Nov. 06

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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26 Dead in Yet Another Mass Killing

For the second time in a week, a homicidal maniac has unleashed an act of unspeakable violence against innocent American citizens. This one, which happened in Texas, has left at least 26 people dead and an undetermined additional number injured.

Thus far, Donald Trump has sent a single tweet about the matter:

May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2017

Speaking to reporters in Japan, where he is in the midst of a 12-day Asian trip, the President also said, "In dark times such as these, Americans do what they do best, we pull together. We join hands and lock arms." He added that, "And through the tears and through the sadness, we stand strong, oh so strong."

Now it's time for a pop quiz: What race was the killer, and what means did he use to kill? You get three guesses, and the first two don't count. Time's up! His name was Devin Patrick Kelley, and of course he was white and used a gun to kill. The President's verbiage here was his usual for a white-guy-with-a-gun attack; if it had been a person of color and/or a Muslim, he would have responded with things like "politically correct" and "terrorists" and "tougher vetting." He also would have sent 10 tweets rather than one. This CAP Alert graphic, comparing the words Trump most commonly uses on Twitter in each of those two situations, is instructive:

word cloud

Meanwhile, information about the type of gun has not yet been made public, but witnesses described a "hail of gunfire," so presumably it was at least semi-automatic. If it is revealed that Kelley—who died shortly after the shooting—used a bump stock to make his gun fully automatic in the manner the Las Vegas shooter did, then Republican lawmakers and NRA leaders are going to burn quite a few calories this week with all the dancing they'll have to do. (Z)

Brazile Keeps Firing at Clinton Campaign

Donna Brazile stirred up quite a hornets' nest with her claims, made earlier this week, that when she assumed temporary leadership of the Democratic Party last year, she was shocked to learn that it was completely in the pocket of the Clinton campaign, financially and logistically. Appearing on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Brazile doubled down on her "I'm a victim, too, and I just tried to do the right thing" narrative, claiming that she gave serious consideration to dropping Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) as the party's ticket, and replacing them with Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

This claim, of course, is utter nonsense—so much so that Brazile was compelled to issue a statement late in the day on Sunday backing off her original comments. There may have been a time that the chair of the DNC could single-handedly pick the party's candidate, but that era expired right around the same time Queen Victoria did. Even if Brazile had ironclad proof that Clinton was the personal agent of Vladimir Putin, working to subvert the U.S. government from within, there is still very little she could have done about it unless Clinton voluntarily stepped down.

Most Democratic leaders are, not surprisingly, furious about Brazile bringing all of this up now, arguing that nothing good can come of it, and insisting that the time has come to look ahead to 2018 and 2020 and not backward to 2016. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, for example, said "[W]e should stop talking about it; it's passed. We can't adjudicate it now, let's focus on the elections Tuesday and on going forward. There can't be any[thing] positive that comes from it."

Former Clinton campaign staffers are particularly livid, as they believe Brazile is misrepresenting much of what happened. Many of them published an open letter that reads, in part:

We were shocked to learn the news that Donna Brazile actively considered overturning the will of the Democratic voters by attempting to replace Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as the Democratic Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees. It is particularly troubling and puzzling that she would seemingly buy into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponent, about our candidate's health...

[W]e are pretty tired of people who were not part of our campaign telling the world what it was like to be on the inside of our campaign and how we felt about it. We loved our candidate and each other and it remains our honor to have been part of the effort to make Hillary Clinton the 45th President of the United States.

All Democrats should be doing everything they can—canvassing, phone banking, etc.—to help our candidates for Governor of Virginia and New Jersey and the other races around the country next Tuesday.

The letter is signed by 100 people, including all the heavy hitters from the campaign staff: Huma Abedin, Robby Mook, John Podesta, etc.

