Jan. 21

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

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Both Sides Entrench in Shutdown Fight

The federal government has already shut down, but Americans won't really begin to feel it until Monday morning. That means that there is roughly 48 hours of breathing room, which is a lifetime by the standards of 21st century Washington—time enough to pass a budget, a tax bill, and two or three Obamacare repeals. Given the apparent lack of pressure, then, partisans on both sides predictably spent Saturday posturing and making zero progress in terms of resolving the situation.

At this point, the two parties have made their positions and their talking points crystal clear. The Republicans say they will not discuss DACA and the dreamers until a budget agreement (at least a temporary one) is in place. The White House fully supports that position, at least until Donald Trump changes his mind. The GOP argument is that the Democrats are using parliamentary tricks in order to put the needs of non-citizen undocumented immigrants above those of citizens. For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), conveniently forgetting the four members of his own caucus who voted "nay" on Friday night, angrily declared that, "What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible, political games." Similarly, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short offered up some characteristic Republican spin:

It is kind of hard to understand. When you're holding our troops hostage and essentially denying services to law-abiding Americans and denying funding to our border agents, how you can negotiate on DACA during that?

There is a fair bit of dishonesty here, of course. Even if the government shuts down, as it already has, neither the armed forces nor the border patrol ceases performing their duties. However, complaining about IRS offices and national parks closing down is considerably less sexy, and much less likely to make Republican voters' blood boil.

The Democratic spin, by contrast, has several elements to it. They continue to observe, first of all, that the Republicans control the entire government. That, in fact, this is the first ever shutdown when one party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Thus, the blue team concludes that the shutdown is entirely the fault of the red team. Further, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spent his time Saturday making sure that the blame falls particularly on Trump. "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with jello, it is next to impossible," he said at a press conference. The Minority Leader also engaged in a bit of psychological warfare, suggesting that Trump badly wants to make a deal, but that he is yielding to Chief of Staff John Kelly and other hardliners within the administration. Schumer knows, of course, that Trump hates to be seen as taking orders from anyone. The other key element of the Democrats' take is their argument that the Republicans have had plenty of time to negotiate about DACA while a temporary budget resolution was in place, and they chose not to talk. Thus, there is no particular reason to expect progress on DACA should a fourth stop-gap resolution be passed.

So, what happens next? Nobody knows, of course. McConnell has scheduled a vote on the House's budget resolution—which would fund the government for three more weeks—for 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. That is pretty much the drop-dead time, if nothing is passed at that point the government shutdown will become "real" just hours later, and the Congressional game of chicken will grow much more fraught. Of course, scheduling a vote like that—particularly in a way that fires a shot across the bow of the Democrats—does nothing to resolve the problems that torpedoed Friday's vote. There remain those four GOP "nay" votes—Sens. Jeff Flake (AZ), Rand Paul (KY), Mike Lee (UT), and Lindsey Graham (SC), who have given no indication they are planning to change their minds. There also remains the fact that the Democrats would get killed by their base if they caved with no concessions being made. So if McConnell does nothing on Sunday to change the equation, well, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

In fact, while the truism that Sunday night is the "real" deadline gives McConnell a bit of extra leverage, it actually looks like the situation is otherwise getting more and more difficult to resolve. Both sides think they have a winner to take to their respective bases during the 2018 campaign. For the GOP, it's something along the lines of, "The Democrats care only about foreigners, and nothing about salt-of-the-earth, hardworking white Americans." For the Democrats, it's something like, "We are willing to stand up to the Republicans when they try to hurt innocent people to advance their own ends." It's not a coincidence that the senators who are most seriously thinking about a presidential run—Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR)—are the most vocal proponents of holding the line. Naturally, a circumstance where a shutdown has become very personal, and at the same time appears to both sides to be politically advantageous, is a circumstance where federal employees should probably start making plans for their unexpected day off on Monday. (Z)

Who Will Be Blamed for the Shutdown?

