• Today's Voter Suppression News
• Easiest, Hardest States in Which to Vote
• McConnell's Remarks Are "Election Gold" for Red-State Democrats
• Sanders Suspects He Will Soon Have "Discussions" with Elizabeth Warren about 2020
• Whatever Happened to the California GOP?
• Monday Q & A
• Today's Senate Polls
The Hill to Die On
Saudi Operative Dressed Up As Khashoggi
A ‘Nguyen Wave’ In Orange County
Trump Ready to Blame Ryan and McConnell
Democratic Senate Hopes Shift to Limiting Losses
Mueller’s Scrutiny of Roger Stone Deepens
As we have noted several times, special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to stay as quiet as he can right now, in view of Justice Dept. guidelines that instruct employees not to make major announcements in the 60 days before an election. However, he and his team are still busy at work, and some of that work (e.g., court filings) has to be done in public view. So, there are some clues as to what projects are underway right now—like, for example, taking a very close look at Trump advisor Roger Stone's role in the whole Russiagate affair.
That Stone was going to get a look-see was not in doubt, and he himself has said he expects to be indicted sooner or later. However, according to reporting from the Washington Post, the focus on Stone is now laser-like, and Team Mueller is spending a lot more energy on this than was previously known, and is especially interested in examining inconsistencies in the various stories Stone has told about his relationship to Wikileaks, and whether or not he lied to Congress. If the latter is the case, that is, of course, a felony.
As with Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn, and the various others whom Mueller has put the squeeze on, the Special Counsel does not particularly care about Stone, per se. He just wants to get him dead to rights, so that he can trade a reduced penalty/sentence in exchange for whatever dirt Stone has on Team Trump. Stone has made a number of grand pronouncements about how the whole investigation is illegal, and how he'll never flip, but Manafort and Michael Cohen were also saying such things, right up until the point that they flipped. So, we will need to wait and see what tune Stone is singing if and when he's looking down the barrel of 10 years at Federal Correctional Institution, Elkton. (Z)
It really is a shame that this is a recurring—and almost daily—feature, but the fact is that there is regular news coming out of Southern and Midwestern states about efforts to make it harder (or even impossible) for people to vote. Almost always, the target is people of color (except when it is students, or women, or poor people).
In Georgia, where the word "democracy" is rapidly devolving into a punchline, there is yet another instance of bad behavior in the headlines. In short, a bus arrived at a Jefferson County senior living center in order to transport 40 black residents to the polls so they could cast their ballots during the early voting period. The facility where the folks live is state-run, and there is a ban on "political activity" there. Although the rule was surely are meant to curtail political advocacy (just like rules that forbid electioneering near polling places), the director of the senior center deemed voting to be "political activity," and so ordered the would-be voters off the bus. It is only 40 people in this case, as opposed to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, but undemocratic behavior is undemocratic behavior.
Meanwhile, there is also the case of Dodge City, Kansas. The famous frontier town has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years, thanks to the opening of two meatpacking plants (which brought with them thousands of jobs). The population boomed to 27,000 (many of them immigrants from Mexico), such that the town's sole polling place is now inadequate to the task at hand. The solution would seem to be to add more polling places, but Kansas officials—and note that this is the province of infamous voter suppressor Kris Kobach, who is the Kansas secretary of state—instead decided to move the polling place to a building well outside of city limits, and over a mile from the nearest bus stop. So, residents who care to cast their ballots will literally have to get out of Dodge. Needless to say, this will tend to favor the folks who have spare time to drive to the location, not to mention a car.
It is truly remarkable that the folks behind these behaviors can claim to be patriots who love the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, and the Founding Parents, and all of that, and yet have no qualms about disenfranchising people. Perhaps they should review their textbooks (real ones, not the ones they use in Texas) to discover exactly what those folks in the 1770s and 1780s cared about (Hint: It fills in the blank in "Taxation without ____________"). In any event, there is little time before the midterms for court remedies, so one can only hope that folks who are at risk of being deprived of their right to vote will be extra-motivated to do whatever it takes to cast their ballots. Long term, the only solution is for Congress to set national standards for all federal elections. (Z)
The folks at Northern Illinois University do biennial studies of how difficult it is to vote in each of the 50 states, and they have just released their latest. Here's the map:
The darker the color, the more voter-friendly the state is. The top five, starting with the best, are Oregon, Colorado, California, North Dakota, and Iowa. The bottom five, starting with the worst, are Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, and Texas.
