Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Immigration Bills All Fail in the Senate

Four different immigration bills came to a vote yesterday in the Senate and all four failed to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster by the bills' opponents. A bipartisan group of senators wrote one bill that allows the dreamers to stay and become citizens after 10-12 years, and in return gives $25 billion for Donald Trump's border wall while also imposing a ban on the parents of the dreamers being legalized. Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), a Trump ally, described that bill as "a pig in a poke." The bill got 54 votes, six short of the 60 it needed.

Another plan, which would add to the bipartisan bill a drastic cut to legal immigration by reducing family reunification visas and eliminating the diversity lottery, also failed to pass. This was the plan favored by Donald Trump. It got only 39 votes—not even a majority, let alone a three-fifths majority. Two other plans also failed to get 60 votes.

What happens next is anyone's guess. Trump has said that if Congress does not pass a law fixing the immigration system by March 5, he will begin deporting the dreamers. However, the courts are likely to intervene. Two court rulings have already said that while the president has the authority to repeal previous executive orders (like Barack Obama's order protecting the dreamers), he has to have good reasons to do so and can't do it capriciously. (V)

Trump and Ryan Realize that Gun Owners Can Vote but Dead Children Can't

Given the (latest) horrific school shooting on Wednesday, and given that the Republicans control the branches of government that make and enforce laws, there is some pressure upon the GOP to do something about the problem. Passing the buck to "Crooked Hillary" or the Obama deep state isn't going to fly with this one, so Republican leadership has turned to an old favorite when it comes to gun violence: mental health. On Thursday, Donald Trump told reporters that it is essential to, "tackle the difficult issue of mental health." He also tweeted this:

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) concurred wholeheartedly, declaring in his press conference that, "mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies" and that, "We want to make sure that if someone is in the mental health system that they do not get a gun if they should not have a gun."

This is, on every conceivable level, nonsense. To start, just less than a year ago, Congress passed and Donald Trump signed a bill that overturned an Obama-era order making it harder for mentally ill people (on Social Security) to get guns. At the time, GOP spokesmen claimed that it was unfair to deprive those who are mentally impaired of their Second Amendment rights. The bill was such a boon to the NRA that they made it front page news on their website.

GOP leadership, then, has no intention of stopping mentally ill people from getting guns. The President and his colleagues also have little interest in helping the mentally ill get better. Paul Ryan has consistently supported cuts to Obamacare and Medicare, programs that both provide considerable support to people with mental illness. Trump's budget, unveiled this week, slashes funding for mental health care.

And beyond that, mental health is a red herring. Experts concur that while a more robust system for helping the mentally ill would be a good thing, it would do little to nothing to stop mass shootings. Many shooters do not really qualify as "mentally ill," or even if they do, there is nothing pre-shooting to support such a diagnosis. The Las Vegas shooter, for example, would have passed any mental wellness test in the world before he went on his rampage. On the other hand, the author of the following passage would almost certainly be tossed out of school as a possible threat if this happened today:

[I]n elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye—I punched my music teacher because I didn't think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled.

Donald Trump is fortunate that he was in second grade sixty years ago.

Beyond the difficulties of identifying who is and is not a potential danger, the other major issue is that the perpetrators of mass shootings tend to blame the world for their problems, which is why they lash out. Someone who is looking outward for someone to blame is highly unlikely to turn their gaze inward and to seek help for their issues. And even if they do, or even if they are forced to do so, they are unlikely to engage in the kind of self-examination that is necessary to improve one's mental state.

In short, then, verbiage about "mental health" is just talk. Until Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, et al., start talking about the guns themselves, and stop wasting time with distractions, it will remain clear that they care more about Second Amendment voters and the NRA's money than they do about dead schoolchildren. (Z)

Gates Will Soon Flip

Signs have been mounting that Rick Gates is going to flip on former associate Paul Manafort, and now CNN is reporting that a plea deal is imminent. Gates has already had his "Queen for a Day" interview, answering any and all questions as truthfully as possible in exchange for a promise that none of his words will be used against him, so that the prosecuting attorneys can figure out what they're getting. That step is pretty far past "the point of no return," so all we are waiting for now is for Gates' new attorney Thomas Green to finish negotiating the last few details with special counsel Robert Mueller.

