Feb. 08

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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Senate Approves Budget but It Could Falter in the House

Yesterday, the Senate hammered out a budget deal that would increase this year's defense spending by $80 billion and domestic spending by $63 billion. Next year's increases are similar. However, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spent eight hours on the House floor yesterday saying that she would not vote for it unless Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) promised to bring a bill to protect the dreamers to the floor for debate and a vote. So far, Ryan has not given any commitment. While the House does not have a filibuster, the majority and minority leaders can speak as long as they want to. If the bill passes, a government shutdown will be averted.

Liberal Democrats in the House are very unhappy about the deal, and are accusing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) of caving. Nevertheless, the House Democrats are not without leverage as the House Freedom Caucus is likely to vote against the Senate bill (because it increases the federal deficit), making Democratic votes essential for its passage. If all the House Democrats vote "no," the government will shut down (again). The last time that happened, the Democrats got the blame, so when push comes to shove, enough of them (especially those from red states) may grudgingly vote for the bill to prevent another damaging shutdown. (V)

White House Aide Resigns after Former Wives Accuse Him of Abuse

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who had daily access to Donald Trump, abruptly resigned yesterday after the Daily Mail published a story in which both of his ex-wives detail his mentally and physically abusing them. The paper also published a photo of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye which she attributed to Porter punching her. Holderness said that the abuse began immediately after their marriage, when he threw her onto a bed and choked her. Porter's second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, said that during their honeymoon, he had outbursts of anger and called her a "f***ing bitch." She also related one incident of physical abuse.

Both Holderness and Willoughby said they were contacted by the FBI last year regarding Porter's security clearance and they told the truth about their marriages. Apparently this caused some difficulties with Porter's getting a security clearance.

Porter resigned, but said: "These outrageous allegations are simply false. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign." Needless to say, someone who throws in that many unnecessary embellishments clearly must be telling the truth. After all, "allegations" and "claims" could plausibly be legitimate, but there's no chance that "outrageous allegations" or "vile claims" could be. Porter's current girlfriend, White House communications director Hope Hicks, has not commented on the matter.

Porter's job at the White House was managing the flow of documents to Trump. He was the one who determined what Trump saw and what he didn't see, a hugely important position. He is a former Harvard classmate of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. (V)

Republicans Are Worried about Their Challenger to McCaskill

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018. But her main Republican challenger, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, is making the GOP nervous. To be blunt, Hawley's problem is money: He doesn't have enough of it. He ended 2017 with $1.2 million in the bank. In contrast, McCaskill had $9 million cash on hand. If 2018 is a wave year for the Democrats, then Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents will need to outspend them by a large margin, and so far it doesn't look like Hawley is going to be able to do that.

Hawley didn't help his situation when he was recorded saying that sex trafficking was caused by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. McCaskill instantly jumped on him and said what is needed is to end the male exploitation of women. Republican strategists don't believe this is as bad as their 2012 Senate Candidate, Todd Akin, who talked about "legitimate rape," but they are quietly praying that it is forgotten by November.

Some Missouri Republicans are so nervous that they are prodding Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) to jump into the race. She was originally the GOP's top pick, but declined to run. Now some party pooh-bahs are trying to get her to reconsider. (V)

Democrat Wins Missouri State House Seat in Deep Red District

Special elections for state legislative districts aren't necessarily indicative of much, but a second Democrat has won a special election this year in a deep red district. The first one was Patty Schachtner's win in January in a Wisconsin state Senate district that Trump won by 17 points. Now Democrat Mike Revis won a Missouri state house seat in a district that Trump won by 28 points. Since he won by 3 points, that's a 31-point swing. The GOP managed to prevail in the three other elections held in Missouri this year, but that's the end of the good news for them, as the point swings in those districts, relative to Trump-Clinton, were 18 points, 25 points, and a staggering 59 points, all in the direction of the Democrats. That's an average swing, across the four races, of 33.25 points. Since Trump's inauguration, Democrats have flipped 35 contested seats in state legislatures while Republicans have flipped between one and three, depending on your standards (one definite flip in Massachusetts, one uncontested flip in Louisiana, and one flip of an officially nonpartisan seat in Mississippi). (V)

