Nov. 26

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Showdown Over Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Leadership

On Friday evening, Richard Cordray resigned as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As he exited stage right, he tapped chief of staff Leandra English to be deputy director, which theoretically means she's in charge until a new director is named. On Saturday morning, Donald Trump assigned budget director Mick Mulvaney to take over as interim director, in addition to his existing duties. Thus was the stage set for a struggle for power that could get ugly, and will leave the folks employed by the CFPB unclear as to exactly who the boss is when they show up at work on Monday.

This isn't your everyday power struggle. On one side of the fight are Trump and the Republicans, who loathe the CFPB. An Obama-era creation, as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill, the Bureau has returned $12 billion to consumers who were cheated by big banks and financial firms. It does not get its funding from Congress, and is largely supposed to be independent from the rest of the federal government, somewhat like the Federal Reserve Bank. None of these things—Obama, Dodd-Frank, taking money from big corporations, independent from the government—please the GOP. Mulvaney has been an outspoken critic, as has House Financial Services committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who declared, "The CFPB has eroded freedom, trampled due process and killed jobs. It must go." Inasmuch as this is the exact same rhetoric used to slam the ACA and every other domestic initiative of Barack Obama, it's hard to take seriously. Much more likely is that the donor class has turned up the heat, and that is compelling Mulvaney, Hensarling, et al. to dance. Much like the Republican tax bill (more below).

On the other side of the struggle, meanwhile, are the Democrats. More specifically, the progressive wing of the Party. And more specifically than that, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She had a hand in creating the CFPB in the first place, and is not going to sit idly by as it is manhandled. While Trump asserts that it is his right to choose an interim director, Warren took to Twitter to assert that Dodd-Frank does not make provision for an "interim" director, and that English will legally be in charge until a permanent replacement is named by Trump and approved by the Senate. And that is a process that Warren will make as long, and drawn out, and difficult as is possible.

Nobody knows exactly what will happen next. It's conceivable that this could be headed to the courts. It's also possible that English and Mulvaney will both try to assert themselves as the "true" leader, and it will be up to the staff to decide whom to follow, kind of like a mutiny at sea. Odds are that Mulvaney/Trump will lose a showdown like that, and end up with egg on their faces, which could lead to the mother of all Twitter tantrums. In any event, this is a situation worth watching, and one that is likely to make a few headlines in the near future. Meanwhile, doing battle with Donald Trump in high-profile fashion certainly isn't going to hurt Warren's potential 2020 presidential candidacy. (Z)

GOP Tax Bill is Very Unpopular

Forbes magazine, which is not exactly a noted bastion of left-wing politics, has come out against the GOP tax bill in no uncertain terms. Under the headline "GOP Tax Bill Is The End Of All Economic Sanity In Washington," longtime contributor and budget expert Stan Collender writes:

If it's enacted, the GOP tax cut now working its way through Congress will be the start of a decades-long economic policy disaster unlike any other that has occurred in American history.

There's no economic justification whatsoever for a tax cut at this time. U.S. GDP is growing, unemployment is close to 4 percent (below what is commonly considered "full employment"), corporate profits are at record levels and stock markets are soaring. It makes no sense to add any federal government-induced stimulus to all this private sector-caused economic activity, let alone a tax cut as big as this one.

This is actually the ideal time for Washington to be doing the opposite. But by damning the economic torpedoes and moving full-speed ahead, House and Senate Republicans and the Trump White House are setting up the U.S. for the modern-day analog of the inflation-producing guns-and-butter economic policy of the Vietnam era. The GOP tax bill will increase the federal deficit by $2 trillion or more over the next decade (the official estimates of $1.5 trillion hide the real amount with a witches brew of gimmicks and outright lies) that, unless all the rules have changed, is virtually certain to result in inflation and much higher interest rates than would otherwise occur.

Collender concludes his analysis by observing that if the GOP manages to pass its bill, it will handcuff the federal government for a decade, leaving it unable to respond to the inevitable downturn that will come at some point.

