• The First Kavanaugh Muck Has Been Raked
• Senate Rebukes Trump...Sort Of
• Markets Tumble on Wednesday
• Pence Heads Home to Do Damage Control
• North Korea Situation Heads Further Downhill
• Manafort Is a VIP Prisoner
Democrats who are hoping that Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) will vote against the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court are likely to be disappointed. Yesterday, Collins touted Kavanaugh's experience and sounded warm notes about him, despite her earlier vow to vote against anyone who would overturn Roe v. Wade, something Kavanaugh might well do. Murkowski said that abortion, gun owners' rights, and regulatory issues are important to her. Both she and Collins voted to put him on the D.C. Circuit Court in 2006.
If Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is in Arizona and may not be able to come to the Senate to vote, doesn't show up but all the other Republicans vote to confirm, Kavanaugh will have at least 50 votes, enough to be approved. It is also possible that a few Democratic senators, especially Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Donnelly (IN), will also vote for confirmation if their votes don't matter because they are scared to death of a "no" vote being used against them in the fall campaign. On the other hand, if they vote for confirmation, Democrats may be angry with them and may not bother voting for them, putting them in a lose-lose situation.
Despite the reality that they don't have the votes to block Kavanaugh, Democrats are planning to put up a fight. In particular, they want access to documents that Kavanaugh wrote when he worked for George W. Bush. These documents include discussions of programs to detain suspected terrorists and conduct warrantless searches. These documents could shed light on Kavanaugh's views on these subjects. (V)
There was little chance that Brett Kavanaugh would make it through his first week as a SCOTUS nominee without a little dirt from his past coming to light. It only took about 48 hours, in fact. And the winner is...baseball tickets.
Unlike many Supreme Court nominees, Kavanaugh is not independently wealthy. He was not born to wealth, and he's spent his whole career in public service, which is not known for its seven-figure salaries. He's also a baseball fan. A big one, it would seem, as he managed to pile up between $60,000 and $200,000 in credit card bills purchasing tickets for the Washington Nationals. This is a team that will sell you prime season tickets for $6,000 a year, so that's a lot of tickets.
There's probably nothing concerning here, beyond some unorthodox priorities, and a bit of bad judgment in personal matters. However, there is one potential red flag: The judge's debt was somehow paid off very quickly (or, at least, disappeared from his disclosure forms). Oh, and then there's the fact that sports tickets function much like untraceable currency, which means they sometimes play a role in money laundering and/or political corruption scandals. So, while the matter seems trivial—and, in the end, probably is—it does need looking into, and it would not be a surprise if it came up in Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. (Z)
The U.S. Senate is none too happy with certain policies of the Trump Administration. And so, on Tuesday, they decided to bring that to the President's attention, voting 97-2 in favor of a pro-NATO resolution. Then, on Wednesday, they did it again, voting 88-11 in favor of a resolution criticizing the President's tariffs (and threatened tariffs).
As to NATO, it's a bit unclear as to the Senate's authority in this area. The upper chamber is, by the terms of the Constitution, granted the power to approve treaties. In the case of the treaty creating NATO, they did so on July 21, 1949. It is not clear that the Senate has any role in dissolving treaties, though, as the Constitution is silent on that point. Customarily, they have played a role, particularly in breaking treaties that they had previously approved. But it's a legal gray area, and if Trump were to pull out of NATO (which requires a one-year waiting period), it's not clear the Senate could stop it. That would be a matter for the Supreme Court to decide. So, we might forgive them for issuing a non-binding resolution, since that may be about all they can do here.
