Taking Back the Map

2016 Presidential Election Results by County

Since the 2016 election the Left has argued with itself about whether the obstinate ignorance of Trump voters is rooted in racism or in economic anxiety. I’ve been saying all along that it’s both, and that while there’s not much one can do about the racism, the party needs to address the economic anxiety. I’ve found some new ammunition for my position.

Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times that there is a very strong correlation between districts flipping from Democratic to Republican and districts experiencing economic erosion, and vice versa. Parts of the country doing well economically are safe for Democrats. Parts of the country where incomes are stagnant and jobs are scarcer than they used to be get redder and redder.

Candidates on the right do best during hard times and in recent elections, they have gained the most politically in regions experiencing the sharpest downturn. Electorally speaking, in other words, Republicans profit from economic stagnation and decline.

Let’s return to John Austin of the Michigan Economic Center. In an email he describes this unusual situation succinctly: “A rising economic tide tends to sink the Trump tugboat,” adding

“Certainly more people and communities that are feeling abandoned, not part of a vibrant economy means more fertile ground for the resentment politics and ‘blaming others’ for people’s woes (like immigrants and people of color) that fuel Trump’s supporters.”

In June 2017, Austin demonstrated the importance of struggling white communities to the Republican Party. His study of the 2016 presidential results in the Midwest showed how strong turnout among voters in regions facing economic deterioration can help Republicans.

In other countries there are similar correlations between people who have suffered under austerity policies and a resurgence of right-wing populism. In other words, if you want people to not become klansmen and nazis, think about how the economy is working for working-class folks.

The arguments denying that economic anxiety have anything to do with the reddening of America usually are based on the fact that in 2016 Trump voters had a higher median income than Clinton voters. But Clinton got 91 percent of the African American vote and 66 percent of the Latino vote. She also got a higher percentage of women, including 98 percent of black women. White men enjoy a  higher median income even if they live in poor precincts. It’s also the case that the people who voted in those poor districts represented the upper incomes in their districts. This is why places that backed Trump skewed poor; voters who backed Trump skewed wealthier.

See Robert Reich, Democrats once represented the working class. Not any more. That’s why there’s so much red on the map.

The current issue of Washington Monthly is dedicated to taking back the map. This is something Democrats must do, whether they like it or not, if they are ever to dominate national politics and policy once again. (Although you would be surprised at how many Dems I’ve run into who think it’s perfectly fine that the party has been shut out of large sections of the country.) I especially want to recommend Paul Glastris, Check Your Coastal Urban Privilege.

I’d like to extend McIntosh’s concept to another form of unearned advantage: the economic opportunities enjoyed by residents of a handful of the nation’s largest and wealthiest coastal metropolitan areas. Cities like San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., and their suburbs, have raced ahead of most of the rest of the country in recent decades. But the well-educated liberals who most benefit from all this economic growth—the same people who are most likely to be woke to privilege in other contexts—don’t seem to recognize that a substantial portion of the gains are unearned, ill-gotten, and coming at someone else’s expense. 

Put simply, these big liberal metro areas aren’t thriving simply because they’re liberal, or educated, or “innovative”; they’re doing so in large part thanks to federal policies that allow them to suck up more than their fair share of the nation’s wealth. Since 1980, the gap between the per capita income in the wealthiest 10 percent of metro areas and the poorest 10 percent has grown by 21 percent. The contrast with rural America is even starker. As recently as twenty years ago, sparsely populated counties were doing fine; in fact, during the first four years of the 1990s boom, their rates of business start-ups and employment growth exceeded those of the big cities. But their economies collapsed during the 2008 recession and have not recovered, even as the largest metro areas have flourished. 

…This magazine has long made the argument–advanced in this issue in twin cover stories by Daniel Block and Claire Kelloway–that the migration of wealth and opportunity to a handful of coastal metro areas is not primarily the consequence of inevitable market forces, but of policy choices made in Washington. Beginning in the 1970s, and with accelerating force in the 1980s, elected officials dismantled a set of rules that for decades had allowed all parts of the country to compete on a level playing field. These included safeguards for local banks and retailers, regulations that kept the costs of air travel relatively uniform throughout the country, and strict enforcement of federal antitrust laws. 

