May 14

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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Trump Pledges to Save Jobs--in China

For a change of pace, instead of railing about how China is stealing American jobs, yesterday Trump publicly worried about America killing Chinese jobs. Specifically, the Chinese company ZTE shipped critical chips to North Korea and Iran and was sanctioned by the U.S. for doing so. As a consequence of losing access to the U.S. market, ZTE shut down, causing jobs—in China—to be lost. Trump now wants to bail the company out.

But it is even worse. The CIA has long believed that ZTE telecommunications equipment comes equipped with hardware and software to spy on its users and report back to China. For this reason, cybersecurity experts have argued that ZTE products should be permanently banned from the U.S. If Trump now relaxes the sanctions, the Chinese will presumably once again be able to spy on Americans. In short, Trump is apparently now trying to save Chinese jobs and help China spy on Americans. At the very least, this is unusual behavior for a U.S. president. Of course, if Trump is merely using ZTE as a bargaining chip to get major concessions from China in other areas, it could be a brilliant ploy, but it might be best to reserve judgment until those concessions surface. (V)

Giuliani Backtracks, Again

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is an unwavering Trump supporter, is generally good on TV, and is willing to say whatever it takes to sell the party line. The President likes all of these things. What the Donald does not like, however, is underlings who embarrass him. What the Donald likes even less is underlings who make him look guilty of bad behavior. So, an underling who embarrasses Trump and makes him look guilty of bad behavior is really aggravating.

This, of course, is what Rudy Giuliani has done—twice. The first occasion came when "America's Mayor" went on Sean Hannity's show and said that yes, of course Trump knew about the $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford). That admission not only all-but-confirms the affair, but it also raises the strong possibility that Trump committed a crime. Oops! That mess still hasn't been cleaned up.

The second occasion, meanwhile, came just a few days ago, when Giuliani told the Huffington Post that the President personally blocked the planned merger between AT&T and Time Warner. Giuliani said this because he was responding to news that Trump fixer Michael Cohen had collected $600,000 from the telecom giant, and he (Giuliani) wanted to make clear that it was not a bribe. The problems are that (1) If Trump did intervene in the merger, that would be pretty serious interference with the business of the Dept. of Justice, and (2) The administration has already claimed that Trump was not involved in the decision to block the merger. This forced Giuliani to change his story; now he says the President did not personally block the merger.

In short, since he joined Trump's legal team two weeks ago, Giuliani has made an awful lot of the wrong kind of headlines. Given his age (73), and these rather serious errors, and the fact that his personality seems to be so different than it was in 2001, and the very noticeable head injury he suffered in 2016, some folks have raised an entirely reasonable question about Rudy: Is something wrong? Giuliani says that such questions are "extremely insulting," while close friends say that this kind of freewheeling, shoot-from-the-hip style has been his calling card for decades. This may all be true, but if Giuliani does not rein it in pronto, he may learn—as Anthony Scaramucci did—that there's room in the White House for only one brash, unfiltered New Yorker who says whatever the heck comes into his head. (Z)

Some Republican Senate Targets Are Fading Fast

Ten Democratic senators are running for reelection in states Donald Trump won. Initially, Republicans were licking their lips at the possibility of picking up 10 Senate seats, which would give them 61 seats in the Senate. That would be enough to invoke cloture on any bill, making it possible to pass legislation without first getting permission from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough (who determines what is and what is not allowable on budget reconciliation bills). That hope has now turned to dust. Republicans might yet pick up Senate seats, but not 10 of them, because five seats are now steep climbs for them. Here is the story on them:

The other five states where incumbent Democrats are running are a much bigger problem for the Democrats. The toughest fights for the blue team are in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Florida, probably in that order, with Indiana and Missouri vying for the Republicans' best shot at knocking off an incumbent. (V)

How to Be the Next Trump

Donald Trump is sui generis, no doubt about that. Nevertheless, current and future politicians are probably taking note of things that may be different in the future as a result of his campaign and presidency. Axios has compiled a short list of things to keep in mind.

