Republicans

Congress Makes First Criminal Referral To DOJ In Trump-Russia Scandal — And It Is Steele!

This is, uh, bullshit.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in the dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The committee is running one of three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling, and its inquiry has come to focus, in part, on Mr. Steele’s explosive dossier that purported to detail Russia’s interference and the Trump campaign’s complicity.

Since we don’t have access to the memorandum, we don’t know what the specific allegation is, although it discusses potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. That section of the federal criminal code refers to knowingly making false or misleading statements to federal authorities.  The letter says it is “for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained.”

In other words, they think Steele lied to the House Judiciary Committee.

Well.

La di da.

Anyone can make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which is not obligated to take up the matter. But a recommendation from a senior senator who runs the committee that has oversight of the department comes with added weight.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the referral. But Fusion characterized the recommendation to charge Mr. Steele as a smear and an attempt to further muddy the inquiry into Russia’s interference.

Which it is.

RELATED: Giving more for Fox News to talk about — we learned today that federal law enforcement authorities have been actively investigating the Clinton Foundation and whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged policy favors or special access for contributions to the charity.

According to the reports, the investigation is being led by the FBI office in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the foundation was formed, and CNN reported that it was being overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office there.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as the Justice Department, declined to comment in the CNN story. The FBI office in Little Rock referred the Hill to the FBI headquarters, which also declined to comment.

Congressional Republicans Are Working To Bury Trump-Russia Investigations

Aside from the saber-rattling with North Korea, and the attempts to delegitimize institutions, perhaps the most troubling trend to come from the Trump Administration so far are the efforts by many Republicans in Congress to prevent a full accounting of Russia’s interference in our election and any possible Trump campaign conspiracy with it.

This is particularly true in he House Intelligence Committee investigation, where Rep. Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist, may be wielding his influence as chairman of the intel committee to block critical lines of inquiry. Democrats have been alarmed by his tactics, especially the fact that despite his public recusal from the probe, he “never relinquished his sole, unchecked authority” to sign off on — or kill — efforts by Democrats to subpoena top Trump officials for more testimony. The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian explains:

People familiar with the committee’s work estimated that Nunes’s effective veto cost Democrats dozens of requests for interviews and documents that were never sent out, despite repeated entreaties from the minority side.

This includes requests for subpoenas to obtain additional testimony from key figures in the probe who Democrats say were not forthcoming enough in interviews — among them Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. Democrats surmise they might have compelled them to return if not for Nunes’s resistance.

What can Democrats do? It looks like they might have to write a minority report, detailing the lines of inquiry that were effectively shut down by Nunes as chair.

Nunes is doing more than merely closing off avenues of investigation. Politico recently reported that Nunes is quietly leading a group of House Republicans in an effort to build a case that senior Justice Department and FBI officials improperly handled the explosive “Steele dossier,” which describes links between Trump and Russia. I’m not sure what they hope to find, especially since the FBI and Justice Department would have independently confirmed anything in the dossier anyway. (Plus, it came out lately that the FBI’s investigation came as the result of a tip from Australia after Papadapolous talked while drinking to an Australian embassy worker).

Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, is in potentially serious waters as he runs defense for Trump. None of this looks very good — the appearance of a conflict of interest taints him more than anyone else.  And of course, the Mueller Report will reveal many things that the House Intel Committee won’t, and questions will be asked why that is so.

Can Conservatism Survive Trump?

The working title for this essay by David Frum is entitled “Conservatism is What Conservatives Think Say And Do”. It’s a good read if you want to know the huge schism among the right. Even among anti-Trumpers, there are now two types: those who condemn him constantly, and those who give him a pass (over and over again) because he moves the ball forward in a few traditional conservative ways (like Supreme Court picks).  The question is: who are the actual conservatives?

As the essay points out, if you cannot get a gig on Fox News unless you are at least a part-time Trump apologist/supporter.  Like the Wall Street journal, Fox seems to have given up the ghost on Trump criticism.  I see a lot of conservatives (or what used to be called conservatives) on MSNBC now, talking and agreeing with liberals on the panel.

It’s not surprising. During the election, very major non–Wall Street Journal columnist was against Trump. The Weekly Standard was against Trump. National Review was against Trump. None of that mattered, and now these Never Trumpers are out in the wilderness. If you want to be successful right wing media, you need to get behind Trump now.

This part especially stood out:

This is something many conservatives tell themselves, but it’s not even slightly true. Trump is changing conservatism into something different. We can all observe that. Will it snap back afterward?

You can believe this only if you imagine that ideologies exist independently of the human beings who espouse them—and that they can continue unchanged and unchanging despite the flux of their adherents. In this view, millions of American conservatives may build their political identities on enthusiastic support for Donald Trump, but American conservatism will continue humming in the background as if none of those human commitments mattered at all.

This is simply not true. Ideas are not artifacts, especially the kind of collective ideas we know as ideologies. Conservatives in 1964 opposed civil-rights laws. Conservatives in 1974 opposed tax cuts unless paid for by spending cuts. Conservatives in 1984 opposed same-sex marriage. Conservatives in 1994 opposed trade protectionism. Conservatives in 2004 opposed people who equated the FBI and Soviet Union’s KGB. All those statements of conservative ideology have gone by the boards, and one could easily write a similar list of amended views for liberals.

Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change—as much through the harsh fact of death and birth as by the fluctuations of opinion—so does what it means to be a conservative.

I bring this up to highlight tweets from Frum following that essay:

I think this is correct. This post is entitled “Can Conservatism Survive Trump?” and I agree with Frum that the answer is “YES, but only because Trumpism IS conservatism.”

I guess the big unknown is… so what happens to centrist Republicans like Frum — of which there are many (not only in the world of punditry, but in the country)?

The Horrible Tax Bill Is GOP Gift To Themselves [UPDATE: Senate Votes Yes]

Literally:

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, inserted language into the final tax bill that would enrich three different constituencies: fossil fuel firms, Republicans’ major campaign donors and a handful of Cornyn’s GOP congressional colleagues including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and two other Texas lawmakers in the House. Cornyn originally added the language in an amendment to the Senate bill at the same time his former chief of staff was lobbying both the House and Senate on the tax treatment for those same oil and gas partnerships.

Cornyn’s amendment ensures Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), which are publicly traded partnerships that aren’t required to pay corporate income taxes, get the “pass-through” tax break in the final tax bill. Congressional Republicans have settled on a 20 percent deduction for some types of pass-through entities in their final tax bill as a way to give those businesses, which don’t pay corporate taxes, some of the tax relief the bill gives to corporations, which do pay the corporate levy.

MLPs were first created in the 1980s, but by the end of the decade lawmakers, worried about revenue loss, restricted their use to certain industries — primarily natural resource extraction. Today they are mostly used by investors in oil and gas pipelines, who use the vehicles to raise capital and avoid corporate taxes.

An International Business Times investigation last week revealed that 16 members of Congress — 13 Republicans and three Democrats — are invested in between $4.6 million and $10.6 million worth of MLPs. Those lawmakers stand to benefit from Cornyn’s amendment, which reduces levies on income from MLPs, leaving more money for distributions to investors. Reps. David Trott of Michigan and Thomas MacArthur of New Jersey and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, all Republicans, are among those who may see the biggest tax reductions.

This may be the only piece of major legislation that Trump will pass, and aside from PERSONALLY benefiting from it, Republicans and Trump are really screwing the lower and middle class.  It is a dishonest power and money grab by — and on behalf of — the already powerful. As for “inducements,” well, there are those long-term investments of tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions (enabled by the collapse of all the guardrails around political money) from wealthy individuals and regiments of interest groups. They will have a merry holiday season if the bill passes as expected.

This legislation proves that Washington is, indeed, the “swamp” President Trump described during the campaign. But instead of draining it, he and his partisan allies have jumped right in. Actually, they have polluted it further.

A prime example of this subtle corruption is how the “compromise” bill deals with the radical scaling back of the deduction for state and local taxes (“SALT”). Gutting the SALT tax break sets back the common good because doing so penalizes states that (a) have progressive income taxes, and (b) have somewhat larger governments and thus tend to invest more in education, infrastructure and programs for the needy. While California, New York and New Jersey are hit hard, many other states are hurt, too.

But instead of restoring all or most of the lost deduction, Republicans offered a fig leaf compromise. Originally, the Senate bill reduced the amount that could be deducted to $10,000 and restricted it to property taxes. The new version keeps the cap while allowing the deduction to be used for sales and income taxes as well.

For most taxpayers who use the existing deduction, this doesn’t solve their problem. One estimate from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that 1.89 million Californians would still see their taxes rise under the new provision, only a modest drop from the 2.36 million who would have had a tax increase under the version confined to property taxes. Any California representative who votes for this is voting against the interests of the state.

Ah, but the Republicans did want to respond to rich New Yorkers and Californians who were howling to their usual GOP benefactors, including Trump, about their lost SALT deductions.

So rather than offer general relief, the Republicans sliced the top income tax rate — for couples earning $600,000 or more — from the current 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, could not really explain why only the best off got real help, arguing lamely that middle-income people got other benefits from the bill.

The shamelessness of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s description of the bill on CNN Sunday as “a very large tax cut for working families” is quite staggering. Consider that this confection of loopholes gives lawyers at big firms many paths to lower taxes, but not much to the people who clean their offices. Soon, all Americans will demand the right to transform themselves into “pass-through” legal entities.

The bill’s champions claim that the big corporate tax cut will lead to massive new investment. But, as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (no enemy of business) pointed out, corporations are already “sitting on a record amount of cash reserves: nearly $2.3 trillion.” Bloomberg added: “It’s pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth.”

And imagine: The “Make America Great Again” crowd appears to have designed a corporate tax system that creates new incentives to “shift profits and operations overseas,” as former Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling argued in a careful analysis. Trump probably doesn’t even know this.

The key to corruption is operating in the dark. This bill is a mess of opaque provisions that almost no one outside the ranks of tax lobbyists understands — because many of these giveaways were written or inspired by lobbyists themselves.

Needlessly rushing a massive special-interest tax bill through Congress is the antithesis of good government. This doesn’t seem to matter anymore, even to Republicans who built reputations as champions of moderation, openness and rectitude.

To insure that the final bill would have enough votes in both chambers, the conference committee larded the bill with various additional handouts. They reduced the top rate of income tax to thirty-seven per cent, compared to 38.5 per cent in the Senate bill. (Currently, the effective top rate is close to forty-one per cent.) And they did a big favor to large businesses by getting rid of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, which many of them could have ended up paying because their tax rates under the new system will be so low.

The principle of simplifying the tax code met the same fate as the principle of fiscal responsibility: it was jettisoned. Originally, the White House proposed reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The final bill contains seven brackets: ten per cent, twelve per cent, twenty-two per cent, twenty-four per cent, thirty-two per cent, thirty-five per cent, and thirty-seven per cent.

According to its authors, the bill will also increase the budget deficit by about $1.5 trillion over ten years (it’s actually closer to $2 trillion), which means that — years from now — Republicans will use that as an excuse to cut social services.

Details aside, here in broad numbers is the bill’s impact 10 years from now, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center: Nearly 70 percent of families with incomes of between $54,700 and $93,200 a year would pay more in taxes than they would under current law. By contrast, 92 percent of families whose incomes put them in the top 0.1 percent of the country would get a tax cut averaging $206,280.

As for fairness, that principle was junked a long time ago. The final bill reflects the same principle as the previous two G.O.P. bills: Dom Perignon for the plutocrats, cheap swill for the masses. The bill is also cruel. In abolishing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase health insurance, it will make individual plans even more costly and more difficult to obtain, especially for sick people. This isn’t just a tax bill. It is a backdoor effort to overturn the principle of universal access to health care.

This truly is the moment that Paul Ryan has been waiting for his whole life, not to mention his political career.  The man has no soul:

Despite protests, it will pass.

UPDATE: Tax Policy Center Analysis —

By the way, note that everyone gets a nice tax cut next year (mid-term elections) and the worst effects don’t really come in until later — except for the wealthiest. But by 2027, over half of all Americans — 53% — would pay more in taxes under the tax bill agreed to by House and Senate Republican.

UPDATE: 12 principled Republicans

Paul Ryan bangs the gavel like it is Christmas.

12 Republican “no” votes mostly from populous states (because of the SALT issues mentioned above):

UPDATE AGAIN:

Oooops.  The House vote was a waste of time, as it turns out. The bill they voted on did not comply with Senate rules (this is what happens when major legislation is passed without proper review and vetting).

But the Senate voted in the wee hours of the morning (December 20) by a 51-48 margin, strictly on party lines (Sen. McCain [R-AZ] is recovering from brain cancer treatment and didn’t vote).

The House is expected to re-vote December 20 with approval, and the the White House will take a victory lap in the afternoon.

The Scandal That Is Not

Benjamin Witte writes about the story that is the subject of Fox almost every day — that an FBI agent was removed from the Mueller team because he had exchanged private emails with another FBI agent — his girlfriend, that were gloriously anti-Trump. The right wing news and establishment think this is a scandal, but of course, this means nothing. Being an FBI agent does not mean you have to stop having opinions and views. But congressional Republicans, who grilled  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yesterday about it, are trying to make it a meal.  Witte writes:

I have not watched all of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. But I watched three hours of it, and that was quite enough to convey the disturbing and dangerous nature of the current moment.

It was enough to highlight the apparent breadth of the congressional Republican effort to delegitimize the Robert Mueller investigation. The attacks on Mueller and his staff and allegations of supposed conflicts of interest were not the province of a fringe but a matter of an apparent consensus among House Republicans, at least on the famously partisan judiciary committee.

It was enough to loose upon the world an almost hysterical attack on an FBI agent and an FBI attorney in the presence of little evidence that either has done anything wrong—as opposed to merely ill-advised and unfortunate—and in the midst of an ongoing inspector general investigation that has not yet reached any conclusions.

It was enough to lay bare the absurdity of Republican demands for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate a series of matters about which there is not even the barest allegation of criminal conduct—let alone a predicate for an actual investigation.

It was enough to bring to the surface the bizarre fixation in the Republican caucus on conspiracy theories involving Fusion GPS, the so-called Steele Dossier, FISA surveillance, and the Mueller investigation.

And it was enough to make clear, yet again, that Rod Rosenstein is a man out of his depth and to make one sympathize for him at the same time.

My enthusiasm for Rosenstein these days is altogether under control. And his behavior in this episode, in particular, has hardly done him credit. The release of private correspondence between two Justice Department employees whose correspondence is the subject of an active inspector general investigation is not just wrong. It is cruel. It is not the practice of the Justice Department to turn over to Congress—let alone to give to reporters—active investigative material related to the private communications of its own employees. Justice Department and FBI employees have the right to their political opinions. To the extent their private political expressions for some reason make it impossible for them to work on a certain matter, they certainly have the right to have that determined without having their careers ruined and their names dragged publicly through the mud by politicians who know nothing about the circumstances in question.

I don’t know whether agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page did anything improper, or merely engaged in ill-advised and foolish communications that did not impact their work. I have no quarrel with Mueller for removing Strzok from the investigation, whether for substantive or appearance reasons. But I do know this: these questions deserve to be adjudicated within the confines of a serious internal investigation, not a partisan circus.

Rosenstein here has, at a minimum, contributed to that circus—at the expense of his own employees. In throwing a career FBI agent and career FBI lawyer to the wolves by authorizing the release to the public of their private text messages—without any finding that they had done anything wrong—he once again sent a message to his workforce that he is not the sort of man with whom you want to share your foxhole. The DOJ and FBI workforces will not forget that. Nor should they.

And that said, I found it impossible to watch yesterday’s hearing without a certain amount of sympathy for Rosenstein’s predicament. Whatever one says about his conduct, he is squeezed between the jaggiest of rocks and the hardest of hard places here. He is evidently trying to protect the Mueller investigation, and to his credit, he yesterday stood up strongly for the investigation’s integrity and for Mueller’s personal integrity. In doing so, he is exposing himself to the risk of being fired at any moment—and he is acting with an awareness that he may need to resign at any moment when ordered to do something inconsistent with his commitments. He is working for a man who is behaving completely unreasonably, even in public; one can only imagine how much worse is Trump’s behavior in private. What’s more, the congressional Republicans who should be protecting the integrity of the work of Rosenstein and his department—particularly in the House but also increasingly in the Senate—are not only failing to do so, they are braying for actions inimical to the very idea of independent law enforcement. They are doing it about someone, Mueller, with whom they have long experience and about whom they know their essential claims to be false. To make matters worse, Rosenstein is quite constrained in terms of what he can say, so he has to sit and answer in platitudes attacks that require an energetic defense.

Yes, it would be desirable if the campaign contributions of Mueller’s staff reflected more political diversity than they do. And yes, it would be a good thing if the private political expressions of those who later went to work for him happened not to reflect the widely-held views of members of the national security establishment about the man who then became President—or that they had refrained from expressing them.

But it would be highly inappropriate for Mueller to recruit on the basis of political orientation. And whatever the staff-level composition of the investigation may be, the law enforcement leadership is hardly a Democratic bastion committed to going after President Trump. Mueller himself is as apolitical a public servant as this country has known in a long time—and to the extent he has a partisan political identification, it is as a Republican. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray are both appointees of Trump himself. To whatever extent Strzok and Page engaged in any impropriety, that impropriety is known because the Justice Department inspector general discovered it, and when Mueller became aware of it, he removed Strzok from his investigation.

Most importantly, there is no serious suggestion that any step taken by Mueller’s shop is unjustified. The Mueller investigation will ultimately be measured by its work product, not by the text messages or campaign contributions of its staffers from before the investigation even existed. That work product so far is two guilty pleas for lying to the FBI over contacts with the Russians by the Trump campaign and transition—and one completely shocking indictment involving allegations of massive money-laundering by the Trump campaign’s chairman.

At yesterday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan announced about the Mueller probe that “The public trust in this whole thing is gone.” This is actually wrong.

In , fully 61 percent of respondents expressed at least some confidence in the Mueller investigation.  expressed at least some confidence in the FBI in connection with the Russia probe. And , 74 percent, expressed confidence in the FBI generally.

The trouble is that if enough members of Congress tenaciously attack the institution over a long period of time, Jordan’s words could acquire the quality of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an enormously damaging undertaking for members of Congress to self-consciously erode public confidence in federal law enforcement.

