Saturday, January 19, 2019

This Republican Governor May Be The First To Challenge Trump In 2020

President Trump might not be in imminent danger of impeachment after the implosion of the BuzzFeed report but there are still plenty of reasons that he might not be the best candidate to carry the Republican banner in 2020. Although Trump is currently an almost prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination two years from now, the news cycle in the Age of Trump moves quickly and by primary time it may be apparent to many Republicans that another choice is preferable. The problem is that unless other candidates start preparing now, there will be no one ready to take up the mantle if the Trump presidency implodes.

This week we saw the first signs that a Republican challenger might be willing to risk President Trump’s ire with a 2020 campaign. The prospective candidate is Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland.

Hogan is rated as America’s second-most popular governor with a 67 percent approval rating. Only Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, another blue state Republican, is rated higher. Hogan has been firing warning shots at President Trump. Politico reports that Hogan has been meeting with prominent Never Trump Republicans, implicitly attacking Trump in speeches, and is planning a trip to Iowa in March.

As an example, when Hogan delivered his second inaugural address last Wednesday, he didn’t mention Trump by name but did attack the “debilitating politics” of Washington. He also noted that his father, Rep. Lawrence Hogan, was the first Republican congressman to support the removal of Richard Nixon, saying, “Despite tremendous political pressure, he put aside partisanship and answered the demands of his conscience to do what he thought was the right thing for the nation that he loved.”

Baltimore Magazine describes Hogan as a fiscal conservative who ascended to power by attacks on Gov Martin O’Malley, who non-Marylanders might remember as one of the Democratic candidates in 2016 who was not Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Hogan dubbed his predecessor “Owe Malley” for his tax and fee increases and singled out his storm water management fee for ridicule as the “Rain Tax.”

Hogan took office in 2015 and his tax and regulatory reforms have boosted the Maryland economy. That accounts for part of his popularity. Another factor in his popularity is his strategy of avoiding social issues that polarize voters.  Although a pro-life Catholic, Hogan says he considers abortion and same-sex marriage to be settled issues.

Many Republicans will also have a problem with Hogan’s stance on guns. O’Malley passed new gun control laws after the Sandy Hook massacre and Hogan kept his campaign promise not to touch those laws. Additionally, he has supported a “red flag” law that would allow judges to force gun owners to temporarily surrender their weapons if there is proof that they are a danger to themselves or others. While these positions would not be popular with Republicans on the national level, they have worked well in heavily Democratic Maryland.

Another factor in Hogan’s popularity is his triumph over cancer. Several months into his first term, not long after ordering the National Guard into Baltimore during the riots following the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police, Hogan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He stayed on the job even as he underwent treatment, and his courage and good humor as he faced the disease helped to make him a household name in Maryland. His bald head is a remnant of his chemotherapy.

So far, Hogan has not made any explicit move toward formalizing a 2020 candidacy, but the Trump campaign is taking notice. It would be difficult to escape the national party’s attention since Hogan’s center of power in Baltimore is less than 50 miles from Washington, D.C. As a result, Hogan is playing it cagey with his aides denying that he has any interest in running for president.

It remains to be seen whether Hogan or any other Republicans will step up to challenge Donald Trump for the 2020 nomination. Right now the Republican hopefuls are walking a tightrope between the president’s overwhelming popularity within the GOP and the looming possibility that Trump will be too unpopular to win the general election.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, January 18, 2019

Master Troll Trump Leaves Pelosi's Luggage In Capitol Hallway

Whatever else you can say about Donald Trump, the man is a master troll and an expert at getting under people’s skin. Mr. Trump may not know much about the intricacies of policy, but he does know how to add insult to injury. He did exactly that this morning when the luggage from Speaker Pelosi’s canceled congressional junket was unceremoniously returned to the speaker’s office in Congress.

The Washington Free Beacon published a photo of a luggage cart marked “military liason [sic]” that was tagged “CODEL Pelosi.” The cart is sitting unattended in a hallway that is apparently outside her congressional office.  The Beacon reports that the photo was forwarded to them by an unnamed “snap-happy tipster.”

At least eight bags are piled on the luggage cart ranging from medium size rollaboard suitcases to small, soft-sided bags. The Beacon notes drily, “It's unclear whether all the luggage belonged to Pelosi.”

The personal tit-for-tat amid the larger showdown began when Pelosi notified President Trump on Wednesday that the annual State of the Union address should be postponed until after the government was reopened. The president held his return fire until Thursday afternoon, about an hour before Pelosi’s delegation was scheduled to depart for a trip to meet with NATO commanders in Brussels, Belgium and then continue to Afghanistan to visit US troops. Politico reports that the delegation was actually on board the bus when they learned that the trip was off.

Just prior to the departure of the Air Force bus taking Pelosi and her entourage to Joint Base Andrews to board a military flight to Europe, the Trump Administration posted a letter to Twitter that notified Pelosi that the trip had been “postponed” until after the shutdown.

“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” said the letter signed by President Trump, who himself took a military flight to Iraq shortly after the shutdown began.  

While President Trump’s base is celebrating Pelosi’s embarrassing comeuppance, I have to wonder if the childish behavior of leaders on both sides of the aisle is good for the country. Of course, it is not. I suspect that most voters look at both Pelosi and Trump with embarrassment themselves. Ultimately, the hardball tactics of both leaders serve only to further deepen and cement our national divide.

On a tactical level, angering and embarrassing Speaker Pelosi is unlikely to achieve Trump’s goal of funding a wall for the southern border. Making people angry makes it less likely that they will give in to your requests.

There are two aphorisms that may be applicable for President Trump and the current budget confrontation. It may be too late for the first, the notion that “It’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar.” The second is still very apropos, however, and that is the warning that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Meanwhile, Day 27 of the shutdown passed and it seems that the country is further away than ever from having a functional government.

Originally pubished on The Resurgent

BuzzFeed: Trump Directed Cohen To Commit Perjury

Last night, BuzzFeed dropped a bombshell that two law enforcement sources report that the federal government has evidence that President Trump directed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. The sources also report that Trump directed Cohen to set up a personal meeting with Vladimir Putin regarding the Moscow Trump Tower deal during the campaign, even as he denied having business dealings with Russia.

The allegations center around the Moscow Trump Tower. In previous court filings associated with Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, Special Counsel Mueller has noted that Cohen falsely claimed the project was ended in January 2016 in an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1 in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.” Individual 1 is understood to be Donald Trump. Evidence has shown that Trump’s dealings with Russia on the Moscow project lasted until June 2016, well into the campaign.

