Mar. 05

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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McConnell Opposed Better Election Security in 2016

Denis McDonough, Barack Obama's chief of staff, yesterday said on "Meet the Press" that Obama was keenly aware that the Russians were interfering with the election and wanted a bipartisan effort to safeguard the process. He wanted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to sign a joint letter urging the states to step up their election security in light of the threat. McConnell demanded that the letter be "dramatically watered down" before being sent. McDonough also complained that the current Republican leadership has shown a "stunning lack of emergency" about Russian interference. Needless to say, if McConnell thought Russia was helping Hillary Clinton, he would have demanded an instant and fierce response.

McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, said the administration did not want to politicize the Russia connection. He does not seem to recognize that Obama was trying to avoid politicizing it by sending a letter signed by him and McConnell to the states and offering help with their election systems, but McConnell tried to minimize the urgency. The partisan nature of the conflict is still going full blast, with Democrats in Congress insisting on a thorough investigation and Republicans dragging their feet and trying to impede solutions to the problem in various ways, such as the memo from Rep. Kevin Nunes (R-CA). Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) yesterday called for Congress to wrap it up and end its investigation of Russiagate. Other Republicans see the Justice Dept. as wasting its time looking at the 2016 election and said it should be investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mails and a 2010 uranium deal done at a time when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has even called for a new special counsel to investigate Clinton.

Late yesterday the New York Times reported that the State Dept. has been allocated $120 million to fight foreign interference in the 2018 elections and has so far spent $0 of it. The elections begin tomorrow (see below). Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doubts that anything can be done about it. Richard Stengel, who oversaw the State Dept. office that oversees foreign intervention in U.S. elections during the Obama administration thinks otherwise. He thinks the Dept. could hire Russian journalists who have been exiled, publicize the fact that the Russians are spreading misinformation on Facebook and Twitter, and much more. And of course, the Dept. together with the CIA could take active countermeasures (e.g., hacking the Russian troll farm and damaging it).

All Republicans understand what the stakes are now, and they couldn't be higher. If it turns out that Trump/Pence won the election due to Russian efforts, we would have the mother of all constitutional crises and there would be hell to pay in the midterms. Republicans would be slaughtered, so they have to make this problem go away somehow, or at the very least, minimize its importance. (V)

Mueller Is Casting a Wide Net

Axios is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury has issued a subpoena asking for all e-mails, texts, handwritten notes, and other communications sent to or received from any of the following people from Nov. 1, 2015 to the present: Carter Page, Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump, Hope Hicks, Keith Schiller, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, and Steve Bannon. The author of the piece, Jonathan Swan, didn't reveal who was on the receiving end of the subpoena. Since Trump is named in the list, probably he is not the recipient. Assuming it is someone not on the list, the biggest fish not mentioned is first son-in-law Jared Kushner, although one of Trump's children is also a possibility (probably not Barron or Tiffany, though). (V)

Trump Officials: Tariffs Are on Course

Two top officials whose portfolios include trade—Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Director of Trade and Industrial Policy Peter Navarro—both appeared on the Sunday talk shows and clearly stated that the tariffs on steel and aluminum are going to be imposed this week and that they would also hit U.S. allies such as Canada, the European Union, and South Korea. Many government officials, including Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, are bitterly opposed to the tariffs and hope they can convince Trump to change his mind.

Within Congress, the fight does not follow party lines. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Trump is "making a huge mistake" with the tariffs, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) supports them to protect American jobs. However, Republican senators from farm states, including Pat Roberts (KS) and Ben Sasse (NE) are livid at the proposal because they are afraid other countries will put tariffs on agricultural imports from the U.S., hurting farmers in their states.

As foreign leaders have threatened to retaliate, Trump has threatened additional tariffs. For example, he said that if the EU targets Harley-Davidson motorcycles (from Wisconsin) and bourbon (from Kentucky), he would impose a tariff on European cars. Fundamentally, Trump's mindset is real-estate deals, which are often zero-sum games, where every extra dollar you get is a dollar I lose. International trade doesn't work like that, where everyone gains if each country does what it is best at, but Trump simply doesn't believe that. (V)

DACA Deadline Is...Today

There was a time when March 5 loomed large on the political calendar, as it was supposed to be Donald Trump's drop-dead date for Congress to reach some resolution on DACA. However, as we know well, the current iteration of Congress doesn't get anything done until they've blown three or four or five deadlines. Further, the courts have stepped in and made clear that the Trump administration has to have some justification for killing the program—a justification that has yet to be enunciated. And finally, the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school have distracted the members' attention, such that they have spent most of their time recently making no progress on gun control, leaving them little time to make no progress on immigration.