Even if that doesn’t happen, public confidence in Mueller may not be enough when the President’s political base—in conservative media, in Congress, and the broader political ecosystem—is rallying behind the proposition that the Justice Department, the special counsel, and the FBI are all out of control. The concern, and yesterday’s hearing dramatically highlights that concern, is that if Trump believes he has Republican cover to get rid of Mueller, he may feel emboldened to act against him even in the presence of broader public support.

Jones Beats Moore In Close Result

Moore has not conceded, but the margin of victory is high enough to ensure no automatic recount.

African-American turnout played an important role in Jones’ victory.

Race played a bigger factor than education as white men AND WOMEN(!) preferred Moore.

Of the 20 counties that saw their turnout rise in comparison to the 2014 midterm elections in Alabama, an election comparable in size to the Senate special election, half were rural counties in the state’s agricultural “Black Belt” where African Americans make up between 59% of registered voters (Hale) to 82% (Greene). Based on unofficial but complete returns in those counties, Jones received between 69% of the vote (Hale) to 88% (Greene and Macon).

Four of the highest turnout counties contain state’s four largest cities: Jefferson County has Birmingham, Montgomery County is home to the state capital, Montgomery, Madison County has Huntsville and Mobile County has Mobile. Both Jefferson and Montgomery counties also have high numbers of African-American voters, 41% and 57%, respectively. Madison, an engineering and research hub with the US Army Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center, has fewer African-American voters, 23%. What it has in abundance is well-off and well-educated voters: it ranks second in all of the state’s 67 counties for college-educated adults, 39%, and the median household income of the county’s residents is the second-highest in the state. Jefferson and Montgomery counties also have the fourth and fifth highest share of four-year college educated voters, roughly 31% each.

Jones carried Jefferson with 68% and won Montgomery with 72%. Both of those are relative Democratic strongholds and Moore has never had much of a following in those major metro counties. In the 2012 election for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court (which Moore narrowly won), Democrat Bob Vance won Jefferson and Montgomery with 63% and 71%, respectively.

Jones’ victory in Madison County stands out. While Hillary Clinton carried both Jefferson and Montgomery in 2016, Trump carried Madison 55%-38%. His margin over Clinton was more 26,000 votes. Jones flipped the county winning 57%-40% over Moore. His margin of more than 19,000 votes in Madison is almost equal to his current statewide margin of 20,715 votes.

Mobile County is one where the median household income and the percentage of college-educated voters are lower than the state average. Some 35% of its voters are African-Americans. Like Madison, this was a county Moore lost in his 2012 state Supreme Court election. But Trump won Mobile 55%-42%. And it had to be satisfying for Democrats to see Jones prevail here 56%-42%.

Jones also benefited from big turnout in urban areas.

Taken together, the four big metro counties — Jefferson, Montgomery, Madison and Mobile — which have urban cores and suburbs, were by far the biggest contributor to Jones’ victory. His combined margin over Moore in these big four was almost 149,000 votes. In 21 largely rural Black Belt counties, Jones’ margin over Moore was just over 37,000.

In 13 other suburban and exurban counties, places like Shelby outside of Birmingham, Limestone next door to Huntsville and Baldwin adjacent to Mobile, Jones only lost by about 57,000 votes. In the 29 white rural counties, all won by Moore, his margin over Jones was only 108,000 votes.

And how did these groupings fare in terms of turnout? The big four metro counties combined saw their turnout increase by roughly 6.5% above the 2014 midterm levels. Turnout in the 13 other suburban and exurban counties was essentially even with 2014’s levels. In the 21 rural Black Belt counties, turnout was actually down slightly overall. But in those 29 white rural counties, turnout was down 5.4%.

But other than race and urban, the rest of the demographics fell to where you might expect. Young voters preferred Jones, born-again Christians preferred Moore, etc.

The other primary reason for Jones’ win was strong antipathy toward Moore among white, suburban, college-educated conservatives. Many of them chose to sit out the election or follow the lead of Sen. Richard Shelby and write in an option other than Moore.

So who loses (besides, of course, Moore?  Well, Steve Bannon I would think. He went full bore for Moore. Bannon spoke at two rallies for Moore over the past week, campaigned for him during the GOP runoff, and spoke at the victory party when Moore captured the GOP nomination. Bannon was in attendance at the Alabama Republican’s Tuesday victory party and had been expected to speak in the event of a Moore victory — a plan that was ultimately scrapped.

“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco,” said Steven Law, who runs a “super PAC” controlled by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

Of course, the Bannon wing of the GOP is blaming McConnell and the establishment GOP. “They colluded with the Democrats to undermine a pro-Trump candidate like Judge Moore just like they are going to try to do that in 2018 to myself and other pro-Trump candidates,” said Corey Stewart, who is challenging Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and attended Mr. Moore’s election night party. “We’re going through a civil war in the Republican Party.”

No kidding. 🙂

And what about Trump?  Yeah, not good for him either. He originally backed Moore’s primary challenger, Luther Strange. Strange lost. Then, Ignoring pleas from McConnell and other senior Republicans, Trump jumped in for Moore. Just days before the election, he went to the Florida Panhandle, just across the Alabama state line, to campaign for Moore. He also cut a robo-call for the candidate and he tweeted his support.

I guess the good news is that the Republican rift still exists, despite the loss for Bannon/Trump.

And good news for Democrats in general. Ever since the 2016 election, Dems have done very well, even in red states. Just look at how Democrats have overperformed from 2016 and previous races in these particular states and congressional districts:

  • KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30% (R+31)
  • KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33% (R+27)
  • KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46% (R+7)
  • GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38% (R+24)
  • GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47% (R+1)
  • GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): Jon Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.
  • GA-6 in 2017 (runoff): Handel 52%, Ossoff 48% (R+4)
  • MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40% (R+16)
  • MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)
  • MT-AL in 2017: Greg Gianforte 50%, Rob Quist 44% (R+6)
  • SC-5 in 2016: Mick Mulvaney 59%, Fran Person 39% (R+20)
  • SC-5 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 39% (R+18)
  • SC-5 in 2017: Ralph Norman 51%, Archie Parnell 48% (R+3)
  • NJ GOV in 2013: Chris Christie 60%, Barbara Buono 38% (R+22)
  • NJ in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 55%, Trump 41% (D+14)
  • NJ GOV in 2017: Phil Murphy 56%, Kim Guadagno 42% (D+14)
  • VA GOV in 2013: Terry McAuliffe 48%, Ken Cuccinelli 45% (D+3)
  • VA in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 50%, Trump 44% (D+6)
  • VA GOV in 2017: Ralph Northam 54%, Ed Gillespie 45% (D+9)
  • AL SEN in 2016: Shelby 64%, Crumpton 36% (R+28)
  • AL in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 62%, Clinton 34% (R+28)
  • AL SEN in 2017: Doug Jones 50%, Roy Moore 48% (D+2)

2018 is looking good.

All Eyes On Alabama Senator Elections

Roy Moore literally rides in on a horse to vote:

Moore’s final event/rally last night included a speaker who said he and Moore accidentally went to a brothel with child prostitutes, and a speech by his wife addressing charges of antisemitism with “We have a lawyer who is a JEEEEeeeeew.”  Also present:  Steve Bannon, Representative Louie Gohmert, Sheriff David Clarke, a woman performing an interpretive dance in front of a tree, and several inflatable alligators.

Nobody has any idea on who is going to win. The polls are generally useless and all over the place, but much will depend (I believe) on turnout.

Here’s another take:

Alabama Senate Race Benchmarks by County – December 12, 2017
If either candidate is consistently exceeding these targets as counties report votes, he’s on track to win.
Created by: David Wasserman, Cook Political Report
 Twitter: @Redistrict
Locality
Jones Vote Goal
Moore Vote Goal
Dem 2-Party Share
GOP 2-Party Share
Dem/GOP Break-Even Margin
Autauga County 6,244 10,168 38.0% 62.0% -23.9%
Baldwin County 20,357 40,703 33.3% 66.7% -33.3%
Barbour County 5,185 3,052 62.9% 37.1% 25.9%
Bibb County 2,007 3,782 34.7% 65.3% -30.7%
Blount County 3,182 12,823 19.9% 80.1% -60.2%
Bullock County 3,420 638 84.3% 15.7% 68.6%
Butler County 3,806 2,748 58.1% 41.9% 16.1%
Calhoun County 14,237 18,414 43.6% 56.4% -12.8%
Chambers County 5,984 4,397 57.6% 42.4% 15.3%
Cherokee County 2084 5020 29.3% 70.7% -41.3%
Chilton County 3,324 8,458 28.2% 71.8% -43.6%
Choctaw County 3254 2,304 58.5% 41.5% 17.1%
Clarke County 5,499 4,004 57.9% 42.1% 15.7%
Clay County 1,592 2,945 35.1% 64.9% -29.8%
Cleburne County 949 3,236 22.7% 77.3% -54.6%
Coffee County 5,050 8,875 36.3% 63.7% -27.5%
Colbert County 8,401 9,376 47.3% 52.7% -5.5%
Conecuh County 3038 1920 61.3% 38.7% 22.5%
Coosa County 1,916 1,897 50.2% 49.8% 0.5%
Covington County 3,119 7,437 29.5% 70.5% -40.9%
Crenshaw County 1,842 2,532 42.1% 57.9% -15.8%
Cullman County 5,395 18494 22.6% 77.4% -54.8%
Dale County 5,032 7,732 39.4% 60.6% -21.2%
Dallas County 12,343 3,245 79.2% 20.8% 58.4%
DeKalb County 4,927 12,013 29.1% 70.9% -41.8%
Elmore County 8,970 15,458 36.7% 63.3% -26.6%
Escambia County 4,883 5,572 46.7% 53.3% -6.6%
Etowah County 11,946 18,128 39.7% 60.3% -20.6%
Fayette County 1698 3766 31.1% 68.9% -37.8%
Franklin County 2961 5,308 35.8% 64.2% -28.4%
Geneva County 1,996 5,607 26.3% 73.7% -47.5%
Greene County 3,784 470 89.0% 11.0% 77.9%
Hale County 4,599 1,779 72.1% 27.9% 44.2%
Henry County 2804 3,155 47.1% 52.9% -5.9%
Houston County 11,895 17,193 40.9% 59.1% -18.2%
Jackson County 5,419 9348 36.7% 63.3% -26.6%
Jefferson County 144,162 75,122 65.7% 34.3% 31.5%
Lamar County 1,502 3,269 31.5% 68.5% -37.0%
Lauderdale County 11,994 15,602 43.5% 56.5% -13.1%
Lawrence County 4,544 6,077 42.8% 57.2% -14.4%
Lee County 20,660 19,299 51.7% 48.3% 3.4%
Limestone County 9,849 16,254 37.7% 62.3% -24.5%
Lowndes County 4,863 980 83.2% 16.8% 66.5%
Macon County 7,563 802 90.4% 9.6% 80.8%
Madison County 59,758 49,858 54.5% 45.5% 9.0%
Marengo County 5,373 2,929 64.7% 35.3% 29.4%
Marion County 2,138 6,330 25.2% 74.8% -49.5%
Marshall County 6500 16375 28.4% 71.6% -43.2%
Mobile County 70,811 53,193 57.1% 42.9% 14.2%
Monroe County 4,259 3,251 56.7% 43.3% 13.4%
Montgomery County 55,434 18,941 74.5% 25.5% 49.1%
Morgan County 13,178 20,972 38.6% 61.4% -22.8%
Perry County 3,848 788 83.0% 17.0% 66.0%
Pickens County 3,852 3,061 55.7% 44.3% 11.4%
Pike County 5,516 4,298 56.2% 43.8% 12.4%
Randolph County 2,789 4,323 39.2% 60.8% -21.6%
Russell County 9,048 5,163 63.7% 36.3% 27.3%
Shelby County 23,420 40,669 36.5% 63.5% -26.9%
St. Clair County 6,012 17,741 25.3% 74.7% -49.4%
Sumter County 4,599 883 83.9% 16.1% 67.8%
Talladega County 12253 11559 51.5% 48.5% 2.9%
Tallapoosa County 5,856 7,613 43.5% 56.5% -13.0%
Tuscaloosa County 30,058 26,642 53.0% 47.0% 6.0%
Walker County 6,107 13,618 31.0% 69.0% -38.1%
Washington County 2591 3,394 43.3% 56.7% -13.4%
Wilcox County 4,118 975 80.9% 19.1% 61.7%
Winston County 1,357 5,176 20.8% 79.2% -58.5%
Statewide 737,154 737,154 50.0% 50.0% 0.0%

The question at stake? Who do Republicans hate more: Pedophiles or Democrats?

The answer might surprise you.

And should the election be close, we have a problem.  No paper trail:

On Monday, a judge ordered local election officials to save digital images of ballots, AL.com reports. However, his decision was quickly reversed by the Alabama Supreme Court, which stayed his order Monday evening.

Alabama uses paper ballots in its elections, which is considered more secure than many digital voting machines. Once voters mark their choices on paper, the ballots are scanned by computers to tally the votes. This system isn’t set up properly for audits, according to Verified Voting, an election integrity organization.

“If the race goes to a recount following the election, Alabama’s recount laws won’t do enough to protect voters’ votes because it has no audit structure in place and relies on re-tabulation—where ballots that were tabulated by optical scanners are now re-tabulated by machine,” Verified Voting president Marian Schneider said in a statement. “If a recount occurs, it cannot be relied on to detect and correct a potential error in the computerized count unless it is done manually.”

Four Alabama voters sued in an effort to get ballot images preserved, according to AL.com, arguing that state and federal law requires election officials to preserve the digital ballot images for six months. In Alabama, the digital images are typically destroyed after an election.

“After hearing arguments and reviewing the filings, it appears that Plaintiffs and similarly situated voters would suffer irreparable and immediate harm if digital ballot images are not preserved,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge Roman Ashley Shaul wrote in his order requiring ballot images to be preserved.

However, the state Supreme Court overruled his decision, which Verified Voting says will limit the state’s ability to do election audits or catch hacking attempts.

“If every state’s election systems provided voter-verified paper ballots and post-election audits, we would be able to detect and correct errors or election tampering. But without the proper procedures in place, Alabama will be unable to do this,” Schneider said.

Meanwhile, in Trumpland, the swamp is getting deeper:

“Begging”?  “Would do anything?”  What is Trump insinuating?

Moore v Jones: The Showdown

Virtually all national news is focusing on the Alabama Senate race to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions.  On the one hand, you have Democrat Doug Jones — a prosecutor. On the other hand, you have disgraced judge Roy Moore, accused of feeling up (or as he calls it, “dating”) teenage girls while a prosecutor in his mid-thirties. Alabama is conservative, but also righteous morally, and the question really comes down to “can the voters put morality above politics”?  Many Alabama voters simply don’t believe Moore’s accusers, and the conservative media has done much to de-legitimize those women.

Others take the stance – astonishing as it is – that it is better to have a pedophile in the Senate than a “liberal Democrat” (Jones isn’t very liberal). Among those taking this position, it appears, is President Trump as well as the RNC, which initially pulled financial support, only to reverse course and assist Moore during the final week of campaigning.

A Fox Poll out this morning —

So is Moore up by 9 or down by 10 going into tomorrow?  Who knows?

Fox News seems to believe it has the better methodology:

Hopefully, they are right.

Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, cast an absentee ballot for an unnamed Republican write-in candidate, and he’s now made multiple television appearances to say that he cannot vote for his party’s nominee. Shelby’s criticisms, which are already being featured prominently in Jones’s television ads, have created a permission structure for Republicans to defect, especially as the White House goes all-in for Moore. (President Trump recorded a robo-call that’s being delivered to GOP homes today, in which he says that his agenda will be “stopped cold” if Jones wins and that a Senator Moore will help him fix the problems caused by the “Obama disaster.”)

Shelby fears that Moore’s candidacy could hurt the state he has spent four decades in Congress trying to transform into a destination for manufacturing, biotechnology and aerospace. That argument, it is hoped, will hold sway. The image of Alabama — not a great one — will be forever tarnished if Moore gets elected. Shelby freely admits that he is anxious about how a Moore victory would affect the corporate world’s impressions of Alabama. “Is this a good place to live, or is it so controversial that we wouldn’t go there?” Shelby said. “You know, these companies are looking to invest. They are looking for a good place to live, a good place to do business, a good education system, opportunities, transportation. And we have come a long way; we’ve got to keep going. … We can’t live in the past.”

The discussions on news channels are simultaneously hysterical and depressing. Watch as this guy tries to defend Roy Moore’s recent comments that America was greatest during the time of slavery (and watch the woman’s facial expressions):

This will be over in 36 hours, but it’s amazing to live through.

UPDATE:  Monmouth Poll out today says who wins depends on level of turnout. Higher turnout benefits Doug Jones.

Pollster Nate Silver weighs in and explains:

There’s a massive spread in results from poll to poll — with surveys on Monday morning showing everything from a 9-point lead for Moore to a 10-point advantage for Democrat Doug Jones — and they reflect two highly different approaches to polling.

Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar GroupJMC Analytics and PollingGravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.

But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead.1

What accounts for the differences between live-caller and automated polls? There are several factors, all of which are potentially relevant to the race in Alabama:

  1. Automated polls are prohibited by law from calling voters on cellphones.
  2. Automated polls get lower response rates and therefore may have less representative samples.
  3. Automated polls may have fewer problems with “shy” voters who are reluctant to disclose their true voting intentions.
  4. Automated pollsters (in part to compensate for issues No. 1 and 2 above) generally make more assumptions when modeling turnout, whereas traditional pollsters prefer to let the voters “speak for themselves” and take the results they obtain more at face value.

Click the link for the deep dive.

Ultimately, Silver says this, although it is his intuition more than anything else:

Because you’ve read so much detail about the polls, I don’t want to leave you without some characterization of the race. I still think Moore is favored, although not by much; Jones’s chances are probably somewhere in the same ballpark as Trump’s were of winning the Electoral College last November (about 30 percent).

The reason I say that is because in a state as red as Alabama, Jones needs two things to go right for him: He needs a lopsided turnout in his favor, and he needs pretty much all of the swing voters in Alabama (and there aren’t all that many of them) to vote for him. Neither of these are all that implausible. But if either one goes wrong for Jones, Moore will probably win narrowly (and if both go wrong, Moore could still win in a landslide). The stakes couldn’t be much higher for the candidates — or for the pollsters who surveyed the race.