And, of course, under Trump this trend has continued, and the economies of rural and former rust belt areas that voted for Trump have gotten worse. Although I am loathe to attribute any effect of Trump to any sort of intention, one does wonder (as Edsall speculates) if Republicans are trying to kill the economy deliberately to maintain their own power.

See Nancy LeTourneau, Coal Country Is Dying. All Trump Has Are Lies. and What Happens When a Metropolitan Area Shares the Wealth.

This is a complex issue that Democrats cannot ignore.

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The Moron in Chief vs. National Security

I’ve worked for some really incompetent managers. What happens when the manager is a total moron is that the staff charged with getting work done learns to work around said manager, keeping him out of the loop at all costs.

Yesterday the administration’s top intelligence officials – Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, and others — testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee. What came from that testimony bore no resemblance whatsoever to anything the so-called Commander in Chief thinks. It’s obvious this crew is not bothering with the boss. They also aren’t interested in the wall.

President Donald Trump has previously declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, touted the defeat of ISIS, doubted the effects of climate change and railed against the Iran nuclear deal as “defective at its core.”

But the most senior intelligence officials in the Trump administration suggested Tuesday that many of the President’s sweeping assertions related to national security are inconsistent with their own assessments.

When pressed by Senate lawmakers during a hearing about the most urgent global threats facing the US, Trump’s intelligence chiefs, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA director Gina Haspel, appeared to contradict several claims made by the President to justify core tenets of his foreign policy.

Alex Ward writes at Vox:

President Donald Trump says ISIS is defeated in Syria. He’s said North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat” and that Kim Jong Un is committed to giving up his country’s nuclear weapons. He’s repeatedly bought Russia’s claim that it didn’t interfere in the 2016 presidential election. He regularly mocks the idea that climate change is a threat and has called it a hoax. And he said staying in the Iran nuclear deal would lead to that country acquiring nuclear weapons in “just a short time.”

But according to Trump’s own senior intelligence officials, none of that is true. Zero. Zilch.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other top intelligence officials presented their annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. That document “reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community” — including the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, and many other federal agencies — about the biggest threats currently facing the United States.

And the picture this latest report paints makes one thing stunningly clear: Trump’s major foreign policy positions are not based in reality.

ISIS is not defeated; North Korea is not about to give up nuclear weapons; Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and is poised to interfere with the next one; climate change is a major threat, and not just to security; Iran is not currently engaged in weapons-making activities.

Today Trump had a tweet-fit criticizing the intel crew because their testimony conflicted with his fantasy life, which these days appears to be based on a film called Sicario: Day of the Soldado.  The moron who got played by Kim Jong Un for the world to see says the intel guys are “naive.”  If we have a real national security crisis while The Creature is in office we’re doomed.

Also, Wisconsin is screwed. Paul Waldmann:

Last summer, Wisconsin’s then-governor, Scott Walker, announced a deal for Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn to open a factory in his state, and like so many such deals, it came with gigantic tax incentives. Although it was extremely controversial, Walker insisted that the 13,000 jobs Foxconn was promising would be worth the billions of taxpayer dollars he offered the company.

President Trump took credit for it. As The Post reported at the time, White House officials were “ebullient” about the deal and even stressed that Trump himself negotiated it with the company’s chairman.

The consummate dealmaker made a deal, and now the benefits would rain down on the good people of Wisconsin, right?

Guess again.

A major jobs deal President Trump has touted with former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker now looks uncertain: Foxconn, a supplier for Apple and other technology firms, says it’s scrapping plans to build a giant new factory in Wisconsin, opting to hire American engineers and researchers instead of a promised fleet of blue-collar workers.

“In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory,” Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chief executive Terry Gou, told Reuters. “You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment.”

The Taiwanese technology juggernaut initially pledged in 2017 to construct a $10 billion liquid-crystal display panel plant and create up to 13,000 jobs in the state’s southeastern corner over the next 15 years. The positions would pay an average annual wage of $53,000, the firm said — a solid salary in the manufacturing realm.

