Sep. 24

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New Senate: DEM 47             GOP 53

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And Then There Were Two

As the #MeToo movement has so aptly demonstrated, most people who commit acts of sexual misconduct don't do it just once. And so, assuming that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth—and her lie detector test and her mentioning the incident to her therapist in 2012 suggest she is—then it is likely that there are more women out there who were victimized by Brett Kavanaugh. Now, a second accuser has come to light, as first reported by—you guessed it—the New Yorker's Ronan Farrow (along with his colleague Jane Mayer). Her name is Deborah Ramirez, she was a Yale classmate of Brett Kavanaugh's, and here is her story, as recounted in the New Yorker piece:

Ramirez said that, when both she and Kavanaugh were freshmen at Yale, she was invited by a friend on the women's soccer team to a dorm-room party. She recalled that the party took place in a suite at Lawrance Hall, in the part of Yale known as Old Campus, and that a small group of students decided to play a drinking game together. "We were sitting in a circle," she said. "People would pick who drank." Ramirez was chosen repeatedly, she said, and quickly became inebriated. At one point, she said, a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction. Later, she said, she was on the floor, foggy and slurring her words, as that male student and another stood nearby. (Ramirez identified the two male onlookers, but, at her request, The New Yorker is not naming them.)

A third male student then exposed himself to her. "I remember a penis being in front of my face," she said. "I knew that's not what I wanted, even in that state of mind." She recalled remarking, "That's not a real penis," and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to "kiss it." She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic, in Connecticut, said that she was shaken. "I wasn't going to touch a penis until I was married," she said. "I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated." She remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. "Brett was laughing," she said. "I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants." She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. "Somebody yelled down the hall, 'Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie's face,'" she said. "It was his full name. I don't think it was just 'Brett.' And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there."

The Judge and the White House have already denied everything, of course, accompanied by the usual righteous indignation.

Ramirez was reluctant to come forward with her story, in part because she was drinking that night and her recollections are hazy, and in part because she knew the attack dogs would be out in force. Already, the latter concern has proven justified, as right wing media have managed to crank out article after article questioning her veracity. The main themes are: (1) C'mon, this kind of thing is no big deal (Response: What would happen if one of Ramirez' Yale professors had pulled that stunt? Exactly.); (2) She deliberately held on to this, so as to drag out the confirmation process even more (Response: She did not begin to consider coming forward until the Ford story broke earlier in the week, and it took her six days to decide how certain she was, and if she wanted to suffer the consequences of coming forward); (3) She's a lifelong Democrat (Response: That could be true, we don't know, but is the implication that Democrats cannot be victims of sexual assault?), and (4) Her memories are fuzzy and incomplete (Response: True; clearly some investigation is needed).

And there, of course, is the rub. At this point, there is a great deal of evidence of problematic behavior on Brett Kavanaugh's part, including (now) multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, a curious financial history that involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt disappearing, possible perjury in front of Congress, and as many as half a dozen other red flags. If the man has nothing to hide, and all of this is just much ado about nothing, then nobody should object to uncovering all the facts and making sure Kavanaugh's name is cleared. If the FBI makes it a priority, it should be doable well before the midterms. But, of course, the GOP muckety-mucks know that at least some of it is likely true, and that the more time that goes by, the more troublesome information that will come to light, and the higher the price will be of ramming him through anyhow. So, the general response to the Ramirez story among Republican leadership was to put their collective feet on the gas pedal. They would very much like to ignore the new allegations, give Ford her day in court (see below), try to make it as much as possible a kabuki play meant to communicate "Hey, we men on the Judiciary Committee are very fair and really care about these issues," and then have the nomination voted on before the calendar turns to October.

