Sep. 26

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Moore Strange Bad News

It appears that by tomorrow morning, everyone can stop making bad puns about the Alabama Republican runoff to be held today. If all the polls are right, former Alabama Supreme Court judge Roy Moore will be the Republican candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general. Yet another poll shows Moore ahead of Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) 52% to 41%. Last week, there was one with Moore leading 54% to 46%. Just about every poll has shown Moore with a big lead. If Strange pulls this one off, it will be a huge upset.

The poll was taken entirely after Donald Trump went to Alabama to campaign for Strange. The pollster asked people if Trump's visit mattered. Slightly over 57% said it didn't matter, 20% said it made them more likely to support Strange, but 18% said it made them more likely to support Moore. Also noteworthy is that Moore's supporters are much more likely to vote than Strange's supporters.

If Moore wins, all elected Republicans will take note that Trump's opposition isn't fatal but a Steve Bannon-backed primary challenge could be. This is going to make them less likely to take their marching orders from Trump and pay more attention to what Bannon and Breitbart News think of them.

The winner of today's runoff will face Democrat Doug Jones in December in the general election. Most Democrats are hoping that Moore wins, since he is so extreme that some college-educated Republicans might actually vote for Jones and at least give him a small chance to win. But even if Moore is elected to the Senate, he will be nothing but trouble for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (V)

Collins Is a Firm "No"

On Monday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) made official what everyone already presumed: She will vote against the Cassidy-Graham-Heller-Johnson (CGHJ) health-care bill if it is brought to the floor. She was apparently not pleased to learn of the CBO's declaration that, even after a partial scoring of the bill, they believed that "millions of people" would lose health coverage. With Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) also firm "no" votes, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) likely "no" votes, CGHJ seems to have no path forward. That is certainly the feeling on the Hill right now, particularly with only four days left until the deadline for using 2017's reconciliation bill arrives.

With that said, the Obamacare repeal has been declared dead many times before and, like Nosferatu, it just keeps springing back to life. Maybe the Democrats need to find a wooden stake or a silver bullet somewhere and use that. There is talk of trying to do a joint tax overhaul-Obamacare repeal with 2018's reconciliation bill, but that's madness. Either one of those is a tall proposition, and putting them together creates a Great Wall of China-sized hurdle to overcome. Really, there is only one plausible way that an Obamacare repeal happens before the midterms, and that is that the GOP decides that their health-care bill was tantalizingly close to passing, while changing the tax code is nigh-on impossible, and so they will use 2018's reconciliation for health care. One can particularly imagine Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) making this calculation if McCain departs the Senate and is replaced with a more pliant Republican. If Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is replaced by a Republican (see below) as well, it is probably a sure thing. This is not a likely sequence of events, but it certainly is possible. So, everyone should probably withhold all "Obamacare is dead" proclamations, at least for a while. (Z)

Supreme Court Cancels Travel Ban Hearing

With Travel Ban 3.0 set to take effect in October, and Travel Ban 2.0 now dead, the Supreme Court feels that the ban-related questions they were being asked to consider are now moot, and so they have canceled a planned hearing on the matter. It is expected they will soon remove the entire case from their calendar.

Clearly, SCOTUS is trying to avoid involvement unless absolutely necessary, as their decision punts Travel Ban 3.0 down to the lower levels of the federal court system. Attorneys for various civil rights groups, starting with the ACLU, are certainly planning challenges. However, the inclusion of two non-Muslim countries, as well as the use of a thorough process in deciding which countries would be targeted, is going to make their case very difficult. Nobody denies that the executive branch has the power to manage immigration policy, and the courts are reluctant to trample on that, except in the most egregious of cases. Travel Ban 3.0, while it is very unlikely to stop any terrorist attacks, and could even make things worse, may not rise to the level of "egregious." And so, this subject may never cross the Supreme Court's docket again. (Z)

NFL v. Trump Enters Day 3

Clearly, John Kelly's moratorium on tweets is dead, because Donald Trump unleashed an avalanche on Monday, including half a dozen slamming the NFL and its players. For example:

Tremendous backlash against the NFL and its players for disrespect of our Country.#StandForOurAnthem🇺🇸

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017

After sleeping on it for a night, Trump obviously thinks he's still got a winner here. And he's not entirely wrong; Steelers tackle (and U.S. army veteran) Alejandro Villanueva broke ranks with his team, and was the only one standing on the sidelines yesterday for the national anthem (the other players remained in the locker room). His jersey promptly became the best-seller on Presumably, it wasn't supporters of Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) making those purchases.

