Brexit, Border Wall Throttle Leading Democracies, Delighting Putin

Britain’s inability to negotiate an exit from the European Union and President Trump’s inability to win funding for his promised border wall have left the world’s two largest democracies in political limbo, to the apparent delight of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite enormous economic consequences, a smooth Brexit and an early end of the partial US government shutdown seem out of reach.

Britain’s inability to negotiate an exit from the European Union and President Trump’s inability to win funding for his promised border wall have left the world’s two largest democracies in political limbo, to the apparent delight of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite enormous economic consequences, a smooth Brexit and an early end of the partial US government shutdown seem out of reach.

Maybe it is coincidence or a case of bad karma extending across the pond as the United States and United Kingdom find themselves in shutdown mode – with seemingly no clue how to escape, despite enormous economic consequences.

The partial federal government shutdown is simple to understand. President Trump wants $5.7 billion for a border barrier and Democrats refuse, calling it wasteful spending on an ineffective deterrent to illegal immigration.

Trump has said the budget stalemate could be resolved in 15 minutes, which is true. The Democrat-led House has passed a nearly identical spending bill to what the Senate approved unanimously last year after Trump signaled his support. Then Trump changed his mind and demanded border wall money. He has refused to budge, other than to acquiesce to a steel instead of concrete barrier.

Federal employees and contractors caught in the cross-hairs of the border wall fight have been furloughed, forced to work without pay, not paid or encouraged to find new jobs. National parks have closed, airport security lines have lengthened and farmers haven’t gotten their subsidies to compensate for losses they incurred from the Trump trade war. Pre-season forest thinning and hurricane forecasting has been disrupted. A workplace training session for Oregon lawmakers was postponed. Federal income tax refunds could be delayed. 

As bad as all that is, it may pale in comparison to Britain’s predicament. The British Parliament on Tuesday rejected the Brexit deal that took Prime Minister Theresa May two years to negotiate with her reticent European Union counterparts. The 432-202 parliamentary defeat of the May Brexit plan is the most lopsided loss for a sitting government in British history.

Britain faces a March 29 deadline to withdraw from the EU. May, who survived a no-confidence vote by her own Conservative Party last year and faces another one by an opposition party, was given until next Monday to come up with a plan.

Unlike the US government shutdown that is stuck on a single issue, the UK is trying to disengage from an alliance. It is similar to a state like California trying to secede from the United States.

May faces a Rubix Cube of options, none of which is very promising. EU leaders have shown little inclination to grant further concessions to Britain. Asking the British people to vote a second time on Brexit risks having a second vote in favor of the pullout, with no more clarity on how to achieve it. Extending the deadline for the EU exit without a consensus game plan would be like a prisoner asking for more torture.  

That leaves Britain with the somber prospect of slipping out of the EU without a deal and without substitute bilateral trade deals with key trading partners such as the United States. The plan-less exit also would pose serious internal problems, such as how to manage the border between Ireland, which would still be in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which wouldn’t. This is a border that has a troubled history as a true humanitarian crisis. Many worry it could return to that troubled history.

From a wider angle, this is an awkward time for the world’s two leading democracies to indulge in self-inflicted combat. As one veteran traveler told a news reporter, this is bad time to visit either the United States or Britain because both appear to be in the middle of civil wars. Add to that the yellow vest protests that have rocked France and what you see is not a pretty picture of economic, social or political stability.

British unrest stems from a nationalist drive to maintain Britain’s sovereignty. French discontent pivots on restive attitudes about persistent income inequality. The US stand-off centers on an unmet campaign promise.

The US political stalemate would seem the easiest to resolve, but has been elevated to a larger political battlefield. Supporters have warned Trump, who brags about his deal-making prowess, that his presidency could effectively end if he fails to get money for the border wall. The newly elected Democratic majority in the House is disinclined to toll over to Trump demands. Trump’s threat of a presidential declaration of emergency that would go around Congress to find the money to build the border wall could trigger a constitutional crisis.

What seems missing in the United States and Britain is a sense of the bigger picture – a more aggressive Russia, China’s ascendancy as a world power and the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments. Any one of these could be the tinder box that sparks a major conflict engulfing the bickering and compromised democratic powers. It has happened before when there have been voids in international leadership.

Commentators are beginning to point to Russia as a culprit in both seasons of discontent. Sowing division among the major world democracies is a much cheaper foreign policy than a military build-up, and perhaps a defter strategy to undermine NATO, a major objective for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shadow of Russia will grow longer as Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves to wrap up his investigation into Russian election meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign in 2016.

Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt Brexit and the border wall stalemates are causing economic pain, with little relief in sight.

 

Carter Offers New Year Advice on China Relationship

Former President Jimmy Carter offers advice on how to avoid a cold war with China based on his experience 40 years ago normalizing diplomatic relations with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping that led the two countries to “become engines of global prosperity.”

Former President Jimmy Carter offers advice on how to avoid a cold war with China based on his experience 40 years ago normalizing diplomatic relations with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping that led the two countries to “become engines of global prosperity.”

With all the division in Washington, DC, former President Jimmy Carter offered some useful historical perspective on how to find common ground with China, as opposed to putting a “critical relationship in jeopardy.”

Drawing on his own experience of normalizing diplomatic relations with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping 40 years ago in an op-ed published by the Washington Post, Carter says the key is to identify common goals to address intractable global problems that require leadership by the world’s two largest economic powerhouses.

“While today’s leaders face a different world [than 1979], the cause of peace remains just as important,” Carter says. “Leaders must bring new vision, courage and ingenuity to new challenges and opportunities…. They also must accept our conviction that the United States and China need to build their futures together, for themselves and for humanity at large.”

Carter’s retrospective of his own dealings with China comes with a backdrop of President Trump engaging in a trade war with China. The negotiated 90-day pause in further escalation of the trade war affords an opportunity, Carter says, to recalibrate the relationship and the means to resolve disputes.

“The U.S. imposition of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese good and China’s retaliatory tariffs contribute to the deteriorating relationship, hurting both countries,” he says, which could descend into a Cold War over the Pacific.

Carter recalls that establishing a normalized relationship with China put an end to three decades of hostility and “led to an era distinguished by peace in East Asia and in the pacific Region.” “China’s spectacular economic growth, in conjunction with its continuing integration with the much larger US economy, has enabled the two countries to become engines of global prosperity.”

Political and economic concerns over Chinese economic ascendancy, growing military power and resistance to full democratization can overshadow the opportunities the two nations could pursue together, Carter insists. “The 40thanniversary of this relationship is a testament to the ability of countries with different histories, cultures and political systems to work together for the greater good.”

He urges quick resolution of trade issues, including “trade imbalances, intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and unfair barriers to US investments.”  Carter dismisses use of “national security” as a reason to obstruct to commercial relationships and claims, “China needs competition for its economy to innovate and grow. Pursuing a fair and reciprocal relationship is the only way for both countries to remain economically strong.”

While he doesn’t say as much in his op-ed, Carter implies that US negotiators must approach their Chinese counterparts differently than, say, European officials. The Chinese view themselves as the oldest nation on earth and the cradle of many of the world’s most important inventions. As such, they bridle at direct criticism and resist confrontational tactics. Cultural sensitivity is a must to get anywhere. Much of the debate over access to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea can be traced to historical dominance by China of major trading lanes in Southeast Asia and Eastern Africa.

The current government in China is a post-WWII product and the winner of a civil war. While communist in name, China’s ruling party has moved from communal to a form of market-oriented economics, with a strong role for state-sponsored policies. Those policies can be very effective because of Chinese acquiescence to collective goals. However, Chinese officials are mindful that their way of doing business can rub the rest of the world the wrong way. The secret is to find approaches and compromises that don’t offend the Chinese, offer concrete resolutions to legitimate disputes and restore a level of comity between the two nations that will be major competitors and collaborators for the foreseeable future.

For its part, Carter says, the United States should return to the Paris climate accord to strike a collaboration with China on how to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in both the developed and undeveloped world. The US should continue to invite China to play an intermediary role in reducing, if not eliminating, the nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula. And, the two countries should work hand in hand to develop Africa economically in ways that enrich its citizens, not dictators.

Other forms of collaboration might include joint space research. The Chinese currently have a robotic space probe on the dark side of the moon, the first such probe by any nation. Current US policy forbids exchange of space technology with China. A new space race would be costly and counter-productive, while collaborative efforts may advance knowledge and eventually colonization of the moon and Mars much faster. They might even have a benefit on earth, as the Chinese have announced plans to launch a man-made moon, which is actually a gigantic mirror designed to provide lunar lighting that cuts heating bills.

The two nations also could team up to deal with cyber-terrorism. Intelligence suggests there are state-sponsored cyber-hackers in China. An improved relationship with China may turn hacking into common defense against hackers and disinformation agents. While China still has censorship, its citizens are increasingly exposed to foreign ideas and ideals. Its economic aspirations lie closer to the United States than Russia, which could be persuasive for Chinese officials to join US efforts to combat Russian interference designed to create division and dysfunction.

As has often been the case in his post-presidency, Carter offers plenty to chew on in the new year. One of his signal achievements as President serves as a useful, timely reminder that the harder road to take can be the most productive – and peaceful.

 

A ‘Fringe Idea’ to Apply Term Limits to the Supreme Court

A ‘new’ debate is emerging on reforming the Supreme Court, including imposing term limits on justices. What has been a fringe issue may be moving into the mainstream and even the 2020 presidential race. Debating the size and composition of the Court could be a refreshing dip into a rich part of American history that has occurred when the nation was founded, grappled with nationhood, recovered from civil war and addressed the ravages of the Great Depression.

A ‘new’ debate is emerging on reforming the Supreme Court, including imposing term limits on justices. What has been a fringe issue may be moving into the mainstream and even the 2020 presidential race. Debating the size and composition of the Court could be a refreshing dip into a rich part of American history that has occurred when the nation was founded, grappled with nationhood, recovered from civil war and addressed the ravages of the Great Depression.