These things being the case, today's deadline will pass largely unnoticed. And given that the courts move at their own, often glacial, pace, it could be a very long time before there is any clarity on this matter. What the dealmaker-in-chief, aka the "world's greatest negotiator," does not seem to realize is that every day that passes, his negotiating position becomes weaker. The closer that we get to the midterms, the more value there is for Democrats in holding out for a favorable deal. If they can't get one, they are likely to be secretly pleased, since they can tell voters: (1) I refused to back down before The Donald, (2) I certainly didn't let him build his wall, and (3) You've got to elect Democrats like me if you want to stop the wall/save the dreamers. Indeed, at this point, it is more likely that DACA is addressed by the next Congress than by this one. (Z)

Jeff Flake: Trump Will Be Challenged in 2020

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) yesterday said: "I do think the President will have a challenge from the Republican Party. I think there should be. I also think that there will be an independent challenge." Flake didn't say whether he would challenge Trump, either as a Republican or an independent, but he didn't rule it out either. Flake is retiring from the Senate next year, but he said he hasn't sworn off future elective office.

Despite the brave talk, Flake dropped out of the Arizona race because even though he is the incumbent, he saw no way to win. How can an incumbent who sees his home state as hopeless expect to mount a national challenge to a sitting president? Nevertheless, there may well be other Republicans who are willing to take on Trump, especially if Robert Mueller issues a report saying that he committed various crimes. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) are two possible candidates. If Mitt Romney is elected to the Senate in November, he might also make another attempt to grab the brass ring. (V)

The Decline and Fall of the House of Bush

Every American political dynasty withers eventually. After all, how many Adamses, Harrisons, or Roosevelts are in office right now? Just two years ago, the Bush dynasty—which began with Senator Prescott Bush (R-CT) in 1952—appeared to have plenty of life left in it, and seemed to be in no danger of going the way of the dodo. Jeb was the favorite for the GOP nomination and there was lots of talk about Neil or possibly one of the twins entering politics. But now, it's looking more like the end of the road may well be near.

At the moment, the only Bush in political office is George P., son of Jeb, and grandson of George H. W., who is the Texas land commissioner. George P. is up for reelection this year, and has run into a number of problems. The first is that he has never been much of a campaigner, and has run a particularly lackluster campaign this time around. The second is that he's being attacked, with some success, for poor management of the state's recovery from Hurricane Harvey, and also for not doing enough to take care of the (sacred) Alamo. The third is that the Bush name, according to experts in Texas politics, does more harm than good these days. Consequently, George P. has broken with his family and tried to embrace Donald Trump. The problem is that he's now too Trump-y for many old-guard Republicans, and he's too old-guard for many Trump Republicans. George P.'s best hope is to claim 50.1% of the vote in tomorrow's primary, and avoid a runoff. If he cannot do that, then there is an excellent chance he won't survive Round 2, as most of his opponents coalesce behind a single candidate.

Whether or not George P. survives, his precarious position certainly says something about the state of the Republican Party. If even the state of Texas has little use for Bush-style Republicans, then the GOP truly has become the party of Trump. For the next two years, at very least, it will be Trump's way or the highway for members of the red team. Already, a large number of old-guard Republicans—Jeff Flake, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), etc.—have chosen the highway, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see more of them exit in the next year or two. Perhaps the GOP will bounce back when Trump leaves office, but don't bet on it. It's a remarkable thing that if Barry Goldwater were to come back from the great beyond tomorrow, he would have more in common with the Democrats than with the current iteration of the Republican Party. (Z)

Democrats Are Declaring War--on Other Democrats

The Bernie-Hillary divide in the Democratic Party is alive and well and raring to go once again. Progressive Democrats are challenging moderate Democrats in many primaries across the country. The first battle will be tomorrow in the Texas primaries, making Texas a bellwether for the 2018 elections, a role it is not used to. Democratic turnout in early voting is way up compared to previous years, but we won't know until tomorrow night at the earliest whether progressive or moderate candidates for Congress and the state legislature are sweeping the field.

One clear difference with previous years is the large number of women running for Congress. It is over 50 statewide. There are also 35 LGBTQ people running for public office. And this is in Texas. Imagine what it is going to be in California.

On Wednesday, statisticians, political scientists, and pundits of all stripes will be picking apart the results. In particular, Democratic turnout in the districts of Republican representatives Pete Sessions (TX-32; PVI R+5), John Culberson (TX-07; PVI R+7), and Will Hurd (TX-23; PVI R+1) will be closely watched and compared to previous years. The demographics will also be examined with a microscope. In particular, are suburban Democrats voting in unusual numbers, and are they voting for moderates or progressives?

One factor that could muddy the results is the large number of Democrats running in many races, meaning the winner is likely to finish far below 50%, and there will be runoff elections on May 22. Depending on the first round of voting, in some districts there may be two moderates, two progressives, or one of each in the runoff. If the runoff candidates got, say, 18% and 16% of the initial vote, respectively, all the voters who supported other candidates may go off and sulk rather than stay energized. This is a recurrent problem with Democrats. Republicans nearly always unite behind the party candidate, even if it wasn't their first choice. (V)

Oscars Once Again Get Political

You might not know this, but the entertainment industry has a reputation for being a tad bit liberal. And that tendency was on full display Sunday night as the glitterati gathered to hand out this year's Academy Awards. Specifically:

There was a time when Hollywood had a strong conservative presence: John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Cecil B. DeMille, Ward Bond, Ronald Reagan, Jack Warner, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Doris Day, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Gene Autry, etc. These days, well, let's just say that the RNC might want to direct their fundraising efforts elsewhere. (Z)

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