At the same time, however, the pushback against Trump continued to be quite visible. "Monday Night Football" pitted the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys against each other; the former linked arms during the anthem, while the latter, including owner (and Republican) Jerry Jones, kneeled as a team before the anthem played. Performing the Star Spangled Banner was Jordin Sparks, who had "Proverbs 31:8-9" written on her hand, in very visible fashion. That's:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

So, Trump's critics in the NFL ranks are not backing down.

The President has also gotten into the habit of carelessly using veterans, without their approval, to try and underscore his political points. That includes this retweet, sent out as Sunday became Monday:

NFLplayer PatTillman joined U.S. Army in 2002. He was killed in action 2004. He fought 4our country/freedom. #StandForOurAnthem #BoycottNFL

— Ⓙay (@jayMAGA45) September 24, 2017

Tillman's widow, who has been critical of Trump previously, told him to knock it off, and declared that the service of her husband (known for his liberal politics), "should never be politicized in a way that divides us." Of course, the last time the relatives of a dead soldier criticized Trump, he ripped them on Twitter. Will Marie Tillman get the same treatment? We will see, but either way, Trump's vendetta against the NFL seems likely to stretch on for a while longer. (Z)

Voter-ID Laws Probably Cost Clinton Wisconsin

Some observers have long suspected that laws intended to disenfranchise low-income and minority voter may have cost Hillary Clinton the election. Now a careful new study of Wisconsin registered voters who didn't vote in 2016 strongly suggests that these laws did, in fact, cost Clinton Wisconsin.

The study consisted of asking registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee Counties who did not vote why they didn't vote. It found that 6% were stopped from voting by a new law that requires government-issued photo ID to vote. An additional 11% were deterred from voting because they knew they needed ID to vote and didn't have it, so they didn't even try. About 80% of these people voted in the 2012 election, so the group isn't lazy or uninterested in government. Additionally, an unknown number of other potential voters didn't even register because they didn't have ID.

The number of people deterred or prevented from voting in the two Wisconsin counties studied was 26,000. The authors of the study conclude that if the newly disenfranchised voters had voted in 2016 at the same rate as in 2012, turnout was reduced by between 0.9% and 1.8%. Donald Trump's margin in Wisconsin was 0.7%. Since the disenfranchised voters were heavily Democratic, it is a safe bet to conclude that absent the law, Clinton would have carried Wisconsin. It is also possible that a similar reduction in turnout of Democratic voters occurred in other states with voter-ID laws.

People without government-issued photo ID are predominantly poor and/or minority. These people disproportionately don't have cars so they don't need drivers licenses and international travel is way beyond their reach, so they don't have passports. The study found that among households with an annual income below $25,000, 21% were deterred from voting while among those above $100,000 only 2.7% were deterred. Broken down by race, 8% of the people deterred were white and 28% were black. If the goal of the law was to prevent poor and/or black people from voting without affecting rich and/or white people too much, it succeeded quite well. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, noted that a similar North Carolina law targeted black voters with almost surgical precision.

All states that have voter-ID laws provide free voter-ID cards—but there is a catch. To get a free voter-ID card, one needs a birth certificate, which is never free and frequently inconvenient to obtain (e.g., by requiring a personal appearance during limited hours in the middle of the day). There is a wealth of data showing that in-person voter fraud, which the laws are ostensibly designed to prevent, is virtually nonexistent. The real purpose of them is to suppress the Democratic vote, and this study now shows for the first time that they do accomplish their goal quite well. (V)

McCain: Doctors Give Me a Very, Very Serious Prognosis

John McCain has now said that his doctors told him that he has a very, very serious prognosis. They estimated his chances of surviving his glioblastoma, a very aggressive form of brain cancer, at between 3% and 14%. This is the same kind of cancer that took the life of Ted Kennedy. McCain admitted that sometimes he is afraid of what might happen, but then remembers that he has had a great life. He talked about his passing, saying: "I want when I leave that the ceremony is at the naval academy and we just have a couple of people that stand up and say 'This guy, he served his country.'" If McCain were to pass or to resign in the next few months, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would appoint an interim successor who would stand for election in Nov. 2018. (V)

Rock Falls in Michigan

That's not any old rock, but Kid Rock (whose real name is Robert Ritchie). He has suggested that he might run for the Senate against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in 2018. However, a new MRG poll put out yesterday may give him second thoughts. The poll shows Rock being pulverized by Stabenow, 52% to 34%. MRG is a Republican outfit and it is very unlikely they would make Rock look worse than the data show. An earlier poll showed it to be a potentially close race.