While the Capitol is buzzing with news about averting a government shutdown, criminal justice reform and a resolution to exit the Yemeni civil war, a new debate is quietly entering the stage that could radically change the US Supreme Court.

With two new conservative justices appointed by President Trump sitting on the high court, liberals are talking about ideas to apply term limits to justices, restrict when presidents can appoint new justices and add more justices to the court. Fivethirtyeight calls the conversation a “fringe idea” that is gaining mainstream attention.

As Fivethirtyeight recalls, court-packing isn’t new or novel. The Supreme Court’s size was shrunk by outgoing Federalists from six to five to prevent incoming President Thomas Jefferson from making an early appointment. Republicans quickly returned the Court to its original size and later added a seventh justice so another Republican could be named.

The Court was increased to nine justices to give President Andrew Jackson two additional seats to fill as part of his battle to end the national bank. Following President Lincoln’s assassination, a Republican Congress reduced the Court to seven to deny his successor, Democrat Andrew Johnson, any nominations that could interfere with their reconstruction plans. Franklin Roosevelt tried court-packing to remove judicial obstacles to his New Deal, but his transparent objective sank his attempt.   

The impetus for the latest spasm of interest in Supreme Court “reform” was the decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deny a hearing or confirmation vote for President Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016. The spectacle surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings earlier this year didn’t squelch interest in reforms.

“The whole idea was born out of bleakness,” says David Faris who wrote “It’s Time to Fight Dirty,” which Fivethirtyeight describes as a “highbrow manual” to achieve institutional change. His book includes a chapter on changing the trajectory of the Supreme Court, with ideas Faris credits to Fix the Court, a group that says it is dedicated “to open up the most powerful, least accountable part of government.”

One of the group’s main ideas is to end lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices and impose 18-year term limits. It says that idea was originally suggested by none other than current Chief Justice John Roberts, who has served on the court since 2005.

“To paraphrase a John Roberts' 1983 memo, term limits would restore an important check on the most powerful, least accountable branch of American government, would increase the rotation of justices serving and would broaden the pool of potential nominees – all positive outcomes no matter where you stand politically.” He wrote the memo while working as associate counsel to White House counsel Fred Fielding during the Reagan administration.

According to Fivethirtyeight, the only elected official to express vocal support for Supreme Court justice term limits is freshman California Congressman Ro Khanna, who took his law degree from Yale University, has taught law and co-authored an amicus brief to the Supreme Court to allow race discrimination suits under the Fair Housing Act. Khanna, who worked in the Obama administration, doubts his former boss would favor the idea, but he thinks American voters might. “Americans love term limits,” he says.

For the idea to have any political legs, Khanna explains, it must be bipartisan. He and others who are intrigued by the idea of court reforms expect the issue to rise up in the 2020 presidential election as part of a broader debate over rehabilitating American democracy.

“Every presidential candidate should talk about their relationship to the Supreme Court, what they would do to reform the court, if anything, how they would go about selecting justices, and what they would do if there was a constitutional crisis,” Khanna told Fivethirtyeight. Polling has shown that candidate Donald Trump’s promises to appoint conservative justices was a factor in securing critical support, including from evangelical religious groups.

One of the other ideas being tossed around is limiting Supreme Court nominations to the first and third year of a presidential term, an idea ironically spawned by McConnell’s defense of ignoring Garland’s nomination in Obama’s final year in office. It also has been suggested to increase the size of the Supreme Court from nine to 11 or 13 justices – “depending on how many justices Trump winds up appointing.”

Term limits can cut both ways. Political conservatives might be thrilled to see Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the Court in 1993 and the subject of a new film, gone. Political liberals would feel likewise about Justice Clarence Thomas, who took his seat in 1991 following a contentious confirmation hearing that featured Anita Hill and charges of sexual harassment.

A current-day debate over the Supreme Court would be like a refreshing dip into American history. The reforms would be newly expressed, but bound to the nation’s ever-evolving democracy over issues such as judicial review, racial discrimination and gender equality.

 

GOP Faces Unexpected Complications in Lame Duck Session

GOP congressional leaders were already struggling to meet a Friday deadline on a spending bill to avoid a partial federal government shutdown. The death of President George H.W. Bush, who will lie in state at the Capitol until a memorial service Wednesday, may extend negotiations a week or more.

GOP congressional leaders were already struggling to meet a Friday deadline on a spending bill to avoid a partial federal government shutdown. The death of President George H.W. Bush, who will lie in state at the Capitol until a memorial service Wednesday, may extend negotiations a week or more.

Congressional lawmakers have important work left to do before they head home for the holidays later this month, most notably completing the Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation needed to avoid a government shutdown. 

Congress faces a Friday deadline to resolve disputes that include border wall funding in a spending package, but that date might be extended following the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. 

Bush 41 will lie in state at the Capitol before a memorial service is held Wednesday at the National Cathedral, complicating any efforts to hammer out a large-scale funding deal before Friday. GOP leaders, who remain in control of the lame duck session, are considering extending government funding for a week or two.

President Trump has said he is open to a short-term extension of spending talks if congressional leaders request one. But nevertheless, leaders will still need to reach an agreement to avoid a partial government shutdown of the agencies funded under seven out of 12 spending bills that haven’t been finalized.

Back in September, Congress approved five bills providing funding for defense, energy and water, labor, health and human services, the legislative branch and veterans affairs. Trump signed those measures, marking the first time in more than 20 years that Congress has passed a labor/health/human services funding bill prior to the end of the fiscal year, and the first time in more than 10 years it has passed a defense funding bill prior to the end of the fiscal year 

But Congress punted on the seven other spending bills with passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the remaining federal government sectors open until December 7. Those bills include funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as several smaller agencies. If Congress is unable to avoid a government shutdown this month, those are the departments and agencies that would be affected.

The main issue at hand is whether or not to include $5 billion in border wall funding requested by Trump. House Republicans have backed Trump's call for $5 billion – the House Appropriations Committee approved the spending in July, but the Senate’s bill earmarked only $1.6 billion for the wall with bipartisan support.

Democrats have signaled that they’re not budging, arguing they already have reached bipartisan agreement in the Senate’s bill. But Trump has ratcheted up shutdown talk indicating he would “totally be willing” to shut down the federal government if Congress does not approve the full $5 billion for construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has blamed Trump for intransigence on the issue.

Meanwhile, Republicans are also looking to pass another tax package before they cede power to Democrats in January when the next Congress convenes. Last week, House Republicans offered a bill that would combine corrections to their 2017 tax bill along with extensions of more than two dozen expired tax breaks and a revamp of the IRS.

Republican leaders had planned a vote on the tax bill last week, but pulled it to shore up support within the Republican caucus after hearing concerns over some provisions within the bill and its overall price tag. Getting the measure through the House now appears to be in question. And Senate Republicans have been lukewarm at best toward the measure, with some suggesting it may need to get scaled back. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet named a tax bill as part of his year-end agenda. 

Congressional leaders also are working to wrap up work on a “Farm Bill,” which authorizes various Department of Agriculture programs including welfare (SNAP and WIC), crop insurance and federal forest management policies that House leaders have been trying to expand.

Senate and House leaders reportedly reached an agreement last week, several months after authority expired at the end of September. No text or details have been released yet, but indications are that it will largely pare back additional work requirements for receiving food benefits and forest management reforms that House Republicans had pushed in their version of the bill.

Dark Corners, New Lights Loom for Nation’s Capital

As the new year nears, darker economic possibilities lurk as a result of President Trump’s trade war with China, his threats to shut down the US-Mexican border and his kneecapping of Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to negotiate an exit from the European Union. The new year means Democrats regain control of the House, but a new bright light from Queens is already causing a stir in the nation’s capital as she pushes her agenda, fends off critics and waits for the keys to her congressional office.

As the new year nears, darker economic possibilities lurk as a result of President Trump’s trade war with China, his threats to shut down the US-Mexican border and his kneecapping of Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to negotiate an exit from the European Union. The new year means Democrats regain control of the House, but a new bright light from Queens is already causing a stir in the nation’s capital as she pushes her agenda, fends off critics and waits for the keys to her congressional office.

Congress returned for its lame duck session and faces a December 7 deadline to pass a spending bill to avoid a partial federal government shutdown. However, deeper economic rumblings presage more difficult times ahead, and there is a new tweeter in town.

General Motors stunned its workforce – and the White House – with a pre-holiday announcement that more than 14,000 employees will be laid off and five factories (four in the United States and one in Canada) will be shuttered. The news undermines President Trump’s boast that his economic policies will bring manufacturing jobs back to America. GM said it was restructuring as Americans abandon passenger cars and Trump’s tariffs eat into profitability.

Trump is threatening to shut down the US-Mexican border over continuing attempts by thousands of migrants to enter the United States and seek asylum. Even though US law permits migrants to enter the nation legally at ports of entry and apply for asylum, Trump is trying to prevent them from gaining entry, including use of force such as tear gas. A complete shutdown of the border would have severe economic consequences on the daily $1.7 billion movement of goods between the two countries.

A longer-term threat involves the United Kingdom’s unexecuted exit from the European Union. Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated a complex pull-out deal that still must be approved next month by the British Parliament, which is not a foregone conclusion. Trump weighed in and undercut May’s bargaining position by raising doubt the agreement with the EU would permit a US-British bilateral trade deal, something the prime minister has touted as a positive payoff for Brexit. British officials deny the EU-exit agreement bars Britain from entering into bilateral trade deals.

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t waited for the keys to her congressional office to stir the waters in DC with forceful advocacy of her progressive agenda and a savvy pushback to conservatives who seem mesmerized by her growing national prominence as a symbol of the new wave of women and more diverse political representatives.

