Jul. 11

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Another Volley Fired in the U.S.-China Trade War

If Donald Trump is bluffing about his tariffs on Chinese goods, there's no indication of it. On Tuesday, as promised, the administration announced it is preparing to impose a 10% duty on an additional $200 billion in Chinese exports. The actual list of goods that will be targeted in Round 2 was released by trade representative Robert Lighthizer and includes thousands and thousands of items. Among them:

In other words, it's pretty thorough. Undoubtedly, any fool who thought they would sneak some sillimanite into the country by claiming it's not calcined will be disappointed, though the powerful mounted prism lobby (aka Big Prism) is going to be thrilled. And while shoes for horses are on the list, shoes for humans—like, say, the ones that Ivanka Trump imports from China and sells—somehow avoided inclusion. Very interesting.

Not too many people were happy when they saw the new list. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued a statement in which he declared that, "We cannot turn a blind eye to China's mercantilist trade practices, but this action falls short of a strategy that will give the administration negotiating leverage with China while maintaining the long-term health and prosperity of the American economy." The National Retail Federation which, politically speaking, is not exactly a hippie commune, also issued a statement in which it said that, "Tariffs on such a broad scope of products make it inconceivable that American consumers will dodge this tax increase as prices of everyday products will be forced to rise."

At the moment, the Trump administration's list is open for public comment, though it is hard to imagine they actually care what the public has to say. Perhaps there will be a spirited debate over whether Chinese water chestnuts really should receive special protection over Mont Blanc and dwarf chestnuts. No exact start date has been set for the new tariffs, all that it known is that it will be sometime after August 30.

That said, China has already responded, making clear that they will retaliate (again) as soon as the new duties take effect (or maybe sooner). They only import about $130 billion in American goods per year, so they won't be able to respond on a one-for-one basis. However, they have other tools at their disposal, including making it hard for American companies that do business with China, pulling the strings on Kim Jong-Un, and partnering with other nations to push back against "trade hegemony" (as the Chinese are calling it). And Xi Jinping knows that the midterms are on November 6, so he's certainly going to time things to try and make sure the pain is felt before that date. In short, this looks like it's going to get ugly. (Z)

Trump Administration Blows Deadline

On the orders of federal judge Dana Sabraw, the Trump administration was supposed to—by the close of business on Tuesday—reunite all separated children under the age of five with their parents. To nobody's surprise, the administration didn't make the deadline. In fact, they didn't even come close. Out of 102 children that the order applied to, a grand total of 4 were actually returned to their parents in time.

Team Trump claims that, of the remaining 98 children, only 50 or so are actually eligible to be reunited with their parents. The primary reason for this, they say, is that the parents have been discovered to have criminal records or other black marks on their records. Of course, even if it's 4 out of 50 as opposed to 4 out of 102, that's still a pretty meager batting average. Nonetheless, Sabraw said he was persuaded progress was being made, and his only response (thus far) was to order a full update on the situation at 3:00 p.m. EDT Thursday afternoon. It's possible the judge really was convinced the administration is doing its best, and it's possible he actually doesn't have much he can do in terms of punishing them. A judge can't, for example, put a president in jail for contempt of court.

In any case, this story is in a holding pattern for at least a couple of days. We will see what happens if the administration is still making limited progress when the next deadline arrives, though the real judgment day is July 26, by which 2,900 kids aged 5-19 are supposed to be reunited with their families. (Z)

Everyone Has an Opinion About Kavanaugh

In the 24 hours after Donald Trump unveiled Brett Kavanaugh as his pick to replace Anthony Kennedy, folks across the spectrum weighed in with their views. If nothing else, it is clear that—due to the Judge's long, and perhaps somewhat checkered past—there are a lot of angles to look at. A sampling:

Liberal-leaning Commentators

Conservative-leaning Commentators

So, there you have it. Some pretty decent, well-argued pieces from both sides of the aisle. And also a piece from Fox News. Given how much paperwork Kavanaugh has produced in his career, it's not yet clear exactly when his confirmation hearings will be able to move forward. But when they do, the 99 Senators (or 100, maybe) will have no shortage of opinions to consider. (Z)

