Friday, May 24, 2019

The Week That Was

Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi traded extraordinary personal insults for another day….yet the Senate found bipartisan, White House-blessed compromise on a disaster bailout bill.

My take: Don’t be fooled by the disaster relief measure — Trump and Pelosi are going to need some sort of re-set or accommodation if trade, drug prices, or infrastructure deals have a chance. And they are still going to need at least a new dynamic to reach budget and debt ceiling pacts. After Thursday’s escalations on both sides, the path to a workable relationship is even less clear.

Democratic presidential candidates were told in no uncertain terms they need to start attacking to diminish Joe Biden’s entrenched frontrunner status…yet they are to a person reluctant to do it in a meaningful manner.

My take: The candidates and much of the media can keep saying it’s “still early” all they want. But every Democratic hopeful not named “Biden” now has to answer three questions to be living in a rational world. (1) What issues can they deploy to bring Biden back to the pack? (2) What mechanism or forum do they use to make their case? (3) What early state can they win or place in?

Theresa May announced her departure….yet Brexit remains a thoroughly sticky wicket.

My take: May held off her departure for far longer than most other PMs in her place would have done. A new Tory leader is not going to find solving the Brexit Rubik’s Cube any easier, and they run the risk of having their own (short?) time in office consumed trying to solve the problem.

The trade war with China continues…yet Trump finds money to aid US farmers to buy himself some time.

My take: Trump can’t jive his way indefinitely through a period of ruinous tariffs, but with this kind of relief package, as long as the economy appears strong, he might just be able to make it through November of 2020. Democrats need a critique of his policy that doesn’t involve rooting for a bad economy or looking soft on China.

Public testimony by Bob Mueller looks increasingly unlikely….yet Democrats have devised a plan to try to bring the independent counsel’s written report to life.

My take: Democrats who favor impeachment continue to understate the broad public lack of interest in the matter, and overstate the extent that incremental hearings can break through with a media that has set the bar high for new revelations.

Top sports story: Leonard’s 35 gives the Raptors a 3-2 lead
ESPN

Top business story: Musk’s SpaceX successfully launches 60 satellites into orbit
FOX News

Top entertainment story: Avengers: Endgame faces long odds against box office record
Hollywood Reporter

Big Four

Iowa

2020 candidates in Iowa, across the nation slam McDonald’s about pay, workplace conditions.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a property tax bill into law. Here’s what that means for you.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire House overrides Sununu veto of death penalty repeal.

Nevada

Henderson keeps title as Nevada’s fastest-growing city.

South Carolina

Columbia is one of the most politically segregated regions in the country, data shows.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

What Happens Now

Donald Trump is unpredictable, Nancy Pelosi is predictable. But his behavior is going to inevitably influence hers for the next 18 months.

My take: The Speaker has to play three-dimensional chess to grapple with the twisted realities created by the Chaos President.

The trio of tracks: legislating, investigating/impeachment, and the presidential election.

Let’s look at each one.

Legislating: After Wednesday’s Trump-Pelosi clash, it would seem impossible that the joint whip operations (or, at least, vote counting cooperation) that would be required to pass the Canada-Mexico trade deal, an infrastructure package, or a prescription drug measure could be pulled off. Barring a cataclysmic change in dynamics, it would appear that any bipartisan legislating (besides a budget deal and a debt ceiling increase) is done and dusted for the balance of Trump’s term. That probably helps Democrats politically (allowing them to paint Trump as a can’t-do, petulant president), but Pelosi probably couldn’t achieve any bipartisan compromise even if she wanted to. Even the “must pass” budget and debt limit increase are going to be monstrously difficult to achieve.

Investigating/impeachment: Wednesday’s events continue to provide Pelosi the upper hand in keeping the House on track to investigate Trump without launching the impeachment proceedings that the Speaker’s allies believe could lead inexorably to Trump’s re-election. In a bizarro world reality, the Wall Street Journal ed board basically agrees with Pelosi.

These Wall Street Journal news headlines all provide the Speaker back up for her key talking point within the Democratic caucus: with help from the courts and tough negotiations with the administration, Democrats are getting what they need to keep the various Trump probes moving along, without impeachment:

Second Judge Rules Against Trump on Subpoenas
New York Backs Release of Trump Taxes
Panel to See More Mueller Documents

The Old Media’s conventional wisdom — that Pelosi got the better of Trump on Wednesday, in part because she gets inside his head and outplays him — also serves to strengthen her hand against the relatively small number of House Democrats who want to start impeachment proceedings now. That dynamic is enshrined in this important Politico story.

The New York Times adds this single important caveat: “The one thing that could quickly push Ms. Pelosi toward impeachment, people close to her said, would be a mass defection of new members. That has not happened yet, but several members of the class of 2018 said the speaker was mistaken if she assumed they would oppose impeachment to save their seats next year.”

The presidential election: Pelosi wants to replicate what the Democratic Senate leader, George Mitchell, did in 1991 and 1992, by using legislative power to make the incumbent president’s life miserable and create the environment in which a strong Democratic standard bearer can emerge from the nomination process and win the general election.

All the data from this week suggests what last week’s data indicated: as of right this moment, the ONLY person who makes that scenario viable is Joe Biden. No other candidate is demonstrating they have what Pelosi and many other members of the party establishment (and the media) believe is required to beat Trump.

The wise tribunal of said establishment, the Los Angeles Times Doyle McManus, neatly explains why Biden is doing so well against his rivals and, implicitly, why logically he is the ONLY candidate Pelosi could trust at this point to win. (Important and eternal caveat: many past frontrunners in both parties have lost bigger leads than Biden has now. But it isn’t as “early” as most pundits say it is.)

As long as Biden is the frontrunner (and, barring a self-inflicted collapse, it looks like he will be for some time), the Pelosi Plan faces two perils.

First, as Karl Rove points out in his Wall Street Journal column, the centrifugal force caused by the progressive wing of the party is leading many of the Democratic candidates to adopt stances that could define the party as too far to the left to win a general election, even if Biden himself largely stays in the center-left.

Second, Biden could get through most of 2019 without facing serious challenge, allowing him to bridge into 2020 with a strong chance to win the nomination but without honing the skills and operation required to win a general election.

In sum, as much sound and fury as Washington produced on Wednesday, we are back where we were at the start of the week: legislative compromise seems like a long shot; Pelosi is still successfully fighting off impeachment efforts she thinks would be politically ruinous; and Biden is the strong frontrunner for the nomination, with some serious general election questions remaining, largely hidden beneath the surface.

Big Four

Iowa

Kirsten Gillibrand focuses on care for the youngest, rural healthcare in new plan she will discuss in Iowa.

6 presidential candidates confirmed for Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Cedar Rapids.

Rivers rising in waterlogged central US; more rain to come.

New Hampshire

Harris, Gillibrand offer plans to bolster maternal care.

Nevada

Tourism board OKs $48 million for underground people mover in L.V.

Legislature moves to restore felons’ voting rights after release.

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.

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.