The general pattern of the map, as you can see, is that blue/urbanized states tend to do better, and red/rural states tend to do worse. One might then be tempted to conclude that it's just harder to poll citizens of a state when they are spread out, and often live in very small communities. However, nearly all of the things that lead to a high rating are well within the power of any state that chooses to make voting rights a priority. For example, automatic registration when people get driver's licenses, same-day registration, mail-in voting, and eliminating voter ID requirements. In the last 20 years, for example, Oregon rose from #27 to #1, and California rose from #32 to #3, in both cases because they took strong steps to facilitiate voting. Over the same period, Georgia sank from #11 to #35, Kansas from #17 to #42, and Texas from #14 to #46, primarily because (Republican) secretaries of state took strong steps to make it harder to vote, like closing/moving polling places, establishing voter ID requirements, and other such negative actions that make it harder for citizens to vote. Particularly citizens of color, in most cases.
The stated reason that Kansas, et al. have made it harder to vote is to "prevent voter fraud." The authors of the study affirm what everyone already knows, however, namely that that issue is just a red herring. "Voter fraud is just not an important issue. The big picture is about the quality of our democracy moving forward," writes lead author Scot Schraufnagel. Perhaps the Brian Kemps and Kris Kobachs of the world will be called to account for their dissembling but, again, it is likely that this problem only gets solved if Congress decides to do something about it. (Z)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has remained in office for three decades, has led his party in the Senate for the last 11 years, and is presently the second- or third- most prominent Republican in the nation. He also effectively stole a SCOTUS seat from the Democrats, and used his muscle to ram through the GOP tax package, as well as the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. For all of these reasons, he has a reputation as a shrewd political operator.
Maybe he is, but there's also a case to be made in the other direction. McConnell is, first of all, more unpopular with his own constituents than any other Senator in America. With 52% disapproval and 33% approval, he is 17 points underwater, which is not easy for a Republican in a red state like Kentucky to pull off (by contrast, his junior colleague Rand Paul is at 41% approve, 40% disapprove). Beyond that, McConnell's "achievements" essentially boil down to obstructing Barack Obama, and getting his two "triumphs" approved by the narrowest of margins (while also failing to kill the ACA, in high-profile fashion). And the Majority Leader has secured his various victories primarily through his willingness to abuse, or utterly disregard, the norms of the Senate. The truly great Majority Leaders who came before McConnell—say, Lyndon Johnson, or Charles Curtis, or Mike Mansfield—could easily have done more if they had been willing to ignore tradition and precedent, but they were generally not willing.
All of this is to say that when McConnell spoke this week about his desire to gut America's social safety net in order to fix the hole he helped blow in the budget, it's possible that he was playing 3-D chess, and that he will ultimately get the last laugh. But it's also possible he made a dumb mistake. In fact, it may even be the same dumb mistake Hillary Clinton made in 2016, namely worrying too much before the election about setting yourself up for life after the election. In her case, she spent a lot of time worrying about a "mandate," and not enough worrying about just winning. And in his case, he seems to have been setting himself up for some finger-pointing after the elections, while failing to keep in mind that voters still have to cast their ballots.
In any case, his comments have thrown a lifeline to Democrats in tough Senate races. Instead of being forced to run on the stuff that divides Democrats and Republicans, like kneeling football players, or their votes on Brett Kavanaugh, or abortion rights, they can instead run on the most popular policies the Democratic Party has ever come up with. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), for example, has hit Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) for trying to "balance our budgets on the backs of senior citizens," and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has leveled the exact same complaint at opponent Kevin Cramer (R). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is warning voters that challenger Patrick Morrisey will be a yes-man for McConnell, and will undoubtedly vote to gut their much-needed healthcare as soon as he is asked to do so.
