Yesterday, Donald Trump said that he would welcome a government shutdown if Democrats do not agree to his demands for tougher border security, including $25 billion for his wall. With the government about to run out of money again, and the debt ceiling closing in on the treasury, there are enough ways it could happen. Trump knows that polls showed the previous 3-day shutdown was unpopular, with the Democrats getting most of the blame for it, so he is willing to let them try again. In fact, he is daring them to try.
However, Trump should be a bit more careful here. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that 59% of voters don't want a wall and only 37% want it. Nationally, building a wall is not a winning issue, but since Trump's goal is simply to keep feeding red meat to his base, he may well ignore what the majority of the country wants.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was working hard with the Democrats to avoid another shutdown tomorrow night, when the money runs out (again). The House passed a bill Tuesday that would increase military spending but freeze domestic spending, but that bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. Once upon a time, long long ago, the House would not pass a bill that had zero chance of passing the Senate in any form, but those days are far behind us. Defense Secretary James Mattis said he is tired of holding the military hostage to domestic policy disagreements and wants the military funded on a long-term basis, not temporary extensions every few weeks.
Another issue hanging in the air is the future of the dreamers. Trump said if Congress can't come up with a solution, he will start deporting them in March. Democrats and Republicans are still miles apart on this and no solution is in sight. In effect, Congress is completely paralyzed and is incapable of performing even the most basic of its functions, such as funding the government. (V)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Tuesday drew the responsibility for warning everyone (translation: Congress) that Donald Trump has no intention of extending the deadline for DACA, and that Congress needs to figure something out before March 5. His reasoning, which has a fair bit of truth to it, is that the legislature doesn't get anything done these days until they're up against a deadline. Sometimes, of course, they don't even get something done then.
While he was holding forth, Kelly also reminded everyone that while he may be a voice of reason within the administration, he's certainly not a voice of tolerance. Observing that there are 690,000 official DACA registrants, but that something like 1.8 million people who qualify for the program, he declared that, "The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up."
"Lazy Mexican," of course, is a longstanding stereotype, roughly on par with "cheap Jew" or "savage Indian." Kelly is from Massachusetts, though he did spend a couple of years in California in the early 1990s. Perhaps he was so busy at Camp Pendleton he did not notice that, in fact, Mexican immigrants actually do a wildly disproportionate share of the hardest and most difficult jobs, and that particular stereotype is unusually inaccurate. (Z)
The government of California, joined by several private groups, is suing the Trump administration over the border wall. They really don't want the wall built, and at the same time would really like to see the President suffer an embarrassing defeat. The crux of the case is that California, et al. believe that the administration must conduct environmental impact studies and other kinds of reviews, and the administration says that a 1996 law allows them to skip that step.
The judge who will hear the case, naturally, is Gonzalo Curiel, who seems to hear roughly 99% of the lawsuits against the President. He is the same fellow, of course, that Trump said was incapable of being impartial because of his Mexican heritage. Though the original case that prompted the remarks was about Trump University (more below), the comment was, "We are building a wall. He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico." Surely The Donald will go ballistic when he learns that Curiel is hearing a case that is actually about said wall. (Z)
A poll from the University of California's Institute of Governmental Studies shows that two of California's representatives who are tied closely to Donald Trump are deeply underwater. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who represents the CA-48 district (Cook PVI R+4) has a 38% approval rating vs. 50% disapproval. Among voters who don't like Trump, 86% are not likely to vote for Rohrabacher. Given how unpopular Trump is in California, Rohrabacher has a problem.
The poll also looked at Rep. Steve Knight of CA-25, a district with a PVI of 0 (evenly split). Only 37% of voters in his district approve of him, vs. 53% who don't and 40% strongly disapprove. In his district, among anti-Trump voters, 90% disapprove of Knight.
The conclusion is unmistakable: Former Speaker Tip O'Neill notwithstanding, all politics is now national. Voters who don't like Trump don't like any Republican. Unless things change fairly quickly, Trump is going to be an anchor on the entire Republican ticket this fall. And that's assuming there are Republicans on the ticket at all. California has a jungle primary for all races, including House races. It is entirely possible that in either district, two Democrats come in first and second in the June primary and the congressman doesn't even make it to the general election. (V)
While the Supreme Court is considering several cases about the constitutionality of gerrymandering, the state of Ohio is also working on the problem. Much to everyone's surprise, a bipartisan compromise on the subject passed the legislature. (For readers too young to have experienced this phenomenon in their lifetimes, it means both parties agreed to the same bill.) The bill passed the Ohio Senate 31-0 on Monday and passed the Ohio House 83-10 yesterday. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is expected to sign the bill.
