Oct. 04

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Trump Just Can't Help Himself

Donald Trump has had wealth and power for his entire adult life. It has been a long time since he worked with someone who did not need to kowtow to him, if he's ever worked with such a person. The result of this is a certain lack of diplomacy and social grace, since he's never had a real need to rein himself in. When someone is carefully choosing The Donald's words for him, he can certainly do the "presidential" thing, as was the case with Monday's address about the Las Vegas shootings. But when he's speaking off the cuff, well, Trump gotta Trump. Such was the case while delivering remarks during his visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Whether or not Trump actually empathizes with the people of Puerto Rico is anyone's guess. They're not rich, famous, or powerful; they're not white, male, or from New York; and they are not useful to him as business partners or as voters. So, it's entirely possible he has no use for them. However, he certainly knows that he's supposed to appear empathetic, and he was definitely trying to do that. He nonetheless inserted his foot squarely into his mouth, starting with this declaration:

Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous—hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody's ever seen anything like this. What is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what's taken place in Puerto Rico.

Undoubtedly, the people of Puerto Rico—most of them still without electricity or water or proper shelter—were interested to learn that this is not a "real" catastrophe. And the families of those 16 people (now up to 29) surely did not enjoy hearing that their dead relatives are a triviality, a mere drop in the bucket. Meanwhile, if the good people of Louisiana were paying attention, they must be thrilled with the notion that so many of their fellow citizens died because...they didn't work hard enough?

Arguably, that's not even the worst of it. The bulk of the remarks was a roll call of various members of the Trump administration, and praise for the great job they are doing. For example:

I also want to thank Linda McMahon, Small Business. I always joke—I said, she's in charge of small business, but small business is massive business when you add it all up. And she has done an incredible job—built a great company with her husband, Vince McMahon. And I wanted her so badly for this position because there's nobody that knows how to build a company like those and, let me tell you, like this woman. She has been amazing in business, and now she's doing an incredible job as the Administrator. We want to thank you, Linda, very much.

It's unclear exactly what role the Administrator of the Small Business Administration has played in hurricane relief, and a reading of the complete transcript does not shed any light on the matter.

Finally, after chastising Puerto Rico for having "thrown our budget a little out of whack," Trump concluded, naturally enough, with a little pat on the back for himself:

So I appreciate your support and I know you appreciate our support, because our country has really gone all out to help. And it's not only dangerous, it's expensive, it's everything. But I consider it a great honor, maybe because I know so many people from Puerto Rico that are such great people—I come from New York. But we've gone all out and I consider that, again, a great honor.

All in all, the President is fortunate that the island doesn't get to vote for president, because he surely didn't win any fans there on Tuesday. (Z)

Kennedy's Questions Suggest He May Vote to Ban Gerrymandering

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in one of the most significant cases to be thrust upon it in decades. The heart of the case is whether it is constitutional for one party to gerrymander House and state legislative districts to its advantage. The Court long ago ruled that gerrymandering for the purpose of reducing the influence of minority voters is unconstitutional, but it has never ruled on whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional. Now it is going to have to.

The case it heard yesterday, Gill vs. Whitford, has its roots in the 2010 elections in Wisconsin, when the Republicans won the trifecta in state government for the first time in 40 years. Naturally, they began immediately drawing up federal and state districts that blatantly favored the GOP. Sure enough, in 2012, Republican candidates won 48.6% of the votes statewide but won 60% of the seats in the state assembly. Democrats sued and, as usual, Justice Anthony Kennedy gets to decide who's right.

Kennedy peppered the attorney for Wisconsin with hostile questions, suggesting that he might join the four Democratic appointees and find gerrymandering unconstitutional. In the past, Kennedy has made it clear that he doesn't like gerrymandering, but he has a Potter Stewart problem. In 1964, Justice Stewart commented on a pornography case, saying he couldn't define pornography "but I know it when I see it." That's Kennedy's problem. He knows gerrymandering when he sees it, but until yesterday, he lacked an unambiguous test to define gerrymandering. This is why the Wisconsin case is so important. The plaintiffs have proposed a mathematical test to determine if a state is gerrymandered and are proposing that any map that fails this test should be declared unconstitutional.

