To avoid having to testify before a grand jury, former Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon has agreed to a sit-down interview with special counsel Robert Mueller and says he will answer all of Mueller's questions. Some likely questions include:
We don't know whether Bannon will sing like a canary or stonewall Mueller, but he might offer a mixed bag of answers. Bannon has a reputation as an anti-Semite and he certainly detests Jared Kushner, so he might spill the beans on Kushner while protecting Trump. Of course, if he does that, Mueller will use that information to pressure Kushner into yielding even more beans. On the other hand, Bannon could just claim he was a mere coffee boy in the campaign and White House and knows nothing.
One thing worth noting is that when Bannon appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, he refused to answer many questions because the Trump administration warned him that they may invoke executive privilege. When Bannon is talking to Mueller, executive privilege does not apply, as the Justice Dept. is part of the executive branch. This is what prompted Richard Nixon to fire Archibald Cox; he could not use privilege to stonewall the special prosecutor. So, if Trump wants to try to silence Bannon, he will have to move on to Plan B. (V & Z)
The GOP has backed itself into something of a corner when it comes to the federal budget for 2017-18. Namely:
One of these three problems has to give, the question is which it will be.
In the House, the Republicans' biggest problem is getting on the same page, and mustering enough GOP votes in support of a budget resolution. They can do it without Democratic votes, in theory, but as of Wednesday night, the Republican votes just weren't there. House Republican leadership is confident they can get there, but they were also confident about the Obamacare repeal, so who knows? In the Senate, the issues are a little different. In view of filibuster rules, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) needs nine Democratic votes. He won't get many, but he may peel off enough Democrats who are facing tough reelections in red states. It is certainly possible that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gives the eight most vulnerable Democrats permission to vote with the Republicans to cover themselves. But the cloture vote will still fail then, 59 to 41.
The Democrats have some of their own reckoning to do. The base, particularly the Bernie Sanders liberal segment of it, wants the Party to show some uncharacteristic spine, and to stare the Republicans down. However, if the blue team does so, they could get the blame for a government shutdown. Presumably, party leaders know that the party in power usually gets the blame. However, they are likely also worried that the old rulebook has been thrown out in the era of Trump. Whatever happens, We should have a pretty good indication in a day or so since the deadline is midnight tomorrow. (Z)
In a searing indictment of Donald Trump delivered on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) condemned the President for using the term "fake news" to dismiss the actual truth and undermine the press. The 15-minute speech painted a picture of a world in which dictators are emboldened and free speech is under attack in many countries, in part due to Trump's giving a green light for doing so. Flake said Trump is a menace to freedom all over the world.
Trump is fond of calling the press "the enemy of the people" and Flake reminded listeners that that was Josef Stalin's calling card. The line was so poisonous that even Nikita Khrushchev, no friend of democracy, forbade its use.
The junior senator wasn't the only one who has lit into Trump of late. The state's senior senator, John McCain (R), wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post on Tuesday entitled: "Mr. President, stop attacking the press." McCain was slightly more polite than Flake, but the message was the same: Cut it out. McCain said that Trump's behavior is damaging democracies all over the world.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted Flake after his speech, saying he is only attacking the president to get attention. She pointed out that Flake recently visited Cuba, as if Flake, an extremely conservative Republican, were some kind of pinko Communist. In reality, he went there as part of an effort to ease travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans. (V)
Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated state representative Adam Jarchow (R) in a special election for a vacant state senate seat in rural Wisconsin Tuesday. The district, which borders Minnesota in the northeastern corner of the state, has been in Republican hands for decades. Donald Trump won the district by a resounding 17 points in 2016. Now, an unknown Democrat whose only experience in public office is being a member of a local school board, has knocked off a state representative in a deeply-red rural district by 11 points. Unlike the Alabama special election, where the Republicans ran a badly flawed candidate, Jarchow was a respected member of the state's lower house and he ran a good, well-funded campaign, but the energy on the Democratic side was enormous.
This hugely unexpected upset is the 34th Democratic pickup in this election cycle. Even in the special elections in which Republicans held on to the seat, the tallies were far closer than they were in 2016. If this is a harbinger of things the come, Republicans have to be more than a little nervous losing a rural district they have held for decades.
There is clearly a lesson for Democrats in Schachtner's win, but they have to pay attention. Schachtner is not a fire-breathing liberal who talked about how much she hates Donald Trump from sun-up to sun-down. She talked about her background in the area and her love of guns and hunting, and how it is important to help people when they are down. She also talked about dealing with the opioid crisis. The message is very plain: Democrats can win in rural areas but they can't run a campaign designed to increase turnout among San Francisco liberals. They have to address issues that resonate with the local electorate.
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) reacted to his party's loss by saying it was a "wake up call." He said that Republicans need to do a better job of touting their accomplishments, such as the fact that more people are working now that ever before.
