Jan. 09

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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Mueller May Seek an Interview with Trump

In a meeting with Donald Trump's lawyers in December, special counsel Robert Mueller brought up the possibility of Mueller seeking to interview Trump. The lawyers, who know their client all too well, were not at all keen on a one-on-one chat between the two, and certainly not recorded and under oath.

What Trump's lawyers might accept is for Mueller to submit written questions and Trump and his legal team to carefully craft answers designed to minimize his exposure. Mueller's reaction to that proposal is likely to be similar to that of the Watergate special prosecutor when Richard Nixon proposed having a hard-of-hearing senator listen to his Oval Office tapes instead of turning them over: No way.

Sitting presidents have been interviewed by prosecutors in the past, though the courts are hesitant to force the issue. Bill Clinton agreed to testify before a grand jury in August of 1998 via a video hookup. He was questioned for four hours by three prosecutors. George W. Bush sat down for an interview with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004. Fitzgerald was investigating the matter of who leaked the identity of then-CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose husband had criticized the Iraq War. Given these and other precedents, it will be difficult for Trump's lawyers to shield Trump if Mueller really wants to interrogate him, but they will do their utmost be hinder Mueller as much as they can, knowing that Trump could easily say something incriminating without realizing it. (V)

Oprah for President?

The Golden Globes were handed out on Sunday night, and the story of the evening was MeToo. Nearly all women in attendance wore black to show solidarity with the movement, and most of the women who ended up on stage shared their views on the matter. That included Oprah Winfrey, who brought the house down with the impassioned speech she gave upon accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award.

To those watching the speech, Winfrey looked very much like someone who is thinking about running for office. And on Monday, that impression was confirmed: Friends say she is "actively thinking" about running for president. Whether or not she would be a good chief executive is an open question, thought she certainly has some key skills: She's charismatic, a good public speaker, very smart, knows business, etc. She has no political experience, but that is no longer a requirement for the job.

What is clearer is that she would be a very tough opponent for Donald Trump. According to Q score, a measure of celebrity popularity, she is beloved among people of color, young people, and women (especially suburban women). Those, of course, are exactly the groups that the Democrats need to get to the polls in 2020. Further, given her gender and upbeat temperament, personal attacks against her could be a major turnoff for voters. The presidential election is a long way away, but we could well have a battle of billionaire TV stars.

On the other hand, there are likely to be a dozen or more Democratic politicians running and all of them are going to say: "We elected an inexperienced entertainer last time. Do you like how that worked out?" Oprah may be a very nice person, but she knows nothing about managing the economy, dealing with Iran, appointing federal judges, and things presidents actually do beside holding rallies. Most likely the Oprah bubble won't make it past the midterms. (Z & V)

Koch Brothers Reach Out to Puerto Ricans in Florida

It is estimated that 300,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the U.S. mainland as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Large parts of the island are still without electricity or safe water, so few will be moving back soon, if at all. Puerto Ricans are American citizens, so as soon as they register in Florida or any other state, they are eligible to vote. The Koch brothers know this, so they have set up a massive outreach program to help these people, and not incidentally make sure they are familiar with the Koch brothers' favorite candidates and why these would be great people to vote for.

It won't be an easy sell, though. Many of these people are aware of how much the Trump administration did for Texas and Florida and how little (basically zero) it did for Puerto Rico after all three were hit by hurricanes. Many of these people have family and friends already on the mainland, and these people may explain American politics to them, possibly in a different way than the Koch brothers. Nevertheless, the ESL courses and other aid the brothers are providing may win them some friends. At present, Democrats have no comparable outreach program. (V)

Mexico First

Mexico is having a presidential election on July 1 and if the candidate currently leading in the polls, the socialist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), wins, Donald Trump is going to have a problem, in part of his own making. AMLO is a fiery opponent of Trump and is not likely to cooperate with Trump on trade, border security, or much else. One issue that could improve matters (or make them worse) in the next few months is the negotiation about NAFTA, which AMLO supports but Trump wants to abolish. If Trump pulls out of the trade agreement or kills it, that will help AMLO and may lead to an angry socialist leader who hates Trump running Mexico starting this summer.

Many candidates are running and the system is first-past-the-post with no runoff. If AMLO gets the most votes, even if it is only 30%, he becomes president. Of course, the ruling PRI party is trying very hard to win, despite polls showing that 90% of the population doesn't trust it. Its candidate is former Finance Minister José Antonio Meade, a very establishment figure with a Ph.D. in economics from Yale. Unfortunately, 70% of Mexicans don't know who he is. There is also a right-wing candidate, Ricardo Anaya Cortés, so the vote could be split badly. (V)

Wall Faces Barriers

Remaining on the subject of Mexico for a bit, Donald Trump is pushing hard for a physical wall with Mexico. No matter how hard he pushes, the wall faces some serious barriers. Here are the main ones:

In short, Trump might get $1 billion or so for a short piece of wall, just so he can be photographed next to it for PR purposes. But actually getting a full wall is not going to happen. And no matter who wins the Mexican election, Mexico is not paying for it. (V)

Trump Administration Throwing Wrenches into Immigrants' Lives

By all indications, the White House is making a mess of the discussions over DACA. The President refuses to take a hands-on role, his demands keep changing and expanding, and the administration has involved members of Congress who are openly hostile to the dreamers in negotiations. Meanwhile, on Tuesday the administration announced that it would end Temporary Protected Status for over 200,000 Salvadorans in the country. If Congress does not take action, these individuals will have until September 2019 to establish some other basis for staying in the country, or they will have to leave. The dreamers are in a similar situation, albeit with a slightly less harsh timeline.