Of course, history rarely repeats itself and just like 2016 wasn't 2012, 2020 is probably not going to be a rerun of 2016. (V)

Trump Administration, "Saturday Night Live" Have Something in Common

The Daily Beast has a brief, but interesting piece about the leakers in the White House. Apparently, their motivations are numerous: settling scores, venting frustration, trying to give the public an accurate sense of what's going on in the White House, trying to win policy debates, and trying to achieve their goals by bringing public pressure (i.e., Fox News) to bear on the President among them.

Perhaps the most interesting thing, though, is the steps the leakers take to protect their identities. Virtually all major media outlets have set up different ways of submitting information anonymously. The New York Times, for example, gives tipsters the option of using WhatsApp, Signal, encrypted e-mail, anonymous postal mail, or SecureDrop. However, many insiders fear that they will still be recognized by telltale stylistic clues, like characteristic word choices, or idiosyncratic grammar/spelling, or the like. In other words, the same kinds of clues that allow everyone above the age of six to guess with 99.9% accuracy which tweets Donald Trump wrote and which one he didn't. In order to get around this, many White House tipsters have gotten in the habit of trying to impersonate their colleagues' writing styles, so that if someone tries to figure out "who wrote this?" they will guess wrong. For example, Sarah Huckabee Sanders might submit leaks written in the style of John Kelly, or Stephen Miller might submit leaks written in the style of Jeff Sessions, or Ivanka Trump might submit leaks written in the style of Jared Kushner. The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps this kind of chicanery is inevitable when a chief executive adopts a leadership style rooted in antagonism and backbiting between his underlings. Of course, it's not like Trump does not know a little about impersonating others for benefit of the press, since he used to "leak" flattering information about himself to the press under the pseudonyms "John Barron" and "John Miller." And the Donald got the idea from his father Fred, who preferred the pseudonym "Mr. Green." So, when White House staffers leak to the press, all they are really doing is honoring a time-honored Trump family tradition. (Z)

Key Supreme Court Rulings Expected Soon

The Supreme Court has finished all the oral arguments for this term and the justices are busy writing their opinions, which will be released in the next few weeks. Five of them stand out as having major political implications. Here they are:

Any one of these could cause a firestorm and the combination of the five could set off a really big one, energizing one party or the other in November by reminding everyone how important the Supreme Court is, and by implication, how important control of the Senate is. (V)

Chafee May Rise from the Ashes

In 2006, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) toppled then-Senator Lincoln Chafee by hitting him from the left. Rhode Island was basically purple for decades, but had turned blue by the early 2000s, such that even a moderate Republican incumbent like Chafee wasn't safe. Since then, Chafee has switched parties (twice), served as governor of his home state, and run a not-very-successful presidential campaign.

Given the former senator's age (65), and how very badly his presidential bid went, it appeared that his political career was over. But maybe reports of his political death were premature. It seems that some Rhode Islanders find Whitehouse to be a little too right-wing for their tastes, particularly when it comes to his votes on military matters. So, an effort to draft Chafee to run for his old seat has emerged, and he says there's a 90% chance he'll toss his hat into the ring. For this run, Chafee's base would be Bernie Sanders' political network, and so what we would have is a situation in which a former senator will try to reclaim his seat by running to the left of a senator who dethroned him by running to his left. Clearly, the Rhode Island of 2018 is not your father's Rhode Island.

There is every reason to think that the Whitehouse-Chafee race could get pretty ugly, as the two men each try to make a case that he is the true lefty, and that he is the one who hates Donald Trump the most. This isn't likely to put the seat in play for the GOP, however. The Republican bench in Rhode Island is thin, Hillary Clinton won the state by 16 points, and Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary by 11 points. In other words, the Ocean State is now pretty much San Francisco East. (Z)

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