Friday, December 21, 2018

Shutdown and the Wall. Year Not Ending Well for Trump.

At the December 11 famous televised meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, President Trump, in one of his exuberant moments, said that the “wall” was worth a government shutdown and he will be “proud to shut down the government…I will take the mantle.” Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell worked around Trump’s shutdown impulse on December 19 with a Senate voice vote. But, Trump under pressure from his base, demanded the House pass a new resolution with $5 billion for the wall. On December 20, they did, partially to prove they could after several failed efforts. Pelosi had claimed they didn’t have the votes. She even inspires Republicans to extra efforts.

House rebels (Freedom Caucus, such as Jim Jordon and Mark Meadows) and his far-right wing supporters – Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Breitbart and Drudge – began criticizing Trump and Republicans and advocating a veto and holiday shutdown. They completely captured Trump and the White House and there may well be a shutdown into the new year.

The reality of the politics is that the wall is good for a segment of Trump’s base, but not much else and has considerable downsides. Most Republican leadership believe the wall is a presidential promise devoid of much real benefit for U.S.-Mexico border security and doesn’t have the support of the public. And, under no condition is an extra $3.4 billion for a construction project worth shutting down the U.S. government over the holidays. But, of course, arguing for the hardliners is that next year the House, under Democratic control, will be even less hospital to President Trump’s wall. The latest polls show:

The Trump Correction. Dow Off 4000 Points Since October 3rd

The Dow, largely in tandem with other indexes, is deep in correction territory (off 16%, with 10% a correction). In fact, the technology-heavy NASDAQ is more than 20 percent off its recent high (22%), or a bear market. The Dow has given up more than half of the 7000 points of gain since Donald Trump was elected in November 2016. As the holiday break begins, the Dow has fallen 4383 points since its all-time high of 26828 hit on October 3 of this year. That’s a steep decline, much like the unbelievable ascent from 19000.

As the chart below shows, the Dow is now back to October 2017.

President Trump has relished taking credit for the market, especially as the politics of Washington during his first two years have been so chaotic and his character so confrontational. As 2018 ends and the presidential race begins in 2019, it appears Trump will not have a market as a talking point or a distraction for other problems.

Although the American economy continues to appear robust, and few economists see a recession, a host of warning signs are producing volatility and a more risk adverse investor.
  • The Fed and other central banks are raising rates and reducing monitory stimulus
  • Economies around the world are slowing, markets around the world are off and commodity prices declining (oil at $46 a barrel)
  • Trade tensions with China and other U.S. partners are increasing
In terms of U.S. politics, nothing as 2019 begins appears calming for markets, Trump’s White House is ever more chaotic as Democrats prepare to take over the House, the Mueller investigation grinds along to an expected 2019 conclusion and Congress appears unable to reach a deal to keep the U.S. government open.

Read The Buzz:
Market Tops 26616 in January; Dow Drops 2600 Points – Correction Territory
The Color of Green
Trump Rally is Over

Mattis Resigns With Blast at Trump’s Leadership

In my blog on November 3, “We Are Going to Miss Mattis,” I highlighted Mattis’ advocacy of the rule of law in the Khashoggi murder and the importance of alliances based on trust and honesty. But, the post also cited his likely imminent departure. His influence was diminished and the Commander in Chief had disparaged him in an interview (Win or Lose, Trump is Changing the Team, Nov. 1, 2018).

He is not alone in his departure. A host of top officials are out as 2019 begins. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed out, John Kelly eased out and Nikki Haley resigns on good terms. It’s assumed Kirstjen Nielsen will be eased out soon.

Mattis “retired” according to President Trump. In fact, his resignation letter made clear he quit over major policy disagreements with the President and his national security team. The letter never praised nor thanked Trump, but highlighted specific criticism for Trump’s alliance policy, especially with NATO, and his approach toward “malign actors and strategic competitors.”

The key paragraph:
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

Mattis, as opposed to most senior officials departing the Trump administration, was ahead of the President’s tweet and framed the issue to his specification. Some language follows:

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. 

