• Trump: "We're Leaving Syria"; Everyone Else: "No, We're Not"
• Trump Continues to Hammer Amazon
• Trump Is Not a "Target" of Mueller's Investigation at the Moment
• Roger Stone Under Increased Scrutiny
• Trump's Infrastructure Guru Is Quitting
• NRCC Has Tough Choices Ahead
• Fourteen States Still Use Insecure Voting Machines
A day after China imposed its own tariffs on imports from the U.S., Donald Trump was defiant and showed no signs of backing down. In fact, he denied that his tariffs and China's counter-tariffs were the start of a trade war. He continued to reference the $566 billion trade deficit the U.S. has with China, and vowed to reduce it. Wall Street was less impressed. The Dow dropped 500 points early on, but later recovered and closed up for the day. This could mean that investors don't believe a real trade war is in the offing, or they could believe that even if it happens, the U.S. economy is big enough to weather it.
It is also possible that the markets are paying more attention to the new Director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, who said later in the day that Trump's tariffs were just proposals and maybe they wouldn't happen at all. Investors are aware that Kudlow opposes tariffs and will continue to hold this view a month from now, whereas Trump tends to rant and then move to the next topic.
Kudlow isn't the only one who opposes Trump's tariffs. Many Republicans believe they will be an albatross around the neck of the the Republican Party in the midterms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said yesterday: "We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don't know whether it's going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5." McConnell tends to be vague in his pronouncements, but Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was much more specific yesterday, saying: "It's my hope that the Trump administration will reconsider these tariffs and pursue policies that enhance our competitiveness, rather than reduce our access to foreign markets." Ernst knows that Iowa (and other rural states) will be hard hit if China follows through and puts tariffs on soybeans, pork, and other agricultural products. She also knows that the voters in these states will not be in a good mood in November if they see their income declining due to the loss of foreign sales.
The Chinese very much understand the need to save face in negotiations. This weekend, Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to give a speech on liberalization of the economy. He could say something suggesting that China will henceforth be more open to foreign investment and will buy more products from abroad, but without giving any details (because he wasn't planning to actually change much). Trump could then latch onto this speech and claim he forced China into major concessions so the tariffs are no longer necesssary. Net result: Nothing changes but Trump gets something to brag about to his base, few of whom understand anything at all about the macroeconomics of international trade. Xi undoubtedly strategizes about dealing with Trump the way he would deal with a recalcitrant first grader: As long as he thinks he won, you can do anything you want. (V)
Starting with a rally in Ohio last week, Donald Trump has been making some bold pronouncements about the future of the United States' mission in Syria. For example, he declared that, "We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now." This came just hours after Pentagon spokesperson Dana White declared that, "important work remains to guarantee the lasting defeat of these violent extremists," while also explaining that the Dept. of Defense was drawing up plans to send more troops to Syria. So, depending on whom you believe, the United States will either be escalating its commitment or ending it. Definitely one of the two.
On Tuesday, Trump tried to bring clarity to the situation by telling his advisors that he wants ISIS defeated and U.S. troops withdrawn within six months. Conveniently, that would allow him to declare victory just weeks before the midterm elections. Someone should call up ISIS and see if that timeline works with their schedule.
Or, maybe they shouldn't, because that timeline definitely does not work for anyone on Team Trump, from Secretary of Defense James Mattis on down. They recognize that, even if ISIS is somehow "defeated" in the next six months, there will still be a long-term need to rebuild the war-torn nation and to mitigate conditions that might foment a return of the organization (or some other similar group). Even the yes-men that Trump has brought in to replace negative nellys like Herbert McMaster and Rex Tillerson are telling him he's off base. Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo, for example, told Trump in no uncertain terms that a premature withdrawal would be a huge mistake.