Of course, he's far from the only one who doesn't like what they are seeing. NPR talked to 38 economists from prominent universities, including Yale, Berkeley, MIT, and the University of Chicago. When asked if the Republican plan would spur economic growth, only one of the 38 said yes, and even he qualified his vote by noting the growth would not be distributed in a "fair" manner. When asked if the Republican plan would make the national debt "substantially higher," all 38 said it would.

The general public is also unimpressed with the plan. Poll after poll has shown overwhelming opposition, the latest finds that the GOP is underwater on this issue by 17 points, with 50% opposing, 33% supporting, and 17% having no opinion. That makes the GOP tax proposal the second least popular piece of legislation proposed in the last 30 years, well behind the ACA, TARP, Dodd-Frank, the Bush tax cuts, and the Brady Bill. The only legislation that was less popular? The Republicans' Obamacare replacement. Progress!

So, that's the conservative media, the economists, and the voting public who are all nonplussed. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson took a shot at trying to figure out why this particular bill has spurred such strong opposition, and came up with two answers. He observes, first of all, that the bill is clearly a sop to the corporations and the wealthy donors. And, critically, everyone knows it, because the Republicans haven't even really tried to hide what they are doing. There are lots of on-the-record quotes from current officeholders, like Rep. Chris Collins' (R-NY) declaration that, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again'" or Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) admission that, "[The] financial contributions will stop" if the GOP fails to deliver corporate tax cuts.

The other problem, as Thompson sees it, is that the GOP has boxed itself into a corner due to its unwillingness to work with Barack Obama for the last eight years. In 2012, the then-president proposed lowering corporate rates to 28 percent (achieving a Republican goal) while tightening up some of the loopholes (a Democratic goal, but also one shared by some Republicans). Because "Obama = BAD," the GOP told #44 to get lost. Having removed moderate, bipartisan options from the table in this way, and with them the possibility of Democratic cooperation, the Republicans are thus stuck with more radical proposals and a razor-thin margin of error.

In short, then, the Republicans faced long odds on their tax scheme when they left Washington for the Thanksgiving break. And now that there's been another week for people to reflect, discuss, and research, those odds have not gotten any better. At the moment, the House is scheduled to be in session for 12 more days this year, while the Senate has 15 days left on the calendar. Bad odds plus an incredibly tight deadline do not generally presage success. (Z)

Republicans Have Much to Worry About in 2018

One way or another, the Republican tax proposal's fate will be resolved in the next month or so. At that point, GOP politicians can stop worrying about that, and move right into worrying about the 2018 midterm elections. On that front, there are already a lot of problems, including:

Note that this list is not exhaustive. Also, there's no question that the Democrats have their issues, not the least of which is a dysfunctional DNC, and a need to defend many Senate seats in red, red states. Still, it's certainly looking like the blue team will have a much better hand to play in 2018 than the red team will. (Z)

Mueller is Leaving No Stone Unturned

The tea leaves say that Michael Flynn Sr. is the next target of special counsel Robert Mueller. And so, anyone and everyone is trying to figure out exactly what the former NSA is going to get popped for. Money laundering? Fraud? Perjury? Only Team Mueller knows and, thus far, they are not telling.

With that said, we do have a few enticing bits of information that suggest that, if nothing else, Mueller is following all leads. Business Insider reports that a major subject of interest, at least this week, is a film about Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in Pennsylvania, is public enemy No. 1 as far as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is concerned. Apparently, Flynn was contracted by associates of Erdogan to produce the film, which undoubtedly means that it is over-the-top propaganda. That's not too admirable, but making things worse is that Flynn attempted to hide his involvement. Given that Donald Trump has a close relationship with Erdogan, it's not surprising that Mueller took an interest in the situation. We will have to wait and see what comes of it. (Z)

