Jeff Sessions Wants Back in the US Senate

Jeff Sessions resigns as Attorney General

The Story:

A seat in the US Senate, representing Alabama, will be up for grabs in 2020. The Democratic candidate will almost certainly be the incumbent, Sen. Doug Jones. Who will be his Republican opponent? That is as yet unknown, and a former Senator (also a former Attorney General) Jeff Sessions, has just announced that he will pursue that nomination.

Background:

Sessions was one of the earliest important figures in the national Republican Party to support Trump’s campaign for President, a support he announced in February 2016, when that campaign still seemed quixotic. Sessions had always been a hard-liner on immigration issues, and he may have influenced the Trump campaign’s fateful move in that direction.  Once in office, President Trump made Sessions the Attorney General.

But the relationship between the two men soured while Sessions was serving in that capacity, and Trump effectively fired Sessions in November 2018.

The Thing to Know:

Sessions had a conservative voting record during his time in the Senate (1997 – 2017) by almost anyone’s definition of conservative. But at this historic moment, in some contexts, ‘conservatism’ gets equated with the support for, or the receipt of support from, President Donald Trump. And it is not at all clear where the President will come down, if he takes a position on the nomination fight in Alabama at all.

Donald Trump and the “Chaos Trades”

White House optimistic despite wild stock market swings

The Story:

A theory about recent stock futures activity is spreading around the US that suggests a conspiracy involving President Donald Trump. It has become known as the “chaos trades” theory, and surely more will be heard of it between now and election day a year from now.

The Theory:

The spreading view is that there are traders who benefit from the chaos that the President, with a single tweet,  or a casual remark made before boarding a helicopter, can inflict upon Wall Street and upon the related futures market in Chicago.

William Cohan gave this theory a classic formulation for VANITY FAIR in recent days. Cohan said that “the President’s talk can move markets — and its made some futures traders billions. Did they know what he was going to say before he said it?” Cohan quoted a longtime trader at the Chicago Merc, who said: “There is definite hanky-panky going on, to the world’s financial markets’ detriment.”

There has been a good deal of pushback against Cohan’s “hanky-panky” conclusions, even from people who have no interest in defending President Trump’s policies. Still, the issue is likely to bubble along in the months to come.

The Thing to Know:

All of the five biggest single-day point losses in the history of the Dow Jones index have taken place during the Trump administration. Though the general movement of the Dow during the Trump era has been up, it has been a very bumpy ride.

 

Corey Lewandowski Teasing a Senate Campaign

Corey Lewandowski: I was mocking Democrat, not girl

The Story:

Corey Lewandowski, who was the campaign manager for Donald Trump through 2015 and the first half of 2016, has said that he is thinking about running for a seat in the US Senate, from New Hampshire, as  a Republican, next year. If he does run, and if he gets that party’s nomination, he will have to run against an Incumbent Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, in the general election.

Background:

Even aside from his past, and continuing, connection with President Donald Trump: Lewandowski is a polarizing figure, and a Lewandowski/Shaheen campaign could be a vicious one.

For example: in June 2018 Lewandowski participated in a Fox News program about family separations at the US/Mexico border. Another participant referenced the case of a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who had been separated from her mother. Lewandowski replied simply “womp, womp,” apparently a reference to the common “sad trombone” sound effect used in circus performance. The “womp womp” in this context generated outrage. Meghan McCain for example said, “This is so horrible, even by Lewandowski standards.”

The Thing to Know:

It is not certain that the Republican Party will nominate Lewandowski, even if he does decide to throw his hat formally into the ring. There are already announced candidates for that nomination for the Senate seat who will not be likely to step aside. Still, there cannot be many other actual or possible candidates who would guarantee as much drama, and as much national and even international coverage.

Senator Romney (R – Utah) Increasingly at Odds with POTUS

The Story:

In recent weeks Mitt Romney, a rookie Senator (elected from Utah in 2018) but long a prominent Republican and in 2012 that party’s nominee for President, has been increasingly outspoken about his differences with the incumbent President, Donald Trump.

