Oct. 23

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Previous | Next

Trump Personally Interviewing U.S. Attorneys

If the U.S. government was to be redesigned from scratch, it's probable that the Department of Justice would be part of the branch responsible for...justice. But, because the Founding Parents did not spell things out, that department ended up under the auspices of the executive branch. Consequently, if the president breaks the law, the folks responsible for dealing with it are people who work for him. Oops. In order to deal with this quirk in the system, a number of customs have established themselves over time. Among the most significant is that the president generally plays no role in the hiring of U.S. attorneys, so that there are no questions about their independence and their integrity. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has decided to flip the script, and is personally interviewing candidates for some postings.

While the President is technically within his rights, this arrangement is concerning because he could use the interviews to extract promises of loyalty, or just to intimidate potential candidates. And it gets worse from there, since Trump has involved himself only in the hiring of U.S. attorneys for New York; Washington, D.C.; and Florida. Those are the places in which, respectively, he lives/does business, works, and summers. In other words, if Trump is to be sued or prosecuted at the federal level, it's likely to be in one of those places.

And if that were not enough, it also turns out that one of the candidates is Geoffrey Berman, who would replace Preet Bharara in New York. If Berman is approved, he would be responsible for prosecuting Reza Zarrab, who is accused of money laundering and fraud. Turkish President and friend of Trump Recep Erdogan would like this prosecution dropped. If Berman takes over, he may do just that, especially since the New York law firm that represents both Zarrab and the Turkish government is the one that Berman currently works for. The firm that was, by the way, founded by Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani. In short, we have more conflicts of interest here than you can shake a stick at.

So, this whole process is giving off an unpleasant odor. At the same time, Trump is playing yet again with fire. Perhaps he has forgotten that he is personally being investigated for obstruction of justice. This is an impeachable offense (ask Richard Nixon), and one that is often proven by showing a pattern of behavior. For Trump to fire Bharara without cause and then to handpick a replacement drawn from the firm of a close friend? Let's just say that won't be helpful for his defense, should it come to that. And that's before we talk about the President's interactions with James Comey. (Z)

Khizr Khan Criticizes Trump and Kelly for Their Statements on the Niger Deaths

Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq, and who played a starring role at the Democratic National Convention, appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday and criticized President Donald Trump for not handling the deaths of four American soldiers in Niger with respect and dignity. He said the matter has become a political football.

Last week, Trump got into a dispute with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) about the matter. Chief of staff John Kelly backed Trump up, but a videotape showed that Kelly clearly lied when he said that Wilson bragged about getting a new FBI building for Miami. The tape shows that she said no such thing. Khan said that Kelly should have refrained from getting involved in the matter, adding: "This is American tradition that when military leaders retire, they go home, collect their pension, and they maintain the dignity that they have earned." (V)

Trump Administration Set to Create Another ACA Mess

In its ongoing effort to cut Obamacare off at the knees, the Trump administration has taken a number of steps to curtail enrollments. The sign-up period will be cut by half, to six weeks, while the advertising budget for "Sign up for Obamacare!" commercials has been cut by 90%, and the budget for enrollment helpers has been slashed by 40%. As a result of these decisions, and others, the number of insured is expected to drop, and the cost of policies is expected to rise.

Now, another messy issue has come to light. As a consequence of all of these policy choices, people whose Obamacare policies are set to renew automatically may not be aware that they have many fewer days to cancel before that happens. The result is that millions of people may be stuck with the wrong insurance policy, or with a policy that they no longer want. And this will happen just as prices spike, which is going to make for some unhappy campers.

There's no particularly good way around this problem, assuming the administration sticks with the shorter enrollment period. The President has committed to the idea that voters will blame the failures of Obamacare on Barack Obama and the Democrats, and not on Donald Trump and the Republicans. Polls suggest that is not a wise conclusion, and now it looks like The Donald is going to be gambling with a couple million more Americans. (Z)

Is Mississippi the Next Alabama?

The Alabama Republican senatorial primary this year to fill the seat of former senator Jeff Sessions was a bruising battle between the Republican establishment and outsiders hell-bent on destroying the Party so it could be rebuilt from the ground up. Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore won the primary, with help from Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon. Bannon is now actively working on the theory "If it works in Alabama, it will work in Mississippi." Bannon's instrument of choice there is Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel, a firebrand who almost beat Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in 2014 and who is very likely to challenge Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) in June 2018. This will likely be the first of many potential challenges to Republican incumbents next year. Others are likely to occur in Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, and elsewhere.

It is possible that McDaniel's near-win over Cochran was an anomaly and that McDaniel really isn't that strong a candidate. Among other things, Cochran was alleged to be in an inappropriate relationship with an aide, Kay Webber, while his wife was in a nursing home with dementia. Also, establishment Republicans urged Democrats to vote in the Republican primary to support Cochran in order to defeat McDaniel. In 2018, these factors won't be available to help McDaniel.

Wicker's problem is not that he is insufficiently conservative. The American Conservative Union has given him an 85% lifetime rating for his 22 years of public service. The problem is that Wicker takes his marching orders from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not from Bannon, and that is what Bannon wants to change by installing McDaniel in Wicker's seat. If McDaniel beats Wicker, it is going to cause mass panic among Republican incumbents, both in the Senate and the House as they all realize they could be next.

