Insiders are saying that Donald Trump will sign the documents needed to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum this week, maybe even this afternoon. The tariffs won't go into effect for 2 weeks, since the statute that gives the president the authority to impose them requires this waiting period before U.S. Customs and Border Protection begins collecting the tariffs. The 2-week period will see incredible lobbying by congressional Republicans and foreign governments arguing that the tariffs will hurt the U.S. and world economies.
Imposing these tariffs was a key campaign issue, so Trump is unlikely to back down, although one theory floating around is that the main purpose of announcing the tariffs is to win the special election in PA-18 next Tuesday. If that is true, once the election is over, he could kill the plan. However, much of Trump's base would be angry if he double-crossed them, so even if the original idea was to influence the PA-18 election, Trump might well have to go through with the tariffs now to avoid angering his base.
Enacting the tariffs fulfills one campaign promise but makes another one much harder. Trump promised to bring back manufacturing jobs. While the steel and aluminum industries (which employ 140,000 people) will gain from them, the industries that use steel and aluminum (which employ 6.3 million people) will be hurt and will lay off workers. The net effect on jobs will be negative, and this is not even counting the job losses that will occur when other countries impose their own tariffs on American products. And if Trump responds to European, Chinese, and other tariffs with more tariffs, we could have a full-blown trade war, which would almost certainly mean more job losses and possibly a recession.
Late yesterday, White House sources suggested that Mexico and Canada might be exempt from the tariffs. Of course this exemption, if it happens, could lead to a potential loophole, with foreign producers shipping their products to Canada and then to the U.S. from there. (V)
Wall Street is not happy right now. They don't like that Gary "the voice of reason" Cohn quit as chair of the National Economic Council on Tuesday. They don't like the tariffs that are expected on Thursday. And so, on Wednesday, the stock market had a roller-coaster day, with the Dow Jones dropping as much as 349 points before finally closing down 82.
Today is likely to be another rough day, and market insiders are going to watch carefully to see who Cohn's replacement (to be named sometime in the next week) will be. If it's ultra-protectionist Peter Navarro, that will be taken as a sign that the tariffs are here to stay. In that case, the Dow will take a real tumble. Fortunately, should that come to pass, Trump has already told Americans whom to blame:
From Bush 1 to present, our Country has lost more than 55,000 factories, 6,000,000 manufacturing jobs and accumulated Trade Deficits of more than 12 Trillion Dollars. Last year we had a Trade Deficit of almost 800 Billion Dollars. Bad Policies & Leadership. Must WIN again! #MAGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2018
That's right; America's current economic situation is the fault (in part), of a president who left office a quarter century ago. How Millard Fillmore continues to escape scrutiny, meanwhile, we'll never know. (Z)
In Dec. 2016, first son-in-law Jared Kushner asked the Russia ambassador to help set up a back channel to communicate with Russia. Why such a channel was needed is not known, since there has been an official hotline between the Oval Office and the Kremlin for decades. The only plausible reason Kushner may have wanted a back channel is so he or Donald Trump could discuss things with top Russian officials that they didn't want U.S. intelligence to know about. This particular back channel was never set up.
But it now appears that wasn't the only attempt to set up an illicit communication channel. The Washington Post is now reporting on another secret meeting that may have been an attempt to set up the channel. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, helped set up a meeting between a top Russian banking official, Kirill Dmitriev, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, which hires mercenaries and does other politically sensitive business. Prince is a major Republican donor, the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and an acquaintance of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
The meeting took place in Jan. 2017 in Seychelles, a tropical paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean that the British used as a five-star jail for various kings and potentates until it became an independent country in 1976. Prince has testified to Congress that the meeting with Dmitriev was not about setting up a back channel to Russia, but Mueller has evidence from Nader that it was. No doubt a question on Mueller's mind is: "Why was the incoming administration so keen on setting up a secret channel to the Kremlin? What were they going to talk about that had to be kept from the CIA?" (V)
The GOP has several internal polls telling them that Rick Saccone (R) is now a slight underdog to Conor Lamb (D) in next week's election in PA-18 to replace the departed Rep. Tim Murphy. Further, Saccone is viewed favorably by only 47% of voters in the district, which is lower than the sinking Trump (50%), and speaks to a rather serious lack of enthusiasm that could hurt on Election Day. All of this is despite the fact that the RNC has dumped millions into the race to try to save Saccone.