In exchange, Wisconsin agreed to give Foxconn at least $3 billion in state tax credits and breaks, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private agency that helped negotiate the package. The deal was much criticized at the time after it emerged that Wisconsin would not make money for 25 years. …

… Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office in November to investigate the Foxconn deal and other enormous state subsidy packages, said Wisconsin has already poured cash into new roads, campus construction and paying families who lived on the tentative factory site to move. He declined to name a figure.

Such a deal.

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Health Care and Taxes: To Boldly Go Where Dems Haven’t Gone Before, or at Least for a Long Time

Yesterday on a “town hall” on CNN, Kamala Harris floated the idea of getting rid of the private health insurance industry and going with a national single payer plan. Harris has been a strong proponent of Medicare for All for some time. Promptly, all of right-wing media went into a frenzy of pearl-clutching. But there’s been relatively less said about this in the rest of the media.

Martin Longman — a smart guy — doesn’t think Harris’s position is politically tenable.

In theory, I am very enthusiastically in favor of eliminating the private for-profit health insurance industry entirely. Yet, I know that this would cause a political firestorm unlike anything we’ve seen since George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. In fact, it would likely be an order of magnitude more controversial than that fiasco. To make matters worse, it’s a promise that could not be kept. To even contemplate the passage of such a bill, the Democrats would need a supermajority in the Senate, and that’s not in the offing anytime soon. In truth, the Democrats would probably need eighty or ninety senators to feel comfortable about getting 60 of them to vote the health insurance industry out of existence. In addition to the staggering number of negative constituent phone calls the senators would receive, many of them would be representing states that have thousands of health insurance jobs that would be on the line.

The question, then, is why would a presidential candidate run on a platform that included the elimination of private heath insurance? It might help them win the Democratic nomination, but thereafter it would weigh on them like an albatross. As a general election candidate, they would be savaged using rhetoric similar to what caused the Tea Party revolt and the midterm wipeouts of 2010 and 2014. Only this time, the rhetoric would largely be accurate and backed up by the media. If they nevertheless won the election, which is certainly possible, they would have to abandon their promise or they’d wind up taking a huge beating much like Trump did in his effort to repeal Obamacare.

I’m not sure what to think, other than it wouldn’t bother me personally to flush the entire health insurance industry, starting with the CEOs. Longman probably is right when he says it couldn’t pass, however, at least not in the foreseeable future. It’s a risky position.

On the other hand, we’ll never get nice things if we don’t ask for them.  We desperately need an intelligent and fact-based national conversation on where our health-care dollars are really going and why health care in this country is so much more expensive — without  being any better — than in other countries. The health insurance industry is, in fact, soaking up a lot of those dollars without adding any value to the system. If someone running on the position of going single-payer were elected president, it might at the very least change the parameters of the health care conversation that the powers that be allow us to have.

I wouldn’t mind copying the French health care system, which has a strong and highly rated national health care system paid by publicly financed health insurance in which enrollment is compulsory. There is also private insurance that functions something like Medigap insurance. I understand private insurance in France is mostly not-for-profit and offered through memberships in associations or through employment.

There is also much pearl clutching going on about taxes. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a marginal tax rate of 70 percent on income over $10 million. The marginal tax on great wealth has been that high and higher before in the U.S., and the economy thrived at the time, but of course the Right thinks this is a radical new idea. But Paul Krugman endorsed AOC’s proposal. Eric Levitz wrote,

French economist Thomas Piketty has demonstrated that high tax rates reduce pre-tax inequality – ostensibly, by discouraging rent-seeking among top executives, whose compensation is often determined less by productivity than a combination of social mores and their own audacity: CEOs are less likely to extract an extra $5 million from their companies (instead of allowing their firms to invest that sum in other purposes) if they know that Uncle Sam will collect 70 percent of their bonus. Thus, there is now some reason to believe that confiscatory top rates can reduce wage inequality, while producing some gains in economic efficiency.

All of which is to say: In 1980, taxing incomes above $216,000 (or $658,213 in today’s dollars) at 70 percent was considered a moderate, mainstream idea, even though wage inequality was much less severe, and supply-side economics had yet to be discredited.

On the other hand, Steven Rattner pooh-poohs this idea.

For starters, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seems to be ignoring the burden of state and local taxes, particularly for residents of places like her hometown. For us New Yorkers, the top rate for those levies is 12.7 percent. And thanks to the 2017 Republican tax cut, it is no longer deductible, bringing her proposed top rate to 82.7 percent.

