Sep. 04

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Trump Notes North Korea's Nuclear Test and Attacks South Korea

On Sunday, North Korea tested what it said was a hydrogen bomb. President Donald Trump responded to this by blaming China and South Korea. In his view, China has enabled North Korea by buying nearly all of its exports and selling it oil for decades. He wants China to cut off the oil supply, which would cripple the North Korean economy, but China has shown little interest in doing so. South Korea's sin, in Trump's eyes, is that it advocates negotiating with North Korea. Trump has said he will never do that. He called it "appeasement."

Trump's primary plan to deal with North Korea is saber rattling. In reality, his military options are limited, and all of them are extremely bad. An attack on North Korea would lead the rogue country to use the thousands of conventional weapons it has stationed at the DMZ to bombard Seoul and kill millions of people. It would take the U.S. days to wipe out all these weapons.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis echoed Trump's words yesterday, and warned the North Koreans of a "massive military response" if they attack the U.S., including Guam. But he knows very well that the price that South Korea and Japan would pay for such a response would be enormous. It would probably drive both countries to develop their own nuclear weapons, which would unsettle China.

It is likely that the U.S. will impose sanctions on companies that do business with North Korea, including Chinese ones. However this is just for show, since Kim Jong-un is never going to give up his nuclear weapons without getting something very big in return. (V)

Trump Likely to Announce End of DACA This Week

Late on Sunday night, White House officials told the press that the President's "current thinking" is that he will declare an end to DACA this week, thus putting the status of 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children into flux. He's going to delay implementation of the order for six months, however, to give Congress time to address the matter, if it wishes.

The technical term for what has happened here is "punt." On one hand, Trump needs to toss some red meat to the base, which is getting hungry. He also knows that at least 10 state attorneys general were threatening to file an anti-DACA lawsuit in federal court, and in the most immigrant-unfriendly circuit in the country (the Fifth Circuit, which includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas). On the other hand, killing DACA will be wildly unpopular with Democrats, and with many Republicans, the latter opposing the move for a mix of humanitarian, economic, and logistical reasons. So, Trump has put the matter in Congress' hands. Whatever the choice they make, Trump can say he did what he could to fight undocumented immigration, and can pin the blame on Congress for any consequences.

If Congress does take the matter up, it likely won't be very soon, since their calendar is very full. So, in the name of "leadership," Trump is about to let nearly a million people twist in the wind for months. At such time that Congress does take action, the debate is going to turn nasty. The Democrats, of course, are going to be outspoken in favor of the program; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, has characterized Trump's pending announcement as, "one of the ugliest and cruelest decisions ever made by a president." Many Republicans are on board with the Vermont Senator; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who is retiring and has nothing to lose, tweeted:

After teasing #Dreamers for months with talk of his "great heart," @POTUS slams door on them. Some "heart"...

— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) September 4, 2017

On the other hand, Rep. Steve King (R-IA)—the Congressman who has a Confederate flag on his desk, despite the fact that his state was not part of the Confederacy—was unhappy in the other direction, describing the six month delay as "political suicide" for the Republicans. He wants the DREAMers booted now. There is no question that many other members of the Freedom Caucus share in that sentiment.

As per usual, and in his single-minded desire to please the base (more below), Trump is not thinking long-term. At the very least, the decision is going to aggravate Congressional Democrats, as well as the Republican leadership. Whether he believes it or not, the President is going to need some of these people's votes at some point. Further, what will happen if Congress decides to enshrine DACA into law, but without a veto-proof majority? Then the matter will land on Trump's desk again, and his effort to pass the buck will have failed. He'll be left to own the outcome, and after months and months of heightened attention to the issue. Finally, Trump's decision—which has Stephen Miller's fingerprints all over it—defies the wishes of most of the highest-ranking members of his administration. How many times will they be ignored before they decide it's not worth it and throw in the towel? (Z)

Trump Is Playing Only to His Base

In tweet after tweet, statement after statement, action after action, it is increasingly obvious that Donald Trump wants to be president of 35% of the people—his core supporters—and cares little, if at all, about anyone else. He is focused exclusively on his base. Consider some of the things he has done in the past month:

All of these things are wildly popular with his base—and wildly unpopular with almost everyone else. Trump is already in election mode, so one might think he is busy expanding his base, but that simply isn't true. He's doubling down on it and hoping to somehow squeeze through in 2020, probably by demonizing his opponent and working hard to disenfranchise as many Democrats as possible. It is an unusual strategy, to say the least. (V)

Is Donald Trump...Suicidal?

No, he's probably not. But in an interview last week, speaking off the cuff and rather carelessly, as Trumps are wont to do, Eric Trump certainly implied as much. His exact words:

I mean, just the evilness and the hatred in that world is unlike anything I could have fathomed before. And no matter what he does, they're going to hit him on it and they're going to go after him, and it's the swamp and it's a corrupt system. It's the media, the mainstream media, who does not want him to succeed. It's government who does not want him to succeed. No matter what he does, he's going to get hit, and listen, I think you have to tune it out. You obviously have to be tuned into it, but at the same time you have to take it all with a grain of salt. If they weren't talking about you, you wouldn't be doing something right and it's important to keep it in context, otherwise quite frankly you'd probably end up killing yourself out of depression.