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t waited for the keys to her congressional office to stir the waters in DC with forceful advocacy of her progressive agenda and a savvy pushback to conservatives who seem mesmerized by her growing national prominence as a symbol of the new wave of women and more diverse political representatives.

The United States is still on a glide path to impose even more tariffs on Chinese goods on January 1, which would likely result in reciprocal tariffs on US exports to China. Trump trade officials insist China must act to end what amounts to an escalating trade war. Ahead of a summit this week, Trump’s officials also poured cold water on a suggestion that the G20 group of industrialized nations could play a role in resolving the dispute. For its part, China says it is opening up key markets such as banks, automobiles, aircraft, telecommunications and medical. It calls many US demands “unrealistic.”

While no one is exactly predicting an economic downturn, there are some cracks surfacing in the current economic boom. The US stock market has plunged from its dizzying record heights. There has been a slight uptick in unemployment filing. Interest rates continue to inch up, which could cool hot housing markets. Millennial trends away from car and homebuying are beginning to disrupt traditional industries and their extensive supply chains. In addition, China’s economy may be weaker than most economists thought. All of which suggests the international economy may be fragile and capable of slowing US economic growth.

Another drag on the US economy is higher-than-promised national deficits, mostly attributable to the GOP-backed tax cut. The beneficial effects of the tax cut may be mostly used up as the country heads into a new year.

In January, Democrats regain control of the House, which may add more complications to charting an economic path to avoid a downturn.

Then there is Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who as the youngest member of the new Congress is already stirring the DC pot with Twitter posts about Medicare-for-All, a Green New Deal, immigration and reducing student college loan debt. She has fended off criticism from conservatives, who have singled her out because of her potential political stardom. She has tried to avoid irking Democratic leaders while still extoling her more left-leaning positions (she announced she will vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker). She has traded tweets with Senator Lindsey Graham and the tweeter-in-chief. 

Ocasio-Cortez, who started the year working bar in New York, is part of a wave of more diverse congressional newcomers, but her quick rise to political prominence – matched by her quick wit and knowledge of social media – make her a force beyond her years, experience or congressional seniority.

 

Political Discourse from Dog Whistles to Intersectionality

Democrats poised to run for President in 2020 are embracing language and concepts from the racial justice movement in part as a response to what they view as racial dog whistles and attacks on political correctness. At issue is whether blunter racial language will attract or repel white working-class voters in states that can give a candidate an Electoral College edge. [Illustration Credit: Melissa Joskow/Media Matters]

Democrats poised to run for President in 2020 are embracing language and concepts from the racial justice movement in part as a response to what they view as racial dog whistles and attacks on political correctness. At issue is whether blunter racial language will attract or repel white working-class voters in states that can give a candidate an Electoral College edge. [Illustration Credit: Melissa Joskow/Media Matters]

Racial dog whistles, criticism of ‘political correctness’ and eyerolling at identity politics have become election staples in our hyper-partisan political environment dominated by President Trump. Despite that – or because of that, Democrats poised to run for President in 2020 are embracing a blunter lexicon borrowed from the racial justice movement.

An example reported by Politico from a Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speech earlier this year: “Let’s just start with the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It’s racist.”

Trump’s presidential campaign and his ‘Hail Mary’ stumping on the eve of the midterm election have pushed racially charged issues to the forefront, in a fairly naked attempt to drive a wedge between traditionally Democratic black voters and up-for-grabs white working-class voters.

The backlash started immediately after Trump’s inauguration with a women’s march in Washington, DC that emphasized unified resistance, inclusiveness and “intersectionality” – the concept that America faces overlapping prejudices against races, religions, genders, sexual orientations and citizenship status.

While Trump and his GOP supporters have seen the path to victory as black and white, Democrats see a rainbow opening that not only appeals to minority voters, but also to suburban women and younger progressive voters. 

“Intersectionality feels obvious to younger progressives in the way that LGBTQ rights do,” Amanda Litman, co-founder and executive director of Run For Something, which recruited thousands of young progressives to run for local and state office in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Not everyone in the Democratic Party is on board with the shift. Democratic moderates, including some newly elected House members who unseated GOP incumbents in swing districts, want to focus on bread-and-butter issues. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is toying with a presidential run based on what he calls a “pro worker” message.

However, the horses may already have left the corral. Warren publicly dismissed the idea that “Democrats have to choose between being the party of the white working class and the party of Black Lives Matter.” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, in his aptly named new book titled “Where We Go From Here,” credits Black Lives Matter and the ACLU with raising awareness about the racial inequities of the US criminal justice system. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told her supporters “Resistance is female, intersectional and powered by our belief in one another.”

Politico reported, “Many progressive grassroots organizations are instituting new training and programs to improve their approach to race. Indivisible, the largest ‘resistance’ group of the Trump era, recently held its first mandatory virtual training; more than 300 group leaders across the country tuned in. The topic: ‘Direct Voter Contact through a Racial Equity Lens.’”

Maria Urbina, Indivisible’s national political director, said, “We expect candidates in 2020 to commit to an inclusive and motivating message that addresses both economic and racial inequality.”

A message of inclusiveness and intersectionality may appear incongruous with polling results showing three white men leading the way in the 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes – Joe Biden, Sanders and Beto O’Rourke, who lost a high-profile bid to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Other potential candidates include Warren, Gillibrand, California Senator Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator Corey Booker.

There is a pragmatic reason for identity politics. African-Americans are a critical voting bloc in southern states, Latinos are turning Texas and Arizona purple and Asians are transforming red parts of California such as Orange County into Democratic enclaves. Young Democratic voters also gravitate to younger candidates with more progressive views on sexual orientation, reproductive rights and income equality. Minorities and young people are among Americans most concerned about access to affordable health care.

Pundits might sum up this trend as Culture Wars 2.0 with Democrats advocating an agenda with the equivalent emotion of GOP policies on immigration, abortion and gun rights. It is a trend unlikely to lower the temperature of political debate.

However, that doesn’t mean common ground is impossible. Trump has signaled a willingness to support criminal justice reforms proposed by a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill. Reform legislation could pass Congress in the lame duck session when Republicans are still in control.

 

Divided Government Could Lead to Infrastructure Collaboration

There has been lots of talk and even more anticipation over the last two years of a mammoth infrastructure initiative. The ascendancy of Democrats in control of the House will put Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio back in charge of the committee that deals with transportation and infrastructure. He wants a $500 billion package with “real money” sewed up in the first six months of 2019.

There has been lots of talk and even more anticipation over the last two years of a mammoth infrastructure initiative. The ascendancy of Democrats in control of the House will put Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio back in charge of the committee that deals with transportation and infrastructure. He wants a $500 billion package with “real money” sewed up in the first six months of 2019.

Infrastructure investment is one of the most promising areas of bipartisan collaboration in the new Congress. Oregon Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio is poised to explore the boundaries of that possibility.

With the Democratic takeover of the House, DeFazio is expected to assume the chairmanship of the House Transportation and infrastructure Committee. In that pending role, DeFazio is touting a $500 billion measure to fund highways, transit, airports and marine projects.

Unlike President Trump’s $1.5 billion infrastructure initiative that relied heavily on private investment, DeFazio is contemplating a measure backed by actual federal funding. Under DeFazio’s plan, Treasury would issue $500 billion in a new type of 30-year bonds that would be repaid by increased federal gasoline and diesel taxes to account for highway construction cost inflation and from lower fuel usage because of federal fuel-economy standards.

In 2017, the 30+year veteran on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a “Penny for Progress” bill that would pay for a $500 billion infrastructure package over 13 years. DeFazio says he isn’t wedded to that idea, but insists he wants to move an infrastructure investment bill before the middle of 2019. “I’m open to any and all options on how we get real funds for infrastructure. But it has to be real money.”

“Infrastructure has been delayed too long,” DeFazio says. “We’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to maintain it. We’ve got to modernize it and we’ve got to move people and goods more efficiently.”

DeFazio suggests airport improvements could be paid for by an increased passenger facility charge. The charge has been pegged at $4.50 per flight since 2000. He wants Congress to mandate spending the balance that exists in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to maintain harbors and shipping channels.

There has been a lot of post-election commentary favoring bipartisan collaboration. Infrastructure investment has the support of mainstream Republicans and Trump, so could be an early test case for finding common ground to pass meaningful legislation in a divided government.

Congressman Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican who could become the Ranking Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has expressed interest in “presenting my vision for our transportation network” and might emerge as a partner to DeFazio in fashioning bipartisan legislation.

A wide array of transportation advocacy groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, have applauded the idea of a bipartisan infrastructure measure and federal funding to pay for it. 

“We see this as good timing if Congress and the President can come together,” said Bill Sullivan, American Trucking Association’s executive vice president of advocacy. “Everybody knows that we need to invest in infrastructure, but they just haven’t hit that magic moment that Congress is willing to do it.” Maybe that time has arrived.

DeFazio’s position should be the good break needed to revive conversations to replace the I-5 Columbia River Bridge as part of the 2020 reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act, which his committee will oversee.

Dems Manage Only Blue Ripple in Midterm Election

The projected blue wave was reduced to a blue ripple as Democrats regained control of the House, but Republicans retained their hold on the Senate, setting the stage for split government and potentially more partisan bickering.

The projected blue wave was reduced to a blue ripple as Democrats regained control of the House, but Republicans retained their hold on the Senate, setting the stage for split government and potentially more partisan bickering.

What was perhaps the most anticipated midterm election in recent memory went largely as polls and pundits predicted it would – a sharp contrast from two years ago. Democrats leveraged their fury over President Trump to recapture the House, while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, a split verdict presaging divided government and partisan conflicts for the rest of Trump’s first term.

The campaign efforts of Trump and GOP members mobilized enough Republican voters to reduce a projected Democratic blue wave to something closer to a blue ripple. Presidential campaigning helped Republicans win hotly contested Senate races in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. Trump proclaimed the election outcome a “tremendous success” as Republicans held their grip throughout the South and in rural and exurban areas.

