Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rising, Con't

In 2017, Dems had mixed success in special elections in deep red areas of the country.  Yes, they managed to push back in places where Trump won by 10 or 20 points (or more) and come very close to winning, but Republicans could also say that the Dems couldn't seal the deal and that the GOP would merely suffer "traditional" midterm losses, not a 2010- or 2014-style midterm tsunami that would crush the GOP the way Dems hemorrhaged House, gubernatorial and state legislature seats in those years.  As bad as that would be for the GOP, they could console themselves with the notion of a lot of safe Republican seats that would still be above water when the wave crashed upon them in November.

That was at least the special election story before yesterday, when Republicans in Wisconsin promptly lost a state Senate seat in a district Trump won by 17 points.

Democrats snagged a GOP-leaning state Senate seat in western Wisconsin on Tuesday, buoying progressive hopes that they could ride a wave of victory this fall.

Patty Schachtner, the chief medical examiner for St. Croix County, will take the seat that had been held for 17 years by former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Harsdorf stepped down in November to take a job as GOP Gov. Scott Walker's agriculture secretary. 
In an interview, Schachtner said she thought she beat state Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) because the race had turned nasty in mailings from groups outside the district. 
“It wasn’t nice. It was mean,” she said of the campaign literature. “People just said, ‘You know what? We’re nicer than that.’” 
In a post on Twitter, Jarchow said he had called Schachtner to congratulate her.
“I look forward to working with her as our new state Senator,” he wrote in his tweet. “Thank you to all who worked so hard for our campaign.”

Also Tuesday, in special elections for the state Assembly, voters in Washington County chose a Republican and voters in Racine County chose a Democrat, according to unofficial results.

But the focus Tuesday was on the 10th Senate District, which consists of parts of Burnett, Polk, St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn counties along Minnesota's border.

Schachtner's win gives Democrats momentum, but they remain deep in the minority. Once she is seated, Republican will hold an 18-14 advantage, with one district vacant. That seat belonged to Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), who joined Walker's administration last month, and won't be decided until November, when 17 of the state's 33 Senate districts are up for election.

This is a state legislature seat that never should have been in doubt in Scott Walker's red Wisconsin.  And nobody panicked faster than Walker himself.

Walker, who had tweeted earlier Tuesday urging residents of the 10th Senate district to get to the polls and vote for Republican Adam Jarchow, wrote online after the race had been decided that “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin” who must do a better job touting their record to voters. 
“WAKE UP CALL: Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news,” the governor wrote in a subsequent post, adding in two others that the state’s GOP also can’t presume voters are aware “that more people are working than ever before” and that “we invested more actual dollars into schools than ever before.”

It's only getting worse for the party of Trump and they know it.

Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's austerity regime will come to fruition (or in this case, rot) in 2018 and voters here seem wholly uninterested in stopping him.  First, he finally dropped the other shoe on killing Medicaid expansion yesterday, taunting health advocacy groups who have promised to take him to court. Bevin says without blinking that he will take health care away from ten percent of the state if the courts dare find his new Medicaid work rules unconstitutional.

Gov. Matt Bevin has issued an executive order that would strip Medicaid coverage from nearly half a million Kentuckians should his proposed overhaul of the federal-state health plan be struck down in court. 
No one has filed a legal challenge to Bevin's changes to Kentucky's Medicaid program that federal authorities approved Friday. 
But several advocacy groups have said some of the changes — such as requiring some "able-bodied" adults to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week — likely will be challenged in court because they violate federal law that establishes Medicaid purely as a health program and does not authorize work requirements. 
Advocates who criticized Bevin's overhaul of Kentucky's Medicaid program were also critical of the executive order he issued Friday, the same day the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved his plan to reshape Medicaid in Kentucky.

"Is the Governor of Kentucky saying that if he is caught doing something illegal, he will take health care away from hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who have done nothing wrong?" asked Leonardo Cuello, director of health policy for the National Health Law Program. 
Cuello's Washington-based health advocacy group is considering a legal challenge to Bevin's plan.

Ahh, but if you think Bevin is bluffing, you should see his 2018 austerity budget proposal that cuts billions from education, infrastructure, and eliminates 70 social programs in the state over the next two years.

Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday night proposed a budget that he said would eliminate 70 state programs and cut spending at most agencies by 6.25 percent while fully funding state pension plans.

And the governor gave a high priority in the lean spending plan to the main public school funding program known as SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky), saying its funding will not be cut.

"The real budget focus this year is getting our financial house in order," Bevin told a joint meeting of the Kentucky House and Senate in an hourlong State of the Commonwealth and budget address.

The key step in doing that, he said, is by fully funding the hundreds of millions of dollars more that he said are needed by state retirement systems, which are $43 billion in debt.

Bevin's budget does not anticipate tax reform, but the governor said that issue remains a priority. He said if tax reform cannot pass in the current regular session, he will push that a special session later in the year.

In his speech, Bevin did not identify any of the 70 programs to be eliminated. He said they were "scattered throughout state government." A briefing released by his administration during the speech said the budget closes the state's film incentive program to new applicants.

He said the eliminations result in massive savings that minimized cuts to other parts of state government, where cuts much deeper than 6.25 percent were feared.