At the moment, Trump has agreed to cool his heels on this matter. And surely, his advisors know two things: (1) He just wants something he can campaign on in September and October, and (2) There is little time left to execute a six-month withdrawal from Syria, even if the Pentagon was on board. So, what the members of the administration will do is try to drag their feet for a month or two and hope he forgets about this entirely. Or, at least, that he forgets about it until they can plausibly say, "Sorry, too late to get it done before the election." Then he can cook up something else to pitch voters on in the fall. Muslim ban v4.0, maybe? A ban on transgender...postal carriers? A stiff tariff on all imports from Freedonia, Herzoslovakia, and Wakanda? (Z)
Donald Trump continues to attack Amazon, presumably because (1) its founder, Jeff Bezos, is vastly richer than he is, and (2) Bezos owns the Washington Post, which keeps running news stories he doesn't like. His constant negative tweets have driven down Amazon's stock price 11% from its peak this year. On the other hand, the Dow Jones index is down 9% from its peak, so the effect of the tweets might be only around 2%. Despite Trump's antagonism, it is unlikely that Bezos is having nightmares. Amazon (blue line in the chart below) has greatly outperformed the Dow for the year (it is up 13% this year while the Dow is down 4% since January 1):
Once the novelty of the presidential tweeting about Amazon wears off, investors are going to start thinking about whether Trump can actually damage Amazon. Trump's options really aren't that great, though. Here are the major ones. First, he could try to make Amazon pay more for using the Postal Service. But that wouldn't be so easy since both the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general are Obama appointees. Replacing them would require Senate confirmation and the senators might ask questions like: "Do you plan to raise shipping prices for Amazon?" The 90 million people who are Amazon Prime members might not be pleased about a price hike and some of them might convey this sentiment to their senators. Besides, package delivery is actually an area where the Postal Service makes money. If it wanted to get out of the red, it should lobby Congress to allow it to stop delivering first-class mail to all the big, empty red states in the West.
Another area Trump could try to hit Amazon is in its cloud computing business. The DoD is preparing to award a multibillion dollar contract for cloud computing services, and Amazon is clearly positioned to win it. Trump could try to divert the contract to Google or Microsoft, but the Pentagon would not be happy with the president interfering with a carefully planned military procurement just because he has a personal grudge with the head of the company that is best situated to provide the services the military needs.
A third possibility is for Trump to order AG Jeff Sessions to sue Amazon as a monopoly. However, it would be very difficult to win such a case because although Amazon is very big, it hardly has a monopoly on shopping, not even online shopping. Wal-mart is also a big player online and people can still go to stores if they want to, and many of them do.
Finally, Trump could egg the state attorneys general on to sue Amazon for tax evasion. Amazon collects sales taxes on everything it sells directly to its customers, but does not collect sales tax on behalf of third party vendors that it uses. A win here would mostly serve to raise prices Amazon customers pay. Does Trump really want to campaign in 2020 on a platform of (1) I cut your income taxes (2) but I also raised the sales taxes you pay? In short, other than tweeting, there isn't a lot Trump can actually do to hurt Amazon, and in the long run, the effect of the tweets on Amazon's stock price is going to wear off when it becomes clear to investors that he is all hat and no cattle. (V)
A source has told Politico that special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to make Donald Trump feel comfortable and willing to do an interview by leaking the fact that Trump is currently only a "subject" of the investigation, and not a "target." The idea is that Trump probably doesn't know the difference and won't listen when his lawyers patiently try to explain that if he does an interview, on the way out the door, Mueller could say: "Thank you so much, Mr. President, for the interview. By the way, you are now a target."
Being a "subject" means he is being investigated for possible criminal behavior. Being a "target" means the prosecutors already have enough information to bring charges. If Trump were to blatantly lie during an interview, for example, he could be charged with perjury. If he were to tell the truth and admit that he fired former FBI Director James Comey to stop Comey from investigating whether he colluded with Russia, he could be charged with obstruction of justice. But Trump may think he is smart enough to wing it without any danger and Mueller clearly wants to encourage him in thinking that.
It is also possible that Trump is not a target due to Justice Dept. guidelines dating from 1973, stating that a sitting president cannot be criminally indicted while in office. Nevertheless, Mueller could cause great damage to Trump, since he is planning to write a report, possibly more than one. If the report said that Trump had unambiguously committed one or more crimes but due to the Justice Dept. guidelines he can't be indicted, the ball would be in Congress' court. If that report were to be written before the midterms and became public (which is far from certain), it would instantly become the dominant campaign issue in House and Senate races. Still, that's a lot of "ifs." (V)
Donald Trump friend and confidant Roger Stone has a pair of very bad habits. The first is associating with dubious people. The second is bragging about whom he knows and what he knows. Some day, those two habits could get Stone (and maybe even Trump) into trouble. And that day may come sooner rather than later, according to reporting from CNN.