Okay, then, make those state taxes deductible again. Problem solved. Next?

There are other, better ways to raise revenue — in particular, by increasing the tax rate on capital gains and dividends and closing loopholes.

I’ve heard arguments for taxing capital gains at the same rate as income. Rattner has a pain-free proposal:

But the 2017 tax cut legislation reduced the tax rate on corporate profits to 21 percent, from 35 percent. So if taxes on capital gains and dividends were raised by those 14 percentage points, we capitalists would be no worse off — and American companies would still be more competitive globally, the theory behind reducing the corporate tax rate.

In other words, let’s not expect the super rich to sacrifice or anything, especially since cutting corporate taxes doesn’t do a damn bit of good as far as workers are concerned.  And it runs up the deficit. Steven Rattner is a weenie.

And the loophole thing is old and tired. Everybody talks about closing tax loopholes, and then there’s a new tax reform bill passed that’s supposed to close them, but somehow new loopholes pop up in their place and in no time there’s more talk about closing loopholes. By all means close loopholes, but stop claiming that loophole closing is a magic bean.

Liz Warren has proposed a wealth tax.

Under Warren’s proposal, households with over $50 million in assets would pay a 2 percent tax on their net worth every year. The rate would rise to 3 percent on assets over $1 billion. Warren’s plan would affect just 75,000 households total.

I certainly have no objections. But the article linked points out that many nations that used to have a wealth tax have dropped them, mostly because the wealthy quickly find ways to hide assets or move them offshore.

Still, talking about all this is good. That’s the first step in making them real.

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Kushner Insecurity

While Nancy Pelosi was owning Donald Trump and Roger Stone was getting arrested, this also was reported:

Jared Kushner’s application for a top-secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him — but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. Kushner’s was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top-secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said.

In other words, at least a few dozen people have been working for the Trump Administration and given security clearances who are actually security risks. Okay.

After Kline overruled the White House security specialists and recommended Kushner for a top-secret clearance, Kushner’s file then went to the CIA for a ruling on SCI. [“sensitive compartmented information,” the nation’s most sensitive secrets]

After reviewing the file, CIA officers who make clearance decisions balked, two of the people familiar with the matter said. One called over to the White House security division, wondering how Kushner got even a top-secret clearance, the sources said. Top-secret information is defined as material that would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security if disclosed to adversaries.

The sources say the CIA has not granted Kushner clearance to review SCI material. That would mean Kushner lacks access to key intelligence unless President Donald Trump decides to override the rules, which is the president’s’ prerogative. The Washington Post reported in July 2018 that Kushner was not given an “SCI” clearance. CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said, “The CIA does not comment on individual security clearances.”

What do you want to bet Trump blabs everything to Kushner anyway?

Martin Longman points out that Kushner is being investigated by German banking regulators for suspicious activity in his Deutsche Bank accounts. And Tina Nguyen writes at Vanity Fair,

Given his various entanglements, the C.I.A.’s alarm makes sense. As The Washington Postreported last year, the president’s son-in-law is viewed by several foreign countries—the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, China, and Israel among them—as a potentially manipulable asset, given his fraught business dealings and his notable lack of political experience. Along with his communications with Russia during the transition, which caught Mueller’s attention, Kushner helped establish a back channel with the U.A.E. while supporting a blockade against Qatar, and has maintained a close personal friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly bragged last spring that he had Kushner “in his pocket” after Kushner allegedly turned over a list of Saudi dissidents being monitored by the U.S. (Kushner’s team has called this allegation “obviously false and ridiculous”; shortly after the gruesome death of Jamal Khashoggi, Kushner apparently became a reliable defender of the crown prince within the White House.)

Presumably, some or all of these dealings factored into career officials’ recommendation that Kushner be denied a security clearance. “They would not do that lightly for someone of Kushner’s stature and position,” Jacobson wrote. “The fact that the C.I.A. then denied his S.C.I. application is equally damning,” he added. “And the fact that they were so disturbed by the granting of his [top secret] clearance that they called over to the WH? Hooboy.”

