Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Chaos in the WH and an overdue focus on Mitch McConnell

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Chaos in the WH and an overdue focus on Mitch McConnell

Politico:

McConnell aims to reshape courts in case Senate flips

The Kentucky Republican is prioritizing confirmation of conservative judges in what may be his final months as majority leader.

Mitch McConnell is making a last dash to stock the judiciary with conservatives this year as a hedge against the chance that Republicans lose the Senate in November.

The GOP may have only a few more months of unified control of Washington to repeal Obamacare or enact President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan. But the Senate majority leader is taking a longer view — and confirming as many conservative judges as possible to lifetime appointments.

The move will show conservative voters that the Senate can still get things done even if Republicans lose the House and is part of McConnell’s years-long plan to reshape the courts after the presidency of Barack Obama shifted them to the left

Does Mitch know more than he’s letting on? Oh, and for those of you who don’t vote, this is what happens when you don’t. Don’t make that mistake in November.

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BTW the best thing about the new GOP obsession with the FBI’s supposed strong liberal bias is it informs how seriously one should take the GOP obsession with the media’s supposed strong liberal bias.

— Jonathan Bernstein (@jbview) April 20, 2018

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Republicans’ tax cut scam proving a windfall for Wall Street, making it a hard sell on Main Street

Republicans’ tax cut scam proving a windfall for Wall Street, making it a hard sell on Main Street

Republicans are already finding it a challenge to run on their single new legislative accomplishment in the Trump era—the tax scam. Voters are underwhelmed by it, if not downright hostile to it, and most people just aren’t going to see much relief from it at all. Meanwhile, they’re seeing headlines like this: “Big banks saved $3.6B in taxes last quarter under new law.” That’s probably not going to be helping the Republicans’ PR job here.

Big publicly traded banks—such JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America—typically kick off the earnings season. Their reports for the January-March quarter are giving investors and the public their first glimpse into how the new tax law is impacting Corporate America. […]

JPMorgan Chase said it had a first-quarter tax rate of 18.3 percent, Goldman Sachs paid just 17.2 percent in taxes, and the highest-taxed bank of the six majors, Citigroup, had a tax rate of 23.7 percent. This is just one quarter’s results, however, and bank executives at the big six firms have estimated that their full-year tax rates will be something closer to 20 percent to 22 percent.

Remember the old corporate federal rate was 35 percent, and because these banks tend to have more U.S.-based holdings than other corporations, being U.S. banks, they’ve paid among the highest rates. With all the previous existing loopholes, they tended to pay between 28-31 percent of their income under the previous rates. So, yes, the new law is a windfall for them, putting them on track to save an estimated $19 billion this year. That $19 billion could sure feed and house a lot of poor people, were it going into the treasury instead of to stockholders.

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Republican appointed to succeed lawmaker killed by drunk driver failed to disclose his own DUIs

Republican appointed to succeed lawmaker killed by drunk driver failed to disclose his own DUIs

The Indianapolis Star reported on Thursday that in 2003, when Luke Messer was persuading local Indiana GOP leaders to appoint him to replace a state representative who had been killed by a drunk driver, Messer kept his own two DUIs a secret. Messer got the job, which he used to launch a political career that would lead to his election to the House in 2012. Messer is now running in the three-way May 8 primary to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

Both DUIs, which happened when Messer was in his 20s, eventually became public, though he wasn’t the one who revealed either of them. In 2009, around the time that Messer was unsuccessfully challenging then-Rep. Dan Burton in the primary, an anonymous person mailed court documents to the media about his 1995 conviction. Three years later, Messer’s Democratic foe brought a previously-unknown 1990 charge to light.

However, several of the local party leaders who picked Messer for the state House seat in 2003 told the Star that they didn’t know about either DUI until the paper contacted them for the story. Several of them said they were not happy he hadn’t told them 15 years ago, and that he probably wouldn’t have been selected had they known.

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Cuomo’s belated restoration of felon voting rights is welcome, but he’s motivated by pure cynicism

Cuomo’s belated restoration of felon voting rights is welcome, but he’s motivated by pure cynicism

In a surprise move, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that he would issue an executive order to restore the voting rights of most of New York’s 35,000 citizens who are currently disenfranchised because they are on parole for a felony conviction. This is a welcome development that will help curtail a policy that is rooted in white supremacy. However, it will still leave tens of thousands of incarcerated citizens without voting rights. Furthermore, by excluding parolees who have committed certain crimes, this solution gives the governor undeserved discretion over who gets to the right to vote.

And given that Cuomo’s been in office for over seven years, it’s only natural to wonder why he waited so long to use his executive powers. It’s hard to see this decision as anything other than a transparent reaction to the fact that Cuomo now faces a serious primary challenge from the left from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, who has harshly criticized the governor’s record on voting rights. Indeed, for years, Cuomo has been a master of cynically doing the bare minimum to placate the left while forever thwarting more substantive reforms.

