Many politicians say one thing in private (especially to donors) and another in public, and hope the twain never meet. But sometimes they do. Mitt Romney's now-infamous comment that 47% of the population consists of moochers is an example. Now we have another one. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of Donald Trump's biggest supporters, recently attended a fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the #4 Republican in the House. It was a closed door event with no reporters allowed. But donors weren't strip searched on the way in and were allowed to bring their smartphones. One (anonymous) person recorded Nunes' words and passed the recording on to Rachel Maddow, who broadcast it. Nunes' remarks immediately started a firestorm.
First, he said he often cringes at Trump's tweets. Probably he's not the only Republican who wishes Trump would throw his phone in the Potomac.
Second, he said it was essential for Republicans to hold the House because that was the only thing left protecting Trump. If Democrats take the House, subpoenas will fly and impeachment is around the corner.
Third, the Freedom Caucus introduced a motion a few weeks ago to impeach Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein so that Trump could appoint someone who would be willing to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. The House leadership killed the plan, or so they said. Nunes said that's not true at all. The leadership simply wants to delay Rosenstein's impeachment until after Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court. If Rosenstein were impeached right now, the Senate would be forced to drop everything and try Rosenstein. That could delay Kavanaugh's confirmation and possibly force it to be just before the election, which could energize Democrats. The trial might also do that. Better to hold the impeachment vote and the trial after the election.
Fourth, Nunes clearly stated that if a foreign government gave a candidate stolen material (such as emails) and the candidate used that in the campaign, that would be a criminal act. He used Portugal as an example (because he is of Portuguese descent, not because Portugal is thought to have done that), but it is hard to see how receiving stolen property from Portugal would be a crime and receiving stolen property from Russia would not be.
The net result of the recording is that if the Republicans try to impeach Rosenstein after the midterms, it is going to look extremely cynical. Probably they won't even try now. Also, impeaching Rosenstein is only step 1. It will take 67 votes in the Senate to convict him and there is no way the GOP will ever get that, so the whole process will do little other than polarize the country even more and anger Rosenstein, whose goodwill Republicans will soon need. When Mueller finishes his report, the procedure is that he gives it to Rosenstein, who decides what to do with it. If Rosenstein is angry with the GOP for their impeachment stunt, he could give it to Congress or make it public. That's largely his call, although Mueller could force the issue by indicting Trump, in which case it has to go to Congress. (V)
In a move that's been hinted at for months, on Thursday Vice President Mike Pence formally announced plans for the creation of the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military (joining the army, navy, air force, marines, and coast guard). "As President Trump has said, in his words, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space—we must have American dominance in space. And so we will," the Veep declared. There is no word, as yet, as to whether the administration is also working on the mine shaft gap problem, as well.
It is hard to believe that this is a serious proposal. First, because the entire defense establishment hates it. You know a proposal is shaky when the DoD says "no, thanks" to the possibility of more money. Second, because nobody seems to be able to explain why a space force would be necessary. There are few nations that are even able to launch satellites, etc., and to the extent that Chinese or Russian space ventures pose a threat, that threat is already being monitored by the Air Force Space Command. Third, and perhaps most significantly, Donald Trump allowed Mike Pence to make the announcement. If there was any chance this was going to happen, or even any chance that the announcement would generate some positive publicity, you can bet Trump would have made the announcement himself.
So, what is going on here? It's possible that the administration is putting this out there so that they have something to "concede" when discussing the next budget ("Ok, if you give us $10 billion for the Mexican wall, we'll drop the Space Force.") However, it appears primarily to be a fundraising move. Moments after Pence made his announcement, folks on the Trump e-mail list got a mail blast with potential Space Force logos for them to vote on:
These are so comically bad that they look to have been cooked up for the latest remake of Total Recall. Especially the "Mars Awaits" one. Anyhow, the e-mail with the logos was accompanied by a helpful link allowing respondents to donate money in support of Trump's space agenda. Once Team Trump has collected another million or two for the re-election campaign, odds are pretty good we don't hear much more about the Space Force. (Z)
The initial tally of votes in the Republican gubernatorial primary had Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ahead of Gov. Jeff Colyer (R-KS) by 191 votes with all precincts reporting (but before absentee and provisional ballots were counted). Yesterday, it was discovered that Thomas County in northwestern Kansas made an error in reporting its votes. When the correct totals are used, Kobach's lead shrunk to 91 votes.