But Democrats – propelled by a rejection of Trumpism in the nation’s suburbs, and especially from women and minority voters – notched victories in areas that just two years ago helped Trump reach the White House. Incumbent Republicans fell in an array of suburban House districts, including one held by House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions in the Dallas area. And in West Virginia – where Trump is wildly popular and campaigned heavily for Republicans – the reelection of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin delivered a personal blow to the president.

In Washington’s 3rd District, 4-term GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler squeaked out a victory over Democratic challenger Carolyn Long, who mounted a serious, well-funded challenge and sounded like she will try again in 2020.

Democrat Kim Schrier, a pediatrician making her first political run, defeated two-time GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi in Washington’s open 8th District. Republican Congressman Dave Reichert chose not to seek re-election. The Schrier-Rossi contest was one of the most expensive House races in the nation. Her victory bumps up the double-digit Democratic margin in the House and further increases the number of women who will serve in the 116th Congress. The 8th District has never sent a Democrat to Congress before Schrier.

In the high-turnout election, Democrats picked up at least seven governorships, performing well across much of the upper Midwest and even in ruby-red Kansas, where Laura Kelly was elected governor over the President’s handpicked candidate, Kris Kobach.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers bested Governor Scott Walker, once a Republican star who ran for president in 2016. Walker survived a hard-fought recall vote in 2012 and was reelected in 2014. Democrats failed to take over the Florida governorship left open by Rick Scott, who challenged incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and held a slight edge in a tight race that may be headed for a recount. Trump-backed Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in a race that might be a preview of the 2020 presidential election if Trump faces one of the more left-leaning challengers eying the race. 

House of Representatives 

As expected, Democrats regained control of the House for the first time since Republicans took the majority in 2010. Returns early Wednesday show Democrats poised to pick up more than the 23 House seats they needed to gain a foothold in Congress from which to counter Trump.

Democrats were projected to flip at least 29 districts currently held by the GOP, while they were on track to surrender only a few seats in the chamber. As of now, Democrats have taken 220 seats (enough for the majority) and Republicans have 194 seats. That leaves 21 seats still on the board, including the two close races in Washington. 

With Democrats in charge, Trump will face a different set of committee chairmen who seem poised to investigate alleged administrative corruption and will have subpoena power to push their investigations. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff will ascend to the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, which will translate into more discerning oversight into the potential of Trump team collaboration with Russian operatives in the 2016 presidential election, a sharp turn from the sycophantic role of GOP Congressman Devin Nunes. The Mueller investigation also will have a solid firewall.

Maybe the biggest irony of the 2018 midterm election was that defending Obamacare may have propelled Democrats back into control of the House after costing them their majority in 2010 following its passage.

Senate 

In the Senate, the GOP was able to take advantage of a favorable map heavily tilted toward Republican-friendly states where Trump remains popular. The GOP scored a series of wins in those states, with only a few setbacks. Incumbent GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada was unseated by Jacky Rosen. And in West Virginia, a state Trump carried by 42 points in 2016, incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Manchin retained his seat. 

But with GOP pickups in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, and likely Florida, the GOP expanded its grip on the Senate for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, increasing the GOP’s narrow 51-49 seat majority. We can expect McConnell’s Senate to retain a focus on confirming Trump’s appointments to the judiciary over the next two years and ignore legislation sent over from the Democratic House that would undermine the Trump agenda.

It’s important to note that in 2020, the Senate map is nearly the exact opposite of this year with 21 Republican-held seats up for election compared to just nine Democratic seats.

Oregon and Washington Elections

There were no shockers in Oregon. The state’s five incumbent members of Congress were swept back into office. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, who have served a collective 69 years in the House, will return for another two years, but in a House chamber markedly different than in the previous eight years.

Perhaps the most interesting result was in Oregon’s 2nd District where Republican Greg Walden won his 11th term by defeating Jamie McLeod-Skinner 57.5 percent to 38.06 percent. Though he still won comfortably, the tally was a sharp decrease from the 69.9 percent Walden posted in 2016.

Senator Maria Cantwell cruised to victory as did GOP Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the remainder of Washington’s Democratic congressmen.

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler is expected to eke out a victory in the 3rd District, while Democrat Kim Schrier leads Dino Rossi by 53 to 47 percent margin.

Legislative Prospects in the Next Congress 

With little chance of getting major legislation through the Senate, congressional Democrats will remain on the sidelines for federal judicial confirmations in the Senate, play the role as pesky thorn in the side of Trump in the House and, in turn, serve as a predictable foil in Trump’s anticipated 2020 re-election bid. 

Democrats may get an early start on their fall-guy role with a vote to restore Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, who has become a familiar political piñata at Trump campaign rallies.

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio is on track to become chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which raises hope of a more serious effort to push a major infrastructure package in the next Congress – one of the few possible bipartisan legislative projects in a split Congress. 

Strong voter interest in health care expressed in the midterm elections might prompt bipartisan efforts to shore up popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. 

It seems less likely bipartisan common ground can be found in the next two years on Medicare and Medicaid and on immigration reform, which may be headed for the 2020 presidential election as political wedge issues.

Walden will lose his chairmanship of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, but will continue as the Ranking Member. Walden has a track record of advancing legislation in divided government and may look for bipartisan wins to shore up support back home. 

With the GOP retaining control of the Senate, Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley aren’t expected to take on any new committee assignments. But they will enjoy increased bargaining positions over appropriations and other legislation where they have a Democratic partner to dance with on the House side. 

The “lame duck” Congress now becomes very important to Republicans who will try to accomplish some political objectives before the 116th Congress convenes in January. An aggressive GOP push on contentious issues in the lame duck session could poison the well for any possible collaboration in the next Congress, but it could bolster Republican efforts to satisfy their political base.

  

Washington House Races Could Punctuate Blue Wave – Or Not

fivethirtyeight.com  indicates a high probability of Democrats regaining control of the US House in next Tuesday’s midterm election. Three tightly contested House seats in Washington now held by Republicans could punctuate a Democratic blue wave or sustain GOP control.

fivethirtyeight.com indicates a high probability of Democrats regaining control of the US House in next Tuesday’s midterm election. Three tightly contested House seats in Washington now held by Republicans could punctuate a Democratic blue wave or sustain GOP control.

Three contested US House races in Washington that will be decided on Tuesday could punctuate a national Democratic blue wave or confirm continuing control of Congress by Republicans.

Flipping control of the House has emerged as a major storyline of the 2018 midterm election. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to regain control. More than half of the midterm elections since 1994 have featured a 24+ seat swing. In the 2010 midterm election that produced the current run of Republican control, 64 House seats went from blue to red.

Fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats an 85.5 percent chance to win back control of the House with the highest probability gain of 39 seats. A Washington Post poll shows projected Democratic voters slightly outnumber Republicans in key House races.

However, elections are like football games. It matters who comes out to play. Voter turnout remains the key, especially in roughly 30 or so swing districts that either a Democrat or Republican has a chance to win. 

The three House races in Washington are all in Republican hands.

  • Four-term Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler faces a stiff challenge from Carolyn Long in the 3rd District, which includes Vancouver and Southwest Washington.

  • Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers is being tested in the GOP-dominated 5th District in Eastern Washington by a well-funded Democratic challenger, Lisa Brown.

  • In the open 8th District seat in the Seattle suburbs, former GOP candidate Dino Rossi is trying to hold onto the seat held for seven terms by fellow Republican Dave Reichert, but is being significantly outspent by Democrat Kim Schrier.

Herrera Beutler and McMorris Rogers won election in 2016 with decisive margins in their respective districts, but aggressive Democratic challengers have amassed sizable war chests to contest their re-election this year. As of October 17, Long had reeled in $2.7 million in mostly individual contributions while Brown secured $4.6 million against an entrenched incumbent. In the open House seat race, Schrier has raised $6.1 million compared to Republican Rossi’s $3.9 million.

What makes individual House races – and to a lesser degree Senate races – more competitive this year is the national character of the midterm elections, largely turning on the oversized personality of President Trump. In many ways, the midterm election in toss-up districts and states is being viewed as a referendum on Trump. Trump is campaigning in states and congressional districts where he hopes his popularity and political agenda persuade voters to retain Republicans.

Democratic control of the Senate is possible, but not likely. Of the 35 Senate seats up this year, 26 are held by Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Democrats hold Senate seats in Montana, Indiana, West Virginia and Missouri, which are states Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. Incumbent Democrats in Montana, Missouri and Indiana are trailing or are running neck-and-neck with their GOP challengers. Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson also is in a close race with his Republican challenger, current Governor Rick Scott. 

Democrats have mounted spirited Senate campaigns against GOP incumbents in Texas and Nevada and they are hopeful to pick up the Arizona Senate seat held by Jeff Flake who isn’t seeking re-election.

If Democrats manage to take control of one or both chambers, the lame duck Congress becomes very important to Republicans. The GOP will likely try to accomplish as much as possible between November and next January when the 116th Congress is sworn in and its majority dissolves.

After January, Democrats would likely exercise their newfound power to halt the Republican legislative agenda and initiate oversight investigations into Trump and his administration. There is some hope a Democratic House and the Trump administration could work together on one big major legislative item – an infrastructure package.

What If?

If Republicans retain majorities in the House and Senate, it will be full speed ahead. A new speaker of the House to replace the outgoing Paul Ryan will join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in tackling several remaining legislative initiatives Republicans weren’t able to accomplish in the last two years.

What About Earmarks?

We’ve heard for months of certain prominent House Democrats intentions to bring back earmarks if they regain the majority in the House. It’s unclear what it would look like, especially with a Republican Senate and Democratic House. Senate Republicans could resist a return to earmarks, but it’s entirely possible for the House to go it alone and Senate Republicans may be forced to go along. 

