• Manafort Goes to Jail
• Giuliani: Trump Won't Sit for an Interview with Mueller
• What's Going on with Immigration, for Christ's Sake?
• Prosecutors Reconstruct 16 Pages of Cohen's Shredded Documents
• Senate Democrats Look Safe in Four Trump States
• McConnell Gets Serious about Reelection Bid
Donald Trump has finally pulled the trigger and is imposing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese products. Tariffs on $34 billion worth of products will go into effect on July 6. The other $16 billion will come later. China is planning to hit back with tariffs on an equivalent amount of American products, primarily agricultural products, cars, and seafood. They will also start July 6.
Trump is not one for details and it shows, as he is hitting the wrong products. What matters to China is the amount of Chinese content in a product, not its selling price. Consider an iPhone that is "made in China" and sells for $500. In Trump's accounting, this is a $500 import from China. However, at least $150 of the value is made by Samsung in Korea, and another large chunk is Apple's engineering effort in the U.S. The iPhone probably has $15 to $30 of Chinese content in it, mostly the labor to assemble the parts made elsewhere. If Trump understood trade better, he would target products with a very high amount of Chinese content, like T-shirts and textiles.
Also, Trump may be overestimating how badly China will be hurt by the tariffs. It exports about $2 trillion worth of products each year, and less than $500 billion of that goes to the U.S. Reducing the amount China sells to the U.S. will hurt, but it won't cripple China. Also, the brunt of the tariffs will be borne by Americans, who will soon be paying $625 for that $500 iPhone.
And Trump probably doesn't realize it, but he may need China's help on North Korea. Signing a vague statement is all well and good, but if Kim Jong-Un does nothing to denuclearize, the only way to push him is if China turns the screws on him. If the U.S. and China are engaged in a trade war, China is going to be much less likely to help out. (V)
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson yesterday ordered Donald Trump's former campaign manager to go to jail for witness tampering. He will remain there until his trials. The judge said: "This is not middle school. I can't take his cell phone." When Manafort experiences what jail is like, it may put more pressure on him to consider flipping. On the other hand, if his strategy is to hold out for a pardon, he might just hang tight and wait for it to arrive.
The witness tampering in which Manafort had engaged while under house arrest was getting people who are likely to be witnesses at one of his trials to claim that his lobbying on behalf of a Russian puppet regime in Ukraine was entirely in Europe, which does not violate any U.S. laws, rather than in the U.S., which does. Manafort will go on trial in Virginia on July 25 and in D.C. on Sept. 17. (V)
Donald Trump's TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani said yesterday that he has ruled out the possibility of Trump sitting for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. Of course, it is not Giuliani's call. Trump has said he is willing to do it and Anthony Kennedy is likely to say he has to do it, if it comes to that. Trump's other lawyers are against Trump testifying under oath because they know Trump lies all the time, and doing so under oath is perjury, which is an impeachable offense. Trump's lawyers and Mueller's have been negotiating for months about a possible sit-down, but so far they haven't been able to come to terms.
Giuliani didn't leave it at that yesterday. He also told the New York Daily News that after Mueller's investigation is finished, Trump may pardon everyone to finally end the case. He also commented on the jailing of Paul Manafort, saying: "I don't understand the justification for putting him in jail. You put a guy in jail if he's trying to kill witnesses, not just talking to witnesses." Giuliani used to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and surely he was aware then that witness tampering is a felony. That was 35 years ago, though, so perhaps Giuliani is a bit rusty on the law.
Donald Trump Jr. also weighed in, and said, "it would be stupid" for his father to sit for an interview. That's a fair assessment, perhaps, but Trump Jr.'s reasoning is that the interview is basically a trap:
I don't think any proper lawyer would say, 'Hey, you should go do it,' because it's not about collusion anymore. It's about, 'Can we get him to say something that may be interpreted as somewhat off or inaccurate, and after 50,000 questions, maybe you make a mistake, and that's how we get you, and that's ridiculous.
If we keep in mind that Hillary Clinton managed to withstand a much more public, and much more difficult, 11-hour-long grilling from the members of Congress, this would seem to suggest one of two things. Either Senior does not have the stamina of Hillary, which would be concerning since Trump Sr. pooh-poohed Clinton's stamina throughout the campaign, or else Senior isn't as bright as Hillary. One wonders which it is. (V & Z)
One of the big stories of the week has been immigration policy. There have been a large number of high-profile enforcement actions, including:
of at least 2,000 undocumented children from their parents, with many of those children
at an empty Wal-Mart known as "Casa Padre."