There are reports Trump is losing faith with his son in law over the government shutdown fiasco. Yet I suspect Kushner will remain in the White House until the FBI hauls him away.

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View From the Cave

We’ve had a request for the dancing banana …

Interesting stuff in this analysis of the Cave by Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Seung Min Kim at the Washington Post:

For weeks, Trump has sought an exit ramp from the shutdown that would still secure wall funding, and for weeks his advisers failed to identify a viable one.

Trump repeatedly predicted to advisers that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would cave and surmised that she had a problem with the more liberal members of her caucus. But she held firm, and her members stayed united.

“Why are they always so loyal?” Trump asked in one staff meeting, complaining that Democrats so often stick together while Republicans sometimes break apart, according to attendees.

After decades of “Democrats in Disarray” headlines, and Republicans being rock solid while the Dems crumble, that one made me laugh. But it also tells me that Trump has no grasp whatsoever of what’s going on all around him. The left wing of the Democratic Party will happily follow Nancy Pelosi as long as she’s leading them where they want to go. I’m seeing a lot of comments about how Pelosi is vindicated, but I also think she got a message.

Trump and his advisers misunderstood the will of Democrats to oppose wall funding. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, emerged as the most powerful White House adviser during the shutdown and told colleagues that Trump’s plan for $5.7 billion in wall funding would get Democratic votes in the Senate on Thursday, astonishing Capitol Hill leaders and other White House aides.

And this tells me Kushner is a moron. The Republican bill did get one Democratic vote, from Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But that’s it. Perhaps Kushner failed to notice that three Dem senators who might have voted with Republicans in the past – Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill — aren’t there any more.

Kushner, who Trump jokingly says is to the “left,” pitched a broader immigration deal and had faith that he could negotiate a grand bargain in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with his discussions. He pitched a big deal to Latino groups this week and also with members of the Koch network, the people said.

This was news to me, so I looked it up. Apparently on Thursday Kushner met with some Latino activist groups and proposed permanent protections from deportation and a path to citizenship for Dreamers and some others. But this is the sort of agreement people have tried to work out with Trump several times in the past, and every time, at the last minute, Trump listened to his hard liners and scuttled the deal. Nobody is lining up to kick Lucy’s football any more. Back to WaPo:

All the while, Trump vowed he would never capitulate to Democrats. At the Wednesday meeting, “he said there would be no caving,” Krikorian said. “Everybody who spoke up applauded him for not caving, but warned him that any further movement toward the Democrats’ direction would be a problem.”

Trump himself set up the dynamic that wouldn’t allow the Democrats to compromise without being slammed by their own base. Their only viable position now is “no.”

Administration officials began immediately on this next phase; Mulvaney and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met privately with a handful of Republican senators at Camp David on Friday evening to start discussing what a border security agreement might look like, according to multiple people familiar with the gathering.

Ultimately, aides said, Trump was willing to table debate over wall funding because he is convinced he can win support from some Democratic lawmakers over the next three weeks.

Yeah, good luck with that, Spanky.

Aaron Blake at WaPo speculates that Senate Republicans might move to take another shutdown out of Trump’s hands, which is certainly within their power and, seems to me, would be better for them in the long run. If Trump tries another shutdown in three weeks, there is absolutely no reason to believe anything would turn out differently from the first one.

Greg Sargent:

It is difficult to imagine congressional Republicans, who just lived through this disaster, having any appetite for a second round. As a senior Republican told Politico’s John Bresnahan: “I hope the president remembers this when the Freedom Caucus types tell him what to do next time.”

The polls have all confirmed that a majority of Americans blamed Trump and Republicans for the shutdown. A second shutdown over the same issue — dragging the country once again into the same mess we’ve already been through — would look even more unhinged.

So Democrats will be heading into these conference negotiations with real leverage. One clue as to how they might proceed can be found in a slew of border-security measures they were in the process of drawing up, which they were going to release, but then did not have to once Trump gave in.

According to people familiar with the Democratic plans, they were preparing to roll out a package that included added drug-scanning technology at ports of entry and other infrastructure upgrades at those ports; and more than $500 million for beefed-up medical care for asylum-seeking families and children, as well as more family-friendly processing facilities. In other bills, Democrats have also passed expenditures of around $500 million for more immigration judges, and around $500 million in economic aid to Central American countries.