The new earmark system will likely be limited in scope compared to the old process, featuring stricter guidelines and requiring committed local match funding for any earmark project. Several popular grant programs would likely remain, but a return to earmarks would open up federal funding for an array of municipal and public-sector projects that don’t fit the guidelines of existing federal grant programs.

The Internet of Political Things

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

Private email servers. Unsecured personal smartphones. Cyber-hacking. Online campaign fundraising. Streaming townhall meetings. Fake Twitter accounts. Fake Facebook accounts. No denying the digital world has swamped the political world and we now have an internet of political things.

That fact resurfaced this week with news reports President Trump persists in using his personal smartphone, despite US intelligence warnings that Russians and Chinese are listening in on his conversations. Trump has denied the report, but also has confirmed it.

The crack in confidential, sensitive information by Trump is ironic in light of his continuing attacks on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the chants of crowds at his political rallies of “Lock her up!”

For Trump, the digital world is his oyster. His Twitter account, he says, is his “megaphone” to speak, unfiltered, to his political base. Trump has more than 100 million Twitter followers. Newsweek points out as many as 15 million of his followers may be fake. Trump complained Twitter is trying to suppress the number of people following him. His complaint came in a tweet.

Barack Obama perfected the art of social media engagement and fundraising in his presidential campaigns. Now social media is a standard, integral part of campaigns for the presidency all the way down to local school board races. One of the top positions in big-time campaigns is digital director. Social media is a perfect vehicle to mobilize supporters, recruit new followers and disseminate a campaign’s key talking points. Social media also is a platform that can be used to test messages to see how they play with the political base.

Campaign budgets tell the story. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, major campaigns spent between 10 and 20 percent of the budget on digital. The Trump campaign spent 50 percent of its budget on digital. Big data, which can pinpoint people’s behavioral tendencies, has largely replaced paper voter registration lists that connect a Democrat or a Republican to a house address.

Based on US intelligence accounts, hacking into emails, setting up fake social media accounts, spinning conspiracy theories and conducting cyber dirty tricks are now common campaign practices. We have been led to believe Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have launched digital attacks aimed at US political figures, political parties and news media. There is less revealed knowledge about whether the United States engages in similar digital disruption in foreign countries.

Members of Congress who are stuck in Washington, DC – or want to avoid live appearances – have taken to virtual townhalls, often using live streaming as the medium.

Political polarization has lapped over to “news,” resulting in clusters of online outlets that cater to the views of people on the far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some pose as news media even though they are principally political provocateurs. They would stick out on a TV channel guide, but they blend in as part of the vaster, unregulated cybersphere. 

Whereas people in the past conversed about political events of the day over coffee, they now engage in more highly caffeinated social media exchanges, sharing articles and trading insults in real time. You don’t have to wait for a daily newspaper to read your favorite (or most hated) commentator and offer your own follow-up comments. You can troll friends and foes alike online. You can associate with your political tribe and saber-rattle at your opposing political tribe. You can get – and give – political feedback on your smartphone virtually anywhere, anytime.

Like the internet of things, the internet of political things has created greater connectivity. In your home, you can remotely control your temperature and monitor your doorstep. In your political home, you can dial up whatever temperature you want and kick anyone to the gutter.

The internet of things can do a lot of good. You can monitor elderly parents living at home, reduce your energy bill and work without commuting. The internet of political things does good, too. You have more direct access to what political figures say and think. You have a wider range of political commentary at your fingertips. You can engage in political movements without leaving your own house.

For better or worse, the internet of political things is a reality. It is likely to become even more prevalent, though probably not to the point where you engage your refrigerator in a political debate. In Italy and other places, the internet of political things has evolved to electing representatives and giving them legislative direction via online direct democracy. That’s like inviting the legislative process for a sleepover on your computer. 

The good news is digital change occurs fast. You won’t have to wait long for the next big internet of political things.

A Peek at Midterm Election, World Series Probabilities

News headlines follow waves while Nate Silver hunts for probabilities in elections – and sports. Silver likes the chances of Democrats recapturing the US House, Kate Brown remaining as governor of Oregon and the Boston Red Sox taking home another World Series trophy.

News headlines follow waves while Nate Silver hunts for probabilities in elections – and sports. Silver likes the chances of Democrats recapturing the US House, Kate Brown remaining as governor of Oregon and the Boston Red Sox taking home another World Series trophy.

If you want a sneak peek at how the 2018 midterm election will turn out, Nate Silver has a white board full of numbers, percentages and probabilities. Notably absent are any predictions.

Silver, founder of fivethirtyeight.com, is famous for looking at the bigger picture and blending a bunch of polls to reach a probability. His website is chocked full of probability. For example, he says, “Odds are, your next governor will be a Democrat” and “Democrats’ prospects worsen in Nevada and Arizona.”

His probabilities are more than hunches with percentages. He has closely followed the US Senate race in Texas in which incumbent Republican Ted Cruz is trying to fend off a determined challenge by Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Earlier, Silver forecast O’Rourke had a 35 percent chance of upsetting Cruz. Now he has reduced that forecast to around 25 percent. By this time in an election cycle, probabilities start baking into reality. 

Cutting to the chase, Silver says there is an 83.9 percent chance Democrats will regain control of the US House, while Republicans have an 80 percent probability of retaining control of the US Senate.

On governor’s races, Silver says a Democratic victory is likely in Oregon where incumbent Kate Brown is facing Republican Knute Buehler. He gives Brown nearly an 85 percent chance of winning with just slightly more than 50 percent of the vote.

Some political pundits believe midterm elections foreshadow who will run for president in the next election. Silver and his team show there is no clear evidence midterm elections presage anything in a subsequent presidential election year. Nothing exactly predicted Donald Trump would run in 2016 and few, including Trump, believed he would actually win. Few imagined Barack Obama would outshine Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination and the 2008 election. His keynote address in the 2004 Democratic National Convention was more telling than the outcome of the 2006 midterms.

For those weary of politics, fivethirtyeight.com also offers probabilities in sports. Boston has the best chance to win the World Series and Clemson and Alabama have a 65 percent chance to win a ticket to the NCAA National Football Championship.

Populism, Youth Stoke Moves Toward Direct Democracy

With a contentious confirmation process just ended, it’s time to take a break and consider experiments around the globe with direct democracy and citizen engagement using online platforms to define public problems, suggest legislation and elect political leaders.

With a contentious confirmation process just ended, it’s time to take a break and consider experiments around the globe with direct democracy and citizen engagement using online platforms to define public problems, suggest legislation and elect political leaders.

With Brett Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court and political ads flooding the airwaves before the November 6 midterm election, it’s time to take a deep breath and consider innovation in government, including the direct democracy experiment underway in Italy. It could be the next disruptive idea to invade our own political landscape.

Understanding the Italian political scene is not easy or obvious. At the moment, Italy’s ruling coalition government is led by a group of parliamentarians nominated and elected online under the political slogan, “Participate, don’t delegate.”  They are members of the Five-Star Movement (M5S), a political party started in 2009 by a comedian, a blogger and a web strategist.

In March elections this year, M5S won the largest share of votes (38 percent) because of its populist appeal and attraction to young voters. It is reportedly the first time an Internet-based movement has gained political power. Its success wouldn’t have been conceivable without the advance of technology

One of the new government’s first moves was to appoint Riccardo Fraccaro as perhaps the world’s first minister of direct democracy. As reported in the Washington Post, Fraccaro said, “Citizens must be granted the same possibility to actively intervene in the process of managing and administrating public goods as normally carried out by their elected representatives.” In a partyocracy, he added, elected officials hoard decision-making at the expense of the “public will.” 

Through referenda, public petitions and initiatives, Fraccaro sees direct democracy guiding policymaking alongside representative government “to give real, authentic sovereignty to the citizens.” The Five-Star Movement exists on an online platform called Rousseau, an Enlightenment-era philosopher who influenced the French Revolution and believed in citizen involvement in politics as a wedge against tyranny.

The Five-Star Movement appears to be more than a protest of governmental process, as reflected by its coalition partner, the right-wing League party, best known for its anti-immigration positions. The Five-Star Movement leader is Luigi Di Maio, who is 32 years old and the son of a member of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement.

The early months of the coalition’s time in power have unsettled more traditional political players with calls for both a tax cut and universal basic income for Italians, despite Italy’s long-term debt that stands at 130 percent of its GDP. However, the direct democracy experiment has spurred the European Union to reduce the signature threshold for citizen-proposed legislation. The next step would be to institutionalize a role for citizen engagement, possibly a Citizens’ Assembly with a role in reviewing what is passed by the European Parliament.

Nathan Gardels, editor of The World Post, notes other direct democracy experiments around the world. One is crowdlaw, an intelligence gathering platform intended to help government officials engage with citizens in use in diverse countries such as Iceland and India.

Taiwan has employed an online platform to form citizen working groups that define public problems and identify possible solutions. “In more than 80 percent of cases, publicly defined issues have led to government action. So far, 26 national issues, including the regulation of Uber, telemedicine and online education, have been discussed with more than 200,000 participants.”

Steps toward direct democracy would undoubtedly alarm another Enlightenment-era political thinker, James Madison. He believed populist passions could overwhelm the cool restraint of deliberative reason. “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason,” Madison wrote in one of the Federalist Papers. “A pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.”

Madison and other Founding Fathers lived in a time before telecommunications, jet airplanes and the internet, which have altered perceptions about representative government and direct democracy. The hot-plate Kavanaugh confirmation process, whether you view it as a circus or a sham, is likely to kindle more thoughts about the role of citizens in a government, of which George Washington once described the “senatorial saucer” to cool the passions of the directly elected members of the House. 

