Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pelosi at Center Stage

On impeachment, infrastructure, Canada-Mexico trade, the budget, and the debt ceiling, the Speaker is methodically calling the shots — and/but she has a lot of decisions still to make.

My take: Nancy Pelosi thinks the president is a menace, a liar, and a fool. Yet she has to spend the next year and a half dealing with him, his advisers, and her own party’s impassioned feelings about him.

After two sessions of budget talks with Hill Republicans and administration officials on Tuesday, Pelosi has her own Wednesday double header: a morning meeting with the House Democratic caucus to contain the growing (but still smallish) segment of her members that is insisting that impeachment needs to begin now — and then a White House meeting to talk about the prospects for an infrastructure deal.

Pelosi herself has many of the traits veteran strategists say Democrats need in their eventual presidential nominee if they are going to wrest back control of the Oval Office. She understands Trump and isn’t afraid of him; she knows how to command the media stage to frame debates in the party’s favor; she knows how to keep together Democrats across the political spectrum; she realizes she has to keep Trump from getting any major political wins before the election, without looking to the American people to be obstructionist; and she knows how to deploy day-to-day tactics in service of the strategic goal of winning in November, 2020.

All that savvy will be on display as Pelosi tries to keep the House wing of the party in line with her persistent view that congressional investigations should continue, but formal impeachment proceedings should be put off, because all the polling Pelosi sees suggests that voters overall don’t support impeachment, and the Senate will never convict.

As more House Democrats have signed on to the pro-impeachment roster, Pelosi has had to marshal new arguments to put out the brush fire. Per the NY Times: “People involved in the investigations say that the speaker has also approved an escalation of tactics short of impeachment to try to turn the tables.”

Pelosi has to be concerned that the drumbeat will continue to grow louder, however. The media mostly cheers for impeachment (for one thing, the press loves process stories, and impeachment is about the biggest process story there is…); there now appears to be a real possibility that Bob Mueller might never testify publicly; and the White House is continuing to refuse to honor investigative subpoenas — all this and more are making many Democrats restive.

On policy, in a Trump-free world, Pelosi would like a big infrastructure deal, a new North American trade pact, and an agreement to deal with the budget and the debt ceiling that was rational and spared the middle class more pain. But Pelosi is all too aware that she does not live in a Trump-free world.

The Speaker is scheduled to go to the White House today with Chuck Schumer to hear the president’s ideas for funding an infrastructure deal. But those conversations will be complicated by a letter Trump sent the two top Hill Democrats Tuesday saying he wants the North American trade measure passed before turning to infrastructure. The letter also included language seemingly intended to lay the foundation to blame the Democrats if Wednesday’s talks falter.

Pelosi is nimble and always anticipates the prospect for changed circumstances, but right now her goals are clear.

A. Stave off impeachment proceedings, while convincing her more aggressive members that the president will be held accountable by on-going, real investigations across several committees.

B. Get agreements on the budget and the debt ceiling that take those issues off the table through the election.

C. Manage infrastructure and North American trade talks in a manner in which either there are deals on terms over which Democrats can claim victory, or have any prospective deals fall apart in a manner in which the public blames Trump.

These are the major issues Pelosi is juggling now. There will be more balls thrown her way in the coming months. With gavel in hand, the Speaker will be the de facto Democratic counterweight to Trump until there is a unambiguous presidential nominee.

As the clock ticks towards Election Day, Pelosi knows she will have to continue to exhibit the discipline and patience required to hold her party together and put it in position to win.

That is a daily heavy lift. But it is also something she is prepared to do — by heritage, temperament, experience, and steel.

Big Four

2019 winter busiest ever for overflow shelter in Cedar Rapids.

Costs mounting as Davenport recovers from river flooding.

New Hampshire

Sununu signs bipartisan mental health bill to address ER boarding crisis.

Nevada

Nevada Assembly approves rewrite of pro-choice abortion law.

Nevada is now one signature away from joining push to elect the president by popular vote.

South Carolina

SC teachers, state workers get raise in $9B budget.

14 presidential candidates (and counting) to speak at SC Democratic Party convention.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Pelosi Holds Off Impeachment Effort

Restive Democrats in the House want to begin inquiry while Speaker sticks to her political gut that probe is not smart.

