• Don't Tell the President: Monday Speech Drew Mediocre Ratings
• Trump and McConnnell Are at War
• Menendez's Trial To Begin This Week
• Mueller is Zeroing in on Manafort
• White House Staffers Are Plotting to Break a Major Campaign Promise
• The Big Six Are Making Progress on Tax Overhaul
• Trump Nominee Clovis Is in the Spotlight
There was relatively little that was surprising when Donald Trump appeared in Phoenix for yet another campaign rally. Indeed, it wouldn't have been too hard to write a recap of the President's address before it even happened, given that it was a melange of Trumpian greatest hits. To wit:
- Charlottesville: The Donald simply cannot say the right
thing about Charlottesville (i.e., "Neo-Nazis are bad") and stick with it. Nor
can he leave the thing alone. And so, on Tuesday, he was back at it, once again
pooh-poohing the notion that he'd done anything wrong. He blamed the media for
misrepresenting him and then he promptly misrepresented himself, reading to the crowd the
original statement that got him into trouble last Sunday, but omitting the
"both sides are to blame" part. That, of course, was the portion responsible for the
controversy in the first place.
- Dog whistles: Trump's not nearly as good at dog
whistles as, say, Richard Nixon was. But he's learning. Once again complaining
about the tear-down of Confederate statues, Trump said that people are, "trying
to take away our history and our heritage." Let us remember that Donald Trump is
a lifelong New Yorker whose family has been in that part of the country since
they arrived as immigrants. The only "heritage" he has in common with Robert E.
Lee and Stonewall Jackson is that they are all white. And there's the dog
- The media: The media, with The New York
Times, Washington Post, CNN, and ABC singled out for special
attention, came in for
horsewhipping. "These are really, really dishonest people and they're bad people
and I really think they don't like our country," said Trump. "The only people
giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news."
The President did have good things to say about Fox News in general, and Sean
Hannity in particular, since they "treat me fairly."
- Personal attacks: Trump took a potshot or two at
Barack Obama, of course. And "little George Stephanopoulos." And Democrats in
general. And, because he was in Arizona, both of the state's Senators. The President
slammed John McCain (R) for voting to keep Obamacare, then turned his vitriol on
Jeff Flake (R), declaring, "Nobody knows who the hell he is."
- Lies and falsehoods: The old joke says that the way you can
tell a lawyer is lying is to check whether his lips are moving. We're pretty much at the point
where the same is true of the President. He just can't make it through a 75-minute address—or
a 10-minute address, for that matter—without giving the good people at Politifact enough work
for a week. They've already come up with close to a dozen misleading statements and outright
and more are surely coming. Trump claimed CNN's ratings are down (they're up), that he's
proposed a record increase in defense spending (the 9.4% he proposed isn't), and that the New York
Times apologized to him (they didn't). And that's just a sampling of the most easily disproven statements.
During his presidency, he has told over
1,000 outright lies.
- Crowd size: Perhaps the biggest whoppers of the night
involved the size of the crowd. The Donald, as he always does, insisted that the turnout on
Tuesday was enormous. "Wow, what a crowd, what a crowd," he said. Pictures taken by reporters
in attendance tell a different tale, however:
Not too good for a venue that holds only 4,000 people. Regardless, the Tennessee GOP tried to give the President an assist, tweeting a photograph that showed all of the thousands of people outside the venue, trying to get into the rally. Just one problem: The photo they tweeted was easily recognizable as a picture of the parade the Cleveland Cavaliers had when they won the NBA championship in 2016. It took only minutes for the ruse to be discovered, inasmuch as Cleveland looks nothing like Phoenix. The presence of green, leafy trees, for example, was something of a giveaway.
Arguably the only real "news" on Tuesday night—that is to say, the only thing that happened that we couldn't have predicted with certainty a week ago—was that Trump declined to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio on the spot, because he didn't want "controversy." However, the President followed that by observing that, "I think he'll be just fine," strongly implying a pardon is forthcoming.
In the end, the 1,500 or so people who showed up to the rally were certainly enthused, and enjoyed chanting things like "CNN sucks!" On the other hand, the several thousand protesters outside were not, and they turned unruly when the speech was over, causing the police to hit the crowd with tear gas. Since the event took place in the Pacific time zone, there hasn't been time for a lot of opinion out of Washington, where many people were in bed by the time the rally ended. However, former lieutenant general and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper managed to weigh in. He called the President's speech "downright scary and disturbing," slammed Trump's "behavior and divisiveness and complete intellectual, moral and ethical void" and wondered, "How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?" Clapper also said he's gravely worried that Trump's finger is on the nuclear trigger.