 

NAFTA with a New Name

The Trump administration successfully negotiated an updated North American Free Trade Agreement with modernized provisions, concessions of value to farmers and automakers and, of course, a new name. However, politics could still undermine the deal when it goes to Congress and consternation remains among trading partners with continuing Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Trump administration successfully negotiated an updated North American Free Trade Agreement with modernized provisions, concessions of value to farmers and automakers and, of course, a new name. However, politics could still undermine the deal when it goes to Congress and consternation remains among trading partners with continuing Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Canadians agreed to final terms for a $1.2 trillion North American free trade agreement that gave President Trump a political triumph and NAFTA a new name. However, the deal doesn’t end a simmering trade war sparked by US tariffs on steel and aluminum and still faces a treacherous political road to passage.

Trade experts gave credit to the Trump administration for completing a three-way deal to update the 25-year-old trade that candidate Trump derided as terrible. Trump critics note the new trade pact is largely the same car with a rebranded nameplate to appease Trump. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser, said the foundation remains, but the superstructure is superior. 

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) still must be approved by Congress, which seems more likely after cliffhanger negotiations with Canada prevented Trump from submitting just a bilateral agreement with Mexico. The agreement also must be ratified by the respective legislative bodies in Canada and Mexico.

Most everybody agreed NAFTA needed a refresher, if for no other reason to account for a phalanx of digital industries and e-commerce that didn’t exist when it was signed. There also was a push to strengthen intellectual property protections, the underlying issue that has sparked a Trump-inspired trade war with China. There are reportedly 63 pages worth of provisions that address patents and trademarks, including two additional years of protection for biologic drugs, which Trump hailed as a key to US medical innovation.

A major sticking point was Canada’s barrier that prevents US dairy farmers from penetrating their market. The Canadians traded some of that protection to retain a trade dispute resolution provision that Trump wanted to scrap. Somewhat ironically, Canadians had agreed to a similar sized dairy concession in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump abandoned when he took office.

Domestic car manufacturing was a core reason why Trump pushed for a better North American trade agreement. The agreement reached earlier with Mexico increases the North American auto content requirements and requires more content from higher paid autoworkers to qualify for duty-free treatment. AFL-CIO leaders withheld their support for the change, saying they doubted the higher wages and better working conditions in Mexico can be enforced. The USMCA effectively requires unionization of Mexican autoworkers, which runs counter to state-level right-to-work laws, which political conservatives have pushed for in the United States.

Economists fret that higher wages will make North American vehicles more expensive and less competitive against vehicles imported from overseas, which face a nominal tariff. Trump is pledging to address the import tariff and potentially replace it with quotas. There also is a side letter to the agreement that preserves Trump’s ability to impose tariffs on automobiles assembled in Mexico or Canada. 

Trump sought a 5-year sunset clause on the deal. In the final agreement, the USMCA has a 16-year life span, with a review after six years.

A key element of the deal for the incoming Mexican president is a clause that restates Mexico’s claim of ownership of all hydrocarbons in its subsoil. The provision doesn’t prevent foreign companies from producing oil in Mexico.

While agreement on NAFTA modernization brought sighs of relief, there is still consternation over steel and aluminum tariffs – and their rationale: protecting US national security. The pretense for the tariffs has irked Canadians who don’t view themselves as security risks to the United States.

Looming elections that could flip control of the House to Democrats might complicate approval of the USMCA. Democrats may not want to bless a Trump achievement before the 2020 presidential election and Republicans may decide to poke the eye of unions, which have been a major force behind revamping NAFTA. That could leave the USMCA an agreement without a country and further muddy the waters on US trade policy.

 

Constitutional Patriotism and the Threat of Tribalism

Examples of political tribalism abound in today’s America, raising the question of whether our democracy can survive. Two law professors say it can if we return to ‘constitutional patriotism’ and defend the principles that united us as a country in the first place.

Examples of political tribalism abound in today’s America, raising the question of whether our democracy can survive. Two law professors say it can if we return to ‘constitutional patriotism’ and defend the principles that united us as a country in the first place.

As a contentious confirmation hearing for a US Supreme Court nominee grabs the national spotlight, a more serious question looms about the state of American democracy. Is it fading? Does anyone care? Can democracy survive?

A pair of Yale law professors say the way for democracy to survive is to return to “constitutional patriotism.” “We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements,” they write in an article published in the October 2018 issue of The Atlantic.

The challenge, according to Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, is that “Americans have come to view the Constitution not as a statement of shared principles, but as a cudgel with which to attack their enemies.”

That’s regrettable, they argue, because the Constitution was the vehicle that created a nation out of colonies, a mix of nationalities and diverse, often warring religions.

“The Constitution managed to overcome these divisions,” Chua and Rubenfeld said. “The way it dealt with religion is illustrative. Colonial America had not embraced tolerance; on the contrary, the dissenters had become persecutors. Virginia imprisoned Quakers. Massachusetts whipped Baptists. Government-established churches were common, and nonbelievers were denied basic civil and political rights.

“But in a radical act, the Constitution not only guaranteed religious freedom; it also declared that the United States would have no national church and no religious tests for national office. These foundational guarantees helped America avoid the religious wars that for centuries had torn apart the nations of Europe.” 

The Constitution created a republic, in large part because founding father James Madison feared “rule by mob” as much as rule by tyrant. The Constitution reflected the viewpoint of the Enlightenment that wise men (they were all men in those days), separated from “local passions,” would make wise decisions. That’s how we got the Electoral College.

Madison and other founding fathers also loathed partisanship, but the Constitution they created did little to prevent the formation of political parties and factions. The founders themselves became ardent partisans.

Many of the same animating issues of those days persist today: racial divisions, farm versus factory, South versus North, the elite versus working class. Tribalism seems more intense now, Chua and Rosenfeld say, because a white majority is coming to an end, income inequality is growing and the news media is omnipresent.

“In these conditions,” the authors explain, “democracy devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which parties succeed by stoking voters’ fears and appealing to their ugliest us-versus-them instincts.”

Instead of serving as a uniting set of principles, the Constitution has become its own punching bag. Progressives attack it as “irredeemably stained” by its initial compromise over slavery. Martin Luther King Jr. demanded racial justice promised in the Constitution. Now, constitutional protections such as freedom of speech, religious liberty and property rights are dismissed as dehumanizing, discriminatory and structurally unjust.

Political conservatives are “beginning to reject core constitutional principles,” Chua and Rubenfeld note, pointing to President Trump’s declaration that the news media is the “enemy of the people.”

Even the concept of “being American” is up for debate. Some see national identity in racial, ethnic or religious terms, Chua and Rubenfeld observe. Birthright citizenship has been questioned. Being of European descent or being Christian are offered as marks of being American. Chua and Rosenfeld strongly disagree:

“This trend runs counter to the Constitution’s foundational ideal: an America where citizens are citizens, regardless of race or religion; an America whose national identity belongs to no one tribe.

“America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don’t have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements.”

Chua and Rubenfeld say there are lessons for both the tribal right and tribal left. Defending the Constitution requires more than “flag-waving” by the right; it requires dedication to constitutional principles of equality. The Constitution can’t simply be dismissed by the left as a “smokescreen for oppression;” it must be seen as the “most inclusive form of governance in world history,” even if many of the Founding Fathers were also slaveowners.

The constitutional challenges facing the nation at this time are serious. But democracy’s only route to survival, Chua and Rubenfeld contend, may be through rededication to the constitutional principles that got us this far.

“For all its flaws, the United States is uniquely equipped to unite a diverse and divided society. Alone among the world powers, America has succeeded in forging a strong group-transcending national identity without requiring its citizens to shed or suppress their subgroup identities.”

You can be Irish American, Syrian American or Japanese American, but if you live in France or Germany, you can only be French or German. That’s a lot more than a semantic difference.

 

2018 is Turning into a Political Moment for Women

A record-breaking 257 women will appear on the ballot this fall as candidates for House and Senate seats, forming what one observer calls a pink wave that could significantly alter the direction of key US policies going forward.

A record-breaking 257 women will appear on the ballot this fall as candidates for House and Senate seats, forming what one observer calls a pink wave that could significantly alter the direction of key US policies going forward.

With all state primaries concluded, there is a record-breaking 257 women running for the House and Senate. This is more of a movement than a blip.

Lisa Lerer, writing in The New York Times, calls this “A Moment for Women,” with millions of women marching and hundreds running for political office. They won’t all win, she says, but many will win.

There are 33 races in America that feature a woman running against another woman, including in Washington’s 3rd District where GOP incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler is facing a competitive challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long. 

Women have successfully run for office in Washington and Oregon. Washington’s two US senators and four of its 10 representatives are women. Oregon has only one woman in its congressional delegation, but women hold the governorship and lead the Oregon House. 

Nationally, many women candidates are vying for seats held by someone from the opposite and often dominant party in their districts or states. They face an uphill battle, but have in many cases succeeded by turning normally slumbering re-election races into combative contests. In the first midterm election after a new President is elected, the party out of power in the Oval Office typically picks up House seats. That could bode well for the 197 Democratic women candidates who are running.

Lerer observes this year’s batch of women candidates differs from the past when women downplayed their gender. “Candidates today are embracing it. Kids roam the campaign trail. Some candidates breast-feed in their ads. And veterans, like Arizona’s Martha McSally, tout their barrier-breaking service.”

Reflecting the #MeToo movement, Lerer says women are openly talking about their own experience with sexual abuse. “Mary Barzee Flores, in Florida, tells voters about being groped by the night manager of a Pizza Hut as a teenager. Katie Porter, in California, has talked about surviving domestic abuse.”

Gender is a factor, Lerer reports, even in races where women face other women. “Women don’t vote as a monolithic block,” she says.

Clearly, the election of Donald Trump – and the defeat of Hillary Clinton – spurred millions of women to become “political” and, for some, to enter the political arena as candidates. They have been motivated by sustained challenges to their reproductive rights and lingering pay and job opportunity inequality. Many have run to combat anti-immigration policies and sexual discrimination. A succession of high-profile sexual abuse cases involving powerful men in media, entertainment and business has stoked the political movement.