We will soon learn what kind of Senate McConnell will confront once the ballots are counted on November 6 (well, and on November 7, and 8, and 9, given that there are likely to be recounts in some races). However, if he threw away even one Senate seat with his interview, then it's another entry for the "maybe he's just playing checkers" column. (Z)
There are quite a few folks ready to carry the "progressive" banner for the Democrats in the 2020 presidential election, but the two most prominent are Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). In view of concerns that the pair might split the progressive vote, paving the way for a moderate or a Blue Dog to take the nomination, Sanders told Politico that, "I suspect that in the coming weeks and months, there will be discussions."
Only Sanders knows what that really means, but we can definitely say:
- At the ages of 71 (Warren) and 79 (Sanders) on Inauguration Day 2020, the Senators must know this is their last real shot at the prize
- Warren, for her part, is not going to be talked out of running
- A Sanders victory is a long shot, by virtue of the sheer size of the Democratic field
- Running for president, and then being president, both involve doing a lot of things Sanders would rather not do (dealing with foreign policy, for example)
These things being the case, Sanders might very well try to make a deal. They've got the same basic program, so he doesn't need to get her to promise to campaign for a $15/hour minimum wage or universal health care. And she's not going to promise a SCOTUS seat (like the one Earl Warren got for dropping out in 1952) to a man who is about to be an octogenarian. He's presumably not interested in the #2 slot, since he knows that the job isn't worth a bucket of warm...spit. However, a spot in the cabinet, like maybe the Secretaryship of the Treasury, where he can work on the issues he cares about? Maybe. Or input into her judicial picks? Possible. In any case, it's worth keeping an eye on, to see what happens. (Z)
Politico's Scott Lucas has a story today about John Cox, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in California. The basic point of the story is that a major political party in the nation's largest state is stuck with someone who, while earnest, is a carpetbagger (from Illinois) and a perennial candidate with no chance of winning this election (or even keeping it close).
It's a nice, and fairly sympathetic, profile of Cox. The more interesting angle, though, is: "Why is the California GOP in such bad shape?" Lucas does not explore that question in any serious way, perhaps because it's really a question for a historian and not a reporter. Fortunately, we happen to have a historian available (albeit one who rejects the "an" historian construct, arguing that it is not "an" hippopotamus, or "an" hissing snake, or "an" hip replacement).
The obvious answer to the question is: "Well, California has become such a blue state, so of course the GOP cannot compete." The problem is that this is not actually a correct description of the situation. In fact, California was a Republican-dominated state through 1930, then the Democrats pulled even by 1932, and finally the blue team pulled way ahead by 1934. These changes were primarily a byproduct of the mass migrations to the Golden State that took place during the Great Depression. Since the mid-1930s, the breakdown of the state's voters has been roughly 55% Democratic and 45% Republican (not including the folks who are members of third parties). Students of American political history, even casual ones, hardly need to be reminded that the GOP's numerical disadvantage was not fatal through the second half of the twentieth century. Not only did the state elect a plethora of Republican senators (William Knowland, Thomas Kuchel, George Murphy, S.I. Hayakawa, Pete Wilson) and governors (Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, George Deukmejian, Wilson), it also produced two GOP presidents in Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
A big key to the Republicans' success, even as the minority party, was a skillfully-built party machine, with Orange County as its headquarters. Led by local farmer Walter Knott, of boysenberry and Knott's Berry Farm fame, Orange County Republicans carefully recruited and cultivated promising candidates, and supported them with money and logistical support and manpower. This made it much easier for, say, a Dick Nixon to leave the House of Representatives after just two terms and take a (successful) shot at the Senate. Or for Ronald Reagan, a man with no political experience, to make a serious (and succesful) bid for governor.
Meanwhile, to the extent that demographic changes are important, it's not that there are "more" Democrats, per se, it is that there are a different kind of Democrats today. A lot of the folks who came to California in the 1930s were from the South and the midwest, and so were conservative Democrats. Many of them never changed their party registration, but were amenable to certain kinds of appeals from Republican candidates. Like, for example, Nixon's anti-communism, or Reagan's kvetching about "the mess at Berkeley," or Wilson's railing against undocumented immigrants. But most of these folks are now deceased, and so while the Democratic coalition hasn't grown wider in the last eight decades, it has become a deeper shade of blue.