Trump's next event of this sort is scheduled for September 16 on the National Mall, and is already being dubbed—by Trump supporters—as the "Mother of All Rallies." The goal is to bring "one million patriots to Washington DC" to support the President. That seems optimistic, since that's roughly 666 times as large a crowd as showed up on Tuesday (really; do the math). Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are being told they are not welcome, which makes the odds even longer. Just 24 days until we find out. (Z)
If there's one thing that Donald Trump cares about even more than the size of the crowds at his rallies, it's his TV ratings. And so, he's not going to be happy if he learns that his address on Afghanistan attracted a fairly pedestrian 28 million viewers. By comparison, the President's February address to Congress attracted 48 million, Barack Obama's address on Afghanistan drew 41 million, and Trump's introduction of SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch got 33 million.
Why the poor showing? Could be Trump's fading popularity. Or war weariness. Or the lack of advance notice about the speech—we learned it was coming only 24 hours before it came. Maybe it's all of the above. Whatever the case may be, 28 million is pretty anemic for a president's first prime-time address, and is certainly not going to stem the President's general unhappiness with his job. (Z)
There is no nice way to put this. Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are at war with each other. They haven't spoken in weeks and McConnell is privately expressing the view that the administration may not be salvageable. One huge point of contention is Trump's badmouthing senators who openly disagree with him. McConnell hates this and instinctively springs to the defense of all members of his caucus.
The break comes at a crucial moment, with many key bills up in September, including raising the debt limit, next year's budget, and changing the tax code. Having the president openly feuding with the leader of the Senate is not a good sign. There is still a lot of bad blood about McConnell's inability to repeal Obamacare. In all fairness, though, McConnell was never going to get the vote of Susan Collins (R-ME). John McCain doesn't take orders from McConnell and Trump's interior secretary threatened Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), sealing the bill's doom.
McConnell is cautious and pragmatic and wants to get bills passed, but if Trump follows the advice of one of his strategists, Roger Stone, and tries to take down Republican senators, McConnell will be beyond furious. McConnell is popular with his caucus and if Trump thinks he can browbeat McConnell the way he has intimidated so many of his business partners in the past, he will be very surprised. We already knew that the tortoise beat the hare, soon we may see if the turtle beats the hair. (V)
A very high-profile and critical trial will begin this week when Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) goes on trial for corruption. Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell knows that the only things hinging on the outcome are whether the senator goes to prison and whether the Trump administration can carry out its legislative program (including health care). Other than that, the trial is no big deal. Of course, for a lawyer who has successfully defended Jack Abramoff, former senators John Ensign and John Edwards, New York state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, and who has Jared Kushner as a client now, it's all in a day's work.
The facts are not in dispute. A wealthy doctor, Salomon Melgen, asked for Menendez's help in getting visas for three of his "girlfriends," holding onto a government contract one of Melgen's companies has, and fighting off a federal investigation concerning a multimillion dollar Medicare dispute. Melgen also gave $750,000 in political donations to Menendez and gave him free private jet flights and luxury hotel rooms. The question is: "Were these bribes, or were these merely gifts from a wealthy and grateful friend who appreciated the senator going to bat for him?"
Working for Menendez is that he reported the $750,000 donations to his campaign fund correctly. Working against him is that he hid the free plane trips and hotel rooms. However, also working for Menendez is a recent Supreme Court decision to throw out a lower court conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. In that case, a wealthy donor showered McDonnell with lavish gifts and McDonnell helped him with the sale of his dietary supplement. The Supreme Court ruled in that case that having a wealthy constituent give expensive presents to a politician who is doing him favors is not corruption in the absence of a specific agreement to the effect "If you do x, I will pay you $y." Needless to say, Lowell has practically memorized that decision and is probably going to quote from it at length in Menendez's trial.
If Menendez is found not guilty, nothing changes. If he is found guilty, he might resign from the Senate, but he doesn't have to, certainly not until the appeals courts and probably the Supreme Court have weighed in. Senate Republicans could try to pass a motion to expel him from the Senate after a lower court verdict of guilty, knowing that Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) would then get to appoint a new senator—for example, the-soon-to-be-unemployed Chris Christie. This would give the Republicans 53 seats in the Senate and they might revisit the health-care bill that failed with only 49 votes. With Menendez out and some Republican in his seat, the bill could get 50 votes and pass. Of course, if the Senate expelled Menendez before his appeal could be heard, the Democrats would scream "partisan politics," and would surely withhold support, which would then leave Mitch McConnell short of the 67 votes he needs. The blue team will surely not even consider expulsion until January, when a Democrat is expected to take over the governor's mansion in New Jersey; then that governor would simply replace Menendez with another Democrat.
