Feb. 27

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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

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Supreme Court Passes the Buck on the Dreamers

The Supreme Court normally loves to make national policy on everything from health insurance to who can get married to whom. But yesterday, on the issue of the dreamers, it rejected the Trump administration's appeal of lower court decisions and effectively said: "Will somebody else please handle this hot potato?" Federal courts in New York and California ruled that the administration could not just end the DACA program by announcing it is no more. The program allows people who entered the country illegally as children to stay. No matter how the Court ruled, half the people in the country would be furious with it, so it punted and sent it back to the appellate courts, none of which have ruled on the district court decisions. The normal procedure is for cases to work their way up through the appellate courts, but on matters of grave national importance, the Supreme Court knows that it is going to have to make the final decision anyway, so it will sometimes skip the appeals courts and rule directly. It will be at least a year before the case comes back up and no doubt the Court is hoping it is resolved politically before then, so it doesn't have to make an unpopular ruling one way or the other. This is something that Chief Justice John Roberts is concerned with, in particular.

Now the ball is back in Congress. Donald Trump said that if Congress doesn't come up with a solution to the problem of what to do with the dreamers by March 5, he will start deporting them. The Senate voted on four different solutions last week, none of them got more than 57 votes, and the one that got 57 votes probably couldn't pass the House. Maybe as the deadline gets closer, Congress will take another stab at it, but given how badly divided Congress is, it is hard to see it passing anything.

The public, however, wants action. A new Harvard/CAPPS-Harris poll released yesterday shows that 76% of voters (including 63% of Republicans) want to let the dreamers stay and be given a pathway to citizenship. Almost the same number say they should be given work permits now. This poll is consistent with dozens of previous polls on the subject, and members of Congress know this very well, but the partisan divisions there keep any legislation from being enacted. (V)

Supreme Court Hears Key Union Case

Yesterday, the Supreme Court did handle a case instead of passing the buck. Mark Janus, an Illinois public employee and union member, sued his union, the AFSCME, because he didn't want to pay dues that cover the cost of collective bargaining with management. The case made its way to the High Court, which heard oral arguments yesterday. Here are five takeaways from the hour-long sessions:

If Justice Gorsuch proves to be a younger version of Antonin Scalia, as most conservatives hope, and votes for Janus, unions will not be able to collect certain fees from all members, which will gut their finances. Unions are a strong force for the Democratic Party, and if they are badly weakened by this ruling, it will hurt Democrats around the country. This is why many non-union groups are worried about the case and why many of their supporters gathered outside as the hearing was going on. A ruling is expected in June. (V)

Administration Will Start to Slash Government Programs

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to gut countless government programs, but until now he has been stymied by a peculiarity of federal law. If Congress appropriates money for an agency or program, he is not allowed to end it just because he doesn't like it. Since the government has been running on endless continuing resolutions for months, and these resolutions just keep funding all programs at current levels, he hasn't been able to kill much. However, with the possibility of a real budget in March, the administration could finally defund programs and agencies it doesn't like and simply kill them. It is expected that there will be a bloodletting like never before, especially programs that are not widely known and whose demise won't cause an uproar.

One example is the Biological Survey Unit, a tiny unit of the Dept. of the Interior with seven employees and a budget of $1.6 million. It has been around for over 100 years and does fundamental research on the fauna and flora of the United States and maintains an invaluable collection of over a million mammals, birds, and reptiles at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Some of the unit's work has direct practical value, such as its studies of which birds near military bases may endanger aircraft, which animals serve as disease vectors in Afghanistan, and how Burmese pythons have disrupted the ecological balance in the Everglades. Its $1.6 million is a drop in the bucket in a $4 trillion federal budget, but given the administration's attitude that science is a bad thing, the program is about to go extinct, just like some of the species in its collection. This is but one small example of a program that is about to be axed. There are many more like that that are probably doomed, and when they are gone, decades of hard-won knowledge will be gone in a flash. (V)

Trump's Border Wall Keeps Shrinking

Donald Trump's proposal for building a "big, beautiful wall" along the Mexican border was never particularly viable. More and more, he is starting to realize that. Or, he is starting to realize that he needs to manage expectations. It could be either, or both. In any event, The Donald acknowledged on Monday that there are certain parts of the border that won't require construction. "We don't need a wall where you have rivers and mountains and everything else protecting it," he told a bipartisan group of senators. It is possible that one of the senators from Texas clued him in to the fact that the nearly 1,000-mile border between Texas and Mexico is inhospitable mountain terrain very unsuited to building a wall. Among other reasons, there are no roads close to the border, so getting workers and building supplies there would be very difficult and expensive.

