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Fri Feb 22, 2019, 09:57 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Muellermas Eve?

The news media -- once again -- has been in a frenzy over the possibility that Robert Mueller will wrap up his investigation next week and issue his long-awaited report. They've gone down this road before, as have President Trump's legal advisors (who have been telling Trump the whole thing is going to be over very soon now for almost a solid year and a half). So you'll forgive us for not being all that convinced that this is indeed the time that Lucy won't pull the football away, and we'll finally get to kick it thumpingly down the field!

Perhaps we're being a wee bit too cynical? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. We'll see what next week brings.

Even if Mueller's report does drop next week, we also have to caution everyone that nobody outside of his investigation has any real idea what will be in it. And it may take awhile for the public to even learn what's in Mueller's report, even if he does hand it in next week and closes up shop. The attorney general has the discretion to either release all of the report, some of it, a summary of it, or none of it. If he chooses any path other than "release all of it" then House Democrats are going to immediately begin work to obtain their own copy, of course, so the likelihood that it'll stay forever buried is probably pretty darn low.

Will Mueller's report contain the smoking gun that impeachment enthusiasts have been dreaming of? Will it show clear criminal activity by the president and his family? Will it lay out the case for impeachment so plainly that even Republicans are forced to agree?

Again -- maybe, but maybe not. Mueller's team has set the record for being the least leaky group in all of Washington, so nobody knows what will be in their final report, even at this late date. It could be earth-shattering, but then again it could be a wet firecracker. In other words, all the guilty pleas and convictions so far may have been the biggest news after all. Nobody knows, at this point, and anyone who tells you differently is lying. Mueller's team just doesn't leak, so it's impossible to tell.

Meanwhile, the scandal-creation machine that is the Trump White House just keeps grinding along. Now, however, the Democratic House is beginning to shed some light on them:

Key members of the Trump administration pushed a plan to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia in the months after the inauguration despite objections from members of the National Security Council and other senior White House officials, according to a new report from congressional Democrats. The 24-page report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee is based on internal White House documents and the accounts of unnamed whistleblowers. It said the objectors -- including White House lawyers and National Security Council officials -- opposed the plan out of concern that it violated laws designed to prevent the transfer of nuclear technology that could be used to support a weapons program.

The possible sale of nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia was discussed in the Oval Office just last week. The meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, representatives from the NSC and State Department, and a dozen nuclear industry chief executives, one of the people present told The Washington Post.

The report, key elements of which were confirmed by people directly familiar with the matter, cites whistleblowers who said that the Trump appointees "ignored directives from top ethics advisers who repeatedly -- but unsuccessfully -- ordered senior White House officials to halt their efforts."

Let's see... why would they do such a thing? Perhaps because of ulterior motives?

The report released Tuesday notes that one of the power plant manufacturers that could benefit from a nuclear deal, Westinghouse Electric, is a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, the company that has provided financial relief to the family of Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser. Brookfield Asset Management took a 99-year lease on the Kushner family's deeply indebted New York City property at 666 Fifth Ave.

Meanwhile, in New York City, two other buildings voted to remove the Trump name from the front of the building. Seems the Trump brand is now officially toxic, when it comes to New York real estate.

Trump's former buddy Roger Stone also found himself in some hot water, after sending out an image of the judge who is hearing his case complete with a crosshairs icon next to her head. The judge was not amused, to say the least, and hauled him into her court to explain. When Stone attempted to do so, she responded: "Thank you, but the apology rings quite hollow," before instituting a total gag order on Stone, so that he cannot talk about his case at all anymore while it is ongoing. She also warned him that if he violated the order, she'd then send him to jail to await trial. Stone, notably, did not strike his trademark "Nixon's V-for-victory stance" when leaving the courtroom.

Let's see, what else? Trump's pick to replace Nikki Haley as U.N. ambassador had to hastily withdraw her nomination when nanny problems were uncovered. This follows all the news of Trump properties' longstanding practice of using undocumented immigrant labor, which is strange seeing as how Trump is supposed to not approve of such things.

