• Trump to Get One-Two Punch from Macron, Merkel This Week
• One Person's Denuclearization Is Not Another Person's Denuclearization
• Two Cabinet Nominations Hang in the Balance
• What Is Trump's Favorite TV Network? Hint: It Is Not Fox News
• Being President for Fun and Profit
• Senators Are Working on Election Security
• McCaskill Has a Slight Lead over Hawley in Missouri Senate Battle
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the assistant minority leader and highest-ranking black politician in the country, has said that if the Democrats fail to capture the House in the elections, the entire leadership should resign to make way for a new generation. The current leaders are all rapidly approaching 80.
If the Democrats manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it is very likely that Clyburn will get his wish. Younger Democrats will be wondering how this could have happened and mad as hell. But even if the Democrats win the House, this could be the last hurrah for members of the leadership. Last June, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that in some parts of the country, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is more toxic than Donald Trump. That is certainly true, in large part because the Republicans and Fox News have been attacking her for years. Although if she gave up the leadership for someone else, within a short time the Republicans and Fox News would try to make that person toxic as well.
However, geography could play a role here. Pelosi represents San Francisco in the House, which to many evangelicals is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah combined. If the new Democratic leader came from, say, the Midwest, it would be harder to paint his or her home town as Sin City. Of course, if the new leader came from Las Vegas, it would be, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again. (V)
On Tuesday, Donald and Melania Trump will host their first state dinner, with France's Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron as the guests of honor. The two presidents, of course, will meet extensively during the day. Later in the week, German chancellor Angela Merkel will be in town for more meetings (though she doesn't get a dinner). So, Trump's "executive time" will be severely curtailed this week.
The timing of these two visits is not coincidental, and in case there were any doubts, Merkel and Macron spent much of the past few days together in Berlin, plotting strategy. Given their druthers, the two leaders would prefer not to touch Trump with a 10-foot pole, since his approval rating in France is 14%, and in Germany is 11%. But the Donald holds the key to some pretty important matters of concern to Europe, and so Macron and Merkel will arrive ready to twist Trump's arm on several issues. Notably:
- Syria: None of the western nations likes being involved in Syria,
but they've all concluded that leaving is even worse. Macron, in particular, is going to press
Trump to commit to remaining, despite tweets promising withdrawal in six months.
- Trade: Trump, at least in his public pronouncements, is a strong
proponent of bilateral trade agreements. As the leaders of the EU's two most important nations,
Merkel and Macron are de facto the world's biggest advocates of multilateral agreements. They also
do not like trade wars. So, they are going to urge Trump to think hard about his trade policies,
and his love of punitive tariffs.
- Iran: Some suspect that this will be the biggest issue on the agenda.
Trump has boxed himself into a bit of a corner, as he's demanded changes prior to the next deadline for
certification. That deadline, May 12, is only three weeks away, and there's no chance that any changes
will be made in time (especially since that process hasn't even started). Macron and Merkel will
undoubtedly press Trump not to do anything rash, and may bring with them offers of new sanctions
- Paris Accord: Neither Merkel nor Macron is happy that the U.S. is the only country to have withdrawn from the Paris Accord. They are likely to make some mention of this. However, the United States' withdrawal cannot become official until November 2020, so this issue is likely to be lower on the list than the other three.
This weekend, meanwhile, there were two big stories related to Trump's upcoming meetings. First, the Iranian government declared that if Trump tries to change the terms of the deal they signed, "It will not be very pleasant," and they will probably resume enriching uranium. Meanwhile, Mexico and the EU announced a NAFTA-like deal that eliminates virtually all tariffs between the two parties. In other words, "Mexico and the EU might like to have the U.S. as a trade partner, but we don't need the U.S., so you had better think about that, Mr. Trump." What it amounts to is that the President, who is still essentially an amateur when it comes to politics, is about to start dealing with the pros. By the end of the week, we should have a much better sense of exactly how ready for the big time he really is. (Z)
As he gets ready for his week with the Europeans, Donald Trump decided to do a little diplomacy-by-Twitter on Sunday, aimed in the direction of North Korea (and NBC's Chuck Todd):
Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing. Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2018
....We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t - only time will tell....But the work I am doing now should have been done a long time ago!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2018
The clip that aggravated Trump, and so triggered these tweets, is available here.