On the other hand, when it comes to tariffs, anyone who read Wednesday's resolution, and who did not know their civics, might be left with the impression that the Senate has no more claim to authority in this area than they do with NATO. A person like that might not have any awareness that the Constitution includes this clause:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
So, the Senate most certainly does have some actual power here, but clearly they have no interest in using it. In the age of Trump, much of the GOP dislikes what the president is doing, but they are terrified of actually challenging him. It's eerily reminiscent of what happened with Joe McCarthy about sixty years ago. That would be the same Joe McCarthy who was assisted by right-hand man Roy Cohn, who in turn schooled an up-and-coming New York real estate developer in the art of winning by any means necessary. In any case, until the Republican senators decide they are interested in using some of the powers the Constitution grants them, they might as well print their resolutions on the sort of paper that comes in rolls and resides in bathrooms. (Z)
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced its plans for the next round of tariffs on China. On Wednesday, the markets responded. And they were, in a word, despondent.
The global markets were the first to get their turn, and they all took a beating. The Shanghai Composite was down 1.8%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.3%, Japan's Nikkei took a 1.2% hit, and all of the major European indicies were down at least 1%. The Chinese market is in the midst of its worst year in a long time, which certainly works into Donald Trump's hands a bit. However, it's only a bit, since the Donald can affect the Chinese markets only indirectly (and so can't really use them as a bargaining chip), and since Xi Jinping isn't quite so much in the thrall of the business elites as Trump (or any other president) is.
As the foreign markets were closing, it was time for the U.S. markets to take their turn jumping off a cliff. The Dow closed down a bit more than 219 points, while the S&P 500 was down about 1%. The President was clearly aware of the economic news, and he got onto Twitter to comment:
...things up, better than ever before, but it can’t go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
In short, there is every indication that he's planning to stay the course, collateral damage be damned. (Z)
Speaking of collateral damage, the Trump administration might be putting on a poker face, but they are clearly aware that the tariffs could cost the GOP dearly in the midterms, particularly in the agricultural regions being targeted by the Chinese. To that end, homegrown vice president Mike Pence has been sent to the Midwest to meet with prominent business leaders and GOP donors to assure them that all is well.
There is a lot about this that is interesting. First of all, does Mike Pence really believe what he's peddling? Or is he just being a good soldier? Or does he simply recognize a good opportunity to groom his own political network when he sees one, in anticipation of the presidential run he's planning for 2020 or 2024? Beyond that, are a few carefully-chosen words from the Veep really going to have any impact on the folks he's meeting with? After all, they can check their stock portfolios and their balance sheets as easily as anyone—they are going to be well aware of the damage that is (or is not) being done to their bottom lines by Donald Trump's policies, regardless of whatever sweet talk they get from Pence. And finally, Pence's agenda evinces a concern with keeping the money flowing into the GOP coffers, but not so much concern about the actual voters who put Trump into office. Whether that is the right focus, particularly for a president who insisted that money doesn't matter so much in politics, is presumably something we will learn on November 6. (Z)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea yet again last week to work some more on denuclearization. That's a process that, in the words of some members of the administration, was all but complete. Perhaps that person, whoever they might be, was a little hasty in their assessment. In fact, insiders say that Pompeo's latest trip went "as badly as it could have gone."
What, exactly, does that mean? Well, first of all, Pompeo reportedly made no progress while he was in North Korea, and in fact got the sense that their diplomats had no particular interest in working with him. Further, he flew all that way (6,857 mi/11,035 km) because he was promised a face-to-face with Kim Jong-Un. Instead, Kim snubbed the Secretary of State. That is not good.
At this point, the folks who have been studying the hermit kingdom for years are very pessimistic. Adam Mount, whose expertise is in nuclear strategy, deterrence and North Korea, said that, "By now it's abundantly clear that this approach is a dead end. The White House has essentially tried to shoot for the moon and total disarmament, and it's clear that North Korea is not only not willing to do that, but sees very little reason to take steps in that direction." Cheon Seong Whun, a former official in the South Korean Dept. of Defense, was even more critical. He said that Donald Trump made a "huge political mistake" in agreeing to meet with Kim without conditions, a mistake that cost the President a chance to exert maximum political leverage. Cheon also observed that the Kim family has used this same strategy many times before, and that, "The North Koreans have a very correct understanding of weak spots in Western politicians who try to make a deal with them. The politicians have to sound optimistic. Pompeo is not prepared to admit he made a mistake."
