Monday, October 1, 2018

Last Call For Trump Cards, Con't

It seems there just might be a limit to how much obvious obstruction that Senate Republicans are willing to deal with from Trump, even when the subject is getting Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court as quickly as possible.

The White House has authorized the F.B.I. to expand its abbreviated investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long as the review is finished by the end of the week, two people briefed on the matter said on Monday.

The new directive came in the past 24 hours after a backlash from Democrats, who criticized the White House for limiting the scope of the bureau’s investigation into President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The F.B.I. has already interviewed the four witnesses its agents were originally asked to talk to, the people said.

Mr. Trump said on Monday that he favored a “comprehensive” F.B.I. investigation and had no problem if the bureau wanted to question Judge Kavanaugh or even a third accuser who was left off the initial witness list if she seemed credible. His only concerns he said, were that the investigation be wrapped up quickly and that it take direction from the Senate Republicans who will determine whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed.

“The F.B.I. should interview anybody that they want within reason, but you have to say within reason,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden after an event celebrating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. “But they should also be guided, and I’m being guided, by what the senators are looking for.”
But let's be clear here:  Mitch McConnell doesn't care about the investigation at all, and will ram Kavanaugh's nomination through a full vote regardless.  The fix is still very much in.

Senate Republican leaders, however, made clear that they planned to move forward with the confirmation without waiting for the results of the investigation. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the Senate would take a procedural vote on Friday so it could move quickly to final confirmation once the inquiry was over.

Chastising Democrats on the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell said that he would “bet almost anything” that they would be unsatisfied with the scope of the investigation regardless of how far it went. Reading through a selected summary of Democrats’ comments about the matter, he said, “Do these actions suggest this has ever been about finding the truth?”

So the Senate will vote on cloture Friday, and then anytime after that McConnell can hold the final confirmation vote.  It's clear he will do so as soon as he possibly can.

But it's also clear that, as I said before, he doesn't have the votes yet.  The White House still isn't considering pulling Kavnaugh, they can't at this juncture.  If they do, it all comes crashing down and they know it.  But they still don't know if they can get to 50 for a final vote.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said that the White House counsel should make public what he has told the F.B.I. and emphasize that it was not “the partisan Republican Senate staff that is directing this investigation.” In an interview, Mr. Schumer added, “You can do a full investigation in the seven-day requirement, and that’s what senators on both sides of the aisle expect.”

The revised White House instruction amounted to a risky bet that the F.B.I. will not find anything new in the next four days that could change the public view of the allegations. Republicans have resisted an open-ended investigation that could head in unpredictable directions. But the limited time frame could minimize the danger even as it increases the likelihood that F.B.I. interviews do not resolve the conflicting accounts.

There's also the problem that the Republican plan to claim an anti-liberal backlash to propel Kavanaugh and the GOP to victory and then have it magically materialize isn't actually working.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court convened today with only eight members.  This was supposed to be a done deal by now, an easy slam dunk like Gorsuch.  This is why Republicans stuck with Trump until this point.  With Kavanaugh confirmed, Trump would have served his usefulness and a lasting, generational conservative majority on SCOTUS could undo decades, if not centuries of classic liberalism.

But Kavnaugh's stories are coming apart.  The FBI might not find anything.  The press sure as hell is help them with the hunting.

In the days leading up to a public allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to a college classmate, the judge and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim, according to text messages obtained by NBC News.

Kerry Berchem, who was at Yale with both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has tried to get those messages to the FBI for its newly reopened investigation into the matter but says she has yet to be contacted by the bureau.

The texts between Berchem and Karen Yarasavage, both friends of Kavanaugh, suggest that the nominee was personally talking with former classmates about Ramirez’s story in advance of the New Yorker article that made her allegation public. In one message, Yarasavage said Kavanaugh asked her to go on the record in his defense. Two other messages show communication between Kavanaugh's team and former classmates in advance of the story.