Certainly, many supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have been pleased by the revelation of this new dirt, seeing it as a form of vindication (though the Senator himself refuses to comment on the matter). Still, those who are critical of Brazile and her timing are right in suggesting that her whole stance here rings a little bit false. She is a professional political operative who knows how the sausage is made. If her tone were more in the vein of "I regret the mistakes that were made," everything might ring a bit truer, but her efforts to paint herself as a victim and a good guy who very nearly took "heroic" steps to correct an injustice don't quite sit right. Her retconning as regards Hillary Clinton's chances—Brazile now claims she knew the Democrats were in "deep trouble" on Election Day—is also hard to swallow. Nobody (outside of Michael Moore and the L.A. Times tracking poll) was saying that, and nobody gave any indication they were even thinking that. There is also much reason to be skeptical about Brazile's timing and her motivations here. If she had suggested any sort of reform that would prevent these kinds of things from happening again, then maybe she might argue she is just trying to help fix what is wrong with the Party. But no such suggestions have been forthcoming, which makes it seem all the more like all she's doing here is shilling copies of her new book. (Z)

Democrats Pin Hopes on Black Voters in Virginia

On Tuesday, voters will head to the polls to choose new governors in New Jersey and in Virginia. The blue team appears to have the former contest in the bag, as every single poll of the race has given Democrat Phil Murphy a double-digit lead (with an average lead of 15.4 points). Consequently, the more uncertain Virginia race is attracting all of the blue team's attention (and anxiety). Democratic leaders are hoping that their ace in the hole is going to be black voters.

In the two Obama elections, not surprisingly, there was record black turnout. Not so much for Hillary Clinton. Given that the blue team's candidate in Virginia, Ralph Northam, is a white fellow, it seemed possible that 2018 would be more of the same. However, Democratic volunteers who have been going door-to-door in the black communities of Virginia report that enthusiasm seems to be high. Not for Northam, per se, but for the opportunity to push back against the GOP's wishy-washy response to Charlottesville, and their pandering to "heritage" and "tearing down our statues." If that is the dynamic, then it's potentially transferable to other states and other elections. So, party leaders will be watching closely on Tuesday, not only to see who wins, but also to see who votes. (Z)

Democrats Look to Build a "Blue Wall" Along the Pacific

The two gubernatorial elections have been getting all the attention, but a much smaller election on Tuesday could actually prove to be more consequential. Washington State Senate District 45 is home to a little less than 140,000 people. From 2011 until the end of 2016, they were represented in the State Senate by Andy Hill, a moderate Republican who had great personal popularity. However, he passed away from lung cancer, and now the district—which went for Hillary Clinton by 37 points—has to choose a replacement, with Manka Dhingra (D) and Jinyoung Lee Englund (R) their options. Over $8.5 million has been spent on the race, a staggering sum for a local election like this. Polls give Dhingra a 10-point lead, and those who know the area say there's no reason to doubt that she will win.

So, why is an election for a single seat in the Washington legislature such a big deal? Well, if the seat flips to the Democrats, they will acquire a clear majority in the Washington State Senate. Already, Democrats control the governor's mansions and state assemblies in California, Oregon, and Washington, and the state senates in California and Oregon. So, if they can claim the Washington Senate, they will have the trifecta up and down the West Coast. Sharon Nelson, Democratic leader in the Washington State Senate, is already dreaming about "a blue wall from the Canadian border to the Mexican border."

The point here is not just to make a pretty pattern on a map, however. Democratic leaders in each of the three states—including Govs. Jay Inslee (WA), Kate Brown (OR), and Jerry Brown (CA)—envision something of a blue super-alliance, where the three states partner together to enact similar policies on things like gun control, contraception, minimum wages, and, most significantly, global warming. Getting that many Democrats on the same page—aka, herding that many cats—is easier said than done. But for it to even be a realistic possibility, the blue team has to win the election in State Senate District 45. (Z)

Flynns Could Be Mueller's Next Targets

Now that the hammer has fallen on Paul Manafort (and Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos), one big question is: Who is next? It is all-but-impossible that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have done this much work just to charge a small handful of miscreants. On Sunday, there were pretty strong indications that the next targets will be the Flynns, father Michael and son Michael Jr.

This isn't all that much of a revelation, since Flynn Sr. was the obvious next target anyhow. However, we did get confirmation that Mueller feels he already has enough evidence to charge the one-time National Security Advisor with multiple crimes. The special prosecutor and his staff have meetings scheduled this week with several Flynn associates, so charges are unlikely until those are concluded. However, it seems pretty likely that when Flynn cuts into his Thanksgiving turkey, he will do so while out on bail. (Z)

Papadopoulos Repeatedly Represented Trump Campaign

Nobody is denying that Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos had significant contact with the Russians during the 2016 election season. Instead, the White House has attempted to downplay Papadopoulos' activities by arguing that he was a minor functionary, barely involved with the campaign at all.