Not that I have any credentials like Silver, but I think it will hinge on turnout.  High turnout is good for Jones; low is good for Moore. Democrats, of which there are fewer, are more “fired up” and a significant amount of Republicans are conflicted about Moore (a SurveyMonkey series of polls confirm this). But are they fired up and conflicted ENOUGH?  Who knows?

Trump Hits New Low In Pew Polls

President Donald Trump has hit rock bottom again in a new poll.

The Pew Research Center finds that only 32 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, the lowest level in any Pew poll measuring his job approval since he took office in January. Sixty-three percent disapprove.

Trump’s approval rating has declined slightly since October when it was 34 percent, and it has decreased markedly since February when it was 39 percent.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans say improper contact between senior Trump officials and Russia during the 2016 campaign “definitely or probably occurred,” and 30 percent say it “definitely or probably did not happen.”

Accusations of such collusion are being investigated by Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Some other details that could be troubling for Trump if the trends continue: His approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, a key part of his political base, has fallen since February to 61 percent from 78 percent. Overall, Trump’s support among white voters has declined since February to 41 percent from 49 percent, and his approval among white voters without college degrees has declined to 46 percent from 56.

Yet voters who identify themselves as conservative still back Trump although by smaller margins. Seventy-six percent of Republicans and Republican leaners approve of his job performance, compared with 84 percent in February.

Forty percent of men approve, down from 45 in February, and 25 percent of women approve, down from 33 percent.

The Republican Machine and Fox’s pro-Trump Hosts Are Working Hard To Discredit Robert Mueller

Yesterday left no doubt: Fox News and Trump Republicans are willing to destroy America’s institutions as long as it keeps them in power.

It starts with Fox News. It starts with Sean Hannity, who’s hearing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “illegitimate and corrupt.” That it’s led by a “band of merry Trump-haters” who are trying to reverse the results of the election. And that it must be stopped.

He’s also hearing that the FBI is becoming “America’s secret police,” akin to the KGB in Russia, full of “sickness” and “corruption.”

The overarching message from “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity” is unmistakable: Mr. President, you’re the victim of a “deep state” plot to take you down. Don’t let it happen.

In recent weeks, there’s been a big increase in reporting about Mueller’s probe and how it could affect Trump’s inner circle. At the same time, there’s also been a sharp escalation in the anti-Mueller rhetoric coming from right wing media sources.  With four of Trump’s associates now charged by Mueller’s team, and congressional probes also proceeding in many different directions, other channels are filled with the latest twists and turns about the intensifying investigations.

But viewers who stick to Fox might not know that. The nightly focus is on Mueller’s alleged partisanship, not Trump’s potential problems.

Last weekend, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Mueller had removed FBI official Peter Strzok from his team of investigators due to text messages from Strzok that could be interpreted as anti-Trump. Even though Strzok was reassigned to FBI human resources, the story is the centerpiece of the current anti-Mueller hits.

Newt Gingrich, who praised Mueller’s appointment back in May, now sounds like a different person altogether. “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” he told Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night.

One hour earlier, the banners on Sean Hannity’s show read “MUELLER’S PARTISAN ATTACK TEAM” and “THE DEEP STATE,” so even if viewers had the volume down, they still saw the message. Channel surfers who stumbled on Fox by mistake might think they had landed in an alternate universe. Hannity began the hour by slamming “Robert Mueller’s partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team,” calling the accomplished lawyers “an utter disgrace.” He invoked the U.S. Constitution and said “they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic.” Repeating something he has said dozens of times before, Hannity said, “this entire witch-hunt needs to be shut down — and shut down immediately.”

Then Hannity brought in news anchor turned “legal analyst” Gregg Jarrett, who appears on the program almost every night to savage Mueller and company. “I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt,” Jarrett said. “And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”

“This is not hyperbole you are using here,” Hannity said, credulously.

Yes, Sean. It is the very definition of hyperbole.

“No. Ask Paul Manafort, they came for him and broke through his front door,” Jarrett said. Jarrett and Hannity commented that if it can happen to Manafort, it can happen to anyone.

Well, it DOES happen to anyone.

The rhetoric doesn’t spew from Fox News. It continues in Congress. FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency yesterday in his first public appearance since President Donald Trump said the bureau is “in tatters.”  Wray told the House Judiciary Committee his agents work hard “protecting the American people and upholding the rule of law in all 50 states and in about 80 countries around the world.”
Throughout the hearing, Republican lawmakers have seized on the actions of Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of the Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI’s counterintelligence division.  He left the Mueller team this past summer after an internal investigation found messages he sent that could be interpreted as showing political bias for Hillary Clinton and against Trump, according to US officials briefed on the matter.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, asked Wray about what he’s doing to clear the ranks of the FBI by people “tainted” by bias.

“I think these matters are being looked at, as they should be, by somebody outside the FBI, and when those findings come to me, I will take appropriate action if necessary,” Wray said, referencing the ongoing inspector general investigation. “The first thing I’m doing is respecting the outside independent investigations that are underway. … My preference is to be one of these people who is not an act first and ask questions later guy.”

The allegation of bias is, of course, ridiculous. The assumption is that if you have a political leaning, you cannot be fair and impartial. But is that true? What does say about the Republican Congressmen on the committee?

It’s clear why Fox and some Republicans in Congress are attacking Mueller and the FBI. It is because the heat is on with Trump. They need him. And once Mueller passes a certain point (he may have already passed it), and the investigation moves into litigation, then we are riding a train to Trump’s demise, and even Mueller cannot stop it. So they need to discredit Mueller and the investigators NOW.  That’s what is happening.

But it is a very dangerous game. A Russia kind of propaganda game. When you discredit the FBI, and get a large segment of the country to believe there is no law and order, you create chaos.  Trump will come and go. The damage being done won’t.

Trump Endorses Accused Child Molester For Senate

The chyrons say it all:

Kayla Moore (Roy’s wife) confirms:

This is not normal. Can you imagine, in any other time, what would happen if a President endorsed a child molester as a candidate for Senate?

Polls have the two pretty close….

… BUT I am not sure how much to trust these polls. I think many people will lie about whether they are voting for Roy Moore to a pollster, out of embarrassment.

In Other News, Senate Passes Most Atrocious Tax Bill In US History

Breaking: Jeff Flake (R-Az) votes for terrible tax bill. It looks like the GOP has enough to pass.

Narrator: “He’s wrong about that.”

FURTHER THOUGHT:

I titled this post “In Other News….”, but one wonders about the haste of the passage of this Tax Bill.  No hearings, almost no scoring, very few amendments.  Was the processed rushed because insiders knew that the Flynn plea deal was coming?

Trump Finally Weighs In On Moore

As for the open Alabama seat, Trump has remained unusually quiet, ignoring questions from reporters. But today, he couldn’t help himself.

This is worth noting because WH spokesperson Sarah Sanders had said on several occasions that Trump supported the RNC’s decision to cut off support for Roy Moore. Yeah, she lied.

When asked if it is better to have a child predator than a Democrat in that seat, Trump responded…

It’s better on video —

The Moore Accuser Count Is Up To 8

Via WaPo:

Roy Moore. Born in 1947. He moved out of Gadsden, Ala., in 1954, returning after his service in Vietnam in 1977. He joined the office of the district attorney that year. In 1982, he again left Gadsden, returning in 1985, the year he married his wife, Kayla. She was 24, and he was 38. In 1992, he was appointed to the circuit court.

Leigh Corfman. Born in 1965. Corfman alleges that in 1977, when she was 14, Moore introduced himself to her outside a child custody hearing at the local courthouse. He later called her and asked her on a date, during which, she alleges, he took her to his house and tried to initiate sexual contact. Moore was 32.

Wendy Miller. Born in 1963. Miller alleges that Moore first started talking to her while she was working as an elf at Gadsden Mall at the age of 14. Two years later, he began to ask her on dates. Her mother prevented her from doing so. Moore was 32.

Debbie Gibson. Born in 1964. Gibson alleges that Moore came to her civics class at Etowah High School to talk about serving as an assistant district attorney before asking her out on a date. They dated for several months while she was 17. Moore was 34.

Gloria Thacker. Born in 1961. Thacker alleges that she was working at a store at the mall at the age of 18 when Moore asked her out. They dated off and on for several months. Moore was 32.

Beverly Young Nelson. Born in 1961. Nelson was 16 when she worked at a restaurant called Old Hickory House in 1977. Moore, she said during a news conference this week, was a regular customer who, at one point, signed her high school yearbook. On one evening, he offered her a ride home. Nelson alleges that he instead drove behind the restaurant and assaulted her. Moore was 30.

Gena Richardson. Born in 1959. Richardson alleges that she was working at Gadsden Mall in 1977, at age 18, when Moore introduced himself. He called her at school, interrupting her trigonometry class, to ask her out. He was 30.

Tina Johnson. Born in 1963. Johnson told AL.com that she was 28 when she visited Moore’s office for a legal issue in 1991. Moore, she says, made several inappropriate comments and, as she was leaving, groped her. He was 44.

Moore has specifically denied the allegations levied by Corfman and Nelson.

That’s where things stand today — this morning.

 

Flake Bows Out

In a growing sign of discontentment with their President, another Republican Senator has announced he will not run for re-election: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona:

Condemning the nastiness of Republican politics in the era of President Donald Trump, Sen. Jeff Flake on Tuesday announced he will serve out the remainder of his term but will not seek re-election in 2018.

The bombshell, which Flake, R-Ariz., intended to detail Tuesday afternoon on the Senate floor, will further roil Republican hopes of keeping the party’s 52-seat Senate majority in the midterm elections of Trump’s first term, when the president’s party historically loses seats in Congress.

It also likely will upend the race for Flake’s seat.

Flake, one of the Senate’s more prominent critics of President Donald Trump, has been struggling in the polls.

He told The Arizona Republic ahead of his announcement that he has become convinced “there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party.”

Flake said he has not “soured on the Senate” and loves the institution, but that as a traditional, libertarian-leaning conservative Republican he is out of step with today’s Trump-dominated GOP.

“This spell will pass, but not by next year,” Flake said.

Among Republican primary voters, there’s overwhelming support for Trump’s positions and “behavior,” Flake said, and one of their top concerns is whether a candidate is with the president or against him. While Flake said he is with Trump on some issues, on other issues he is not. And Trump definitely views him as a foe, having denounced Flake publicly and called him “toxic” on Twitter.

“Here’s the bottom line: The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I’m not willing to take, and that I can’t in good conscience take,” Flake told The Republic in a telephone interview. “It would require me to believe in positions I don’t hold on such issues as trade and immigration and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone.”

As of Sept. 30, Flake’s campaign had $3.4 million on hand. He has continued to raise money — as recently as Thursday, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headlined a fundraiser for him in Arizona.

Flake said he has ruled out running as an independent rather than a Republican, saying he didn’t think that was a viable strategy. He also said he has “no intention” of making a presidential run.

I guess this means we have another Trump critic, like Corker, who is not beholden to Trump. Looks like Trump cannot lead the way he thought he would.

Powerful words he gave though

Republican Hypocrisy Exhibit No 352

Earlier this week, Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania voted in favor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which “would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy,” according to GovTrack.

The congressman has been lauded by the Family Research Council, for his stance on abortion, as well as for family values, generally. He also has been endorsed by LifePAC, which opposes abortion rights, and is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, an affiliation that is often cited by his office.

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found out something:

A text message sent in January to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy by a woman with whom he had an extra-marital relationship took him to task for an anti-abortion statement posted on Facebook from his office’s public account.

“And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options,” Shannon Edwards, a forensic psychologist in Pittsburgh with whom the congressman admitted last month to having a relationship, wrote to Mr. Murphy on Jan. 25…

And the kicker? She wasn’t actually pregnant. It was just a scare.

“After discussions with my family and staff, I have come to the decision that I will not seek reelection to Congress at the end of my current term,” he wrote in a statement. He added: “In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing. I ask you to respect our privacy during this time.”

Yyyyyyeah.

[NOTE: As for the probably unconstitutional bill, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans don’t have the votes to override a filibuster from Democrats, who blocked similar versions of the legislation in 2013 and 2015.]

UPDATE: 

What Roy Moore Means For The Republican Party

If there is any person less suited for national politics than Donald Trump, it is Roy Moore. Known once as the “Ten Commandments Judge”, Roy Moore was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court bench when he defied orders from the US Supreme Court.  I have written about him several times over the years.

Last night, he won the Republican primary for Alabama’s US Senate seat left open by Jeff Sessions. It looks likely that he will defeat the Democrat, Doug Jones, and head to Congress.  Trump, who campaigned (badly) for Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, deleted all the pro-Strange tweets he put up (as if to deny that he ever backed him at all).

Moore is a bombthrower, just like Trump.  His victory is a humiliation for the Washington-based Republican establishment, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose allies pumped millions of dollars into the race to prop up Strange and reassure his colleagues that they could survive the Trump era.

Moore’s victory also opens the door to other anti-establishment Republicans to challenge Republican incumbents with fringier candidates like Moore.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for Democrats?  Well, in places like Alabama, probably a bad thing. But then again, Dems were never going to win in Alabama. But for other states, a crazed rightwinger throwing out an establishment Republican might be a good thing, as independents and some Republicans might not want to support the crazy and the fringe, leaving room for a Democratic winner. In fact, a Democratic majority in the Senate might even be possible.

On the other hand, that type of thinking gave us… Donald Trump.

Aside from elections, Moore in the Senate will make governing even harder for Republicans. He will not toe the party line.  Who knows where he would be on something like Graham-Cassidy (which died yesterday).

Interesting times.

Graham-Cassidy May Be The Worst ACA Repeal-and-Replace Bill Of Them All

There is no ambiguity about the terms of the Graham-Cassidy bill. It would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which has enabled about fourteen million Americans to obtain health-care coverage. Then it would subject the rest of Medicaid to substantial cuts by converting it to a block-grant program. By targeting the low-paid, the sick, and the infirm, the legislation would create hundreds of billions of dollars in budget savings; these could then be applied to Republican tax cuts aimed primarily at rich households and corporations.

The bill isn’t just a smash-and-grab raid on the poor and nearly poor, though. It would also undermine the insurance exchanges set up under the A.C.A., by stripping away the subsidies for the purchase of policies, abolishing the employer and individual mandates, getting rid of the lifetime caps on health-care outlays, and allowing insurers to force people with preëxisting conditions to pay more.

How much more? According to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, opioid addicts and people with rheumatoid arthritis would face surcharges of more than twenty thousand dollars a year. (That’s in addition to the regular premiums.) For people with serious heart conditions, the surcharge would be more than fifty thousand dollars a year. And for those with metastatic cancer, it would be more than a hundred and forty thousand dollars.

In addition to destroying Obamacare, the bill would hand over to the states some of the money that the A.C.A. raised and let them build their own health-care systems. (This, supposedly, is the “replace” bit of “repeal and replace.”) A few big states, such as California and New York, might try to maintain the current setup, but they would be forced to spend more of their own money to do so. In a blatantly political move, the Graham-Cassidy bill would redirect some of the A.C.A. money to the nineteen Republican-run states that didn’t expand Medicaid, such as Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.

The American Medical Association, which represents more than two hundred thousand doctors, and the American Association of Retired Persons, which has thirty-eight million members, also criticized the new bill. The A.M.A. said that the measure “would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage, destabilize health insurance markets, and decrease access to affordable coverage and care.” The A.A.R.P. added that the legislation would “jeopardize the ability of older Americans and people with pre-existing conditions to stay in their own homes as they age and threaten coverage for individuals in nursing homes.”

Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night host who, through a close call involving his infant son, became a flashpoint for healthcare legislation, has came out against it.

It turns out that Kimmel, by no means an expert on healthcare, understands the bill better than its authors.

So far only one Republican — Sen. Rand Paul — has definitively refused to support the Graham-Cassidy bill, and Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority, can only afford to lose one more of their own in order to pass the bill with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. If they lose two more Republicans, then there’s no path for the bill as written to proceed. McCain, Collins, and Murkowski – who have rejected prior ACA repeal attempts — have said they have “serious concerns”.

Someone noticed that there is a nice little perk in the bill for Alaska, hopefully to sway Murkowski.  Another fifteen or so are “still studying the bill”.  The fact there is no CBO scoring SHOULD dissuade the on-the-fencers, but you never know.

The Less Said, The Better

Ted Cruz is an evangelical Christian who once defended a ban on dildos in Texas, has referred to birth control as “abortifacients,” and pulled an ad during the 2016 primary when he discovered one of the actors he’d hired was a softcore porn actress.

I thought that was important context for this:

Sen. Ted Cruz‘s official Twitter account appeared to “like” an explicit tweet Monday night, causing a stir on social media.

The Texas senator’s account, which has more than 3 million followers, liked a tweet from the account @SexuallPosts, which posts explicit content and porn. The “like” was later removed from the senator’s account, Cruz’s senior communications adviser Catherine Frazier said.

So… that happened.  It’s amusing and hard to know where to take the joke, but in this age of Trump, Ted can probably ride it out by doing nothing. No attempt to say “my account was hacked”.  Just…. nothing.

UPDATE:  I stand corrected.

Interesting Poll Numbers From North Carolina — Trump Underwater

From PPP:

PPP’s new North Carolina poll finds strong, bipartisan opposition to cuts the General Assembly has made to the budget of the North Carolina Department of Justice. Only 18% of voters support the 10 million dollars in cuts that have been made, to 60% who say they are opposed to them. This opposition is shared by independents (9/68), Democrats (18/65), and Republicans (26/48) alike. Concern about the cuts is fueled by a sense that they will have the effect of making the state less safe- 59% of voters believe that will be the outcome of cuts to funding for the DOJ, while only 12% say they think the cuts will make the state safer.

A plurality of voters- 46%- think the Republicans in the General Assembly made the cuts just because the Attorney General is a Democrat. Only 21% think they did it because it’s good for the state, and 33% aren’t sure one way or another. This is one of several issues driving the popularity of the General Assembly- and the Republicans in it in particular- into the ground. Only 18% of voters approve of the job the General Assembly is doing, to 58% who disapprove. While the Democrats in the body aren’t popular- a 37/46 favorability rating- they come out far better than the Republicans who just 32% of voters see positively, with 55% viewing them in a negative light.