Some areas of the budget would get an increase, like social worker, adoption programs and opioid abuse prevention, but dozens of higher education, arts, teacher recruiting, agriculture, job training, scholarships, environmental, library aid, rural hospital and women's programs would be eliminated entirely, and of course the billions in cuts across the board for just about everything left.

And of course "tax reform" means Bevin wants to go the full Brownback and eliminate the state's income tax on businesses and put the tax burden squarely on workers with new sales and vice taxes.  It's Kansas all over again, only with a massive state pension problem hanging over everyone to boot. Not even Brownback wanted complete austerity, he just tried to wreck roads and schools.
If you're wondering what the post-Obama GOP austerity agenda looks like without Trump's ego mucking things up, Kentucky in 2018 is the place where you want to look.

Coming soon to a state near you if the GOP has its way.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Yesterday former Trump strategist Steve Bannon blew off the House Intelligence Committee in his closed door meeting with them, prompting a subpoena which Bannon blew off again, citing executive privilege.  Today we know why: Bannon is already talking to Robert Mueller.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon broke some bad news to House investigators Tuesday, announcing that the White House had invoked executive privilege to keep him from answering many of their questions. 
But executive privilege—the president’s right to keep certain information from the public so he can have frank conversations with aides—will not keep Steve Bannon from sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, according to a person familiar with the situation
Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say,” said the source, who is familiar with Bannon’s thinking. 
During a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Bannon reportedly told lawmakers that President Donald Trumphas invoked broad executive privilege for the purposes of congressional inquiries. Because of that, Bannon refused to answer committee members’ questions about what happened during the presidential transition and in the White House. 
This sweeping understanding of privilege will not effect what Bannon tells Mueller’s team, according to our source. (To be sure, Bannon isn’t known for being predictable, and it’s possible his team may still look for ways to dodge Mueller’s queries.) 
But it means he isn’t answering many of Congress’s questions. A source familiar with Bannon’s interview told The Daily Beast that despite the subpoena—issued by Devin Nunes, the typically Trump-friendly chairman of the committee—Bannon refused to answer questions about events that happened after Election Day.

And Bannon is talking to Mueller because Mueller hit Bannon with a grand jury subpoena last week.

FBI agents showed up at Steve Bannon’s Washington home last week intent on serving him with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, according to a source familiar with the proceedings. 
The agents were unaware at the time that Bannon had retained Washington lawyer William Burck just hours earlier, according to two people familiar with the events that took place on Jan. 9. Once redirected, the agents sent the order to Burck, who is also representing two other witnesses in the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI. 
Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist until he departed the White House in August, could end up being interviewed by Mueller’s team before the end of the month, according to one source who agreed to discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Mueller is compelling Bannon to talk, period.  Bannon in turn is counting on three things:

  1. The info he has is valuable enough to Mueller to shop a deal.  Bannon is the closest member of Trump's inner circle yet to be hit by a grand jury subpoena.  Except that subpoena wasn't served, as Bannon decided to cooperate and agree to a Mueller interview instead.  It's possible that Bannon may try to screw Mueller, but I'm betting Mueller is holding some pretty powerful cards in order to compel Bannon to talk, and in turn, what Bannon knows is useful enough for Mueller not to just crush him immediately.
  2. He knows Devin Nunes won't hold him in contempt.  Dems may want to know what Bannon knows (and even some Republicans want to know that) but Devin Nunes isn't about to risk Trump's considerable wrath here.  Not only would that be political suicide, it would probably be legal suicide too, as Nunes has already recused himself from the Russian investigation and Bannon could have some very ugly revelations about Nunes's involvement.  Whether or not Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, can find a way to hold Bannon in contempt, I don't know.  Schiff I think will defer to Mueller and with good reason.
  3. He doesn't want his testimony leaked, so he said nothing.  There's nothing to leak in a closed-door session if you don't say anything.  See number one up there.  Any bombshells that Bannon delivered yesterday would have been in today's paper, damaging his chances to cut a deal with Mueller.  Besides, anything he said yesterday would have absolutely gotten back to Trump, again, compromising the potential value of his information to Mueller.  Bannon's a sleazeball racist happy to put neo-Nazis and white supremacist assholes on his dance card all day, but he doesn't want to go to prison, and he needs something powerful in order to stay out.
So yeah, if Bannon is talking to Mueller, Trump knows he's in dire trouble.  Trump can shift blame on the Flynn and Manafort indictments, but if Mueller's got Bannon, Trump is done.

And Trump knows it.

[UPDATE] BuzzFeed just dropped this little firecracker.

Officials investigating the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election are scrutinizing newly uncovered financial transactions between the Russian government and people or businesses inside the United States. 
Records exclusively reviewed by BuzzFeed News also show years of Russian financial activity within the US that bankers and federal law enforcement officials deemed suspicious, raising concerns about how the Kremlin’s diplomats operated here long before the 2016 election. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, charged with investigating Russian election interference and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, is examining these transactions and others by Russian diplomatic personnel, according to a US official with knowledge of the inquiry. The special counsel has broad authority to investigate “any matters” that “may arise” from his investigation, and the official said Mueller’s probe is following leads on suspicious Russian financial activity that may range far beyond the election.

 Stay tuned.


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