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The Politics of Finesse, 2018 Style - The Sunday Political Brunch - July 15, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Finesse is something we normally equate with athletics, but it can be in politics (or any other business), too! While President Trump continues to be a “bull in a China shop” it seems to be working for him, despite what his detractors say. It’s been a busy week for the White House, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“A Supreme Choice?” – On Monday night – with his flair for TV drama – President Trump
introduced Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court. With only a one-vote majority in the Senate, Trump rolled the dice and took a gamble on Kavanaugh, when he could have picked a safer, more moderate judge to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump’s finesse was basically saying to the Republican Senate caucus, “I dare you to oppose me!”

“Courting Democrats” – The president’s strategy may be of the “divide and conquer” variety. While he may lose a Republican or two on Kavanaugh – the leading candidates being Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – he may offset that threat by wooing more conservative Democrats to back Kavanaugh. Those targeted are Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota). All three are facing tough reelection fights in states where Trump is very popular. Backing his Supreme Court nominee could be crucial to winning another term. All three voted to conform Trump’s first pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“Creating Leverage” – As mentioned, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is locked in a tough fight against State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-West Virginia). Morrisey called a Tuesday news conference, to essentially call out Manchin’s undecided status on the Kavanaugh nomination. “At the end of the day, this is about his political survival,” Morrisey said outside the Capitol. “I think he believes he must support Brett Kavanaugh. Otherwise, he will be assuredly going down in defeat in November.” Manchin votes for Trump initiatives more than any other Democrat, and hails from a state Trump won by 42 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.

“The Pressure Point” – To know one’s surprise, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R-West Virginia) has already come out in support of Judge Kavanaugh. She said, “When I consider nominees for the Supreme Court, I don’t look for a person who promises a particular policy outcome or someone who is out to actually create laws. What I look for is a person whose record reflects experience, fairness, and respect for the Constitution as it is written.” Capito and Manchin work well as a team for West Virginia in Congress, despite being from different parties. Adding her name to the chorus of supporters for Judge Kavanaugh, puts more than subtle pressure on Manchin.

“Run for the Border” – Political finesse doesn’t just come in candidate races, it also comes from policy debates. Because of the border security and family separation controversies from the past few weeks, House
Democrats have called for an elimination of I.C.E., the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department. To the surprise of many, Republican leaders in Congress have basically said, “Okay, we’ll call a vote!” Since
the GOP has a strong House majority, it isn’t likely to lose. It’s a vote to shame Democrats in a brutal election year. Watch for it soon!

“Across the Pond” – The use of political finesse was not just at home this week. President Trump went to the NATO meetings in Belgium, and had harsh words for some of our closest allies who were also there. He singled out Germany, "If you look at NATO, where Germany pays 1 percent and we are paying 4.2
percent of a much bigger GDP – that's not fair," Trump said. Trump then held an awkward photo-op with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was not happy about being criticized. Trump later said all NATO countries agreed to up their contributions to 4 percent of their GDP, which those countries have since denied. But my guess is most will increase their contributions to some degree. He called them out, and publicly shamed some.

“On Being Presidential” – Oddly enough, this is the week President Trump has looked the most “presidential” since taking office, although in a sense much different than his predecessors. His style of being “presidential” is to be intimidating, and bullying if he has too. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who often disagrees with Trump, called the president a “street fighter.” We usually think of “presidential” as being diplomatic, not harsh and blunt. But, like him or not, if nothing else Trump is consistent in his tone.

“Russia” – Mr. Trump continued his world tour criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May, and then stood by her at a joint press conference (sound familiar?). And then he goes on to his final stop, the summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here’s what Trump says of their current relationship. “I think we’ll get along well. But ultimately, he’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia. I’m representing the United States. So, in a sense we’re competitors, not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy,” Trump said. “Hopefully someday, maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen but I don’t know him very well” Trump added. But will Trump call out and criticize Putin, now that 12 Russian intelligence agents have been charged with hacking into Democratic presidential campaign computers in 2016. Stay tuned!

“Why All of this Matters” – In many respects President Trump ran on a platform that the United States was being pushed around, not only by its enemies but its allies as well. His tough talk at home and abroad is very concerning to many, who think his brusque style will offend our allies. But his supporters love Trump’s bravado, starting when he battered and bruised so many of his 16 opponents in the 2016 presidential primaries. No, he doesn’t play nice. But his tactics put him in the White House, and supporters hope that same demeanor causes his agenda to succeed at home and abroad. It’s very much the 2018 campaign strategy.