The question that folks asked during Watergate was, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" Well, that applies here, too. CNN has managed tp piece together evidence that on August 3, 2016, Stone had dinner with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and also talked to Donald Trump on the phone. On August 4, he chatted with then-Trump aide Sam Nunberg about his dinner with Assange, and sent an e-mail to Nunberg on the subject. All of this information has been available previously, though Stone has denied all of it, including that he's ever met Assange. The new addition to the puzzle, however, is an August 4 interview Stone did with InfoWars, in which he alluded to his meeting with Assange, and also "predicted" that devastating leaks about Hillary Clinton were coming soon. He was proven correct several weeks later.
In short, then, either a lot of people are conspiring against Stone and he's a master soothsayer, or else he's lying, and he did have contact with Assange. In turn, given that Assange got his information from the Russians, a series of connections begins to come into focus: Russians-Assange-Stone-Trump/Trump campaign. The chain is still a little fuzzy, in some aspects—in particular, it's not yet proven that Stone directly told Trump what he knew. However, it's enough that Robert Mueller is now looking into the matter. (Z)
Donald Trump's infrastructure plan, such as it is, is to use $200 billion in federal money to try and motivate states and private companies to pony up an additional $800 billion. If it works, then—voilà!—we have a $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul at a bargain basement price. The problem is that many Republicans are balking at approving another $200 billion in spending, while Democrats suspect that the $200 billion won't trigger much new spending, and instead will just end up subsidizing projects that were already set to move forward. Consequently, the plan has virtually no forward momentum at the moment.
On Wednesday, apparently acknowledging the writing on the wall, Donald Trump's infrastructure strategist, D.J. Gribbin, announced he is leaving the White House for "new opportunities." If nothing is going to happen on the infrastructure plan, then Gribbin—its mastermind—is something of a fifth wheel moving forward. Trump himself has admitted that nothing is going to get done soon, and told a crowd last week that "you'll probably have to wait until after the election." Of course, since the Democrats loathe the plan, and since they figure to gain some (or many) seats in the midterms, there is zero chance that passing the bill will somehow be easier next year than it is now. Adding it all up, then, and it's likely that a promise that was supposed to be fulfilled in Trump's first 100 days is dead in the water. He'll just have to satisfy himself with pretending that construction on his border wall is underway. (Z)
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is charged with electing Republicans to the House, has some difficult decisions to make soon. Currently, 23 House Republicans represent districts that Hillary Clinton won. Should the NRCC put all its eggs in these 23 baskets and let Republicans in other districts fend for themselves? That might not be a wise move given Conor Lamb's recent victory in a R+11 district in Pennsylvania. If districts that red aren't safe, then surely Republicans in swing districts that Trump barely won are in danger as well And in a blue wave, all the seats from R+1 to R+11 could be problematical. And there are 126 of them and not nearly enough money to support them all.
In the coming months, the NRCC is going to have to make hard decisions about which incumbents get help and which ones are left to sink or swim on their own. GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said: "You're dealing with a chess board that has 30 or 40 pieces on it, and you're trying to figure out how to get from here to there." He added that everyone knows what the top 15 races are, but what are the next 15?
Another problem is that there are many districts in which one or more Democratic challengers have outraised the incumbent Republican. That suggests that if the NRCC cuts such an incumbent loose, that incumbent is probably going to be outgunned. It is possible that outside donors will make up the difference, but many of them are more interested in hanging onto the Senate than the House because the Senate map is so much better for the GOP. Also, the Senate is more important than the House due to its role in confirming Supreme Court nominees, as well as judges and administration positions.
On the other hand, if the Democrats take the House, they are going to spend all of 2019 debating the impeachment of Donald Trump and will probably impeach him. Conviction in the Senate is unlikely, but the public broadcast of the House proceedings, with constitutional lawyer after constitutional lawyer testifying in public that Trump has committed an impeachable offense, won't help the Republican brand much for 2020. (V)
One might have thought that with all the publicity surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 elections that the states would be rushing to get new voting machines that produce a paper trail that can be audited. However, one would be wrong. And where states and counties are buying new equipment, in some cases it is just as bad as the old equipment. For example, San Jacinto County, TX, just spent $383,000 on new touch-screen voting systems that do not produce a paper trail. Such machines can potentially be hacked, or malicious software can be installed before the election, either in the factory or in the field. In the event of a dispute, there is no way to recount the votes because there is no paper trail.