Anyhow, with the decline of the GOP machine (and, for that matter, of Orange County as a Republican stronghold), along with the disappearance of millions of potential crossover voters, any serious politician who runs for statewide office as a Republican is taking a huge risk with their career. Consequently, most of them are satisfied to hold onto one of the smaller, but solidly Republican, fiefdoms that the Golden State offers, most obviously about a dozen Congressional seats and the mayoralty of San Diego. Note that this can still be a path to great influence and power. Jerry Lewis, for example, served 17 terms representing his safe GOP district in Southern California, rising to become Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which made him one of the half-dozen most powerful people in Congress. Similarly, the current House Majority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, is a California Republican.
With serious Republicans declining to gamble their careers on statewide elections they likely won't win, that leaves an opening for not-so-serious candidates whose primary selling point is that they have enough money to self-fund. Not only Cox, but also Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, and gubernatorial candidates Neel Kashkari, Meg Whitman, and Bill Simon. And that's when the GOP actually manages to even get someone on the general election ballot; thanks to California's jungle primary, the last two Senate races have been Democrat vs. Democrat.
As a consequence of all of this, the California Republican Party has not put up a serious candidate for the biggies (governor, Senate) in the 21st century. That, of course, serves to perpetuate the vicious cycle of a weak party structure and promising GOP types who are unwilling to come off the bench. So, there is no particular reason to expect the once-powerful organization to regain its former prominence anytime soon. (Z)
We received lots of good questions in response to our query, and so now it's "go" time for our new feature:
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight made the following statement: "People should not be surprised by a Democratic Senate or a Republican House. We're in dangerous territory from a predictive/assumption standpoint." What do you think he meant by that? S.W., Fort Worth, TX
Nate Silver remains a gifted writer and an innovative thinker. However, over time, he has developed two very bad habits. The first is not fully explaining what he means (in part, it appears, because he feels that too much commentary introduces "bias"). The second is looking down his nose at "the media," and commenting derisively on how bad "they" are at math, statistics, etc.
So, we are somewhat left to guess his exact meaning. It's possible that he's using "dangerous" for dramatic purposes, and that all he wants to say is that various outlets are too certain of specific outcomes (most obviously, that the Democrats will take the House). It's also possible that he means "dangerous" literally, in the sense that if a party's adherents are confident in one outcome and get another, they may feel they have been cheated, and could respond with violence. Which of these two things it is, only Silver knows for sure.
About 2,400 law professors wrote a letter urging that Brett Kavanaugh be rejected. So, how many university law professors are there in the US? How does their party affiliation generally split? S.L., Monrovia, CA
The signatories to that letter were supposedly all tenured U.S. law school faculty, a group that numbers a little over 10,000 individuals. So, that would mean something like 1-in-4 tenured faculty members across the U.S. signed the letter. If adjuncts/lecturers were allowed to sign, and so are added to the mix, that expands the total number of individuals to a bit more than 27,000, and would mean something like 1-in-10 law school faculty members signed the letter. According to the most recent study of the political makeup of U.S. law faculty, about 15% of them identify as conservative.
When it comes to political titles, is it the case that the last job you had determines what you are called even after leaving office, or is there a ranking system? Senator Clinton became Secretary Clinton. Governor Romney will become Senator Romney. But what about former Presidents like Taft and John Quincy Adams, were they still Mr. President, or were they Chief Justice Taft and Congressman Adams? A.M., Bradford, UK
Actually, there is a ranking. It is called the United States Order of Precedence, and its primary purpose is to determine who sits where at official functions. However, it also provides some guidance as to what someone should be called (for example, a cabinet secretary has higher precedence than a senator, which suggests that someone who used to be both, like Clinton, would be called "Secretary").