Female candidates, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have unseated longtime incumbents in their own party by supporting bolder action on health care and higher education. Women have spoken out on gun violence, child care and social equity. Their advocacy and campaigns have attracted higher-than-normal Democratic voter turnouts in this year’s primaries. Lerer says the “pink wave” may be the power behind a potential “blue wave” in the general election.

Lerer also offers some perspective. “At the end of all this, women are still likely to be underrepresented. Even if all the female congressional candidates won (an almost impossible proposition), women would still make up less than half of the House and less than a third of the Senate.”

Despite that, women candidates and women voters may engineer a significant shift in political direction this fall. The war may continue, but the battleground and the warriors may change dramatically.

 

Bombshell Book, Op-Ed Turn DC into a Political Whodunit

More chaos wracked the Trump White House with a bombshell book by Bob Woodward, followed by an aftershock in the form of an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by someone only identified as a “senior official” in the administration. Trump’s reaction was reportedly volcanic and set off a desperate search for whodunit.

More chaos wracked the Trump White House with a bombshell book by Bob Woodward, followed by an aftershock in the form of an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by someone only identified as a “senior official” in the administration. Trump’s reaction was reportedly volcanic and set off a desperate search for whodunit.

Washington, DC has been a lot of things. Now it is the scene of a political whodunit.

Bob Woodward got the game going with his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which chronicles audacious and embarrassing incidents during the Trump presidency, based on anonymous sources with good memories and a few purloined documents.

As shockwaves from Woodward’s book began to reverberate, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a reputed “senior official” in the Trump administration who described the “resistance from within.”

News media sources, quoting anonymous administration sources, reported that President Trump’s reaction to the book and op-ed was “volcanic.” Trump called Woodward’s book “fiction” and a “joke.” He called the op-ed author a coward.

In was the perfect first act of a whodunit. The rest of the play presumably will center on finding some or all of Woodward’s sources and identifying who wrote the damning op-ed.

Trump demanded the Department of Justice, which seems to be his new “fixer” since his old fixer pleaded guilty to fraud, to conduct an investigation in the name of “national Security.” Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed the op-ed as “gutless” and the Woodward book as bad journalism. According to Donald Trump Jr., the White House circle of trust just got a lot smaller.

Talk show hosts grilled talking heads for names or clues. Woodward was asked if he knew who wrote the NYT op-ed. “I don’t have any suspects,” he said. Stephen Colbert did an entire opening monologue speculating on the person Trump is “obsessed” with discovering.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Bob Woodward’s latest book – a tell-all about the Trump White House based on 100 “deep background” interviews – hit bookshelves today, even though its shrapnel already has been felt in pre-publication excerpts.  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/11/17828300/bob-woodward-fear-trump-sources

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Bob Woodward’s latest book – a tell-all about the Trump White House based on 100 “deep background” interviews – hit bookshelves today, even though its shrapnel already has been felt in pre-publication excerpts. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/11/17828300/bob-woodward-fear-trump-sources

A parade of Trump senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, released statements saying it wasn’t them. Pence even volunteered to take a lie detector test.

Trump supporters floated the idea the Times “concocted” the anonymous op-ed. Steve Bannon said the op-ed had multiple authors and represented a “soft coup.”

Chaos is no stranger to the Trump White House, and Woodward is not a stranger to harsh criticism of his coverage of previous presidents. Woodward isn’t the first – and probably not the last – to paint a picture of dysfunction and indulgence. Though, he might be the first to describe specific incidents in which aides spirited away documents from their boss before he could sign them to avoid even more chaos.

Efforts by the Trump team to downplay or deflect from the back-to-back bombshells may not be successful. As Anderson Cooper noted, “It’s not every day or every month or every year, or certainly every administration for that matter, that someone in the administration publishes a scathing criticism of the president of the United States. It’s not every day that someone in the administration claims that many officials in that administration are working to frustrate parts of the president’s agenda and his worse inclinations.”

It didn’t help that US intelligence sources revealed North Korea is expanding its nuclear weapons capability and that reports surfaced about US officials flirting with involvement in a potential coup to unseat Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Or former Clinton-era special prosecutor Ken Starr’s suggestion in an interview on NPR that Congress has another, cleaner weapon to express displeasure with a President – censure.

And all this on the heels of news that White House counsel Don McGahn gave 30 hours of sworn testimony to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, “sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice,” according to The New York Times.

Even memorials for 9/11 are unlikely to stop the inevitable blame game or interrupt the DC chase for whodunit. The hunt is already afoot.

Congress on Sidelines as Politics, Events Pass It By

Congress returns from its summer recess, but still will be mostly on the sidelines as Trump tweets, court rulings and midterm elections dominate the daily news cycle. [Photo Credit: Associated Press]

Congress returns from its summer recess, but still will be mostly on the sidelines as Trump tweets, court rulings and midterm elections dominate the daily news cycle. [Photo Credit: Associated Press]

What goes on in Congress matters less these days than what goes on about Congress.

The five-day memorial for the late Senator John McCain drew attention to his lifelong dedication to duty, honor and principle, as well as a willingness to reach across the political aisle to compromise.

The mid-term elections have taken on amplified importance as a virtual referendum on President Donald Trump and as a contest for the heart of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Republican primaries are judged as battles between GOP moderates and Trump backers. Democratic primaries are viewed as tests of how far left the party may swing.

Trump’s hardline, nationalist approach to trade continues to ruffle feathers abroad and at home as farmers, manufacturers, workers and consumers fret over the end game. Congress ultimately will have to decide on any new trade deals, but for now is sitting on the sidelines. Congress is beginning to tackle the one-time subsidies Trump proposed to help farm producers cope with the impact of his tariffs.

The courts have played an outsized role in curbing Trump policies, including a ruling that forced reunification of families separated at the border, blocked blanket detention of asylum-seekers and elimination of DACA and delayed a rollback of fuel efficient standards.

The Robert Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling and potential Trump campaign collusion plugs along, with recent convictions, new grants of immunity and the pall of more indictments. Trump tells campaign rally audiences that a Democratic takeover of the House will lead to his impeachment. There are other investigations and lawsuits about Trump Organization business practices that also result in indictments, including of Trump family members.

Capitol Hill hasn’t gone completely quiet, however. This week will see the start of confirmation hearings on Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, amid Democratic complaints that documents have been suppressed that might shed light on Kavanaugh’s views about executive privilege and prosecution. While the hearings could be confrontational, it appears likely Kavanaugh will win confirmation.

As the end of the federal fiscal year approaches, which in recent times has been tense with the threat of a partial government shutdown, Congress has dutifully moved 12 appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2019. No shutdown will occur, even though Trump said it might be a good thing. Congress has even been upstaged by Trump on spending as the President unilaterally blocked scheduled federal worker pay increases.

Facebook and Twitter remain in the congressional line of sight. After being blamed for turning a blind eye to false-flag accounts, the social media platforms are being accused of putting the squeeze on conservative political voices. Trump has gone further and alleged Google has manipulated search results to play up critical news stories about him and downplay positive stories.

There is an eerie silence in the halls of Congress on efforts to denuclearize North Korea, advance a major infrastructure package, act on immigration reform or respond to the looming denouement of the Syrian conflict, which many observers believe will be a massive humanitarian crisis.

Trump tweets remain the dominant story in most daily news cycles, whether he chastises the FBI and his Attorney General, whines about his treatment by the press or insults US allies or his critics. Apart from the content of the tweets, what troubles Republicans on the Hill are their unpredictability and inconsistency, which makes pursuing a congressional agenda more difficult.

The long, smothering shadow of Trump’s tweets does give congressional Republicans more time to start their own digital firestorms. Ryan Gosling’s biopic of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon has drawn criticism from GOP Senators Ted  Cruz and Marco Rubio for failing to feature the astronaut planting the US flag.

Cruz, who is running for re-election this fall, and Rubio said Armstrong’s achievement was a distinctively American moment, paid for by US taxpayers. Gosling defended the omission by saying Armstrong’s achievement “transcended borders and countries.”

Of course, the back-and-forth sniping has nothing to do with Congress.

The Difference a Day Can Make - Or Not.

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day this week with two former associates headed to prison, an early congressional supporter indicted, the White House counsel talking to the special prosecutor and Facebook removing another trove of Russian fake accounts. [Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg]

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day this week with two former associates headed to prison, an early congressional supporter indicted, the White House counsel talking to the special prosecutor and Facebook removing another trove of Russian fake accounts. [Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg]

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day yesterday. His former campaign manager was convicted on bank and tax fraud charges, his personal attorney-fixer plead guilty to fraud and one of his first GOP congressional supporters was indicted for misuse of campaign funds.

Facebook announced it removed 652 fake accounts peddling misinformation that it said originated with Russian and Iranian sources. The New York Times reported White House counsel Donald McGahn has met in three interviews lasting 30 hours with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigative team.

Most people would chalk that up as a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” However, Trump spent last evening performing at another of his free-wheeling campaign rallies, inciting his West Virginia audience to chant “Lock her up!” – an ironic anthem on the day two of his associates started on the road to prison.

Trump’s spokesperson downplayed the Manafort conviction – “nothing to do with the President” – and Cohen’s plea – “he said what he did as part of a plea deal.” Democrats unleashed attacks about corruption in the Trump camp and began referring to the President as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

Despite all the buzz, it remains doubtful anything will change. Mueller’s special investigation into Russian meddling will continue. Chances of Congress starting an impeachment process are close to nil. And Trump supporters seem unfazed.

The 47-page indictment of GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife for improperly using campaign funds could put his bid for re-election in his San Diego congressional district in jeopardy. In the wake of the indictment, House Speaker Paul Ryan stripped Hunter of his committee assignments, but Hunter still may win re-election in what a local San Diego newspaper calls a “very red district.”

