Oct. 10

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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New E-mail about Russian Meeting Appears to Exonerate Team Trump

The Washington Post has laid hands on a previously undisclosed e-mail sent by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to music publicist Rob Goldstone. It was Goldstone who facilitated the infamous meeting at which members of Donald Trump's campaign—including Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr.—reportedly expected to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians. If the new e-mail is to be believed, then the agenda for the meeting was actually to discuss the sanctions imposed on Russia, and Hillary Clinton was—at most—a footnote.

The key question, of course, is: Is this e-mail to be believed? Answering that question, in turn, requires asking a number of additional questions:

Add it all up, and barring much more compelling evidence to the contrary, it's hard to regard this new message as anything more than a diversionary tactic. (Z)

Babysitting Donald Trump

On Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) slammed Donald Trump via Twitter, responding to the President's early-morning Twitter tantrum with the observation that, "It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning." It would seem that Corker knows of what he speaks, as Politico has a remarkable new piece, based on interviews with current and former White House insiders, about how senior staffers manage Donald Trump.

There are, apparently, a number of strategies—often carefully coordinated—that don't always work, but are successful more often than not. They include:

A lot of these tricks seem awfully similar to what a parent might do to get a five-year-old to eat their brussels sprouts or to clean their room. Maybe Trump's staff should tell him that Christmas is coming soon, and Santa doesn't visit the houses of naughty boys who withdraw from nuclear deals with Iran. (Z)

Pence's Indianapolis Stunt Cost at Least $240,000

Merriam-Webster defines "stunt" as an action "performed or undertaken chiefly to gain attention or publicity." That word, then, seems a pretty good way to describe Vice President Mike Pence's walkout at Sunday's Colts-49ers game. At this point, whether they support the Veep's actions or not, nobody seriously believes that the whole thing was not scripted well in advance.

Yesterday, we wondered how much this little piece of performance art cost John Q. Taxpayer. It would seem that we're not the only ones. CNN's Rene Marsh did a little quick math, and came up with a price tag of $242,500. However, that is just an estimate of his airplane travel costs, which are far and away the easiest thing on which to put a price tag.

The Washington Post's Phillip Bump is also curious, but notes that many costs will be difficult or impossible to peg. There's Pence's travel to and from the stadium (with police escort), and his extensive security detail, neither of which was cheap. Then there are the costs imposed on the other 70,000 spectators at the game, all of whom had to spend extra time and cope with extra hassle because of heightened security. That extra security, in turn, had to be paid for by the Indianapolis Colts. Then there is whatever time that Pence and Donald Trump spent on this little demonstration; presidential and vice presidential work time is valuable, and every minute spent planning a grandstand is a minute not spent on other, presumably more pressing, problems. Add it all up, and our guess of a $1 million price tag still seems quite a reasonable estimate. (Z)

Cotton's Star is...Rising?

"When a man is intoxicated by alcohol, he can recover," wrote congressman and Supreme Court Associate Justice James F. Byrnes, "but when intoxicated by power, he seldom recovers." We bring this up because every time one of the people in orbit around Donald Trump comes crashing to Earth, another one seems to take his or her place. We can only assume that these individuals are drunk from their proximity to power, and that is what causes them to fool themselves about their inevitable fate.

The latest sycophant-du-jour is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Though the Senator has been critical of Trump in the past, accusing him of getting distracted by trivial issues, and condemning his remarks about Charlottesville, the two men have grown more and more intimate in the past month or so. Cotton is now advising Trump on Iran, North Korea, and other matters. He is not-so-subtly trying to undermine Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, saying they should "get out" if they don't support Trump's agenda. The Senator has also hinted that's he's available to serve in a high-level Cabinet position, ideally one involving matters of State, should one happen to come available.