The Democrats are pushing back, of course, and at least four different Democratic Senators are trying to investigate Ramirez's story. This whole drama changes so rapidly, with one side or the other seizing or re-seizing the momentum, that it is very difficult to predict what happens next. It is now likely that the 49 Senate Democrats will hold firm, and will all vote against Kavanaugh. It is also clear that at least some Republicans are wavering, either out of legitimate concern, or out of fear of the optics of elevating someone accused of sexual assault to the highest court in the land just weeks before an election. Beyond that, however, this is going to come down to several factors that won't be clear until later this week, among them: (1) What will the general response to Ramirez' allegations be, once they've had time to sink in?; (2) Will there be any other accusers?; (3) How compelling will Ford's testimony be?; and (4) How well will Kavanaugh do in his re-appearance before the Senate? It is clear that Republican leadership not only wants a conservative in that open seat, they badly want this conservative (who knew the Federalist Society was even more powerful than the NRA?). But if any of these four factors goes against the Judge this week, his nomination will be in deep trouble. And if two or more go against him, it's hard to see how he survives. (Z)

Ford Will Testify Thursday

It now appears to be certain—unless it changes today or tomorrow—that Christine Blasey Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. A number of details need to be worked out first, and the Committee is likely to refuse to budge on Ford's requests in the hope that she bails out. One issue is: "Who will question her?" Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wants to have her grilled by a female staffer, to avoid the sight of 11 old men tearing Ford apart. Having a pleasant young woman do it is better optics. As it turns out, the Republicans did learn something from the Anita Hill hearings in 1991: Having a woman wield the hatchet is better than having nearly a dozen men do it. This shows that the hearing is only about appearances. Normally, a team of wild horses couldn't prevent the senators themselves from interrogating witnesses. Only this time, that would cause female voters to take note and maybe freak out.

Democrats on the Committee, including the four female senators, have demanded that they get to ask questions themselves when it is their turn. They absolutely do not want one of Grassley's lawyers to ask their questions. Needless to say, they are going to ask much more sympathetic questions that the other side.

Ford's lawyers are continuing to call for the Committee to subpoena Mark Judge, a friend of nominee Brett Kavanaugh's, who was in the room at the time Kavanaugh allegedly attempted to rape Ford. To an outsider, getting an eyewitness to the incident to testify would seem like a no-brainer, but Grassley is resisting very strongly. It is hard to remember any other alleged crime in which an eyewitness is readily available to testify and the authorities want to prevent that at all costs. It isn't even much of a danger to Kavanaugh, since Judge would undoubtedly say either: (1) "I was drunk and don't remember the incident at all," or (2) "I wish to exercise my Fifth Amendment right not to answer any questions." Nevertheless, Grassley is adamant about having only Kavanaugh and Ford testify.

Another sticking point is that Ford wants the FBI to investigate and send a report to the Committee. In the Anita Hill case, the FBI did investigate, so there is no legal reason it couldn't be asked to do so now. If enough agents were assigned to the case, the investigation could probably be done in a week. The real reason Grassley doesn't want the FBI to investigate is her fear that the FBI might turn up one or more additional incidents involving Kavanaugh (besides the two that are already out there), establishing a pattern of behavior. Or they might turn up evidence that corroborates the existing allegations. For example, Kavanaugh might have told other friends about what happened and they could be subpoenaed. In short, the plan is that each of the principals gets an hour or so to answer questions, then the Committee can get on with the vote to confirm Kavanaugh, regardless of what was said.

One piece of evidence that works for Kavanaugh is that Ford has identified four other people who were at the party, and none of them remember the incident. This is not surprising, since it happened in a locked room in which none of them were present. And again, Grassley does not want to hear from the one other person (Mark Judge) who was in the room and might actually be able to shed light on what happened.

Other senators also got into the act. Sen. Lindsey Graham (D-SC) appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and said: "Unless there's something more, no, I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this." And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised a crowd this weekend that the Senate will "plow right through" the confirmation. It is remarkable that a bunch of lawyers could be so foolish about laying their cards on the table, and making clear that they've already reached their conclusions regardless of what Ford has to say. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) took to Twitter to make this observation:

I’m a former US Attorney. If a judge/juror made a public statement that their mind was made up before all testimony is in, the trial would be prejudiced & I’d move for mistrial & have the judge removed.
Mr. Leader, is this the message we want to send to victims of sexual assault? https://t.co/dWHcaOHsG0

— Doug Jones (@DougJones) September 22, 2018

Meanwhile, on CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said of Kavanaugh: "There are so many indications of his own lack of credibility." And in a shot across the bow yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that if Democrats capture Congress, they will continue to investigate Ford's allegations. The argument for doing so would be to determine if Kavanaugh lied to the Senate, which is a felony and almost certainly an impeachable offense. Only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached, Samuel Chase in 1805, but he was acquitted by the Senate.

