The memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes' (R-CA) staff added very little information about Russiagate that we did not already know. Despite that, the chances were 100% that Donald Trump would seize upon the document and claim vindication of himself, persecution by others, and the total absence of any evidence of any bad behavior. After all, that is the reason the memo was written and released in the first place. Like clockwork, it came to pass on Saturday morning:
This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2018
Never let it be said that Trump cannot surprise us any more, because this tweet certainly had people talking. First of all, about some of his curious grammar choices—referring to himself in the third person, putting "Trump" in quotation marks, and using "their" instead of "there." The latter issue might be due to using voice recognition software—Siri sometimes screws up there/their/they're—except that there are many other things in the tweet, like the quotationed Trump and the odd capitalizations, that would only happen with manual typing.
Beyond the grammar, of course, people across the country rolled their eyes at the egregious exaggerations and falsehoods contained within a mere 47 words. The memo did not, in any way, vindicate Trump. Indeed, since it is more a criticism of the FBI than it is a defense of the President, it doesn't even talk about him all that much. Beyond that, his claims that no proof of obstruction or collusion has been found do not square with what is already known publicly, from the Natalia Veselnitskaya meeting at Trump Tower to the threats this week against Rod Rosenstein's job. And even if there was no public evidence of collusion or obstruction, Trump—like the rest of us—has little idea of what Robert Mueller actually knows. All of these things being the case, the investigation is not a "witch hunt," which by definition is prosecution and persecution undertaken without evidence.
Trump may have sensed that his first tweet of the morning did not get the job done. He may even have taken notice of the Twitter ratio (at this writing, 152K likes/retweets against 86K responses). That's not disastrous, but it's also not very good. In any case, he decided later in the day to hit Twitter again with this:
“The four page memo released Friday reports the disturbing fact about how the FBI and FISA appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath....The FBI failed to inform the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had funded the dossier....the FBI became....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2018
...a tool of anti-Trump political actors. This is unacceptable in a democracy and ought to alarm anyone who wants the FBI to be a nonpartisan enforcer of the law....The FBI wasn’t straight with Congress, as it hid most of these facts from investigators.“ Wall Street Journal— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2018
This is indeed from a Saturday op-ed by the Wall Street Journal editorial board. That said, they've been in the bag for Trump recently, so this is not unlike Barack Obama tweeting a flattering op-ed from the HuffPost or Daily Kos. Further, the WSJ editorial board apparently doesn't read the paper's reporting, since they, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all reported on Saturday that the political origins of the Steele dossier were indeed disclosed to the FISA court, thus undermining a major claim—perhaps the major claim—of the Nunes memo.
Of course, we are now living in a world where facts—at least, to some people—matter very little. The Democrats will attempt to keep their viewpoint in the headlines, and Team Trump will do the same with theirs. The problem for the blue team is that Trump has the "bully pulpit" (or maybe the "bulls**t pulpit") and they do not. And Trump is already signaling what he's thinking of doing, if he wins the war of spin: Clean house at the FBI. That may prove to be a mistake—it was for Richard Nixon—but if the GOP-controlled Congress continues to make its residence in the President's hip pocket, then he will probably pull it off. (Z)
Like all members of the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes is up for reelection this year. His likely Democratic opponent is Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz. For Janz, the memo penned by Nunes' staff has been something of a gift, as he's raised $130,379 since the document was made public. Even better news is that these were mostly small donations (about $30, on average), so these folks can be shaken down again and again during the campaign.