Undoubtedly a man who has two degrees from Harvard, and who managed to get himself elected as the youngest person in the Senate (he's 40), must have some serious political acumen. However, his cozying up to Trump seems like sheer madness. As a Republican senator from a very red state, he has something close to life tenure. Arkansans like incumbents a lot, which is why they've had five different senators in the past century that lasted five terms or more. On the other hand, an officeholder in the Trump administration has about the same prospects as a deck chair on the Titanic. The list of onetime allies whom Trump has used up and then cast aside is very, very long, and already includes multiple senators, among them Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions and Bob Corker. For Cotton to think he can somehow buck the trend is like Mickey Rooney's ninth wife thinking, "Yeah, I can make this work." And even if Cotton does somehow hang on, there's an excellent chance that anyone associated with Trump will be tainted for life once he leaves office. All in all, Cotton would be wise to sober up, pronto. (Z)

Iran Does a Little Scimitar Rattling

In case there was any doubt that Iran would become another North Korea if the Iran nuclear deal is canceled, they pretty much put them to rest on Monday, announcing that, "if America's new law for sanctions is passed, this country will have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000 km range of Iran's missiles." Of course, the difference between the two countries is that the North Koreans may be able to make good on their threats, while the Iranians are definitely able to do so, should they so choose.

That wasn't all. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, also declared that, "If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world particularly in the Middle East." Typically, bluster is not the best way to get a positive response from Donald Trump, but by previewing the headaches the President could be in for if he kills the nuclear pact, maybe Jafari is actually playing his hand correctly. We will likely gain some insight by October 15, which is the deadline for Trump to certify whether or not Iran is abiding by the terms of its agreement. (Z)

Feinstein Will Run for Reelection

At 84, Dianne Feinstein is the oldest member of the Senate (she's got about 90 days on Chuck Grassley, R-IA). That's not impossibly old for a senator, as the 101-year-old Strom Thurmond could have attested on those rare occasions when he was awake. Still, the fact that Feinstein would be 91 at the end of another term caused some observers to predict she would throw in the towel. On Monday, she disabused everyone of that notion, announcing officially that she would stand for re-election. In explaining her reasoning, Feinstein tweeted:

I am running for reelection to the Senate. Lots more to do: ending gun violence, combating climate change, access to healthcare. I’m all in!

— Dianne Feinstein (@DianneFeinstein) October 9, 2017

There's no reason to doubt her; these are among her signature issues, and there is some evidence that the Senator will be able to make progress on one or more of these fronts in the next six years. Her decision is primarily of interest to policy wonks and political geeks; whether Feinstein stays or goes, California doesn't send Republicans to the Senate any more. So, there is no meaningful impact here in terms of control of the upper chamber. (Z)

Do the Democrats Have a "Harvey Weinstein" Problem?

By now, everyone has heard that film mogul Harvey Weinstein has a problem with women. As in, he has systematically abused his wealth and influence in order to pressure women to have relations with him. It was the New York Times that finally blew the whistle; by all accounts this has been going on for decades, and was an open secret in Hollywood circles. Even Weinstein himself, who's already been fired from his eponymous company, does not deny it.

This story has a significant political angle because Weinstein, during his decades of sexual harassment, was also a prominent Democratic donor and fundraiser who palled around with the bluebloods of the Party, most notably Bill and Hillary Clinton. CNN's Chris Cillizza argues that this presents a real problem for the Democrats, in part because they accepted money from a man who is now toxic, and in part because—over the years—some (or many) of them must have been aware of his boorish behavior.

Time will tell if Cillizza is right; certainly the enemies of the Democratic Party have made much hay out of much smaller things than this. However, it is also the case that every Democrat who got money from Weinstein has now made a point of sending it back, or donating it to charity. It's also hard to imagine, and even harder to prove, that most of these people were in close enough proximity to Weinstein to actually be aware of his dirty laundry. Is a Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or a Patrick Leahy (D-VT) really dialed in to the Hollywood grapevine? The Democrats most likely to be guilty of knowing and looking the other way—the Clintons—are no longer in office, or running for office. So, the blue team may not take as much damage as Cillizza thinks.

Then, of course, there is the fact that the head of the Republican Party is Donald Trump, who has an entire Wikipedia article devoted to his sexual misconduct allegations. It's no stub, either—clocking in at over 11,000 words and 126 footnotes, it's pretty close in length and heft to a Master's thesis. Anyone who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, or has worked with or supported him since, has done so with an awareness of some or many of these allegations, in particular his penchant for pu**y grabbing. Point is, it would be very hard to make Weinstein into the next Hillary Clinton e-mail server without constantly reminding people of Donald Trump's own bad behavior, and all the people who tolerated it. That being the case, the odds are good that this fades away as Weinstein settles into retirement (and some much-needed counseling). (Z)

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