Nazi To Be GOP Candidate for Congress in Illinois

IL-03 is pretty blue (PVI of D+6), and is represented by centrist Democrat Dan Lipinski. Those circumstances have laid the groundwork for a challenge from the left (in the form of Marie Newman), but make a challenge from the right something of a waste of time. Consequently, the GOP did not bother to field a challenger in 2016, and they did not recruit one for 2018 either. That left an open spot on the ballot for perennial candidate Arthur Jones to latch onto, and as the only Republican to file the necessary paperwork, he was automatically nominated. That kind of thing is not unusual, and happens all the time. What is unusual is that Jones is a former leader of the American Nazi Party who claims that the Holocaust is "mythical" and that kosher foods are a "Jewish racket."

Naturally, the Illinois Republican Party would love to be rid of him, and all of the state's prominent Republicans, from Governor Bruce Rauner on down, have denounced Jones. However, they neglected to find a warm body to put up against him and they also neglected to challenge his filing paperwork (something that the Party remembered to do in 2016). So, now they are stuck with him. That means that comedians and activists will be able to spend the next nine months noting that the post-Charlottesville GOP has begun running actual Nazis for office. Party officials will hold their breath and hope that Jones doesn't find ways to screw up their other races in the state. Meanwhile, Jones better hope that the Blues Brothers don't show up. After all, they hate Illinois Nazis. (Z)

A Clue About the Fate of Gerrymandering?

There's reading tea leaves, and then there's wishful thinking. Hard to say which category this item from ThinkProgress is in, but we report and you decide. The site's Ian Millhiser takes note of a small piece of information that he argues may have a big meaning, namely that the Supreme Court was asked to fast-track a North Carolina gerrymandering case Rucho v. Common Cause, and declined to do so. The small piece of information is that the court's two most liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, both voted in favor of the fast-track.

Soon, SCOTUS will rule in Gill v. Whitford, a Wisconsin gerrymandering case. Millhiser is guessing, and he's almost certainly correct, that the decision has been made, and that majority and dissenting opinions have already been written. So, Ginsburg and Sotomayor already know the outcome, even if we don't. If Wisconsin's gerrymander has been upheld, he reasons, the two liberals would not want to fast-track another case likely to end in defeat. On the other hand, if the gerrymander has been struck down, then the duo would be eager to hear the case in time for North Carolina's maps to be redrawn before the midterm elections.

Again, Millhiser may be projecting here. One could also make the case that the two justices know they've lost and they want another bite at the apple ASAP, but the rest of the Court doesn't want to give it to them. We have about three months to wait before we find out; the ruling is likely to be handed down in early June. (Z)

Rick Gates' Attorneys Want Out

Paul Manafort's co-defendant in the legal actions brought by Robert Mueller is Rick Gates. Now, Gates' attorneys have come down with an illness: They are sick of their client. Citing "irreconcilable differences," the Gates legal team told a judge on Wednesday that they want to be excused from representing him. If the request is granted, this would be the third time that the defendant has seen his representation run for the hills.

It is not clear exactly what the problem is, and the counselors refused to say publicly, explaining that to do so would be a violation of attorney-client privilege, would embarrass Gates, and would prejudice the public against him. Observers are rather mystified as to what the issue could be. Gates could have some sort of Roy Moore-style skeleton in his closet, but defense attorneys tend to be ok with that kind of thing, since everyone is entitled to a defense. He could be trying to buy time, but judges are pretty wise to those kinds of shenanigans. The likeliest possibility is that he admitted something to them that makes it impossible for them to mount a defense within the bounds of ethics. One day, we may know. Or we may not. (Z)

Amen, Comrades

Ronald Reagan was fond of observing that there is no God in the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether or not He has returned since Gorbachev left, but what is clear is that the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington is an excellent chance to do a little lobbying of prominent Republicans, including headliner Donald Trump. Consequently, there will be a large number of Russians present to pray or eat pancakes or pray for pancakes, or whatever happens at these things.

While the Russian government will not be sending an official delegation, there will be roughly 60 prominent Russian businessmen, religious leaders, and politicians present, which is triple the number from last year. Many of these folks, of course, have connections to Vlad Putin. If the Russians and the GOP/Trump administration are trying to convince everyone they're not in bed together, they certainly aren't working very hard at it. (Z)

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