Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will turn 85 next year and has decided that is a good time to call it quits. Therefore, he won't run for reelection this year, despite enormous pressure from Donald Trump to shoot for another term. The consequences could be enormous. Utah is a very red state, so there is no danger that the Democrats will snatch the open seat. What is almost certain to happen now is that Mitt Romney will announce his candidacy. In fact, on Tuesday afternoon, Romney changed his "location" on Twitter from Massachusetts to Utah. Once Romney officially declares, which might very well happen sometime this week, it will be followed by snide tweets by Donald Trump, who is probably already working hard thinking of a nickname for him, likely some slur relating to the 2 1/2 years he lived in France as a Mormon missionary. How about "Frog-eating Mitt"? Or maybe "Poor Mitt" (Romney's net worth is a mere $250 million). Of course, Trump could just call him by his actual name (Willard). That would annoy him enough, since he never uses it.
Trump and Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon may try to scare up someone to run against Romney in the Republican primary, but it would be pointless. Romney got 73% of the vote in Utah in his 2012 presidential run, and in 19 of Utah's 29 counties, got over 80% of the vote. The former Massachusetts governor will turn 72 next year and clearly is not eyeing a long career as a senator. He may be eyeing a short career as a gigantic thorn in Trump's side, though. Most Republicans hide under the table when Trump attacks them, but Romney will hit back—hard. If he claims the seat, he will be able to make speeches on the Senate floor denouncing Trump, and every one will garner massive publicity.
Another consequence of a Senate win for Romney will be the likely end of Trump's agenda. Romney is a conservative Republican and will vote for lower taxes and less regulation of business, but he is also an orthodox Republican. He will not vote to build any walls or impose tariffs or hinder free markets in any way. Even if no Senate seats flip this year, Romney will vote "no" along with the 49 Democrats on any bill that isn't what establishment Republicans have always wanted, so all it will take is one other defection to sink it. In short, Hatch's plan to retire is bad news for Trump since it will almost certainly give the President a high-profile opponent with a big bullhorn.
A minor consequence of Hatch's retirement is that it will change the order of succession to the presidency. Currently, Vice President Mike Pence is first in line, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is second, and President Pro Tem of the Senate Orrin Hatch is third. If the Republicans hold the Senate, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) would be the Pro Tem if he is still in the Senate in 2019. If he resigns this year, as is widely expected, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will become #3 in line. If the Democrats capture the Senate, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) will become the Pro Tem. Note that these suppositions are all likely but not ironclad certain; the Pro Tem is by custom the most senior member of the majority party, but there is nothing that requires it to be that way.
Another consequence of Hatch's retirement is that there will be a new chairman of the important Senate Finance Committee. Grassley is next in line if the Republicans keep control of the Senate, but he may prefer to keep wielding the gavel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Grassley stays put, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) will likely get the Finance job. If the Democrats take the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will likely become chairman. The Finance Committee, along with the House Ways and Means Committee, writes the nation's tax laws. Needless to say, the extremely conservative Crapo and the very liberal Wyden have rather different ideas about taxes. (V)
Just as he promised, Al Franken resigned from the Senate yesterday after a number of women came forward saying that he had touched or kissed them without their consent. Here is his resignation letter:
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (DFL-MN) will be sworn in as his successor today. She has said she will run in the 2018 election to complete his term, which ends in January 2021. Senator-elect Doug Jones of Alabama will also be sworn in today.
So far, no Republicans have announced that they will run against Smith. However, former representative Michele Bachmann has put in a request with God, asking for his opinion on whether she should throw her hat in the ring. If the Deity tells her to go for it, she will face other Republicans in a primary, possibly former governor Tim Pawlenty and maybe others. The chances that she could win a contested primary are slim to none.
Since Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) is up for reelection in 2018, there will be two Senate elections in the North Star State this year. History shows that nearly all the time when two Senate seats are up at the same time, the same party wins both of them. (V)
On Monday, North Korea's Kim Jong-Un bragged that the button needed to launch a nuclear strike is, "always on the desk of my office." Never one to let such things slide, Donald Trump resorted to some of his usual Twitterpolitik with this:
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Obviously, this tweet has more than one meaning, much like when the President talks about the size of his hands.
The world can only hope that either these two men remain satisfied to merely exchange third-grade insults, or else that one of them grows up. There was some small sign of the latter on Tuesday, and naturally it came from Kim. He announced that the telephone hotline to South Korea will be re-opened for the first time in two years. If there's a thawing in relations between the Koreas, Trump will undoubtedly take credit, but the actual impetus for the announcement was the upcoming Olympics in Pyeongchang. The North Koreans would like to send a delegation, but they will need the South Koreans' approval and assistance. There is hope that this will open the door for future discussions on more consequential matters, unrelated to who has the biggest button. (Z)
While Donald Trump is busy bragging about the size of his ... button, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is equally busy under the radar preparing to challenge him in 2020. She is up for reelection in 2018, but she is very popular at home, so that should be a cake walk. She has more money in the bank ($12.8 million) than nearly any senator has ever had at this point in the election cycle, and is unlikely to spend much of it in 2018. She is also stocking her staff with oppo researchers who are first going to do oppo research on herself to look for potential 2020 vulnerabilities, but who later could start investigating competing Democrats and Trump.