Perhaps the President will have his tête-à-têtes with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel this week, and will prove up to the task. However, these tweets do not give one confidence that will be the case. To start, the Donald—like Kim Jong-Un—is negotiating in public, and is giving himself all sorts of outs if his negotiations don't work out. Neither of these is the habit of a skilled diplomat.
More concerning, however, is that Trump either does not understand—or conveniently chooses to ignore—some key realities. It is not true that the U.S. hasn't "given up anything." In fact, Kim has been given a meeting, which is an enormous boon to him given his goal to be treated as a serious world leader. Similarly, it is not correct that, "they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing." It is true that Kim has verbally promised site closure and an end to testing (though those promises could prove to be not worth the paper they are written on). It is also true that one could plausibly (albeit inaccurately) describe that promise as "denuclearization." However, like most of the world, Trump is clearly interpreting "denuclearization" as something above and beyond "site closure, & no more testing." Kim has not promised anything of the sort, and if Trump enters the talks thinking otherwise (or, at least, publicly pretending otherwise), then he's setting himself up for failure. (Z)
This week, two of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees will sink or swim. This afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a definite "no" vote and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is undecided. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) will vote "yes," but if Flake votes against Pompeo, Trump will need another Democrat to get the nomination through the committee. On the other hand, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will bring the nomination of Pompeo to the floor for a vote no matter what the committee decides. Since 1925 (when committee votes became public) no nominee rejected by a Senate committee has been confirmed, so Pompeo's fate is uncertain.
Possibly even less sure is the nomination of Trump's doctor, Ronny Jackson, to run the Veterans Administration. There is universal agreement that Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy, is a good doctor, a hard worker, and a nice person, but many in the Senate question his ability to run the second largest bureaucracy in the cabinet, and one that has a multitude of problems. Jackson has never managed anything. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who is on the VA committee, said Jackson "doesn't have the experience you'd think would traditionally be required at the VA." Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) is concerned that Jackson "has very limited background in terms of managing groups." Jackson is currently undergoing rigorous training for his confirmation hearing, so he may have answers to specific questions the senators ask about ongoing VA issues. Still, the bottom line is that the VA has 378,000 employees and an annual budget of $180 billion and Jackson has never managed anything larger than his own office. (V)
Donald Trump's affection for Fox News is well known, but—flying under the radar—the Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is probably more important to him. Historically, it broadcast various and sundry preachers, gospel music shows, and a religious talk show called "Praise the Lord." Politics was out of bounds. But now, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has an hour-long show on TBN, and it is saturated with politics. It also gets a million viewers for each episode, and Huckabee has repeatedly interviewed conservative politicians and anti-abortion activists, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the past, politicians avoided religious broadcasts because much of it was hokey, tawdry, and disreputable. TV preacher Oral Roberts once told his viewers that if he didn't get $8 million by next month, he would die. Sure enough, his viewers coughed it up. Jim Bakker, another popular televangelist, was involved in numerous scandals and was convicted on 24 counts of financial crimes and sentenced to 45 years in federal prison. He also was alleged to have raped his secretary and paid her hush money to keep quiet. Preacher Jimmy Swaggart was involved with prostitutes multiple times and was defrocked for these incidents by the Assemblies of God. The list goes on.
While other politicians have treaded gingerly, Donald Trump has jumped in with both feet. He has appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which is similar to TBN, 11 times since his campaign began. In 2017, he gave more interviews on CBN than on CNN, ABC, or CBS. His cabinet members, staffers, and surrogates appear frequently on CBN and (somewhat less) on TBN. The Christian networks benefit from this by appearing to be mainstream news networks, which they are definitely not, and Trump and his minions get to address millions of followers with no filtering or criticism at all. And they are no small potatoes. TBN alone has more affiliates than Fox News, ABC, CBS, or NBC, and it reaches 100 million households.
The connection between Trump (who has zero interest in religion and worships only himself) and the millions of evangelicals who watch TBN and CBN may seem peculiar, but Trump sensed early on that the audience was receptive to his view that America was better in the 1950s, when prayer was allowed (or required) in schools, abortion was largely illegal, blacks were seen by whites as happy-go-lucky cotton pickers, gays were hiding in the closet, and legally marrying a person of the same sex seemed about as likely as legally marrying an opposite-sex goat. Also, he understood the dominant theology of the TV preachers: If you are rich, that is a sign that God loves you (and please send more money), so he and his campaign fit in surprisingly well with an audience of resentful white conservatives who worshiped wealth and longed for a return to the 1950s.