My take: While Trump and congressional Republicans largely condemn and ignore Congressman Amash’s break away on impeachment, Pelosi must deal with the reality that the left sees a moral imperative to move towards an inquiry. Pelosi argued in closed-door sessions Monday that a favorable judge ruling ordering some disclosure from the president suggests courts could help the current various probes move along. She continues to urge patience

But when Don McGahn fails to show up for a hearing today, pro-impeachment Democrats likely will raise their voices louder in public and private.

The twin North Stars that guide Pelosi’s position against impeachment — the Senate will never convict and remove Trump and formal proceedings will hurt Democrats’ chances of winning back the White House — are not going away.

Is the Trade War With China Hurting Trump — or Not?

Must-read New York Times story out of Ohio says key voters staying with incumbent because of his get-tough approach.

But Reuters dispatch from Iowa suggests ag voters are feeling the pain and looking at 2020 options.

My take: Trump won Ohio and Iowa easily, putting them in a different category than Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Stories such as these will ebb and flow for months, along with the economic news, but until there is a Democratic nominee that makes the election a choice, not a referendum on Trump, all of this is premature.

Why Trump Is Complaining About Fox News

President goes into second day kvetching about his favorite channel’s featuring Buttigieg town hall.

My take: With Ailes and other off-air allies gone, Trump is rightly worried that he could lose his hammerlock over the sign-on-to-sign-off coverage at the network. “Fox and Friends” and the primetime lineup will always stay on his side, but some of the news talent doesn’t want to be shut out from covering the marquee story of the Democratic nomination battle, which could be THE story for months. If Shep Smithism creeps into more of the 9am to 6pm programming, it could cost Trump tens of millions in (previously easily) earned media.

Governing Continues

White House aides meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday to talk about budget and debt ceiling issues.

My take: Amidst all the chaos and partisan fights, certain matters must be addressed. The congressional leaders and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney all get that they have to pull together to find some basic agreements to get through 2020. Trump, always looking for every edge and unconcerned with conventions and norms, remains the odd man out at his own talks.

Big Four

New Hampshire

Sununu breaks from party, supports state retiree cost of living adjustment.

Nevada

Yucca funding fight expected in US House committee.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Biden Philly Rally Keeps Positive Coverage Going

Another weekend of momentum gets frontrunner 72 hours closer to Iowa unscuffed.

My take: News coverage of presidential campaigns is driven much more by poll results than any other factor. Biden’s growing lead propels analysis that implicitly says, “Biden is ahead, therefore Biden’s strategy and positioning must be very smart — including an emphasis on electability and unity and a willingness to stand up to the progressive wing of the party on some key issues.”

That analysis will be considered right — until it isn’t. But the chances are high that all the other 20+ candidates can do is position themselves to take advantage of a potential series of serious Biden errors or failures (such as if his third-quarter fundraising proves weak). The field is too large, Biden’s lead too big, and the former vice president’s strategy too geared to holding on to his lead by not engaging with his party rivals for anyone to overtake him simply be doing well on their own.

Buttigieg Wows in Fox Town Hall

South Bend topper jousts with Chris Wallace, holds his own on tough topics including abortion, wins standing ovation at close of televised session.

My take: This event shows why Buttigieg has risen so high so fast — he’s smart, appealing, self-possessed, and seemingly unafraid of the incumbent president. We have seen this before — Fox is not filling the audience with strident Fox viewers, producing town hall questions and a vibe that allows Democrats home court advantage over the channel’s hosts. No wonder the president is annoyed.

Sanders Asks to Be Interviewed by New York Times

Then he says this to reporter:

“I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don’t understand a word that I’m saying.”

My take: Vermonter pulls no punches with defense of Cold War-era foreign policy stances, and shows his textbook impatience with the media. This interview will inspire many of his supporters — and draw the attention of opposition researchers laying in wait.

Right now, a more immediately important question than who can overtake Biden is, can anyone gain traction as a super-progressive candidate seen as more electable than Sanders?

Trump Troubles?

Which of these can hurt the president politically?

His public swearing is up?

Alabama abortion law seen as extreme by many in GOP?

China relationship is in disarray?

Impeachment is now bipartisan?