Add to the "non-apology apology" Trump's newest invention: the "non-condemnation condemnation." After a Coast Guard officer was arrested on domestic terrorism charges for stockpiling weapons with the alleged intent to kill Democratic politicians and left-leaning journalists, Trump was silent on the issue. Right-wing terrorism doesn't fit his model of the universe, where only Muslims and Mexicans can ever be considered terrorists. Finally he was forced to address the arrest, and all he could come up with was: "I think it's a shame. I think it's a very sad thing when a thing like this happens." Wow. That's about as passive a statement as can be imagined, and contains not an iota of actual condemnation. Very fine people on both sides of the issue, perhaps?

Last week, of course, Trump announced a national emergency that was so dire and imminent that he immediately left to play golf for a few days in Florida. Thus continuing the trend of "reality under Trump being so unbelievable that no Hollywood director would listen to it as a script idea."

This week came the pushback. Sixteen states, led by California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra, sued the Trump administration in court over the emergency declaration. One of those states (Maryland) actually is led by a Republican governor (who is, incidentally, thinking of taking on Trump in a GOP primary challenge).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced a vote next Tuesday on a congressional resolution rescinding Trump's emergency. It already has enough cosponsors to pass the House, but to date this only includes one Republican. It's going to get even tougher for Senate Republicans, since if the measure passes the House as expected, they'll be forced to hold their own vote on it. According to one whip count, ten Republican senators "are on the record supporting {Trump's national emergency declaration}, 17 have expressed concerns, and four have spoken in opposition to the order. The other 22 GOP senators have avoided taking any public stance on it." Only one -- Susan Collins -- has expressly said she'd vote for the resolution overturning Trump's declaration. Democrats will need four Republicans to do so to pass the measure, so they're currently three short. It will probably take a few weeks before Mitch McConnell holds this vote, so the time is now to let wavering Republicans hear from you.

Adam Schiff wrote a poignant letter pleading with the Republicans to vote for the measure, pointing out (without getting snarky) what rank hypocrisy it would be for them to agree with Trump now after railing against presidential "imperial" powers in the past. But we're saving that for the talking points.

In the presidential race, one Republican, Bill Weld of Massachusetts, announced he'll be taking on Trump in the Republican primaries. As mentioned, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland is also reportedly considering a run. No word yet from John Kasich, who took Trump on last time around (and has been a thorn in his side ever since).

But the big news came from the Democratic side, as Bernie Sanders tossed his hat in the ring once again. He then immediately raised a cool six million dollars from small donors on his first day in the race, blowing away all the other candidates' totals. Bernie engenders strong feelings from Democrats, although not all of them are warm feelings. He still has pretty high negatives within the party's rank-and-file, but his supporters seem to be just as avid as ever, so he is already a force to be reckoned with in the race.

In all the media coverage of Bernie's launch, there was one interesting note. The fact-checkers at the Washington Post examined a slogan Bernie's been using: "The Walton family makes more money in one minute than Walmart workers do in an entire year. This is what we mean when we talk about a rigged economy."

They broke this claim down, and discovered that the Walton family earns over $3.1 billion in dividends a year -- and that's not even counting salaries, director's fees, etc. This works out to $1.51 million per hour, or $25,149 each minute (using a 40-hour workweek).

Walmart workers, on the other hand, earn on average $24,960 per year.

Bernie's claim was thus given zero "Pinocchios." For being absolutely true, it earned the rare "Geppetto checkmark" instead.

Elsewhere on the Democratic campaign trail, while many candidates are struggling with whether to fully support things like slavery reparations and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "Green New Deal," Amy Klobuchar is charting a different course. Klobuchar seems to be positioning herself as the most centrist Democrat in the field, which is an interesting strategy. Time will tell how successful this will be with the Democratic electorate, but for now she seems to be the only one striving for the middle ground.

OK, that's about it for this week. Next week, of course, Trump will be in Vietnam for his second love-fest with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. The last time around, Trump got played and walked away with little-to-nothing. This time around, expectations are pretty low as well. But there'll be plenty of spectacle to watch on the news, that much seems certain.

And, of course, next week may contain "Muellermas." So there's that to look forward to, as well.

We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, because we found we just couldn't pick one or the other of them.

Before we get to them, though, we also have a Honorable Mention for the West Virginia teachers who flexed their political muscles once again this week. They began a strike in protest of a bill which would have allowed school vouchers and charter schools in the state, and mere hours later the legislature killed the bill. They remembered what happened last time, apparently, and quickly folded. The teachers scored a big win, and all it took was walking out of work for a single day. That's incredibly impressive, we have to admit.