It's possible that Trump pulls this one out of the fire (or the mushroom cloud). However, given that he has zero diplomatic experience, that Pompeo has only slightly more than zero, and that the State Department remains grossly understaffed, including the still-vacant job of Special Representative for North Korea Policy, the odds are not in Team Trump's favor. (Z)
Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, isn't exactly living a life of luxury behind bars waiting for his trials, but he being treated far better than other prisoners. A new filing from special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday has revealed that unlike other prisoners, Manafort
- lives in a special unit with a private bathroom and shower
- is not required to wear a prison uniform
- may make an unlimited number of phone calls to his attorneys and others
- has a personal laptop computer
- has, in effect, a private office in which to prepare his defense
It is not clear why Manafort is getting VIP treatment. One possibility is that either Mueller or Judge T.S. Ellis wants to head off a possible defense that Manafort didn't have the opportunity to mount his defense adequately, so by bending over backwards to give him every chance to prepare his defense, they are trying to eliminate that line of appeal. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul11 Trump Administration Blows Deadline
Jul11 Everyone Has an Opinion About Kavanaugh
Jul11 NBC Reporter Blows It
Jul11 Trump Administration Takes Another Swing at Obamacare
Jul11 Who Is More Elitist?
Jul11 Tim Ryan Weighs a New Challenge to Nancy Pelosi
Jul11 The Brits Turn Trump Trolling into an Art Form
Jul10 It's Kavanaugh
Jul10 Trump's Trip Hasn't Started Yet, and It's Already Going Badly
Jul10 UK Government in Disarray
Jul10 Trump Responds to North Korea
Jul10 Federal Judge Won't Change Rules about Immigrant Children
Jul10 Trump Gets Sued Again
Jul09 Whom Do Conservatives Want Trump to Pick for the Supreme Court?
Jul09 McConnell Wants Kethledge
Jul09 The Long Shot Plan for Derailing Trump's SCOTUS Nominee
Jul09 The Longer Shot Plan for Derailing Trump's SCOTUS Nominee
Jul09 White House Pushed Pruitt Out
Jul09 Trump Administration Opposes Breastfeeding
Jul09 McSally Moves to the Right on Immigration
Jul08 So Much for Peace for Our Time
Jul08 SCOTUS Nominees Are in the Home Stretch
Jul08 Trump Administration Chips Away at Obamacare
Jul08 What About Ivanka's Shoes?
Jul08 GOP Candidate in Kansas Tells Us What He Really Thinks
Jul08 New Poll Has Some Good News, Mostly Bad News, for the GOP
Jul08 Trump Balloon Is Becoming a Big Story
Jul07 Brett Kavanaugh Once Argued for Broad Grounds for Impeachment
Jul07 Mueller Links Manafort Bank Fraud to Trump Campaign
Jul07 Trump Administration Immigration Policy Is an Inconsistent Mess
Jul07 The Economy Is Still Strong
Jul07 Economy and Immigration Are the Top Issues
Jul07 The Vast Majority of Competitive House Seats Are Held by Republicans
Jul07 Jim Jordan's Trouble Deepens
Jul07 The Top 15 Democratic Presidential Candidates, Ranked
Jul06 Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Resigns
Jul06 Trade War Will Heat Up Starting Today
Jul06 Mueller Is Now Looking Closely at Trump's Inauguration
Jul06 Cohen Should Probably Shut Up
Jul06 Trump Rallies in Montana
Jul06 Next Week, the British Get Their Turn
Jul06 Nobody Wants Don Jr.'s Book
Jul05 Trump Faces a Tough Choice With Supreme Court Pick
Jul05 Be Careful What You Wish For
Jul05 Trump's Economic Policies Are Having Undesirable Side Effects
Jul05 Cohen Strikes Trump Affiliation from Twitter, LinkedIn Bios
Jul05 Pruitt Is Entering Archvillain Territory
Jul05 Sex Scandal May Block Jordan from Becoming Speaker
Jul05 Half the Country Thinks Trump is Racist