Also getting in on the drama this weekend was attorney Michael Avenatti, lawyer to Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford). Here's his contribution:

I represent a woman with credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. We will be demanding the opportunity to present testimony to the committee and will likewise be demanding that Judge and others be subpoenaed to testify. The nomination must be withdrawn.

— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 23, 2018

On one hand, Avenatti seems to be very dialed in, and his high profile means that he would be an obvious choice for someone who is looking to tell her story to go to. On the other hand, he's a publicity hound on the level of Donald Trump, and he's trying to position himself for a possible 2020 presidential run. So, take this with at least one or two grains of salt until more is known. Besides, if he does have a client with a story to tell, he can't very well keep it secret for a couple of weeks and then spring it. It is now or never.

There is also one other mini-scandal unfolding right now, one that could go nowhere, or that could explode in the GOP's collective faces. It turns out that Ed Whelan, the Republican operative who cooked up cockamamie "proof" that Kavanaugh is innocent, and had to profusely apologize for libeling an innocent person, began his "investigation" before Ford's name was publicly known. What Whelan did not realize is that LinkedIn keeps track of who searches other people's pages, and so he did not know that his poring over Ford's resume for several days was logged by the site. Clearly, someone clued him in on the story well before the news broke. Depending on who clued him in, and whether or not they conspired with him to point the finger at someone else, there could be trouble. Undoubtedly, enterprising folks at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker are looking into it.

Finally, in case you were wondering how Ford, who is a professor at a small college and probably poorly paid, can afford multiple lawyers and a security detail, the answer can be found at gofundme.com, where one pitch has raised $160,000 as of this morning and another one, for her security, has raised $210,000. (V & Z)

Trumpworld Split on When to Fire Rosenstein

Pretty much everyone in Trumpworld, including the White House and Fox News, agrees that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein must go so that Donald Trump can appoint a new deputy who will rein in special counsel Robert Mueller, or better yet, fire Mueller before he can issue a report. However, there are various factions that don't agree on the timing. Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham wants him fired right now, no delay. Judge Jeanine Pirro is on the same page as Ingraham.

Fox News is apparently not monolithic, however, as anchor Sean Hannity has given Trump a direct order (as he often does): Don't fire anyone now. Hannity is worried that the news coverage of a firing will be labeled: "Saturday night massacre, the sequel," even if it occurs on a Wednesday. In turn, a firing could enrage Democrats and endanger control of the House and Senate.

If Trump waits until Nov. 7 to fire Rosenstein, it won't have any electoral consequences in 2018 (unless control of the Senate comes down to a runoff in the Mississippi special election on Nov. 27), but it could affect Trump's reelection campaign in 2020. Also, if the Democrats should capture the Senate, it will be very difficult for Trump to get a bootlicker confirmed as the new deputy AG. However, he could make a temporary appointment of someone who has already been confirmed by the Senate to a different position. Furthermore, if Democrats do well in November, even if they don't capture the upper chamber, it could cause Senate Republicans to make the calculation that putting some distance between themselves and Trump might be a good thing to do in advance of 2020. Thus, even a Republican-controlled Senate might force the new deputy AG nominee to swear under oath that he will not fire Mueller unless the special counsel violates the law or Justice Dept. regulations. (V)

New Tariffs Take Effect

By the time you read this, American importers will have paid the first round of the new 10% tariffs on $200 billion in goods from China, and Chinese importers will have paid the 5%-10% on $60 billion in goods that the Chinese government imposed in retaliation. In other words, the next salvo in the trade war has officially been launched.

Donald Trump has suggested that all of this is essentially a bargaining chip to get the Chinese government to the table, so as to secure a trade agreement more favorable to the United States' interests. The immediate problem is that there's no sign that it's working, and that the Chinese are anywhere near ready to talk (much less capitulate). The bigger problem, however, is arguably this: Trump continues to view international trade through the lens he uses for everything, namely that of a real estate developer. When negotiating, say, the construction of a new Atlantic City casino, there's no obvious long-term harm in a little posturing and some digging in of heels. In the end, the same structure gets built, and the only difference is that you cash out and declare bankruptcy a few months later than you otherwise would have.