Buzzfeed says that the two sources told them that investigators have evidence that Trump personally directed Cohen to lie and make claims that the Trump Tower negotiations ended much earlier than they did in an effort to cover up Trump’s contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Per the report, the evidence against Trump includes the testimony  of “multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”

Donald Trump is well known for his casual relationship with the truth. Yesterday we noted the evolution in Team Trump’s denials of the Russian collusion story. The Trump Administration line has gone from blanket denials to carefully parsed statements that no laws were broken by the president after the blanket denials were shown to be false. Thus far, however, there has been no direct link between Donald Trump and Russian contacts.

While previous allegations about Donald Trump’s involvement fell short of criminal activity, if there is evidence that the president directed Cohen to lie about the Moscow deal, it would implicate Trump in a felony. Micheal Cohen pled guilty last November to a charge of making false statements to Congress. The charge was brought by the Special Counsel’s office and it was reported at the time that Cohen was cooperating with Mueller. If President Trump directed Cohen to lie under oath, he would be guilty of suborning perjury.

The big question is whether the Buzzfeed report is accurate and the government has evidence that Donald Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress. Mueller has not shown his cards yet, but we do know that the FBI raided Cohen’s office in April 2018. Three months later, several recordings of Trump and Cohen meeting together emerged. The recordings apparently were made by Cohen and were part of the material seized by the FBI. If Cohen was in possession of emails, text messages, or other written communications from Trump directing him to break the law in an effort to cover up his dealings with Russia, those communications are almost certainly in the possession of the FBI as well.

However, as Erick Erickson pointed out this morning, BuzzFeed is a less than credible outlet. So far, no other outlets have corroborated the story and  John Santucci, senior editorial producer for ABC News, tweeted that he is unaware of the Mueller team interviewing anyone within the Trump Organization. Some BuzzFeed reporting, such as the pee tape story, has not been supported by evidence while other stories, such as the revelation that the Moscow Trump Tower dealings continued during the election, have ultimately been proven true.

Many conservative pundits note that if the allegations against Trump are proven true, it dramatically increases the chances of impeachment. Suborning perjury is a charge that even most Republicans would be hard-pressed to overlook.

At the very least, the story will give new life to the numerous investigations into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia and make it harder for the president to claim that collusion is “fake news.” As we grow close to Groundhog Day, the Russia investigation will continue to dog President Trump and we can expect more than another six weeks of investigations and hearings.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Giuliani Open To Possibility That Members Of Trump Campaign Could Have Colluded With Russia

In what may be one of the largest reversals of the Trump Administration, President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, admitted that it is possible that there was collusion between some members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government. While Giuliani denies that his position on collusion has changed, eight months ago he called the idea of Russian collusion “fake news.” Mr. Giuliani continues to deny that Donald Trump colluded with Russia in any way that broke the law.

Giuliani’s most recent comments came in an interview with CNN on Wednesday when he told Chris Cuomo, “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign. Or between people in the campaign. I have no idea.”

“I said the President of the United States,” Giuliani added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the President of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack the DNC.”

When Cuomo asked if sharing polling data with the Russians would have constituted collusion, Giuliani answered, “Donald Trump wasn't giving polling data to anyone. He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article.”

The Trump campaign’s position on collusion has evolved over the past few years. Initially, Team Trump issued specific denials that any collusion occurred between members of the campaign and the Russians, but those denials have been walked back and limited in subsequent public statements after numerous contacts were revealed. In November 2016, Hope Hicks responded to statement by Vladimir Putin’s spokesman that claimed that Russian experts had been in contact with Trump’s campaign staff by saying, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

In February 2017, President Trump said, I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” He added, “How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia.”

At the same time, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “This is a nonstory because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”

In March 2017, Donald Trump, Jr. said, “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did. But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly, none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

Yet in July 2017, details of a pre-planned meeting at Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 were leaked. Initially, Trump, Jr. claimed that the meeting was about adoption and said that “ it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up.”

The next day that claim evolved as well when Trump, Jr. admitted, “The woman [Veselnitskaya] stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

In May 2018, Rudy Giuliani appeared on The Sean Hannity Show and said, “Russian collusion is total fake news.” He added, “Mueller owes us a report saying Russian collusion means nothing. It didn’t happen.”

Since the interview with Hannity, Giuliani’s claim has evolved as well. In July 2018, he echoed similar claims from other Trump Administration officials, telling CNN that “collusion is not a crime.” While it’s true that there is no legal definition of “collusion,” specific charges that could relate to collusion include conspiracy, fraud, or receiving stolen information such as the hacked data from the DNC.

While it isn’t clear that anyone in the Trump campaign committed a crime, it is clear that the once-strong denials of any contact at all between Russians and the campaign have been proven false and the denials from Team Trump are getting weaker. The Trump Administration and the president’s lawyers continue to deny that Donald Trump had any contacts with the Russians, but the new evolution on collusion by Mr. Giuliani leaves open the possibility that other members of the Trump campaign could have had illegal contacts with the Russian government, either with or without the president’s knowledge.

The continual evolution on Russia along with the evidence that early statements were not true provides ample reason that the Mueller investigation should be continued. It’s possible that no laws were broken and it is also possible that the president was unaware if there was illegal activity on his behalf by members of his campaign. However, the constant evolution of the story being told by Team Trump makes the president look like he has something to hide, even if he does not. The bottom line is that the American people have the right to know if members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Should Republicans Challenge Donald Trump In The 2020 Primary?

The assumption among most people is that the 2020 primaries will look a lot like a mirror image of 2012. That year, Barack Obama, an unpopular president cruised to the Democratic nomination while a handful of Republicans vied for the chance to unseat him. There is a chance, however, that 2020 may look more like 2016, a year when a presumptive nominee from the party in power faced a strong primary challenge and the opposition party fielded more than a dozen hopefuls.

There are a lot of reasons that Republican presidential hopefuls should not challenge President Trump. President Trump is not well-liked among the nation at large, but he has overwhelming support among Republicans. Given Trump’s penchant for attacking members of the party deemed disloyal, challenging the president can quickly end Republican careers, a powerful disincentive for presidential aspirants. A primary challenge also has the possibility of splitting the party and aiding the Democratic candidate. Conventional wisdom holds that primary challengers weaken the eventual nominee.

On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons that prominent Republicans should consider a 2020 run against Trump. The most obvious reason is that Trump is already a weak general election candidate. Despite his 2016 Electoral College victory, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, one of the weakest major party candidates in history. The Electoral College victory was tenuous as well. About 100,000 thousand votes in the right places decided the election. That is about .000008 percent of the total. Six states (MI, NH, WI, PA, FL, MN), primarily in the Rust Belt, were decided by less than a two percent margin. President Trump’s approval is underwater in each of those states today.