The Differences:

Romney considers it “appalling” that the President has asked officials in the Ukraine and in the People’s Republic of China to investigate Trump’s political foes and their families.

Romney regrets that under Trump, US foreign policy is “so weak and inept” that the country’s hand can be forced by Turkey, and that “the administration did not explain in advance to Erdogan that it’s unacceptable for Turkey to attack an American ally [the Kurds in Syria.]”

He has also said that Trump’s character falls short of what Americans are entitled to expect from a President.

Romney has refused to endorse Trump’s expected renomination in 2020, and this has allowed for rumors that he may be open to challenging that renomination.

The Thing to Know:

Romney has, at least for now, kept his distance from the impeachment process, saying that he has not spoken with a single fellow Senator about the subject. Should the House of Representatives vote to impeach, though, the Senate will be the jury, and Romney a juror.

Tariff Advocate Accused of Writing Fiction

Peter Navarro talks status of NAFTA negotiations

The Story:

Peter Navarro, an economist with the titles “Assistant to the President” and “Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy” in the White House, has been one of the very few figures with any academic credibility willing to support this administration’s “trade wars.” Recent revelations about the inclusion of a fictional source in his writings on the subject will surely harm that credibility.

Background:

President Donald J. Trump’s controversial tariffs, and the trade wars they have set off, have received very little by way of academic defense. The opinion of most scholars of world trade is that tariffs have very little to recommend them, and that if they get out of hand (as with the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930) they can prove catastrophic.

An investigation conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that there is no such person as “Ron Vara.” Vara is a supposed source for information that Dr. Navarro has drawn upon in six books, with ominous titles such as Death by China. (That particular title comes from a book Navarro co-authored with Greg Autry.)

The Thing to Know:

Upon being confronted by CHE, Autry admitted that “Vara” was not real. But he defended “Vara’s” presence in that book, and Navarro’s other work, as “a little bit of fun.”  It should be understood that inventing imaginary characters, acknowledged as such nowhere in the text, is of course not proper procedure, much less “fun,” in academic (non-fiction) publishing.

The Newly Normal Impeachment Process

It's Been 44 Years Since Richard Nixon Resigned In Disgrace | Morning Joe | MSNBC

The Story:

The impeachment of a US President was once a very rare event. A child born in 1870 might have lived to be a century old and that lifespan would not have overlapped with a single serious impeachment/removal effort regarding any President of any party. But there have now been three occasions in the last half century in which the House of Representatives has geared up the impeachment machinery: 1974, 1998, and now in 2019. The extraordinary has been normalized.

Reluctance Overcome:

This time around the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was for months reluctant to put the impeachment machinery in gear. She evidently feared that doing so would interfere with other items of business more dear to her heart, such as the drafting of a law that would limit or lower the price of some prescription drugs.

But as of this writing Pelosi is completely on board with impeachment, and there may be a vote by the full House on the articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving.

The Thing to Know:

The House brings charges (its vote to do so is the act of impeachment proper) and the Senate then treats the “articles” of impeachment as counts of an indictment and it puts the President on trial on those counts. Chief Justice Roberts would preside over the trial. In the event of a 2/3 vote finding the President guilty, (that is, 67 votes “yes”), President Donald Trump will be removed from office.

New Mexico Gets a Splashy Campaign Ad

The Story:

Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent, now a candidate for a US House seat from New Mexico’s 3d district, has a television ad out that shows off her CIA-trained driving skills and that ends with her saying, “Mr. President, I’ve got a few scores to settle.”

Background:

Plame is one of nine already-declared candidates on the Democratic side of the race for that seat, and she is seeking to stand out from the field by reminding people of a 2003 scandal, the “Plame affair.” Her ad shows Plame driving a car rapidly backwards through a stretch of New Mexico desert, then pulling a quick J-turn, presumably a CIA agent’s learned survival-driving skill.