- A man who, after being separated from his family,
- A woman who was forcibly
from her infant daughter while breastfeeding
- Several mass arrests, including
114 people at once
in Ohio, and
162 people at once
- The very public
of Luis Garcia, who arrived in the United States fifty years ago.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to declare that those fleeing gang violence or domestic abuse can no longer request asylum.
Concurrently, quite a few members of the GOP have said some pretty outrageous things in support of the Trump administration's new, more aggressive posture. State Rep. David Stringer (R-AZ), for example, said that the immigration has to stop so that there will be enough white children in the United States. Former Maricopa County sheriff and current Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arpaio blamed the parents, and said that they should suffer harsher penalties if they try to bring kids into the country.
The argument that has gotten the most attention, however, was one made by Sessions and then again by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, namely that the Bible supports what Trump is doing. "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order," opined Sessions, adding that, "Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful." Sanders agreed with the AG's use of scripture, declaring that "it is very biblical to enforce the law."
Although it's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, let's blow this argument to smithereens in three different ways. First, the United States is not a theocracy. So, what the Bible has to say matters approximately...zero. That, by itself, pretty much ends the debate right there.
That said, we will nonetheless move on to counterargument number two, which is looking carefully at the specific scripture Sessions and Sanders are citing (New Revised Standard Version of the text):
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
In short, their reading is: "Do what the king/president/dictator says, and like it." It should not surprise anyone that this passage has long been a favorite with authoritarians, and in particular was deployed liberally by the Nazis, and also by slave owners. That's already a bad start, but it gets worse when one considers that the exact meaning of this passage is hotly debated. What is clear is that this particular exhortation comes somewhat out of left field, compared to the rest of the book of Romans. What's less clear is why the author (Paul) put it in there. One possibility is that he was being sarcastic. A second is that he knew the Roman government was in the habit of cracking down on Christians, and he was giving practical advice for surviving in a hostile world.
Most likely, however, is that Paul wasn't referring to civil authorities at all, and was instead referring to religious leaders. At the time he was writing (around 57 AD), a lot of Christians were wondering whether or not they needed religious leaders and/or temples at all, particularly given that Jesus was pretty anti-authority and pretty anti-temple. Paul was very likely telling them, "Yes, you do need these things." This reading makes a lot more sense, because God does not generally "appoint" civil authorities. The upshot is that the scriptural basis for Sessions' and Sanders' assertions is pretty shaky, and the odds are very good that the passage they cite means something very different from what they seem to think.
That leads us to counterargument number three, namely everyone's favorite game: dueling scripture. If we are indeed going to pick and choose Biblical texts to figure out what to do, then how about these passages (again, all are NRSV)?
- Exodus 12:49: There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.
- Exodus 22:21: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
- Leviticus 19:33: When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.
- Leviticus 24:22: You shall love the alien as yourself.
- Deuteronomy 27:19: Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.
- Isaiah 16:4: Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.
- Jeremiah 22:3: Do no wrong or violence to the alien.
- Malachi 3:5: The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.
- Hebrews 13:1-2: [S]how hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels.
Whatever one thinks of these passages, they do have at least one point in their favor: They were not popular with the Nazis.
In any case, the dramatic increase in high-profile enforcements, coupled with the increase in vociferous, religiously-themed (or outright racist) rhetoric makes clear that all of this is not a coincidence. The Trump administration knows that the GOP needs something to run on in the midterms, and someone decided that this was a winner. An obvious candidate is Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller, who has Donald Trump's ear, and who really dislikes immigrants. Or maybe it's Jeff Sessions, who is not much of a member of Team Trump these days, but he dislikes immigrants too, and so he is happy to advance his own goals. Whoever is behind it presumably hopes that the administration might rally the base, and at the same time distract attention from the non-existent Mexican wall.