In a true display of chutzpah, Cuomo tried to blame Republicans in the state for blocking a bill to reform the state’s felony disenfranchisement laws. But Cuomo almost single-handedly ensured that those very same Republicans would remain in power by signing off on their extreme gerrymander at the start of the decade and by propping up a faction of renegade Democrats known as the IDC who for years have allowed the GOP to retain control of the Senate.

Cuomo has tried his best to appear as if he’s a champion of voting rights, but his actions have repeatedly stymied efforts to improve democracy by passing early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, and an end to gerrymandering. But only now that he and his IDC allies face a threat to their political careers has Cuomo finally begun to take steps toward expanding voting rights.

Restoring voting rights to citizens who have served their time is the right thing to do, but if Cuomo wins a third term this fall, expect him to suddenly forget how to do the right thing anymore.

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As Trump gains confidence in his own exquisite judgment, the nation hangs on his every whim

As Trump gains confidence in his own exquisite judgment, the nation hangs on his every whim

Wow—are we ever in an A-plus pickle as a nation. Donald Trump has now lost all the aides who were apparently capable of tempering his ideas and even steering him in the opposite direction on merciful occasions. That means we should all get a lot more used to shoot-from-the-hip military pronouncements like with the Syria ‘withdrawal,’ spontaneous international commerce decisions à la the steel tariffs, and 180-degree foreign policy walk-backs on declarations by unfortunate administration officials like Nikki Haley. Politico writes:

While people close to the president say Trump has always been mercurial, some of the president’s allies attribute the recent spate of public disconnects to the departure of loyal aides who were skilled at translating his impulses into legible stances on key issues — and, perhaps more importantly, at keeping all the relevant White House and agency staffers in the loop on big decisions.

“There’s nobody there that can say to him, ‘Mr. President, you can’t do that,’” said one former White House official. […]

“Part of it is he’s gaining confidence in terms of how he makes decisions,” said a former administration official. “He’s now been thinking about a lot of these issues for more than a year and he doesn’t feel it’s necessary to deliberate.”

In other bad news, Trump has reportedly been “personally invigorated” by the West Wing additions of Larry Kudlow and John Bolton—two of the last people we want making consequential decisions about the economy and foreign policy, respectively.

Two of the last because Trump himself is the very last, as has been exceedingly evident in the last several weeks if it wasn’t already before.

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Cheers and Jeers: Rum and Resistance FRIDAY!

Cheers and Jeers: Rum and Resistance FRIDAY!

From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE…

Late Night Snark: Just Another Week on Planet Dampnut

“President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen—known for paying hush money to his clients—revealed that he has another client: Sean Hannity. Today Hannity said, ‘I know you’re all stunned.’ Then everyone was like, ‘Not really.’”
—Jimmy Fallon

Clip of James Comey delivering what the media called a “bombshell” during his ABC interview: I don’t think [Trump] is medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.

Samantha Bee: “Morally unfit to be president?” That’s not a bombshell. That’s how they answer the phone at the White House now.

—Full Frontal

“President Trump responded to the claims in Comey’s new memoir, calling him ‘a leaker and a liar.’  Which coincidentally is also the name of the video the Russians have.”

—Colin Jost, SNL

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New on 23 and Me: a feature that tells you if you were fathered by Donald Trump.

— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) April 15, 2018

“Today is tax day. Some great news for Donald Trump: between the constant firings in the White House, the porn star scandal, and the Russia investigation, he was able to write off the entire year as a total loss.”
—James Corden

“My mother used to say she ‘grew up in World War II with a father named Adolf, and lived through the 70s with a husband named Nixon.’ So I am aware of the dubious nature of my last name. But if I was given the choice, I’d rather be the good Nixon than the bad Cuomo.”

—Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Andrew Cuomo in the New York governor’s race, on The Late Show

And a quick reminder that the world is ending Monday, so be sure to take some time this weekend to finish up the leftovers in your fridge. You’re welcome.

Your west coast-friendly edition of Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold… [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]

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Missouri Governor has been charged with a second felony in St. Louis—IN TWO MONTHS!

Missouri Governor has been charged with a second felony in St. Louis—IN TWO MONTHS!

Missouri Republican Governor Eric Greitens has taken time away from trying to get a restraining order against an attorney general to be indicted with computer tampering. The Kansas City Star reports that this is Greiten’s second felony charge!

The charge — which is essentially electronic theft— is the second felony indictment of the governor in two months. He goes to trial next month for invasion of privacy.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office said it found probable cause that the governor violated the state’s criminal statute.

This comes only weeks after a grand jury indicted Gov. Greitens after he allegedly tied a woman up, photographed her without her permission and then tried to use it as blackmail for his misdeeds. 