With that said, there are some things that trump the order of precedence (no pun intended). First, the current office that someone holds counts more than a high-ranking office they held in the past. So, Adams was Congressman Adams when he died at his desk in the Capitol, and Taft was Chief Justice Taft for the last eight years of his life. It is also the case that personal and societal preference play a role. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, military ranks were often put at the very top of the heap, such that Theodore Roosevelt was often described as "Colonel Roosevelt," even while he was president. He was delighted by this, and did not try to discourage it. Similarly, folks back then tended to assign particular importance to being a judge, such that anyone who held that job (say, Andrew Jackson) could expect to be called "Judge" for the rest of their lives.
Could Justice Roberts have refused to issue the oath to "Justice" Kavanaugh and prevented him from being seated? A.E.M., Miami Beach, FL
Nope. The list of people who are allowed to administer such an oath is very long, and if Roberts had refused, any other judge could have done it, Mike Pence could have done it, any of the members of Congress could have done it, and any federal law enforcement officer could have done it. In fact, anyone who is legally empowered to administer an oath can do it. That might not include dogcatchers, but it does include someone as far down the ladder as a notary public. We know that because when Calvin Coolidge unexpectedly became president on the death of Warren Harding, he was hastily sworn in by his father, based on the senior Coolidge's status as a notary. The courts later confirmed that this was kosher.
During the Kavanaugh controversy, why weren't the other four Republican female Senators pressured to oppose him? Why only Murkowski and Collins? R.L., Alameda, CA
Because most people know there is no point in beating your head against a brick wall. The other female senators have never shown much inclination to cross the aisle, and all of them made clear their intentions to vote for Kavanaugh pretty early on. Collins and Murkowski, by contrast, have been known to buck their party on occasion, and pointedly did not announce their votes until the end of the process. Ergo, they were the best targets for some political pressure. It's worth noting that there was a fair bit of pressure on Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), too, as they were also perceived as "gettable."
Do Votemaster and Zenger write each and every word, or, like all good college professors who need work done, is some of the work done by students in support of Undergrad/Masters/Ph.D. programs? You often cite stories/links to give your take on, but you also often include facts that it seems only insiders would know. Do you have connections inside the beltway/White House? Christopher is at UCLA and you publish at 6 a.m. ET. I can see Andrew in Europe working normal hours, but Christopher - when the heck do you write this stuff? B.H., Westborough, MA
We do indeed write every word; there are no grad students, undergrads, ghost writers, or anything like that. That is not to say we do not have some help, however. There are a couple of gentlemen who help with technical matters (like programming and configuring the servers). There is a person who generously gives their time to put in polling data. And there are a handful of folks, including two who kindly make themselves available every morning around the time we post, who proofread and send in corrections.
We do not have any connections in the Beltway, really, though occasionally we hear from reliable folks who do. By virtue of being academics and folks who do a politically-themed website, we do know a few prominent scholars and writers in the field. (Z) was also at the Daily Bruin at the same time as Ben Shapiro, but prefers not to be reminded of that.
As to the timing, you're very observant. Most days, (V) finishes his contributions in the early evening (New York time), (Z) reads those over, potentially expands on them, and adds his own stuff starting around 3:00 a.m. (New York time), and then (V) reads everything and posts around 6:00 a.m. (New York time). It is just good fortune that, when (V) added a co-contributor to the site, he found one who has always been a night owl.
It does not look like you make a lot of money on this site. Yet you both put a lot of work in to the site every day. So, why? What gives you the energy to do this every day? E.L., New York, NY
We do not "make" any money at all; whatever we do collect is spent on promoting the site. Generally speaking, when one goes into an academic career, money is not the #1 concern, while adding to the world's corpus of knowledge (in some way) is. Both of us regard this site as being an aspect of the most important part of our jobs, namely teaching, and both of us enjoy doing the site, of course. It is our good fortune that our day jobs pay enough that we don't need to profit from this project.
It should also be noted that when one has a deadline of roughly 6:00 a.m. ET every day, it tends to compel one to find the energy to take care of business, even on those nights that we might be sagging a bit.