Undoubtedly, Nunes is feeling pretty secure in his position right now. He won 67% of the vote in his last election, he's got $4 million in the bank, and his district—CA-22—is solidly Republican, with a Cook PVI of R+8. However, there is a chance he's bitten off a bit more than he can chew here. Should 2018 prove to be a wave year, R+8 isn't necessarily safe. Especially if you consider the possibility of Janz (or some other Democrat) getting a boost from Nunes' unpopularity with Democrats, along with the fact that few states dislike Trump (and his supporters) more than California (including a large number of California Republicans). Of course, if Nunes does get badly burned from hitching his wagon to the Trump Express, he won't be the first one. (Z)
In case Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) Democratic opponent, Randy Bryce, needed an exhibit for his "Paul Ryan is out of touch" commercials, he's now got it. The Speaker, in an attempt to brag about the GOP tax cut, sent out a tweet on Saturday morning reporting the news that a secretary in Pennsylvania noticed that her weekly paycheck has gone up by $1.50. Yes, that decimal is in the right place. Naturally, that sent the Twitterverse into a frenzy, as many mocked Ryan for thinking that a buck fifty is somehow life-changing money, while others used the tweet as an opportunity to observe that $1.50/week is a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket compared to how much someone like the Koch brothers will get back. Clearly recognizing that he blew it, Ryan deleted the tweet. Unfortunately for him, however, many people—including Bryce—had already saved a screen capture:
Moments ago, @PRyan deleted this tweet after we told him just how out of touch he was. Show Paul Ryan what you think of his tax bill. Chip in $1.50 now to help us repeal and replace Ryan permanently this November.https://t.co/c3Fii4Q0Jn— Randy Bryce (@IronStache) February 3, 2018
As Ryan learned with his cringeworthy weightlifting photos, once something is on the Internet, it's on the Internet forever.
We have noted previously in this space that while Ryan clearly harbors dreams of moving to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, he really doesn't seem to have the political skills to make that a reality. It's true that he's one of the most famous and powerful Republicans in the country, but that is because he was chosen as Mitt Romney's running mate. And he was chosen for that duty, in turn, because Romney felt a need to connect with the Midwest and with anti-tax zealots. Since rising to prominence, Ryan has shown relatively little political savvy, and at the same time has made a lot of missteps. In the end, there's not a lot of difference between him and Sarah Palin, and look how far her star has fallen these days.
So, is the Speaker in danger in 2018? Well, WI-01 has a Cook PVI of R+5, which is certainly well within the "wave" danger zone. It would be highly unusual for someone as visible as the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives to lose his seat, but it's not unheard of. The last time it happened? 1994, when Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA) was swept away in the GOP wave that emerged in response to the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency. (Z)
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is retiring, and several conservative Republicans are jockeying for the chance to be the GOP nominee to replace him. Though he declared only a few weeks ago, former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio is rising in polls, and is now on top of some of them. He has virtually no policy ideas, beyond "I agree with Donald Trump." If he gets the nomination, then, it will be because of his close relationship with the President and his overwhelmingly high name recognition. GOP leadership is praying that won't happen (at least, behind closed doors they are).
The first major problem with Arpaio is that everyone in Arizona has an opinion about him. Something like 1/3 of Arizonans love him, and the other 2/3 (including many Republicans), despise him. That is exactly the breakdown needed to claim the nomination and then lose the general election. The GOP, of course, does not like the thought of burning an otherwise winnable seat, and they also recognize that as Arpaio runs, he's likely to say all kinds of things that will not be great for the Republican brand nationwide. Further, he will be 86 years old on the day he would assume his Senate seat. Surely he would not run again, meaning that even if he ekes out a victory this time around, the GOP would not have the advantage of incumbency in 2024, a presidential year (which favors Democrats). Further, during that time, Arizona will become more and more purple (and maybe even light blue). And while spending six years as a loyal Trump backbencher, the publicity-loving Arpaio would undoubtedly be on TV on a weekly basis, saying more things that are not good for the Republican brand. Add it all up, and Arpaio's presence in the race likely has only bad outcomes for the GOP.
However, the situation in Arizona is far from hopeless for the Republicans. The senatorial primary is a three-way race, with Bannon-backed candidate Kelli Ward and establishment candidate Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) also running. The establishment could try to sink Arpaio by pumping some money into Ward's campaign now that Bannon is no longer available to help her. The goal would be the split the anti-establishment vote and let McSally, who is definitely electable, squeak through. (Z)
There are lots of high-profile races in 2018 where the Democrats have to like the position the GOP is in (see above). However, not all is peaches and cream on the blue side of the aisle. The DNC will have some of its own headaches to worry about, among them what's happening in IL-03, a fairly left-leaning district (Cook PVI of D+6) currently represented by Dan Lipinski (D). Although Lipinski is a Democrat, he's not enough a Democrat for many liberals in his district. Indeed, he's one of the bluest of the Blue Dog Democrats, the centrist group of Democratic representatives. He opposes abortion rights, does not think same-sex marriage should be legal, is not a big fan of immigrants, and was openly critical of Barack Obama. Groups left and far left of Lipinski have had enough, and so the Service Employees International Union, EMILY's List, MoveOn, Democracy for America, and NARAL, among others, have joined together to support progressive challenger Marie Newman, a Chicago businesswoman. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), who—like Lipinski—represent parts of Chicago, have also endorsed Newman.