Trump: Fox "Much More Important" than CNN

As he vacations at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump has a lot of down time. That means he can play plenty of golf, during which time his aides can rest easy, because he can't get himself into too much trouble. It also means he has plenty of time for tweeting, which comes with it the potential for all kinds of trouble. On Saturday, he issued forth with this:

.@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2017

There's nothing too surprising here, really, inasmuch as Trump has regularly made clear that he does not much care for a free press, and that he prefers governments that operate on a strongman model, ideally with a state-run propaganda arm. However, he's rarely said it in a fashion that was quite this direct. Not surprisingly, there was much angry reaction, particularly from CNN. The network's main account responded thusly:

It's not CNN's job to represent the U.S to the world. That's yours. Our job is to report the news. #FactsFirst 🍎

— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) November 25, 2017

A great many CNN employees took to Twitter to second this basic sentiment.

As troublesome as this tweet is to a sizable percentage of the electorate, however, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum noted an even more significant concern:

Inside the US, CNN's' reporting is protected by the First Amendment and the courts. Outside the US, US-affiliated journalists do ultimately depend on the protection of the US government. Trump's words are a direct attack on those international journalists' freedom & even safety

— David Frum (@davidfrum) November 25, 2017

Frum followed this with a number of quotations about the importance of a free press from Bush, Barack Obama, and noted mamby-pamby liberal Ronald Reagan.

Once again, Trump has demonstrated that he's all-in on his base. He cares only about what they think, and how they feel, and about the information sources that speak to them. He's probably right that replicating 2016 is his only path to re-election, but alienating independents and college-educated Republicans may not be the best way to do it. (Z)

"Persons of the Year" Troll Trump

Even if Donald Trump somehow succeeds in shutting CNN down—unlikely, but not impossible with Ajit Pai running the FCC—there will always be Twitter. The Donald would never shut that down, because how would he govern? The problem for him, though, is that just as the platform is available as a weapon for him to use against his opponents, both real and imagined, so is it a weapon to be used against him. Already, his Friday "Person of the Year" tweet has become notorious:

Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named “Man (Person) of the Year,” like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017

It took just minutes for it to become a meme, with all manner of folks chiming in:

The White House called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named Sarah Huckabee Sanders' BFF, but I would have to agree to talk to her and I wouldn't know which eye to look at. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!

— Marie Connor (@thistallawkgirl) November 25, 2017

.@nytimes just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named comedienne of the year but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway! @andy_murray

— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) November 25, 2017

Time Magazine called to say that I was DEFINITELY going to be named "Man (Person) of the Year" but I would have to agree to leak major #Ep8 spoilers. I said "no problem", but then they told me you turned it down and now I don't want it anymore. Thanks anyway!

— @HamillHimself (@HamillHimself) November 25, 2017

Liberty University called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named “Alumnus of the Year” but I would have to get my concealed weapons permit. I shot them down. Thanks anyway!

— Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) November 24, 2017

.The Bible just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named Messiah but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably was no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway.

— Dave Foley (@DaveSFoley) November 25, 2017

Proof once again that he who lives by the tweet, dies by the tweet. (Z)

Bush Oldest President Ever

This is not a particularly important story, as regards current and future U.S. politics, but it's notable nonetheless. On Friday, George H. W. Bush became the longest-lived president in U.S. history, at 93 years, 166 days. He surpassed Gerald Ford on that day, having passed #3 Ronald Reagan (93 years, 120 days) about a month and a half ago. Close on Bush Sr.'s heels is Jimmy Carter, who trails him by 111 days, at 93 years, 56 days. That means, for those who are keeping track, that each of the four presidents who followed Richard Nixon lived to be at least 93 (and all four lived twice as long as shortest-lived president JFK, who was shot in year 46, on day 177). It will now be up to Bush Sr. and/or Carter to try to become the first ex-president to make it to 94.

For those who are wondering, Donald Trump would reach George H. W. Bush's current age on November 28, 2039; George W. Bush would tie pops on December 19, 2039; Bill Clinton would catch up on February 2, 2040; while it would take Barack Obama until January 17, 2055. (Z)

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