There is also the strong possibility that Trump’s position in 2020 could be weaker than it is now. The erratic stock market, the trade war, the government shutdown or a number of other factors could precipitate an economic downturn that causes Trump to become even more unpopular. The Mueller investigation could turn up information that damages Trump’s standing with independent voters. The president could make a policy decision, such as making an amnesty deal for DACA recipients, that fractures his base. With level-headed minders such as John Kelly and James Mattis exiting the White House, Trump’s agenda is likely to stray farther from traditional Republicanism and alienate more voters.

By 2020, Donald Trump could be in a position similar to that of Hillary Clinton in 2016, dominant in his own party but mired in scandal and unpopular with much of the electorate. In the last election cycle, most Democrats thought that Hillary was unbeatable and decided against running against her. It was left to Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t even a Democrat, and Martin O’Malley to challenge her. In the end, Sanders mounted a serious insurgent challenge but eventually fell to the Clinton machine. Joe Biden doubtless regrets his decision to step aside for Hillary, a lackluster candidate facing federal indictment.

On one hand, if Republican candidates run against President Trump and lose – or if he loses to a Democrat after being challenged in the primary – they will be persona non grata within the GOP. If challengers to Trump aren’t kicked out the party entirely, they can count on losing support from the party for future campaigns.

On the other hand, there is also a risk if Republicans step aside for Donald Trump. If the Trump Administration continues to founder and no Republican candidate is prepared to mount a primary challenge then the Republican Party could be setting itself up for an electoral blowout. Midterm results from 2018 paint a depressing picture for Republicans with the party losing white suburban voters in droves. The GOP lost nearly every demographic except for whites and evangelical Christians and those margins are shrinking. If the Republican Party doesn’t alter course to change voting patterns quickly, there is a significant risk that Democrats could gain control of both the White House and the Senate in 2020.

It takes time to put a national campaign together and the first contests of the 2020 primary season, the Iowa caucuses, are little more than a year away on Feb. 3, 2020. At the very least, groundwork behind the scenes for a primary challenge would have to begin within the next few months. A campaign would need to be announced by fall at the latest in order to have time to assemble a grassroots support network.

Deciding whether to challenge President Trump is sure to be a tough call for any Republican prominent enough to stand a chance of defeating him. Party loyalty, if not loyalty to the president himself, and a desire to protect their careers will convince many potential candidates to stand down, just as Joe Biden stood down in 2016.

Biden’s decision to step aside for Hillary turned out to be a colossal mistake after Hillary Clinton turned out to be a much weaker candidate than anyone imagined. 2020 might not turn out to have a similar dynamic. Then again, it might.

Originally published on The Resurgent

The Trade War Just Boosted Our Trade Deficit With China To A Record High

One of the frequent problems with government action is that it often falls victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences. This maxim holds that for many actions taken in a complex system there are often unanticipated and undesirable outcomes. In quite a few cases, the unintended consequence is to make the original problem worse. That seems to be the case with President Trump’s efforts to balance the trade deficit with China.

Ostensibly, the trade war began with tariffs intended to protect the American steel and aluminum industries for national security reasons. In reality, Trump has railed against the trade deficit since before his campaign began in 2015. In one tweet from 2018, Trump blamed the loss of factories and manufacturing jobs on the trade deficit.

There is both good news and bad news for President Trump on the trade deficit. The bad news is that despite his tariffs and trade war, the US trade deficit with China reached a record high last year. The Wall Street Journal reports, “China recorded $323.32 billion in surplus with the U.S. in 2018, representing a 17% jump from the figure in the previous year.” Citing data from China’s General Administration of Customs, the Journal said, “China’s exports to the U.S. rose 11.3 percent in 2018, while imports from the U.S. inched up 0.7 percent.”

The trade imbalance is at least partly due to the tax reform that revitalized the US economy. Another big part of the ballooning trade deficit is the trade war itself. Tariffs on both sides have slowed the Chinese economy and dampened the demand for American-made products. In particular, US agricultural producers have been hit by the trade war as China imports fewer American farm products and turns to other countries such as Brazil, but other American exporters have been hurt as well.

Essentially, the increase in the trade deficit is driven by the fact that many American consumers have more disposable income after tax reform while Chinese consumers are suffering through an economic slowdown that leaves them with less money to spend on imported goods.

The good news for President Trump is that the trade deficit isn’t as important as he thinks it is. In fact, according to the legendary economist Milton Friedman, President Trump has it exactly backward. When people talk about “favorable balance of trade,” Friedman famously noted, “It’s taken to mean that we export more than we import, but from the point of view of our well-being, that’s an unfavorable balance. That means we are sending out more goods and getting fewer in. Each of you in your private household would know better than that.”

As Friedman correctly pointed out, a trade deficit means that you’re getting a better deal than your trading partner. If you are getting more in the bargain than you’re paying, that is usually considered to be a good deal unless the topic is international trade.

The problem is that many people key in on the word “deficit.” In most other contexts, particularly with respect to the federal budget deficit, it means something bad. In international trade, however, getting rid of the trade deficit would mean that the US would pay more for the goods that it imports. In that case, eliminating the deficit would not be a good thing.

If you doubt that Trump is mistaken on the issue of trade deficits, consider the reductio ad absurdum, the war on the trade deficit taken to an absurd conclusion. The US could totally eliminate its trade deficit by simply eliminating international trade and investment. The result would devastate the US economy, however. American manufacturers would not be able to import raw materials or export finished products. Angry consumers would not be able to buy iPhones or other imported consumer goods, assuming they still had jobs. No one would be happy, but the trade deficit would be exactly zero.

So, what caused the loss of factories and manufacturing jobs that Trump blamed on the trade deficit? The answer is technology. As factories automate and become more efficient, fewer workers are needed and inefficient plants close. According to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 85 percent of manufacturing job losses are actually due to technological changes and automation rather than international trade.

If President Trump continues to insist that trade deficits are bad and presses to reduce China’s trade surplus, it is apparent that his tariff war is not working. A better solution might be to enter into free trade agreements that help the economies of our trading partners grow. As the incomes of foreign workers rise, so will their appetites for American-made goods.

While it may be counterintuitive that helping what one Trump supporter recently described to me as our “trade adversaries” would ultimately help the US economy, it isn’t a new idea. The philosophy behind the benefits of free trade is the same as the one behind tax reform, namely that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, January 11, 2019

Congressmen Waver While Trump And Pelosi Refuse To Compromise On Shutdown

It’s Day 21 of the government shutdown and there is no end in sight. As of today, the shutdown is tied with the 1995-96 shutdown as the longest in history. The leadership of both parties is resolute. Both President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have dug in and refused to compromise from their respective positions. Not everyone is happy among the party rank and file, however.