It is unlikely that this intra-party squabble puts the seat at risk, regardless of whether or not Lipinski is toppled. It's true that IL-03 is the most conservative district in Chicago, historically, but that's primarily because the rest of the city is so deep blue. That district hasn't been represented by a Republican since 1975, and hasn't given its votes to a GOP presidential candidate since 1988. However, if this becomes a recurring theme for the Democrats—leftists challenge sitting centrists—then it will absolutely put seats at risk, and could certainly cost the Party a few otherwise winnable elections. Hence the need for the DNC to join the RNC in placing a bulk order for aspirin. (Z)
The federal government, courtesy of a compromise reached two weeks ago, is funded through February 8. That is to say, Thursday of this week. In a shocking turn of events, there has been little progress on DACA, or on an overall budget. Neither house of Congress has passed anything, which means they've given themselves four days to negotiate, legislate, and vote. While that's time enough for a $1.5 trillion tax cut to be hammered out, it's not likely enough to address an impasse that is has now lingered into its fifth month. Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are likely planning on yet another short-term spending bill, if all else fails. Not so fast.
The problem with the short-term spending bills is that each time the option is considered, it gets a little less palatable for various stakeholders in Congress. From the Democratic side of the aisle, DACA is currently set to expire on March 5. This could well be their last chance to save the program prior to that date. Further, they backed down two weeks ago, and made a big show of doing so in the name of national harmony. Now, they will be able to observe that Republicans did little to live up to their promises, and they may well declare that (empty) promises will no longer get their votes. So, there is a strong likelihood that the blue team will dig in its heels.
At the same time, the GOP caucus is turning into a group of cats that will need herding. Defense hawks, for example, are not happy that the Pentagon has gone nearly half a year without a clear budget. They feel that necessarily weakens national defense. Meanwhile, the House Freedom Caucus wants the Party to take a hard-line stance on immigration, the exact kind of stance that will make it difficult for a bill to get through the House, and impossible for it to get through the Senate. There are also a number of Republicans, like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who side with the blue team on the DACA issue. And finally, there are some members of the GOP caucus who think that stopgap spending bills are generally irresponsible, and look bad for the party that controls Congress, and may potentially oppose a temporary bill for those reasons.
Thanks to the State of the Union and Devin Nunes, among other stories, the budget situation has largely been pushed to the back burner since the government reopened after its brief shutdown. However, the budget will move front and center again this week. This could prove to be bad news for Donald Trump, not only because he tends to look pretty impotent during these negotiations, but also because it could cause many Americans to quickly forget about his "vindication." (Z)
There are few escapes from politics these days, and that includes during today's Super Bowl, when the New England Patriots—led by notable friends of Donald Trump Tom Brady (quarterback), Bill Belichick (coach), and Robert Kraft (owner)—will face off against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The President won't be there in person to root his buddies on—that happens rarely, due to the security issues it would entail. He will, however, host a viewing party at Mar-a-Lago, as he spends his time not profiting from the presidency. Customarily, the Super Bowl broadcast includes an interview with the President just before the start of the game, but this year it's on NBC, and Trump has been at war with his former employer and their "fake news." So, he declined to participate this year. If that were not enough, NBC says that they will show it if any players kneel during the national anthem. Their West Palm Beach affiliate (aka, the one that broadcasts to Mar-a-Lago) will also air a commercial produced and paid for by the father of a 17-year-old who died due to poorly constructed guard rails on freeways. In the commercial, he addresses the President directly, and says the time has come for actual progress on infrastructure. So, on the whole, the chances of an angry tweet or two from The Donald are very high.
That is not to say that the Super Bowl broadcast won't have a few things that will make the GOP and its leader happy. The Marine Corps has bought a spot, the first time they've done so in 30 years. The Koch Brothers also have an ad planned. It's expected to be primarily about their business, but it's hard to see how it could have zero political overtones. The upshot is that those looking for a respite from all the political bickering are not likely to find it on NBC. Those folks should probably turn their televisions to the Puppy Bowl, on Animal Planet. After all, the players in that game aren't even old enough to vote, and while they might sit, or even shake, they can't kneel. (Z)