…we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

China and Russia:
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions - to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

Respect for Allies, Clear-eyed About Adversaries:
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Read full resignation letter here

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Senate Says “No” to Trump on Khashoggi and Yemen War

President Trump and his top representatives, Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis, were told as clearly as possible that their Middle East policy related to Saudi Arabia cannot be guided by Trump’s view of foreign policy stripped of America’s historic commitment to human rights and rule of law.

The Senate also, reflecting the midterm vote and repeated polls, began to assert a more aggressive oversite of the administration’s foreign policy. They passed a resolution condemning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (unanimous support) and a second resolution ending U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen (passed 56 to 41). (See The Buzz: John Brennan and CIA Director Gina Haspel, 12-7-18)

Although the sense of the foreign policy establishment is that the administration is correct about the importance of the Saudi-U.S. relationship, there is a considerable disagreement whether it should be the centerpiece of a Middle East strategy and if MBS is likely to be a reliable partner. But, there is near universal disapproval of Trump’s articulation of a crass “America First” imperative and his distortion of the intelligence community’s judgement of the facts of the murder and MBS’s involvement.

The latest polls indicate that the Khashoggi affair may reflect as big a defeat for Trump’s foreign policy credibility as the Helsinki Summit with President Putin last summer.

Polling results on the Khashoggi murder:

  • 52% - disapprove the way Trump is handling the U.S. Saudi relationship (CNN poll, N1015, Dec. 6-9, 2018)
  • 60% - don’t believe the Saudi government’s story about Khashoggi’s death (YouGov, Oct. 24, 2018)
  • 66% - U.S. response hasn’t been tough enough on Saudi Arabia’s role (CNN poll, N1015, Dec. 6-9, 2018)
  • 77% - believe there should be a consequence for Saudi Arabia’s actions (Quinnipiac, N1148, Dec. 12-17, 2018)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Is 2019 a Year for Democracy?

Will 2019 be the year that the American system reasserts its Democratic foundation? The midterm election was the first sign that the failure of Congress to say no to President Trump beyond a few dissident Republican voices (e.g., McCain, Flake, Corker) was coming to an end. The national congressional vote provided Democrats with 40 seats and control of appropriations, authorization and investigative committees and functions. The pass in the House is over.

But, there are other signs democracy is back. Forty-four former U.S. senators published a well reported letter in the Washington Post in early December, including four from Colorado – Gary Hart, Tim Wirth, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Mark Udall (where were Wayne Allard and Hank Brown?), urging current members of the Senate to be “steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy.”

Excerpts to Senate colleagues
44 Senators
December 10, 2018

As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security.
. . .
We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld.
. . .
At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time.
Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography, as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.

Along with ten Republicans, including D’Amato (NY), Danforth (MO), Simpson (WY) and Warner (VA), the 32 Democrats included many moderates, such as Bayh (Ind.), DeConcini (AZ) and Nunn (GA).

Read letter here

Perlmutter Wins, DeGette Loses

The Democratic House election of their leaders for the 2019-20 session has provided the platform that picked winners and losers in Colorado’s delegation and likely will affect party politics of 2020.

Nancy Pelosi will be the Speaker, and although that has been assumed for weeks in spite of a handful of dissidents, Ed Perlmutter, one of the hold-outs, managed to craft the compromise that the party has been looking for. According to the Perlmutter formula, Pelosi will serve no more than two additional terms. She initially resisted a term-limit, arguing it would hurt her clout to represent the House and ability to control the caucus. But, two terms pushes the date after the next election and secures her position of authority.

Perlmutter, who had a mercurial 2017 with his ill-fated announcement and withdrawal for governor, is now back in position as the leader of the delegation.

Unfortunately for Diana DeGette, Colorado’s longest serving member, her ambition to become the Democratic Caucus Whip was stymied quickly by the previous Whip, Jim Clyburn (currently Assistant Democratic Leader), and his allies in the Black Caucus. Clyburn, who will return to the Whip job when Democrats take over, just removed DeGette from the Deputy Whip position she’s held for 14 years. After 11 terms, the undercurrent among Denver Democrats suggesting it’s time for her retirement is likely to get louder.

Hence, Perlmutter is now a frontrunner to take on Senator Gardner, if he’s interested, and DeGette may be nearing the end.

Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Democratic Frontrunners: The Three B’s – Biden, Bernie and Beto

The first Des Moines Register poll is out (with CNN), and of the 30 or so Democrats running for president, twenty were tested and Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke are at the top of Iowan Democrats’ preference. It is more than a year ahead of the first in the nation’s Iowa caucus, but the polls are starting as are the campaigns (Hickenlooper had 1%).

Biden’s early advantage is that he simply has the top name identification, but he also represents the pragmatic, we need experience concern that Democrats have given President Trump is the non-stop attack campaigner.

Sanders hasn’t stopped campaigning after losing to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has a base of more independent and younger voters who like his outside status and generous plans for reshaping America. Although his views appear somewhat antiquated, like a dog-eared copy of “Das Kapital,” they received a shot in the arm from the out of left field win of socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 New York primary.

Beto O’Rourke is the Obama of the 2019 field. He ran a spectacular, although losing race in the state Democrats would most like to win - Texas. He has looks and a manner that draws crowds, and possibly most important, he collected millions of dollars of donations online and from national donors.

Needless to say, it’s early with a massive field of candidates. If 2016 was a surprise, both for the path to nomination and the election results, this one will likely be just as unpredictable.

CNN: Iowa Poll: First poll of likely caucusgoers finds Biden, Sanders, O’Rourke atop the field tweet

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

W. Delivers a Great Speech

Many saw President George W. Bush deliver his eulogy for his dad at the National Cathedral, but it also reads well. I’ve linked to it. Bush sends out a weekly newsletter from his presidential library. The peroration was strong and emotional. And, it had a message for 2020.

Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, “I think he can hear you, but hasn’t said anything most of the day. I said, “Dad, I love you, and you’ve been a wonderful father.” And the last words he would ever say on earth were, “I love you, too.”

To us, he was close to perfect. But, not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. (Laughter.) He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. (Laughter.) The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. (Laughter.) And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us. (Laughter.)

Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally. 

In his old age, dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, volume on high (laughter), all the while holding mom’s hand. After mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was to hold mom’s hand, again.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush | Photo:
Of course, Dad taught me another special lesson. He showed me what it means to be a President who serves with integrity, leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country. When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great President of the United States – a diplomat of unmatched skill, a Commander in Chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor.

In his Inaugural Address, the 41st President of the United States said this: “We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it. What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”

Well, Dad – we’re going remember you for exactly that and so much more.

And we’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you – a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have.

And in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Colorado Politics: Dems Circle Overhead, Eyeing Colorado’s Cory Gardner as Their Prey

The D.C. Democratic political establishment believes Cory Gardner’s senate seat is winnable and the race is on. Election 2020 is expected, at least in Colorado, to look a lot like 2018 – high turnout, many young, women and independents voting with Donald Trump on the ballot, no more popular than in 2018 to a substantial majority of Colorado voters. Democrats will also have the benefit of a newly installed majority controlling the governor’s mansion, both houses of the legislature and the constitutional offices, all pulling for the ticket.
Senator Cory Gardner | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

In a Colorado Politics article, I review the challenges facing Gardner with the caveat that he is the best statewide candidate Republicans have fielded since Bill Owens.

The outline of Senator Cory Gardner’s re-election contest has already taken shape. The key elements are near-constant speculation that he is the most endangered Republican up in 2020 in the U.S. Senate. A host of wannabe candidates promoting their own brands or causes have announced their intention to challenge Gardner, and top candidates are engaged in behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

Gardner shares most vulnerable honors with Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama, depending on the analyst. A review of Colorado’s history of federal elections this century reinforces Republicans’ sense of anxiety and Democrats’ anticipation.

Friday, December 7, 2018

John Brennan and CIA Director Gina Haspel

CIA Director Gina Haspel was on her way to brief the U.S. Senate on the Khashoggi murder when she and former CIA Director John Brennan walked past George H.W. Bush’s casket and were pictured together. Hopefully, the President either missed the picture or doesn’t assume Brennan was part of any briefing. Trump is not a Brennan person.