My take: None of those will hurt him immediately, but they are all ticking time bombs for re-election. Many of the Democratic presidential candidates are offering themselves up as the antidote to a world spinning out of control. Trump and the circumstances around him are making him look more and more like the chaos candidate and the Perils of Pauline president. It the economy hits a rough spot in the next year, the “I am more stable than Trump” message could be the winner.

The Big Four

Iowa

Trump’s ‘great patriot’ farmers follow him into a trade war.

In a victory for Republicans, Iowa Supreme Court upholds 2017 law limiting public-worker unions’ rights.

Flooding disrupts farm shipments on the Mississippi River.

New Hampshire

Child in New Hampshire diagnosed with measles.

Nevada

Nevada’s stubborn suicide problem persists as other states catch up.

South Carolina

‘Not just a SC problem.’ Bernie Sanders takes on Denmark’s tainted water.

SC governor pledges to sign strict ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban.

Friday, May 17, 2019

What About Bob?

Mystery of why no date has been set for Mueller Hill testimony remains…a mystery.

My take: The Wall Street Journal has some sources saying executive privilege is part of the holdup, but no one really seems to know. And/but the New York Times says congressional Democrats have been outflanked on the post-report PR front by Republicans and are now dependent on the special counsel not just ultimately appearing on Capitol Hill, but delivering a virtuoso performance in order to keep (or “get”?) the investigative momentum going.

There’s even talk that Mueller’s top deputies might even need to be called to appear with their circumspect boss — since they are thought to be more willing to be openly critical of Donald Trump.

A new Fox News poll shows that Mueller’s approval rating with Republicans is way up, while it is way down with Democrats.

But/and the poll also finds this: “When asked who they trust more to tell the truth, voters pick Mueller over Trump (by 45-27 percent), Mueller over Attorney General William Barr (by 40-22 percent), and Congressional Democrats over the administration (by 44-33 percent).”

And there is still this other mystery that no one has really explained: why did Mueller close up shop with the Roger Stone case still going and with apparent grand jury business left to conduct??

Xi Whiz

The New York Times makes an heroic effort to explain why China scuttled its US trade deal at the last minute.

My take: In the end, the paper only offers up theories, rather than an explanation. And without knowing why the Chinese added poison pill conditions that blew up the negotiations it is impossible to know what it would take to get the talks back on track.

Biden, Sanders Still Getting Half in Big Field

New Fox News poll shows Warren improvement.

Joe Biden 35
Bernie Sanders 17
Elizabeth Warren 9
Pete Buttigieg 6
Kamala Harris 5
Beto O’Rourke 4
Cory Booker 3
Amy Klobuchar 2
Julian Castro 2
John Delaney 1
Tulsi Gabbard 1
Jay Inslee 1
Tim Ryan 1
Marianne Williamson 1
Andrew Yang 1

My take: On the eve of his official Philly kickoff, Biden has banked another week at the top of the leader board with all the dynamics and planning that got him there still in place. And Trump is coming for a Pennsylvania rally on Monday.

The Big Four

Iowa

Iowa among 5 states to announce new lawsuits against OxyContin maker.

Steve Bullock kicks off 2020 campaign in Iowa.

New Hampshire

House set to attempt override of death penalty repeal veto.

Nevada

In Las Vegas, Kamala Harris calls Trump immigration plan ‘shortsighted’.

MGM could pay up to $800M in Las Vegas shooting settlement.

South Carolina

Dem presidential hopeful Williamson visits Spartanburg.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Alabama Abortion Law Raises the Stakes

Even some supporters of the measure worry about legal and political fallout hurting Republicans in 2020.

My take: Caution is warranted here. Once again, a sensitive and personal matter involving what the Supreme Court has established as a right is sure to be politicized. Forget the first-day speculation about how exactly this might impact presidential politics. There is a long way to go in the courts and then on the national town square before anyone will really know how this one law will merge with the overall debate. Both parties realize they need to tread carefully on this issue. Still, the early signs, history, and logic all suggest that this is not the ground — and the case — where conservatives want to fight to scale back Roe.

Biden’s Other Lead

National polls continue to show the former VP as the horserace leader, but this stat from a Quinnipiac Pennsylvania survey is in some ways more significant:

“Biden has the best chance of beating Trump, 61 percent of Pennsylvania registered Democrats say, followed by Sanders with 6 percent.”

