Nov. 16

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New Senate: DEM 47     Ties 2     GOP 51

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Dem pickups: AZ NV
GOP pickups: IN MO ND

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Latest Election Updates

One of these days, every single one of the electoral contests staged on November 6 will be decided. Whether that day comes in a month ending with 'R,' however, is anyone's guess. In any event, there were developments on Thursday in many of the pending races.

The biggest and messiest story, of course, is Florida, where the deadline for a machine recount of the very, very close races for governor, U.S. Senator, and agricultural commissioner arrived on Thursday afternoon. Broward County, where 24,000 ballots suspiciously had no choice indicated for senator, blew the deadline by two minutes, and their updated numbers were rejected. Palm Beach didn't even try to submit, given that their counting machines melted down on Wednesday. Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, missed the deadline too. So, the original numbers from all three places were not updated as a result of the recount. No matter; the results were still close enough that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner (R) ordered a hand recount, consistent with state law. The deadline for that to be completed, in theory, is Sunday.

We say "in theory," because lawsuits and countersuits are flying back and forth. On Thursday, for example, federal judge Mark Walker ruled that the state must give about 5,000 voters whose absentee ballots were rejected due to signature mismatches a chance to rectify the situation. Walker set a deadline of Saturday, but would-be Senator-elect Rick Scott (R) promptly filed for an injunction. There's also a lot of wrangling about mail-in ballots, specifically whether or not ballots had to be in the hands of Florida election officials by the state-mandated cutoff (last Saturday at 7:00 p.m.), or if they merely had to be at the local post office. And in addition to the lawsuits, there are at least four or five investigations of various sorts underway.

While Florida tries to figure things out, Republicans—who badly want that Senate seat, in particular—are doing everything they can to pooh-pooh and undermine the recount. Donald Trump claimed, with zero evidence of course, that there were many people in Florida who put on disguises and cast multiple votes. Speaking to the Daily Caller, he said:

When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on.

The logic here is, to say the least, hard to parse. But Trump is hardly the only high-profile Republican to do some posturing. Scott has been using Twitter to declare victory:

Last week, Florida voters elected me as their next U.S. Senator and now the ballots have been counted twice. I am incredibly proud and humbled by the opportunity to serve Florida in Washington. Our state needs to move forward.

— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) November 16, 2018

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for his part, has also been on a Twitter tear, although his awkward football metaphors have made him the butt of more than a few jokes. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already publicly announced Scott as the new senator from Florida. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sees McConnell as a particular villain here, since he's actively resisted efforts to update election equipment, and is now trying to capitalize on the problems that come from using outdated machinery.

While Florida lurches toward...well, whatever it's lurching toward, there has been quite a bit of movement in the various unresolved House races. Let's go by state:

Depending on which outlet you go with, there are anywhere from four to eight seats still up in the air. It is our view that the lower end of that is correct, and that only GA-07, TX-23, UT-04, and CA-39 remain in doubt. Democrats have the upper hand in two of those, and Republicans in the other two, which means that the House likely to end up with 234 Democrats and 201 Republicans, a net gain of 38 seats for the blue team. That's obviously very good, and given that two of the Republican members who are headed for victories (Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter in California) are under indictment, they might eventually make it 40. (Z)

Trump Growing (More) Unhinged

Just about every media outlet, perhaps excepting the ones that spend most of their time toting the administration's water, has published a story this week about Donald Trump's temperament, and how it has taken a turn for the worse in the last week or so. For examples, see CNN, Politico, ABC, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and the New Republic, among others.

Exactly what the problem is, only Trump knows for sure, but a few explanations immediately leap to mind. First, it seems to have sunk in that the elections did not go well for the GOP, and that the result can hardly be interpreted as anything other than a rebuke of the administration. Second, his recent European trip was, by all accounts, a disaster. Third, he may be having health issues, as his various pronouncements (say, about people putting on costumes to vote, see above) have been unusually rambling and unfocused. Fourth, he's about to get investigated nine ways to Sunday, and he undoubtedly knows that there are some skeletons there to be found and uncovered. And finally, there is the eternal source of tension: The Mueller investigation. Thursday's tweets on that subject were unusually strong and unusually specific. For example:

The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018 how many lives the ruin. These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

Universities will someday study what highly conflicted (and NOT Senate approved) Bob Mueller and his gang of Democrat thugs have done to destroy people. Why is he protecting Crooked Hillary, Comey, McCabe, Lisa Page & her lover, Peter S, and all of his friends on the other side?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

Those who try to read the Trump tea leaves (always a tricky business) suspect that he knows something the rest of us don't about Mueller's next move, and that it's going to be a doozy.

Exactly what a (more) unhinged Trump will look like is anybody's guess. Undoubtedly some of his subordinates' heads will roll, but he's used that form of venting many times in the past. He's been doing the Twitter dog and pony show for years; how much more out of control can it get? Wild interviews with friendly media outlets? Rallies before adoring fans where he rattles off all kinds of wacky stuff? Threats against his enemies, real and imagined? All of these things have been done, over and over. When Trump was a reality TV star (as opposed to a reality TV president), the fresh ideas ran out after about two seasons, and the ratings of "The Apprentice" stagnated thereafter. Maybe, two years in, we've seen the whole bag of tricks, and there's nothing left in reserve. On the other hand, maybe he tries to bomb California. Who knows? (Z)

Pelosi Faces Resistance

It's no secret that current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is wildly unpopular with Republicans. That would be the case with anyone who has been subjected to the kind of propaganda campaign that Pelosi has. More than a few Democrats are not exactly fans of hers, either. Some see her as being too establishment/centrist, and perhaps as part of a generation of Democratic leaders that should be swept away so the Party can get a new start under younger leadership. Others take note of her city and state of residence—San Francisco, CA—and conclude she's too much of a leftist. If a politician is being criticized for both being too centrist and not centrist enough, either they are doing something right, or they are doing something very wrong.