This is, of course, a very Machiavellian calculation, given the human costs involved. It's also risky, since it could blow up in Trump's face. And that is exactly what has happened, as two wrenches have been thrown into the works. The first of these is that the optics of all these aggressive enforcements proved to be really, really bad. Consider this absolutely brutal cartoon (right), which adapts a road sign familiar to anyone who drives freeways near the border (left):
The cartoonist who drew this, Rob Rogers, actually got fired, and he says this cartoon was the final straw, as he's battled with a right-leaning editorial page editor. So, the image never actually ran in Rogers' former paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but it did spread like wildfire through social media.
And one cartoon wasn't the only blowback, of course. The coverage of this week's immigration news has been devastating, and it's a bit hard to dismiss it as "fake news," since it's generally accompanied by visual evidence. Further, the administration has been lambasted by physicians' groups, particularly the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has called the separation of families "government-sanctioned child abuse." Even evangelicals, who were presumably supposed to be impressed by the words of Sessions and Sanders, are not happy. Franklin Graham, who has been outspokenly pro-Trump, declared that, "It's disgraceful, it's terrible to see families ripped apart, and I don't support that one bit." The Southern Baptist Convention this week produced a statement that reads, in part, that "nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ." And while the Pope is not an evangelical, he also decided to weigh in:
“The Bible teaches that God ‘loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).” Pope Francis pic.twitter.com/Yt8i7b39VN— Migrants & Refugees (@M_RSection) June 14, 2018
The other wrench in the works, meanwhile, is that the House of Representatives appears to have come up with immigration bills that might well pass both houses of Congress with bipartisan support and land on the President's desk. The compromise includes money for his border wall, an end to the diversity visa lottery, and reductions in family-based visas, but also a path to citizenship for the dreamers. Despite the fact that Trump would get an awful lot of what he wants, it would also make it a lot harder for Republicans to run on an anti-immigrant platform in November, since most of them would just have voted to support citizenship for dreamers. So, the President responded to the proposed bills by declaring that he likely wouldn't sign them. That announcement, made on Fox & Friends, triggered much fury on the part of Congressional Republicans, who have been working very hard on this compromise. And so Trump sort of changed course and then sort of changed course again, and then decided the best thing to do was to point the finger at the Democrats:
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
As things currently stand, congressional Republicans are not clear whether Trump will sign their bills or not. And nobody is clear as to why this is all the Democrats' fault. Meanwhile, by misjudging both the optics of their harsh approach, the dubiousness of their Bible-based argument, and the likelihood of a compromise bill making its way through Congress, Team Trump appears to have shot itself in the foot, once again. (Z)
Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen apparently had some documents he didn't need any more, so he shredded them. Unfortunately for him, on April 9, prosecutors took not only his computer and phones, but also his waste basket. They have now painstakingly reassembled 16 pages of shredded documents. Prosecutors also decoded 731 pages of encrypted messages from Cohen's WhatsApp and Signal accounts. They have not revealed what they have learned, but if Cohen destroyed evidence that could be used in a criminal case, he could be charged with obstruction of justice.
That wasn't the only bad news Cohen got yesterday. Cohen's attorney tried to get a gag order to shut up Michael Avenatti, who is representing Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) in her lawsuit against Cohen and Trump. It didn't work. Federal Judge James Otero of California rejected Cohen's request, saying that Cohen did not demonstrate any compelling need for a restraining order at this time. He will make a final decision later this month. But for the time being, Avenatti can say anything he wants to. (V)
Incumbent Senate Democrats are up for reelection in 10 states that Donald Trump won. Hanging onto all of them, and maybe picking up one or two Republican states is a very steep climb. However, recent developments have moved four of the states out of the danger zone, or at least that is what the Democrats think. The Democratic Senate Majority PAC has placed its fall ad reservations, and what is noteworthy is that it is not planning to spend any money defending Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Bob Casey (PA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Debbie Stabenow (MI). That almost certainly means that internal polling shows them to be fairly safe.
Brown is up against Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), but polls show the popular Brown way ahead. In the other three races, the Republicans are locked into bitter primaries until August, when the winner is likely to be bloodied and out of cash. Both parties agree that the states where the Republicans have the biggest pickup opportunities are Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. There is disagreement on how competitive Montana and West Virginia really are.