Wisconsin will be the site of two very high profile reelection races in November: Walker's and that of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). In addition, many members of the state legislature are also on the ballot and Walker is clearly afraid Democrats may pick up more than this one state senate seat. (V)
Ever since Caifornia adopted Louisiana's jungle primary system, the top two finishers in the all-party primary make it to the general election. Republicans are now worried that their failure to coalesce around a gubernatorial candidate and a senatorial candidate may mean that in the general election, both candidates for governor and both candidates for senator may be Democrats. With no Republicans on the ballot for the top jobs, Republican turnout is certain to be depressed, and that could mean that many of the state's 14 Republican representatives in the U.S. House could lose, simply because their supporters didn't think it was worth the trouble of voting.
Ron Nehring, a former California GOP chairman, said that the top of the ticket drives turnout, and if no Republicans are on it, the election will be bad news. He also had nothing good to say about tough-guy Republicans in bulletproof districts in other states who have been saying that if Californians don't like the tax increases they will see as a result of the limits placed on deducting state and local taxes, they should move to Texas.
Another problem California Republicans have is the rapidly changing demographics of districts the GOP has to defend. For example, Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) is in a district (CA-45) that has grown by 33,000 people since the 2010 census, and 30,000 of them are nonwhite. Nonwhites vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Similarly, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) is in a district (CA-10) that has grown by 21,000 people since the census, and 17,000 of them are nonwhite. The DCCC is well aware that control of the House runs through California, so it moved its western operations center to Los Angeles. (V)
With Russiagate, Blabbergate, Faceliftgate, Pu**ygate, and Shitholegate already in his pocket, Donald Trump is piling up so many gates that he will soon need only Bill to complete the set. On Wednesday, Cheatergate—his alleged affair with, and hush payment to, porn star Stormy Daniels—was in the spotlight. It turns out that years before Daniels signed an NDA with Trump, she sat for an interview with celebrity gossip magazine InTouch in which she spilled (some of) the beans about the affair. The publication shelved the story, because they decided readers wouldn't be too interested in a story about a philandering reality TV star's tryst with a porn actress. A story about a philandering president's tryst with a porn actress, by contrast, is a winner. So, the magazine's editors dusted off the 2011 story and are running it in this week's issue.
Their website contains only a preview; to get the full story requires purchasing a paper copy of the magazine. We live to serve, so we coughed up the $3.99 to get the dirt. And although Daniels has suggested she knows details about the presidential...button that would prove her account, the inTouch interview is fairly tame. The four most salacious revelations:
In Touch is not the only publication working on this story now. Slate's editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg also has a piece on it, and it's free. In the summer of 2016, he was tipped off about the affair and talked to Daniels personally as well as to multiple friends of hers, all of whom told a consistent story. Daniels also showed him the nondisclosure agreement Trump wanted her to sign.
Daniels was willing to provide her story to Slate but only for money, which Slate was not willing to offer. Weisberg didn't go with the story because he had no proof. When money was not forthcoming from Slate, Daniels began talking to other media outlets, including Good Morning America. There appear to be something like a half dozen media outlets that knew about the story in 2016 but didn't publish it because they didn't have hard proof. It is only when the Wall Street Journal ran a story on it last week that the details are beginning to leak out. If Trump continues to deny it, those denials should probably filed in the same folder as Bill Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman" remark.
So far, Melania Trump has been completely silent about the whole matter of Trump cheating on her repeatedly just after she gave birth to their son. Notably, she didn't immediately jump to his defense the way Hillary did for Bill about 20 years ago. Of course, this could be due to the fact that she is constitutionally ineligible to run for president, being foreign born. Still, it is hard to imagine she is a happy camper at this point. (Z & V)
Since last week, when the possibility of Oprah Winfrey as a 2020 presidential candidate became a little more likely, a number of polls have been conducted on the question. And their message is clear: She'd be a great candidate for the blue team. Unless she wouldn't be.
Arguing against an Oprah run is that interest in her as a candidate appears to be tepid. Only 38% of voters would like to see her throw her hat into the ring. Further, in hypothetical primary matchups, she trails Sen. Bernie Sanders by 9 points (46-37) and Joe Biden by a staggering 23 points (54-31). She's also unpopular with Donald Trump's base. Our researchers are looking into exactly what the problem might be, but in any case, she's not likely to peel off too many of the voters that the Democrats need to retake the rust belt states they lost.
Arguing for an Oprah run is that she appears to be the most popular woman in the field, leading Sen. Elizabeth Warren by 4 points (39-35) and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand by 21 (44-23). And in the most important matchup of them all, every poll has her leading Donald Trump, by anywhere from 2 to 6 points. In short, if Oprah decides to run, she'll have some pretty good reasons. And if she chooses not to run, she'll have some pretty good reasons. (Z)