But as we said, there were two main contenders for the MIDOTW award this time around. The first needs no real introduction. Senator Bernie Sanders announced his second presidential run this week, and immediately launched himself into frontrunner position. He raised a whopping $6 million in small donations within 24 hours, easily beating the other candidates' first-day hauls by a mile (in second place was Kamala Harris, with $1.5 million).

Sanders began his announcement by pointing out that all the things he ran on before were ridiculed by many Democrats at the time as being radical and unworkable pie-in-the-sky schemes -- but almost all of them have now become mainstream both within the Democratic Party and among the American public as a whole. Medicare-for-all, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, debt-free college -- all were dismissed as being extreme, back in 2016. Now they are all solid planks in the Democratic platform. Bernie certainly deserves the lion's share of the credit for this sea-change. Which -- much more than him being the six-million-dollar man -- is why he deserves another Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

Our second MIDOTW this week goes to House candidate Dan McCready, down in North Carolina. He "lost" the election last November to Republican Mark Harris, because of massive election fraud. This week, the election board finally held their big hearing on the election, which resembled a soap opera at times. Harris's own son was the one to provide the damning evidence that Harris knew full well the consultant he hired was a "shady character," and after he heard his son's testimony Harris broke into tears. The next day, he stunned the audience by calling for the election to be held over -- exactly what McCready has been fighting for all along.

The board then voted unanimously to hold a new election. There is no word yet on whether this will include a primary, but because the GOP election fraud was likely ongoing during the previous primary, this would seem to be required for the new election to be seen as fair. Harris refuses to say whether he's going to run again, but at this point he's pretty much damaged goods.

Now, whether McCready actually wins the new election or not, his fight for justice was impressive on its own. Elections are often challenged in America, but it's rare indeed that they are overturned or thrown out. McCready was undaunted by these long odds, though. He may win the re-election or (especially if the GOP nominates a different candidate) he may not. Either way, for winning his fight for a new election to be held, Dan McCready deserves a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

{Congratulate Senator Bernie Sanders on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Dan McCready is a private citizen at the time, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for such persons, sorry.}

We don't really have any good candidates for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, unless we've forgotten someone obvious (please feel free to nominate one in the comments, as always).

We do, however, have updates on two former winners of the MDDOTW award.

Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam appears likely to hang on to his office, as the dust settles from his racist yearbook photo being made public. He was going to start a "reconciliation tour" of the state soon, but the college he had set for the launch abruptly asked him to reschedule. So it looks like that will have to wait little while longer.

However, new polls are out which show that Northam has done a good job of turning public opinion back around. Virginia voters say (by 48 percent to 42 percent) that Northam should not resign. Only 60 percent of Republicans want to see him step down, which is pretty low for the opposition party's opinion. Only a third of Democrats (and 31 percent of black voters) think he should resign. This means he's weathering the storm and is likely to serve out the rest of his term.

Our other update on past disgraced Democrats concerns Anthony "Carlos Danger" Weiner, who is now out of prison. He was serving a term for sexting with a 15-year-old girl, which happened after he had been caught cheating on his wife twice previously.

Weiner, more than any other individual, probably had more to do with Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss, since he was married to Huma Abedin, Clinton's longtime close advisor. At the end of the 2016 campaign, just as Hillary thought she was putting the whole email scandal behind her, Anthony Weiner was arrested again for his contacts with underage girls. His computer was seized, and it was this computer which led then-F.B.I. head James Comey to make the late announcement that the investigation into Clinton's emails had been reopened -- mere weeks before the election. Who knows how things would have played out if this hadn't happened? What did happen was the issue went right back to being front and center for Clinton right as she entered the election's homestretch. So a case can easily be made that Weiner's criminal misbehavior led directly to Hillary's loss in November.

But, like we said, neither Weiner nor Northam really did anything last week to justify getting another Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. So we'll just have to put it back on the shelf until next week.

Volume 519 (2/22/19)

We've got lots of issues to plow through this week, so let's just get right to it, shall we?

Trade war fallout

This needs pointing out now, since the Chinese-U.S. trade talks will soon be in the news in a big way.