Members of the red team are still hopeful that Saccone can pull it out. After all, PA-18 is an R +11 district that Trump won by 20 points. But just in case, party insiders are making sure to say an awful lot on the record about what a lousy candidate Saccone really is. They observe, for example, that he's kind of a schlub with little charisma, that he has no understanding of social media and produces embarrassing, cheesy campaign videos, that he has no knowledge of how to fundraise, and has hired hacks to work on his campaign. There is some merit to most of these critiques, but they certainly wouldn't be shared openly if the GOP wasn't trying desperately to manage expectations.
This weekend, Trump is expected to travel to Pennsylvania to campaign for Saccone. It will be interesting to see if the President actually follows through, however. He doesn't really need one more Republican in the House, and he certainly doesn't need the black eye of another failed endorsement (see Moore, Roy; Strange, Luther; et al.) Plus, there's golf to be played. (Z)
The political winds generated by Hurricane Maria are rapidly growing into a category 5 storm. In the past decade, 500,000 people have left Puerto Rico for the mainland, and a new study estimates that between 114,000 and 213,000 people will leave the island in 2018, with most of them going to Florida. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and are free to move to any state they wish by simply buying a plane ticket. Once they establish residency, they may register to vote. Most Puerto Ricans are Democrats, and virtually all of those leaving are furious with the federal government for the meager help the island has gotten after the hurricane struck. It is a safe bet they all know which party controls the government, and thus whom to blame.
Of course, if conditions finally improve, some of the migrants may go back. But Puerto Rico is very poor, with an average household income of $18,000 a year, half that of Mississippi, the poorest state. Once people have gotten used to the good life in Florida, even those who were originally planning to go back may decide to stay.
The political implications of this mass migration are obvious. Adding tens of thousands of Democratic voters to Florida is going to make it harder for Republicans to win elections in the Sunshine State. Not all of them will vote, of course, but the net effect is still a plus for the Democrats in a state that tends to have very close elections. (V)
California is ground zero for the Trump resistance, particularly on the issue of immigration. On Wednesday, the Trump administration struck back, suing to stop a number of so-called "sanctuary city" laws. Among these are statutes that: (1) prohibit private employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration law enforcement and requires the employers to give workers a heads up about potential worksite inspections, (2) restrict local law enforcement from sharing information about the release of criminal immigrants to federal agents and prohibits their transfer to federal custody, and (3) allow the state to inspect federal and Department of Homeland Security documents, which the Dept. of Justice considers off limits to local authorities. "Somebody needs to stand up and say, 'No, you've gone too far. You cannot do this.' This is not reasonable," announced AG Jeff Sessions.
If the goal of Team Trump was to re-assert government authority, then it's going to be a while until we see if they are successful. The administration is not likely to get a lot of support from the judges of the liberal Ninth Circuit, which means they better hope Anthony Kennedy likes their arguments, once the case gets that far. On the other hand, if the goal was to help California's Democrats in their runs for office this November, then Trump and Sessions succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Already, Golden State Democrats are all over this. Gov. Jerry Brown, for example:
At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!— Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov) March 7, 2018
It's worth noting that this is only the 10th tweet of the year from Brown; he jumps on the Twitter only when he has something big to get off his chest. State Senator Kevin de León, who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) from the left, also slammed the administration, giving an interview in which he opined that, "They are angry and they're upset, because we won't participate with them tearing apart honest, hard-working families." In fact, anyone who is anyone in California liberal politics managed to weigh in, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D), Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D), former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Treasurer John Chiang (D), and current Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti (D). It's not a coincidence that all those folks have plans to move up the political ladder in the near future, much like the dozen-plus Democratic congressional hopefuls who also spoke out against the lawsuit on Wednesday.
In short, like medical marijuana, or gay marriage, California's Democrats now have exactly the issue they need to get voters to the polls. Now if they can just figure out how a state whose economy is based mostly on agriculture, tourism, technology, and entertainment will be negatively impacted by a tariff on steel. Well, Superman is the man of steel, but that's about it. (Z)
Porn star Stormy Daniels (in reality, Stephanie Clifford), has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare her "hush-money deal" with Donald Trump null and void. She is prepared to return the $130,000 she got for signing it. The lawsuit is 28 pages long and is full of interesting details. Before getting into those details, it is worth noting that Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has provided two reasons why the judge should cancel the agreement:
The agreement contains an arbitration clause, so the judge has to first determine if the courts even have jurisdiction or the dispute should go to arbitration.
Now, some of the details. First, Daniels clearly states that she had an "intimate relationship" with Trump, starting in 2006 at Lake Tahoe and continuing into 2007, when the two had a "meeting" at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Trump has denied that the relationship existed and probably would not like to be put on the witness stand under oath to answer questions about it.
