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Fri Oct 5, 2018, 07:45 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Kavanaugh Fight Finally Ends

Brett Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court tomorrow. That was the breaking news this afternoon, as Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, and Democrat Joe Manchin all indicated that they're going to vote in favor of Kavanaugh's confirmation. Republican Lisa Murkowski had briefly given rise to hope on the Democratic side when she announced she'll be voting against confirmation, but as things stand now Vice President Mike Pence won't even be required to break a tie, because tomorrow (if every senator votes how they now say they will) the total will be 51 votes for confirmation to 49 against.

This brings an end to the most extraordinary court fight since Clarence Thomas. For three weeks, America has been riveted by the drama that played out at the very end of the confirmation process. From the initial accusations to the lengthy hearing where Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told her story and Brett Kavanaugh showed his true temperament, to the dramatic move by Jeff Flake which forced a week's delay, to today's final vote announcements, the entire process has been completely consuming the political world for weeks.

Here's an interesting footnote: immediately after Susan Collins announced she would be voting for Kavanaugh's confirmation, the Crowdpac page which is raising money for her next re-election opponent crashed. As of this writing, it is still down. We have no idea whether the site was overwhelmed with people wishing to donate money to the cause of defeating Collins or not, but it certainly seems like a strange coincidence. We've actually talked with voters in Maine this week who predicted that Collins is going to pay a political price for her vote next time around. But she's pretty popular in general with Maine voters, so we'll have to wait and see. The last time we wrote about this effort (in the MIDOTW award section of FTP (500)) was three weeks ago, on September 14. At that point -- which was before the Ford / Kavanaugh hearing had even happened -- the fund was already up to $1.3 million. We have no idea what it's up to now, but we'd bet that this is going to be a potent political tactic in all sorts of future situations. All the pledges were contingent on Collins voting no -- if she had voted yes, the money would have been returned to the donors and the fund would have disappeared. Now that she's voting no, whichever Democrat wins the nomination to run against her next time is already going to have a hefty campaign fund on Day One of their general election campaign. Media markets in Maine aren't all that expensive to buy ads in, so a multimillion-dollar head start will definitely be a factor in the race.

(Editor's note: After a few hours of being down, the Crowdpac page now appears to be back up, and the donation total is now over $2.34 million and rising fast -- a half-hour or so ago, it was only at $2.08 million.)

This is a brand-new political tactic, it bears mentioning. A single-issue election fund dedicated to a yet-to-be-named politician has never been seen before (or, at the very least, never on this scale). We are predicting that this effort will be replicated in other situations (for other issues) in the very near future. Collins isn't any too happy about it, and has called it the equivalent of "extortion" or "blackmail," but it is in reality neither. She is not being offered anything, after all. No campaign funds for Collins are going to be affected one way or the other. Instead, this is a show of strength against Collins, as a measure of the anger her vote has sparked -- both among her constituents and nationwide among others disgusted with her vote. It remains to be seen how effective such an effort can ultimately be, but we will be watching it closely because this pioneering effort could indeed become quite common in the years to come.

This episode also really points out the political silver lining for Democrats, such as it is. If Kavanaugh had been defeated, then it would have been a major issue for Republican base voters in November. They would have been outraged and fired up to go vote, especially in Senate races. But now, with the election a full month away, the energy built up on the right over Kavanaugh may well disperse. It's hard to know what will motivate individual voters, but there are a whole lot of news cycles between now and Election Day, so Kavanaugh will likely be seen as old news by then.

At the same time, because their side lost, Democratic voters will be even more fired up to get to the polls. Finally Democrats are beginning to learn how important judicial picks truly are, and the Democratic base is starting to take them more seriously. They've got a lot of catching up to do, since Republican voters have cared about this subject for decades, but Democrats are certainly paying a lot more attention this time around.

Once again, this was really a one-issue week in the political world. The Kavanaugh fight sucked up all the oxygen in the room, although other political news still was being made. Donald Trump announced a new "United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement" on trade, which he claimed was wonderful and would replace NAFTA. Its relative wonderfulness aside, it won't actually be all that big a difference from NAFTA, as most of the framework will still exist under the new deal. In fact, most of the new provisions came straight out of another trade deal that Trump said was horrible -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Trump hadn't bailed on T.P.P., then we would already be enjoying these benefits, to put it another way. Amusingly enough, most of the people involved in the negotiations were holdovers from the Obama administration, which is why the final product looked so much like both NAFTA and the T.P.P. Not that Trump mentioned any of those facts, of course.

OK, because the awards are going to run kind of long this week, we're going to wrap up with two rather bizarre stories. The first was that Alex Trebek, of Jeopardy! fame, was invited to moderate a gubernatorial debate in Pennsylvania, for some unfathomable reason. The debate was only 45 minutes long, and Trebek took up way too much of this time with rambling comments and stories. Nobody was very happy with the outcome, and after hearing the reviews, Trebek himself came out and apologized to the voters in Pennsylvania. "I'll take 'Epic Political Moderator Failures' for $1000, Alex...." Heh.