On Thursday, a White House official downplayed the significance of this development, declaring that, "If Gates cooperates against Manafort that's nothing to us." There is zero chance that the administration really believes that. Gates surely has the goods on Manafort, or there would be no plea deal. And if Manafort knows he's going to be cut off at the knees if he tries to fight the money laundering charges against him, he will have little choice but to flip on Donald Trump, and to spill whatever he knows about the notorious meeting at Trump Tower, and about the critical months in summer of 2016 when he was running the Trump campaign. Unless, of course, Manafort is looking for a break from his family, home, and career—one that lasts, say, 10 to life. (Z)

Bannon Refuses to Answer Most Questions at House Interview

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was asked questions by the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. Bannon refused to answer most of them. He answered only questions that were in a list of 25 questions prepared for him by the White House staff. The answer to each of them was "no." When asked any other question, Bannon invoked executive privilege. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), said: "The breadth of that claim is breathtaking and insupportable, and indeed, at times, it was laughable." Chairman Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) was not amused with Bannon, either. He said: "We have further steps to take and we will be taking those." In principle, Bannon could be held in contempt of Congress, but Paul Ryan would have a major say in whether that was even attempted.

The House Committee members aren't the only ones who had some questions for Bannon. Three sources reported that special counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena for him to testify before a grand jury, something he did two times this week. According to reports, he spent 20 hours with them. Whether he answered Mueller's questions is not known. (V)

States to Get Briefings on Threats to 2018 Elections

The Trump administration, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and just about every other elected official in the majority party seems to have little interest in confronting the problem of Russian interference in America's elections. So much for the part of their oaths about "defend[ing] the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Anyhow, without the ruling party's support, there is little chance of addressing the issue.

Or maybe that's not true. The political theorist Max Weber reminded us never to forget about the bureaucracy, and it may be they who ride to the (partial) rescue. Today, and again on Sunday, officials from all 50 states will get briefings on the problem from the FBI, DHS, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. DHS is also providing 32 states and 31 local governments with free, weekly "cyber hygiene" scans, which produce a report identifying vulnerabilities and providing mitigation techniques for election system operators. 21 state election officials have also been granted security clearances, and more are awaiting processing. We could soon be in a situation where the people overseeing state elections are more entitled to know America's secrets than the White House Staff is (130 are without proper clearances, at last count.) In any event, Team Putin might not find things to be quite as easy as they were hoping this time around. (Z)

Are Crowded Democratic Primaries a Blessing or a Curse?

One sign of the energy on the Democratic side is the sheer number of Democrats running for Congress and for state legislatures. But is this a plus or a minus for them? Republicans are hoping that in many races, Democrats will slaughter each other in the primaries and the winner will end up broke, damaged, and tired. David Wasserman at the Cook Political Report is not so sure. He points out that the problem of being broke is easily fixed (raise more money). What he sees is the biggest danger for the Democrats is running candidates who are a bad cultural match for the district, and he thinks a competitive primary is likely to weed out the misfits.

He gives as an example Rep. Steve Knight's district (CA-25) in northern Los Angeles County, around Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley. Hillary Clinton won the district 50% to 43%, yet Knight beat Democrat Bryan Caforio in 2016. How did that happen? Caforio was a bad fit for the district. He grew up in wealthy Orange County, went to Yale Law School, and works for a downtown Los Angeles law firm. Republicans called him a Beverly Hills lawyer who looked down on the people of CA-25. It worked.

This year Caforio is running again, but first he will face Katie Hill, who grew up in the district, went to Cal State Northridge, and who owns guns. She lives with her husband on a farm where they raise horses, goats, and chickens. She is a far better match for the district. To get to the general election, Caforio is going to have to knock her off first, and that won't be so easy as she can also call him a Beverly Hills lawyer.

Wasserman's message is, yes, primaries can be grueling, but the winner is more likely to be a good fit for the district than someone who ran for the nomination unopposed. Also, the winner of a competitive primary will have gained valuable experience about how to run a campaign. The money is the least of the problems, as it can be replenished. (V)

Cramer to Announce His Candidacy for the Senate Today

After first saying he wasn't interested in a promotion to the Senate, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) has changed his mind and will today announce that he is planning to challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Donald Trump have been pressing Cramer hard to make the run because Heitkamp is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate.