John Brennan and Gina Haspel

Haspel may be in trouble, even without the Brennan walk-by. She was complimented by senators from both parties on her candid assessment of the Khashoggi murder and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility. President Trump simply wants the story to go away. He’s decided. The alliance is transactional and Iran arms sales, jobs and oil supersede intelligence service assessments or the value of U.S. moral leadership. Trump summed up the intelligence on MBS as “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” know about the event.

The senators that heard Haspel’s assessment mostly disagreed. Lindsey Graham, always pungent, said there was “zero chance” the Crown Prince wasn’t’ involved in Khashoggi’s death. “There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” a reference to the discredited earlier presentation by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Mattis said there was “no smoking gun.” They both mostly simply repeated the President’s position that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was too important to disrupt over the Khashoggi affair.

The administration’s problem is that a large bipartisan group of senators don’t agree and are insisting on something happening to express the U.S. government’s outrage.

Bob Corker R
Lindsey Graham R
Rand Paul R
Richard Shelby R
Richard Durbin D
Robert Menendez D
Christopher Murphy D
Chuck Schumer D

The main target of recompense is American support for the Yemen War. While the Senate may only have resolutions, which are mostly gestures, the House Armed Services Committee in January, after the Democrats take over, is likely to be very unhospitable to funding the war.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

DU Hosts the Secretaries of State

Kerry and Albright Concerned About the State of Democracy, But Optimistic About Next Generation

The University of Denver hosted Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and John Kerry at their annual Korbel School dinner on November 29.
(L to R) DU Chancellor Chopp, Floyd Ciruli,
Madeleine Albright and John Kerry

In a conversation I moderated, Albright, who just published a book on the history of fascism
(“Fascism: A Warning”), bemoaned the rise of authoritarian leaders in Eastern Europe and most recently in Brazil, at the very moment America was abandoning its historic leadership of democracy. Kerry said “Our democracy is troubled and that the norms and values that we as a people were raised with are being violated.” He offered three needed remedies for American democracy related to limiting money in politics, ending gerrymandering and securing voter access.

In the nearly hour-long discussion, they both emphasized the need for women and young people to participate in politics and policymaking. They were optimistic the recent midterm elections reflected a revival of the activism of previous youth movements for the environment and against the Vietnam War. I pointed out that the Colorado midterm elections saw a record level of turnout and participation by women and Millennial voters and a result that mirrored the 1974 Watergate election.

The dinner attracted 500 and included former Senators Gary Hart and Hank Brown. Senator Michael Bennet gave John Kerry the Korbel School’s International Bridge Builder Award.

(L to R) Floyd Ciruli, John Kerry and Madeleine Albright

Denver Post: John Kerry, Madeleine Albright slam Donald Trump’s foreign policy at Denver event
DU: John Kerry and Madeleine Albright share messages of optimism at 20th Korbel Dinner

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Did Coloradans Shift to the Right on Ballot Issues? Not Necessarily – Colorado Politics

The midterm election has provided a treasure trove of data on the transformation of Colorado politics due to generational change, new issues and Donald Trump. A comparison of local ballot returns and the defeated state tax results highlights that Colorado voters in the 2018 election were not anti-tax, but selective on taxes favoring local initiatives over statewide efforts.

Colorado Politics published my latest column on the 2018 ballot issues here

CIRULI | Did Coloradans shift to the right on ballot issues? Not necessarily

Although most Colorado voters opposed new statewide taxes for schools and roads in the recent election, they were much more supportive of local tax proposals for schools, special districts and some county and municipal projects. Amendment 73, the $1.6 billion school funding proposal based on an income tax increase for upper-income taxpayers, lost statewide by 46 to 54 percent. Proposition 110, the highway bond proposal based on a sales tax increase, lost 41 to 59 percent.

But, Colorado voters are not reflexively anti-tax. They are selective in their choices, and in many cases, generous with local school districts, special districts, municipalities, counties and some special programs. That includes Republican and Democratic-leaning counties that voted against the statewide ballot issue. The following chart displays five counties, their nearly unanimous opposition to Amendment 73 and Proposition 110, but “yes” support for a host of local tax increases, some of them substantial. Schools were especially successful in their mill levy override and bond proposals, but municipal TABOR override and bond approvals and special district tax increases, such as urban drainage and flood control districts, also won voter support.