Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Schumer Rescinds Wall Offer

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has now withdrawn his previous offer to agree to spending $1.6 billion to start the construction of a wall on the Mexican border. He said that was part of a deal that would also protect the dreamers, and since Trump killed that part of it, he is killing what he offered. He said that future negotiations will have to start from scratch. The three-day government shutdown, which is now over, has deepened the partisan division and made any compromise before the funding runs out on Feb. 8 even more difficult than it already was. Especially since the President has already thrown a tantrum in response to Schumer's announcement:

"Cryin' Chuck"? At least it's alliterative. Something that biting must have taken seconds upon seconds to dream up.

One tiny, small, nearly invisible glimmer of hope is that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday repeated his promise to hold a vote on some immigration bill, saying: "Whoever gets 60 votes wins." On the other hand, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) called Schumer's move a "setback." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) can count higher than 60. He said that unless a bill has at least 70 votes, it is not going to make it to the president's desk. He didn't explain how that might happen, given how far apart the parties are.

Of course, Republican House members are not just sitting around awaiting for Schumer and Graham to hold hands and sing Kumbaya together. They are strongly pressuring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to bring up an immigration bill written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) for a vote on the House floor so it can be sent to the Senate.

Democrats oppose the Goodlatte bill due to a number of harsh provisions in it, including mandatory worker verification, cracking down on "sanctuary cities," making asylum harder to get, and slashing legal immigration by 40%. If the bill passes the House—which is by no means a sure thing—and McConnell were to bring it up for a Senate vote, it would probably fail, but then McConnell could say that he kept his promise and brought up a stand-alone immigration bill. If Democrats chose to kill it, that's their fault, not his. (V & Z)

Mueller's Team Interviewed Sessions

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team interviewed AG Jeff Sessions for several hours last week. He is the first cabinet officer known to have been interviewed. Sessions is of interest to Mueller for several reasons. First, he was closely involved in the matter of the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Mueller is sure to ask: "Why did Trump do it?" If Sessions says "To stop the FBI investigation of the Russia connection," he comes close to being an eyewitness to obstruction of justice. Sessions realizes that there is already a lot of evidence pointing in that direction, so if he says "Comey refused to wear Trump-branded ties to work," he knows he is opening himself to a perjury charge. Furthermore, although Sessions is willing to drag himself through the mud to keep his job, unambiguously lying to the FBI (which he knows is a felony) is probably a bridge too far, even for him.

Another topic of discussion was undoubtedly a memo he wrote endorsing Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein's memo saying that Comey was fired for reasons related to Hillary Clinton's emails. Mueller surely doesn't buy a word of that and no doubt wants to get the whole story, especially Trump's involvement in it.

Because Sessions was interviewed after dozens of other players, the AG undoubtedly knew that Mueller already had a pretty good idea of what happened and when, so if he contradicted previous witnesses, that was going to raise red flags all over the place. Consequently, while he may have admitted to having a horrible amnesia problem, it is less likely that he out-and-out lied to save Trump's hide, especially if doing so put his own in danger.

Donald Trump responded to questions about Sessions' interview, saying he "was not at all concerned." Trump also denied reports from three sources that FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to resign if Sessions kept pressuring him to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who is scheduled to retire in March anyway. News also came out on Tuesday that Trump pressured McCabe to reveal which candidate he voted for in 2016 (a question that is more than a tad bit inappropriate). The Deputy Director told the President he didn't cast a ballot. Trump hates McCabe because his wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, ran for the Virginia state senate in 2016. He has said that Hillary Clinton gave her money, but that is not true. She received money from Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe's PAC, which is not terribly surprising since she ran as a Democrat. (V)

Mueller is Pushing for an Interview with Trump

This has been rumored, and speculated about, for several weeks, but now it's official: Robert Mueller wants to interview Donald Trump, and he wants to do so sooner rather than later. While the interview itself is not yet imminent, negotiations are underway, and a fleshed-out set of understandings and conditions could be ready as early as next week.