A lead of 91 votes out of over 250,000 is not very large, especially when an unknown number of absentee ballots and provisional ballots are yet to be counted. It's basically a tie and either candidate could yet win. Kansas law does not call for automatic recounts, but candidates can ask for one.
One noteworthy aspect of this election is that if there is a recount, the person nominally in charge of it will be—you guessed it—Kris Kobach. Initially, he was reluctant to recuse himself, arguing that recounts happen at the county level, and that he would have no impact on them. However, the optics remained so poor that on Thursday night, he gave in and said he will indeed remove himself from the process. There is an irony, of course, in the fact that a person who is obsessed with (alleged) inaccurate vote counting in other states couldn't manage to get things right in his own state.
Most Republican officials are sending their thoughts and prayers to Colyer, as they don't want Kobach to be their nominee in the worst way. He is extremely polarizing and would stoke Democratic turnout enormously. That, in turn, could cost the GOP not only the governorship, but possibly two House seats as well. (V)
In theory, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) should be dead meat since Donald Trump carried West Virginia by 40 points. But as Yogi Berra once pointed out, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. In West Virginia, state AG Patrick Morrisey is struggling against Manchin. For starters, he has $900,000 in the bank to Manchin's $6.2 million. Further, polling shows Manchin with a substantial lead (7-10 points), possibly because Manchin is better known, having served two terms as governor before heading to the Senate.
Morrisey is counting on Trump to help him. In an interview, he said there are no issues on which he and Trump differ. His problem is that Manchin has also embraced Trump on many issues, although not all. He has voted with the Republicans 60% of the time, more than any Democrat. Given the lean of his state, he pretty much had to or come January, he would be a former senator.
Another factor working against Morrisey is the carpetbagger issue. He was born and raised in New Jersey, went to college and law school there, and even ran for Congress in New Jersey. In contrast, Manchin's family goes back generations in West Virginia and the senator was born in the Mountain State, went to school and college there, and has lived there his entire life.
Another factor that is playing a role is the opioid crisis, which has hit West Virginia hard. Morrisey used to be a lobbyist for drug companies and Manchin is on the air constantly saying that an opioid lobbyist should not represent West Virginia in the Senate. There is still time for Morrisey to turn things around, but being deep in the hole in August is not a great place to start from. If Morrisey can't make progress quickly, the RNC and big donors are going to write off West Virginia and save their money for critical races in Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri. (V)
Democrats are perpetually engaged in a civil war, with the Hillary wing and the Bernie wing at each other's throats all the time. A very interesting piece by Andrew Levison makes a good case that this is the wrong battle. The Hillary-Bernie fight follows the classic model that economists and political scientists use: Each candidate or faction presents a program and then voters choose which one they like better. Levison says that the entire model is wrong. Working-class voters don't weigh the Hillary platform against the Bernie platform and then make a choice. When they see a (D) after someone's name, they reject him or her out of hand because they don't trust the Democrats. Levison argues until that trust has been restored, fighting over the platform is completely irrelevant.
He says that the Democrats' problem is that they don't see elections as class warfare and working-class voters do. It's "them" against "us." Working-class voters don't see a monolithic "them," but rather three distinct groups of "them." First come the politicians, who they see as utterly corrupt, parasitic, and always making deals that screw ordinary Americans. Second comes the financial elite, who live in fancy gated communities and make decisions in faraway towers that destroy mom-and-pop businesses in their communities with zero regard for the people who live there. Third is "liberal elite," including academics, journalists, Hollywood, and other urban dwellers who set the cultural norms and run the Democratic Party by handing out freebies to minorities. The working class, especially men, hugely resents all three of these groups and tends to see them all as the hated liberals. For the third group it is true, but for the first and second, it is only partly true. The financial titans, for example, love their tax cuts like good conservatives, but most of them have no problem with abortion, gay rights, and other culture-war issues, which makes them "liberal" in the eyes of many blue-collar men.
Levison's point is unless the Democrats can deal with the cultural resentment issue, which is deeply ingrained and fanned by Fox News every hour of every day, the Democrats won't make any progress with these people. Calling their homes "flyover country" probably doesn't help much. Levison goes on to explain how the Democrats can make progress with this group. Read the linked piece if you want to find out. It makes interesting reading. (V)
A new poll out from HarrisX/American Barometer on Thursday is getting a fair bit of attention, particularly from right-wing websites. It says that 73% of Americans, and 49% of Democrats, would like to see Nancy Pelosi step down as the leader of House Democrats.