Donald Trump's win has suddenly changed many people's mindset about elections. The old one was: "Celebrities can never beat established politicians." The new one is: "Celebrities can easily beat established politicians." But probably the old one was right and Trump is sui generis. For all his faults, Trump knows how to connect with angry blue-collar workers. Not all celebrities have that skill. Also, in 2016, Hillary Clinton had the second highest disapproval rate of any presidential candidate in history. Stabenow is reasonably popular in Michigan, with a new approval rating of +8%. Thus while many people voted against Clinton (and not for Trump), in Michigan, not so many people (except Republicans) will be voting for Rock just because they hate Stabenow even more. (V)

Northam Leads in Virginia Gubernatorial Race

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) is leading Ed Gillespie (R) by a margin of 47% to 41% according to a new Christopher Newport University poll. Libertarian Cliff Hyra is at 4%. Northam has big leads in the urban areas of Northern Virginia and around Hampton Roads. Gillespie leads in the rural southwest of the state.

While races for attorney general are usually off the radar, this year's AG race in Virginia is important. Current Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is at 47% and his opponent, John Adams (R) is at 40%. The reason this race is particularly important is that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort lives in Virginia. If special counsel Robert Mueller indicts him for evading tax on the millions of dollars he earned in Ukraine, Trump can pardon him. If the Virginia AG indicts him for evading Virginia's state income tax, however, Trump cannot pardon him. In theory, the political party of the Virginia AG should not play any role in whom he indicts. In the real world, it plays a big one. (V)

People in New Jersey Want Menendez to Resign If Found Guilty

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is on trial at the moment for corruption. A Suffolk University poll of New Jersey residents show that 84% want him to resign from the Senate if he is convicted and only 10% want him to stay after being found guilty. Menendez doesn't have to resign if he doesn't want to, and certainly not before all appeals have been exhausted.

The timing of a potential resignation is crucial, however. If he were to resign before Jan. 16, 2018, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) would appoint his successor, presumably a Republican, and maybe himself. If Menendez were to wait for all the appeals to play out and resign after Jan. 16, 2018, the new governor would appoint his successor. All polls have shown that Democrat Phil Murphy is expected to win in a landslide in November, so Menendez surely would wait until after Jan. 16, 2018, if he is found guilty. The Senate is empowered to expel him, but that requires a 2/3 vote and it is a sure thing that Democratic senators won't vote for expulsion, at least not before Murphy is sworn in. (V)

More on the German Elections

With more information now available, and some helpful input from readers in Germany, it's possible to say a bit more about the German elections, and their parallels to what is going on in American politics, particularly as regards the big story of the night on Sunday, the unprecedented success of the far-right AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) Party.

To start with, it is clear that in Germany every politician who is not part of the AfD is working to stymie them. The primary reason that the center-left SPD left Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition was to make sure that the AfD were not the largest party in the opposition, a position that comes with increased privileges and higher visibility in the Bundestag. Meanwhile, the "Jamaica coalition" of Merkel's center-right CDU/CSU, the libertarian FDP, and the left-wing Greens is going to be a curious one, roughly like Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski, and Bernie Sanders trying to govern together. But they are likely going to try to make it work, because while they disagree on a lot of things, they agree on their loathing for AfD. Needless to say, this kind of cooperation—putting the need to combat racists and ultra-nationalists above all else—does not exactly have a parallel in the United States at the moment.

On the other hand, if we think of AfD as being somewhat equivalent to Donald Trump's base, then there is a parallel in the sense that the AfD is also quite divided, with different factions pitted against one another. Frauke Petry is among the more moderate members of the AfD, to the extent that it's possible to be moderate in a party made up of radicals. She appeared at the press conference called to discuss AfD's success Monday, and promptly quit the party, saying its platform was not "credible." She will join parliament as an independent, amidst a chorus of boos and catcalls from the less-moderate right-wingers.

Needless to say, it's difficult to compare a true multiparty system like Germany's to one dominated by two parties like the United States'. Nonetheless, it seems clear that if we look at the U.S., Germany, France, the U.K., the Netherlands, etc., that reactionary politics are certainly having a moment right now, but that the general unacceptability of such views, coupled with the internal problems inherent to such factions, limit their potential to actually achieve their agenda, whether it's the AfD, or the French National Front, or the Dutch Party for Freedom, or the Bannonites. Noise and bomb-throwing, yes, actual governing, no. (Z)

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