My take: Until other candidates demonstrate that Democrats believe they can beat Trump, Biden’s titanic advantage on this score fuels his heady frontrunner status. In politics, an apparent self-fulfilling prophecy can be a candidate’s best friend.

Rich Lowry, one of the smarter conservatives when it comes to analyzing Democrats, sees Biden’s perceived electability versus Trump as key to his early success.

Karl Rove also sees Biden strengths, but raises the right questions: can Biden continue to raise money and minimize gaffes while avoiding being overtaken by a well-organized and hot-at-the-end candidate?

Enter de Blasio

Gotham City mayor joins presidential fray with searingly negative local media coverage and extreme constituent skepticism.

NY Post editorial sums up the tone of even the straight news coverage: “He is both incompetent and crooked; oblivious and arrogant. He won his current job in a fluke election back in 2013, yet ever since has seemed certain that he’s destined to be a major national figure — despite falling on his face time after time.”

My take: Launching a presidential campaign in the face of hostility from one’s voters and press corps is a real disadvantage. But de Blasio has more big-time campaign and media experience than many of the other candidates in the race. He is a very competitive guy. While the CW writes him off from the get-go, let’s wait a couple of beats to see if there is a theory of the case here that could make him a factor in the contest.

Talk of U.S. Conflict With Iran Continues.

Barr Says He Isn’t Blocking Mueller Testimony.

Essential Reading: Walter Dellinger on Why Trump’s Actions As Chronicled in the Mueller Report Are Worse Than the Common Narrative Suggests.

New Front in U.S.-China Trade Fight.

The Big Four

Iowa

Lawsuit challenges Iowa lawmakers’ move to restrict funding for Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds over a new Iowa law that prohibits the organization from accessing federal funds for sexual education.

Iowa senators see new tariffs intensifying need for trade agreement.

New Hampshire

Harris says she disagrees with Biden on crime bill’s impact.

Red-tailed hawk a step closer to being NH’s official raptor.

New Hampshire’s Senate has voted to pass a bill designating the red-tailed hawk as the state’s official raptor, four years after House lawmakers rejected the bird as too violent.

Nevada

Sisolak OKs protections for pre-existing conditions, fix for surprise medical bills.


Gov. Steve Sisolak signed two patient protection bills into law on Wednesday, aiming to both end surprise medical billing — emergency services given to a patient by an out-of-network provider — and put protections for pre-existing conditions into state statute.

Nevada will host Democratic 2020 debate, DNC says.

South Carolina

Myrtle Beach’s hospitality tax could lead to ‘mayhem’ for taxpayers, Horry County says.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

“We All Want to Know How This Story Ends”’

Capitol Hillers on both sides of the aisle, farmers, columnists, ed boards, business groups, and former Trump advisers all wonder — does the president have an endgame strategy for winning the China trade war?

My take: Those panicking about Trump’s apparent high wire act on tariffs often miss five things about his mindset:

A. The president thinks he can substantively and politically win a trade war with China as long as there is a conclusion (deal or no deal) he can spin as “strength” before the fall of 2020.

B. Trump believes tariffs are doing something none of his recent predecessors have been able to do — influence China’s behavior regarding its economic relationship with the U.S.

C. Trump doesn’t care one bit that establishment types like Bob Zoellick think he is being overly simplistic in his approach.

D. Trump doesn’t think Democratic leaders (long-time critics of China’s trade and economic practices) have a winning argument to make against him.

E. Trump thinks China’s weakening economy buys him time to address the concerns of U.S. farmers and others about the domestic impact of the trade war.

Speaker Pelosi is scheduled to meet with USTR topper Bob Lighthizer on Wednesday; everyone will watch the stock market; and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley will lead the “oh my” chorus worried about what’s happening.

Trump will likely continue his “don’t ever let them see you sweat,” optimistic tone in his Twitter and on-camera comments on China. That reassures the domestic audience, unsettles the Chinese, and allows Trump to (for a change) play the happy warrior.

In fact, Trump doesn’t have an actual endgame, because his endgame depends on if, when, and how Xi Jinping blinks. Trump believes he has the leverage and time to wait for the blink.

