May 22

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Who Will Talk To Congress?

House Democrats are playing the world's strangest game of musical chairs right now, as they try to figure out who will sit down for a chat with them, and who won't. Here's Tuesday's list:

That, then, is where things stand as of the moment. It's not likely to get really interesting until the Mueller impasse is worked out and/or the courts rule on Trump's ability to silence his former staffers. (Z)

Impeachment Pressure on Democratic Leadership Increases

As evidence of Donald Trump's misdeeds mounts, and as next year's elections draw closer, the number of Democrats pushing for impeachment is growing, and the volume of their voices is increasing. There are basically four camps in the Party: (1) People like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who think that impeachment would backfire, politically; (2) People like Harley Rouda (D-CA), who fear they will lose their reelection bids if they don't impeach; (3) People like Katie Hill (D-CA), who are persuaded that impeachment is the morally correct course of action, political consequences be damned; (4) People like Madeleine Dean (D-PA), who feel that some moves toward impeachment are necessary to strengthen the Democrats' legal position as they make demands for documents and testimony in other areas.

At the moment, Pelosi is doing a pretty good job of herding her cats, but the pressure on her, and on Jerrold Nadler, is getting intense. The Speaker will visit the White House today, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and this subject will presumably come up. Maybe Pelosi will be able to negotiate some sort of deal with Donald Trump, so that House Democrats can have some of what they want, and the impeachment talk dies down. Don't bet on it, though, since relatively little seems to come out of these confabs, and since Trump may actually want to be impeached, with the idea that it will rally his base.

As the Democrats wait for the results of today's meeting, and also to see if they get to talk to folks who might give them more ammunition to work with (see above), they did take the baby-est of baby steps toward impeachment on Tuesday. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee announced she would introduce a resolution of inquiry asking the full House to authorize an investigation that would determine whether impeachment powers should be used. Put another way, House Democrats are going to consider the possibility of maybe looking into whether or not they definitely should consider possibly impeaching Trump. Or Not. It's the kind of bold, decisive action the Democratic Party is famous for.

In the end, this whole mess is an indictment of three groups of people. The first is most of the Republicans in Congress, who are worried less about the Constitution, and more about what their voters will think if they impeach Donald Trump. The second is most of the Democrats in Congress, who are guilty of the exact same thing.

The third group worthy of criticism, meanwhile, is the men who wrote the Constitution. It is a remarkable document in so many ways, and yet the naiveté they showed in thinking and hoping that political parties would not form is really quite staggering, especially since some of those same men went on to help organize the country's first parties (we're looking at you, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton). For them to put such an important decision in the hands of folks who were likely to be subject to overwhelming political pressure was a huge miss on their parts, as indicated by the fact that the impeachment provisions of the Constitution have failed more often than they have succeeded. The two actual impeachments, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were both about partisanship, with the "high crimes and misdemeanors" in question being basically trumped up (no pun intended). And now, when impeachment would be entirely appropriate, so as to get to the bottom of whether Trump should keep his office or not, it's unlikely to happen. And, if it does happen, unlikely to lead to his removal, regardless of how serious his misdeeds are shown to be.

The one and only time that impeachment actually worked correctly was in the case of Richard Nixon, where the threat of impeachment and certain conviction caused him to throw in the towel before Congress could go through the motions. Going 1-for-4 is pretty mediocre for a baseball player, and for one of the most important parts of the Constitution, it's downright lousy. (Z)

Trump Appears to Be Losing the Trade War

Donald Trump is sticking to his tariff guns and, by all indications, things are not going well. In the U.S., Trump is getting all sorts of pushback, from all sorts of directions. Midwestern farmers are angry, and are calling for Trump to back down. So too are Maine lobstermen, who have lost a big chunk of their export business (which has to thrill Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, who already faces a tough re-election battle). This week, Nike and Adidas joined Walmart in announcing that if the tariffs stay in place, their prices will rise significantly. Experts are predicting the same for Apple. American businesses located in China were polled this week, and the great majority (74.9%) said that they are already feeling the pinch, in terms of more inspections, longer waits for customs clearance, higher manufacturing costs, and reduced demand.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are doing a pretty convincing job of digging their heels in. President Xi Jinping visited the 1930s starting point of the Communist revolution on Tuesday, laid a wreath, and announced that a "New Long March" was beginning. On top of that, the hottest song in China right now is an anti-U.S. trade war song. Its opening verse is: "Trade war! Trade War! Not afraid of the outrageous challenge! Not afraid of the outrageous challenge! A trade war is happening over the Pacific Ocean!" Not exactly "Hey Jude, don't make it bad," or "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold," but it's better than anything Nickelback has put out. Anyhow, all of this could be for show, but we wouldn't bet on it. In China, what Xi wants, Xi generally gets.