As it turns out—gasp!—that's not especially true. In fact, Papadopoulos regularly represented Team Trump at various meetings and events. He was in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, for example, and spoke to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Trump's behalf (Steve Bannon must have been busy that day). Papadopoulos continued thereafter as a liaison between Trump and the AJC. He also sat for a number of interviews with various media outlets on behalf of the campaign, and during inauguration week in January he represented the administration in a meeting with Israeli dignitaries. So, he was a part of the campaign for a minimum of seven months, often performing pretty high-profile tasks. Not exactly someone who was "very unimportant," per Trump's characterization. (Z)

"Paradise Papers" Released

On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists—which includes staffers from the New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian (UK), and dozens of other media outlets—made public a cache of over 13 million documents they have uncovered. These documents are dubbed the "Paradise Papers," as they primarily relate to financial transactions conducted in (tropical) tax havens.

To nobody's surprise, there are Russia-related revelations within the document. To start, the Russians used Russian-American billionaire Yuri Milner to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Twitter and Facebook. This is a pretty bad fumble by the two social media platforms, since the involvement of the Russian government was apparently not a secret, and since the Putin administration is not interested in profit, it's interested in purchasing influence. If Mark Zuckerberg & Co. reach 2020 without being regulated by the federal government in some way, it will be a minor miracle.

The Papers also revealed a couple of Trump connections. The first is that Milner is a good friend and frequent business partner of...Jared Kushner. This doesn't prove that the First Son-in-law knew about the Twitter/Facebook investments, since Kushner can't be expected to know everything that each of his associates does, but it certainly doesn't look good. Far worse for the administration, meanwhile, is the news that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross did substantial business with Vladimir Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov. Somehow, Ross forgot to mention this during his Senate confirmation process. It may be reasonable for a businessman to claim he didn't know what his business partners were up to, it's far less reasonable for a businessman to claim he didn't realize his partner was the son-in-law of the leader of Russia.

Ross, then, appears to be in deep doo-doo. And it's yet another connection between members of the Trump administration and Russia. For those who are having trouble keeping track, given how very many connections there seem to be, the Washington Post has put together this handy (and interactive) chart. (Z)

Rand Paul Could Be Sidelined at Home for a While

Last Friday, a neighbor of Sen. Ran Paul (R-KY) assaulted him at his home in Bowling Green, KY. The senator sustained five fractured ribs, three of them displaced. Doctors say that the pain from this type of injury can be substantial, and last for weeks to months, making travel—including flying—difficult.

The political implications of this attack could be as serious as the medical ones. Paul could be de facto confined to his home for a while, like the other Paul (Manafort), albeit for very different reasons. Since the Republicans have only 52 votes in the Senate, his absence may make a difference when tough votes are taken. In general, Paul tends to be a "no" vote on most of the bills that come up and an abstention is not different from a "no" for purposes of getting 50 votes to pass a bill. However, on procedural motions, Paul is generally a "yes," so his potential absence for weeks or maybe months means that the Republicans' already-small margin just got a little bit smaller. (V)

Prosecutors Question Manafort's Bail Offer

Speaking of people named Paul, Paul Manafort is back in the news again. This time about the conditions for his $10 million bail. Apparently Manafort couldn't find that amount in coins under the sofa cushions, so he is offering up some of his homes in lieu of cash for his bail. The problem is that prosecutors don't believe the properties are worth as much as he claims they are. In a court filing, the prosecutors argued that Manafort's estimate that his apartment in Trump Tower was worth $6 million was too high and as proof cited another apartment on a higher floor in the building as worth only $4.5 million. Manafort also claimed that a property of his in Brooklyn was worth $9 million, but a recent appraisal was in the $5 to $6 million range. A judge will hold a hearing today on whether to accept Manafort's offer or make him pledge even more assets before he can be released from house arrest. (V)

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