NBC Reporter Blows It

Part of the news business these days is keeping engaged with readers via social media platforms like Twitter. That means that reporters often update their online followers with information that hasn't been fully processed. So it was on Tuesday with NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell, who issued (and then deleted) a tweet saying that the Trump Administration and Anthony Kennedy had made a deal that Brett Kavanaugh (Kennedy's former clerk) would be the pick to replace Kennedy. Here is Caldwell's deletion announcement, which also includes the text of the original tweet:

I’ve deleted this tweet because it incorrectly implies a transactional nature in Kennedy’s replacement. I am told by a source who was not directly part of the talks that Kennedy provided Pres. Trump/ WH a list of acceptable replacements. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/ptxJmrbH9S

— Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC) July 10, 2018

Assuming that Caldwell's original claim was true, it would be a problem, for two reasons. First, because such a quid pro quo would represent a serious breach of the separation of branches of government. Second, because such an arrangement would, in effect, subject a Supreme Court seat to the will of a single person (Kennedy) for 50 or 60 years.

As the Washington Post's Erik Wemple points out, it's not exactly clear what Caldwell's correction means. That is to say, her original tweet was unambiguous, so it is hard to grasp how and why her reporting changed so dramatically. And the great likelihood is that there was at least some amount of truth in her original claim. Kennedy surely made his opinion known, and he must have had some assurance about who was under consideration as his replacement before he decided to retire. White House spokesman Raj Shah was on MSNBC yesterday, and he did not deny that this is true.

The questions are exactly how much input Kennedy had, and exactly how clear the assurances he received were. Unlike the members of the Trump administration, he's careful enough (and ethical enough) that he probably didn't cross any lines. Still, the matter is worth taking a look at, just to make certain. But now, thanks to the misfire by Caldwell, the right-wing media has already jumped all over the story, with sites like The National Review, Fox News and The Daily Wire holding the incident out as an example of "fake news" and "liberal bias" and "the reason people hate the press." So, the story is now effectively poisoned fruit, and it's highly unlikely that anyone will ever look at the smoke, just in case, to see if there is any fire. (Z)

Trump Administration Takes Another Swing at Obamacare

Donald Trump ran on a promise to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with "something terrific." Since he was elected, the "something terrific" part has been forgotten, and the focus has just been on getting rid of Obamacare. As the midterms loom, the GOP is now left with a choice: (1) Do what they can to deliver on that promise, at the risk of hurting some (or many) constituents, or (2) Let Obamacare (and perhaps a few thousand Americans) live, and go into the midterms having failed to deliver on (yet another) core promise.

Team Trump clearly prefers option #1, as they have taken a number of steps this week to cut Obamacare off at the knees. On Saturday, they announced that they would (illegally) stop making "balance" payments to insurers that racked up unusually high costs in the last year. And on Tuesday, as expected, they said the federal government would provide only $10 million in funding to support open enrollment into 2019 policies. By way of comparison, the Obama administration provided $63 million in such funding in 2016, so that represents a cut of more than 80% in just two years.

The timing here surely is not coincidental. To the extent it is possible, the GOP is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. That is to say, they are taking steps that will allow them to say "we slayed Obamacare" before the midterms hit, but whose consequences will (they hope) manifest only after the midterms hit. It's a pretty touchy juggling act, and we shall see how voters feel, given that Obamacare has only grown in popularity since the 44th president left office. (Z)

Who Is More Elitist?

American mythology says that politicians are supposed to be hardworking yeoman farmers with no book learnin' but with lots of common sense. This despite the fact that George Washington owned vast amounts of land worked by hundreds of his slaves, John Adams was a Harvard grad who spoke four languages, Thomas Jefferson was another wealthy slave owner and a polymath, and a large number of presidents 4 through 45 were Brahmins born to wealthy and/or prominent families and educated at the finest schools (including six Harvard men, five Yalies, three grads of the military academies, and alumni of Duke, Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, Penn, Virginia, and Columbia).