Jury selection should be lots of fun. The trial will be held in Newark, home to many (black) Democrats. Many of them probably have voted for Menendez in the past and may actually like him. If Lowell tries to make the case that the whole charge is a corrupt attempt by the Republicans to pick up a Senate seat, some of the jurors may vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence. When Lowell defended John Edwards, who used campaign funds to cover up the fact that he was having an affair with a videographer (while his wife was dying of cancer), he got a hung jury. For the Democrats, a hung jury might push any subsequent trial up a few months, by which time Christie may have been replaced by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy. In the Edwards case, the prosecution simply gave up after a hung jury, fearing the same result in the next trial. So, Lowell's skills could have far-reaching consequences for the Trump administration and tens of millions of Americans. (V)
If Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort isn't nervous, then he isn't paying attention. McClatchy is now reporting that Manafort earned between $80 million and $100 million from Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian clients in the past decade. This is far more than the $12.7 million that had been previously reported. Special counsel Robert Mueller, who can subpoena Manafort's tax returns should he wish to do so, is curious about whether Manafort paid taxes on this income. Manafort used a labyrinth of off-shore shell companies to shield his income, but the investigators are now looking closely at them. They also want to know if he engaged in any money laundering practices. If Mueller can nail Manafort over tax evasion or money laundering, he will try to pressure Manafort into spilling the beans on Trump in return for leniency.
One item in particular that Mueller is interested in is why Manafort bought three homes a decade ago (including a condo in Trump Tower) and paid for the $8 million in purchases with cash. Large purchases for cash are often a sign that undeclared and possibly laundered income is being used. The suspicion that Manafort is worried about money laundering charges was heightened after the FBI raided one of his homes last month and Manafort promptly dropped his attorney and hired Kevin Downing, a specialist in defending people accused of money laundering.
If Mueller were to get the goods on Manafort, the former campaign chairman would have to decide whether to cooperate with Mueller or ask Trump for a pardon. One thing that Manafort has to consider, though, is that Trump cannot pardon him for violating state laws, such as evading Virginia income tax. (V)
During the presidential campaign, one of the things Donald Trump promised to do in his first 100 days in office was to rescind Barack Obama's order not to deport "Dreamers," that is, people brought into the country illegally as children. He called Obama's order "amnesty" and fiercely opposed it. Now some of the top people in the White House, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, first daughter Ivanka Trump, and first son-in-law Jared Kushner are pushing the President to protect, rather than deport, the estimated 800,000 Dreamers and use that as a bargaining chip for a larger immigration deal. For example, he could allow the Dreamers to stay in return for funding for a border wall, more detention facilities, and a better way for businesses to identify whether job applicants are in the country legally.
Anti-amnesty forces around the country are very nervous about what Trump might do. On the other hand, polls show that close to 80% of registered voters think that the Dreamers should be allowed to stay. This puts Trump in a bind: Much of his base fervently wants him to follow through on his promise to deport all the Dreamers but most voters oppose the idea. Trump often has difficulty dealing with situations that require painful trade-offs. (V)
In July, Donald Trump released a six-paragraph tax plan that basically said he wanted to cut taxes. A one-page plan like that cannot be submitted to the House and Senate for a vote. Behind the scenes, however, a group of six key figures is working on actual legislation. The six are: Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and House Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX). All of these are heavyweights who know what they are doing. Nevertheless, tax legislation is always tough because it affects all individuals and all companies.
One decision that has already been made is a one-time requirement that U.S. companies bring back overseas earnings and pay a low tax rate on them. Most large businesses strongly support this. The group has also decided to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to the range of 22% to 25%, depending on how much money can be raised from other sources.