This is pretty much a textbook example of being in denial—there's simply no room in TrumpWorld for the notion that maybe, just maybe, some of the criticism is justified. It would be nice if, just once, an interviewer would respond to a monologue like this with a question like, "Is any of the criticism of the president on target?" That would certainly help make clear the extent to which Eric, Don Jr., etc. are or are not in touch with reality.

In any case, because the Trumps are so thoroughly unfiltered, it does not occur to them that they are revealing truths that they would probably prefer remain hidden. From this account, it is abundantly clear that the President is well aware of the criticisms lodged against him, and that, despite his pretending otherwise, they are driving him up the wall. We already suspected all of this, but Eric's words help confirm it. And although suicide is presumably not in the cards, the fact that Eric veered pretty hard in the direction of mental instability hints that even the members of the family harbor some concerns about the President's mental fitness. Exactly how openly they are discussing this matter among themselves, and what they might do with this information, is anyone's guess. (Z)

Democrats Have a 10-Point Lead on the Generic House Ballot

When people are asked: "Will you vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress?" the Democrats do very well. Currently, the generic Democrat beats the generic Republican 46% to 36%. However, that doesn't mean the Democrats will win the House in a landslide due to gerrymandering, voter-ID laws, and other factors. Still, it is better to be up 10 points than down 10 points. (V)

Trump Nominations Could Mean Two More Special Elections

Donald Trump intends to nominate two sitting House Republicans to his administration, forcing special elections in their districts. He intends to nominate Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be administrator of NASA and Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be his drug czar. If they are approved by the Senate, special elections will be held in OK-01 (Tulsa area) and PA-10 (northeast part of the state) to replace them.

Bridenstine is a tea partier who was elected to the House in 2012. In 2016 he supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for president. Bridenstine is a member of the House subcommittee on space and has introduced several space-related bills into the House. He is particularly interested in the commercialization of space. OK-01 is a heavily Republican district, so much so that the Democrats didn't bother to run a candidate against him in 2016. If he resigns his seat, a Republican is the overwhelming favorite to take his place in the House. With that said, both of Florida's Senators—Marco Rubio (R) and Ben Nelson (D)—are opposed to the nomination, given that Bridenstine is not a scientist, and would not have the confidence of his underlings at NASA, in their view. So, Bridenstine's departure from Congress is not a certainty.

Marino was a U.S. attorney before being elected to Congress in 2010. He is one of the most conservative members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. His rating from the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity is 70%. He voted against an amendment that would bar the NSA from collecting information about all Americans. He has introduced legislation that would speed up development projects that are being slowed down by environmental restrictions. In 2016, he got 70% of the vote against a Democrat, so the Republicans are likely to hold this seat as well. (V)

States Struggle to Fix Voting Security

In most states, there is at least some concern about the security of American elections, and in particular the risk that the Russians might return for another go-round in 2018 or 2020. Politico has a nice overview of the efforts that various states have taken to address the problem—technological, legislative, and logistical. The overarching theme, however, is that hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to properly address the issue, and politicians on the state and federal levels—the majority of them Republicans—are simply unwilling to pony up.

Given that free and fair elections are truly the bedrock of American democracy, it's surprising and disappointing that this is the case. What is going on? Well, there appear to be a number of dynamics in play:

Given the size and scale of the problem, action is needed sooner rather than later in order to be ready for the next two elections. By all evidence, that action is not coming. Maybe we will have to wait until we have an actual election whose outcome is impacted by Russian hackers. Oh, wait. (Z)

Elizabeth Warren is Religious

This weekend's edition of the Boston Globe has something of a puff piece on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Under the headline "Religion is constant part of Elizabeth Warren's life," the article details how much the Senator loves the Bible, loves Jesus, and—although she does not have a church she regularly attends—loves visiting black churches. There's even a picture of a smiling Warren doing so, in case readers had any doubts about how much she enjoys visiting black churches.

This article is only of interest for one reason. Warren has been coy about her presidential plans in 2020, and a run is not a slam dunk, given her age on Election Day (71). However, an article like this—and the church visits it describes—is clearly part of laying the groundwork for a run. She knows she's got the progressives, and so she's building bridges to another key part of the Obama coalition, namely black voters (who tend to be among the more conservative Democrats). This may not be quite as obvious as going to New Hampshire or Iowa for a book signing or a poetry reading or to judge a watermelon seed spitting contest, but it's not far behind. In the end, depending on how the winds blow (and depending on what Bernie Sanders does), Warren may or may not make a run. But at the moment, her hat is definitely in the ring. (Z)

Do the Democrats Need a Kennedy to Save Them?

Speaking of politicians from Massachusetts, the Bay State is currently being represented in Congress by a Kennedy. That is a state of affairs—no pun intended—that has pretty much been in place since the mid-1950s. The current Kennedy is Rep. Joe Kennedy (D), who is charismatic, young (36), has built-in national name recognition, is more deft than his relatives at avoiding scandalous behavior, and has earned raves for his anti-Trump speeches that have found their way online, including this one, which has been viewed over 12 million times.

When asked about his presidential aspirations, Kennedy invariably pooh-poohs such talk, and suggests that the only thing he might aspire to is a U.S. Senate seat. He may be telling the truth—Kennedy intimates say he's pretty cautious, and realizes that his great-uncle, while a very young president, had a full term in the Senate, a keynote address at the 1956 DNC, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on his resume before making his White House run. Still, unlike lesser-known politicians, a Kennedy can wait until fairly late in the game to declare. So, he's worth keeping an eye on, at least until early 2020. (Z)

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