In the most recent House votes on compromise bills to reopen the government, 12 Republicans joined with House Democrats in voting to fully fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HR 267). Previously, 10 Republicans had voted to fund parts of the government. In Thursday’s vote, they were joined by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), the most recent chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Stivers and Davis did not join the 10 other Republicans in a separate vote to reopen the Department of Agriculture (HR 265).

The number of disaffected Republicans is growing. On Wednesday’s votes, Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) joined with another eight Republicans who had earlier voted to fund the government. The eight who have consistently voted in favor of funding are Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX), Greg Walden (R-OR), Fred Upton (R-MI), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), John Katko (R-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Greg Walden was the chairman of the RCCC from 2014 through 2016.

Although both bills passed the House, they will die in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to take any action on a bill that Trump would not sign. President Trump has refused to waver on his demand for $5 billion for his wall project, about one-fifth of the estimated total that would be required, and Democrats have offered only $1.3 billion for border security funding that excludes the wall. Pelosi joked with reporters that she would only appropriate one dollar for the wall, adding, “We’re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt about that?”

Despite Pelosi’s show of resolve, some Democrats are wavering as well. Politico reported on Wednesday that some freshman House Democrats were “freaking out” about the shutdown and the party’s strategy. A senior Democratic aide blamed some of the anxiety on the fact that some new congressmen didn’t have their offices and emails set up and were not receiving communications from Speaker Pelosi.

Nevertheless, some are feeling the heat from constituents. “If I am getting comments and contact from my constituents expressing concern that the Democrats are not prioritizing security, then I think we can do better,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).

Even if some Democrats have misgivings, so far, they have not had the opportunity to break ranks with their party. The only funding bills active are the partial funding bills passed by the House that reopen individual departments of the federal government. The dynamics of the shutdown are that funding bills originate in the Democrat-controlled House. Since McConnell is quashing votes in the Senate, that means that Republicans have more chances to cross the aisle than Democrats.

If McConnell decides to allow the House funding bills to be considered in the Senate, it is highly likely that they would pass easily. The bigger question is whether the Senate would have enough votes to override a probable veto from the president.

As the shutdown stretches on, the effects are starting to pile up like trash in the unstaffed national parks. Federal workers are missing a payday today. That has rippling effects throughout the country as local federal employees may be unable to pay their bills and about $2.2 billion in consumer spending is withheld from the economy. Even the Coast Guard and air traffic controllers are affected. Some services, such as the ability to obtain passports from the State Department are already closed and, if the shutdown stretches on others, such as tax refunds, may be delayed.

The shutdown will continue until one side blinks. So far, neither President Trump nor Speaker Pelosi has given any indication of budging from their positions. The compromise to end the shutdown will have to come from members of Congress who feel the pressure from their constituents. Pelosi’s San Francisco seat is safe, but many other congressmen and senators represent swing districts and states. They will be ready to make a deal and, because Republicans are more vulnerable after the last midterms, the odds are that it will not include a wall.

At this point, Mitch McConnell is the key. If McConnell stays strong and protects the president then the shutdown could last indefinitely. However, polling already shows that voters blame Trump for the shutdown and oppose both the shutdown tactic and the wall. If and when McConnell determines that Trump’s shutdown is endangering the Republican majority in the Senate, he could easily allow a vote and put Trump in the position of having to veto funding without a wall or backing down. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Why America's Baby Bust Threatens Our Position As World Leader

For years the birth rate has been declining across much of the industrialized world. In many Western European countries, Russia, and Japan birth rates have already fallen below replacement levels. The United States was an exception to the rule, but now birth rates here have fallen precipitously as well. Just how much depends on what part of the country that you look at, however.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of US births in 2017 was the lowest since 1987 at 3.85 million. The birth rate was 1,765 births per 1,000 women (1.765), which is well below the 2,100 births, an average of 2.1 children per woman, that represent a replacement level, the number of births needed to maintain the current population. In short, the native-born population of the US is declining.

Interestingly, the decline in birth rates was not consistent across the entire US. The Southeast and the Midwest had higher birthrates than the Northeast and West Coast, but only two states, South Dakota and Utah, had birth rates greater than the replacement level. The area with the lowest birth rate, the District of Columbia (1,421 births), had a rate that was 64 percent that of South Dakota, the state with the highest birth rate at 2,227 births.

Demographics also make a difference when it comes to fertility. Hispanic women had the highest fertility rate of any ethnicity in the study. In 29 states, Hispanic women surpassed the replacement rate. Black women reached the replacement rate in 19 states, but white women fell below replacement level in every state.

Women in rural areas had higher birth rates than urban women while women with higher educations often delayed having children or did not have children at all. The researchers also said that cultural, religious and economic differences affected birth rates for different regions of the country. They speculated that South Dakota’s high birth rate could be due to the economic boom there created by the oil industry.

While declining birth rates may excite people who believe that humans are destroying the planet and worry about overpopulation, the prospect of fewer Americans poses serious problems. One of the most obvious aspects is the effect that fewer workers will have on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. These programs are funded by payroll taxes, but the big three entitlements are getting more and more expensive due to large numbers of retiring Baby Boomers. The shrinking workforce means fewer paychecks to withhold from and complicates the problem of funding the entitlement programs. A smaller workforce will contribute to a growing deficit unless the programs are reformed.

A smaller workforce also hurts in other ways. Fewer workers means that the national economy will likely produce less. This is especially true in industries where automation is not efficient or possible. Fewer people also means fewer entrepreneurs to start new businesses. Taking the law of supply and demand into consideration, if fewer workers are available then wages will probably increase, making goods more expensive.

One way to solve the labor shortage problem is to allow more workers to immigrate. This is the strategy that Western Europe has used. That has led to new problems since Europe’s closest sources of unskilled migrants are North Africa and the Middle East. These predominantly Muslim immigrants are not as easily assimilated as Latinos are in the US. Still, increased immigration to the US would further stoke tensions among the many Americans who are concerned about immigration and its effect on American culture.

But, like or not, American culture is changing either way. Much like the climate, our culture has been constantly changing throughout our history. We started as English colonies but our culture has been altered radically by large waves of immigration from Ireland, Eastern Europe, slaves from Africa, and now Central America. There were also smaller waves from Asia and the Middle East. Even though the United States started with Englishmen, the largest ethnic group today is Americans of German descent. Each immigrant went into the melting pot and changed American culture subtly but permanently.