And finally, while we are about as pro-marijuana-reform as can be imagined, we also realize there are limits to what the voters can accept. Which is why we really wanted to give some sort of an award to Anne Armstrong, candidate for governor in Rhode Island -- however, she falls outside our awards' criteria, since she is a third-party candidate. Armstrong's campaign is centered on legalizing marijuana in Rhode Island, but again, there are limits to this sort of thing -- and Armstrong surpassed anyone's definition of these limits when she was arrested carrying a whopping 48 pounds of weed recently. Seriously, 48 pounds of marijuana is probably enough to get every single voter in Rhode Island high, since it's really not that big a state. Maybe that was her election strategy, to pass out a joint to anyone willing to vote for her?

We have a number of Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week before we get to the most obvious candidate for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

The first two are directly related to the midterm elections. This week Michael Bloomberg announced he's giving $20 million to the fund to elect Democrats to the Senate. The Senate Majority PAC had $29 million on hand already, so this will significantly boost the amount they'll have to spend on advertising in the final weeks of close Senate races all across the country. Bloomberg had already pledged more than $80 million to help Democrats in House races, but he felt the need to act after watching the Kavanaugh hearings. From a spokesperson: "Mike was extraordinarily disappointed in the Republican leadership in the Senate and feels increasingly passionate about changing it. And he's already enthusiastic about the impact he's having on House races and increasingly confident that he can contribute to a Democratic takeover." Of course, this isn't entirely selfless of Bloomberg, as he's reportedly considering a 2020 bid for president. Still, his money will be useful over the next month, no matter how pure his motives may be.

The second Honorable Mention goes to another wealthy guy, but one who is spending his time and money in a completely different way to help Democrats get elected. Former J.P. Morgan banker John Burton has devoted the past year to a grassroots project involving 16,000 amateur researchers, whose sole purpose is digging up opposition research on vulnerable Republicans in the House, the Senate, and even in state legislatures. Burton explains his purpose as: "We're going to do with real information and real Americans what the Russians tried to do with fake information and fake Americans."

His group, Citizens Strong, has targeted districts and states that lean slightly to the right. He is reported to have a "trove" of oppo research ready to be unleashed. So a whole lot of October surprises could be forthcoming very soon now, in races all across America:

With the midterms looming, he's begun disseminating his "citizen oppo" in three Senate races, 22 House races, and 133 state legislative races across 13 states. He's hoping these last-minute attacks will help push many of these races into the Democratic column, flipping control of the House -- and possibly even the Senate -- as well as state legislatures that will play a critical role in redrawing congressional lines in 2020, a process that will shape national politics for the next decade.

Here are just a few tactics the group plans to use:

More colorful was the "Sloth Index." Volunteers tracked the attendance and output of incumbents, including Facebook posts, videos, and press releases, on the theory that those who didn't bother showing up for work, and didn't do much when they did, would be easier to pick off. Many of the politicians on the list have never faced a tough race and so haven't taken elementary precautions such as registering their own domain names. Burton has snapped up 203 domains of incumbent Republicans that will soon bear the fruit of his researchers' efforts. Voters searching for information on Representatives Mike Bost of Illinois and Dave Schweikert of Arizona will discover their fondness for staying at Ritz-Carltons and the Waldorf Astoria, a perilous habit in light of Trump's attacks on the Washington "Swamp." For Tyler Vorpagel, a Wisconsin state representative who's voted to cut public assistance programs, readers will learn that his wife collected unemployment while she was running his first campaign in 2014, all the while posting Instagram pictures of herself (and her dog Teddy) at happy hours and baseball games. ("My wife spent countless hours looking for a new job and never turned down a job that was offered to her," Vorpagel says in a statement. "The bills we passed require everyone to look at welfare benefits as temporary assistance, not a long-term lifestyle." ) Meanwhile, Rohrabacher.ru will feature Citizen Strong's trove of materials on the Putin-friendly California congressman. And, if the Russian government shuts it down, ComradeRohrabacher.com will replace it.

So we've got all that to look forward to, for the rest of this month.

Our final Honorable Mention goes to Bernie Sanders. Four weeks ago (in FTP (499)), we also gave Bernie the same award, for introducing the "Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act" (or "Stop BEZOS Act" ), which was targeted at corporations like Amazon (run by Jeff Bezos) who pay their entry-level employees such low wages that they qualify for federal benefits. This week, Bezos announced he would be upping all of his employees' pay and would not pay anyone less than $15 an hour. However, this announcement was tainted by a subsequent announcement that while Amazon was giving to low-paid workers with one hand, it was taking away with the other -- they would no longer get bonuses or stock options. So while we did praise both Sanders and Bezos earlier this week, our laudatory comments about Bezos turned out to be premature. Even so, Bernie deserves credit for shaming a giant corporation run by the world's richest man into at least partially doing the right thing. Oh, and for good measure, Bernie also saved a clueless pedestrian from being hit by a car this week, too.