In the voiceover, Plame reminds people that in the lead-up to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, she was outed as an agent apparently in revenge for her husband’s public contradiction of one of the justifications for war that the administration was promoting.

An aide to the then Vice President, [Scooter Libby, aide to Dick Cheney] was later convicted of lying to investigators about that leak, and Libby was pardoned in 2018 by the current President, Donald Trump.

The Thing to Know: 

Immediately upon broadcast the ad encountered pushback from fact checkers. The voice over identifies Libby as the source of the leak of her identity as an agent. Actually, Dick Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, was the source of the leak at the time (as he has acknowledged). Libby apparently did talk to a reporter, Judith Miller, about the weapons of mass destruction Iraq was allegedly developing and may have mentioned Plame in that context, but Miller published no story on the subject. Libby was convicted  — and pardoned — with regard to the cover-up, not the leak itself.

 

Foreign Policy Tweet War WIthin the GOP

Liz Cheney on her hopes for the 116th Congress

The Story:

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wy) and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky), two very prominent Republicans with decided opinions about foreign policy, have been using their twitter accounts to air in public their differences on America’s place in the broader world.

The Difference  Between Them:

Senator Paul’s tweets aimed at Cheney, and at her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, have included this: “Hi @Liz_Cheney,  President @realDonald Trump hears all your NeverTrump warmongering…I’m just grateful for a President who, unlike you, supports stopping these endless wars.”

Some within the Trump coalition believe that the Trump slogan “America First” suggests an America that withdraws from entangling alliances and from military commitments overseas.  Rand speaks for that sentiment. Others, though, plainly believe that “America First” refers to an America that is involved with and leads allies in the fight against terrorism and against the nation-states that offer safe havens to terrorists. Cheney speaks for them.

The Thing to Know: 

Some of Rep. Cheney’s responses to Paul’s jibes have referenced the fact that Paul ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2016 and had to drop out early. Cheney tweets, “I know the 2016 race was painful for you….No surprise since your motto seems to be ‘Terrorists First, America Second.'”

Secretary Pompeo May Run for Senate

Mike Pompeo calls reporter’s question ‘insulting’

The Story:

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, may run for a seat in the Senate from his home state of Kansas next year. Amid widespread speculation on the subject, Pompeo has neither confirmed nor denied such a plan.

Background:

One of Kansas’ Senators, Pat Roberts, announced early this year that he will not run for reelection next year. Roberts is a Republican, and the Democratic Party would presumably love to pick up this seat as part of the larger goal of gaining a majority in that chamber. Running a strong candidate to replace Roberts is, likewise, a critical goal for the Republicans.

Secretary Pompeo spoke at Kansas State University on Friday, September 6. He did not speak on the subject of his ambitions, but stuck with the advertised topic of human rights as a matter of foreign policy. He made reference, for example, to the oppression of the Uighurs in China.

The Thing to Know:

One issue of more pressing concern for many Kansans than the rights of the Uighurs may be Kansans’ ability to sell their wheat to China, an ability threatened by the administration’s trade war. Pompeo’s association with that trade policy may be a hindrance should he make the run for Senate there.

Antitrust and Big Tech

The Story:

The prominence of a handful of Big Tech firms — especially Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google — has become a pressing political issue. Conservative and pro-Trump Republicans believe that Big Tech is too liberal and plots against them. But it also has enemies among the progressives of the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democratic Party, as it represents to them the 21st century face of Capital.

Background:

As her catchphrase has it: Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular “has a plan for that.” She proposes to break up each of the four companies named above, saying that they have both stifled innovation and hurt small business. She is invoking laws and precedents from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when large business concentrations were popularly known as “trusts” and their political foes as trust busters.

The Thing to Know:

There are reasons to be skeptical that any such remedy will have the desired effects, or that it won’t have quite negative side effects. The first President Roosevelt did break up Standard Oil into parts, but over the following century the oil industry continued to be a great, even a growing, force in US politics, due to market realities that a change in organizational charts could not amend. [And most of Standard Oil eventually put itself back together under the name ExxonMobil.]