That all sounds good, and a rational Congress wouldn’t have any problem passing an impressive-sounding border security package with no wall. But we’ll have to wait to see what Republicans really will do. How afraid are they of Trump and his base? I’m afraid we’re still depending on Mitch McConnell to do the right thing, and we know how that’s turned out in the past.

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Losers Gonna Lose

So much going on. By now you’ve heard the FBI has arrested Roger Stone with indictments for obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering. It’s also being widely reported this morning that an “unnamed Trump campaign official” who plays a significant role in the indictments is Steve Bannon.  At the very least, the indictments tell us there was lots of communication going on between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks. Martin Longman sums it up:

The Trump campaign conspired, colluded, and coordinated with WikiLeaks to disseminate stolen, private communications of U.S. citizens and the Democratic Party in order to seek an advantage in a political campaign. We no longer need to have any debate about that question.

What we don’t know is how much Trump himself was involved with any of this or to what degree the Trump campaign understood that Russia was involved in the hacking.

The latest news is that Stone is refusing to plead guilty. He’s bullshitted his way through a so-called career; maybe he thinks he can bullshit his way through the courts.

Several hours ago Trump folded on the State of the Union speech and acknowledged that he wouldn’t be giving it in the House chamber until Nancy Pelosi says he can give it, and that will be after the government shutdown ends. I don’t see that he had a choice that didn’t make him look even more pathetic.

Is our POTUS learning? His “border wall” bill failed to pass in the Senate yesterday. A Dem “no border wall” bill also failed, but six Republicans crossed lines and voted for both bills, while only one Dem (Manchin) voted for the Republican bill. This means the Dem bill came closer to the 60 vote “end cloture” threshold. What will Trump’s next move be, if any? Politico reported yesterday,

White House officials aren’t sure of their next move.

But they do know one thing: they’re losing, and they want to cut a deal.

The president is weighing the idea of a three-week continuing resolution to fund the government, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) revealed Thursday afternoon, reviving a prospect the president has previously ruled out. Trump acknowledged the proposal in an afternoon meeting with lawmakers, saying that Democrats would have to offer “some sort of pro-rated down payment” on the Mexican border wall he is demanding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly shot down Graham’s idea, however, telling reporters late Thursday “that is not a reasonable agreement.”

Especially after yesterday’s Senate votes, seems to me the Dems don’t have to offer anything.

It’s possible the Senate is moving in the direction of a clean CR to open government like the one it passed in December. Or, it’s possible that by some time next week the Senate will pass a bill to open the government that doesn’t specifically include border wall funding but which might include some additional border security money the president can play with.

Meanwhile, Trump and his people continue to demonstrate they have no idea how ordinary people live. It’s the “let them eat cake” administration.  Trump’s poll numbers continue to erode. And his losing, on every front I can think of.

Update: Trump caved faster than I expected him to. Congressional leaders, Trump reach tentative deal to temporarily reopen government without wall funds, according to Hill officials.

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SOTU Standoff at Capitol Hill

Well, well. A few hours ago, Trump sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi informing her that he would be giving the State of the Union address in the House. Nancy Pelosi wrote back:

“I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened,” Pelosi wrote to Trump. “Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.” …

… The House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution for a joint session of Congress to hear the president.

It’s not clear whether Trump understands he can’t just show up in the House and give a speech whenever he wants. Paul Waldman writes,

One imagines a dramatic scene as Trump arrives at the House and is told that the speaker is not granting him permission to deliver his address. What happens then? Will he push past everyone (though presumably only Republicans will have shown up), climb up on the dais and start talking? Among other things, Pelosi controls the microphones and the TV cameras, so there wouldn’t be much point.

I don’t see that he holds any cards in this game. He can always give the speech somewhere else and send a transcript to Congress to fulfill his constitutional obligation — indeed, he doesn’t have to give a speech at all — but he would be doing so with the whole nation understanding that a woman wouldn’t let him have the venue he wanted. What will he do?

Polls are saying, loudly and clearly, that the shutdown is unpopular and that the public blames Trump for it.  Things are getting interesting.

