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

Hope Hicks Refused to Answer Many House Intelligence Committee Questions

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, a long-time confidant of Donald Trump, testified (more or less) before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. She did appear before the Committee, hence the "more," but politely refused to answer most of their questions, hence the "less." She said she was just following orders. It is not clear if she was officially invoking executive privilege, and it is even less clear if such privilege would excuse her from answering questions from a congressional committee.

The same problem occurred when former Trump strategist Steve Bannon was hauled before the Committee. He also refused to answer most of the questions. Members of both parties are starting to get frustrated now. Congress clearly has an oversight role to play, but can hardly carry it out if everyone in the executive branch stonewalls on everything. In theory, Congress can hold Hicks and Bannon in contempt of Congress, but that requires Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to sign off. So far, Ryan has given no indication that he is on board with contempt proceedings.

Hicks has already been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller isn't talking about what she said, if anything, or whether she showed up and politely refused to answer his questions, too. Refusing to answer Mueller's questions could potentially have more serious consequences for her than refusing to talk to a House committee, given that Ryan has no interest in holding anyone in contempt of Congress, but Mueller has no such reservations. (V)

Mueller Is Asking Questions about Trump's Dealings in Russia

It is an obvious line of inquiry, and one that is suggested by some of the folks that Robert Mueller has added to his team. But now, according to reports from CNN, it is official: the Special Counsel is asking lots of folks about Donald Trump's dealings with Russia prior to becoming president. Mueller wants to know what kind of kompromat the Russians may have on Trump, what business he was conducting in Russia between 2013 and 2016, how the timing of those business deals relates to his timing in deciding to pursue the presidency, and why Trump Tower Moscow fell though, among other issues.

Previously, Trump has said that his private business dealings, and his life prior to launching his political career were both off-limits to Mueller, and beyond the scope of the Special Counsel's mandate. Now, both of those lines in the sand have been crossed. Will The Donald follow through on his implied threat and fire Mueller? Stay tuned. (Z)

Kushner's Security Clearance Is Downgraded

A memo with an unknown signer has notified all members of the White House staff who do not have full security clearances that they can longer see top-secret documents. However, they can see secret documents. In particular, this includes first son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner has accepted the decision without appealing to a higher authority (his father-in-law). Nevertheless, Kushner will continue to work on projects such as bringing peace to the Middle East, even without access to top-secret documents. That doesn't require top-secret documents; it merely requires getting the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to make peace. Easy as pie.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn't explain why people who don't have a proper security clearance can see even classified documents, let alone secret ones. Normally, people who don't have a full security clearance can't see any classified material, and certainly not material marked "secret."

In any event, it would seem that whoever decided that Kushner was not worthy of a full security clearance knew what he or she was doing. Late Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that government officials in at least four countries—United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico—have discussed how they can use Kushner's debt, lack of government experience, and complex business arrangements to their advantage. This revelation will not only make it nigh-on impossible for the First Son-in-law ever to get a proper security clearance, it is also going to heighten Robert Mueller's already laser-like focus on Kushner, since Kushner has had numerous contacts with officials from other countries, many of whom asked to deal with him by name. (V & Z)

Mueller Drops Some Charges against Gates

Robert Mueller has agreed to drop more than 20 charges against Donald Trump's former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates. This move almost certainly means that Gates is cooperating with Mueller—providing valuable information, and thus being rewarded for it. Mueller is free to further reduce charges if he likes what Gates is telling him, but is also free to press more charges if he doesn't like what he is getting.

Most likely, what Gates is telling Mueller is what he knows about his former business partner, Paul Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign for a few months. Manafort maintains that he is innocent and is likely to continue to do so for some time. His situation is very complicated. For one thing, he is no doubt hoping for a presidential pardon, but also has to factor in the possibility that New York AG Eric Schneiderman could charge him for things that happened at the Trump Tower meeting in July 2016. He also has to consider the possibility of Virginia AG Mark Herring charging him with financial crimes at his Virginia residence, including money laundering and tax evasion. Finally, if Manafort rats on the various Russian oligarchs he has been dealing with for years, he might discover that his breakfast cereal suddenly has a much higher polonium content than it previously had. On the other hand, the more crimes Mueller can prove, the longer Manafort is going to be in either federal or state prison. There are no good options for him, so stonewalling for the moment might buy him some time. (V)

Trump Will Run for Reelection

On the day he was inaugurated, Donald Trump filed paperwork with the FEC to allow him to start raising money for his reelection campaign. Now he has leaked the name of his campaign manager: Brad Parscale. Like so much of what Trump does, this pick is unusual, since Parscale has never run a political campaign before. He was in charge of Trump's digital operation in 2016, however.