Even without increases to immigration to fill the shortages in the workforce, American culture will change. The birth rate data shows that white women are having fewer babies than minority women. There is also a sharp increase in the share of multiracial and multiethnic babies born in the United States. Any way you slice it, America is becoming less white and that will change the national culture.

A final possible effect of the declining birth rate is that America may ultimately lose its position as the world’s superpower. The ability to direct world events depends both on the manpower to commit troops in far-flung parts of the world as well as the financial wherewithal to support them. A declining birth rate affects both. Along with a smaller workforce, a smaller population means a smaller pool of potential military recruits. A shrinking economy would mean that the military would probably shrink as well, otherwise it would become increasingly burdensome on America’s shrinking tax base.

If there is any consolation in America’s birth rate problem, it’s that we aren’t alone. Our competitors on the world stage are having the same problem and face the same difficulties. Russia’s birth rate hit a 10-year low at 1.75 and the country’s population shrank last year even after accounting for immigration. In China, the birth rate is even worse at 1.62. Both countries are frantically trying to encourage their citizens to have more babies and China has even reversed its infamous one-child policy. The United States may need to find ways to change our culture to encourage more children as well. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Family Arrests At Border Hit Record High For Fourth Straight Month

Arrests of families of illegal immigrants at the Mexican border in December reached a record high for the fourth month in a row. Per data from Customs and Border Protection, arrests of families along the southern border have set new records for the past four consecutive months.

CNN reports that the CBP arrested 27,518 family members in December 2018. This represents an increase of nearly 240% from December 2017, which had 8,120 arrests. CBP statistics show an increase in family arrests on the border since August 2018. Arrest statistics are considered to be a measure of illegal border crossings under the assumption that more arrests will be made if more crossings are attempted.

The CBP website contains a prominent notice saying, “ Due to the lapse in federal funding, this website will not be actively managed,” and “This website was last updated on December 21, 2018, and will not be updated until after funding is enacted.” The statistics presented by CNN apparently reflect numbers that are not yet available on the CBP website due to the government shutdown.

While arrests of Family Unit Aliens (FMUA) have increased in recent months, total arrests have decreased slightly. Total arrests on the southwest border were 50,753 in December, slightly fewer than the 51,856 in November. Border traffic often decreases in December due to holidays and colder weather.

The shift seems to represent a changing pattern of illegal immigration across the Mexican border. Illegal border crossings reached a 46-year low in 2017 and have not increased appreciably since. While the total number of illegal border crossings is low by historical standards, families are making up a larger share of those who do cross the border.

The larger number of families and children at the border is overwhelming the ability of CBP to house and care for them. Yet out of the thousands of arrests at the southern border, only six were suspected terrorists compared with 41 at the Canadian border. The crisis at the border is a humanitarian crisis rather than a national security crisis.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAlleenan agrees that the big problem at the border is dealing with the volume of families and minors. McAlleenan told ABC News in December 2018, “The -- the humanitarian crisis we’re facing -- that means there are 60,000 people crossing the border each month -- each of the last three months. That’s 30,000 families, 5,000 kids per month. That means we’re going to have 22,000 children come through our system, a system built for adults who are violators of the law. Now they’re coming in to border patrol stations as young children. So that -- that’s a huge crisis.”

“The breaking point at the border is because of the volume,” McAlleenan added, noting that a 2015 case upheld by the 9th Circuit in 2016 led to the current problem of being unable to complete immigration proceedings for immigrants that arrived with children. The decision created an incentive for illegal immigrants to bring their children across the border.

“So basically, that sent a signal, if you arrive with a child, you’ll be able to stay in the United States,” McAlleenan said. “And that’s why we’ve seen continued growth month after month of people coming with children.”

One of the big questions of the hour is whether the humanitarian crisis provides sufficient grounds for President Trump to use his executive authority to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress to fund construction for the wall. The answer is almost certainly no.

Illegal immigration across the southwest border is currently very low by historical standards. The CBP website, which may have incomplete data, puts total arrests along the Mexican border at 396,579 for 2018. That’s more than the 2017 total of 310,531 but far less than the 1.6 million arrests from 2000 or the 723,825 who were arrested 10 years ago in 2008 (CBP data going back to 2000 can be viewed here).

The illegal immigration problem that we face today is very different from the one that we faced 20 years ago. In 2015, Pew Research reported that the Mexican immigration wave was ending as more Mexicans left the US than entered. Today, the CBP statistics note that arrests of Mexican families along the border are far fewer than those from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. This reduction in immigration from Mexico is partly due to the creation of more economic opportunity in Mexico by NAFTA as well as the deterioration of conditions in Central America.

Although he acknowledges that more capacity to house detainees is needed, CBP’s McAlleenan has an idea on how to solve the problem. Actually, he has several of them.

“So, I think this is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted solution,” he said. “You mentioned the legal framework, based on that Flores settlement and the court decision families are going to be released. So that’s inviting families into this dangerous journey. We need a sober-minded, nonpartisan look at our immigration laws to really confront and grapple with the fact that children and families are coming into this cycle, that’s first and foremost.”

“We also need to invest in Central America,” he added. He advocates working with Central American nations and Mexico to help fix the problems, such as violence, food shortages, and malnutrition, that make people want to leave those countries to come to the US.

He also favors physical barriers for certain parts of the border, particularly those that “have a dense metropolitan area on both sides of the border, where people can disappear quickly into a neighborhood in the U.S. side if we can’t slow them down.”

McAlleenan’s idea of a barrier includes much more than just a wall. “And what we’re talking about is not just a dumb barrier,” he says, “We’re talking about sensors, cameras, lighting, access roads for our agents, a system that helps us secure that area of the border.”

The $5 billion that President Trump has requested would pay for about 215 miles of McAlleenan’s requested improvements to the border. The entire border is almost 2,000 miles long. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


President Trump took the airwaves to make the case for his border wall in a speech from the Oval Office last night. In the speech, which lasted nine minutes and was followed by a rebuttal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump framed the problem at the border as a “humanitarian crisis” and called it “immoral” to take no action.

Trump’s sympathetic words last night for illegal immigrants stand in stark contrast to his claims during the campaign that Mexico was “not sending their best” and that illegal immigrants were “people that have lots of problems,” bringing crime and drugs to the US, as well as his administration’s zero tolerance policy for illegal border crossers that resulted in breaking up illegal alien families. In contrast, last night Trump said that illegal immigrant children were “human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs” and cited a statistic that “one in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

Saying that our immigration system was “broken,” Trump called on Congress to fix the problem. While both parties and most Americans agree that the immigration system needs an overhaul and that border security is important, the question is how to fix it.