There is no shortage of ideas about how to raise revenue to pay for the corporate tax cut. One idea is to tax the money that workers put in their 401(k) retirement accounts up front. This proposal will create a firestorm of resistance, not only from individuals, but also from the financial services industry, especially the big banks. Another idea is to cap the home mortgage deduction. Expect the real estate industry to go bonkers over this one. Also on the table is the elimination of deductions for state and local taxes. Since taxes are higher in blue states than in red states, that sounds like a good idea politically—unless you happen to represent a high-tax blue state in the Senate, as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) or Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) do. And what about the 14 Republican representatives from California or the 9 Republican representatives from New York? How are they going to explain a vote to eliminate those deductions to their constituents? In short, making a plan is the easy part. Getting it through Congress is something else. (V)
We've already noted that Sam Clovis is woefully unqualified for the post to which Donald Trump has appointed him, namely to be the USDA's chief scientist. The statute requires that the nominee be a "distinguished scientist," which certainly should disqualify Clovis, since he's not a scientist at all. In fact, he's more like an anti-scientist, denying global warming and engaging in all manner of non-fact-based theorizing and conspiracy thinking. His degrees, for what they are worth, are in public administration and business.
Now that the microscope is on Clovis, and the glare is growing intense, we also learn that he has some curious views on homosexuality. And by "curious," we mean "reprehensible." In his career as an academic and radio talk show host, he's declared that being gay is a choice, and said that position is supported by "science." He also insisted that if gay marriage is legalized, then legal pedophilia will soon follow. Because, of course, there's nothing better than a slippery slope argument to demonstrate the soundness of your position.
Needless to say, this kind of verbiage would not be tolerated if directed at any other group. If Clovis said that being injured in combat was a "choice," and that if we start paying for veterans' hospital bills, the next thing you know we'll be having to buy them Rolls Royces, he'd be run out of Washington on a rail. If this is the best that Trump can come up with, it is beginning to suggest that no one wants to work in the Trump administration, and Trump is having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find nominees. That's why his choices are full of splinters. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug22 Another Day, Another Advisory Committee Dead
Aug22 Trump Is Actively Campaigning for Reelection Already
Aug22 McConnell Says that Congress Will Raise the Debt Ceiling
Aug22 Trump Wants Funding for a Border Wall
Aug22 Trump Campaign Officials Met with Russian Email Hacking Expert
Aug22 Secret Service Has Run Out of Money Protecting the Trump Family
Aug22 FCC Greasing the Skids for Sinclair
Aug22 Putin Names a Strong Critic of the U.S. as Ambassador
Aug22 Kushner May Be in Trouble
Aug21 Trump to Speak Monday on Afghanistan
Aug21 Trump Is Unpopular in the States That Gave Him Victory
Aug21 Hostile Crowds Expected in Phoenix
Aug21 McConnell in Strange Trouble
Aug21 White House Getting More Secretive
Aug21 Why Won't Top White House Officials Quit?
Aug21 Bannon Has Big Plans
Aug21 What about Jared and Ivanka?
Aug21 Democrats Have Done Very Well in Special Elections This Year
Aug21 Inside Elections Has New Senate Ratings
Aug20 Another Bad Day on Twitter for Trump
Aug20 Trump to Skip Kennedy Center Honors
Aug20 Trump Still Making Nice with Bannon
Aug20 Pence Compares Trump to Teddy Roosevelt
Aug20 Big Business Turning Against the Businessman President
Aug20 Advisory Councils Are Falling Like Flies
Aug20 Icahn Was About to Be Hit with Exposé
Aug19 Trump to Bannon: You're Fired
Aug19 Democrats Are Preparing to Run Against Pence in 2020
Aug19 Icahn Says "I Can't"
Aug19 Manchin Not Interested in Cabinet Post
Aug19 Charities Flee Mar-a-Lago
Aug19 Gorsuch Speech Raises Eyebrows
Aug18 Barcelona Attacked; Trump Tweets
Aug18 Trump Defends "Beautiful" Confederate Statues
Aug18 The Senators are Restless
Aug18 Trump Appears to Support Kelli Ward against Flake
Aug18 Another Council Bites the Dust
Aug18 Be Careful What You Wish For--Domain Registrar Edition
Aug18 Alt-Right Groups Are Building Their Own Internet
Aug18 Trump's Coauthor Says Trump Will Resign This Year
Aug17 More Businessmen Distance Themselves from Trump
Aug17 Pence: I Stand with the President
Aug17 Three Democrats Want to Censure Trump
Aug17 John Kelly Already Growing Weary
Aug17 Trump's Air Traffic Overhaul Would Add $100 Billion to the Deficit
Aug17 Trump Will Visit Phoenix Next Week
Aug17 Lobbyists Are Pessimistic about Tax Reform
Aug17 Russian Hackers May Have Used Software Written by a Ukrainian Freelancer
Aug17 Mueller's Team Takes a Hit