What do you think of President Trump and all his tough talk? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Report for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and bordering states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

“Come See About Me” - The Supreme Court Picks -- Sunday Political Brunch July 8, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Monday night President Trump will announce his latest nominee for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. As with his first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, the event will have all trappings of an episode of Trump's old TV show, "The Apprentice." And since were on a Supreme's theme, we're "borrowing" some of their popular song titles! Let's "brunch" on that this week.

"Forever Came Today" -- When he steps down at the end of this month, Justice Anthony Kennedy will have served over 30 years on the high court. Twenty-nine of those years occurred after President Ronald Reagan - who nominated Kennedy - left office. That's how important these picks can be. Kennedy also became the key swing vote on many of the Court's 5-4 decisions. My point is, whether Donald Trump serves one-term or two, his Supreme Court appointees could rule for decades.

"Stop in the Name of Love" -- Supreme Court nominations are the subject of hardball politics. Just check two failed nominees, Robert Bork and Merrick Garland. Garland was nominated by President Obama after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. But since it was a presidential election year, the Republican-led Senate chose not to hold confirmation hearings until after the election, on the theory that the next president deserved to make the pick, not lame-duck Obama. Democrats were furious, but Republicans prevailed. Trump won and picked Gorsuch.

"The Happening" -- There's no subtlety on how this played out. Just look at the final two decisions of the Supreme Court in late June. Justices voted 5-4 to uphold President Trump's travel ban aimed at seven Muslin-majority countries. The Court also issued a 5-4 decision regarding union dues, which was a big blow to organized labor. In both cases, Gorsuch voted with the majority. Had Democratic nominee Merrick Garland been confirmed to the high court, the outcome of both cases would likely be the opposite. Wow!

"You Keep Me Hangin' On" -- Both parties are guilty of messing with high court nominations, and the impact of the above cases is evidence of that. Ronald Reagan had a relatively easy time with his first two nominees, Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia, mostly because Republicans held the majority in the Senate. But in 1986, Republicans lost the Senate and Democrats took over. Bork, who was deeply involved in the Nixon White House, became a target after he was nominated. He was rejected by 58 Senators. Anthony Kennedy, a more centrist nominee, then got the nod and here we are 30 years later. There’s a lot of tit-for-tat!

“Run, Run, Run!” – Some Democrats have suggested the standard that applied in 2016, should apply in 2018 – that is, wait until after the November elections. Fat chance. Republicans are in danger of losing the Senate, so there is no way they will wait. On the contrary, we could see confirmation hearings in late July, with a possible confirmation vote before Labor Day, if Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) keeps lawmakers at the Capitol during the August recess. My gut says the GOP will wait until September, but I predict the new Associate Justice will be on the bench for the Court’s traditional opening day on the first Monday in October.

“No Matter What Sign You Are” – As I so often state in this column, politics is as much about math as it is about ideology. Republicans control the Senate 51-49. They could lose one vote, but Vice President Mike Pence would come in and break the tie. But there is another factor. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is at home being treated for terminal cancer. What if he can’t make it back to Washington, DC for the vote? That means the GOP, in theory, cannot afford to lose a single vote.

“Someday We'll Be Together” – Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has threatened to bolt if the nominee is hostile towards Roe v Wade, the decision legalizing abortion. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is another potential flip, if the pick is unfriendly toward certain health care reforms in the Affordable Care Act. Is the Trump pick dead in the water, if two Republican Senators bolt? Oddly, no. That’s because three members of the minority party are in fights for their political lives. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), all face tough reelection bids in bright red states. For example, all three voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch. The pressure to “help” Trump from the other side of the aisle will be intense.

“I'll Try Something New” – A lot is at stake with this pick, and President Trump may get another. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 85 and has health issues. Because of this, both sides are already raising millions to support and oppose the current opening. This may be the most expensive, most combative confirmation we’ve seen since Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.

“Nothing But Heartaches” – As mentioned, the two biggest agendas are whether abortion remains legal, and whether Obamacare stays intact. My political radar suggests the former will stand as “settled law,” but the latter could be toast. But these are not just legal issues, they are intensely political. Because of that, where people stand on the judicial nominee could have a big impact on who wins control of the House and Senate in November, and whether President Trump is viable for a second term. The stakes could not be higher.
What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court nomination process? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author. He is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five surrounding states and the District of Columbia.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: SupremeCourt.gov

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