Mueller, for his part, wants to talk about the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey, as well as the President's efforts to push Jeff Sessions out the door. Trump's lawyers, on the other hand, are trying to do everything they can to keep The Donald from shooting himself in the foot. They would prefer that all of Trump's answers be in written form (translation: ghostwritten form). Mueller will never go for that, and since he has the power to subpoena, he will have to be accommodated. The likely compromise appears to be a combination of in-person interview (with Trump's counsel present) and written questionnaire. If the President's lawyers resist too much, however, Mueller could try to get Trump in front of a grand jury, where no counsel is allowed. Mueller's authority to do that is a little hazy, though, so both he and Trump's legal team have some motivation to find a middle ground if they can. (Z)

Gates May Have Flipped

Thus far, Rick Gates—the former Trump campaign official and Paul Manafort business partner—has proceeded as if he planned to fight all the charges against him. He pled not guilty, posted bail, engaged the services of a criminal defense firm, and in all other ways dug in his heels. Now, it appears those heels may about to be un-dug.

The new clue, first noticed by CNN's reporters, is several visits made to Robert Mueller's office by high-power white-collar attorney Tom Green. Several sources have linked Green to Gates' legal team, while noting that Green works for a different firm than Gates' other lawyers, and that he's not listed in any of the court documents related to Gates' defense. Add it all up, and it certainly appears as if Green has been called in to negotiate a plea bargain. All of this has not officially been confirmed, of course, and plea bargains often fall apart. Still, federal prosecutors have a 93% success rate, and Gates surely knows that we've now reached "every man for himself" time. If he does turn state's evidence, Paul Manafort would presumably follow soon thereafter, which—with Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos—would give the Special Counsel a collection of four singing canaries. (Z)

Republicans Will Channel Their Inner Clinton in 2018

Not Hillary. Bill. In particular, their entire midterm campaign slogan will be borrowed from Bill Clinton: "It's the economy, stupid." Republican strategists are already planning their midterm strategy. It is not about Donald Trump, and not about blaming the Democrats for the shutdown. It's only about pocketbook issues, especially the tax cuts most people will get this year. The fact that many people will end up paying more taxes because the state and local tax deduction is now limited is definitely not on the agenda. Many people won't realize that until April 2019, which is fine with the GOP.

The campaign to convince people how good things are will soon begin. GOP groups are planning to spend millions of dollars on a large-scale advertising campaign to sell the tax cut to people. The American Action Network has budgeted $10 million for Q1 2018 ads, after spending $24 million already. Another group, the 45Committee, which is funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the family of Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts, has committed $1.5 million to promoting the tax cut in key swing districts. The Koch brothers have their own plans, which include spending $1 million on ads and events around the country. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to spend more than the $42 million it spent in 2016.

Democrats are not entirely helpless in the face of this onslaught. The Not One Penny group plans to spend $5 million to convince people that although they got some crumbs, the wealthy and big corporations got nearly all the benefits. Polls show that 6 out of 10 people already believe this, so these ads will just reinforce existing opinion. That is easier than getting people to change their minds, even if less money is available. (V)

Family Research Council Chief Tony Perkins Gives Trump a Mulligan

If you thought that devout evangelicals might have a problem with a man who has committed adultery while married to each of his three wives, you would be wrong. In an interview with Politico, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, admitted that he knew of the reports that Donald Trump's had an adulterous affair with porn star Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) just 4 months after his third wife gave birth to their son and that he paid her $130,000 to keep quiet. But Perkins brushed this off by saying: "We kind of gave him—'All right, you get a mulligan.'"

Although he said that evangelicals' beliefs go deeper than partisan concerns, in practice when faced with someone who violates the last four of the Ten Commandments (adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting) on a regular basis, and wouldn't be caught dead in a church unless he was holding a political rally there, but who delivers the goods on a right-wing political agenda, the guy gets a pass. It almost seems like Perkins has more interest in his political agenda than in the Bible. According to Perkins, the president is not "using" evangelicals because Perkins believes he enjoys the relationship that has developed. He did admit, though, that he has a problem explaining his love of Trump to his children.

Perkins isn't the only evangelical leader who is sucking up to Trump. Franklin Graham, son of famed preacher Billy Graham, has taken a different approach to reports that Trump had committed adultery with a porn star and then paid her off. He has denied that any of it happened. He has also denied that Trump called certain countries "shitholes," despite a U.S. senator who was there when it happened confirming the comment. When asked whether he was holding Trump to a different moral standard than he would a politician whose views he disagreed with, Graham deflected the question.