In international affairs, however, that's not necessarily true, and the more Trump plays these games, the greater the risk that permanent damage is done to American interests. For example, Alibaba's Jack Ma promised last year that his company would be expanding to the U.S. and bringing with it 1 million jobs. Now he says those plans are off. He could just be doing some posturing of his own, but maybe not. If a company is going to make that kind of commitment in a foreign country, they don't want to become a political pawn, or to be subject to the economic whims of each new administration. Trump's actions have certainly given Ma (and whoever succeeds him next year) reason to be nervous, along with other companies and nations thinking about investing in America.

Similarly, many nations are starting to replace some of their dollar reserves with the Chinese yuan. If the U.S. dollar ceases to be the de facto currency of the world, that will do incalculable damage to the country's economic might, most obviously making its national debt riskier for stakeholders, and so much more expensive to service. Presumably there is someone in the White House who is telling the President all of this, although given that he got his chief economic adviser from a television show, maybe not. (Z)

House Republicans Desperately Want to Adjourn This Week

The House of Representatives has nothing to do with approving SCOTUS justices, and so the members there are not a part of the drama that is sure to dominate the headlines all week long. Meanwhile, House Republicans (who, of course, run the chamber) recognize that things have turned grim for them (see below), and badly want to spend as much of the remaining time before the election as possible on the campaign trail. So, if they have their way, the House will adjourn on Friday, and will not be back in session until after November 6. There is just one fly in the ointment, and his name is Donald John Trump.

Trump, of course, is concerned with himself first, and his party is a distant second (at best). The one item of business that is definitely on the House's "to do" list is funding the government, and they already have a basic agreement in place that would pay the bills through December 7. The plan is to pass the funding resolution this week, and then run for the hills (or, run from The Hill; either way). Any other president, under these circumstances, would sign anything put in front of him, and then deal with this in a couple of months. But Trump isn't any other president, and he wants money for his border wall NOW, money that isn't currently being allocated. House leadership, with soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the way, think they've gotten Trump to agree to hold off on the wall for now. But, of course, everyone knows how much a Trump promise is worth. That includes Ryan & Co., who have crafted something of a poison pill for the President, linking the short-term spending bill to a long-term military funding bill. So, if he changes course and kills the short-term funding in an attempt to get his border wall money, he will also be compelled to poke the military in the eye. We will know later this week if Ryan's machinations actually worked. (Z)

Democrats Hold Double-Digit Lead in Generic House Poll

When asked whether they want Democrats or Republicans to control the House, voters prefer Democrats by a margin of 52% to 40%, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll. However, some of the respondents live in districts with a Democratic representative, and gains there may give the incumbent a bigger landslide, but won't contribute to flipping the House. Nevertheless, most neutral observers think that a margin of about 7-8% in the generic poll will give the Democrats enough strength to overcome the gerrymanders the Republicans put in place after their massive victories in 2010.

Some of the crosstabs ought to give Republicans pause. For example, Democrats lead by 31 points among independents, 33 points among moderates, and 12 points among white women. The latter is significant because Trump won white women in 2016. If they have already deserted him in droves (and this is before the Senate potentially confirms Brett Kavanaugh), that is not a good omen for the GOP. (V)

Democratic Primary Turnout Shot Up More than Republican Turnout

Now that the primaries are finished, it is possible to start analyzing the data from them. One fact that pops out is that while Republican turnout was up 24% from 2014, Democratic turnout was up 89% from 2014. In total, 4.3 million more Democrats voted in the primaries than Republicans. If that is also true on Election Day, the GOP will be wiped out.

One way to process what this means is to look at previous midterm election years. Here are the numbers for 1998, 2006, 2010, and 2014 (2002 data are not available):

Year Primary margin Seats flipped
1998 D+1.2 million D+5
2006 D+3.1 million D+30
2010 R+4.9 million R+63
2014 R+2.2 million R+23


Clearly there is a correlation between which party turns out more primary voters and the number of House seats flipped. If we plot these four points as a graph, we get the following. It is nearly linear so we can extrapolate (the black line) and get this:

seats vs turnout

Based on this skimpy model, a net lead of 4.3 million primary votes for the Democrats translates into flipping a net 48 seats from red to blue and giving Democrats a solid majority in January. This graph merely makes a point that is already well known: Midterm elections are determined by which party gets its base to turn out better. (V)


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