But our obvious choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Senator Heidi Heitkamp. She is probably the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate who is facing re-election next month, and her North Dakota constituents seem to be on the side of Kavanaugh. So the smart thing for her to have done politically would have been to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. This might have helped her at the polls, and with Collins voting yes it wouldn't have mattered one way or the other -- Kavanaugh would still have been confirmed. Heitkamp wasn't the deciding vote, in other words.

But she couldn't bring herself to do so. Her brother Joel explained her reasoning to MSNBC, saying: "She may lose. But in the morning, when she's brushing her teeth, she needs to like the person she sees."

She may have committed political suicide by voting no, but that's what she's going to do anyway. Such courage is rare in Washington, since most politicians care about their own political survival more than just about anything else under the sun. For taking such a brave stand, Heidi Heitkamp is the easy choice this week for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

{Congratulate Senator Heidi Heitkamp on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

We have one (Dis-)Honorable Mention award to hand out this week before we get to the obvious choice for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

The (Dis-)Honorable Mention award goes to Jackson A. Cosko, who is a former congressional aide, and who has worked for both Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Maggie Hassan in the past. He is being described as "former Democratic staffer" in news reports, by which we read that he isn't currently employed by anyone in Congress. But somehow he managed to sneak into Hassan's offices "after 10 p.m. Tuesday" and used an aide's computer and login to post private information about Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee to Wikipedia. He posted their home addresses and phone numbers, which briefly appeared on the site (but were quickly taken down by the Wikipedia editors). For doing so, Cosko now faces one misdemeanor and six felony counts (including identity theft and witness tampering) which could land him in prison for up to 20 years.

It almost goes without saying, but it also must clearly be reaffirmed by all Democrats -- this is not the way to play the game of politics. This is disgraceful and should be condemned by all. It's contemptible behavior when the other side does it, but it is just as contemptible when done by a Democrat. Democrats should universally condemn such gutter tactics, unequivocally.

However, the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was -- again, obviously -- Senator Joe Manchin, who will be the only Democrat voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. Now, Manchin might have avoided the MDDOTW award if he were in the same situation as Heitkamp -- if his vote would have meant his political suicide. That still would have been disappointing, but perhaps understandable. But Manchin is actually up in the polls. While his seat was seen as vulnerable earlier in the election cycle, he has shown surprisingly strong support in West Virginia, a state that went for Trump by an overwhelming margin. So he probably could have voted no and still been re-elected.

Manchin voting yes means that the vote won't be a tie -- if Manchin votes no, then Mike Pence would have had to cast the tie-breaking vote, which would have further delegitimized Kavanaugh's appointment. But now Republicans will be able to claim Kavanaugh got "bipartisan support," even though one Democrat isn't all that bipartisan, when you get right down to it. Manchin also wouldn't have been the deciding vote either way, so he could have voted no without being blamed for Kavanaugh failing to be confirmed. Yet, in the end, Manchin decided to boost his chances of re-election by becoming the only Democrat to vote yes.

After the past three weeks, that is incredibly disappointing to millions of Democrats and millions of women across the country. Which is why he's the obvious choice for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week.

{Contact Senator Joe Manchin on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}

Volume 503 (10/5/18)

We return to our regular list of talking points this week, which are kind of all over the map (but with the connecting thread of the upcoming midterms running through most of them). Normally, we'd save an amusing item for the last one, but this week we thought we'd go against our own tradition and instead save the last item for possibly the most important talking point of all in 2018 -- one that the mainstream media has been all but ignoring, for the most part.

As usual, enjoy and use responsibly.

I believe her

For once, we're going to present a true talking point (rather than a whole paragraph leading up to one) -- a slogan that's short and sweet enough to fit on a bumpersticker. This is for a historical reason, in fact. Those not old enough to remember the Clarence Thomas confirmation fight will not be aware of what happened afterwards. But on cars all across America, bumperstickers began appearing with a powerful message: "I Believe Anita Hill." This time around, we have no idea whether this will become a bumpersticker phenomenon or not (Twitter wasn't around, back then), but all Democratic candidates for office should immediately add this line to their stump speech anyway:

"I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford."

Think about this when you vote

Democrats need to explicitly tell their voters how important this stuff is, over and over again.