At very least, the administration is taking high-profile steps so as to appear to be delivering on the anti-immigrant agenda that Donald Trump rode to election. Beyond that, however, there appears also to be a concerted effort to twist Democrats' arms, either so they will give in on funding the government in the way that Trump wants, or so that they will agree to pay for the wall. Since both the dreamers and the Salvadorans have until after the midterms, by which time the Democrats could control Congress, the arm twisting might well backfire. (Z)

Trump Has a Rough Night

Donald Trump tends to avoid public events where he is likely to get a chilly reception. Monday's college football national championship, played in the South (Atlanta) between two teams from the South (Alabama and Georgia) seemed pretty safe, though, so the President decided to attend. He arrived in town early, and spoke to the annual gathering at the American Farm Bureau. Deciding that there's nothing that farmers are more interested in than NFL protests, Trump declared, "There's plenty of space for people to express their views and to protest, but we love our flag and we love our anthem and we want to keep it that way."

After that, it was off to the game, where things went downhill. Trump decided to stand on the field for the national anthem, and while he got some cheers, the chorus of boos was more noticeable. Clearly, some Atlantans have not forgotten that the President said last year that their city is "in horrible shape," "falling apart," and "crime infested." Also noticeable was the shout of "F**k Trump" that came from the direction of the Alabama locker room. But worst of all was that Trump, fresh off of a speech in which he emphasized love and respect for the anthem, clearly struggled with the words to the tune. Whether he forgot the lyrics, or he never knew them in the first place, was not clear. Either way, he snuck out at halftime, and so did not even have the chance to see Alabama's thrilling overtime comeback. (Z)

Ginsburg and Kennedy Hire Law Clerks

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy have both hired a full set of four law clerks for the October 2018 to June 2019 term. Ginsburg even went a step further and hired four clerks for the October 2019 to June 2020 term. In her case, there is little doubt that she could be at death's door and wouldn't resign unless a Democrat were president. But there have been rumors that Kennedy might be planning to hang up his robes in June. While that is still possible, it wouldn't be very nice for Kennedy to hire four clerks, get their hopes up, and then in June send them a quick e-mail announcing that he changed his mind. So most likely Kennedy will continue on the Court for at least another year. Given that he is the most powerful man in America, even though he has no button at all, it is not entirely surprising that he likes his job and has no immediate plans to give it up. (V)

Ed Royce Will Retire from the House

Thirteen is a lucky number for Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA). That's the number of terms he has served in the House. But he's not pressing his luck trying to make it 14, so he is retiring at the end of his term. What happened? Well, he sees the handwriting on the wall and it is written in blue. His district is in Orange County, which used to be staunchly Republican, but demographic changes driven by the growth of high tech around the University of California at Irvine have turned it Democratic. Hillary Clinton won the County in 2016 and she won Royce's district by 8 points. In addition, he would have a tough time explaining to Californians why Republicans raised taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for a huge tax cut for corporations and the very wealthy. Royce might have won in 2018, but the odds are against it and he figured it is better to go out on his own terms than be crushed in November.

Royce could be the canary in the coal mine. He is the first Republican representative from California to throw in the towel. Currently California has 14 Republican representatives in the House, and many of the others may also be wondering if this is the time to get out. Here is a list of California's Republican representatives sorted by PVI:

District PVI Representative
CA-23 R+14 Kevin McCarthy
CA-01 R+11 Doug LaMalfa
CA-50 R+11 Duncan Hunter
CA-04 R+10 Tom McClintock
CA-08 R+9 Paul Cook
CA-42 R+9 Ken Calvert
CA-22 R+8 Devin Nunes
CA-48 R+4 Dana Rohrabacher
CA-45 R+3 Mimi Walters
CA-49 R+1 Darrell Issa
CA-10 Even Jeff Denham
CA-25 Even Steve Knight
CA-39 Even Ed Royce
CA-21 D+5 David Valadao

In the current environment, the bottom seven on the list have to be seriously thinking about their future. In a wave year, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is probably safe, but all the others could conceivably face a tough reelection fight and even those in heavily Republican districts might not be safe on account of angry suburbanites looking for someone to punish for raising their taxes. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to capture the House, and a decent fraction of those might come from California. (V)

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