Democrats have an early 46-40 lead on the generic legislative ballot for next year. That includes a double digit lead among independent voters, at 39/29. One thing that’s particularly good news for the party is that enthusiasm is on their side- 57% of Democrats say they’re ‘very excited’ to vote in the election next year, compared to only 47% of Republicans who say that. Among just voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ about turning out in 2018, the generic ballot lead for Democrats more than doubles to 13 points at 52/39.

There continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus in support of nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina. Overall 56% of voters support it, to just 14% who are opposed. Majorities of independents (63/10), Republicans (55/15), and Democrats (53/17) alike are in favor of shifting to that model for drawing district lines.

Roy Cooper:

Roy Cooper is off to a much better start as Governor than his two immediate predecessors. 48% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 33% who disapprove. He’s on solid ground with independents at 45/26, and his -32 approval with Republicans at 22/54 is actually well ahead of the curve for a politician across party lines in these heavily polarized times.

Cooper’s numbers look particularly good when compared to what PPP found for Pat McCrory and Bev Perdue in August of their first terms. Cooper’s the only one of the trio who hadn’t become unpopular within 7 months of taking office. His net approval is 27 points better than McCrory’s was at the same time, and 40 points better than Perdue’s was at the same time.

Governor Approval Rating, August of First Year in Office Net Approval
Roy Cooper 48/33 +15
Pat McCrory 39/51 -12
Bev Perdue 27/52 -25

Speaking of McCrory, voters say by a 44/37 spread that they think Cooper has been a better Governor than he was. Voters are closely divided in their feelings both about McCrory, and whether he should run again in 2020. 40% of voters see him favorably, to 41% with an unfavorable opinion of him. 41% of voters think he should run again for Governor in 2020, to 44% who think he should sit it out. Notably, among Republican voters McCrory has a 66/15 favorability rating while Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s is just 29/14.

National Issues:

-Donald Trump is unpopular in North Carolina, although his numbers are at least better than they are nationally. 44% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 50% who disapprove. Only 37% of voters think Trump has succeeded in his signature promise to ‘Make America Great Again,’ with 52% saying they believe he has failed on that front. 49% of North Carolinians say they wish they could have Barack Obama back as President, to just 45% who are happier with Trump.

One issue that’s not helping his image- or that of Republican Senators- in the state is health care. 47% of North Carolinians now support the Affordable Care Act, to only 38% who opposed to it. Repeal efforts have made it more and more popular. By contrast just 29% of voters say they support the health care repeal bill recently considered in Congress, to 51% who express opposition to that. 55% think the best path forward on health care is to keep the Affordable Care Act and make changes to it as necessary, to just 37% who think the best thing to do is repeal the ACA.

The health care vote could have long term implications for Thom Tillis. He already has weak approval numbers, with just 28% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 45% who disapprove. By a 16 point margin voters say they’re less likely to vote in the future for someone who supported the health care repeal bill in Congress- 46% say being on the record in support of that makes them less likely to vote for someone, to only 30% who say it makes them more likely to vote for someone. That could be a problem for Tillis in 2020, and more short term for some Republican House members up for reelection next year, especially when the anger over health care is combined with the enthusiasm advantage Democrats are currently enjoying.

Full results here

Trump Really DOES Want To Get Rid Of Sessions

Trump was VERY busy this morning on his Twitter machine.

It’s hard to deny that Trump does not want his AG Jeff Sessions to stay on when he disses him when you look at the second and third from the bottom tweets.

Trump raised similar questions over the weekend days after telling reporters in an interview that he had second thoughts about nominating Sessions because the former Alabama senator had recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

What’s going on here?

Well, typically, Trump tipped his hand in his tweets today. If he fires Sessions, he’s stuck with Rosenstein as acting AG who, like Sessions, won’t end the Russia investigation. Of course, it is the same result if he gets Sessions to quit, but it looks better if Sessions quits.  So he’s trying to humiliate Sessions.

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, says it’s “probably” correct that Trump wants Sessions gone. According to The Hill, he said didn’t want to speak for the President, but said he thinks Trump has a “certain style” and he is “obviously frustrated.”

Yeah, obviously.

Congress is not amused by Trump’s attacks on his own attorney general:

It’s a lesson that could cost him politically in a Senate where he badly needs Republican support for his lengthy agenda, starting with healthcare on Tuesday.

“I don’t understand it. There’s no more honorable person I’ve ever met in my life than Jeff Sessions,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a close friend of Sessions and his wife. “The only person who is more upset with Trump about this than me, is my wife.”

Sessions spent 20 years in the Senate, winning a reputation for affability and party loyalty. He understood and doggedly practiced the code of what’s been called the world’s most exclusive club: You can disagree without being disagreeable, but you protect the institution and its members.

***

Senators made it clear the attack on one of their own stands to color Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans, said Inhofe, a senator since 1994.

“I’m 100 percent for the president, but I really have a hard time with this,” he said.

“That’s what he does, I don’t think he means harm with those tweets,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Trump.

But Hatch added, “I’d prefer that he didn’t do that. We’d like Jeff to be treated fairly.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, agreed.

”I guess we all have our communication style and that’s one that I would avoid,” Tillis said, adding that the Russia investigation by an outside special counsel should proceed without interruptions: “The fewer distractions we have, the faster the investigation can proceed and the less confusion the electorate has to deal with,” he said.

”Sen. Sessions is showing the independence I expected of him and that’s a healthy thing,” Tillis said.

Even those who said they were nonplussed by Trump’s criticism made it clear they sided with Sessions’ recusal decision.

“Jeff made the right decision. It’s not only a legal decision, but it’s the right decision,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Senator Graham took to Twitter too:


Screwing around with the legal process is serious. So serious that even Republicans in Congress are drawing a red line, and that’s something they rarely have done when Trump is involved.

I hope Trump and Bannon consider that.

And there are even reports that Trump’s cabinet is ready to bail over this (as a last straw). If Erick Erickson can be believed, Tillerson isn’t the only cabinet member who is displeased with the president’s attacks on Sessions.

“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.

In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.

How’s Sessions handling this? Not well:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.

“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”

Cruel, Insane and Stupid.  Trumpworld.

Senate Health Care Bill Off Fast Track

It looks like BHCA (the Better Health Care Act, which isn’t) is not going to be voted on before the July 4 break, as Senator McConnell had hoped. I don’t see how he thought he could put such a terrible bill through committee, without hearings, without almost no debate, without amendments, and get a vote passed.  The horrible CBO score did him in.  Chaos broke loose.

Here’s a nice summary of the the bill:

Trump has invited Senators from both parties over to the White House to discuss health care. I would love to be a fly on that wall.  To discuss the issue, you have to understand the issue.

Breaking: The Senate Health Care Bill Gets Scored

The House Bill said 23 million would lose insurance under the House GOP plan to replace Obamacare.

Now the Senate version has been scored and it is…. just as bad.

The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law, the budget office said.

Silver lining?

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

Good news unless you are uninsured and get sick.  The deficits mostly come from GOP bill cuts, i.e., the spending cut on Medicaid by 26% by 2026

To be honest, I really thought it would be somewhere around 15 million after 10 years.  Nope, it’s 22 million.  A disaster for the GOP.  And most of that — well, 15 million — would happen right away.  That would have a huge impact on the 2018 elections if this gets passed.

All Hail ACHA 2.0

Well, after weeks of secrecy, the Senate version of Obamacare “Repeal and Rewhatever” (PDF) is here. Remember, the House version of the ACHA would result in 23 million people becoming uninsured, and even Trump called it “mean”.  Is the Senate version any better?  Not much:

Here is how the Senate bill works:

  • The Senate bill begins to phase out the Medicaid expansion in 2021 — and cuts the rest of the budget’s program too. The Senate bill would end the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. This program has provided coverage to more Americans than the private marketplaces
  • It would also cut the rest of the public insurance program. Better Care would also limit government spending on the rest of the Medicaid program, giving states a set amount to spend per person rather than the insurance program’s currently open-ended funding commitment.
  • The Senate bill provides smaller subsidies for less generous health insurance plans with higher deductibles. The Affordable Care Act provides government help to anyone who earns less than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($47,550 for an individual or $97,200 for a family of four). The people who earn the least get the most help. The Senate bill would make those subsidies much smaller for many people, and only provide the money to those earning less than 350 percent of the poverty line ($41,580 for individuals and $85,050 for a family of four). The Senate bill will tether the size of its tax credits to what it takes to purchase a skimpier health insurance plan than the type of plans Affordable Care Act subsidies were meant to buy. Essentially, these tax credits buy less health insurance.
  • The Senate bill repeals the individual mandate — and replaces it with nothing. The bill gets rid of the Affordable Care Act’s unpopular requirement that nearly all Americans carry health coverage or pay a fine. This could cause significant disruption in the individual market because it takes away a key incentive healthy people have to buy coverage, meaning only sick people may sign up.  This drives up premiums, deductibles, and co-pays.
  • The bill would cut taxes for the wealthy. Obamacare included tax increases that hit wealthy Americans hardest in order to pay for its coverage expansion. The AHCA would get rid of those taxes. Obamacare was one of the biggest redistributions of wealth from the rich to the poor; the AHCA would reverse that.
  • The Senate bill defunds Planned Parenthood for one year. This would mean Medicaid patients could no longer seek treatment at Planned Parenthood clinics. Experts expect this would result in low-income Americans getting less medical care and having more unintended pregnancies, as access to contraceptives would decline.
  • All in all, the replacement plan benefits people who are healthy and high-income, and disadvantages those who are sicker and lower-income. The replacement plan would make several changes to what health insurers can charge enrollees who purchase insurance on the individual market, as well as changing what benefits their plans must cover. In aggregate, these changes could be advantageous to younger and healthier enrollees who want skimpier (and cheaper) benefit packages. But they could be costly for older and sicker Obamacare enrollees who rely on the law’s current requirements, and would be asked to pay more for less generous coverage.

Shorter story: the rich get tax breaks, the poor and sick get screwed. It’s a reverse Robin Hood bill.

Let’s recall what Sen. Mitch McConnell said about the Affordable Care Act in January:

MCCONNELL: Well, what you need to understand is that there are 25 million Americans who aren’t covered now. If the idea behind Obamacare was to get everyone covered, that’s one of the many failures. In addition to premiums going up, copayments going up, deductibles going up. And many Americans who actually did get insurance when they did not have it before have really bad insurance that they have to pay for, and the deductibles are so high that it’s really not worth much to them. So it is chaotic. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

McConnell was right in every criticism he made of the ACA. Then he turned around and wrote a bill that made every single problem he identified worse.

Republicans have a mere 52-48 advantage in the Senate, so if there are two “no” Republicans, the bill could pass with VP Pence breaking the tie.  But 3 “no” Republicans would kill it (assuming, as I do, that every Dem is a “no”).  Senator Rand Paul (R) has already said “no” because it doesn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare, but that might be posturing.

I wonder if Trump will endorse it.  After all, this is going to be thrown in his face:

Initial reaction is not good, and there are already some bad optics, like Capital Police dragging away protesters who are wheelchair-bound:

GA-6 Fallout

Ossoff lost in the 6th District of Georgia last night. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Handel leads Ossoff 53 percent to 47 percent in a race that many expected to be much closer. Handel had 127,021 votes to the Democrat’s 114,390 ballots.

And so now the Republicans are gloating…

… and the Democrats are engaged in a circular firing squad.

What’s the lesson?  Why did the Democrats lose Georgia 6th and South Carolina 5th?  And the other two special elections that were supposedly referenda on Trump?

I said it yesterday…. WHEN YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO WIN, YOU SHOULDN’T MOURN THE LOSS.

The story isn’t “Dems Lost”. It is “Dems Making Huge Gains Into Republican Districts”.

Look at these special election results:

The GOP drops by double digits since Election Day 2016.  That’s double digit drop in seven months!!

Nate Silver does a lot of number crunching and concludes:

As compared to the 2016 presidential results, Democrats have outperformed their benchmarks by an average of 14 percentage points so far across the four GOP-held districts to have held special elections to date. As compared to the 2012 presidential election, their overperformance is even larger, at almost 18 points. They’ve also outperformed their results from the 2016 and 2014 U.S. House elections by roughly 11 points, after one accounts for the fact that the special elections were open-seat races rather than being held against incumbents.

DEMOCRATIC SWING IN SPECIAL ELECTION RELATIVE TO BENCHMARK*
DISTRICT 2016 PRESIDENT 2012 PRESIDENT 2016 HOUSE 2014 HOUSE
Kansas 4 +22.5 +22.6 +17.8 +15.8
Montana +16.6 +11.5 +2.7 +7.3
Georgia 6 -0.1 +23.5 +12.5 +17.5
South Carolina 5 +17.4 +12.2 +10.1 +3.6
Average +14.1 +17.5 +10.8 +11.1
Democrats continue to substantially outperform their benchmarks
* Result relative to national popular vote, also adjusted for incumbency in the case of congressional incumbents.

How might this translate for Democrats next November, when all 435 seats are up for grabs? The results simultaneously suggest that an impressively wide array of Republican-held seats might be competitive next year — perhaps as many as 60 to 80 — and that Democrats are outright favorites in only a fraction of these, perhaps no more than a dozen. To some extent, this configuration is a result of Republican-led gerrymandering in 2010. Republicans drew a lot of districts where their members are safe under normal conditions, but not in the event of a massive midterm wave.

In order to win a net of 24 seats next year — enough to flip the House — Democrats may therefore need to target dozens of Republican-held seats and see where the chips fall. They can variously attempt anti-Trump, anti-Republican or anti-incumbent messages depending on the district.

They say the same thing over at The Cook Political Report:

Measured against the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index (PVI), Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean of their districts by an average of eight points in the past five elections:

A Smarter Way to Interpret 2017’s Special Elections

If Democrats were to outperform their “generic” share by eight points across the board in November 2018, they would pick up 80 seats. Of course, that won’t happen because Republican incumbents will be tougher to dislodge than special election nominees. But these results fit a pattern that should still worry GOP incumbents everywhere, regardless of Trump’s national approval rating and the outcome of the healthcare debate in Congress.

Yes, I like the way this looks.

Senate Republicans Getting Hit From All Over

This screenshot from Memeorandum gives a sense of the bind that Senate Republicans are in over their very long and VERY SECRET internal negotiating (by 13 white men) over their healthcare bill.

House Republicans insist that their terrible mean bill (which knocks 23 million off of healthcare) doesn’t get altered too much, and Democrats — well, they just want to see the bill.  This is all revving up each day, as Senate Republicans cannot seem to decide how to fix healthcare.

I was worried this might go under the radar, but I think not. Especially if it goes into August.

Trust The GOP, Do You?

Well, read this:

Political data gathered on more than 198 million US citizens was exposed this month after a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee stored internal documents on a publicly accessible Amazon server.

The data leak contains a wealth of personal information on roughly 61 percent of the US population. Along with home addresses, birthdates, and phone numbers, the records include advanced sentiment analyses used by political groups to predict where individual voters fall on hot-button issues such as gun ownership, stem cell research, and the right to abortion, as well as suspected religious affiliation and ethnicity. The data was amassed from a variety of sources—from the banned subreddit r/fatpeoplehate to American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by former White House strategist Karl Rove.

Deep Root Analytics, a conservative data firm that identifies audiences for political ads, confirmed ownership of the data to Gizmodo on Friday.

The Sessions Sessions

Ok, I’ll liveblog SOME of Sessions hearing before the Senate Intel Committee, but again, I expect he’ll talk about what he wants to talk about and then filibuster (or rely on executive privilege) when trapped in a corner.

2:56 pm

Sessions has no recollection of meeting, talking to Russian ambassador or other Russian official at the Mayflower hotel.


(Kislyak must be the gray-haired guy on the right)

Never discussed anything with any foreign agent about any campaign ever.

Sessions says he was victim of Franken’s “rambling question” after six hours of testimony.  Getting a little faux outraged in his opening statement here. (What Sessions is leaving out is that AFTER his hearing answer to Franken, he also left it out of written answers, which staff vet carefully.)

Sessions says it’s “absurd” to say his recusal should have kept him from participating in the Comey firing. He’s claiming he can narrow his stated recusal *from* campaign matters to *only* the Trump campaign.

Sessions appears to stand by his earlier assertion — that he recommended firing Comey due to his handling of Hillary email investigation.

Sessions pretty much confirms Comey’s conversation with Sessions about problems with the White House (Trump) talking directly to Comey about Russia. Except…

And now he’s talking about drugs and crime and gangs.  Talking a lot about it.  His favorite subject.

Aaaaaand that’s the gist of his statement.  I don’t doubt most of it. In fact, I don’t think Sessions was ever involved in any collusion (even though his inability to remember meetings with Russians is… uh…. troubling).

I’ll update if he says anything different under questioning, but I suspect this is all we will get out of him.

Sessions will not talk about conversations with President — NOT based on executive privilege but based on long-standing Department of Justice “policy”.

I think this is a good summary so far:

Wait…. that’s different from “longstanding DOJ policy”. I mean, it’s bullshit too, but it’s also different.

Oh my God. That’s disconcerting. As is this:

Tom Cotton is really reprehensible.

Kamala Harris is up. She wants to ask questions and he wants to stall and take long answers. She wants documents.

And the Chair admonishes her.

Yup.

The Trumpcare Fight

It was thought that Trumpcare, having passed the House, would die when it got to the grown-ups in the Senate.

Nope.  They’re trying to pass it.  Or something.

I can’t criticize the Senate version of Trumpcare.  Because nobody knows what it is.

We only know a few things. All reports say there will be no hearings on the text of the bill. There will be no amendments. Republicans are hoping to rush through an up-or-down vote on their version of the American Health Care Act passed by the House before the July 4th recess to avoid facing angry crowds who will build pressure for wavering members to vote no.

The best way to make those crowds angry? Give them something specific to be angry about. Look at the reaction to the House bill, which threatens protections for people with pre-existing conditions, would gut Medicaid and would – according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – strip 23 million people of their health insurance.

Of course people were furious. The bill is an exercise in man’s inhumanity to man. The AHCA isn’t really a health care bill at all; it’s a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans funded by taking health insurance away from the people who need it most. It’s designed to do as much damage as possible while still garnering the votes it needed to pass.