The texts also demonstrate that Kavanaugh and Ramirez were more socially connected than previously understood and that Ramirez was uncomfortable around Kavanaugh when they saw each other at a wedding 10 years after they graduated. Berchem's efforts also show that some potential witnesses have been unable to get important information to the FBI.

And in the end, there's one thing I do know: Mitch doesn't have the votes yet.

As the FBI rushes to finish an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is concentrating all his efforts on the "Gang of Three."

McConnell’s focus right now is entirely on the triumvirate of GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona. McConnell needs two out of the three to back Kavanaugh in order for the nomination to succeed, and he is walking a fine line in addressing their concerns while continuing to press toward a final Senate vote.

McConnell has subtly tweaked his language on the Kavanaugh nomination. He’s no longer vowing to “plow right through” and confirm Kavanaugh, as he was just last week, crafting his message instead to appeal to the three Republicans who remain on the fence.

The Kentucky Republican is currently planning a move to end debate on the nomination by mid-week, forcing a critical procedural vote as early as Friday, which would set up a final vote on Kavanaugh by Sunday. But that timetable means the FBI investigation must be complete by Wednesday, and that’s where the situation become dicey for McConnell.

If the FBI doesn’t meet that Wednesday deadline, McConnell and Senate GOP leaders are likely to wait until the FBI report arrives before moving to end debate and starting the countdown clock on Kavanaugh, if only to avoid alienating the Collins-Murkowski-Flake group, according to GOP senators. That could delay the confirmation since Democrats are likely to use their procedural leverage to string out any Kavanaugh vote as long as they can.

He's probably going to get Flake.  But he'd need either Collins or Murkowski too, and I don't know if he can get them at this point.  Without them, even with Flake, he's at 49.

Again, betting on the courage of Republicans to stand up to Mitch has been a sucker's bet so far.  But we don't have much more of a choice...and that's if Dems like Heitkamp and Manchin don't fold in the end too.

Supreme Misgivings, Con't

It's becoming clear at this point that the FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations surrounding Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is yet another cover-up by a regime that will do anything to get him confirmed as the fifth vote to exonerate Trump from the many traps of his own creation.

The White House appears to be playing all kinds of crafty rhetorical games to obscure the answer to a simple question: Has it deliberately placed limits on the scope of the FBI’s renewed background check into allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, or not?

As of this morning, there are conflicting reports about who will now be interviewed by the FBI. The New York Times reportsthat the White House directed the FBI to interview only four people: Mark Judge, who is alleged by Christine Blasey Ford to have acted as Kavanaugh’s accomplice in the sexual assault; P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, who Ford claims were also in the house; and Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at Yale.

Meanwhile, The Post reports that Kavanaugh will also be interviewed, but that a third accuser — Julie Swetnick — will not be. It’s also not clear whether Ford herself will be contacted — she has not yet been, according to her lawyer.

You’ll be startled to hear that instead of providing clarity, White House officials have sowed further confusion. Press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News that the White House is “not micromanaging this process.” Similarly, counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN that, while the investigation will be “limited in scope,” the White House is not setting those limits, which will be “up to the FBI” to set. Conway pointed to President Trump’s weekend tweet saying the FBI should “interview whoever they deem appropriate,” and insisted (somehow without dissolving into giggles at her own cynicism) that Trump respects the FBI’s “independence.”

Yet despite that, Sanders and Conway both also said terms arebeing dictated — by Republican Senators. But the White House has not released the precise directive it gave to the FBI, so we cannot know whether the White House is actively imposing those same limits on those Senators’ behalf. CNN reports that the White House and GOP Senators together developed those limits with the aim of making them “as narrow as possible.”

Clear now? Of course it isn’t. Because that’s exactly how the White House and Republican Senators want it.

And it's because the "investigation", as it is, really exists so that the FBI can find a way to completely discredit Kavanaugh's accusers and more importantly, stall for time to work on wavering Senate Republicans to get to 50 votes.