Among those who was unimpressed with the evangelicals' prevaricating was former RNC chair Michael Steele, who appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball" and declared:

I have a very simple admonition at this point. Just shut the hell up and don't ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don't want to hear it. After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don't matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn't matter? The outright behavior and lies don't matter? Just shut up.

That kind of willingness to blast a key GOP constituency for being hypocritical is probably part of the reason he's not RNC chair anymore. (V & Z)

Trump Gives Cabinet Officers Free Rein

Donald Trump is not exactly a micromanager like some previous presidents such as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, or Barack Obama. In fact, he barely understands the general outlines of the bills he is fighting for, let alone the details. So it is no surprise that he has basically let the members of his cabinet do whatever they want, with no guidance or supervision from him. It is very doubtful that he has even a basic understanding of what they are doing.

Some of the cabinet members are beginning to realize that they are each running their own kingdom and have free rein on policy matters. For exmaple, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rescinded Obama-era guidelines on how schools should handle sexual assault. Kirstjen Nielsen's DHS has revoked the protected status of 200,000 people from El Salvador who have legally lived and worked in the U.S. for decades. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been aggressively rolling back regulations, most recently one that would ban a pesticide that adversely affects human health.

The same applies to agency heads within the departments. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai eliminated net neutrality. Seema Verman, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. Scott Gottlieb at the FDA has greatly speeded up the approval process for generic drugs.

All in all, these changes, and many more under the radar, may have a far greater collective effect than anything Congress may do, and the strange thing is that Trump is probably not even aware of any of it. (V)

Trump Finally Slaps Chinese with a Tariff

Donald Trump is very unhappy with the Chinese, and campaigned heavily on the idea that they are pulling the wool over the eyes of the United States, and taking advantage of Americans left, right, and center. He has threatened many times to drop a protective tariff on Chinese imports, but has failed to follow through, presumably because someone explained to him the concept of a trade war (probably using lots of pictures). The pictures may not be working any more, though, because on Tuesday the President levied 30% tariffs on two products that really drive the U.S. economy: solar panels and washing machines.

By itself, Tuesday's decision isn't likely to have much of an impact. The U.S. has well over a hundred such tariffs already in place, and it is improbable that China will rock the boat too much over one more. Even they recognize that the President needs to be able to claim he did something on this front. However, if these tariffs are merely the first salvo, and a sign that Trump has actually decided to "get tough," then this could quickly get messy. (Z)

New Poll Looks Ugly for Trump

It's all the rage these days for pollsters to measure Donald Trump against some of his possible 2020 opponents, including some rather fanciful ones. The newest from CNN/SSRS has him getting trounced by Joe Biden (57% to 40%), Sen. Bernie Sanders (55% to 42%), and/or Oprah Winfrey (51% to 42%).

Of course, those particular questions are not entirely instructive. None of those three folks have gone through the wringer of a full presidential campaign, national numbers can only crudely predict the Electoral College, and 2-1/2 years is many lifetimes in politics. Consequently, the more significant result here may be in the second-tier numbers. Specifically, Winfrey leads Trump by 32 points among women voters, Sanders by 35, and Biden by a remarkable 41 points. Given that Hillary Clinton won women voters by a mere 13 points in 2016, it's clear that a significant shift has taken place. And if this shift (or anything close to it) holds, then Trump is in big trouble. After all, there are some states where blue-collar workers are a major constituency, or Latinos, or evangelicals, or coal workers, or college graduates. But women are a major constituency in every state. You cannot lose them by 20 points and be elected president. (Z)

Happy Anniversary?

Monday was Donald and Melania Trump's 13th wedding anniversary, though you wouldn't have known it from any outward indicators. In contrast to the Obamas and the Bushes, the first couple did not have any sort of public celebration of the occasion. Further, there was no time set aside on the President's schedule for a private celebration, and neither of them mentioned it on social media. This despite the fact that the President found plenty of time on Monday to Twitter-blast the Democrats over the government shutdown.