In a surprising change of pace, she is working with conservative Republican senators on small stuff. For example, she worked with Chuck Grassley on improving access to hearing aids and with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on fighting the opioid crisis. On the Fourth of July, she traveled to Afghanistan with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Does this mean she has stopped being one of the most liberal members of the Senate? Of course not. It means that she needs some talking points when addressing those all-so-important well-educated, affluent suburban Republicans in swing states in 2020. But she has certainly not forgotten who her base is and what they like. Last month on the floor of the Senate she said: "Republican senators only have one principle left. Reward billionaire campaign donors."
In keeping with her plan to stay under the radar for a while, she has carefully avoided trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, because any visit to states with early caucuses and primaries would instantly make her a target. However, she has not stayed holed up in D.C. She has visited Ohio many times in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is her baby. Making connections with people in that key swing state can't hurt, even if it isn't early in the primary calendar. She also went on a book tour in April, crisscrossing the country and talking to voters in many states.
Warren will have a lot of competition in 2020. If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wants to take another whack at the piñata, he and Warren will be in direct competition for the same primary voters. One advantage Warren has that Sanders can't fix is age. He will be 78 at the start of 2020 and she will be 70. Furthermore, Warren knows she will be probably be competing with other—and much younger—women, including Sens. Kirstin Gillibrand (NY) and Kamala Harris (CA), who will be 53 and 55, respectively at the start of 2020. And, of course, a dozen or more men of various ages will be running, too, so Warren realizes she has to start working quietly on her campaign already, and she is doing precisely that. (V)
It has been said that the United States is developing from a two-party system into two competing single-party systems. Certainly, the tax bill reflects that divide. Now, it appears that the House Intelligence Committee's report—actually, reports—will, as well.
The Committee is chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who has just been cleared after an ethics probe, and who is reasserting his leadership. He loves Donald Trump and hates the investigation, and wants to wrap it up with a finding of "nothing to see here." The other Republicans on the committee appear poised to follow his lead. The Democrats on the panel, led by ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA)—one of the loudest anti-Trump voices in Washington—say that key questions have not been examined, most obviously Trump's financial records. They also fear that the conclusion of the House's investigation will be prelude to cutting off Robert Mueller's investigation. So, Schiff & Co. are likely to issue their own report detailing all the things that did not get looked at, and opining that the House's investigation was woefully incomplete. In other words, the public is likely to get a report, and then a dissent, as if this was a Supreme Court decision. Such a thing would have been inconceivable as recently as 15 or 20 years ago, but that's where we are these days. (Z)
Yesterday Donald Trump took credit for the fact that there were no fatalities on regularly scheduled passenger flights in 2017. Also not in 2016. Or in 2015. Or in 2014. He tweeted
Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
To the extent anyone is responsible for this excellent safety record, it is the head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, an Obama appointee whose term will expire on Saturday. Bob Mann, an aviation expert, said: "I'm unaware that the president has had any impact on aviation oversight policy or practice. Social media is not 'oversight.'" (V)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is retiring at the end of her term, and the Florida Republican Party has been unable to find a serious candidate to run to replace her. They are pretty close to abandoning the D+5 district, which includes most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach, including Little Havana. Six Democrats are fighting for their party's nomination, and the one who comes out on top will be very heavily favored to flip the seat. (V)
Before 1940, presidential visits to California, while not unheard of, were not common. The state was not all that relevant to electoral politics until the population boom that came from World War II. Further, it was relatively far away from Washington D.C. prior to the advent of passenger aviation. Starting with Harry S. Truman, however, every president has made a visit to the Golden State in their first year in office (excepting Dwight Eisenhower, who waited until his 13th month). Even for presidents who have no hope of winning California's electoral votes, there are representatives in swing districts who can helped with speeches, and fundraising opportunities, and talk shows to be interviewed on.
Barring an unexpected change of plans, Donald Trump is going to shatter (yet another) precedent. He's got no trips to California scheduled, and has given no indication that he's thinking about one. Indeed, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Trump stays away throughout his term, for a number of reasons. To start, he's got a distinctly agoraphobic streak, and does not like to spend the night in unfamiliar environs. All of the "familiar" places to sleep—Bedminster, Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, the White House—are a five-hour flight from California, plus the three-hour time change. Beyond that, the fundraising opportunities are limited, because Trump Republicans—especially wealthy ones—are in somewhat short supply. Trump is also unlikely to try to help the embattled Republican representatives in 2018, as his toxicity in the Golden State would mean he would almost certainly do them more harm than good. The talk shows recorded in California—Jimmy Kimmel, for example, or Ellen DeGeneres—are not likely to give Trump the kind of sycophantic..er, friendly treatment he prefers.
In short, there are few upsides to a West Coast trip for the President. Meanwhile, California is full of people who absolutely loathe the Donald—Dreamers; immigrants, both documented and undocumented; academics; progressive activists; young people; LGBT; and so forth. The anti-Trump crowds that would meet him would be large and loud, and would be seen on television broadcasts, front pages, and websites around the world. The Donald hates that look. So even though he does have a resort in Los Angeles, the Trump National Golf Club, it's not likely to get the Mar-a-Lago treatment anytime soon. It's more evidence that Trump perceives himself as the president for some Americans, not all of them. Certainly not the 1 in 8 Americans who live in California. (Z)