The uncertainty surrounding the nomination has Republicans and Democrats alike headed into the week raising the stakes of its outcome to a make-or-break moment for their chances of victory in the midterm elections.

There’s no walking this thing back,” Steve Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, said in an interview Sunday night. “You get Kavanaugh, you’re going to get turnout. You get turnout, you’re going to get victory. This is march or die.”

POLITICO spoke to five people inside and outside the White House involved with the Kavanaugh nomination process.

Democratic activists, meanwhile, reminded voters over the weekend to keep the pressure on three Republican senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — who they noted had so far agreed only to a delay but could still vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

The aggressive pro-Kavanaugh push, however, comes as White House officials and a separate, external war room that has been formed around Kavanaugh — including Bill Burck, a former counsel to President George W. Bush, as well as Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society — are fighting what some of them conceded to be an uphill battle in which time is not on their side.

Seven days is an eternity,” said a Kavanaugh ally, noting a growing concern that phony allegations might surface. “No good things can happen to Kavanaugh in that time except for calling the vote.”

Another person involved in the nomination fight put the odds of Kavanaugh’s being confirmed as low as 50 percent
. But, this person said, the White House could not afford to set a standard that would allow unsubstantiated allegations against a nominee to knock that person out of the running to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Democrats have set off their own alarms about the process. Democratic lawmakers have complained that the White House will seek to narrow the scope of the FBI investigation, and complained about the rushed time frame. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the White House and the FBI on Sunday asking that the directive for the inquiry be released so that its breadth could be understood.

I still believe Senate Republicans will find a way to rush this through and get the vote done as they did with now-Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.  It would take at minimum not one but two Republicans in the Senate to have the courage to say no, and they will be absolutely crucified by angry and violent Trump voters, enraged corporate donors, furious culture-war groups, the right-wing smear machine, and an increasingly unstable leader in the Oval Office.

Dr. Ford and the other women who have come forward may have that kind of courage, but there's nothing to make me think any single Republican currently in the Senate does.  That includes the retiring Jeff Flake, who, when it became clear that Mitch McConnell didn't have 50 votes, fell on his sword to buy his master another week.

That Flake somehow didn't already have this plan worked out as a contingency and that Mitch McConnell would leave anything involving this nomination to chance is ludicrous. Flake in fact gave up the game and admitted last night on CBS's 60 Minutes that if he was running for re-election, he never would have called for the FBI investigation.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Sunday admitted his impending retirement from Congress played a role in his decision to call for an FBI investigation into the allegations of sexual assault levied against Brett Kavanaugh in recent weeks during a dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Friday.

No, not a chance,” Flake told “60 Minutes” on Sunday when asked if he would’ve made the same decision had he been seeking reelection. “There’s no value to reaching across the aisle, there’s not currency for that anymore, there’s no incentive.”

Worst-case scenario is that McConnell was truly caught flatfooted by Dr. Ford coming forward and either got bad information from the Trump White House, or didn't get information at all that Kavanaugh had such a hideous background.  He may have made an historic miscalculation that allowed him to get outmaneuvered by Feinstein and Schumer, or more likely, badly underestimated the rage and engagement of women voters.

Now McConnell has to hope that Trump's media allies can create a backlash to the backlash by muddying the waters enough so that Senate Republicans have cover to vote to confirm.  We already saw that over the weekend with Sen. Lindsey Graham leading the way by both saying he wants the FBI to investigate Senate Democrats who brought Dr. Ford's accusations forward and that he will basically vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless there's a "bombshell" in the FBI investigation.

At this point the plan is to stoke enough disengaged Trump voters into outrage to make Senate Republicans confirm Kavanaugh, and to stick around and vote in November too. Whether it will work remains to be seen, but so far betting against how low McConnell is willing to go to win has not paid off in the last four years, with the near singular exception of the late John McCain scuttling the Senate health care rollback.