Stewart never was able to come up with a formula to define pornography, like if organ 1 is on screen for more than x seconds or organ 2 is on screen for more than y seconds, it is pornography. In contrast, for gerrymandering, social scientists working for the plaintiffs have now come up with a mathematical test that could give Kennedy what he needs to vote to end partisan gerrymandering. (V)

Bannon Fires a Gunshot Across Trump's Bow

Yesterday, we laid out some of the reasons that it is not wise to expect Donald Trump to do anything about guns following the Las Vegas massacre. In case there were any doubts, Steve Bannon effectively laid them to rest on Tuesday. Speaking with Axios, he issued a warning to the President in no uncertain terms, telling him that if he goes for the guns it, "would be the end of everything." If there's any question as to where the Breitbart crowd stands, the first five Las Vegas-related headlines appearing on their webpage as of Tuesday night are:

When it comes down to it, the real issue is this: Second amendment advocates are single-issue voters. Gun control advocates, by and large, are not. So, a politician who limits guns earns no great reward, while one who limits guns is punished with a loss of votes and donations. This is particularly true for Trump, as the Venn diagram of "gun lovers" and "Trump's base" is pretty much a single circle. (Z)

Pence's Chief of Staff Wants to Purge anti-Trump Republicans

Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, told a group of wealthy GOP donors yesterday that what the Republican Party needs to succeed in 2018 is to purge itself of Republicans who don't fully support Donald Trump. He was very clear how they should go about this. The donors should form a coalition and have it inform every wavering Republican in Congress that unless he or she is 100% behind Trump by Dec. 31, not only will the member not get a penny in campaign donations, but the coalition will go all out to support the member's primary opponent(s).

Needless to say, this kind of talk is not going to make the Vice President more popular with those folks on Capitol Hill who feel they are being singled out. Some of them may even remember this if a day ever comes when they get to vote on whether they prefer Trump or Pence as president. (V)

Collins to Reveal Future Plans Next Week

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is facing a tough decision: Run for re-election to the Senate in 2020, or head home to Maine and run for governor in 2018. It's a difficult enough call that she's already missed two self-imposed deadlines for announcing her plans; she says she is 100% certain she will have a definitive announcement next week.

Her reasons for leaving the Senate are compelling. Congress is gridlocked, and has been for years. Those things that do get done, like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, or possible changes to the tax code, get done using parliamentary trickery. Collins is a traditionalist like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and strongly prefers normal order. Further she is weary of living part-time in Washington, and longs to return to her home state.

On the other hand, there are some good reasons to stay in the Senate as well. She doesn't particularly want to abandon the small band of moderates who still remain, including Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp (MT) and Republicans like Lisa Murkowski (AK). She's got seniority, something that takes decades to acquire in the Senate. Running for re-election is a much safer bet than trying to move into a new job—while her chances of taking the governor's mansion would be very good, she's run afoul of the current governor, Paul LePage (R), who could mobilize his supporters against her. By contrast, her chances of keeping her Senate seat would be close to 100%. And finally, Collins believes—with good reason—that if she throws in the towel, her nemesis LePage would appoint himself as her replacement. And then, since he's got some baggage, he would be vulnerable to a Democrat in 2020. Collins may be a moderate Republican, but she's still a Republican, and would not be pleased to see Maine stuck with the choice of LePage or a member of the blue team.

Whether Collins stays or goes, her dilemma should give GOP leadership pause. If moderates don't think they have a real place in the party anymore, that could presage shifts in the electorate that might leave the Republicans in very bad shape five or ten years down the line. (Z)

Murphy Holds Double-Digit Lead over Guadagno in New Jersey

A new Monmouth University poll shows Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy leading his Republican opponent, Kim Guadagno, 51% to 37%. This race is important for a number of reasons. First, governors have a lot of control of the state machinery and can help their party's candidates in races from the presidency on down.

Second, it is a test of a possible realignment of the parties. Donald Trump is good at attracting resentful blue-collar workers, but he may be equally good at repelling college-educated white-collar professionals. The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections next month will be the first statewide test cases of this potential realignment in the Trump era, since both states are relatively well educated.

Third, if Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who is currently on trial for corruption, is convicted, he will be under enormous pressure to resign from the Senate. If Murphy wins, Menendez certainly won't resign until after he is inaugurated. Then Murphy will appoint some other Democrat to replace the Senator. If Guadagno wins, she will appoint a Republican if she gets the chance. Given how tenuous the Republicans' hold on the Senate is, this is hugely important. (V)

Kushner Apparently Likes to Make Bad Situations Worse

In the last couple of weeks, First Son-in-law Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump have come under scrutiny for their use of private e-mail accounts in the course of their official government business. At best, this looks very hypocritical, given how aggressively the Trump family attacked Hillary Clinton for her e-mail behavior. At worst, depending on what e-mails passed through those accounts, and whether or not copies of those messages were officially archived, it could be illegal.

On Tuesday, USA Today reported news that seemingly makes things even worse. Apparently, once the spotlight was on Kushner and his e-mail accounts, he decided to reroute all of the messages to the mail servers of the Trump Organization. This makes it look even more like Kushner was desperately trying to hide something, and at the same time obliterates the bright red line that is supposed to be drawn between the President's political career and his private business. Between this, and the attempt to set up a secret phone line to the Russians, and his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, if Kushner manages to avoid joining his father in becoming a convicted felon, he truly is leading a charmed existence. (Z)

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