Since his election, Trump has actually delivered the goods to this audience. He has more evangelicals in his administration than any previous president. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has a daily show on a Christian network. Cabinet members Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson are all evangelical Christians who frequently talk about their faith, but all of them are one-upped by Vice President Mike Pence. In short, Trump may have trouble with policy, but he has a very good ear for the politics of white resentment. (V)
There has, of course, never been a president with a background like Donald Trump's—a billionaire with real estate holdings and merchandise agreements around the world. The Constitution never envisioned a situation like this, and while gifts from foreign powers are strictly verboten, other forms of profiting from the presidency exist in an ill-defined gray area. The first 43 men to occupy that office generally tended to err on the side of caution when confronted with a gray area like this—George Washington personally paid the White House staff, Abraham Lincoln paid extra income tax, and FDR covered his own train travel expenses, to take three examples. But none of them is Donald Trump, who takes a very different view of matters.
To start, while the Trump Organization has lost a lot of business from charities and other organizations who do not want to be associated with the President, they've gained a lot from GOP- and Trump-affiliated entities. Trump's campaign committee has paid Trump over half a million dollars in fees, and the RNC has paid over a million. Super PACs affiliated with Trump and Mike Pence have also been enthusiastic customers. All of this brings up a bunch of legal hairiness. It is not kosher for a candidate to use campaign funds to enrich themselves, as anyone familiar with the Checkers speech knows. Meanwhile, as many watchdog groups have pointed out, if PACs are allowed to do business with the President, that would make it very easy for them to bribe him. After all, who is to say if that $100,000 payment was for a nice party in the Grand Ambassador ballroom, or was to persuade the President not to raise the age for gun purchases to 21? Lawsuits are in the offing, though as always, finding plaintiffs with standing is an issue.
Trump, for his part, has no shame about any of this, and is not even trying to pretend that the presidency is not, at least in part, a moneymaking opportunity. Specifically, the Trump Organization is planning to install markers with the presidential seal at the first hole of every Trump golf course in the United States. This is definitely illegal, as federal law explicitly prohibits the, "false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof." In this case, however, it would be up to the Dept. of Justice and AG Jeff Sessions to enforce the law, so don't hold your breath. Maybe Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein will say something, but since he is hanging on by a thread, probably not. (Z)
A bipartisan coalition of senators, led by James Lankford (R-OK) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), is working on a bill to improve election security, something that is needed extremely badly. One of the items the bill covers is replacing paperless voting machines with systems that have an audit trail. Electronic voting machines are all right as long as they print out a paper ballot the voter can verify and turn in as the actual vote. In the event of a dispute, the paper ballots can be hand counted. Both Donald Trump and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen have endorsed the Lankford/Klobuchar bill.
The bill would do other things to improve election security, including developing guidelines for states to follow for cybersecurity. It would also provide federal funding for measures needed to adhere to the guidelines.
Historically, states have told the federal government to butt out of their elections, despite their clear and obvious incompetence in securing their election systems. Lankford and Klobuchar have tried to handle this problem by having meetings with many secretaries of state, to hear their concerns and incorporate them in the bill. The senators met with the secretaries of state from Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Missouri last week, and Lankford said the meeting went very smoothly, adding, "I think we're getting very, very close." Nevertheless, the secretaries didn't all come away with the same story. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) said he believes the Russian efforts to influence the elections have been "exaggerated" by federal officials. Ashcroft obviously thinks he knows more than the CIA and FBI, which have unambiguously stated that the Russians attacked the election systems of 21 states.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (D) said that the big threat is not that Russian hackers will change vote tallies, but that they will compromise voter databases, selectively removing voters from the rolls, especially in precincts that vote heavily for the party they want to damage. So it seems we have two issues at play here. First Republicans think everything is just fine and Democrats don't. Second, there is tension between the states wanting to run their own shows, no matter how little expertise they have, and the big bad federal government wanting to tell the states to get their acts together.
Even if the Lankford/Klobuchar bill passes in the summer, it will be too late to change anything before the 2018 elections, since part of it requires the states to buy new voting equipment, and the bidding and acquisition process for that could take more than a year. The best case is that the bill will pass and the states will take action before 2020, but even that is not guaranteed.