Politico talked to more than a dozen pundits of various stripes to get their views on which party will be blamed for the shotdown of the federal government, particularly if it lingers on into the workweek. Their answers were, not surprisingly, all over the place. The executive summary:

Right-leaning pundits:

Left-leaning pundits:

Roughly speaking, that's 5 votes for the GOP getting the blame, 4 votes for both sides, and 1 vote for the Democrats taking the fall. Those numbers are pretty much in agreement with what the polls are saying, namely that there will be plenty of blame to go around, but that the larger share will be heaped upon the Republicans. (Z)

Women March on One-Year Anniversary of Trump Inauguration

Many women voters, as you may have heard, are not too fond of President Donald Trump. And in case you had forgotten since the last Women's March, here are a few of those "pussy" hats to remind you.

Pussy hat march

The marchers certainly haven't forgotten, and millions of them convened again on Saturday to reiterate the point. "Hundreds of thousands" marched in Washington, while the Chicago event drew 300,000, New York City 120,000, and Los Angeles a staggering 600,000. There were also rallies in Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco, Denver, and several overseas locales, while some cities—most notably Las Vegas—will have marches on Sunday. In general, the turnouts were similar to those seen during last year's Women's March.

Does this have significance, election-wise? Almost certainly. Midterm elections are all about enthusiasm and turning out the base. These marches make clear that anger with Trump and/or the GOP has staying power, and is not merely powered by post-election shell shock. Clearly, a sizable portion of the Democratic base remains energized and highly engaged. This squares with polls that show "generic Democrat" leading "generic Republican" in Congressional races by nearly 20 points, the highest figure since such information was first collected in 1938. Similarly, a new poll from the Pew Research Center reveals that 69% of Democrats and 83% of liberal Democrats are "looking forward" to the midterms, compared to 58% of Republicans and 61% of conservative Republicans. That's what we call an enthusiasm gap, and that 22% divide between the partisans who are most likely to show up and vote is particularly significant. It's still more than nine months to November 6, but at the moment, the evidence points strongly to a Democratic wave. (Z)

Pat Meehan's Career Is Probably Over

Speaking of women speaking up, another member of Congress has been busted for sexual misconduct. This time it's Pat Meehan (R-PA), who was accused of sexual harassment by a former aide. He denies it, but the accusations were substantive enough that he paid a settlement out of his office budget, and that his colleagues have now removed him from his seat on the House ethics committee.

The loss of the ethics seat leaves Meehan with only one committee assignment, as a low-ranking member of Ways and Means, and even that one may be in jeopardy. There is also pressure on him to resign, though he may resist, since he is not independently wealthy and so likely needs the paycheck. Even if he hangs on, though, he was already looking at a tough reelection fight in his R+1 district, where a number of Democrats are chomping at the bit for the chance to face him. Add it up, and a "leaning Republican" seat has likely moved into tossup territory, and maybe even into "leaning Democratic" territory. (Z)

Why Isn't the Stormy Daniels Story Bigger?

The story about Donald Trump's relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels has all kinds of elements to it that should bother GOP voters. He committed multiple acts of adultery. That certainly should bother the evangelicals. His lawyer set up a shell corporation just weeks before the election in order to make (and hide) a hush payment to Daniels. That certainly should bother the people who voted for the swamp to be drained. And yet, Cheatergate seems to have done no harm whatsoever to The Donald, and already appears to be in the rear-view mirror and fading fast.

CNN's Chris Cillizza takes a stab at why the story didn't have staying power, and he comes up with three theories. First, that with their denials, Daniels and Team Trump managed to create doubt and muddy the waters. Second, that the story is a bit too tabloidish for the mainstream media. And third, that the general public is desensitized to The Donald's bad behavior when it comes to women.