Focusing on the health of the Trumps' marriage may seem to border on the salacious, but it does have a distinct relevance to the political calculus. As noted above, The Donald is doing very poorly with women voters right now. No person has more power to help with that problem than the First Lady, especially since she's the only member of the administration whose approval numbers are above water (55% or so), and the only one whose numbers are trending upward. When she stood by her husband after pu**ygate, it helped to blunt the impact of that scandal. Now, with cheatergate, she is pretty pointedly holding him at arm's length. If she continues to do so, or if—in a wild turn of events—she files for divorce, he may well have lost his single most valuable ally in Washington. (Z)

Romney Would Cruise to a Landslide Victory in Utah If He Runs

If former presidential candidate Mitt Romney runs for the seat of retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), as widely expected, a new Salt Lake Tribune/Dan Jones poll shows Romney crushing Salt Lake City council member and sacrificial lamb Jenny Wilson (D) 64% to 19%. Polls like this make it even more likely that Romney will run. Romney can count on 85% of Republicans, 55% of independents, and even 18% of Democrats. This is about as close to a sure thing as one gets in elections. He'd have to be caught in bed with a live boy, a dead girl, and two or three goats to blow this one. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan23 Democrats Give In and Shutdown Ends
Jan23 Kelly May Be on His Way Out
Jan23 Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Throws Out the State's Gerrymandered Map
Jan23 NAFTA Is on Life Support
Jan23 Infrastructure Plan Urges States to Find Their Own Money
Jan23 What the Border Really Looks Like
Jan23 Melania Has Remained Silent About Cheatergate...or Has She?
Jan23 Trump's First Year Makes Him Least Popular President in 60 Years
Jan23 Bush's Popularity Is Up, Up, Up
Jan22 Senate Moderates Are Trying to Reopen the Government
Jan22 Trump Calls for the Nuclear Option
Jan22 Ross and Zinke Are in the Doghouse
Jan22 Ryan Got $500,000 from Kochs
Jan22 Language Has Become Yet Another Partisan Divide
Jan22 FBI Surrenders 400 Pages of Texts, Many Critical of Trump, to Congress
Jan22 Will There Be a Blue Wave in November?
Jan22 Trump's Tweets Are a Legal Nightmare
Jan21 Both Sides Entrench in Shutdown Fight
Jan21 Who Will Be Blamed for the Shutdown?
Jan21 Women March on One-Year Anniversary of Trump Inauguration
Jan21 Pat Meehan's Career Is Probably Over
Jan21 Why Isn't the Stormy Daniels Story Bigger?
Jan21 Experts Wonder About Trump's Doctor
Jan21 Tom Cotton Takes the Ostrich Routine to New Extremes
Jan20 Government Shuts Down
Jan20 Supreme Court Will Hear Muslim-Ban Case
Jan20 Only a Third of the Country Approves of Trump
Jan20 Vance Won't Run for the Senate
Jan20 Government Will Retry Menendez
Jan20 Sotomayor Survives a Health Scare
Jan20 Trump Administration Picks Jerusalem Embassy Site
Jan20 Russians' Twitter Trolling Worse than Originally Thought
Jan19 Shutdown Looms
Jan19 Trump Administration Wants to Protect People with Moral Objection to Doing Their Jobs
Jan19 Trump Has Changed His View on the Wall, Except Maybe He Hasn't
Jan19 What Is Bannon Worth to Mueller?
Jan19 FBI is Investigating Whether Russians Gave Money to the NRA to Help Trump
Jan19 Trump Announces "Fake News" Awards
Jan19 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Jan19 Trump Hasn't Talked to Obama
Jan19 Help Wanted: AmeriCorps Spokesman
Jan18 Bannon Has Agreed to an Interview with Mueller
Jan18 GOP Tries to Avoid Government Shutdown
Jan18 Flake Compares Trump to Stalin
Jan18 Democrat Wins Special Election in Deep-red Rural Wisconsin Area
Jan18 California GOP Concerned that No Republican May Be on the Ballot in the Top Races
Jan18 More Cheatergate Details Exposed
Jan18 No-prah?
Jan17 Mueller Subpoenas Bannon
Jan17 Bannon Testifies Before House Intelligence Committee, Gets Subpoenaed Again