Cramer can't just glide to the nomination, though. First he will have to beat a state senator, Tom Campbell. North Dakota has only one representative, so Cramer has already run (and won) statewide, and thus he is favored to beat Campbell. (V)

Poll: Republican Has a Slight Lead in PA-18

Congressional district PA-18 is not a bellwether district; Donald Trump won it by 20 points. Republican Tim Murphy was elected there eight times. In 2014 and 2016, the Democrats didn't even bother fielding a candidate against him. Murphy would have been elected a ninth time, had it not come out that despite his strong anti-abortion stance, the married congressman encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. He resigned last October, triggering a special election March 13. The Republicans found a solid candidate in Rick Saccone, an Air Force veteran and conservative member of the Pennsylvania House. Republican pooh-bahs from all over the country have been showing up to campaign for him. It should be an easy GOP hold. What could go wrong?

Plenty. First, the Democrats found a strong candidate of their own: Conor Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran and assistant U.S. attorney. But the main thing Lamb has going for him is the enthusiasm of the local Democrats. A new Monmouth University poll has Saccone ahead of Lamb, but only 49% to 46%, with 4% undecided and 1% backing a third-party candidate. The NRCC has given Saccone everything it's got, including pouring millions into television ads, but all it has is a 3-point lead in a heavily Republican district against a Democrat who has never run for public office before. It may go down to the wire, and Saccone could well pull it off, but if Lamb wins, it will strike terror into the heart of every Republican representative in the country. If R+11 districts where the NRCC has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink are in play, no district is really safe. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb15 Bipartisan Group of Senators Agree on Immigration Plan
Feb15 Stormygate Gets Stormier
Feb15 17 Die in School Shooting
Feb15 Would Firing Mueller End Trump's Problems?
Feb15 Kevin McCarthy, Rising Star
Feb15 White House Security Clearances A Bigger Problem Than It First Appeared
Feb15 Rick Gates Has a New Lawyer
Feb15 Kelli Ward Announces Her Endorsement--by a Fake News Site
Feb14 Porter Scandal Rages On
Feb14 Trump Lawyer Says He Paid Porn Star
Feb14 Florida Democrat Wins "Bellwether" Election
Feb14 Another Judge Sustains DACA
Feb14 Intelligence Chiefs Warn Senate that More Meddling is Expected in 2018
Feb14 Pennsylvania Governor Vetoes Republican Congressional Map
Feb14 Rep. Kevin Cramer Expected to Challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Feb13 Trump Releases 2019 Budget
Feb13 Trump Will Announce a "Reciprocal Tax" This Week
Feb13 BuzzFeed Is Trying to Verify the Dossier
Feb13 The Unsecure White House Staff
Feb13 Trump's Pick to Run the 2020 Census Withdraws
Feb13 Corker Situation Comes into Focus
Feb13 What Is Hillary Clinton Up To?
Feb13 How Can a Republican Win in California? Maybe by Running as an Independent
Feb12 Trump Gives Up on Eliminating Deficit
Feb12 White House Is Proposing an Immigration Plan
Feb12 Trump to Unveil Infrastructure Plan Today
Feb12 Will Trump Fire Mueller?
Feb12 Trump Thinks Porter is Guilty While Defending Him in Public
Feb12 Republicans Turn to Adelson
Feb12 Jordan Warns Ryan
Feb12 Corker May Be Having Second Thoughts about Retiring
Feb12 Meet the New Pennsylvania Map, Same as the Old Pennsylvania Map
Feb11 Trump Spends Saturday Pointing Fingers
Feb11 Civics 101 with Donald Trump
Feb11 The Campaign Against Rosenstein Has Begun
Feb11 Wyden Wants Documents Related to Trump-Rybolovlev Mansion Transaction
Feb11 Democratic Senators Winning the Fundraising Battle
Feb11 Laboratories of Democracy?
Feb11 No More Moore (for Now)
Feb10 Kelly's Account of Portergate Contradicts Kelly's Account of Portergate
Feb10 Trump Is Considering Possible Replacements for Kelly
Feb10 Another White House Official Resigns Over Abuse Allegations
Feb10 Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand Will Resign
Feb10 Trump Declines to Release Adam Schiff's Response to the Nunes Memo
Feb10 Fight Brewing Over Federal Reserve Governors
Feb10 Rep. Rick Nolan Is Retiring
Feb10 Tribalism Is Thriving in Trump's America
Feb09 Federal Government Shuts Down, Then Reopens
Feb09 Democrats Slam Republicans over Corporate Stock Buybacks
Feb09 Dow Plunges over 1,000 Points Again