And pass it did in the House of Representatives, by the skin of its teeth, with both President Trump and Speaker Ryan and his whipping team going full stiff peaks on the Republican caucus. But even though the reconciliation process means the bill needs only 50 votes instead of the usual filibuster-busting 60, the House bill as passed didn’t have a chance in the Senate.

So a team of Republicans (and only Republicans) is cooking up a cauldron of tweaks and adjustments known only to them. The rest of us – the ones whose lives are going to be changed, damaged by whatever bubbling potion they concoct – don’t get to find out what’s inside. We don’t rate.

Ah, but what about those pesky reporters, always digging for the truth?  Well, this might be a clue:

So now they can hide.

New levels of low.

UPDATE:

Sessions To Testify Before Senate Intelligence Committee

2:30 today.

The thing to remember is that Sessions WANTED this testimony. So this is likely to his benefit. Or Trump’s.

Sessions was once on the periphery of the Trump-Russia scandal. I mean, sure, he failed to disclose at his confirmation hearings that he met with the Russians twice during the campaign. But he fixed that as soon as the Washington Post reported it.

But now there are reports of a third meeting with the Russians. He will be asked about that.

He will be asked to confirm or deny Comey’s testimony — like, did Trump clear the room to talk to Comey alone (as Comey testified).  If he directly contradicts Comey’s testimony, that will be the big story coming out of the hearing today.

He will be asked about Comey’s firing and why he was involved in it. He shouldn’t have been if he had recused himself.

The open question is whether or not Sessions will assert executive privilege relating to the Comey stuff.  And even THAT is problematic for several reasons. First of all, it is the President’s privilege to assert; Sessions cannot assert it for himself or on the President’s behalf. Has he gotten guidance from the President (or the President’s lawyers) on this?  Last week, Deputy AG Robinson tried to assert executive privilege even though the President never gave it with respect to their testimony.

And even if the President asserted executive privilege with respect to his private conversations with Comey, he waived much of that privilege with his tweets, so it is questionable to what extent the privilege exists at all.  Of course, that fight won’t be resolved in the hearing today, so Sessions can assert the privilege all he wants, they will fight about it, but in the end, he can refuse to testify. I don’t think they will try to hold him in contempt of Congress.

So that’s what will happen today. I don’t expect bombshells.

Can Trump Fire Mueller?

This is complicated and I don’t have much time. So hold on.

Trump does not have the legal authority to fire special prosecutor Mueller directly, but that doesn’t mean Trump can’t TRY.  For Trump to fire Mueller, he TECHNICALLY must order the Attorney General to fire Mueller.  If Trump tried to fire Mueller directly, Mueller could (and probably would) choose not to “recognize” Trump’s independent authority to fire him.

But wait, there’s another problem. If Trump asked Attorney General Sessions to fire Mueller — well, Sessions technically can’t either, because he recused himself from all matters relating to Russia… and that would presumably mean that he is recused from hiring or firing the special counsel looking into Trump-Russia collusion. Then again, Sessions was the one who fired Comey, and he probably should not have for the same reason.  So if Sessions tried to fire Mueller on Trump’s order, Mueller could choose not to “recognize” Mueller’s independent authority to fire him.

The correct person to fire Mueller (on order from Trump) is deputy AG Rob Rosenstein, the one who appointed Mueller to special prosecutor.

Whoever does it, it is very much like the Saturday Night massacre in Watergate.  There, Nixon told his attorney general Elliott Richardson to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused so Nixon fired him.  Nixon then told Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused and Nixon fired him too. Nixon then ordered the Solicitor General of the United States, Robert Bork, as acting head of the Justice Department, to fire Cox. Both Richardson and Ruckelshaus had given personal assurances to Congressional oversight committees that they would not interfere, but Bork had not. On November 14, 1973, federal district judge Gerhard Gesell ruled firing Cox was illegal absent a finding of extraordinary impropriety as specified in the regulation establishing the special prosecutor’s office.

It was a constitutional crisis.

The situations between now and then are strikingly comparable. The question is if Rosenstein will carry out Trump’s bidding, or if Sessions would, or if Trump would simply try to do it directly…. if he tried at all.

When questioned last week by Senator Kamala Harris of the Senate Intelligence Committee (who seemed to be looking well down the road), Rosenstein refused to say whether he would exercise his authority to fire Mueller if it ever came down to that.  At least, he refused to say in open session.

With all that said, I don’t think Trump will try to fire Mueller, despite what Newt Gingrich and others are saying.  Not only are the minefields legally (see above), but the political fallout just might be too much — even for Republicans.  After Nixon tried to fire Cox, public support crashed for Nixon (what little remained) and impeachment rose rapidly in the polls.

At that point, Republicans in Congress would join Democrats to appoint an independent counsel (just like they did in Watergate, where they appointed Jaworski).  Heck, it could be Mueller again.

So huge risk, low reward. I don’t think Trump would try this, but God knows what advice he is getting, and whether he will follow it.

UPDATE:  Rosenstein just happens to be testifying before the Appropriations Committee today.

He also says AG Sessions “theoretically” has power to fire Mueller.

Aw, Susan Collins goes to the direct question:

Happy Comey Day

Well, we already know in essence what Comey will testify about, since we have his written statement (which has been dissected to death). I don’t expect a lot of “news” but maybe so more fleshing out.

It will be in sharp contrast to yesterday, where two intelligence chiefs repeatedly refused to say whether Trump asked them to intervene in the Russia probe during their public Senate intelligence committee testimony. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers declined to discuss the specifics of private conversations they had with Trump and whether they had been asked to push back against an FBI probe into collusion between the campaign and the Russian government. Both hinted that they would share more information with senators privately.

The RNC has put out some rather odd talking points…

… which are rather contradictory (Comey vindicates Trump…. but he is a liar!)

Anyway…. as the day progresses, I will TRY to update with news and opinion, but again, I think we’ve hit 90-95% of the pay dirt here.  One thing to be sure: Comey is smart and already has answers for the Republican critics who will try to trip him up.

Either way, we’ll definitely learn (we hope) the answers to these questions

  1. How will Mr. Comey explain his silence on his interactions with Mr. Trump? (My guess: He thought he could “teach” Trump the proper parameters)
  2. Will Comey be a ‘showboat’? (My guess: No.)
  3. Will Republicans offer the president a lifeline?  (My guess: Some will. Some will even bring up Hillary’s emails)
  4. Will Democrats overplay their hand? (My guess: No)
  5. Will Trump tweet? (My guess: No, but if he does, it is because he feels the heat)
  6. Did the president violate guidelines that prevent interference in F.B.I. investigations? (My guess: Comey will punt on this)

AND WE’RE OFF….

10:00 am

The line to Shaw’s Tavern, a popular DC bar which is showing the hearing and offering free drinks for everytime Trump tweets, goes a full city block

Comey talking about how Trump said FBI was in disarray under Comey:

I note Comey’s voice is wavering. He’s pissed. Says Trump defamed him and FBI

And we’re at questions. Burr asking…

The country is riveted…

…. good to know?

Warner up. Going through each Trump meeting.

Risch(R), a former prosecutor, now asking questions….

Feinstein (D) up. Asking about why Comey believes he was fired (Answer: Russia investigation)

And Donnie Jr. weighs in…

Not when it is the President.

Rubio(R) up. Asks why Comey didn’t tell President “That’s wrong.” Comey says he was stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind.

Wyden (D) is up….

Let me just jump in here and say that I was wrong about one thing (at least).  I thought Comey would leave his personal impressions (“I felt…” “I got the impression….”) out of it.  I was clearly wrong. He’s giving his impressions.

Collins (R) is up….

I have not seen much from this vaunted “rapid response team” of Trump. I THINK the Republican response, if Rubio is any indication, is that Comey didn’t do anything, and he should have. But I think Comey’s answer is perfectly reasonable.

Nice tweet here….

Henirich (D) up….

Blunt (R) up…


Blunt seems to be rehashing the written statement.

Angus King (I) is up….

Lankford (R) is up….
He asks Comey how a president would end an investigation. Comey says, by simply telling it to end, but says he’s not a legal scholar. That might be used by GOP, i.e., Trump did what he is empowered to do.

And now we’re back to Lynch-Clinton.

Manchin (D) is up…

Cotton (R) is up…


I don’t think that is the answer Cotton wanted.


That’s not an excuse, Paul.

Harris (D) is up….
She’s asking a lot about Sessions recusal

Meanwhile… at White House briefing

Cornyn(R) is up and bringing up the Clinton investigation, saying Lynch had a conflict of interest. Zzzzzzz

McCain (R) is up….
Carrying water for GOP, I think. This is bizarre.


I think McCain had a stroke. He appeared to be under the impression that the election was still ongoing, called Comey President, and then couldn’t understand why Clinton was not prosecuted for helping the Russians elect Trump.

Hearing adjourned.  No tweets from President.

Takeaways:

(1) Trump is a liar.  Some more examples:

A. Trump was asked on Fox News last month whether he ever asked Comey for his loyalty. Trump responded, “No, I didn’t.” We now have reason to believe this was a lie.

B. Trump was asked at a White House press conference last month, “Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” Trump replied, “No. No. Next question.” We now have reason to believe this was a lie, too.

C. Trump was asked by NBC News’ Lester Holt about the private dinner he had with Comey, and the president said the FBI director “asked for the dinner.” We now have reason to believe this was also a lie.

(2)  No clear defense strategy from GOP (but don’t expect impeachment)

(3) Comey and all of us want those tapes (if they exist)

(4)  Senator McCain has gone ’round the bend.

Of course. And now it goes to closed door session, which will leak about an hour later.

Day 118. Hot Mess

1/ Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Bob Mueller to oversee the investigation of Russian interference in election. Mueller will take command of the prosecutors and FBI agents who are working on the far reaching Russia investigation. Trump said that he expects the probe will find no collusion between his 2016 White House campaign and foreign countries, calling the Russia inquiry a “taxpayer-funded charade.” (NBC News / New York Times / Washington Post / Politico)

  • Former Trump aides Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort have emerged as key figures in the FBI’s investigation into Russian campaign interference. Multiple grand jury subpoenas and records requests have been issued in connection with the two men. (NBC News)
  • Federal investigators have subpoenaed records for Manafort’s $3.5 million mortgage that he took out on his Hamptons home just after leaving the campaign. (NBC News)

2/ The House majority leader told colleagues last year: “I think Putin pays” Trump. Paul Ryan told them not to leak the remarks and swore them to secrecy. (Washington Post)

3/ Jason Chaffetz asked the FBI to turn all documents it has on Trump and Comey’s conversations. The FBI has until May 24 to produce the records before the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee subpoenas them. Chaffetz said that if the memo exists and accurately reflects the conversation, “that seems like an extraordinary use of influence to try to shut down an investigation being done by the FBI.” (NBC News / CNN)

  • Comey’s memos were a product of a culture of note-taking. It is standard for people who work in law enforcement to keep detailed phone and meeting logs. (New York Times)

4/ Senate and House Republicans and Democrats want Comey to testify about his interactions with Trump, including whether Trump tried to obstruct the criminal probe into Michael Flynn. The collective political fallout from the past week “will make it difficult” for Republicans to resist a change in approach, Representative Charlie Dent said. “I think we need to hear from him as soon as possible in public to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days,” Mitch McConnell said. (Politico / Washington Post / (Wall Street Journal)

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee requested that James Comey testify publicly in the wake of his firing by Trump. Sentors Richard Burr and Mark Warner sent a letter asking Comey to testify before their panel in both open and closed sessions. The senators had previously asked Comey to testify in a closed session, but he declined. (Politico)
  • The House Oversight Committee invited Comey to testify next Wednesday. Jason Chaffetz has officially scheduled the hearing and is in the process of trying to connect with Comey. The hearing will be the day the FBI is due to send documents to the oversight panel. (Politico)

5/ Democratic congressman Al Green called for “the impeachment of the President of the United States of America for obstruction of justice.” Green said it was the House of Representative’s “duty” to take up impeachment. More Republicans and Democrats are starting to talk of the possibility that Trump could face impeachment after reports that he pressed James Comey to end an investigation of Michael Flynn. Representative Justin Amash said if the reports about Trump’s pressure on Comey are true, it would merit impeachment. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both raised concerns about Trump’s action, but avoided the topic of impeachment in their statements responding to the news of Comey’s memo. “At best, President Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power,” Pelosi said. “At worst, he has obstructed justice.” Democrats can’t impeach Trump without significant Republican support. (CNN / The Hill / BuzzFeed News)

6/ Republicans blocked the Democrats attempt to force a vote on creating a bipartisan congressional commission to investigate Russian interference, how the intelligence community handled the matter, and the Trump’s involvement. “You’re watching an obstruction of justice investigation developing in real time,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “If there were ever any question about the need for an independent special prosecutor, this report is the nail on the argument.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Reuters)

  • Calls grow for an independent investigation. The deputy Republican whip Adam Kinzinger switched his position for an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, saying the recent news reports had marked a turning point for him. (NBC News / Washington Post)

7/ Paul Ryan tried to contain the political fallout from the Comey memo by urging members to avoid “rushing to judgment.” He called himself “a person who wants to get the facts” and said that “there are some people out there who want to harm the president.” (CNN / Washington Post / Politico)

8/ McCain compares Comey memo about his meeting with Trump to Watergate. “The only thing I can say is I think we’ve seen this movie before. I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale,” McCain said. His advice to Trump is “the same thing that you advised Richard Nixon, which he didn’t do… get it all out… it’s not going to be over until every aspect of it is thoroughly examined and the American people make a judgment. And the longer you delay, the longer it’s going to last.” (ABC News / The Daily Beast)

9/ Putin offers to provide Congress with the transcript to prove Trump didn’t pass Russia secrets, turning up the pressure on the White House to provide its own transcript of the meeting. Putin said Russia could hand over a transcript of Trump’s meeting with Lavrov, if the Trump administration deemed it appropriate. (Reuters / New York Times / CNN / Washington Post)

  • Adam Schiff: “Last thing” Trump needs “is Putin vouching for him.” Schiff called Putin’s offer “yet another twist in the road” and said, “all of this gets more baffling every day.” (CNN)
  • Senator Susan Collins says Trump needs to “right the ship” and get his “house in order” because “we cannot have this constant chaos” every single day from him. (CNN)

10/ Trump provided Russia with secrets so sensitive that news organizations are being asked not to report it. Trump told the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador that the Islamic State had used stolen airport security equipment to test a bomb that could be hidden in electronic devices. US intelligence officials have asked media organizations not to report on the type of equipment, where it was stolen, and the name of the city where the intelligence was gathered. The intelligence has led to the new rules banning electronic devices in the cabins of certain flights. (NBC News)

11/ Trump: No politician “has been treated worse or more unfairly,” warning graduating Coast Guard cadets that life is unfair. (Politico)

12/ Sally Yates disputed Sean Spicer’s characterization of her warnings that Flynn could be open to blackmail by Russia as a “heads up.” Yates said she expected the White House to act urgently on the information that Flynn had been compromised by his contact with Russian officials prior to Trump’s inauguration. (CNN / NBC News)

13/ Members of the Turkish president’s security team breached police lines and attacked protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the US. About two dozen demonstrators showed up outside of embassy hours after Erdogan met with Trump and a brawl erupted when Erdogan’s security detail attacked protesters carrying the flag of the Kurdish PYD party. (CNN / The Guardian / New York Times)

14/ The Iran nuclear deal will remain as Trump imposes new penalties over its ballistic missile program. The new sanctions is the latest attempt by the administration to signal its displeasure with Iran while not jettisoning the 2015 nuclear deal. (Politico / New York Times)

15/ Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke accepted a job at the Department of Homeland Security. Clarke has made a name himself for supporting Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration and for patrolling of Muslim neighborhoods. (Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel / Los Angeles Times)

16/ Trump has turned to Corey Lewandowski, Jason Miller, and David Bossie as scandals pile up. The former campaign aides have slid back into his group of advisers as a steady stream of damaging leaks and critical blind quotes that have flowed out of the West Wing. (Politico)

17/ Trump’s education budget calls for deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice. Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end, and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health and other services would vanish under the plan, which cuts $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives. (Washington Post)

poll/ Trump’s approval rating hits a new low: 42% – and that’s before claims that he disclosed sensitive information to Russian officials and tried to shut down an FBI investigation into Michael Flynn. (Politico)

Day 116. Jeopardized.

1/ Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during their Oval Office meeting last week, which has jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. Trump’s decision to disclose information risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. A US official said Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” Trump’s disclosures are not illegal as he has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it represents a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship. (Washington Post / New York Times)

2/ Trump is considering a “huge reboot” that could take out everyone from Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and Sean Spicer. Trump is irritated with several Cabinet members and “frustrated, and angry at everyone.” (Axios)

3/ Senate Republicans are looking at steep cuts to Medicaid that could drop millions of people from coverage and reduce programs for the poor. Under pressure to balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending on food stamps, welfare, and even veterans’ benefits through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate. If the Medicaid cutbacks get passed by both chambers, it could significantly scale back the federal-state insurance program that covers 73 million low-income or disabled Americans and shift significant costs onto hospitals and states. (Politico / Wall Street Journal)

4/ James Clapper said that US institutions are under assault from Trump and warned that federal checks and balances are eroding. Former Director of National Intelligence called on the other branches of the federal government to step up in their roles as a check on the executive. (CNN / Associated Press)

  • Republicans and Democrats agree that if Trump has tapes, he’ll need to turn them over to Congress. Lawmakers from both parties said any White House recordings must be preserved for congressional review and that “it’s probably inevitable” that they would be subpoenaed. (Washington Post)

5/ North Korea successfully test-fired a new type of ballistic missile, signaling an advance in their development of an intercontinental ballistic missile program. North Korea said the new “medium long-range” missile is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, warning that the United States’ military bases in the Pacific were within its range. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Reuters / Associated Press)

  • Putin warns against “intimidating” North Korea after its latest missile launch. Putin called for a peaceful solution to the ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula and said that Russia is “categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear states.” (CNN)

6/ The 9th Circuit Court will hear the travel ban appeal, again. A three-judge panel will hear a challenge to a Hawaii judge’s decision to halt travel ban 2.0. Lawyers at the Justice Department must convince at least two of the judges to ignore Trump’s record of campaign calls to ban Muslims from entering the US. (CNN)

7/ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief the full Senate on Thursday about the firing of James Comey. The briefing is classified and will take place in the regular secure room in the Capitol Visitors Center. (CNN / Washington Post)

8/ The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a statement noting that there was a dispute about who represented the state in the case and that nothing should be read into the court’s decision to decline to hear it. (Associated Press / Politico / New York Times)

9/ The Dakota Access pipeline has its first leak. The $3.8bn oil pipeline is not yet fully operational, but managed to spill 84 gallons of crude oil. (The Guardian)

10/ White Nationalist Richard Spencer led a torch-bearing group protesting the sale of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia. The group chanted “You will not replace us.” Spencer added: “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced.” (NPR / Washington Post)

11/ Trump thinks that exercising too much uses up the body’s “finite” energy. Trump mostly gave up athletics after college because he “believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted.” (Washington Post)

12/ Comey said he’d be willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but wants it to be in public. Comey originally declined an invitation from the committee to be interviewed in a closed-door hearing. (New York Times)

13/ Syria is using a crematorium to hide executions, the State Department said. The US believes Syria’s “building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison.” A State Department official said the regime could be killing as many as 50 detainees a day. (CNN / BuzzFeed News / Washington Post)

14/ Senate Republicans are breaking away from Trump as they try to forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes. Republican senators are drafting a health care bill with little White House input and pushing back on Trump’s impending budget request. Many high-ranking Republicans have said they will not support any move by Trump to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. (New York Times)

poll/ 29% approve of Trump’s firing of James Comey. Trump’s job-approval rating stands at 39%. (NBC News)

Word

Seriously, I think he’s actually correct. I think they literally DO try to do the dickish thing possible.