What the bill does is put a referendum on the May primary ballot. If approved by the voters, it would change how Ohio draws up its congressional district map. The main points of the bill are as follows.
Any map could be vetoed by the governor or put to a public referendum. Ohio has 88 counties and 65 cannot be split. Of the remaining ones, 18 can be split over only two districts. The five most populous counties can be split over three districts. Members of the public are invited to submit their own maps for consideration. Given the data available and the mapmaking software out there, no doubt many people will do precisely that. If the referendum passes, it could be a model for other states. (V)
Referendums are not limited to issues like gerrymandering. In 2004, George W. Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, got a referendum on same-sex marriage on the ballot in as many states as possible, in order to get conservative voters to the polls. Democrats have gotten the message and are now trying to get marijuana initiatives on the ballot wherever they can to draw young voters to the polls. Democratic candidates all over the country are coming out strongly at least for medical marijuana, if not recreational marijuana, even in red states.
For example, Democrat Dan Canon, who is running for Congress in IN-09, is basing his campaign on legalizing pot at the federal level. He is arguing that legalization
His primary opponent, Liz Watson, is trying to outdo Canon in her love for ganja. No matter who wins the primary, the Democratic House candidate will be pro-marijuana, and this could bring out young voters. In turn, this could help Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Given how popular legalization has become in Indiana (78% approval), any Republican who opposes it will be facing a headwind. And what is true in conservative Indiana, is also true in a number of other states, especially in the libertarian-leaning West. (V)
On ABC's "Good Morning America" yesterday, Carter Page struggled to explain how he could be an adviser to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and also to Donald Trump. Page was the target of a FISA Court warrant allowing the FBI to wiretap him. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) wrote a controversial memo claiming that the warrant was based on a partisan dossier assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele. However, Page previously bragged about being an adviser to the Kremlin and if that evidence was presented to the FISA Court, that would certainly have gotten the FBI the warrant it sought, completely independent of the Steele dossier.
Page didn't have a very good answer when ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed him about how he could advise both the Russians and Donald Trump. His answer was "Look, the probable cause, based on all the evidence that keeps dripping out and now has been substantiated with the Friday, you know, first memo, is that it was based on dodgy dossier which was, you know, a political stunt." However, Page has admitted to communicating with the Trump campaign's foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos on the subject of Russia. He also has admitted traveling to Moscow in July 2016. In addition, he has admitted he was invited to speak in Russia and the campaign knew of this. In short, there are many reasons why the FBI could have been interested in Page that have nothing to do with the Steele dossier. Very likely, the FBI presented some or all of these other reasons to be suspicious of Page to the FISA Court, and most likely even one would have been enough to get a warrant. (V)
Under considerable pressure, Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to people who took courses at "Trump University" and felt cheated when they discovered that the instructors Trump claimed he personally handpicked had never even met him. In most cases, people will get back 90% of what they paid. One woman, lawyer Sherri Simpson, objected to the settlement and sued for the $19,000 she paid for classes and mentorship. Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected her case. Their decision was a narrow one, essentially about when she should have opted out of the settlement, rather than on the merits of her case. In principle, Simpson could appeal to the Supreme Court, but she has decided not to. This clears the way for the payments to be made and its gets rid of one problem that could have been a big embarrassment to Trump. (V)
While he was in France, Donald Trump witnessed a large and very impressive military parade staged by the French in honor of Bastille Day. At the time, he mused that the United States ought to do something like that. As it turns out, he has not forgotten, and he is now pressing the Pentagon to get serious about looking into the possibility.
The Pentagon, for its part, really wants no part of this. They understand, even if Trump does not, that military parades are generally the province of fascists and dictators, not democratically-elected leaders. Perhaps they might want to show the President a little picture called Triumph of the Will, so that he understands whom he would be mimicking. Of course, Vlad Putin loves 'em, too. Reportedly, if Trump won't drop it, the plan is to stage the event on Veterans' Day, November 11. That should put some interesting thoughts in voters' minds when they cast their ballots five days earlier. (Z)