Still, there's one certainty right now: if McConnell had the 50 votes, he would have confirmed Kavanaugh already.  He doesn't right now. It's a slim hope, but it's there.  And Americans have shifted from a plurality saying it's too soon to know if Kavanaugh should be confirmed to believing that he should not.

Americans are divided and somewhat more opposed to Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination than in favor of it after hearing Thursday from both Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, but strong partisanship increasingly defines the public's views. Republicans have grown more in favor of his confirmation compared to last week, and nearly half say they'd be angry if Kavanaugh isn't eventually confirmed. Democrats are increasingly opposed after the hearings, with nearly half expressing anger at the idea of Kavanaugh eventually being seated on the court.

The net shift in sentiment over the week has been toward opposition. Today 37 percent of Americans do not think the Senate should confirm (up from 30 percent opposed last week) and 35 percent think the Senate should confirm (up from 32 percent last week) as partisan sentiments have hardened. Democratic opposition has gone from 60 percent to 68 percent, and Republican support has gone from 69 percent to 75 percent. Independents are more closely divided and slightly more in favor of confirmation than opposed. 

Last week's testimony did change some minds, at least.  And so far that's benefiting the Democrats.  We'll see what unfolds.

Breathe Out, Breathe In (But Not Too Much)

Hot on the heels of last week's Trump regime edict that fighting climate change doesn't matter because there's nothing we can do anyway and we're all going to die comes this week's smash hit of since we're all going to die anyway, why bother having clean air?

The Trump administration has completed a detailed legal proposal to dramatically weaken a major environmental regulation covering mercury, a toxic chemical emitted from coal-burning power plants, according to a person who has seen the document but is not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The proposal would not eliminate the mercury regulation entirely, but it is designed to put in place the legal justification for the Trump administration to weaken it and several other pollution rules, while setting the stage for a possible full repeal of the rule.

Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who is now the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected in the coming days to send the proposal to the White House for approval.

The move is the latest, and one of the most significant, in the Trump administration’s steady march of rollbacks of Obama-era health and environmental regulations on polluting industries, particularly coal. The weakening of the mercury rule — which the E.P.A. considers the most expensive clean air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry — would represent a major victory for the coal industry. Mercury is known to damage the nervous systems of children and fetuses. 
The details of the rollback about to be proposed would also represent a victory for Mr. Wheeler’s former boss, Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of the Murray Energy Corporation, one of the nation’s largest coal companies. Mr. Murray, who was a major donor to President Trump’s inauguration fund, personally requested the rollback of the mercury rule soon after Mr. Trump took office, in a written “wish list” he handed to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The proposal would also hand a victory to the former clients of William Wehrum, the E.P.A.’s top clean air official and the chief author of the plan. Mr. Wehrum worked for years as a lawyer for companies that run coal-fired power plants, and that have long sought such a change.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. did not respond to a request for comment.

Bonus: if Trump's SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, on top of all the other damage he would do to reproductive rights, civil rights, and labor rights, you can kiss the Clean Air Act goodbye, too.

The proposal also highlights a key environmental opinion of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the embattled Supreme Court nominee, whose nomination hearings have gripped the nation in recent days.

The coal industry initially sued to roll back the mercury regulation, and in 2014 its case lost in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. However, Judge Kavanaugh wrote the dissenting opinion in that case, highlighting questions about the rule’s cost to industry.

Should the legal battle over the proposed regulatory rollback go before the Supreme Court, some observers expect that Judge Kavanaugh, if elevated to a seat on the high court, would side with the coal industry

Because of course he would.  Like the Trump regime, Kavanaugh refuses to count the secondary tens of billions in health benefits from reducing carbon and nitrogen oxide that the mercury reduction also grants, and will say that it's bankrupting the energy industry, costing them about $9 billion a year.  Of course, when this rule disappears, I sure bet you won't see any cuts in electric rates either.

But energy company profits will be up.  And so will health issues related to power plant emissions on the already overtaxed American health care system.  Doesn't matter to America though, because at least we didn't elect that Hillary bitch, right?


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