Second, Daniels asserts that Trump aggressively tried to silence her in order to win the election. That would make the hush money a(n illegal) campaign contribution, since it was money spent (and not reported) with the intention of influencing the election.
Third, and most important, the agreement, which is included in the legal filing verbatim, specifically forbids Daniels from "selling, transferring, licensing, publicly disseminating and/or exploiting the images and property..." Images? What images? Did/does Daniels have relevant "images" (technically known as "dirty pictures") relating to Trump? Is the whole point of her lawsuit, possibly with the return of the $130,000, to allow her to "exploit" said images? Is she betting that some publication might pay her more than $130,000 for the images? The agreement also gives Trump the right to create "derivative works" from said images. Might Daniels want to nullify the agreement so that she could create "derivative works?" Given her profession, one potential derivative work might be a DVD, in which she played herself and some actor (Alec Baldwin comes to mind) played Trump, reenacting some of the history. Sales of such a DVD could possibly bring in more than $130,000. If Daniels is serious about her lawsuit, Justice Anthony Kennedy is not going to be a happy camper when he gets to make the final call, as usual.
It would appear, incidentally, that Daniels was preparing to violate the non-disclosure agreement and to let the chips fall where they may, with the result that an attorney (Lawrence S. Rosen) representing Donald Trump's attorney (Michael Cohen) managed to secure a temporary restraining order against the porn star last week. Since there is little doubt at this point about the extramarital affair, it's clear that Daniels has something or knows something that Team Trump really does not want to see the light of day. (V)
No, this item is not about Missouri, where the governor is embroiled in a sex scandal. It is about "Sex and the City" actress Cynthia Nixon, who is planning a run against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) this year. Nixon is an unabashed liberal (and an openly bisexual woman who has been married to both men and women). She has attacked Cuomo as being too conservative and will run to his left if she makes the plunge. New York's primary is in mid-September, so she has a long time to turn her fame as an actress into votes.
No one expects her to defeat Cuomo, but her name recognition along with the votes of supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gives her a good chance to do better than Zephyr Teachout, a complete unknown with a difficult name, who got 33% of the primary vote against Cuomo in 2014. If Nixon hits 40%, that could put a real dent in Cuomo's chances in his expected 2020 presidential run.
If Nixon runs, her platform will be a long list of gripes the left has with Cuomo. These include his eliminating a tax on banks, cutting corporate taxes, attacking teachers, and generally being a tactical politician without deep-seated ideological views. While Hillary Clinton won the New York primary in 2016, Sanders did get 42% of the vote, and if all of Sanders voters go for Nixon, that will damage Cuomo considerably in 2020. (V)
Now it is time for a story about sex and a mayor. This time it is just your standard "mayor has an affair with an aide" story, but with a twist. The mayor in question is a woman. Democrat Megan Barry of Nashville, TN, has admitted to an affair with her chief bodyguard, Rob Forrest Jr. On Tuesday she resigned. Barry was widely regarded as a celebrity mayor, who had done a lot to upgrade the city's image and bring in more businesses and jobs.
Barry's resignation was not due to the affair itself, but due to her use of taxpayer money to carry it out and cover it up. She traveled a lot with Forrest, ostensibly promoting the city to companies that might want to invest there. The district attorney estimates that she used somewhere between $10,000 and $60,000 in city funds in the process. Part of the money went to large overtime payments to Forrest for guarding her body a bit too closely. In plea bargains, she agreed to reimburse the city for $11,000 and he agreed to return $45,000. Barry is married to Bruce Barry. Her maiden name is Megan Mueller, but she is not related to Robert Mueller. (V)
We seem to be on a run today. Tony Tooke, head of the U.S. Forest Service, whose mascot is Smokey the Bear, resigned yesterday amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The Dept. of Agriculture has known about Tooke's behavior for some time now and hired an outside investigator to look into it. The conclusion is that he had inappropriate relationships with multiple subordinates.
As far as we know, there were no stories about dogcatchers doing inappropriate things with their dogs yesterday, but we might have missed something given all the other news of this ilk. (V)
Quinnipiac University conducted a poll in which it asked voters who was the worst president since WW II? Donald Trump was the "winner," with 41% saying he is the worst. Second worst was Barack Obama at 21%, followed by Richard Nixon at 10%.
As to the best president, 28% said it was Ronald Reagan, with Obama close behind at 24%. Bill Clinton and John Kennedy tied for third place at 10% each. Poor Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman, the scholars' choices for the best presidents since World War II, both failed to break 5%. How soon we forget. (V)