Good Thursday morning.
Situational awareness: A court filing shows former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had a $10 million loan from a Russian oligarch with close Kremlin ties. (Reuters)
1 big thing: Trump takes over America
President Trump, with his refusal to take advice or yield to experts, is the West Wing. Republicans who control both halves of Congress won't lift a finger against him and fully support his every move.
- And now — with his chance to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy — Trump may have fewer checks on his power than any president in his lifetime. (Trump was born in 1946, the year after FDR died in office, 72 years ago.)
The media, normally the last check on a president with total control of government, has lost the trust of most Republicans and many Democrats, after two years of Trump pummeling.
- An alumnus of the Bush 43 administration told me: "This president is facing fewer checks and balance than any president in recent history except perhaps George W. Bush after 9/11."
Consider Trump's scorecard:
- Trump will soon have the conservative Supreme Court that Republicans dreamed of for a lifetime.
- His one big legislative accomplishment — a huge tax cut — will silence business critics as long as he’s around.
- Scott Reed of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told me that for all the establishment skepticism of Trump, he "has united national security conservatives, social conservatives and economic conservatives."
- The Republicans who control the House and Senate have performed little real oversight — and won’t.
Be smart: The 2018 elections matter exponentially more today than they did 24 hours ago.
If you're a Democrat who now can't digest breakfast ... Presidential historian Michael Beschloss has this solace:
- "If you look at presidential power in terms of checks and balances, Donald Trump may feel as if he is riding high. If he manages to get his first choice confirmed, he could soon enjoy a strong conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and he dominates his party in Congress in a way we have rarely seen in modern times."
- "Polls show him with high standing among Republican voters. But history suggests that this may not last forever. Trump is under the growing shadow of the Mueller probe and other investigations."
- "If those inquiries or failure of any of his key policies should undermine his popularity and standing, he may find that Republican senators and members of Congress are no longer so obedient."
- "As for the Supreme Court majority, history is full of examples in which justices have not turned out to consistently vote as expected."
- "And how often in history has a President been opposed by a majority of the voters with the intensity of the current national opposition to Trump?"
2. Why voting matters
- Perhaps even more important for the long run, a young liberal Supreme Court might have ruled on America for a generation.
The WashPost's Philip Bump did the math about Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin back during the transition:
- "Trump won those states by 0.2, 0.7 and 0.8 percentage points, respectively — and by 10,704, 46,765 and 22,177 votes. Those three wins gave him 46 electoral votes; if Clinton had done one point better in each state, she'd have won the electoral vote, too."
- "But for 79,646 votes cast in those three states, she'd be the next president of the United States."
- P.S. "The 540-vote margin in Florida that swung the 2000 election is still the modern record-holder for close races."
How it's playing, via CNN "Reliable Sources" newsletter:
- "CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin[:] 'Abortion will be illegal in a significant part of the United States in 18 months ... Roe v. Wade is doomed.' And the Daily News was blunt on its front page: 'We Are F*#%'D.'"
3. What Trump is thinking: Young judges dominate shortlist
Republican sources tell us that the most likely Supreme Court picks are all in their late 40s to early 50s, meaning the new justice could serve for decades.
President Trump and the White House especially like these five, people familiar with administration thinking tell Jonathan Swan:
- Brett Kavanaugh, 53, of Maryland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — widely respected and very much on Trump’s radar.
- Thomas Hardiman, 52, of Pennsylvania, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — good chemistry with Trump and White House Counsel Don McGahn. They respect him and like the way he engaged in the process last time, even though he wasn't picked.
- Amy Coney Barrett, 46, of Indiana, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Amul Thapar, 49, of Kentucky, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — on the shortlist largely as a courtesy to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
- Raymond Kethledge, 51, of Michigan, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Behind the scenes: Trump doesn’t personally care that much about some of the social issues, such as LGBT rights, energizing the Republican base over the Supreme Court.
- But Trump knows how much his base cares about the court. He believes that releasing his list of potential court picks during the campaign was a masterstroke, and helped him win.
- And he sees replacing Kennedy with an unimpeachable conservative as a political victory that he can deliver for his people.
Trump came into the job knowing only a bit about the Court:
- On the job, Trump has felt the effects of judicial decisions largely through the liberal circuit court challenges to his travel ban. This week’s events — a series of favorable Supreme Court decisions including upholding his travel ban — reinforced in Trump’s mind the crucial importance of the court to his agenda.
- History suggests that as Trump ruminates Kennedy’s replacement, he will spend a lot of time talking to the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo (who wrote Trump’s original list of judges.)
- But Trump will also likely pick the brains of a much wider range of allies, including folks like conservative movement leader Ralph Reed, said a source who saw Trump first-hand during the Neil Gorsuch nomination process.