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Republican squabbling, Trump chaos infecting Senate primary races

Republican squabbling, Trump chaos infecting Senate primary races

Mitch McConnell’s hopes of enlarging his very narrow majority in the Senate—or even keeping it—are looking dimmer all the time, thanks to the ongoing Republican civil war and the agent of chaos in the Oval Office. The ascension of Donald Trump has really attracted the crazy in Republican primaries. That’s exacerbated McConnell’s well-deserved woes as he looks to pick off otherwise vulnerable Democrats this November. The conflict is spilling over onto the floor, as well, with two retiring Republicans, Bob Corker (TN) and Jeff Flake (AZ) regularly requiring intervention and attention to keep them in line.

Republican tensions have flared even in contests where there are no competitive primaries. Corker lavished praise Wednesday on Tennessee’s leading Democratic contender, former governor Phil Bredesen, calling him “a very good mayor, a very good governor, a very good business person,” who could win in November.

The remarks set off alarm bells at the highest levels of the Republican Party and supporters of the leading GOP candidate in the race, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, interpreted them as a personal slight. […]

The three candidates running for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) have created a prime example of a primary that has become an early distraction from Republican goals. […]

At a candidate forum Wednesday in Missoula, Mont., former Billings judge Russ Fagg laid into the most well-funded candidate in the race, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, calling him a Maryland transplant who came to the state only to run for office. Allies of Sen. Jon Tester (D) have rejoiced at a line of attack they will probably pick up in the fall if Rosendale, who cuts his hair in the same flat-top style as Tester, is the nominee.

Perhaps the nastiest race in the country has been playing out in Indiana, where Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) is running for reelection. All three Republican candidates have been tearing into each other for months, questioning one another’s motives, conservative credentials and allegiance to Trump. Led by Mike Braun, a self-funding business executive, the candidates have spent more than $3 million on ads since Feb. 28.

Republicans are going to get out of this primary season having spent millions and having the emerging candidates bloodied and with plenty of enemies in their own party. Then McConnell is going to have months of fights within his conference and with the House Republicans who were on the edge of disintegration even before Speaker Paul Ryan decided to bail out. Between now and the election Congress will have to pass another budget and avert another government shutdown. They’ll have a massive fight to pass a farm bill in which the House has staked out an extreme right position in a bill that could never pass the Senate. They’ll have bruising nomination fights over Trump’s controversial and unqualified nominees. And they’ll have whatever Trump, in all his volatile, blustering incompetence, throws at them.

Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy than McConnell.

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Has the DNC found real political purpose in making a legal case against Trump?

Has the DNC found real political purpose in making a legal case against Trump?

The Democratic National Committee, an undeniably political enterprise, may have just found a legal avenue through which to press its case in 2018 with the filing of a new lawsuit against Russia, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. The complaint, alleging the three entities conspired to damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy while boosting Donald Trump’s could give the DNC the kind of purpose it has been lacking ever since a change in leadership following Clinton’s defeat. Here’s how DNC chair Tom Perez framed it:

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.

In effect, this suit and the resultant media coverage as it proceeds gives national Democrats a crafty way to remind voters of the “treachery” Team Trump invited into our democracy without raising the prospect of impeachment—even as they bolster the case for it in court. Of course, there’s plenty of room to err, as national security writer Marcy Wheeler notes.

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[Silently hopes to self the DNC lawsuit will be more competently managed than the Fusion oppo research.][Oh did I say that out loud?]

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) April 20, 2018

But to be fair, Perez had nothing to do with the Fusion GPS opposition research that ultimately produced the controversial Steele dossier. And ever since he took over leadership of the beleaguered DNC in early 2017, it’s been a little unclear exactly how a national outfit like the DNC would fit into a political environment that’s largely been fueled on the left by localized grassroots energy. In fact, following the 2016 loss, national Democrats seem to have mostly made a concerted effort to stay out of high-profile special elections so Democratic candidates could run local races against their Republican opponents.

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Democrats to introduce a bill to ‘decriminalize marijuana from one end of the country to the other’

Democrats to introduce a bill to ‘decriminalize marijuana from one end of the country to the other’

Campaign Action

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has 4/20 plans to introduce a bill that would legalize marijuana nationwide! From NPR:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to introduce legislation on Friday to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, adding a high-profile advocate in the effort to decriminalize, legalize and normalize marijuana use in America.

Schumer’s legislation would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under a 1970 law that classifies marijuana as dangerous as heroin for legal and regulatory purposes. It would establish funding for women- and minority-owned marijuana businesses, require more research on the drug’s public health impact, and maintain federal authority to regulate commercial advertising, similar to existing regulations for tobacco and alcohol.

“If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” Schumer told HBO’s Vice News in a Thursday interview previewing his bill. To drive home that point, Schumer also agreed to sign a bong.

Sen. Schumer sat for an interview with Vice News to layout his reasoning, which is largely centered around unnecessary mass incarceration and racial injustice, disproportionately affecting communities of color, who generally have much higher arrest and incarceration rates for marijuana, despite similar usage levels of white communities. This is a must-watch interview on why this bill is so important. 

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