There can be no doubt that, at some point, a wall of some sort will be built. It's too important a symbol for Trump, and he (and his base) are clearly not willing to let it go. But by the time all is said and done, it may not be a great wall so much as a not-so-great and not-so-long chain-link fence in the flat desert of Arizona. (Z)

Trump May Not Go Far to Find New FAA Head

Donald Trump needs to find a replacement for FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who did a good job during his term, but who was an Obama appointee. "Who do I know who knows something about airplanes?" is the thought that is apparently going through the President's head. And the answer is: "My personal pilot, John Dunkin." And so, despite protests from the members of his administration, Trump very much wants to appoint Dunkin to lead the FAA. Dunkin, for his part, believes that there will be no further flight delays anywhere in the United States once a pilot is in charge. Uh, huh.

There are other candidates—Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) and current acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell—but given that Trump appears to have his heart set on Dunkin, administration officials are trying hard to sell the appointment. "John Dunkin isn't just a pilot," said one. "He's managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from start-up under FAA regulations, and oversaw the Trump presidential campaign's air fleet, which included managing all aviation transportation for travel to 203 cities in 43 states over the course of 21 months."

The parallel that this brings to mind, of course, is Harriet Miers, the George W. Bush lawyer and friend that he tried to appoint to the Supreme Court. That didn't fly, and Bush had to withdraw the nomination and wipe the egg off his face. If Dunkin is appointed and confirmed, it will certainly suggest that Trump has the GOP wrapped around his finger in a way that W. never did. (Z)

Trump Channels His Inner Reagan

There's a fairly well known story about Ronald Reagan, who was addressing an adoring audience one day, and told them a story from his time in the military. Two of his comrades-in-arms, the President explained to the crowd, were flying a mission over France when their plane was hit. The pilot was in a position to eject, but the co-pilot's seat was jammed, and he could not escape the plane. So, the pilot refused to leave the plane, and they both went down with the plane together, perishing in the crash. The crowd ate it up, and the Gipper was very pleased with himself. It fell to his aides to remind him that: (1) He never served in Europe, having spent the entire war in Los Angeles, and (2) The story he told was really just the plot of the 1944 movie "Wing and a Prayer," and so never actually happened.

We make note of this because Donald Trump appears to have similar delusions of grandeur. On Monday, the fellow who got five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam was discussing the Florida school shootings with a group of governors and told them that, "I really believe I'd have run in there even if I didn't have a weapon." Surely, the governors must have struggled to keep a straight face, since there is zero chance that Trump actually would have done so. Even Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is paid handsomely to peddle whatever the President is selling, couldn't go there, and tried to clarify that, "I think he was just stating that as a leader he would have stepped in, and hopefully been able to help." Ronnie was the only person who actually believed his story, and it would appear that Donnie is the only person who actually believes his. (Z)

Generic Democrat Leads Generic Republican by 16 Points

About a week ago, we noted that the once double-digit and then single-digit lead the Democrats held on the question "Would you prefer that Democrats or Republicans control the House?" was back to double digits. Now a new CNN/SSRS poll confirms what Quinnipiac found last week. The CNN poll shows that 54% of registered voters want the Democrats to run the House, while only 38% want Republicans to be in charge. That difference is about the same as in 2006, when the Democrats flipped both the House and the Senate.

This brings the polling results back to where they were in the fall, before the tax bill passed. Republicans thought that when voters saw bigger paychecks, they would be thankful and support the GOP. They did, but a month later they forgot and were back to the positions they held before the tax bill even came up. If the Democrats were really to win the national House vote by 16 points, they would probably pick up 80 or more seats. Nevertheless, "Generic Democrat" and "Generic Republican" are not on the ballot anywhere. Candidates, funding, scandals, and local issues often play a big role in campaigns. (V)

Wicker Draws a Challenger from the Right

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) got some unhappy news on Monday, as Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel (R) made clear that he intends to throw his hat in the ring for this year's Senate race. McDaniel is pretty far to the right, a tea partier who is tired of hearing black folks "whine" about slavery, and who thinks the #MeToo movement is much ado about nothing, perpetrated by "a bunch of unhappy liberal women." He very nearly knocked off Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago, and apparently likes his chances against Wicker. There's going to be some good old-fashioned down-home mudslinging, because McDaniel does not mind punching below the belt.

Wicker's got a solid approval rating (51% approve vs. 24% disapprove) and a $4 million war chest, which is a veritable fortune in Mississippi. Meanwhile, McDaniel's best buddy in the media—Steve Bannon—is now persona non grata. So, Wicker is certainly the favorite. If McDaniel does get the nomination, however, it could theoretically put the seat in play. Mississippi is pretty red, but not as red as one might think. It went for Donald Trump by 17 points, and for Mitt Romney by 11. Those are the kind of margins that could conceivably be washed away in a Democratic wave year, particularly with Trump's approval sagging. If the blue team does want to make a go of it, they will need to come up with a solid candidate. Perhaps their only statewide officeholder, Attorney General Jim Hood. Or maybe Ray Mabus or Ronnie Musgrove, both of them former governors who therefore, like Hood, have won statewide elections. Possibly someone to get the state's black voters interested, like Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), or state representative Derrick Simmons. The problem for the Democrats is that the filing deadline is Thursday, so if they're going to recruit someone, they're going to have to do it quickly. (Z)

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