NC Legislature Still At It

Despite protests, widespread criticism and a threat by the governor-elect to challenge in court any moves that he believes would unconstitutionally limit his power, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature is pushing through reforms that would severely limit the incoming Democratic governor’s power.

It’s insane.  One such measure, which passed the House, was that the GOP and the Democratic Party would alternate the years in which they serve as the head of the Board of Electors in each county.  The catch? The GOP will chair all 100 county boards of elections in high-turnout even-numbered years (2018, 2020, 2022, etc.).

And get this…

How indeed?  Do they think we don’t see the inherent disadvantage that one party chairs the board of elections during even-numbered years?

Fortunately, there is pushback from the Dems about the LACK of bi-partisanship.

As I write this, there are citizen protest in the gallery.  They are trying to close the gallery now.

Other measures include the partisan election of NC Supreme Court judges.  The trend in America is to move AWAY from partisan elected judges (i.e., where judges indicate their political party).  But North Carolina is to become the first state since Pennsylvania in 1921 to move back to partisan Supreme Court judge elections.

LATE UPDATE:  SB4 passes and is signed by Gov. McCrory

SB4 would create a bipartisan commission merging the current State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the lobbying functions of the Secretary of State’s office, although Democrats correctly say that there is nothing “bi-partisan” about it.

Democrats said it couldn’t be called bipartisan because they weren’t involved in creating the proposal. Republicans call it bipartisan because it would create a state board and county election boards comprised of members equally split between the parties. It would also deprive the incoming Democratic administration of control of those boards; currently, the administration can appoint three of the five state members and two of the three members on each county board.

Democrats also argued that the bill is far-reaching and should be discussed in more detail in the long session next year. Republican sponsors said the ideas in the bill have been discussed in the legislature for years, and that this is a good time to make the changes because there is no impending election.

The bill would also give Gov. Pat McCrory the authority to make a one-time appointment to fill a vacancy on the state Industrial Commission for a six-year term plus the unexpired portion of the commissioner’s term. Normally, a vacancy replacement only fills out the remainder of a term.

It would also identify state Supreme Court candidates by party in primary elections.

AND MORE:

Good way to phrase it.

Another bill nearing final legislative approval would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be subject to Senate confirmation.

Republicans Will Like Anything As Long As It Helps Republicans

This graph says it all:

Republican opinion on Putin seems to have moved not because Trump is pro-Russia or because there’s suddenly an opportunity for better relations with Moscow. It moved because Russia interfered in the election to the Democrats’ detriment, whether that was the core motive or not. That’s the point we’ve reached in partisan polarization, apparently. Want better relations with the U.S.? Then do what you can, legal or not, to make the eventual winning party’s path to electoral victory easier.

To put that another way, the surge in favorability among Republicans for a Russian fascist and kleptocrat who’s used anti-American propaganda relentlessly to consolidate power at home may be a more or less straightforward byproduct of partisan politics.

If widespread murder helped Republicans win political offices,.Republican voters would start favoring widespread murder.

The Brazen NCGOP Power Grab

The lame-duck North Carolina legislature’s is engaging in a last-minute effort to weaken the office of the governor before Democrat Roy Cooper.

Here’s one thing they are doing.

Back in 2013, this same legislature dramatically increased the number of what are technically called “exempt positions” under the governor, giving newly elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory significant new patronage power. The number of political appointees authorized for McCrory exploded from about 500 to 1,500.

Now a new bill introduced in the surprise special session, called yesterday with about two hours notice, cuts the number of political appointees for Cooper from 1,500 down to 300, even fewer than McCrory originally started with.

Let that sink in. And it’s not just political appointees being taken away from Cooper. The lame-duck GOP legislature scheming with the defeated lame-duck GOP governor to handcuff the new Democratic governor on everything from the courts to the elections boards to higher education.

It’s a power grab of epic proportions.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis (Republican) was frank that some of the appointment and election board changes were prompted by Cooper’s election.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on, but a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway and has been talked about for quite some time,” he said.

House Democratic Leader Larry Hall of Durham said Republicans were trying to “nullify the vote of the people” in electing Cooper, who defeated McCrory last month.

The Charlotte Observer editorial board:

It’s both breathtaking and hardly surprising.

With a scope never before seen in North Carolina politics – and with an all-too-familiar disrespect for democracy – Republicans in Raleigh are engaging in a stunning reach for power this week.

They want to change the ideological makeup of election boards. They want to make it more difficult for court challenges to get to a Democrat-friendly Supreme Court. They want to limit the number of appointees Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will be able to make. They want approval authority over some of those appointees.

It is an arrogant display of muscle-flexing, and Republicans weren’t shy about the goal. Legislators, said House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, wanted “to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state.”

In other words: We’re in control. We want more control. We’ll do what we want to get it.

You might recognize that sentiment. It was what Democrats expressed in 1977 after the Democrat-led General Assembly passed legislation that allowed new Gov. Jim Hunt to fire all employees hired in the previous five years by his Republican predecessor. Said Joe Pell, then special assistant to Hunt: “The game of politics, as far as I know, is still played on the basis of ‘to the victor belongs the spoils.’”

That 1977 power grab was much smaller than what Republicans have attempted this week. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now, not only because it weakens the other branches of state government, but because it subverts the will of voters who elected Cooper and a Democrat Supreme Court justice to be a check on the Republican legislature.

The 1977 statute also was unconstitutional, and judges struck it down. You can expect this week’s measures to also head straight to the courts, a place where N.C. Republicans have regularly been reminded of the limits of their power.

There’s someone else, however, who can do that first. Gov. Pat McCrory is a lame duck now, which means he has one more opportunity to stand up to the extremists in his party. He also has little to lose, which means he can be the governor many had hoped for all along – one who was willing to do what’s right for North Carolina, not just what’s good for Republicans.

We’ve seen more glimpses of that McCrory lately. His response to Hurricane Matthew and its aftermath was both strong and compassionate. He was the leader the state needed, including this week in following through on relief so many North Carolinians desperately need.

Now North Carolina needs McCrory to lead again. He knows that limiting the next governor’s power, as Republicans are attempting this week, is wrong. As governor, he fought the legislature’s attempt to steal his appointing authority to key N.C. commissions, eventually winning in the N.C. Supreme Court earlier this year. He should veto all new attempts to weaken the office he’s about to leave.

Will doing so change McCrory’s legacy? Probably not. And any veto he makes might fall in an override vote – a fear that’s caused McCrory to bow to Republicans in the past.

But North Carolina has learned plenty these last four years the damage that can be done when one party – any party – accumulates too much power. That’s been on display once again this week, perhaps more brazenly, and dangerously, than ever.

People have noticed, fortunately.

Incoming governor Roy Cooper warns that the substance of these bills are horrible:

“Most people might think this is a partisan power grab, but it’s really more ominous,” Cooper said at a news conference.

House Bill 17, which was introduced Wednesday night and was moving through committees on Thursday, does the following:

  • It reduces the number of exempt positions under Cooper’s supervision from 1,500 to 300. Exempt positions are those that a governor can hire or fire at will, either because they are managers or because their job is somewhat political in nature. Although former Gov. Bev Perdue had roughly 500 such positions under her control, GOP lawmakers gave Gov. Pat McCrory 1,500 to work with.
  • It removes gubernatorial appointments to the various boards of trustees that run each campus in the University of North Carolina system. Those appointments would be would be transferred to the General Assembly.
  • It requires Senate confirmation for gubernatorial cabinet appointments. Although the state constitution allows this, the legislature hasn’t exercised this power in recent memory.

Cooper said the proposal “is really about hurting public education, working families, state employees, health care and clean air and water.”

Putting the legislative thumb on his appointments for the Revenue and Commerce departments would encourages more corporate tax cuts and loopholes, he said. Likewise, renewable energy efforts and rules for clean air and water would be hurt by requiring Senate approval of the environmental secretary, he said.

“We don’t look great to the people of North Carolina or to the rest of the country when laws are passed hastily with little discussion in the middle of the night,” he said.

He cited House Bill 2, the law limiting LGBT rights that lawmakers passed in a one-day emergency session in March, as an example of the damage created by last-minute legislating. Business expansions, concerts, athletic events and conventions have been moved out of North Carolina as a result of the law.

“I will use all of our tools … to lead this state in the right direction,” Cooper said, including possible litigation to overturn legislation.

“If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court – and they don’t have a very good track record there,” he said.

This last-minute legislation is a Republican tactic, one of many seen around the country, where the GOP tries to gain political control through means other than popular vote (gerrymandering being another).  Forget about winning over people by the strength of your ideas with these guys.

A Bunch Of Funny Side Stories From This Week

(1)  NC GOP CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT, INCLUDING MOCKING DEMS

When Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine addressed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday night, the North Carolina GOP thought it quickly spotted something wrong.

When Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine addressed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday night, the North Carolina GOP thought it quickly spotted something wrong.

“[Tim Kaine] wears a Honduras flag pin on his jacket but no American flag,” the state party tweeted as he was speaking. “Shameful.”

There was one problem: Kaine’s pin, which had a single blue star on a white background bordered with red, wasn’t the flag of Honduras, where he spent a year as a missionary decades ago. It was the symbol for Blue Star Families, or those with members serving in the military.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article92303587.html#storylink=cpy
“[Tim Kaine] wears a Honduras flag pin on his jacket but no American flag,” the state party tweeted as he was speaking. “Shameful.”

ncgoptweet

There was one problem: Kaine’s pin, which had a single blue star on a white background bordered with red, wasn’t the flag of Honduras, where he spent a year as a missionary decades ago. It was the symbol for Blue Star Families, or those with members serving in the military.

The tweet was deleted with an apology.

(2) FROM HER GRAVE, ABIGAIL ADAMS PWNS BILL O’REILLY

Michelle Obama delivered a powerful speech during the Democratic National Convention on Monday, as the first lady shed light on the historical significance of her family’s eight years at the White House as its first African-American family.

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Mrs. Obama said in her keynote address. “I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

As it turned out, one person was not entirely amused and went so far as to “fact check” the first lady’s comments.

FOX News personality and political lightning rod Bill O’Reilly defended the working conditions slaves faced while building the White House by offering the following explanation during The O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday:

“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.”

If there was a quiz, Bill failed.

The notion of the “happy slave” is old racist trope, and it is despicable that O’Reilly peddles this shit on television. But let’s get to the facts….

As O’Reilly noted, Michelle Obama’s predecessor as first lady, Abigail Adams was living in the White House at the time when slaves were building it, and she recorded her observations of those working on landscaping the grounds.

“The effects of Slavery are visible every where; and I have amused myself from day to day in looking at the labour of 12 negroes from my window, who are employd with four small Horse Carts to remove some dirt in front of the house,”she wrote. Moreover, Mrs. Adams took note of their condition—and her observation stands at odds with O’Reilly’s:

Two of our hardy N England men would do as much work in a day as the whole 12, but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, … to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast.

“Half-fed”.

Adams’s rebuke to O’Reilly is not the first time that a benign recollection of slavery has broken apart on the shoals of reality.

(3)  SPEAKING OF FOX, THE TENSION THERE IS CRAAAAZY

The New York Times reports on hard times at Fox News:

Megyn Kelly and her co-hosts [at the Democratic convention], including Bret Baier and Brit Hume, have not been speaking during commercial breaks, according to two people with direct knowledge of the anchors’ interactions, who described the on-set atmosphere at Fox News as icy. During ads, the hosts are often absorbed with their smartphones.

….Employees say there is a continuing split inside the network, with one camp of old-guard Fox News loyalists — some of whom owe their careers to Mr. Ailes — upset at his ouster. Some are resentful toward Ms. Kelly for cooperating with lawyers brought in by the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, to investigate Mr. Ailes’s behavior. (About a dozen women have reported improper behavior by Mr. Ailes to investigators.)

Another contingent inside Fox News is equally dismayed by the responses of stars like Kimberly Guilfoyle, Greta Van Susteren and Jeanine Pirro, who were quick to publicly defend Mr. Ailes after he was accused of harassment in a suit filed by the former anchor Gretchen Carlson.

And the pressure really seems to have gotten to Bill O’Reilly:

“I think the time has come now, where this whole network is going to have to band together, all of us, and we’re going to have to call out the people who are actively trying to destroy this network, by using lies and deception and propaganda. We’re going to have to start to call them out by name, because that’s how bad it’s become,” he said.

….”Jesse Watters goes on the floor of the Democratic convention, and some photographer comes up and starts swearing at him and cursing at him right in his face? This is provocation,” he continued. “These people are doing this. They want me dead, Bolling, literally dead.”

Bolling responded to O’Reilly, “I’m not sure they want you dead.”

“Oh they do, believe me,” O’Reilly said.

Poor Bill. I think he revels in the notion that we all want him dead. It would be a shock to his ego to find out that most of us just want him to go away.

(4)  CONSERVATIVES AREN’T AWARE THAT BRADLEY COOPER ISN’T ACTUALLY A SNIPER

Bradley Cooper’s appearance at the Democratic National Convention has irked some conservative fans of the actor’s portrayal of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in 2014’s “American Sniper.”

Cooper was spotted by TV cameras Wednesday night seated at the meeting in Philadelphia alongside his Russian model girlfriend, Irina Shayk.

Some Twitter users say they plan to boycott Cooper’s future films over his presence at the convention. Another commented that they thought his experience playing Kyle would have rubbed off on him.

The complaints have been mocked by others who say Cooper was simply acting a role when playing Kyle and conservatives shouldn’t be surprised.

Cooper earned an Oscar nomination for “American Sniper,” which became a blockbuster thanks in part to an enthusiastic reception among conservative moviegoers.

(5)  LIKE AN IDIOT, DONALD TRUMP JR KEEPS PLAGIARISM IN THE HEADLINES WITH A REALLY BAD COUNTER-EXAMPLE

The plagiarism in question? It was an entire paragraph.  No three sentences.  One sentence?

Nope. Both men used the line “This is not the America I know” in their respective convention speeches.

The problem?  As NBC News pointed out, Obama has used versions of this line in several past speeches. In a 2010 speech, he used the line, “That is not the America we believe in.” And in addresses delivered in 2012 and 2016, he used the line, “That’s the America I know.”

Former President George W. Bush also once used the line, “That’s not the America I know,” as NBC News noted.

See, Don Jr., five or six common words can’t be plagiarism, whereas 70 or so?  Yeah.

(6)  THIS SHOULD BE AN ANTHEM

Unity In Color, At Least

Salon:

At last official count, there were expected to be a total of 18 black delegates at the Republican National Convention this week. Yes, eighteen, or roughly 0.7 percent of the 2,472 national delegates in Cleveland.

***

According to the best estimate we have, the share of black delegates at this week’s GOP convention is lower than any time it has been in more than a century (and possibly even longer)—including during a dozen or so conventions that took place back when there were still legally segregated water fountains and lunch counters in our country.

Anyone surprised?

RELATED UPDATE: 

Jesus:

RNC Deletes LGBT Reference In Its Orlando Statement

In its original statement following the Orlando shootings, the Republican National Committee made an attempt to acknowledge that the attack specifically targeted LGBT Americans—a sad attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. But meh, who really cares about that aspect anyway? So they finally just edited gays out altogether. Rebecca Ruiz reports on the line that was just too dangerous to include:

“Violence against any group of people simply for their lifestyle or orientation has no place in America or anywhere else,” it said.

The RNC’s reference to gender identity and sexual orientation was vague and awkwardly worded. Still, the sentence stood out in a statement that otherwise declined to clearly identify Pulse nightclub as a gay destination or describe the victims as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

But by Monday, the statement had been updated. It was missing that key sentence and contained no explanation for the revision.

RNC spokesperson Lindsay Walters later explained the change:

Walters said the revision was meant to be more inclusive because it invoked a common humanity and referenced all Americans instead of singling out LGBT people.

Right! Including LGBT folks by explicitly excluding them. Note to GOP: even straight people have a lifestyle and orientation, if you think about it.

Texas GOP Platform

It’s no fun to live in North Carolina sometimes, with its backward state legislature.

But at least it ain’t Texas.  Check out the Republican Party of Texas Platform below.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Rights of a Sovereign People- The Republican Party of Texas supports the historic concept, established by our nation’s founders, of limited civil government jurisdiction under the natural laws of God, and we oppose the humanistic doctrine that the state is sovereign over the affairs of men, the family, and the church. We believe that government properly exists by the consent of the governed and must be restrained from intruding into the freedoms of its citizens. The function of government is not to grant rights, but to protect the unalienable, Godgiven rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Texans should be free to express their religious beliefs, including prayer, in public places

which is right on the same page as….

United States Senators- We support the repeal of the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the appointment of United States Senators by the state legislatures.

So much for government existing by the consent of the governed.