"Are you outraged that Brett Kavanaugh is going to be on the Supreme Court? Then get out and vote in November! There's only one way to create a check on this process, and that is to elect more Democrats to the Senate, to the House, and eventually to the White House. Do you want a president that doesn't mock survivors of sexual assault to score political points at rallies? Then get out and vote! Each and every 5-4 decision that makes you angry from now on should make you that much more committed to vote in each and every election. Republican voters care about judicial appointments, and they don't sit out the midterm elections! You've got to match their energy and you've got to get just as determined. Vote the Republicans out of office to prevent this from happening again. Channel your anger into a fierce determination to elect more Democrats each and every election cycle!"

Want to see Trump's taxes?

Of course, the Senate isn't the only battleground worth fighting for.

"The New York Times this week exposed Donald Trump's lies about how little he got from his father. He's not a self-made man, his daddy handed him hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, and committed tax fraud by doing so. The state of New York is now investigating this story, although the criminal statute of limitations has already passed. But you just know that Trump has probably gotten away with cheating on his taxes recently as well -- which is why he won't show them to anyone. Well, there's a very easy answer to all of this -- elect more Democrats to the House this November, and we'll all finally get to see Trump's taxes. Democrats will make it their first order of business to begin an investigation of Trump's taxes to see what he's been hiding from everyone all along. Is he in bed with Russian money-launderers? There's only one way to find out, and that is to elect more Democrats to the House. If Democrats take control of the chamber in a blue wave, Trump won't be able to hide any more!"

Please don't, Mister President...

Republicans always loved to make hay over this issue when it was Barack Obama's embarrassment, so we should happily return the favor.

"I see that some Republicans aren't exactly eager to have Donald Trump appear on stage with them. In central Florida, Republican Michael Waltz is running for an open House seat. Trump apparently wanted to appear at a rally with Waltz, but Waltz wasn't interested. He's not the only one, either. Trump is holding a rally in Kansas tomorrow, but GOP Representative Kevin Yoder won't be on stage with him, despite being invited to appear with the president. Seems Trump isn't very popular in Yoder's suburban district. Yoder blamed a 'scheduling conflict,' which is pretty amusing. More and more Republicans seeking office are being faced with a tough choice -- appear with the president and leader of their party, or run away from him in a desperate effort to get elected in districts where Trump's support hurts Republicans more than it helps."

I see nothing!

This might be too dated a reference, but we don't care because it's so perfect.

"If Democrats take control of Congress, you can bet we'll be looking into the instructions the F.B.I. was given for their so-called 'investigation' of the claims made against Brett Kavanaugh. Who told them to ignore so many witnesses? The White House? Senate Republicans? What, exactly, were they told? It sure seems like the White House demanded that Sergeant Schultz be put in charge of the effort, because the F.B.I. report was nothing more than shouting 'I see nothing, I hear nothing... nothing!!!' in the face of many corroborating witnesses. Dozens and dozens of people were either listed by Kavanaugh's accusers or volunteered their testimony to the F.B.I., only to have the F.B.I. completely ignore them. Stories of people contacting the F.B.I. only to never hear back from them are all over the place. Again, if Democrats retake Congress, you can bet we'll be getting to the bottom of this, because this 'Sergeant Schultz investigation' was woefully inadequate."

October's here. Surprise!

Until he actually unloads all the oppo research, it will be fun to make all Republicans nervous about what's in it.

"John Burton's new group Citizen Strong has spent all year digging up opposition research on Republican candidates across the country -- in House races, in Senate races, and even in statehouse races. He says he's got plenty of October surprises to unleash, he's just waiting until the timing is right in each case. If I were a Republican candidate for office right now, I'd be worried about any skeletons in the closet that haven't seen the light of day. Politics ain't beanbag, and plenty of Republicans are about to find this out very publicly."

The pre-existing conditions election

This continues to fly under the inside-the-Beltway radar, for the most part.

"All the pundits and prognosticators in Washington are missing a rather large issue that could be determinative in dozens of races this November -- because Republicans are finally beginning to pay the price for all of their 'repeal and replace Obamacare' antics. When the Republicans in Congress tried to shove through their repeal bill, the rest of the country learned two very important things. The first is that if Obamacare went away, the protections for people with pre-existing conditions would also go away. The second is that Republicans had absolutely no answer for this problem. There was no 'replacement' for it at all. In fact, they still don't have any idea what to do about the problem. But now, all those 'repeal Obamacare' votes are coming back to haunt them. In race after race, this is emerging as the biggest issue -- Democrats will fight to keep the protections for people with pre-existing conditions intact, while Republicans want to blow them up and replace them with nothing. Republican congressmen already voted to do exactly that, and Democratic candidates are now reminding the voters of this fact. Although it hasn't gotten much attention in the political press, this could be the single biggest issue driving people to vote for Democrats at the polls this year. We may look back at 2018 as the 'pre-existing conditions election,' in fact. And Republicans will only have themselves to blame."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Fri Oct 5, 2018, 09:29 PM

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