Why don't you have a comments section? Z.H., Dubai
We have pondered it, but consultation with the owners of other sites that do have comments, not to mention reading the stuff that people write on sites like The Hill has told us that it is very hard to keep comments sections from turning into a cesspool. Unfortunately, a few bad apples can easily cancel out the 95% of people who make good, thoughtful contributions.
According to RealClearPolitics poll averages the congressional approval rating is something like 20% approve, 70% disapprove yet incumbency re-election percentages are on the order of 98%. If people hate congress, why are re-election rates so high? J.W., Philadelphia, PA
Because people vote for their local member of Congress, and not for Congress as a whole, and most voters are persuaded that it's the other 437 jerks who are the problem.
In many ways, doesn't it seem like the American Civil War II has begun? S.S., Cuyahoga Falls, OH
It's a fair point. In many ways, today's America is as divided as America was in the 1850s, with each side viewing the other with loathing and suspicion, each getting information from only "friendly" sources, people willing to back their opinions with violence, and the smaller political faction working the system to maintain an outsized influence.
The biggest difference is that the two factions of the 1850s were pretty neatly organized by geography, which made secession viable. Today, it would be somewhat tricky for, say, Utah, Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Idaho, and Arizona to secede together.
Although those two Florida polls have a very different result, they are both pretty much saying the same thing: the number of votes Rick Scott will get is pretty well set, and Nelson will win only if he does a good job of getting his voters to actually get to the polls and vote. (Z)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Florida||Bill Nelson*||45%||Rick Scott||47%||Oct 17||Oct 20||Schroth Eldon|
|Florida||Bill Nelson*||50%||Rick Scott||45%||Oct 16||Oct 20||SSRS|
|Minnesota||Amy Klobuchar*||56%||Jim Newberger||33%||Oct 15||Oct 17||Mason Dixon|
|Minnesota special||Tina Smith*||47%||Karin Housley||41%||Oct 15||Oct 17||Mason Dixon|
* Denotes incumbent
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct21 U.S. To Pull out of Nuclear Treaty with Russia
Oct21 Georgia Voter Suppression Appears to Be Far More Extensive than Previously Known
Oct21 Walker Drops Out of Alaska Governor's Race
Oct21 This Week's Senate News
Oct21 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Joe Biden
Oct21 Today's Senate Polls
Oct20 Saudis Switch into Damage Control Mode, Trump and His Base Follow Along
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Oct20 Trump May Have Killed FBI Move to Protect His D.C. Hotel
Oct20 Today's Voter Suppression News
Oct20 Things Might Be Worse for the GOP than Polls Suggest
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Oct20 How About an O'Rourke 2020?
Oct20 Today's Senate Polls
Oct19 Catfight Could Put Kelly in Doghouse
Oct19 November Looks to Be Mueller Time
Oct19 There's Pretty Much Nothing Trump Won't Say
Oct19 There's Not Much That's Off Limits for McConnell, Either
Oct19 Many Bernie 2016 Staffers Not So Sure about 2020
Oct19 Governors' Mansions: The Beacons of Democracy?
Oct19 Double Whammy for Rick Scott
Oct19 Today's Senate Polls
Oct18 Saudi Situation Is Not Improving for Trump
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Oct18 Republicans Are Starting to Pretend They Are Democrats
Oct18 O'Rourke Attacks Cruz in New Ads
Oct18 Texas Senate Debate Is a Tie, O'Rourke Loses
Oct18 Cruz-Trump Rally Scheduled for Next Week
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Oct18 Today's Senate Polls
Oct17 Trends That Excite and Depress Democrats
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Oct17 Julian Castro Pre-Announces 2020 Presidential Run
Oct17 Pat Cipollone Will Soon Replace Don McGahn as White House Counsel
Oct17 Republicans Are Focusing on Mike Espy's Long-Ago Indictments
Oct17 No Court Shenanigans in Florida
Oct17 Today's Senate Polls
Oct16 Trump Stumbles Through Saudi Fiasco
Oct16 Takeaways from Donald Trump's "60 Minutes" Interview
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Oct16 Budget Deficit Explodes
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Oct15 Richard Neal Wants Trump's Tax Returns