Those 49% of Democrats should think carefully about what they are wishing for. It is true that Pelosi is widely reviled by the right, but that is the nature of the game. Anyone who replaces her is quickly going to become one of the most unpopular politicians in America, too. It is similarly true that she comes from one of the most liberal districts in America (CA-12 has a PVI of D+37), but you don't serve as leader of your caucus as long as she has without being a pragmatist (which Pelosi certainly is). Probably the strongest argument for moving on is that she's getting up in years (she's 78), and her career is undoubtedly nearing its end. If the blue team is going to have new leadership soon, anyhow, now might be a good time to make a break with the past. On the other hand, the exemplar of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) illustrates how useful it can be to have a wily old master of parliamentary trickery with their hand on the lever.
In the end, this is all academic, since Pelosi has no intention of stepping down right now, and there are too many Democratic members of Congress who are in her debt for there to be a rebellion. Meanwhile, we are a little skeptical about this poll, which is dangerously close to being a push poll. The pollsters asked only about Pelosi, and the wording of the question was pretty leading:
Nancy Pelosi has been the leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives since 2002. Should Democrats keep her as their leader or should they elect someone else?
Further, as noted above, the pollsters are HarrisX and American Barometer. The former sounds a lot like Harris Interactive, a well-established pollster, but isn't. HarrisX is actually a marketing research firm that has only existed in its current form since 2017. Meanwhile, the latter sounds a lot like AmericasBarometer, another well-established pollster (it's a unit of Vanderbilt University), but it's not. American Barometer has virtually no Internet presence at all, and is described as a collaboration between HarrisX and Hill.tv. It's certainly possible that American Barometer is legitimate, but all of their results so far have either been very positive for Donald Trump or very negative for Nancy Pelosi. And using a name similar to that of an established pollster, so as to steal a little of their cachet, is a trick as old as polling itself. So, this is another one that should probably be taken with a barrel of salt. (Z)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told the Tampa Bay Times yesterday that the Russians have already penetrated the voter registration systems in some Florida counties. He added that chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked him to tell state election officials that the Russians are already inside their systems. He wouldn't go into how he knew this, saying that the information was classified. Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio (R), was asked about this and declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Florida Dept. of State pushed back on Nelson's claims and said it has seen no evidence of Russian activity. Of course, if a state election official were to announce "Yeah, we know the Russians are all over our voter registration system and control it" that would an all-time first, so denials of this kind should be taken with a second barrel of salt.
Nelson's comments came after he and Rubio co-signed a letter sent to all of Florida's 67 county election officials warning them about Russian threats in 2018 and asking (pleading?) with them to take advantage of the financial and technical help the Dept. of Homeland Security and FBI are willing and able to provide. Many states have categorically rejected federal help in securing their election systems because they don't want the big bad federal government butting into their affairs. The Nelson-Rubio letter was intended to encourage local officials, who often have little to no knowledge of computer security, to take advantage of the federal help and not pooh-pooh it. (V)
Publicly, Donald Trump is virulently opposed to what anti-immigrant forces call "chain migration," the program wherein immigrants who attain residency and/or citizenship can sponsor other relatives who want to come to the United States. Privately, it's apparently not a big problem for him, since he's quite close to America's two newest citizens, both of them "chain" immigrants. It's the President's in-laws, Viktor and Amalija Knavs.
Donald Trump has spent his whole life living by the mantra "do as I say, not as I do," so the obvious hypocrisy here is barely noteworthy. We only bring the story up for one reason. Trump is pretty good at dodging questions about his inconsistency on various policy issues, and his press operation is very aggressive in covering his tracks. However—and this is admittedly looking pretty far ahead—there is going to be a problem when and if he runs for re-election: the presidential debates. If custom holds, the moderators will get three chances to hit Trump with hard questions, under the bright lights, in front of a national audience. They could hit him on chain migration, or what happened to his "under audit" tax returns, or the never-gonna-happen Mexican wall, or any of a hundred other inconsistencies.
What will Trump do about this problem? He can get Fox News moderators for one of the three debates, which may help a little, but not for the other two. Given that he's already made clear his willingness to skip primary-season debates, it seems very possible that he will announce that "debates are dumb" and will refuse to do them. And then, presumably, the base will hail him for being the first president in decades to show "true leadership" on the debate issue. (Z)