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The Shutdown Will Continue

It’s been an exciting few hours on the Mahablog. After several days of thrashing around, several terrifying minutes when the site  disappeared, and spending too much money I finally got an SSL certificate installed. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was quite an accomplishment, and as a result the url has changed from http:// to https://. Your old links will still work. This was necessary, I am told, because it makes the site more secure.  My suspicion is that it’s just a way to squeeze more money out of us small website owners. Hosting is cheap, but you pay through the nose for security.

Anyhoo, Martin Longman has some ideas about what Mitch McConnell is up to.

Over the last several years, he has usually ranked as the least popular senator in the country with his own constituents. In the latest Morning Consult poll, only Jeff Flake and Claire McCaskill had higher disapproval numbers, and neither of them survived the last election cycle. The thinking goes, then, that McConnell simply cannot afford to buck the president.

There’s definitely some truth to that, but it’s also important to think about McConnell’s concern for the Republican Party’s majority in the Senate. He does not want hurt the reelection prospects of his colleagues because it could send him back into the minority. So, he has very little interest in passing a bill that Trump will criticize and veto.  He suffered that fate once already before Christmas, and he’s not keen to experience a repeat.  It’s also key to McConnell’s current thinking that Trump had signed off on the deal last December before suddenly reversing himself  once he received criticism from people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.  He doesn’t have any reason to take Trump’s word that he’ll stick with any deal that is negotiated.

The best way of looking at this is that McConnell is angry with the president. He was double-crossed. He wasn’t consulted. He doesn’t believe in the wall. He doesn’t believe that Trump’s strategy will work.  He doesn’t want to take ownership of a deal that the president will characterize as insufficient or weak.  He doesn’t even want to appear with the president in front of the cameras.

McConnell is not going to take a leadership position to end the shutdown until something else happens. The something else could be an incident resulting from a breakdown in airport security, or a sharp downturn in public opinion against Republicans, or something breaking in the Mueller investigation.  And then maybe he’ll step forward to push a bill through to open the government. Otherwise, he’s going to let Trump bang his head against a wall until either he or Nancy Pelosi breaks. And I don’t think Nancy Pelosi is going to break.

See also: Trump’s phony ‘compromise’ has now been unmasked as a total sham by Greg Sargent, and Trump’s So-Called ‘Compromise’ Is Loaded With Poison Pills by Nancy LeTourneau.

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The Weirdness That Is Rudy

Among the more surreal things that have happened this weekend is Rudy Giuliani moving his lips. Here he is explaining why Trump is not guilty of obstruction of justice:

“A president firing somebody who works for him, if he does no other corrupt act other than just fire him, can’t obstruct justice because that’s what Article Two of the Constitution gives to him solely. Not Congress. Not anybody else. If, for example, a president said, ‘Leave office, or I’m going to, you know, have your kids kidnapped,’ or, ‘I’m going to break your legs.’ Obstruction—I prosecuted a lot of obstruction cases.”

Whatever you say, Rudy.

Rudy got on the Sunday bobblehead shows to complain about the Buzzfeed story that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations. Then Rudy admits the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations continued until Trump was elected.

Seemingly using the opportunity of the disputed Buzzfeed story, Rudy Giuliani is now conceding a maximal version of President Trump’s attempts to get a multi-hundred million dollar payday from Vladimir Putin for the length of the 2016 presidential campaign. Giuliani quotes Trump saying that negotiations for the Moscow Trump Tower deal were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won.”

During the time Trump was singing Putin’s praises on the campaign trail and getting Putin’s help with hacking and information campaigns, Putin was dangling a few hundred million dollars in front of Trump.

But that’s okay, Rudy says, because he is 100 percent sure that Trump didn’t tell Cohen to lie to Congress, although he can’t say for sure what discussions Trump and Cohen might or might not have had about the Trump Tower project or Cohen’s congressional testimony. And, anyway, since there was no deal in the end, it didn’t matter.

The defense lawyer characterized the Trump Tower Moscow letter as an “active proposal” that did not constitute a deal or a business. He compared it to the proposals under consideration by his security consultancy, which continues to develop lucrative contracts abroad while he represents the president for free, drawing ethics criticism, since since foreign governments may see him as a conduit to the Oval Office.