Right now, it is not an overstatement to say that much of the rest of Trump’s term, and his prospects for a second term, depend on if he is right about this bet.

US personnel told to leave Iraq amid Iran tensions.

Alabama passes restrictive abortion bill.

Don, Jr reaches deal to talk to Senate Intel panel.

The Big Four

Iowa

Iowa is second-worst state for ‘problem puppy mills,’ according to Humane Society report

Dragging levee repairs leave riverside communities stressed

New Hampshire

Sununu stays true to his word, will run for another term as governor

Senate committee votes to delay marijuana legalization bill to 2020

Joe Biden steps up the retail politics in New Hampshire

Nevada

Casino workers’ union rallies for collective bargaining bill

Marijuana taxes, possible sales taxes could fund Nevada education

South Carolina

Want to repair SC’s roads? Industry to hire hundreds under gas tax construction boom

South Carolina declares hepatitis outbreak

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Chinese Chicken

No one seems to like Trump’s tariffs except for Trump.

My take: The economic costs are real, as are the political and geopolitical risks, but Trump got elected in large part to stand up to China on trade. The president simply doesn’t care that economic elites from the center-right to the center-left establishment are tut tutting over his tactics. And he believes he can go longer than the Chinese can in dealing with the domestic implications of a trade war. Trump is watching both the clock (the daily agricultural pain and the stock market levels) and the calendar (November, 2020), and he likes his odds. He still thinks he can get the Chinese to blink first.

Biden Finds More Safe Ground

Tells AP he is for “fair trade,” defends NAFTA backing, and borrows 2020’s Democratic candidate classic dodge phrase (“something we should take a really hard look at”) when asked about breaking up Facebook.

My take: Biden’s unfurled trade position (the past is past, using the term of art “fair trade” about the present and future) will get him through the night (and the next several days at least). And his staff has been paying attention to Kamala Harris and other rivals, who know that they can buy some time with the press (if not necessarily with all voters) by saying something should be “looked at” or “discussed” in order to avoid taking an actual position.

Rosenstein Takes on Comey

Rift between two law enforcement titans grows.

My take: Rosenstein’s dismissal of former FBI topper as a book-shilling “partisan pundit” reflects the fierce contest to shape the current political fights, define the contours of investigations to come, and try to win the battle for the history books. If past is prologue, these hot remarks will incite Comey, not shut him up.

New York Times Columnist Plays Down Liberal Twitter

Read this Michelle Goldberg piece on Biden’s edge.

My take: I can’t improve on her closing paragraph — “In his own horrific way, Trump seemed to expand the possibilities of American politics, making it seem as if the old rules of electability no longer applied. Many of us assumed that the expansion would go in both directions, since Trump’s rise represented such a catastrophic failure of the political center. But there are a lot of Democrats who don’t want a revolution, or even a protracted political fight. They just want things to be the way they were before Trump came along, when ordinary people didn’t have to think about Twitter at all.”

Buttigieg Slow Jams the News

Mayor Pete slides into iconic “Tonight Show” gig.

My take: Being entertaining and comfortable on the NBC late-night show is a right of passage and gauntlet for any big-time presidential candidate. For Buttigieg, another key box checked.

The Big Four

Iowa

Kim Reynolds signs sports betting and fantasy sports bill into law in Iowa

Tom Miller, Iowa’s attorney general, joins multi-state lawsuit against Teva, Pfizer over inflated drug prices

Flooding in eastern Iowa ramps up urgency for congressional disaster-relief

Iowans prep for fierce 2020 fight – and not just for the White House

New Hampshire

Sununu to sign child welfare bills

Nevada

Las Vegas marijuana dispensaries planning for consumption lounges

Nevada school funding plan finally unveiled

Nevada State Controller Byrne endorses Warren for President

South Carolina

South Carolina declares statewide outbreak of Hepatitis A after four-fold increase in cases

Despite efforts to boost their numbers, blacks account for just 6% of doctors in SC

Finding $2 billion isn’t easy: Forum to focus on funding Charleston’s flood fixes

With I-526 extension moving forward once again, Charleston communities brace for impact

E-cigarette company to bring 500 jobs to South Carolina