The senators aren't the only ones thinking about election security. There are activities in the states as well. In five states (Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware) the voting machines leave no paper trails at all. None of them are swing states, but there are likely to be close House races in some of them. None of them are planning to replace their machines any time soon. In nine other states, there is some activity, namely:
- Pennsylvania: The governor has ordered all counties to have systems with paper trails by 2019
- Texas: 23 counties have new voting systems but only 8 leave paper trails
- Kansas: Bills to require paper trails are circulating in the legislature
- Florida: Gov. Rick Scott (R) has $2.5 million in the budget for cybersecurity
- Tennessee: A bill to require paper trails didn't even make it out of committee
- Arkansas: The legislature has approved upgrading the voting machines but hasn't allocated funds
- Indiana: Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R) said she is skeptical about paper ballots
- Kentucky: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) would like paper trails but there is no money
- Mississippi: Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (R) refused to comment when Axios asked about paper ballots
All in all, it seems like having fair and honest elections is a pretty low priority with many states. (V)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) got very lucky in 2012 when her opponent, Todd Akin, defended laws prohibiting abortions even in the case of rape, by saying that a woman's body would prevent pregnancy when there was a "legitimate rape." That was pretty much the end of Akin.
This year she might get lucky again, what with the Republican governor under one indictment already, possibly with more to come. While that doesn't tar her opponent, Missouri AG Josh Hawley, directly, it doesn't make Missouri Republicans look good. A new poll in this increasingly red state, puts her ahead of Hawley 48% to 44%, despite the poll showing that Missourians approve of Donald Trump by a margin of 50% to 44%. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr22 Trump Defends Cohen
Apr22 How Helpful Will Giuliani Be?
Apr22 More Skeletons Emerge from Pruitt's Closet
Apr22 Greitens Indicted, Hawley Flailing
Apr22 Romney Finishes Second at Utah GOP Convention, Will Face Primary
Apr21 DNC Sues the Trump Campaign, Russia, and Wikileaks
Apr21 Sessions: If Rosenstein Goes, I Might Too
Apr21 Trump Treated Cohen Like Garbage
Apr21 Cohen Reportedly Owes Back Taxes
Apr21 Why Did Trump Hire Giuliani as a Lawyer?
Apr21 Daniels and McDougal's Former Lawyer Cooperating with Cohen Probe
Apr21 Could Trump Be Defeated in the 2020 Primary?
Apr21 Cruz Walks a Thin Line
Apr20 Comey Memos Released
Apr20 Trump Finally Has a New Lawyer
Apr20 Trade War Continues to Develop
Apr20 Trump Says He's Willing to Walk Out on Kim
Apr20 Democrats Are Getting Involved in the West Virginia Senatorial Primary
Apr20 House Democrats Are Raising More Money Than House Republicans
Apr20 Independent Candidate Shakes Up Illinois Governor's Race
Apr19 McConnell Won't Bring Up Legislation to Protect Mueller
Apr19 Schneiderman Is Asking for a Change in the Law So He Can Prosecute Pardonees
Apr19 Cohen Might Not Take a Bullet for Trump
Apr19 Democrats Get Good News in Senate Races
Apr19 Republicans Are Trying to Save McCain's Seat
Apr19 McDougal Is Free to Tell Her Story
Apr19 Melania Trump to Attend Bush Funeral
Apr18 Pompeo Met with Kim
Apr18 Nikki Haley Isn't Jeff Sessions
Apr18 Republicans Book the First $48 Million Worth of Ads for House Races
Apr18 Joe Crowley Would Like to Be Speaker of the House
Apr18 Charlie Dent Will Retire from the House
Apr18 More Trouble for Greitens
Apr18 What Would Francisco Do?
Apr18 What Would Francis Do?
Apr18 Barbara Bush Dead at 92
Apr17 Cohen, Hannity Have a Bad Day in Court
Apr17 Tensions Rise in House Due to Ryan's Refusal to Step Down Immediately
Apr17 More Trouble for Pruitt
Apr17 Joe Biden: Yoo Hoo, I'm Still Here and Maybe I'm Running in 2020
Apr17 Republicans Are Gaining in Generic House Poll
Apr17 Democrats May Flip House Seats in New Jersey
Apr17 Another Top Lawyer Turns Down Trump
Apr16 Comey Unloads on Trump
Apr16 RNC Will Spend $250 Million to Keep the House Majority
Apr16 Secret Super PAC Attacks Blankenship in West Virginia Senate Primary
Apr16 Trump's Approval Is Back Up
Apr16 Trump's Fundraising Is Going Well
Apr16 Pence's NSA Pick Withdraws