Some Senate Democrats canceled meetings with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanugh, saying it is inappropriate to move forward on a confirmation process for someone nominated by Trump after he was implicated by Cohen in a federal elections law conspiracy. However, the confirmation hearings are slated to begin in early September and it appears Senate Republicans are congealing to support Kavanaugh, along with two or three Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states.

The Manafort conviction, Cohen plea and Facebook action on fake Russian accounts are unlikely to sway Trump supporters, though they may steel the resolve of Democrats to get out their vote to retake control of the House. Even that prospect is in doubt. Polling indicates as many as 74 House seats held by Republicans could be in play in the midterm election in November, but that number is likely to drop substantially as campaigns pick up steam in the fall.

Trump’s legal team, which appears to have convinced the President to avoid an interview with Mueller’s investigators, keeps egging the special prosecutor to wrap up his investigation before the November election. Trump’s lawyers believe – or hope – nothing will stick to the President in the final report. But even if the report points to obstruction of justice and some level of conspiracy with Russians on election meddling, there is no guarantee Trump’s supporters or even Republicans in general will be swayed. The same partisan divide will remain, with even deeper trenches.

At the end of the day, the hair-on-fire day for Trump may be just another comet news cycle that glows, then fades, replaced by new political brush fires.

 

Senators Seething in DC Humidity and Heat

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has annoyed Democrats, especially those facing tough re-election bids in states carried by Donald Trump in 2016, by shrinking the traditional August recess to one week, tying his colleagues to their desks in the DC heat and humidity.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has annoyed Democrats, especially those facing tough re-election bids in states carried by Donald Trump in 2016, by shrinking the traditional August recess to one week, tying his colleagues to their desks in the DC heat and humidity.

While members of the House of Representatives are enjoying their normal full month of August recess, the Senate is being forced to work in the festering hot swamp that is Washington DC.

GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell eliminated the time-honored August recess for all but one week despite 90-degree-plus temperatures and drenching humidity and the annoyance of Democrats who would prefer to be home to campaign. 

McConnell wants to use the extra floor time in August to press senators to confirm pending judicial nominees, make progress on appropriations bills and set the stage for Brett Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation to the Supreme Court.

There is a political reason, too. McConnell is forcing Senate Democrats to stay in DC so they can’t campaign in their home states for the November election. It’s another savvy move by the seasoned Senate leader in this lopsided year where the Senate map strongly favors Republicans. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats this November, while Republicans only need to defend nine seats. 

All 26 of those Democrats would much rather be back in their states solidifying their electoral support and raising money to build momentum for the general election. In particular, Democratic incumbents in Montana, Missouri, West Virginia and North Dakota are feeling especially constrained running for re-election in states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

McConnell’s tactic will build momentum for a busy fall congressional schedule. Republican Leaders in the House and the Senate are looking to avoid a government shutdown and both chambers are ahead of schedule in passing FY19 appropriations bills. The Senate has passed seven of 12 appropriations bills, while the House has passed six. This is the best progress made on the appropriations front since 2000.

With the Senate in town, Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh can meet with senators in August and lay the groundwork for a relatively quick nomination process in September.

Democrats are trying to slow confirmation by insisting on seeing the millions of pages of documents Kavanaugh wrote during his time in the George W. Bush White House, but the delay tactic could come at their own peril. Many pundits believe the closer the Kavanaugh confirmation vote is to the November election, the better it is for Republicans to motivate their political base. Democrats will have to decide between an all-out political fight with a slim chance of blocking Kavanaugh versus getting the vote over with in September. 

One more major item on the fall legislative schedule will likely be on a provision dubbed “TaxCut 2.0.” Republicans are trying to set a trap for Democrats by bringing up legislation that will permanently extend the individual tax cuts passed last December, which will expire in five years. Corporate tax cuts were all made permanent. Republicans want to get vulnerable Democrats on record on taxes close to the election. There also is a potential trap for Republicans who would be voting to deepen the federal deficit and remind voters about the tax cut, which hasn’t been as widely popular as GOP advocates predicted – or hoped.

A wild card McConnell cannot control is what Special Counsel Robert Mueller will do before the November election. His team is engaged now in a high-profile trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and conducting ongoing negotiations to schedule an interview with the sitting President.

One possibility is Trump’s team declines Mueller’s terms for a face-to-face interview and Mueller follows through on his threat to subpoena Trump. The subpoena could trigger a court case by Team Trump challenging whether a sitting President can be compelled to testify. Depending on timing, questions surrounding a presidential subpoena could engulf the Kavanaugh nomination in the Senate because of his previous defense of expansive presidential powers, his reflections on the role of special prosecutors and the reality he could be sitting on the Supreme Court when and if the case gets that far.

Mueller is not politically tone deaf, so he may cut off any public actions on the Russian meddling investigation after Labor Day. However, it is unlikely he will wrap up the investigation before the November election.

If you can believe Trump tweets, indictments are possible for members of his family in connection with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Trump has now acknowledged was scheduled to get dirt on his opponent from Russian sources. That could scramble McConnell’s well-laid legislative schedule, adding to the irritation of his Senate colleagues who spent their summer recess tied to their desks in DC.

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Joel Rubin is a partner and leader of CFM’s federal affairs team based in Washington, DC. He has worked on Capitol Hill and now represents Pacific Northwest interests in Congress and with federal agencies.

‘Working Big Time’ or a Disaster in Process

President Trump lavishes praise on his trade policies, which he says are “working big time.” Linfield agricultural economist Eric Schuck disagrees and says Trump tariffs will plummet US farmers into economic oblivion.

President Trump lavishes praise on his trade policies, which he says are “working big time.” Linfield agricultural economist Eric Schuck disagrees and says Trump tariffs will plummet US farmers into economic oblivion.

President Trump has tweeted that his tariffs are “working big time.” A Linfield professor who specializes in agricultural economics offers a different verdict.

“American farmers are going to suffer losses. How large those losses will be remains an open question,” writes Eric Schuck in a guest editorial published by the News-Register in McMinnville. “The end result is this: A multitude of growers are either playing without a safety net or facing a long fall to reach that net.”

According to Trump’s tweet posted over the weekend, “Every country on earth wants to take wealth out of the U.S., always to our detriment. I say, as they come, Tax them. If they don’t want to be taxed, let them make or build the product in the U.S. In either event, it means jobs and great wealth.”

Schuck paints a starkly different picture. “The U.S. exported about $12 billion worth of soybeans to China in 2017. That represents about half the total soybean exports from the United States and almost a third of all US farm receipts for soybeans. So US soybean trade with China is a big deal. Unfortunately, China recently canceled about a million tons of orders.”

Domestic soybean producers have avoided disaster by ramping up exports to Brazil, which has picked up the slack in selling soybeans to China, Schuck explains.

“On the surface, that would seem to mean U.S. growers aren’t taking a hit from our nascent trade war with China,” he wrote.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  China has been our best customer in part because it pays the best price. While our soybeans are now finding an outlet in Brazil, they are doing it at a price that has tumbled nearly 20 percent in the last 90 days.”

Linfield College agricultural economist Eric Schuck takes issue with President Trump about the impact of tariffs on US commodity producers.

Linfield College agricultural economist Eric Schuck takes issue with President Trump about the impact of tariffs on US commodity producers.

The Trump administration has acknowledged tariffs are hitting US farmers hard. Their solution is a $12 billion one-time financial bailout. Schuck thinks the tonic is as bad or worse than the tariffs. Here is his explanation:

“To add insult to injury, the proposed remedies actually make things worse down on the farm. The US Department of Agriculture has announced its intention to use the Depression-era Commodity Credit Corporation to backstop falling prices. The mechanics are convoluted, but the CCC will basically act as the buyer of last resort for crops that no longer have a market.

“This leads to the federal government holding larger stores of surplus crops, most of which will wind up going into food banks or school lunch programs. While that can be helpful in some respects, the pressure of large domestic surpluses and demand diversion through food aid programs tends to drive crop prices down even further. And that drives up the cost to US taxpayers even more.”

While tariffs may not make economic sense, compensating US growers for their impact may violate international law, according to Schuck. “Any action to aid farmers beyond current levels would most likely expose the United States to lawsuits by both China and Brazil under World Trade Organization rules. And because the trade fiasco was triggered by US actions, we would most likely lose.”

Soybean producers aren’t the only US agricultural commodity to face repercussions from Trump’s tariffs. “Cherry growers witnessed tariffs rise as much as 50 percent while their crop was in transit to China,” Schuck says.” Unable to adjust, the price paid by Chinese consumers has held steady, while the price paid to American growers has fallen through the floor. Other commodities, notably apples, pears, chicken and pork, will soon suffer similar trauma.”

Trump thinks the US Treasury will reap the benefit of his tariffs. Schuck says, “As a result, the Chinese treasury stands to be the primary beneficiary of US tariffs on Chinese goods.”

Schuck claims, “None of this needed to happen. While China can be a frustrating trading partner, especially in terms of intellectual property, there were other ways to manage the problem. The Trans-Pacific Partnership offered to collectively exert leverage over China, in concert with the rest of our trading partners, but has been cast aside by the new administration. Instead, we find ourselves adrift with virtually no international support, because we’ve simultaneously started trade wars with everyone else who might share an interest in confronting China, including Canada, the European Union and Japan.”

Somewhat futilely, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promoted a $113 million Indo-Pacific infrastructure initiative last week, even as Asian leaders are forging ahead on a multilateral trade arrangement that reportedly would include China, but not the United States.

That provides interesting context for Schuck’s conclusion: “There’s only one way out of this: Declare victory and try to get back to the status quo. Unfortunately, that may no longer be an option.”

[The impacts from Trump tariffs continue to ripple outward, including a significant delay on a key traffic signal in Clackamas County.]