Cillizza's third theory, as he himself notes, is almost certainly the right one (or, at least, the rightest one). There is absolutely nothing about the story that should come as a surprise to anyone who has any familiarity with Trump. He has sex with porn stars? He's bragged about that in the past on Howard Stern's radio show. He uses his money to pay for sex, or to buy his way out of problems? That's been part of his M.O. for decades. He cheated on Melania? Since he cheated on his first two wives, and boasted openly about it, there is no reason to think he wouldn't cheat on the third.

Indeed, the evidence is now overwhelming that the Trump marriage is one of convenience, with little real romantic attachment. There's the cheating, of course. And the fact that the Trumps often reside in different cities. And the fact that even when they are both in Washington, they stay in different bedrooms—a first since JFK (who was, not coincidentally, another philanderer). There's also the body language when they are together, which is something less than affectionate. Of course, only they (and perhaps a few other insiders) know for sure, but this certainly wouldn't be the first presidential marriage to be a business arrangement more than a romantic pairing. Which means that Donald Trump might actually have something in common with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, beyond being from New York and being willing to use executive orders to scapegoat specific immigrant groups. (Z)

Experts Wonder About Trump's Doctor

At the start of this week, Donald Trump's government-appointed physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, gave the President a ringing endorsement. A little too ringing, perhaps. Jackson opined that Trump has "incredible genes," "more energy than just about anybody," "no cognitive or mental issues whatsoever," and, but for want of a healthier diet, "might live to be 200 years old." Jackson also used the word "excellent" nearly a dozen times in his assessment.

Now that there's been a little time to digest, medical professionals who witnessed the performance have expressed concern. First, because the language that Jackson used was exceedingly unscientific, and inappropriately laden with value judgments that are more propaganda than they are clinical results. Second, because he is apparently willing to say things at odds with the evidence, like declaring an overweight person with high blood pressure to be "the picture of health." Third, because the test he used to judge mental capacity is not at all suited to the sweeping conclusions that he has reached.

So, what is going on here? Since Jackson has been on the job for years, it cannot be the case that he's another Harold Borstein, handpicked and paid to do Trump's bidding. The best explanation is that anyone in Trump's orbit knows what side their bread is buttered on, and is influenced by a combination of charisma and intimidation to go over the top, for fear of losing their place in his orbit. The Donald's talent at bending people to his will, his way of seeing things, and his style in expressing himself is undoubtedly a big—and probably overlooked—part of his meteoric rise to vast political power. (Z)

Tom Cotton Takes the Ostrich Routine to New Extremes

During the debate over the Obamacare repeal, many members of the GOP developed ninja-like skills when it came to avoiding their constituents. That included sneaking out of town halls, avoiding public events, and finding ways to surround themselves exclusively with donors and/or sycophants. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has taken things to a new level, however, sending some of his constituents cease-and-desist letters in which they are instructed never to contact him or his office again.

The particular letter that landed this story in newspapers was sent to Stacey Lane, a Democratic activist and member of resistance group Ozark Indivisible, who is in the habit of calling her senator's office whenever a key vote comes up. Largely, she and Cotton's staff do not disagree on the sequence of events that led to the cease-and-desist: Lane called regularly, and used salty language, possibly including the word c**t. Team Cotton found her verbiage offensive, she says that it's no worse than the language the President uses.

Lane is, apparently, not the only constituent to receive such a letter. Further, the Senator also maintains an extensive do-not-call list of people who are to be disconnected if they try to reach his office. At best, this looks weaselly and cowardly. At worst, it is illegal. Cotton has a legal right to take action if he feels that he (or his staff) has been threatened, but that clearly did not happen here. He can also, in theory, take action against slanderous language, but that does not apply either. Consequently, what he appears to be doing is stifling political speech, something that he—as part of the federal government—is forbidden from doing, thanks to a minor federal code called the First Amendment. As a Republican in red Arkansas, Cotton should have a job for life if he wants it. But between this and his dubious defense of Trump during Shitholegate, he's doing just about everything he can to make things interesting. He's probably lucky that he's not up for reelection this year. (Z)

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