To complete the picture, though, Democrats have a few pickup opportunities as well, namely in Nevada (Dean Heller), Arizona (open), and Tennessee (open). Wins in any of these states can compensate for a Democratic loss elsewhere, but to take control of the Senate, the Democrats need a net gain of two seats, which will be a very tall order. (V)
While it is not surprising to hear that a senator is gearing up for his reelection bid just as the summer is getting underway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn't actually up this year. His next time before the voters is 2020. However, he's decided that there's no time like the present to start getting his ducks in a row. That means, among other things, hiring a campaign team, testing campaign themes, starting to gather oppo research, establishing a(nother) super PAC, and, of course, raising bushels of money, since he has a mere $2.6 million on hand.
Although the Majority Leader has the advantage of incumbency, he knows he's also got some significant liabilities. To start, there's an anti-establishment feeling in the air, and McConnell is as establishment as it gets, having just set the record as longest-serving majority leader. Further, Republicans these days are judged by their loyalty to Donald Trump. While McConnell has not generally been critical of the President, he hasn't exactly been in lock-step with him either. These first two problems contribute to a third, very serious issue: McConnell's approval ratings in Kentucky are dismal. His 33% approval is better only than Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ), who is at 32%, in large part due to his recent criminal trial. And McConnell's 55% disapproval rating leaves all of his colleagues in the dust (Jeff Flake, R-AZ, is in second place at 48%). Finally, presidential election years tend to favor Democrats over Republicans, something that will be particularly true if there is an anti-Trump backlash in 2020. So, McConnell is wise to start battening down the hatches right now. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun15 Justice Department Report: Comey Had Poor Judgment on Clinton E-mail Case
Jun15 Trump Officially Approves $50 Billion in Tariffs
Jun15 Kim? Check. Next Up? Maybe Putin
Jun15 Trump Probably Lied about Parents of Korean POWs
Jun15 Republicans Embrace the "Cult" of Trump
Jun15 Bill Nelson Has a Latino Problem
Jun14 Michael Cohen and His Lawyers Part Ways
Jun14 Trump Runs More Victory Laps
Jun14 Trump's Claims about the North Korea Deal Don't Align with the Facts
Jun14 Trump Will Play a Big Role in the Dreamer Feud
Jun14 Sanders Looks to Be on Her Way Out
Jun14 Pruitt Could Be On His Way Out, Too
Jun14 Las Vegas and Charlotte Are the Leading Contenders for the 2020 GOP Convention
Jun14 Pence Ruffles Baptists' Feathers
Jun14 McCaskill's Private Plane Has Become a Campaign Issue
Jun13 Takeaways from the North Korea Summit
Jun13 Five More States Vote
Jun13 Sanders Defends Endorsement Record
Jun13 Team Obama Announces Midterm Targets
Jun13 House Republicans Possibly Avoid Ugly Fight over Immigration
Jun13 Sessions Cracks Down on Refugees
Jun13 AT&T-Time Warner Merger Goes Forward
Jun12 Trump and Kim Meet, Reach Agreement
Jun12 G-7 Meltdown Continues to Reverberate
Jun12 Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Right to Purge Voters
Jun12 Top Russians Met with NRA Executives During the 2016 Election Campaign
Jun12 Obama Has Been Advising Democratic Presidential Hopefuls for Months
Jun12 ACLU Is Getting Into Politics
Jun12 Democratic Chances in NJ-02 Just Got Better
Jun11 Trump vs. the Western World
Jun11 Five States Will Hold Primaries This Week
Jun11 Kim and Trump Have Different Ideas of What Denuclearization Means
Jun11 All Hail King Donald
Jun11 Net Neutrality Dies Today
Jun11 It's Almost Always the Best Economy Ever
Jun11 Tonys Become Trumpys
Jun10 Trump Turns G-7 into a Reality Show
Jun10 And on to North Korea...
Jun10 White House Still Leaks Like a Sieve
Jun10 Faith and Freedom Coalition to Spend $20 Million on Midterms
Jun10 Pruitt Gets FOIAsted by His Own Petard
Jun10 The Primaries Are Underway
Jun09 Trump Is the Bull in the G-7 China Shop
Jun09 Mueller Brings New Charges against Manafort and His Associate
Jun09 Pardon Me?
Jun09 Trump Likes Weed
Jun09 Two Words Democrats Must Not Say on the Campaign Trail
Jun09 Judge Rules that Trump Can Be Deposed
Jun09 Romney Predicts "Solid" Victory for Trump in 2020