"So how is Donald Trump's trade war affecting American farmers? Well, let's take a look at the data that Trump's own Agriculture Department just put out. Farm exports in 2019 are expected to plunge $1.9 billion compared to last year. Soybean exports over the past year have plummeted by 90 percent, which is directly due to the tariff war with China. In 2017, China was the top foreign purchaser of American farm goods. Already, it is down to fifth place -- a difference between buying six percent of total U.S. exports now versus buying 18 percent back in 2104. Farm income is way down, farm bankruptcies are way up, and even the taxpayer subsidies that Trump had to give farmers affected by his trade war aren't making up the difference. In fact, you could say that Trump is singlehandedly destroying the American farm economy."

Republican hypocrisy (part 1)

(Sound of crickets...)

"Where are all the Republicans who regularly rant and rave about non-existent voter fraud when a real case of election fraud is uncovered? North Carolina's ninth congressional district will be holding their election all over again because the first one was so badly tainted by a Republican campaign consultant. For the first time in memory, a clear case was laid out of tampering with people's ballots on a massive scale, and yet Kris Kobach and all the others are silent? Where are all those folks who regularly obsess over voter fraud now that we've got a clear case of it? Why is their silence so deafening? Perhaps it was all just a partisan ploy after all, seeing as how they don't seem to be at all concerned about election fraud when it is their team perpetrating the fraud."

Republican hypocrisy (part 2)

Nancy Pelosi has announced the House will be voting Tuesday to rescind Trump's border wall national emergency declaration. House Democrats are already on board, but it needs pointing out that Republicans who vote to uphold such a breathtaking presidential power grab are nothing but hypocrites, after all their talk of reining in Barack Obama and other Democratic presidents. Nothing pointed this out better than an open letter Adam Schiff wrote this week in the Washington Post, so we decided to run the key paragraphs from this letter instead of trying to rewrite the same idea:

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didnít like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

This will require courage. The president is popular among your base, which revels in his vindictive and personal attacks on members of his own party, even giants such as the late senator John McCain. Speaking up risks a primary challenge or accusations of disloyalty. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

Wall still polling badly

For a trademark issue, Trump picked one without much popularity.

"Sixty percent of the American public disapproves of Donald Trump faking a national emergency to get his precious wall built. The same percentage don't think there is an emergency at the border at all. A clear majority of the country think the president is misusing his presidential power and that he should be challenged in court. But all Trump cares about is his base. He's planning to run for re-election on two contradictory positions -- that he is already building his wall, therefore he should be re-elected, and that the wall isn't being built, therefore he should be re-elected to get it done. While some may be capable of believing such doublethink, happily the majority of Americans disagree."

Campaign strategies

This divide needs pointing out by all Democrats.

"Heading into the 2020 election cycle, Democrats are pushing hard to add the requirement that presidential candidates publicly release their tax forms in order to be included on the ballot. They're pushing this at the national level with their H.R. 1 bill, and they're pushing it on the state level, as in New Jersey and other places. Additionally, all the Democratic candidates have sworn not to use any stolen or hacked data in their campaign, while Donald Trump refuses to make the same pledge. Hey, it worked out for him last time, right? But Democrats believe elections should be transparent instead of allowing underhanded tactics to be used. The difference between the two parties' position couldn't be starker."

Why not 7G?

Just for fun....

"Donald Trump this week tweeted, and I quote, I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible. It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard, unquote. The only problem with this is that 6G doesn't actually exist yet. So implementing something that doesn't exist is going to be quite the technological challenge! I mean, if we're just making stuff up, why not reach for the moon and promise 7G technology? Why should Americans have to settle for 6G when we could all be enjoying 7G tech in Trump's fantasyland?"

How to deal with a charlatan

This was a footnote in the news this week, but there's a point to be made.

"This week, a conspiracy-loving and dangerous individual who defrauded his followers died. Lyndon LaRouche was a constant presidential candidate who ran in the Democratic Party. He was nothing short of a nutjob, a crank from the far fringes of the political universe. He spent time in jail for ripping people off, but that didn't stop his presidential ambitions. However, the Democratic Party as a whole -- both the national party and the voters who make up the rank and file -- never bothered to even give LaRouche the time of day. They shunned him completely. Now just imagine where we'd be today if both parties had treated their tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists the same way...."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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