The choice of Parscale means that the 2020 campaign will be more like both of Barack Obama's campaigns than like Trump's 2016 campaign, with a heavy focus on digital data and microtargeting voters. That is what Parscale is good at. It is thought that Jared Kushner was a major force in pushing for Parscale.

One big difference between 2016 and 2020 that Parscale is sure to exploit is that the 2020 Democratic field will be enormous. There could be 20 candidates or more in the early stages because so many Democrats believe that Trump is vulnerable and that whoever the Democrats nominate has a pretty good shot at winning. Parscale will certainly intervene in the primaries, setting Democrat against Democrat and using the resulting fallout in the general election. (V)

Corker Decides Not to Unretire

D.C. has been buzzing for months about a possible decision by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to retract his decision to retire. Corker ended all the speculation yesterday by announcing that he is planning to stay retired. Insiders have said that Corker thought he had no chance of beating Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in the primary unless Donald Trump endorsed him.

Trump has not issued any endorsement of Corker, and probably wasn't planning to do so. The Senator has criticized Trump repeatedly and once called the White House an "adult day care center." Trump has a very long memory and virtually never forgives anyone who has criticized him in the past, so there was no reason to expect him to forgive Corker. In this case, he had an additional reason not to help Corker: Blackburn is 100% on his side and is basically running a campaign based on the idea that as a senator, she will vote for 100% of what Trump wants.

On the whole, Corker's decision is a boon to the Democrats. It means that Blackburn can now sail to the nomination without any opposition. The problem for the GOP is that she is so far to the right that even in Tennessee she might be a bridge too far for moderate Republican voters. Her Democratic opponent will be former two-term governor Phil Bredesen. Given a choice between an extreme Republican and a moderate (and popular) Democrat, suburban voters, especially women, might vote for Bredesen, giving the Democrats a shot at the seat. (V)

Sanders Is Running for Congress

No, not that one. Bernie's running too, but on Tuesday it was his son Levi who grabbed headlines as he announced his intention to run for the New Hampshire seat being vacated by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D). Like his dad, Levi is very liberal, and is particularly focused on establishing a single-payer healthcare system. Unlike his dad, Levi is a registered Democrat, and will run as a member of the Party. Levi is the son of Bernie and Susan Campbell Mott, a girlfriend Bernie had between his two marriages. In other states, being illegitimate might be a minus for an aspiring politician, but in free-thinking New Hampshire, it won't register at all.

Having the full-throated support of one of the most famous politicians in America, and the single-most popular person in Congress (by approval rating), will certainly be helpful to young Sanders. However, he is far from home free. Levi will have to face off against seven other Democrats in the primary, and then if he survives, he'll face a difficult general election. NH-1 is one of the most competitive districts in the country, with a slight Republican lean (Cook PVI of R+2). Meanwhile, if Bernie can't get his own son elected, it will pretty much be the end of the idea that he can swing elections with his endorsement. (Z)

Arizona Republicans Dodge a (Small) Bullet

AZ-08 is the district that Republican Trent Franks decided to vacate after it became public that he tried to pay a staffer to serve as a surrogate for him and his wife. With a Cook PVI of R+13, it's one of the reddest districts in the state and in the country, and has no business being competitive. However, there must be something in the water there, because frontrunner Steve Montenegro—a minister who ran a "family values" campaign, including frequent use of his wife and young daughter as props—got caught with his hand in the cookie jar late in the race. Specifically, it turns out that he enjoys texting and exchanging raunchy pictures with his mistress. For some reason, many Republicans don't feel that is a very "family values" thing to do.

The problem for the GOP was that most folks in Arizona vote by mail-in ballot, and a huge number of ballots had already been cast for Tuesday's primary when the scandal broke this weekend. Apparently, however, virtually every Republican who voted in person on Tuesday voted against Montenegro, because he finished third, with former state senator Debbie Lesko claiming the nomination by a 10-point margin. The good news for Republicans is that she does not use her cell phone to maintain an illicit sex life (as far as we know). The bad news is that she has a mini-scandal of her own, having moved $50,000 from her campaign account to her PAC, which is very likely illegal coordination between PAC and campaign. Given what's happened in other special elections this year, along with Lesko's baggage, Democrats think they might have a puncher's chance at grabbing the seat. Their candidate will be Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, a cancer researcher and political novice who nonetheless ran an impressive primary campaign. The two women will face off on April 24. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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