they dislike Manchin. His net rating is +17% and more than half the voters approve of him personally. He has also won statewide election five times. He is anything but a sitting duck. (V)

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