At risk of repeating ourselves, there is just no way to know where this is headed. It's true that Donald Trump tends to back down when he's challenged, or when he thinks he will pay a steep political cost for his actions. However, he has shown no sign of wavering on this issue, and he may not blink here. It could be Senate Republicans who blink and yank Trump's tariff authority, or it could be Xi, but the greatest likelihood seems to be that this game of chicken is going to keep going through the next year. If so, then the GOP is going to pay a price at the polls, maybe even a steep price. (Z)

Trump Also Appears to Be Losing the Financial Secrets War

The trade war isn't the only thing going badly for Donald Trump. His likely quixotic fight to keep his financial secrets a secret also suffered a couple of reverses on Tuesday. To start, and as expected, the President's lawyers appealed Judge Amit Mehta's ruling that House Democrats' subpoena of records from accounting firm Mazars is valid. The problem (which will also apply to most other squabbles between the President and Congress) is that the next court on deck is the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. And the chief judge there, as pretty much everyone took note on Tuesday, is a rather familiar face: Merrick Garland. Undoubtedly, Garland will be a model of professionalism, and there's no reason—despite what Trump might claim in future tweets—to think he will try to punish the President for helping deny him elevation to the Supreme Court. However, he also will not be in the bag for Trump, and whether he hears cases or assigns them to other judges, he will make sure that they are handled quickly and efficiently.

The other adverse news on this front, from Trump's perspective, was the publication of an IRS memo, courtesy of the Washington Post. The memo was produced last year, as the IRS head honchos prepared for the likely possibility that they would be asked to hand over the President's tax returns. The memo concludes that the law empowering Congress to demand the returns, "does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met." That runs directly contrary to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's argument, that he does have discretion, and that he's decided Congress doesn't have a good reason to look at the returns. The administration's case here was already very weak, and the IRS memo is another giant nail in the coffin. It is sure to come up once this matter makes its way to the courts.

Add it all up, and it's not looking like Trump will keep his finances hidden. For what it's worth, the books have it at 1/8 that the documents will come out, which implies an 89% chance that the President loses this particular fight. (Z)

Amash May Run as Libertarian

Yesterday, we noted that Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), the only Republican in Congress who has called for Donald Trump to be impeached, might possibly launch a bid for president as a Libertarian. The Congressman was asked about the possibility on Tuesday, and said, "I'm just focused on defending the Constitution, it's not something I've thought about. I don't take things off the table like that, but it's not something at the forefront of my considerations right now."

Careful readers will notice that is not the full Sherman. Heck, it's not even a "no." In fact, it's exactly what Amash would say if he was seriously considering a run. The Libertarian National Committee, for their part, is putting on a full-court press. There is no way Amash could win, of course, but it may be worth it to him to bring some attention to his ideas, and also to increase the odds that Trump is dethroned. We can't know until there's some polling (and even then, we might not really know), but the odds are good that Amash will steal more votes from Trump than from any Democratic candidate. (Z)

Trump To Appoint Cucinelli to DHS Post

Last week, there were reports that Acting Homeland Security Director Kevin McAleenan almost quit because he was stick of dealing with Stephen Miller. Things are not going to get better on that front anytime soon, because Miller is about to get a new ally. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is expected to be appointed to a high-ranking post in DHS, possibly as early as this week.

Cucinelli might be the only person in the country, short of David Duke, who makes Miller look like a moderate on immigration. He has pursued rabidly anti-immigrant policies in his career, and his dream is to bring an end to birthright citizenship. At the very least, McAleenan is now going to be facing challenges from within his department (Cucinelli) as well as without (Miller). At worst, this move is intended to compel McAleenan's resignation, so that Cucinelli can take the reins of DHS heading into the 2020 election. There is little chance that Cucinelli could be confirmed as the permanent secretary, as even some Republicans think he's a bit kooky, but as we know, Trump is more than happy to have long-serving "acting" department heads. (Z)

Republican Wins in PA-12; Kentucky Governor's Race Set

There were a couple of elections yesterday. The first of those was in PA-12, where voters were choosing a replacement for Republican Tom Marino, who quit Congress just days into the current term. State Rep. Fred Keller (R) beat Penn State professor Marc Friedenberg (D) in a walk, 68.1% to 31.9%. Republicans will undoubtedly be pleased at the size of that victory, although given that PA-12 is R+17, and that Keller has represented part of the district (Union and Snyder Counties) in the state assembly for nearly a decade while Friedenberg is an unknown, the result doesn't tell us much about the national climate.

A bit more worrisome for Republicans is the other significant election, namely the primary for the Kentucky governor's race. There, Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY) won the right to try to keep his seat, 52.4% to 39.0%. That's not a great margin for a sitting governor against a little-known state legislator (Robert Goforth). Bevin has been hurt by at least a couple of stories that came out in the last month or so; the first was his claim that striking teachers in Kentucky left their students vulnerable to sexual assault (he apologized for that one), while the other was his admission that rather than vaccinate his nine kids against chickenpox, he and his wife arranged for them to catch the disease. Undoubtedly, anti-vaxxers were pleased to hear this, but pretty much everyone else sees that choice as inflicting needless suffering on nine innocent children while also, as a bonus, increasing the risk that they will develop a painful case of shingles as adults.

On the Democratic side of the Kentucky primary, the final tally was closer, as State Attorney General Andy Beshear outpolled State Representative Rocky Adkins, 37.9% to 31.9%. But now that Beshear has survived, he's in a pretty strong position. Although Kentucky is pretty red when it comes time to elect presidents and senators, they are quite willing to elect Democratic governors, as 8 of the last 10 have been members of the blue team, including Beshear's father Steve, who served from 2007-15. Between Andy's pedigree and Bevin's controversies, this could be a very interesting race. And when we consider that 394,490 Democrats showed up to vote on Tuesday night, as compared to 259,854 Republicans, despite both sides having reasonably competitive races, it's possible that Beshear may even be the favorite. For what it's worth, the only poll of that matchup (which is several months old, so take it with a grain of salt) had Beshear up by 8 points. (Z)

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