Trump began by detailing a number of non-wall proposals that include many things that Democrats seem to agree with. These include “cutting-edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband and many other things,” more Border Patrol agents, more bed space for detained illegals, and “humanitarian assistance and medical support.” The president also asked Congress to “close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home.”

What the president did not do was make a strong case that the wall was necessary for border security. The president’s question of why “wealthy politicians build walls, fences and gates around their homes” was more suitable to a meme than a policy speech. Trump claimed that Border Patrol agents said they needed a wall, but an internal study by US Customs and Border Protection found that agents gave priority to requests for more and better technology, training, and personnel.

A number of critics of the wall, including myself, have not called it immoral, but rather have said that it would be expensive and ineffective. The president pointedly ignored the factual problems with the wall plan that have been cited by such organizations as the Cato Institute and the Rand Corporation.

Instead of refuting these legitimate concerns and criticisms, the president used a straw man argument to attack anyone who doesn’t support the wall by framing the debate as a “choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice.” The president’s strong, emotional appeal will play well with the base, but it is unlikely to win over people who oppose the wall. Instead, it will harden the divisions and make a wall even more unlikely.

Rather than focusing on the wall that would physically divide the US and Mexico and that metaphorically divides US public opinion, a better strategy would be to get as much money for border security as possible and reopen the government. Put the money toward things that both sides want such as more agents, newer technology to assist them, and upgrades to the existing 600 miles of border fencing.

The fact is that many things that both parties want are in the compromise bills that are being proposed in the House. It is the insistence on $5 billion for the wall, a figure that would not come close to completing the project, that is keeping the government shut down and preventing a bipartisan compromise that would fund popular border security projects. President Trump should accept that a wall isn’t going to happen and get what border security money that he can. If he can upgrade and repair existing physical barriers on the border, he can even claim a victory in building the wall.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Nate Silver: Clinton Campaign Strategists Were 'Huge Dumbasses'

There are many myths about the 2016 election. On the left it is an article of faith that Donald Trump could not have won without illicit coordination with the Russians. On the right, there is the pervasive notion that because Trump beat the odds to win the presidency, all polling is wrong and should be disregarded. Yesterday Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight managed to blow up both of these theories in a single tweet.

The exchange began with a tweet from Ben Collins of NBC News that asked, “What did the Kremlin's cutouts know about targeting MI and WI? How did they know it? And is there data to show they took action on it?”

Silver, the head of the FiveThirtyEight polling analysis site, responded quickly with a tweet that slammed the door on that particular aspect of Russian collusion. “The 538 model, which was based on publicly-available polling data, said the campaigns should target WI and MI,” Silver wrote. “You didn't have to have any proprietary info to know they were important states. You just had to look at the data and not be huge dumbasses like the HRC campaign was.”

Silver followed up with a link to a FiveThirtyEight article from February 2017, “Donald Trump Had A Superior Electoral College Strategy.” The thrust of the article, subtitled “How Hillary Clinton and the media missed the boat,” was that Hillary made two key errors in the campaign. First, she focused on states where the race was close rather than states that had the potential to tip the race. In particular, the article points out that Clinton did not set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic primary. Second, she was overconfident and limited her focus to a narrow range of states. Hillary’s main focus was on Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Silver didn’t explicitly address the idea that because the forecasts were wrong in 2016 that all polling is wrong, but it is implicit in his statement that the Clinton campaign was made of “huge dumbasses” who ignored polling data that showed that Hillary was in trouble. Many Republicans claim that the media gave Hillary a 99 percent chance of becoming president on election night, but FiveThirtyEight’s forecast, which is still posted, gave Donald Trump a 29 percent chance of winning. Under those circumstances, Trump was an underdog, but not prohibitively.

With respect to the two states in question, FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 21 percent chance in Michigan and a 17 percent chance in Wisconsin. Many polls were within the margin of error in Michigan, but Wisconsin polling was further off, showing a consistent albeit single-digit lead for Hillary.

As I pointed out a few months ago, polls are snapshots rather than predictive. One good technique for examining polls is to look for trends in the big picture. The big picture of the polling average from 2016 is still available on Real Clear Politics in convenient graph form. If we look at the trend, we can see Trump plunging in the polls about Oct. 10 then starting a slow rise on Oct. 20. There is a sharp increase between Oct. 28 and Nov. 2 that brought Trump to within two points of Hillary, well within the margin of error of most polls. Going into Election Day, the national polling average had the two candidates about three points apart, a close race by any standard.

If we look at key events that occurred in the campaign, we can see exactly what caused these movements in the polling. Keeping in mind that polls are lagging indicators, we see that Trump’s decline in early October followed the release of the Access Hollywood tape on Oct. 7. The final presidential debate was on Oct. 19 and Trump’s performance seems to have helped him in the polls, but not enough to close the deal. The event that sealed the race in Trump’s favor occurred on Oct. 28, the release of FBI Director James Comey’s memo to Congress that detailed the discovery of thousands of emails that related to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. In a May 2017 article, Silver also made the case that Comey’s memo cost Hillary the election.

There are lessons for both parties in Silver’s tweets and articles. For the Democrats, candidates should not take the Rust Belt states for granted. Traditional party loyalties may not be enough to carry a state, especially in an election where everything seems to be going wrong for your candidate. There is no substitute for getting into the field and making appearances. Charisma, broad appeal outside the party, and the stamina to campaign should be factors in nominating a candidate.

For Republicans, the lesson is also that the Rust Belt states should not be taken for granted. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were all decided by about one percent of the vote after being all but ignored by the Democrat candidate. Just because they voted for Donald Trump once does not mean that they will do so again. The Clinton campaign made mistakes that will probably not be repeated by the next Democratic candidate. Even with these mistakes, however, Trump still lost the popular vote and would most likely have lost the electoral vote had it not been for James Comey. Donald Trump has the stamina to campaign, but he lacks charisma and popularity outside the GOP.

Despite claims from both sides, the 2020 election is far from a sure thing for either party. The outcome will be determined by which side better learns the lessons of the 2016 election and adapts their strategy to a changing electoral environment.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Chris Wallace Sets Record Straight On Terrorists Illegally Crossing From Mexico

A major talking point of the Trump Administration has been that the border wall is vital to national security. As part of their argument, President Trump has made the claim that terrorists have been apprehended crossing the southern border with Mexico. This and similar claims became the focal point of a heated discussion between White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Chris Wallace of Fox News yesterday.

On Fox News Sunday, Wallace cited Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s statement that CBP had stopped more than 3,000 special interest aliens at the southern border and explained that “special interest aliens” are “people who come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist.” Wallace added, “They aren’t terrorists themselves” and noted that the State Department said that there was “no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.”

