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Last Minute Political Shopping Sunday Political Brunch December 23, 2018

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SAVANNAH, Ga. – We're on the road again this week. Many of us are doing our last-minute Christmas shopping this weekend, but the politicians are at it, too, with a lot of last-minute picking and choosing on some key issues and now political races. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Government Shutdown” – Well, it’s here. Congress could not come to an agreement with President Trump to keep the government open, while also providing $5 billion for the border wall. The House approved the deal, but the Senate did not have enough “yes” votes. This may be more smoke than fire. That’s because 75-percent of the government is already funded until October 1, 2019. Also, many government employees affected are off for the holidays and on vacation. Others who serve law enforcement functions, such as the TSA at the airport, will be on the job. A lot of the shutdown will be invisible to the public, unlike the 1995 and 96 shutdowns that closed just about everything. It’s not “Chaos in the Nation’s Capital” as some describe!

“Winners and Losers” – In the short term, this is a win for President Trump. He was elected on promises of increasing border security and building a wall. In this case, he held his ground and did not back down. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi said he did not have the votes to pass it in the House, but he did! On the other hand, any perceived bounce the president gets will be short-lived. On January 3, the new Congress will be sworn in and Democrats will take control of the House. The bill will get a re-vote, and this time it will lose. Of the current shutdown, Trump said, “I hope we don’t, but we’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown.” My gut says the longer it lasts, the more it may hurt him, especially if financial markets continue to tank.

“Tennessee Waltz” – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) Tennessee is the first incumbent to announce he will not be running for reelection in 2020. The three-term U.S. Senator also served two terms as Governor of Tennessee, and was Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. He twice sought the GOP nomination for president. Alexander’s retirement is not a surprise, as he is age 78 with a long, distinguished political career. But he’s a safe incumbent, and now the open seat could be a toss-up in 2020. Republicans lost the House in 2018, because of so many similar retirements. It will only take flipping three or four seats for Democrats to take the Senate in 2020.

“Arizona Wants Me” -- The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” may hold true in Arizona. Rep. Martha McSally lost one of the closest U.S. Senate races of 2018 to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) Arizona. But Sen. John Kyl (R) Arizona, who was a placeholder after the death of Sen. John McCain (R) Arizona, announced he will be resigning at year’s end. Not to worry, the Republican Governor appointed McSally to fill out the remainder of the McCain/Kyl term until a special election can he held in 2020. So, in the end, both 2018 candidates, Sinema and McSally, win seats in the U.S. Senate. Arizona now joins California, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Washington as the only states where both Senators are women. Maine and Kansas also had that distinction a few years back.

“Mad Dog’s Mad!” – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the week was the sudden resignation of Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis. A retired Marine Corps General, Mattis had a 44-year military career. His departure was simple. He disagreed with President Trump pulling U.S. Troops out of Syria (and likely Afghanistan too). In his resignation letter Mattis said, “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.” Without naming specifics, it was clear Mattis and Trump were not on the same page regarding troop drawdowns.

“The Fallout” – The Mattis departure could be a serious blow to Trump’s presidency. Mattis was widely respected by both parties in Congress, and more than that, he was widely respected by our NATO allies as a reasoned, secure, and stabilizing force in what is not a highly-regarded administration on the international stage. He gave Trump solid backup, and in many cases, stability. We don’t yet know who his replacement will be – and there are great, talented candidates out there - but in the short-term this is a real blow to Trump.

“Market Jitters” – Well it’s no secret the financial markets are tanking, having their worst week in ten years. The Dow Jones was down 7 percent, just from declines in the past week. The robust economy was one of President Trump’s strong suits, but now things are in doubt. Yes, tax cuts stimulated the economy, and unemployment is at a 50-year low, but lots of people are now concerned about their retirement accounts. The bulk of the baby boom generation is about to hit retirement age. As I always say in this column, the two biggest assets for any politician or political party in power are how people feel about their wallets and their security. The economy is the top issue to watch as we head into the next election cycle. A downturn could put Democrats in control of the White House and Senate and continued gains in the House in 2020.

What are your thoughts on the last-minute politics of 2018. Just click the comment button on this page or hit the comments button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

© 2018, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

White House Politics: Chaos, Crisis, or Calm? – Sunday Political Brunch - December 16, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The year is ending on something of a tumultuous political note in Washington, D.C. Or, is it? There was a lot of sound and fury over images from the nation’s capital this week. Is it high drama, or simply political theatre? Let’s “brunch” on that this week!

“So Much for Tea and Crumpets!” – It is an American tradition that U.S. Presidents host foreign dignitaries, Congressional leaders – even leaders of the opposition party – in the Oval Office for photo opportunities and some friendly chat. It’s all for show - and almost always polite and dignified – until this week. It reminds me that the Director of the Small Business Administration is Linda McMahon, of World Wrestling Entertainment fame. This was a pro wrestling smackdown in the White House! Did she and husband Vince McMahon orchestrate? It sure looked like it!

“Nancy, the Donald, and Chuck!” – As mentioned, these events are almost always a polite photo op for the press. Not this time! The goal of the meeting was an effort to fund the government to prevent a shutdown on December 21st. But to make a deal, President Trump wants $5 billion in funding for the Mexican border wall. Trump said, “And then we have the easy one, the wall. That will be the one that will be the easiest of all. What do you think, Chuck?” Schumer fired back, “It's called funding the government, Mr. President.” The Speaker-elect essentially taunted the President who has a majority in both chambers of Congress until Democrats take over the House on January 3rd. Pelosi said, “I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown.” It went downhill from there.

“Advantage Trump?” - I have covered three government shutdowns and have come away with the same conclusion. Blame for the shutdown focuses on Congress, somewhat insulating the president. In late 1995 and in early 1996, Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress, while Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House. In 2014, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House. The dynamic is that Congress has 535 members, and so often looks like the gang that can’t shoot straight. Only one person sits in the Oval Office with no corners in which to hide. What does human nature side with: the mob, or the lonely man? But, while people may sympathize with Trump, his party does – at least for three more weeks – control both the House and Senate.

“Michael Cohen” – The president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison this week for arranging “hush money” payments for two women claiming affairs with Trump. The monies were paid not long before the 2016 presidential election, suggesting the candidate was trying to sweep the scandal under the rug at the last minute to avoid losing. The big question remains: were campaign funds used for the payoff (a big no-no), or was it simply money from Trump’s personal wealth (unseemly, but probably not illegal). This may be the impeachment investigation’s focus.

“Storming, ‘Stormy Daniels’” – The oddity of all this is that a judge has sided with President Trump in his legal fight with stripper and Trump paramour, “Stormy Daniels!” The judge ordered Daniels to pay nearly $300,000 in legal fees to Trump after her defamation suit against the president was dismissed. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero said Ms. Daniels, “is already being deterred from filing meritless defamation claims.”

“Government Shutdown V. Border Wall” – Not all Republicans agree with President Trump’s strategy (and the Oval Office smackdown with Pelosi and Schumer). Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) West Virginia, had this to say, “I just think that there’s a better way to do it. Because in the end, you have to open the government back up. And I’m not sure that it gives the president the leverage that he thinks it would. I think in the end that we would all be better served – and I think he believes this, too – to move forward and find a compromise.”
“The Strong, Silent Type!” – Poor Vice President Mike Pence. He sat there like a bump on a log. Like so many people who have held the number-two job, he just bit his lip and remained stoic throughout the entire dust up. He at least gets points for dignity and poise (and probably silence, too)

What are your thoughts about who’s to blame for any government shutdown? Just click the comment button on this page or write me at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five bordering states, and the District of Columbia.

© 2018, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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