In 14 states, at least part of the state uses electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper ballot that can be counted by hand after the election. Five states—Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina—use them everywhere in the state. Other states, including the swing states of Pennsylvania and Florida, use them in some counties. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirsten Nielsen told the Senate on March 21: "If there is no way to audit the election, that is absolutely a national security concern." Congress responded by allocating $380 million to help states and counties buy new voting equipment, but the bill did not specify that the new machines had to leave a paper trail, so counties like San Jacinto were free to buy new machines that are just as vulnerable to hacking and Russian interference as the old ones.
In Dec. 2006, a team of 20 computer experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology did exhaustive testing and reported that there was no way to verify the accuracy of the votes cast on a paperless touch-screen voting machine. Nothing has changed since then. The only ways to ensure an accurate count is to use either paper ballots that are marked by hand or voting machines that print out a paper ballot that the voter can verify before turning it in. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr04 Trump Will Use the Military to Guard the Border
Apr04 The Book Behind Trump's Policy Decisions
Apr04 Rosenstein Approved Mueller's Investigation of Manafort
Apr04 Mueller Sends Someone to Jail
Apr04 Democrat Wins Judicial Election in Wisconsin
Apr04 Republicans Are Getting Nervous about McCain's Health
Apr04 Three-quarters of Americans Say Major News Outlets Report Fake News
Apr04 O'Rourke Is Raking it In
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Apr03 Trump is Pro-States' Rights--Except When He's Not
Apr03 Trump is Pro-Business--Except When He's Not
Apr03 White House: "Shulkin Resigned"; Shulkin: "Actually, I Was Fired"
Apr03 The "Stormy" Effect Is Not Much Effect at All
Apr03 Trump Brags That His Approval Rating Is Now Higher Than Obama's
Apr03 Trump Will Appeal Decision in Summer Zervos Case
Apr03 Woman Sues Trump Campaign
Apr03 Esty Won't Run for Reelection
Apr02 Trump: No DACA Deal
Apr02 With the "Adults" Gone, Trump Is Calling His Own Shots
Apr02 China Declares (Trade) War Against the U.S.
Apr02 Abe Having Buyer's Remorse
Apr02 Russian Hacker Is Extradited to the U.S.
Apr02 Who's the Leaker? Kellyanne Conway, Apparently
Apr02 Rep. Elizabeth Esty Under Fire for How She Handled Harassment Problem
Apr01 Trump Really Hates Amazon
Apr01 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Apr01 How Big a Win Do Democrats Need to Take the House?
Apr01 The Interview that Should Have Republicans Worried
Apr01 Buttigieg for President?
Apr01 Gun Rights Advocates Are Becoming Unhinged
Apr01 Eric Trump Is Highly Questionable
Mar31 Senate Democrats Have to Choose Between Defense and Offense
Mar31 Pruitt's Head Could Roll Next
Mar31 Jackson's Confirmation No Sure Thing
Mar31 Today in Muckraking...
Mar31 McDougal Payment Becoming a Problem for Trump
Mar31 Trump's Businesses May Be Exposed
Mar31 Poll: Young People Don't Like Trump
Mar31 McCabe Raises Almost $500,000 in One Day
Mar30 Sessions Will Not Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate the Justice Department
Mar30 2016 Exit Polls Were Off
Mar30 Polling Numbers Looking Up for Trump; Everything Else, Not So Much
Mar30 Trump Toying with Having no Chief of Staff or Communications Director
Mar30 Trump Implies Wall Construction Has Begun
Mar30 Daniels' Lawyer Won't Be Able To Depose Trump Right Now
Mar30 Atlanta Will Bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention
Mar30 Gov. Scott Walker Will Call Special Elections After All
Mar29 Another One Bites the Dust
Mar29 Mueller Plays Another Card from His Hand