Sanders responded, “We know that there are nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists [that] come into our country illegally and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.”

Wallace interrupted, “I know that statistic. I didn’t know if you were going to use it, but I studied up on this. You know where those 4,000 people come from, where they are captured? Airports!”

“Not always,” Sanders retorted.

“The State Department says there hasn’t been any terrorist that they’ve found coming across the southern border,” Wallace fired back.

“It's by air, it's by land, it's by sea, it's all of the above,” Sanders answered.

“But they're not coming across the southern border, Sarah,” Wallace said, ‘They're coming and they're being stopped at airports.”

I had also heard the Homeland Security statistics and Trump’s claims about terrorists coming from Mexico. They didn’t ring true. Think about how the Trump Administration reacts when an illegal alien commits a violent. Both perpetrator and victim are featured prominently in talking points and the president’s tweets. Over the past few years, we have seen this pattern with Kate Steinle, Mollie Tibbets, and the recent murder of police Corporal Ronil Singh in California.

But when it comes to terrorists crossing the Mexican border, the Trump Administration has been astonishingly silent. If terrorists were being captured as they crossed the border from Mexico, it seems likely that the Trump Administration would be marching them before the media to make the case for the border wall. They haven’t.

Instead, we have a bait-and-switch. Trump surrogates like Sanders make two separate claims and link them together. On one hand, Sanders makes the verifiable claim that “there are nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists [that] come into our country illegally.” On the other, she offers an opinion that “our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.” Sanders dishonestly leads the viewer to make the erroneous connection that the 4,000 terrorists were apprehended at the Mexican border, when, in fact, they were apprehended at airports.

Border security is a legitimate concern, both at the Mexican border and at airports, but the revelation that the Trump Administration has been purposely misleading the country about how terrorists enter the country undercuts the already shaky case for a border wall.

In fact, current security at the Mexican border seems to be working pretty well. The migrant caravan, which was pitched as an “invasion” in October, is still sitting in Tijuana where its members are waiting to legally apply for asylum. Illegal border crossings have already been declining for years, hitting a 46-year low in 2017. For more than a decade now, most illegal aliens have entered the country legally and overstayed visas rather than sneaking across the Mexican border. By 2014, two-thirds of new illegals were visa overstays.

While it certainly isn’t impossible that terrorists could sneak across the Mexican border, possibly through one of the innumerable tunnels that run underneath current physical barriers, there is no evidence that they are doing so. If conservatives want to make dispassionate policy decisions and use taxpayer money to the greatest advantage for the country, facts support the idea that border security money should be focused toward tracking aliens who enter the country legally on visas and then drop out of sight.

The Trump Administration loses more of its credibility, which is already in short supply, when they make false claims such as advancing the idea that terrorists are streaming across the Mexican border. Kudos to Chris Wallace and Fox News for setting the record straight.

 Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, January 7, 2019

Justin Amash's Twitter Mic Drop In Defense Of Tax Reform

Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Maine, isn’t typically the one you’d expect to drop the mic on Twitter, but he did so over the weekend. NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt alleged that tax reform was responsible for the exploding deficit and Rep. Amash set the record straight in less than 180 characters.

On Sunday, Hunt tweeted an observation about Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s conversation with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which Mulvaney said that the $2 trillion deficit increase under President Trump required Democratic votes. Calling the comment “an outright falsehood,” Hunt added, “They used budget reconciliation to pass tax reform so they wouldn’t need Democrats.”

The problem for Hunt is that tax reform did not run up the deficit as Amash pointed out. “Do you believe tax reform caused a $2 trillion debt increase in one year?” he tweeted. “Tax reform is roughly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The debt increase is almost entirely due to bipartisan discretionary spending increases and bipartisan apathy toward ever-increasing mandatory spending.”

Is this an example of he said/she said or is one of the two definitively right?

To settle the dispute, we only need to look back a few months to the end of the federal fiscal year in September. At that time The Resurgent described how the deficit had risen to the highest level in six years:

Total outlays for 2018 were $4.108 trillion compared to $3.981 trillion in 2017. The spending increases were driven by rising interest costs paid on a greater amount of federal debt as well as increased military spending, which rose by six percent, and Social Security spending which increased by four percent.”

Amash is correct that the majority of the increase in the deficit was due to increased spending. Some of these costs were mandatory spending which was originally authorized by both Democrats and Republicans. The increased cost of interest on the national debt and the rising cost of entitlements like Social Security were bipartisan commitments.

So was the increase in defense spending. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 increased military spending to $716 billion, an increase that President Trump celebrated as the “most amount ever.” As its name suggests, this spending bill was passed with broad support from both parties.

This isn’t to say that tax reform has no part in the deficit increases, however. Amash’s use of the qualifier “almost entirely” suggest that he agrees that tax reform did play a role. There are two components to the deficit, spending and revenue, and both were factors in the deficit.

As we discussed back in October, federal revenue for the year was almost flat despite the booming economy:

According to Treasury Department statistics, flat federal revenues were part of the deficit problem. Total federal receipts were $3.329 trillion in 2018compared with $3.316 trillion in 2017. FY 2018 included three months – October, November and December 2017 – at higher tax rates. This means that the 2019 revenue picture looks even worse.”

So, the bottom line is that revenue for 2018 did not increase while spending did. Because revenue did not go down, it isn’t accurate to say that tax reform drove the increase in the deficit. It is fair to say, however, that without decreasing corporate tax rates, there would have been more revenue and the deficit would have been smaller. In fact, even as the economy boomed, tax revenues from businesses fell by more than 30 percent. Still, if spending had not increased, the deficit would not have increased.

It’s true that cutting corporate tax rates to make them more competitive with the rest of the world was the express purpose of tax reform. It’s also true that without tax reform there might have been a downturn rather than an economic boom, especially considering President Trump’s war on trade. The loss of tax revenue, which was retained by businesses and used by many for capital investments, was a driving factor in this year’s economic growth.

The big question is whether federal revenues will recover in coming years or whether the lost tax receipts will be a bigger driver of the deficit in the future. The conservative gamble is that revenue will be replaced by economic growth. If the government takes a smaller slice of a bigger pie, it will theoretically get the same total amount of pie, if not more.

The problem for conservatives in the Trump era is that the president’s trade policy is at odds with his tax policy. While tax reform let businesses keep more of their own revenues, tariffs and trade restrictions mean that many businesses will have fewer revenues to keep in the first place.

Amash is absolutely correct that spending remains the biggest problem, however. The ongoing shutdown illustrates that about three-quarters of the federal government is on autopilot and does not require appropriations from Congress. It is entitlement spending that is breaking the federal budget.