And then there is

Unelected Bureaucrats- We oppose the appointment of unelected bureaucrats and we support defunding and abolishing the departments or agencies of the Internal Revenue Service, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Interior (specifically, the Bureau of Land Management), Transportation Security Administration, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and National Labor Relations Board. In the interim, executive decisions by departments or agencies must be reviewed and approved by Congress before taking effect.

And the internally contradictory:

Voting Rights- We support equal suffrage for all United States citizens of voting age who are not felons. We oppose any identification of citizens by race, origin, or creed and oppose use of any such identification for purposes of creating voting districts. We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized

They are in favor of equal suffrage, but want to do away with the Voter Rights Act, which enforces equal suffrage.  Makes sense?

Homosexuality?  Same-sex marriage?  Forget about those…

Homosexuality- Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

As Texas Monthly rightly points out, the first sentence in the section above actually says that homosexual behavior “has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.”  That’s probably not what Texas Republicans meant.

corrected_custom-a76243e666eb54ccc0f70826ac9948fdf758dec6-s800-c85

And ..

“Climate Change” is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives.

Lots more in here… enjoy:

 

On His Deathbed, Bob Bennett Apologizes For What He Wrought

Bob Bennett was a rightwing conservative senator from Utah.  He served in the US Senate for 18 years, and I rarely agreed with him on anything. He was consistently earning high ratings from conservative activist groups such as the National Rifle Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Conservative Union.

But in 2010, something happened — the emergence of the Tea Party.  They deemed Bob insufficiently conservative.  Despite an enthusiastic endorsement from Mitt Romney, Bennett was denied a place on the primary ballot by the 2010 Utah State Republican Convention, placing third behind two Tea-Party-backed candidates.

He never practiced national politics again.  He died two weeks ago of pancreatic cancer.

And how did he spend much of his last few days?  Feeling regret for what the GOP had become, regret for Trump, and regret for the hand that he had in its creation:

Former GOP senator Bob Bennett lay partially paralyzed in his bed on the fourth floor of the George Washington University Hospital. He was dying.

Not 48 hours had passed since a stroke had complicated his yearlong fight against pancreatic cancer. The cancer had begun to spread again, necessitating further chemotherapy. The stroke had dealt a further blow that threatened to finish him off.

Between the hectic helter-skelter of nurses, doctors and well wishes from a long-cultivated community of friends and former aides, Bennett faced a quiet moment with his son Jim and his wife Joyce.

It was not a moment for self-pity.

Instead, with a slight slurring in his words, Bennett drew them close to express a dying wish: “Are there any Muslims in the hospital?” he asked.

“I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump,” Bennett told his wife and son, both of whom relayed this story to The Daily Beast.

The rise of Donald Trump had appalled the three-term Utah senator, a Republican who fell victim to the tea-party wave of the 2010 midterms. His vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, had alienated many conservative activists in his state, who chose lawyer Mike Lee as the GOP nominee for Senate instead.

But as Bennett reflected on his life and legacy in mid-April, following the stroke, he wasn’t focused on the race that ended his political career. Instead, he brought up the issue of Muslims in America—over and over again.

He mentioned it briefly in a hospital interview with the Deseret News, a Utah news outlet. “There’s a lot of Muslims here in this area. I’m glad they’re here,” the former senator told the newspaper in April, describing them as “wonderful.”

In the last days of his life this was an issue that was pressing in his mind… disgust for Donald Trump’s xenophobia,” Jim Bennett said. “At the end of his life he was preoccupied with getting things done that he had felt was left undone.”

Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants from America had outraged the former senator, his wife Joyce said, triggering his instincts to do what he could on a personal level. They ultimately did not canvass the hospital, but Bennett had already made an effort in his last months of life.
As they traveled from Washington to Utah for Christmas break, Bennett approached a woman wearing a hijab in the airport.

“He would go to people with the hijab [on] and tell them he was glad they were in America, and they were welcome here,” his wife said. “He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party.”

“He was astonished and aghast that Donald Trump had the staying power that he had… He had absolutely no respect for Donald Trump, and I think got angry and frustrated when it became clear that the party wasn’t going to steer clear of Trumpism,” his son relayed.

Emphasis mine.

Not the first time this has happened.  I remember Lee Atwater — the creative mind behind the “Southern strategy” — doing the same thing.  Isn’t it interesting that as people get closer to seeing their God, they become liberals?

 

Watch As House Republicans Go Out Of Their Way To Discriminate Against LGBT

A chaotic scene unfolded on the floor of the U.S. House today as a measure to ensure federal contractors can’t discriminate against LGBT people was defeated by a single vote.

It initially appeared that the measure — an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would’ve nullified a Republican “religious liberty” provision allowing federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees — had enough votes to pass. But Republican leaders kept the vote open and persuaded a handful of members to change their votes, which ultimately resulted in the LGBT protection being defeated by a single vote.

As you can see in the clip below, Democrats could be heard booing and chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as seven Republicans changed their votes.

Following the fiasco, the author of the amendment, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), released a statement saying Republicans “literally snatched discrimination from the jaws of equality.”

“In the past day, House Republicans have gone out of their way to rig votes and block bills that prevent discrimination against LGBT people,” he added. “When they break their our own rules to make sure taxpayer dollars can go to folks who discriminate, they showed who they truly are – bigots and cowards.”

My cousin weighs in:

Texas Republicans Debate Whether A Muslim Can Be A Republican

A Texas pastor stood up Monday in a local GOP meeting to vocally oppose one precinct chair’s appointment because he is Muslim, the Washington Post reported.

Trebor Gordon, the chaplain for the Harris County Republican Party, said Syed Ali should not be able to serve as a leader in the local GOP “on the grounds that Islam does not have any basis or any foundation.”

Watch:

You know, in the current Republican party,.maybe a Muslim can’t be a member.

Short Takes

(1)  Trump likes to say that he is bringing enthusiasm to the GOP and people are voting in the Republican race in massive numbers, which means that Democrats should be worried about the general election.

Is he right?

He is not. As many have pointed out, voter turnout is an indication of the competitiveness of a primary contest, not of what will happen in the general election. The GOP presidential primary is more competitive than the Democratic race.  Historically, that has no bearing on the voter turnout, or the turnout of the parties, in the general election.

(2)  I get tired of journalists and pundits saying that “the people won’t understand” if Donald Trump goes into the GOP convention with the most votes, but doesn’t end up winning.   First of all, if that is true, then journalists and pundits need to explain the difference between a majority and a plurality, and that winning on the first vote requires a majority.  But more to the point, I think the people can understand the concept, and probably already do.  We need to stop being treated like we are idiots.  That’s how we GET candidates like Trump in the first place.

(3)  The attempt to suppress votes by Republicans in North Carolina seems to have worked.

(4)  I’m definitely the first to say this, but it is very very weird how Cruz has always been unpopular with Washington insiders, and he ran as being NOT a Washington insider, and now all the Washington insiders are trying to find a way to embrace him as the last resort to Trumpism.

(5) So if you are Hillary’s people, what is your attack point on Trump? Too conservative, or an unsteady unknown?  My sense is that you actually compliment Trump (say, in a debate) for a stance that conservatives hate (his kind words about Planned Parenthood, for example).  And then you bash him on his ignorance of the world, the Constitution, etc.  I don’t think you attack his temperament.  That seems to get people on his side.

(6) Some Republicans are caving on Mitch McConnell’s decision not to hold hearings:

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), one of just two Senate Republicans who have indicated an openness to even having a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, had a message for his GOP colleagues on Friday: give Garland a vote.

“We should go through the process the Constitution has already laid out. The president has already laid out a nominee who is from Chicagoland and for me, I’m open to see him, to talk to him, and ask him his views on the Constitution,” Kirk explained in a radio interview on WLS-AM’s Big John Howell Show.

 

Garland

Is it hard to do cartwheels over President Obama’s choice of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland today.  Professor Epstein seems to think he’s a good liberal…

Epstein

… but you always have to question the methodology of these things.

Merrick Garland is 63 years old and currently serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A former Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, Garland was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 76-23. Sen. Orrin Hatch remarked at the time that Garland was “not only a fine nominee, but as good as Republicans can expect from [the Clinton] administration.”  He’s actually pretty conservative on police issues and war on terror.  But he’s no threat to Roe v Wade.

Sure, Garland is smart.  And qualified.  But if the tables were turned, and it was a Republican president and a Democrat-controlled Senate, I don’t think the judicial candidate would have been so…. moderate.

I mean, I get it.  Everyone gets it.  Obama is picking a guy who has already been approved by the Senate for his current judicial gig, who is not an ideologue, etc.  This forces Senate Republicans to consider AND approve the nominee, or look like the reason why Washington sucks so bad.  Also, with a Clinton presidency looming, Republicans might just want to get Garland and not get someone far more liberal.  (In fact, a President Trump could pick a liberal judge for all anybody knows).

In other words. holding out for another Scalia just might get Republicans a lefty version of Scalia.

Over at 538, they did some quick calculations and determined what the future might look like:

chances

Facing those possibilities, confirming Garland, might just be the best thing the GOP could do.  You gotta play the cards you’re dealt.

And the other hand, I get annoyed at this (if it is true):

Why would Obama capitulate to the Republicans when he has them over a barrel?

In the end, it seems that Obama has made a pragmatic choice.  And let’s face it.  It saves the Court.  And if it doesn’t, it makes the GOP look horrible.

Early indications are that the right wing is bent on looking obstructionist, even in the face of a reasonable moderate candidate.  Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice issued a statement repeating his call for “no confirmation proceedings until after the election.” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver similarly repeated that there should be “no Senate hearing on any Obama nominee.” Alliance Defending Freedom’s Casey Mattox offered no criticism of Garland himself but claimed that the Obama administration is untrustworthy and so Garland’s nomination should be blocked: “The Obama administration has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to respect the rule of law, the Constitution, and the limits of its own authority. So it should be no surprise that the American people would be highly skeptical that any nominee this president puts forth would be acceptable. Heritage Action, which was calling for an end to most judicial and executive branch confirmations even before Scalia’s death, declared that “nothing has changed”  with the nomination of Garland and that we areone liberal Justice away from seeing gun rights restricted and partial birth abortion being considered a constitutional right.”  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council similarly tried to paint Garland as a liberal, saying he is “far from being a consensus nominee,” although he offered no specifics on the
“serious questions” he said their were about Garland’s “ability to serve as a constitutionalist.”  And anti-abortion groups also doubled down on their opposition to any confirmation proceedings, although they struggled to find specific reasons to oppose Garland.

Aaaaand as I write this, it looks like the Senate Republicans are taking the bait and biting down hard:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has called President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, and explained that no action would be taken in the Senate on the nomination, Mr. McConnell’s spokesman said.

Mr. McConnell also informed Judge Garland that they would not be meeting in person at the Capitol.

“Rather than put Judge Garland through more unnecessary political routines orchestrated by the White House, the leader decided it would be more considerate of the nominee’s time to speak with him today by phone,” Mr. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said in a statement.

“The leader reiterated his position that the American people will have a voice in this vacancy and that the Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the person the next president nominates. And since the Senate will not be acting on this nomination, he would not be holding a perfunctory meeting, but he wished Judge Garland well.”

“Political routines orchestrated by the White House”?  That’s a funny way to say “obligations placed upon the President by the U.S. Constitution”.

Who Is To Blame For Trump?

A short incomplete list by conservatives and even GOP moderates to explain how Trump happened.

 

ANSWER ONE: Obama is to blame for Trump says Bobby Jindel in the Wall Street Journal. We’ve had eight years of the “cool, weak and endlessly nuanced” Barack Obama, he argues, which means now voters are hungry for the precise opposite – they want “a strong leader who speaks in short, declarative sentences.” Per Jindal: “You can draw a straight line between a president who dismisses domestic terrorist attacks as incidents of workplace violence and a candidate who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country.”

Well, you can draw a straight line between ANY two points, Bobby, no matter how far and remote that are to each other.  One of the many problems with that argument is that Trump is running a campaign that is a clear revolt against the Republican Party as much (if not more) than Obama.

 

ANSWER TWO: Obama is to blame for Trump says conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. Presidential campaigns have always had a celebrity component, argues Douthat, but Obama “raised the bar” by getting Oprah’s endorsement and appearing in music videos.  Even more than that, Obama cloaked himself in almost-religious iconic imagery, creating a cult of personality that Trump is merely exploiting now.  Also, by abusing executive authority, Obama became Caesarian, an imperial president, and attractive to those power-and-fame hungry like Trump.

 

ANSWER THREE:  The media is to blame for Trump says Redstate co-founder Ben Domenech.  Hour-to-hour coverage, softball interviews with no follow-up, and so on.  The media just fawns over Trump.  Even when something happens that has nothing to do with Trump, the first question from the media is “What will Trump say?”  He’s good TV, Domenech writes.  That accounts for his rise.

Domenech isn’t wrong, although he is answering the “how” rather than the “why”.  And if you want a better understanding of the media’s complicity, read The Rude Pundit today.

 

ANSWER FOUR:  Franklin Roosevent is to blame for Trump argues Jonah Goldberg, National Review contributing editor.  Because FDR took all kinds of power into his hands.  For example, he interred all those Japanese Americans during WWII (and Trump had already supported that decision).  It is the power grab that appeals to Trump.

To which I say, WHOA there.  Let’s being the horse back into the stable.

 

ANSWER FIVE: Al Franken is to blame for Trump says the stupidest theory of all, written by Josh Kraushaar at the National Journal behind the pay firewall.  His argument goes something like this: Franken’s narrow 2008 Senate victory in Minnesota provided Barack Obama with a 60-vote supermajority, which enabled him to pass the Affordable Care Act without Republican support, which then became the rallying cry for the Tea Party wave, which crashed into Washington and turned everyone crazy.  THAT begat Trump. If Franken hadn’t won, writes Kraushaar, then Obama would have been forced to win the vote of at least one Republican senator to pass healthcare reform, which would have made things better somehow.

Also, a butterfly flapped its wings in China.

But seriously, the Trump phenomenon isn’t a blacklash against the Affordable Care Act.  When trying to figure out how Trump came to be, you have to discern what is the appeal of Trump.  What is it that gets his crowds riled up.  And it isn’t healthcare.

What connects Trump supporters is plain to anyone who can see: his adherents are grounded in a common anti-immigrant nativism and anti-Muslim xenophobia.

Trump is the direct product of the Republican Party’s years-long strategy of aggravating racial and ethnic resentments to scare up votes from white conservatives.  It used to be spoken in the form of dog whistles as far back as Reagan’s invocation of the legendary “welfare queen” who drove around the streets of Chicago in a fancy Cadillac.  The Welfare Queen actually existed, although she actually bilked the government out of only $8,000 dollars and she committed even far worse crimes which proved more lucrative (kidnapping, etc).  She hardly was a representative example of common fraud against the government, but Reagan invoked her often in a not-so-subtle way suggesting that people of color were lazy and living off of government handouts.  The Welfare Queen myth exists today, where people believe that people on government assistance are out blowing all that “free money” on iPhones, fancy shoes and lobster.

You can draw a line from Reagan’s Welfare Queen through the Willie Horton commercial from Bush 41 to the Tea Party insurgence right up to Romney’s 47%. It is all about racially-coded messages that strike nervousness, or even hatred, within the white person about the “other”

But it was always in code… until Trump came along and said “what people are thinking” (a phrase we hear from many Trump supporters).  Meaning, Trump effectively gave permission for people to hate Mexicans, followers of Islam and other ethnic and religious minorities.

538 has an interesting study of political voters over time.  The study started in 2007 and follows the same large group of voters over time.  It enables us to see what Trump supporters were ideologically before Trump came along.  And not surprisingly, Trump appeals to those who possessed high levels of prejudice and strong concerns about unauthorized immigration.  Trump didn’t create them.  They were already there. . . from decades of being nurtured by the GOP.  Trump just picked them up without resorting to the dog-whistle code.  The GOP is to blame.

 

P.S.  Or maybe we can pin it on the daddy issues of the dwindling white working class.

The Scalia Gambit

Without question, the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has set all sides of the political spectrum into a frenzy.  Everybody is weighing, but the stupidest comments are coming from Republicans who say that Obama shouldn’t nominate a justice at all because there is an election coming up.  Rand Paul, who supposedly loves the Constitution, says that Obama has a “conflict of interest”, which is ridiculous.

The Constitution on this issue is not hard to understand: “[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.” The provision creates a power — and perhaps even a duty — in the president to make a nomination.  No, it does not give him a right to have his nominee confirmed or even considered. That power lies with the Senate.  But certainly the President SHALL do what the Constitution instructs him to do.

This puts the ball in the Senate’s court (so to speak) and Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell made the foolish error of showing his cards.  He said that the Senate will not vote on an Obama nominee.  They will delay, filibuster, whatever.

That’s fine, but who will pay the price for that?  Republicans, I suspect.  They need to show that they can govern, something that they have failed to do in the past few years.

Loretta_Lynch-10-facts-black-enterpriseSo knowing the GOP gamebook, what should Obama do?  Invigorate the base by nominating Loretta E. Lynch, the 83rd Attorney General of the United States.  Very qualified, and approved already for the Senate for AG.  And a black woman.

And the GOP can spend the whole election season explaining why this qualified black woman should not be the first black woman on the Supreme Court.  I don’t know how they can win the politics of this, even if they succeed in keeping her off the bench.

Hillary and/or Bernie can add fuel to the fire by saying that if they won the election, they would nominate…. Larry Tribe.  It might force Republicans to accept Obama’s nominee, as the lesser of two evils.  Especially if it looks like Trump might not take the White House.

Then, there’s this:

It could all come down to 17 crucial days in January.

If Democrats win back the Senate and lose the White House in November, they would control both branches of government for about two weeks before Obama leaves office. That overlap in the transition of power is set in stone. The Constitution mandates the new Congress begins work on January 3, while President Obama stays in power until January 20.

So if Democrats take back the Senate, President Obama could send a Supreme Court nominee to that new Democratic majority, which would have 17 days to change the filibuster rules and ram in a vote before a new President takes power.

Sri_SrinavasanSo maybe Obama might do better to select a consensus nominee. Sri Srinivasan is an often-mentioned choice.  He is 48, an Indian-American, and a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — a traditional launching pad for Supreme Court nominees.  Obama first nominated him to the post in 2012, and the Senate confirmed him, 97-0, in May 2013, including votes in support from GOP presidential contenders Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Now, undoubtedly there are bloggers and pundits on the right who see this playing out — politically — in their favor.  And to be sure, if you are embedded on the bigoted women-and-immigrant-hating right side of the political spectrum, you’re not worried about Lynch or Srinivasan being nominated, and you hope their nomination will rally other bigots like you. Bring it on!