McConnell realizes this completely, of course, and is going to go all out to protect Wicker. Yesterday, he attacked Bannon by name and said he was a specialist at "nominating people who lose." Trump and Bannon are still on the same page, despite the former's kicking the latter out of the White House, so when McConnell goes after Bannon, he is de facto also going after Trump for working with Bannon. If there is one thing McConnell really cares about, it is not health care or even tax cuts, but keeping his job as majority leader. If Trump is in effect working to undermine him, McConnell is not going to give a rat's ass about Trump's priorities and will pursue his own legislative goals.

This primary and the ones following it could lead to a civil war within the Republican Party, something Bannon badly wants and something McConnell desperately wants to avoid.

From Bannon's perspective, there is one potential small fly in the ointment, however: Moore isn't a senator yet. He has to defeat former U.S. attorney Doug Jones in the Dec. 2017 general election. If a combination of black voters and college-educated Republicans puts Jones over the top, then the Republican establishment is going to scream at Bannon: "Look what you did! A few more 'victories' like this and the Democrats will control the Senate." So a lot is riding on the Dec. Alabama Senate election, much more than just one seat. (V)

Democrats Nervous about Virginia

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) is a strong favorite to succeed his boss, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) when Virginians cast their votes in November. This particular race has been heavily polled; since April, Northam has come out on top 21 times (an average of +5.8 points), compared to just one poll where his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie was leading (and that was by just one point), and two ties. Still, Democratic leadership is antsy about the race, given its potential impact on the 2018 midterms.

Just as the Senate race in Alabama is fraught with implications for the Republicans, particularly should their candidate lose (see above), so too is the governor's race in Virginia fraught with implications for the Democrats. If Northam takes the prize, then the Democrats will have momentum heading into 2018, along with proof that their current approach and platform are working. "Let's elect a bunch more Northams in 2018!" they will say.

On the other hand, if Gillespie triumphs, it will be a disaster for the blue team. The Party will have lost yet another election in the Trump era, and will have to worry about a lack of momentum and flagging enthusiasm. Further, the Hillary Clinton-like Northam triumphed in the primary over the Bernie Sanders-like Tom Perriello. So, the simmering tensions between the two factions could devolve into an all-out civil war, with each side thinking the other doesn't have any idea how to win an election. The Republicans know all of this, so if they think Gillespie has a chance, they will pour copious resources into the state. Given the stakes, the Democrats are going to do the same. So, the stage is set for what could easily become the most expensive gubernatorial contest in American history. (Z)

Another Republican Enters the Race for Corker's Seat

The retirement of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has set off a battle for the Republican nomination to replace him. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) was the first to throw her hat in the ring, but yesterday it was joined by that of former Tennessee representative Stephen Fincher, a seventh generation cotton farmer from Frog Jump, TN. Fincher is going to make the case that he can help push Donald Trump's agenda through Congress. The only problem with that strategy is that Blackburn is also a big Trump supporter, so the primary may come down to who loves Trump more. Trump carried Tennessee in 2016 by a margin of 61% to 35% over Hillary Clinton. He carried all but three of the state's 95 counties.

Blackburn is far better known in Tennessee than Fincher, in part because she had a prime speaking role at the Republican National Convention last year. Nevertheless, both candidates have access to serious money and the primary could be a pitched battle. Since Fincher is the seventh generation of cotton farmers in the state, it is likely that his ancestors owned slaves, but Blackburn is probably not going to bring that up. What she will certainly bring up is the $3.5 million in subsidies Fincher has received from the federal government for his farm.

While Tennessee is a deep red state, the Democrats haven't abandoned all hope. They are hoping that former governor Phil Bredesen enters the race, or failing that, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke jumps in. Corker was mayor of Chattanooga before he was elected to the Senate, so the Chattanooga-to-D.C. trail has already been blazed. (V)

Carter Wants to Go to North Korea

Jimmy Carter is now in his nineties, and his public career will soon reach its end. Though a mediocre president, he has been a spectacular ex-president, enough to take home the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his efforts to promote peace, democracy, and justice around the world. He would love to go out with one last triumph, and he sees the perfect opportunity for that in North Korea. To that end, he announced this weekend that his services are available, should Donald Trump want them. Carter even did the necessary kissing up, expressing his view that the media have been harder on The Donald than on any other president, and agreeing with him that football players should stand for the national anthem.

It is hard to imagine that Carter's offer gets accepted, however. To start, Trump doesn't want to talk to the North Koreans, and the North Koreans don't want to talk to the United States. Further, Carter took a shot once before (in 1994) and came up short. There's no reason to believe he would have greater success this time. Finally, the thought of allowing a Democrat to claim even a sliver of the glory that Trump thinks should accrue to him is abhorrent. So, Carter doesn't need to worry too much about staying close to the phone this week. (Z)

McCain Keeps Poking the Bear

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) knows how to brawl, when necessary. And, unlike his current sparring partner Donald Trump, he has mastered the art of subtlety, so that he can throw the occasional jab without dirtying his hands. So it was on Sunday, when the Senator sat for an interview about the Vietnam War and offered up this:

One aspect of the (Vietnam) conflict by the way that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.

Hm...rich guy who got out of Vietnam by claiming to have bone spurs? Sounds familiar. Your move, Mr. President, though you'll quit while you're ahead if you know what's good for you. (Z)

Back to the main page