This attitude doesn't hold in other countries. In France, politicians are usually intellectuals who went to the best schools and have a thorough grasp of government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a Ph.D. in quantum chemistry, UK Prime Minister (for now) Theresa May went to Oxford, and even Vlad Putin (falsely) claims to have a Ph.D in economics. But in America, being an elite has always been something of a liability for political leaders, and never more so in the Trump era (despite the fact that Trump himself is an Ivy League-educated billionaire with a taste for private jets and gold bathroom fixtures). We are seeing this play out in the Missouri Senate race big time right now.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is in the fight of her life with Missouri AG Josh Hawley. McCaskill married a very wealthy real estate developer, has a posh condo and a private jet that she uses to criss-cross Missouri while campaigning. Hawley has been depicting her as an out-of-touch wealthy elite who has little in common with the people of Missouri. She has responded that her husband has lived the American Dream. He didn't start out wealthy, but worked hard and built a successful company. In the process, he created large numbers of jobs for the people of Missouri. Why should this somehow disqualify her from being a senator?

McCaskill also loves to point out that Hawley is the pot calling the kettle black. He has degrees from Stanford and Yale. She went to the good ol' University of Missouri. Wasn't that good enough for Hawley? Furthermore, she worked her way through college with a part-time job as a waitress. She also notes that after her divorce, she was making $65,000 and had three children to support. Hawley has retorted that he had to take out loans to pay for Stanford and Yale.

McCaskill, the fifth wealthiest senator, is trying to avoid making the campaign about who is more elite or who has more money. She harps constantly on the point that Missouri Republicans have essentially purged all the centrists and are now a hard-right party who want to take away people's health care. She also refused to condemn Donald Trump for anything and resists some of her party's signature issues, like Medicare for All and a $15/hr minimum wage. She knows that in 2016, thousands of Missourians voted for both Trump and Senate candidate Jason Kander (D). Those are the voters she is focused on winning. Polls show the race close to tied. (V)

Tim Ryan Weighs a New Challenge to Nancy Pelosi

A number of House Democratic candidates in red districts have said they will not vote for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as speaker. If the Democrats end up with a razor-thin majority in the House and half a dozen Democrats defect from Pelosi to keep campaign promises, she could lose, because the speaker is elected by the entire House, meaning that 218 votes are needed to win. In contrast, the Senate majority leader needs only half of his own caucus plus one vote.

Sensing that Pelosi may fall a couple of votes short, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is considering another run for the speakership. In 2016, one-third of the Democratic caucus supported him as a party leader and that could easily get better next time. But Ryan is not the only Democrat interested in moving up the totem pole. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), who is #4, lost his primary to a young progressive Latina, and that is giving a lot of House Democrats ideas. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the head of the DCCC, has made it known that if the Democrats win the House, that will be largely due to his efforts and he wouldn't mind becoming whip as a well-deserved reward. California Democrats Reps. Linda Sánchez and Barbara Lee are both clearly interested in Crowley's job. The current leadership of Pelosi and Reps. Steny Hoyer (MD) and Jim Clyburn (SC) has been in place for a decade and many of the younger members sense this is the moment for a clean slate.

The next few weeks could be crucial, as members jockey for position and try to line up votes. More moderate Democrats, such as Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL) are also interested in moving up. One prominent House Democrat, Joe Kennedy (MA), has taken himself out of the running, but at 37 it isn't exactly "now or never" for him. In short, there is a lot going on under the radar in the House Democratic caucus, and we are not likely to know whether there will be a changing of the guard until after the midterms, when the dust has settled. (V)

The Brits Turn Trump Trolling into an Art Form

The giant "Trump Baby" balloon is already a done deal, and will fly over Parliament while Donald Trump is in town. Now, anti-Trumpers in the UK (of which there are many) are looking for other ways to make a few headlines. And their new focus: The British singles charts.

"Huh?" you might say. Well, at least a decade ago, activists of various stripes realized that it doesn't take that much sales volume in most weeks to put a particular song at the top of the charts, and that if enough people purchase the same song within a span of a couple of days, there's an opportunity to make a statement. The most famous success of this scheme came in April of 2013 when, immediately following the death of Margaret Thatcher, liberal Britons managed to push "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead!" (from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz) to the top of the charts. This time, the song that activists are trying to propel upward is...Green Day's 2004 tune "American Idiot." The song is currently up to #18 on the UK charts, but is facing strong headwinds in the form of a gaggle of singles by Drake and a trio of songs associated with soccer's World Cup. There are roughly three days left for the Brits behind the stunt to pull it off, if they can. (Z)

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