The problem is… America isn’t like the right.  It’s not that conservative, and you only need to look at Trump to know there is a problem with right wing politics these days.

South Carolina Primary Outlook

A the Republican debate last Saturday, which I didn’t see, this occurred:

TRUMP: George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.
DICKERSON: But so I’m going to — so you still think he should be impeached?
BUSH: I think it’s my turn, isn’t it?
TRUMP: You do whatever you want. You call it whatever you want. I want to tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.
(BOOING)
DICKERSON: All right. OK. All right.
Governor Bush — when a member on the stage’s brother gets attacked…
BUSH: I’ve got about five or six…
DICKERSON: … the brother gets to respond.
BUSH: Do I get to do it five or six times or just once responding to that?
TRUMP: I’m being nice.
BUSH: So here’s the deal. I’m sick ask tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he has had.
(APPLAUSE)
BUSH: And, frankly, I could care less about the insults that Donald Trump gives to me. It’s blood sport for him. He enjoys it. And I’m glad he’s happy about it. But I am sick and tired…
TRUMP: He spent $22 million in…
(CROSSTALK)
BUSH: I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive in my mind.
(APPLAUSE)
BUSH: And while Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe. And I’m proud of what he did.
(APPLAUSE)
BUSH: And he has had the gall to go after my brother.
TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that.

Now, it is gospel on the left that (a) the notion that Bush 43 “kept us safe” is laughable when you take into account, as you should, 9/11/01 and (b) the justification for the Iraq War was based on known lies.

What’s remarkable is that these things were said (a) by a Republican candidate for President (b) on national television (c) to Bush’s brother (d) just before a primary in a Southern state which loves the Bushes.

For any other candidate, that would have been political suicide.  But the first post-debate poll, and from a reliable polling firm, too, tells us this:

Donald Trump is the clear front-runner heading into Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary.

A new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday found Trump leading in the crucial third-nominating state by a large margin.

According to the poll, 35% of likely Republican voters supported Trump. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tied for second with 18%.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) trailed in fourth with 10%, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson each captured 7% of the support.

So once again, the notion that Trump “went too far” never proved reliable.  I’m not particularly surprised anymore.  Also, as the transcript above shows, Bush didn’t really hit back so much as clutch his pearls (“Oh, how dare he!”).

I still believe that Trump has a ceiling.  But we won’t know what it is until the establishment candidates — who remain at this point to be Kasich, Bush and Rubio — unite behind one candidate.  I don’t see that happening before Super Tuesday, which may just mean that Trump will have the momentum to be unstoppable.

Trump At War With Fox

This may be the point where the fracture in the Republican Party becomes unfixable.

You have a candidate who leads the GOP poll by double digits nationally, fighting with the media mouthpiece of the GOP in a bizarre carnival of testosterone.

It’s the climax of a bizarre confrontation between the candidate and the dominant conservative news outlet. The first debate the network hosted involved some tense moments between Trump and Megyn Kelly, one of Fox’s premier personalities. The aftermath was much uglier, with Trump making comments about Kelly that were acknowledged as misogynistic by pretty much everyone except, well, Trump.

Fox announced that Kelly would be moderating tomorrow’s debate, too, and Trump started making noises about a boycott.

Fox responded by mocking Trump: “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president—a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”

That was too much for Trump, who announced his intention to skip the debate. Since then, the two sides have engaged in continuing skirmishes. Trump called the ayatollah statement “a disgrace to good broadcasting and journalism. Who would ever say something so nasty & dumb.” Fox accused Trump’s campaign of threatening Kelly. Trump called Kelly a bimbo, while claiming he wouldn’t. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz—who’s been engaged in a tense struggle with his old pal Trump for dominance in Iowa—piped up to challenge Trump to an alternate, “mano-a-mano” debate.

Anyone who confidently predicts how this will shake out is either bluffing or employed by Trump or Fox. If Fox manages to get one up on Trump, it’d be a huge victory. Trump has consistently managed to marginalize conservative media outlets throughout the campaign, including, to a certain extent, Fox.

But Trump announced he wouldn’t be attending.  The gamble could pay off because it shows Trump marching to the beat of his own drum, a promise consistent with the message of his campaign that has caught on with voters.

It seems to me that GOP voters would be served by Trump NOT being there.  I think it opens up the other candidates to say what need to be said and (incredibly) still hasn’t been said on the right — that Trump is in this for Trump (not public service), that it is about extending the Trump brand (even while serving as President), and that when confronted with such daunting foes as Megyn Kelly, he whines like a four year old.

Hell, I’d watch that debate.

You Read Digby Now

She wrote about how Trump has revealed something very important about the conservative movement for Salon this morning. A good many of its believers have just been mouthing words all these years. They don’t care about their elaborate ideology. They just hate the other team…. a snippet:

The Republican establishment is under a tremendous amount of stress right now. Donald Trump has the party functionaries running around like his personal factotums and the elected officials are all figuring out the angles to ensure they come out on the Donald’s good side. It’s possible it may not survive in the form we’ve come to know it.

But the conservative movement is equally under pressure.  They thought their years of carefully growing and indoctrinating the right wing of the Republican Party had resulted in a common belief in a certain conservative ideology, strategic vision and commitment to a specific agenda.  It turns out that a good number of the people they thought had signed on to their program just wanted someone to stick it to ethnic and racial minorities and make sure America is the biggest bad ass on the planet — authoritarian, white nationalism. If you’ve got a man who will deliver that you don’t need ideology. And he doesn’t need democracy.

The mystery is why all these smart conservatives didn’t see this coming. They unleashed this beast a long time ago with the hate radio and the media propaganda and the ruthless politics. It was only a matter of time before it turned on them.

Can You Hear The Dog Whistles?

This:

Did Ted Cruz Leak Classified Information During The Latest GOP Debate?

It went down like this.  While Rubio and Cruz were debating each other’s records on national security and surveillance, Cruz got into some details about what the bulk data program covers.

“What he knows is that the old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists,” Cruz said, referring to Rubio. “The new program covers nearly 100 percent. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that’s the case.”

It’s not clear if Cruz, who is unpopular with many of his Senate colleagues, revealed classified information. But in his response to Cruz, Rubio noted that he did not want to say too much about the program.

“Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information,” Rubio said. “So let me just be very clear. There is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before.”

And that was how it went down.  Moments afterward, this was tweeted:

Becca Watkins is the communications director for Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Burr told reporters that his staff was looking into the matter as to whether or not Cruz disclosed classified information. Cruz is not well-liked in the Senate, even by his Republican colleagues.

Late yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it will not be investigating anything said during Tuesday’s debate.

Meaning…. well, anything.  If Cruz leaked classified information, they’re certainly not going to admit it.  Better than the terrorists think that 100% of bulk phone data is being culled.

Another Debate Tonight As Trump Stays Ahead

Yes, I’ll probably live-tweet the debate tonight.

Meanwhile, Cruz leads in Iowa (according to one poll), but the story remains Trump Trump Trump. Ever since is incendiary and divisive comment about blocking Muslim immigration, Trump has become the darling of the pants-wetting and/or white supremacist right.

Here’s what happens at Trump rallies:

But it quickly became clear Monday night that the protesters had no interest in a quiet extraction — nor, for that matter, did Trump.

By the time security swooped in, several amped-up Trump supporters had already encircled the protesters — booing, and chanting, and slowly closing in — while a crush of smartphone-wielding media scrambled to capture footage of the clash. The guards managed to remove one protester, but the other resisted, stiffening his limbs and screaming about the First Amendment as they tried to haul him toward the exits. When he toppled to the floor, a horde of rallygoers assembled to hurl insults and threats at him.

“Light the motherfucker on fire!” one Trump supporter yelled.

Physical altercations between protesters, security, and the occasional tough-guy supporter have been a running theme in Trump’s combative campaign this year — but Monday night was different. Reporters who regularly cover Trump said they had never seen anything like the fevered, frenzied mood that gripped the ballroom in Las Vegas.

With the candidate’s ever darkening political style seeming to grow more perversely effective by the day, his grassroots opponents on the left are becoming more defiant and effective at causing trouble. Activists interrupted Trump at least half a dozen times at the event — and the longer the night wore on, the more crazed many in the crowd seemed to get.

One after another, protesters were forcibly dragged from the ballroom — limbs flailing, torsos twisting in resistance — while wild-eyed Trump supporters spewed abuse and calls to violence.

“Kick his ass!” yelled one.

“Shoot him!” shouted another.

When a white activist proclaimed “Black lives matter!” as she was being carted out of the building, a male Trump supporter leaned toward her and snapped, “White lives matter.”

According to NBC News, someone at the Trump rally even yelled a German Nazi-era salute — “Sieg heil!” — while a protester was being removed from the event.

Trump, meanwhile, gleefully narrated the madness from his podium like a tabloid talk show host presiding over an on-camera brawl between guests — egging on the confrontation, whipping the audience into a frenzy, and basking in his fans’ celebratory chants.

“Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!”

“This is what we should have been doing to the other side for the last seven years!” Trump exclaimed during one of the scuffles with protesters.

Emphasis mine.

The Republican establishment doesn’t want Trump, and even Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin warn against him… in favor of Cruz.  Cruz is positioning himself to be the likeable version of Trump, but for Trump fanatics, the fact that Cruz is a senator makes him too inside.

As always, I think Trump’s numbers are overblown, especially national polls.  I MAY have been wrong about Rubio though.  He can’t seem to get traction, and Cruz may end up being the best compromise between the GOP establishment and the Trump-ites.

Josh Marshall at TPM used to think like me, but he’s now conceding that Trump might actually be the nominee.  Might:

That is one of the many things that makes the current Trump-Cruz phony war so compelling. Trump is baiting Cruz into the same smackdown he’s used to eat up Bush, Walker, Fiorina and others. But Cruz won’t take the bait. Like two zen masters facing off in a martial arts classic or perhaps two wizards do battle in The Lord of the Rings, we have an epic confrontation between two master who have trained for decades in the arts of assholery and bullying. But their powers equally matched, it is a stand off.

I keep thinking that Trump won’t pull this off and I’ll be kicking myself for not paying more attention to all the reasons why this sort of thing just does not happen. And basically I still think, things like this, things so catastrophic for a major party simply don’t happen. But each day it gets more difficult to imagine the scenarios required to prevent it. And if the savior is Ted Cruz, he could do worse in the general election than Trump. Somehow Marco Rubio needs to start coalescing support. But at the moment, it’s the reverse that is happening.

But now the talk is how this all shakes out, and when.  Eventually, the GOP might gravitate to Cruz, but what if that doesn’t happen until late in the primary season?  In other words, what if no candidate gets enough delegates at the convention to win on the first ballot?  Now, we’re talking about a “brokered” convention, which by definition is not very democratic.  Will the hard right anti-establishment types stand for that?  Absolutely not.  It could get interesting, and even a little scary.

I don’t think the debate is really going to result in any monumental shifts.  There will be a “winner” or two, and a “loser” or two, but nothing will change yet.  The movements on the GOP side of the primaries are geological in speed.

But I expect to see some of the candidates try to out-crazy Trump.  Just to try to catch a ride on the same wind he’s been riding.

The Trump Backlash Continues

A $6 billion golf community under construction in Dubai is removing his name from the project. Trump was tossed from a respected business network in Scotland, where the billionaire says he invested more than $300 million in golf courses and other developments. And Lifestyle, a retailer that does business in an enormous marketplace spanning the Middle East, India and Africa, stopped selling Trump branded products. Trump lost his honorary doctorate at Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Scotland.

Trump says that these nations are “caving to political correctness”.

In the national media, Tom Brokaw, the veteran NBC News anchor, has called Trump’s proposal “dangerous,” and likened it to the Holocaust and the Japanese internment. On its front page, The New York Times has said Trump’s idea is “more typically associated with hate groups.” Dan Balz, of The Washington Post, has called Trump’s rhetoric “demagogic,” while BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith has informed staff that it is acceptable to refer to Trump on social media as a “mendacious racist,” because, he said, those are facts.  Thankfully, journalism has moved into the ‘have you no shame’ mode, rather than the typical “he-said she-said”.

Muslim-Americans are speaking out.  The prize goes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his Time editorial, which begins:

The terrorist campaign against American ideals is winning. Fear is rampant. Gun sales are soaring. Hate crimes are increasing. Bearded hipsters are beingmistaken for Muslims. And 83 percent of voters believe a large-scale terrorist attack is likely here in the near future. Some Americans are now so afraid that they are willing to trade in the sacred beliefs that define America for some vague promises of security from the very people who are spreading the terror. “Go ahead and burn the Constitution — just don’t hurt me at the mall.” That’s how effective this terrorism is.

I’m not talking about ISIS. I’m talking about Donald Trump.

This is not hyperbole. Not a metaphor. Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal; the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

If violence can be an abstraction — and it can; that’s what a threat is — the Trump campaign meets this definition. Thus, Trump is ISIS’s greatest triumph: the perfect Manchurian Candidate who, instead of offering specific and realistic policies, preys on the fears of the public, doing ISIS’s job for them. Even fellow Republican Jeb Bush acknowledged Trump’s goal is “to manipulate people’s angst and fears.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Now, we don’t require by law that our candidates tell the truth. They can retweet (as Trump did) racist “statistics” from a white supremacist fictional organization that claimed 81% of murdered whites are victims of blacks, when the truth is 84% of whites are murdered by whites. They can claim (as Trump did) to have seen on TV thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering on 9/11, even though there is no evidence of this. They can say (as Trump did) Syrian refugees are “pouring” into the country when only 2,000 have come (out of 4.3 million U.N.-registered refugees). Then, when caught lying (as Trump has been over and over), they can do what every belligerent child does: deny, deny, deny.

While Trump is not slaughtering innocent people, he is exploiting such acts of violence to create terror here to coerce support. As I have written before, his acts could be interpreted as hate crimes. He sounds the shrill alarm of impending doomsday even though since 9/11, about 30 Americans a year have been killed in terrorist attacks worldwide — as The Atlanticpointed out, “roughly the same number as are crushed to death each year by collapsing furniture.” Trump’s irresponsible, inflammatory rhetoric and deliberate propagation of misinformation have created a frightened and hostile atmosphere that could embolden people to violence. He’s the swaggering guy in old Westerns buying drinks for everyone in the saloon while whipping them up for a lynching.

About 30,000 foreign fighters have gone into Syria to join ISIS, thousands of them from Europe and at least 250 from the United States. What most of us in these bountiful countries can’t understand is how our young, raised with such opportunity, choose to abandon our values to embrace a culture of pitiless violence. Before going, many of these recruits spend much of their time on social media being brainwashed by propaganda videos. One 23-year-old woman, a devout Christian and Sunday school teacher, was recruited via Skype. The recruiter spent hours with the lonely woman teaching her the rituals of Islam. Maybe that’s because, according to some psychologists, the brain’s default setting is simply to believe because it takes extra work to analyze information.

The same process works for Trump’s supporters. They are impervious to facts or truth because their (understandable) frustration and anger at partisan greed and incompetence have fatigued them out of critical thinking. Like deranged newscaster Howard Beale in Network, they are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore. To express their outrage, they have rallied around a so-called “outsider” with no political experience, no detailed policies, and whacky ideas that subvert the very Constitution that he would be required to swear to uphold. Electing him would be like asking the clown at a child’s birthday party to start juggling chainsaws.

Muhammad Ali hit Trump with this released statement:

I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.

We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.

Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.

Even Ted Cruz, who has taken pains to avoid critiquing Trump, remarked at a private fundraiser that he would have problems with Trump as President and having his finger on the button.

None of this, of course, has affected Trump in the polls.  He leads in NH and SC by quite a bit.

Interestingly, there is an article in the New York Times today which reads

Fear of Terrorism Lifts Donald Trump in New York Times/CBS Poll

I am among the many who thinks it should read

Donald Trump Lifts Fear of Terrorism in New York Times/CBS Poll

The San Bernadino shootings (and to a lesser extent, the Paris attacks), of course, started the fear, but Trump is exploiting that fear in a way that even ISIS couldn’t.

On the other hand, not everyone is in Trump’s grip.  He is viewed as strongly negative by the electorate in general.  Here are some graphics from a WSJ/NBC poll released today:

WSJNBC1

WSJNBC2

Again, I think Trump has a ceiling and he’s a media phenomenon, but I don’t think he has a chance in hell to be the GOP nominee.  That’s almost irrelevant though, as his behavior this week is actually damaging to national security.  This is the culmination of years of anti-government right wing radio and TV — an actual honest-to-God fascist candidate who doesn’t see what he advocates as fascism.  In the guise of rejection of political correctness, he rejects the US Constitution and American values.

He’s yuge among white supremacists and crazy people.  The Ku Klux Klan is using Donald Trump as a talking point in its outreach efforts. Stormfront, the most prominent American white supremacist website, is upgrading its servers in part to cope with a Trump traffic spike.

This typifies a Trump fanatic/.  This lady, I am embarrassed to say, is a state representative in New Hampshire:

This is an interesting chapter in American politics, like the McCarthy Era was at one time.  I can’t wait until it is over.

UPDATE: It’s getting ugly too.  Here are Trump protesters being forcefully removed from a Trump event at the Plaza Hotel


UPDATE #2:  The first poll conducted entirely after Trump’s Muslim remarks just came out.  It was conducted by Reuters/Ipsos:

Trump led the pack of candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination in the 2016 election with 35 percent of support from Republican voters, the opinion poll released on Friday found, the same lead he held before Monday, when he said Muslim immigrants, students and other travelers should be barred from entering the country.

Most Republican voters said they were not bothered by his remarks, though many said the comments could still hurt Trump’s chances of becoming president. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans, who will pick the party’s nominee for the November 2016 election, said they found Trump’s remarks offensive against 64 percent who did not.

***

Still, in a sign of how Trump’s rhetoric has polarized the electorate, 72 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of voters overall said they were offended by Trump’s comments.

Forty-one percent of Republicans polled said Trump’s remarks could hurt his chances of becoming president; that figure was higher among all respondents.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in second among Republicans with 12 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos poll, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tied with 10 percent.