“It’s like my business,” Giuliani said. “I make proposals to do security work, probably got six of them out right now. If you were to ask me what countries am I doing business in, I’d just tell you the two I’m doing business in. Not the other six, because I may never do business there.”

Putin’s dangling of a few hundred million dollars in front of Trump had no affect on Trump’s campaign, I assume. Or on the Republican platform.

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Stuff to Read

Trump is making a public announcement this afternoon and is expected to make some kind of offer to the Dems to end the shutdown. Why he couldn’t just do that in a meeting … well, it’s Trump. He just wants attention.

You may have been following the Buzzfeed story about Cohen being ordered to lie to Trump, followed by a statement from the Mueller investigation that the Buzzfeed story contained inaccuracies. Josh Marshall had some interesting observations on this (may be behind paywall):

There have been tons of stories, a number of which seem to have been erroneous or significantly incorrect. Mueller’s office has felt no need to correct them. The answer here has to be that this claim was so damning, so specific to the legitimacy of the presidency that Mueller or his overseers felt it was necessary to correct the record.

This is a case where it’s important to remember Rod Rosenstein’s role in overseeing the investigation. Rosenstein should know all relevant major details of the investigation. As far as we know he has steadfastly resisted any attempts to meddle with or interfere with the probe. But if a story like this is out there, this damning to the President and is in some material and significant way wrong, it quite plausible to me that he would have insisted the Mueller’s office release a statement. It’s equally plausible that the decision was Mueller’s.

Marshall goes on to present an argument that the story possibly came from leaks in the Southern District New York office, not from Mueller’s team.

We don’t know what’s really being disputed here. Maybe the idea that Trump explicitly told Cohen to lie is just totally bogus. But my sense is that it’s not quite that clear cut. The dispute about facts and I suspect the breakdown in the sourcing of information likely stems from the relationship between these two offices – New York US Attorney’s Office (SDNY) and Mueller’s office – different propensities to leak, different levels of knowledge of the case, different strategies about what they’re investigating.

Buzzfeed, meanwhile, is standing by its story. The story may turn out to be substantially true, although if Mueller’s team says there are inaccuracies there must be something wrong.

Other Stuff:

Politico ran a story last week documenting that at least half of Americans still don’t know that Trump was never a self-made successful businessman.

Large swaths of the public believe the Trump myth. Across three surveys of eligible votersfrom 2016 to 2018, we found that as many as half of all Americans do not know that he was born into a very wealthy family. And while Americans are divided along party lines in their assessment of Trump’s performance as president, misperceptions regarding his financial background are found among Democrats and Republicans.

The narrative of Trump as self-made is simply false. Throughout his life, the president has downplayed the role his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, played in his success, claiming it was “limited to a small loan of $1 million.” That isn’t true, of course: A comprehensive New York Times investigation last year estimated that over the course of his lifetime, the younger Trump received more than $413 million in today’s dollars from his father. While this exact figure was not known before the Times’ report, it was a matter of record that by the mid-1980s, Trump had been loaned at least $14 million by his father, was loaned at least $3.5 million more in 1990, had borrowed several more million against his inheritance in the 1990s after many of his ventures failed, and had benefited enormously from his father’s political connections and co-signing on loans early in his career as a builder.

This is the interesting part:

What happens when Americans learn of the president’s privileged background? In a 2018 survey, we provided half the respondents the following question, which was intended to impart Trump’s biographical information: To what extent were you aware that Donald Trump grew up the son of wealthy real estate businessman Fred Trump, started his business with loans from his father, and received loans worth millions of dollars from his father in order to keep his businesses afloat?

What happens is that there is a substantial drop in approval for Trump, especially among Republicans. There is less of a drop among Democrats because they didn’t like him, anyway.

The larger point is that Trump’s many business failures and dependence on his wealthy father were well known before Trump announced for president in 2015. We didn’t know how much Trump was dependent on his father before the Times expose, but there are reports of Fred bailing out his boy Donald when he was about to crash going way back. But little of that got into news stories about Trump, especially not television news.  People heard about Trump’s many divorces but not about the fact that he was a massive screwup at business who got money showered on him by his father.  How many election cycles do we have to go through complaining that political news coverage simply doesn’t do the job of providing voters with the information about candidates they need to know?

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