In any case, despite the critics, it has been generally assumed by just about everyone (including Pelosi herself) that she would reclaim the Speaker's gavel when the Democrats take control of the House on January 3. Not so fast, maybe. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who disdains Pelosi, and Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), who feels the same, both announced on Thursday that they are "100% certain" she doesn't have the votes.

The other leadership positions only require a majority vote of the Democratic caucus. In other words, about 118 folks. That is why Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who has pledges from 155 of his colleagues, has locked up a promotion to Majority Leader. The Speakership, by contrast, requires a majority of the entire House. That is to say, 218 votes. Given that the blue team projects to have 234 seats, that gives Pelosi a 16-vote margin of error. Moulton and Vela say they already have pledges from "15 to 17" members to vote "nay," although they have yet to name many names. The "nay" folks are a combination of longstanding Pelosi critics and freshman members who pledged not to vote for Pelosi as part of their campaigns.

It's far from over for Pelosi, of course. She's a shrewd political operator and parliamentarian, and many of her Democratic colleagues have spent the last decade watching Mitch McConnell show how much value there is in that skill set. Further, many of the Democratic members owe Pelosi in one way or another, from fundraising help to plum committee assignments to other kinds of support. She has also been quite shrewd about keeping upwardly-mobile young Democrats from gaining too much attention or power, causing many of them to jump to the Senate (e.g., Tammy Duckworth) or to statewide office (e.g., Keith Ellison). Perhaps most importantly, the Moulton-Vela challenge, with its convenient membership of "15 to 17," feels more like an attempt to extract some leverage than it does a serious challenge to Pelosi's leadership.

Of course, in Washington these days, you never can tell. Tomorrow we will do a rundown of some of the possible candidates to succeed Pelosi if she does indeed lose her gavel. (Z)

Trump Nominates Lana Marks as Ambassador to South Africa

Two years in to the Trump administration, quite a few countries still have no U.S. ambassador. That list includes Cuba, Egypt, Ireland, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. It's fortunate that those are minor countries where nothing important ever happens. Until Thursday, South Africa was on the list, but then the President announced Lana Marks as his pick for the post. Now all she has to do is get confirmed.

Marks' qualifications for the job appear to be as follows:

One will note that the list does not include ambassadorial or diplomatic experience of any sort. It doesn't even include a college degree (though Marks does say she once played in Wimbledon). It is certainly the case that presidents of both parties have been known to make somewhat dubious ambassadorial appointments. Heck, James Garfield made Lew Wallace the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire primarily because he hoped it would inspire Wallace to write a sequel to Ben-Hur. Still, Marks is definitely pushing the envelope.

Incidentally, it's been a while since we updated the overall count, but Trump has filled just 377 of the 702 key positions in his administration, with another 182 nominees awaiting confirmation, 12 announced candidates (including Marks) awaiting formal nomination, and 134 positions with no nominee and no immediate prospect of being filled. Needless to say, no president has ever reached the halfway point of his first term with barely more than 50% of his administration properly staffed. (Z)

U.S. Sanctions 17 Saudis for Khashoggi Murder

The Saudis have yet another explanation for how Jamal Khashoggi ended up dead. The story, which has undergone more rewrites than War and Peace, is now that the agents sent to detain Khashoggi made "an improvised decision" to kill him. Uh, huh. They are going to charge five men with murder, and are expected to convict and execute the quintet. Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced sanctions against 17 individuals involved with the killing.

The entire goal here, from both sides, is to excuse the Saudi government in general, and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in particular, from any responsibility for the gruesome killing. And given how much the United States needs access to Saudi Arabia as a customer, a base for military operations, and a source of oil, it is likely that both sides will do whatever they need to do to keep sweeping this under the rug. In fact, given the extent to which the furor has already died down, coupled with the fact that some of the others who might have held the Saudis' feet to the fire (e.g., Theresa May) have their own issues to deal with, Thursday's developments might well prove to be the end of the story. (Z)

No Ruling in Acosta Case

Although Judge Timothy J. Kelly promised a ruling on Thursday afternoon, he eventually decided he needs more time to reach a (preliminary) conclusion in the case filed by CNN on behalf of reporter Jim Acosta, who has been banned from the White House for asking questions that make Donald Trump cranky. So, Kelly gave himself an extension to Friday. Since the law seems pretty clearly to be on CNN's side, and given that he's a Trump appointee, one has to wonder if he's not working overtime to craft a pro-administration ruling.

Whatever Kelly decides, it's only a temporary decision. It will take several weeks, if not longer, for the judge to make a final decision. And then, whichever side loses will undoubtedly appeal, dragging the situation out even longer. So, the boxing match between CNN vs. Trump still has quite a few rounds left in it. (Z)

U.S. Wants to Prosecute Assange

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the U.S. government would like to bring Wikileaks founder and principal Julian Assange back to the U.S. so they can put him on trial. Exactly what the charges might be is still in the air, but violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes releasing information regarding national defense, are likely to be near the top of the list.

The bigger problem, of course, is that Assange is pretty far beyond the reach of the long arm of the law, as he is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has had asylum since 2012. That said, the Ecuadorean government is apparently weary of him and his behavior, and the United States government does have the ability to be very...persuasive, when it wants to be (ask Congress to declare war on Ecuador and then invade the embassy?). So, Assange could very well find himself in an American court, sooner or later. (Z)

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