Meanwhile, neither party seems concerned with the deficit. Where the Republican Party of the Obama era held a hard line on spending, current Republicans have forced a shutdown to because they don’t think the government is spending enough.

Originally published on The Resurgent 

Why Democrats Won't Impeach Donald Trump

As the 116th Congress begins, the question on the minds of many political observers is, “Will they or won’t they?” Democrats will control the House of Representatives, the congressional body that is responsible for impeaching elected officials, so will they impeach Donald Trump?

The answer is a definite maybe.

On NBC’s Today Show this morning, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that impeachment would be very “divisive” for the country. She added, “We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason.”

Some Democrats are anxious to begin impeachment proceedings. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) is already planning to introduce articles of impeachment based on the allegation that Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey. Sherman originally introduced the articles in 2017 but they went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.

But just because the legislation is being introduced does not mean that it has the support of House Democrats or their leadership. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush in 2008 but the effort went nowhere. Nancy Pelosi was speaker then as well.

Whatever you might think of Nancy Pelosi, one thing is certain: She is politically shrewd. Pelosi undoubtedly realizes that as long as Senate Republicans remain united, there would be no point in impeaching President Trump.

The House could pass the articles of impeachment but to what end? The second phase of impeachment is a Senate trial to determine whether the president would be removed from office. With Republicans in control of the Senate, it is a certainty that this effort would fail.

Pelosi is more likely to bide her time and wait. If the Mueller investigation uncovers evidence of more wrongdoing by Trump, then it is possible that she will consider pursuing impeachment in the future. This is particularly true if the revelations about Trump’s actions cause a split in the GOP that enables her to pick up enough Republican votes to remove Trump from office.

Looking back to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, this was the error that Republicans made. House Republicans impeached the president but he was acquitted in the Senate even though Republicans held a majority in that body as well. A number of Republican senators voted “not guilty” and Clinton was allowed to remain in office. President Clinton’s popularity reached its highest points during and after his impeachment.

Bill Clinton was in his second term in 1998 and could not run for re-election. If Donald Trump is impeached in 2019, however, the Democrats run the risk that he will become more popular. A failed impeachment might give Trump the edge he needs to win re-election.

Napoleon is said to have advised, “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Speaker Pelosi is likely to take this advice to heart.

While impeaching Trump would be emotionally satisfying for many on the left, Pelosi will play the long game. Her focus will not be on a feel-good impeachment, it will be on winning the Senate and the White House in 2020. This year’s midterm elections showed that the best chance for Democrats in 2020 is to keep Trump in office. His divisive temperament and unpopular policies led Republicans to a suburban rout in 2018 and more of the same is likely in 2020.

On the other hand, a successful impeachment of President Trump would result in Mike Pence becoming president. Pence is a much more experienced and competent politician who would stand a better chance of being re-elected than Donald Trump. Pence would also benefit from a united Republican Party that would rally avenge the ouster of President Trump.

A lot can happen in two years but at this point, it seems that Pelosi’s best strategy would be to keep impeachment on the back burner. If the opportunity to oust Trump presents itself, she will be prepared to jump on it, but her best bet would be to sit back and allow Trump to defeat himself and fracture the GOP in the process. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Kim Jong Un Warns Trump He May Take 'New Way' Unless US Removes Sanctions

President Trump was quick to celebrate peace on the Korean Peninsula after his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un last year. Since then, however, progress has been mixed as North Korea refrained from nuclear testing and held high-level talks with the South but also failed to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Now, in his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un is warning President Trump that unless the United States “takes genuine measures for building trust” the North may return to its old ways.

In the speech, reported by Politico, Kim noted steps that he had taken toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula saying that he agreed “that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them, and we have taken various practical measures” to fulfill this promise. He then challenged President Trump with two words: “Your turn.”

What Kim wants is illustrated by a statement issued in December through North Korean state media. “When we refer to the Korean peninsula, they include both the area of the DPRK and the area of South Korea where aggression troops including the nuclear weapons of the U.S. are deployed,” the statement said and then continued, “When we refer to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it, therefore, means removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted.” The statement called on the US to lift the sanctions on North Korea as well as for “completely removing the nuclear threats of the U.S. to the DPRK.”

Essentially, Kim is telling President Trump that the North Korean position on denuclearization is unchanged. The North rejects unilateral denuclearization and wants the US to remove its nuclear weapons from the Korean theater. The US removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, but in his speech, Kim said that “strategic assets,” which North Korea often understands to include anti-ballistic missile systems as well as submarines and aircraft carriers, “should no longer be permitted” in or near the Korean Peninsula.

Kim also wants to be rewarded for the actions that he has already taken over the past year. His price for the d├ętente with South Korea is the removal of US sanctions.

Kim also sought to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea. While President Trump is pushing South Korea to double its funding for US troops [DT1] based on the peninsula, Kim encouraged the South to participate in several bilateral projects that exclude the United States.

In the speech, Kim warned that North Korea “might find ourselves in a situation where we have no other choice but to find a new way” if the US did not uphold its end of the bargain. While Kim was not specific about what “new way” the North might take, most observers doubt that it would involve a resumption of nuclear testing.

“One thing is clear: Kim is not going to return to any sort of posture where the US or its allies would consider a military attack, and that means no missile or nuclear tests for the foreseeable future,” Harry Kazianis of the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest told the South China Morning Post.

Ruediger Frank, an analyst at 38 North, believes that the entreaties to South Korean President Moon provide a clue as to what Kim’s “new way” would be. The speech was a message to Donald Trump, he writes, saying, “You are not our only option for security and economic development. If you refuse to be cooperative, we will ignore you and turn to China. Oh, and we will take South Korea along.”

Kazianis agreed, “Kim can present Trump with a choice: Either play ball with me on a negotiated nuclear settlement and reduce sanctions or I will go to China for help and get the economic development I want and keep my nukes.”

President Trump’s trade war now places him in an awkward position with respect to Korea. President Trump signed a new trade deal with South Korea last year that limits South Korean steel and aluminum exports to the US. The trade spat with China means that Trump now has less leverage with the Chinese against the North Koreans. The three geographical neighbors may become closer trading partners at the expense of US influence in the region.

If North Korea can pull the South into China’s orbit, it would be a major blow to the United States. South Korea is one of America’s largest trading partners in terms of both imports and exports. The nation is also home to 15 US military bases that provide a counterbalance to China as well as protecting South Korea from Northern aggression.

President Trump responded to Kim’s challenge with a New Year’s Day tweet, saying, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”

Originally published on The Resurgent