- McGahn and the White House lawyers will also play key advisory roles.
P.S. Online bettors favor Brett Kavanaugh, per Reuters:
- Kavanaugh has a 34% chance; Thomas Hardiman is second at 16%, according to the online market PredictIt.org.
4. What the new justice could change
The replacement of Anthony Kennedy's swing vote with a more reliable conservative would have immediate implications, Axios' Caitlin Owens and Sam Baker write:
- Abortion: Kennedy voted with the court’s liberals to strike down some of the most aggressive efforts to limit women’s access to abortion. A more conservative court likely would be far more open to curtailing Roe v. Wade.
- LGBT rights: It’s hard to imagine the court overturning Kennedy’s historic 2015 decision on same-sex marriage. But it’s very easy to imagine a broader range of carve-outs and exemptions for people like the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
- Criminal justice: Kennedy was skeptical of the death penalty in certain cases, and had recently suggested that solitary confinement is unconstitutional.
State of play:
- The court's term starts in October, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said shortly after yesterday's news broke: "We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy's successor this fall."
- Democrats can't block it by themselves: Republicans hold 51 seats, and only need 50 votes.
- Republicans to watch: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two generally pro-choice Republican senators.
- Democrats to watch: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. These red-state Dems all voted for Neil Gorsuch, and are defending seats in states Trump won in 2016.
- The Merrick Garland precedent: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, citing McConnell's handling of 2016, said the vote should be delayed until after midterms. Republicans, of course, have no such plans.
What's next: Trump has privately predicted he'll get four justices appointed in his first term. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85, Stephen Breyer is 79, Clarence Thomas is 70 and Samuel Alito is 68.
Go deeper: "Anthony Kennedy’s most important decisions," by Sam Baker.
5. Kennedy's left shift
Although a Reagan appointee, Anthony Kennedy ends his tenure on the liberal side of the spectrum, as Axios Visuals Editor Lazaro Gamio shows.
- Each line of the chart tracks the ideological lean of a Supreme Court justice over the past 80 years, and shows how Kennedy swung left during his last couple of years on the bench.
6. So, how was Trump feeling yesterday?
Here he was during a lunchtime Face-to-Face With Our Future event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:
And here he was during an evening Make America Great Again Rally in Fargo, N.D.:
7. Diversity drives Democratic primaries
"The worst thing to be in many Democratic primaries? A white male candidate," per WashPost's Michael Scherer and Dave Weigel:
- "The newest star of the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, launched her New York congressional campaign by declaring 'women like me aren’t supposed to run for office' ... Her campaign slogan: 'It’s time for one of us.'"
- "That appeal to the tribal identities of class, age, gender and ethnicity turned out to be a good gamble ... in a year when Democratic voters are increasingly embracing diversity as a way to realize the change they seek in the country."
- "Given an option, Democratic voters have been picking women, racial minorities, and gay men and lesbians ... at historic rates."
- Why it matters: "The divide is more stark than any other so far in the primary season, and it reflects the party’s growing dependence on female and minority voters."
"The ideological splits between liberal and far-left candidates were predicted to be the focus of clashes this year, but voters have sent conflicting signals."
- "The tribal trend has implications for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, where a historic number of nonwhite and female candidates are considering launching campaigns, including Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.)."
8. "A Spymaster Steps Out of the Shadows"
N.Y. Times Magazine cover story ... John Brennan, CIA director from 2013 to 2017, "quietly ruled the national-security state under President Obama. Now he’s coming forward to rail against Trump — and to defend his own legacy," by Mattathias Schwartz:
- "While Trump’s theories surrounding the election are half-baked demagogy, he has reason to be preoccupied with Brennan. As Obama’s C.I.A. director, Brennan would have read the top-secret reports supporting the intelligence community’s public conclusion that Vladimir Putin favored Trump and sought to manipulate American voters to elect him."
- "I asked Brennan about his own decision-making process. His answer suggested a possible reason that he hasn’t been outspoken regarding Trump’s drone policy: He had some degree of confidence, he said, in Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, who had served as an aide to two of Obama’s secretaries of defense. Brennan said he and Kelly had 'spent a lot of time on the phone' during Obama’s first term, in 'late-night calls, early-morning calls.'"
9. Tracking power
"Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president, has accepted a role in the White House as deputy chief of staff for communications," per ABC News:
- "A formal announcement is likely by the end of the week."
- "Shine is very close with Fox News primetime star Sean Hannity, a close ally of Trump. After his dismissal from Fox, Shine was a guest of Hannity at a White House Christmas party."
10. 1 van thing
"Amazon packages, which usually show up in a UPS truck, an unmarked vehicle or in the hands of a mail carrier, may soon be delivered from an Amazon van," AP Retail Writer Joseph Pisani writes from Seattle:
- "The online retailer, wanting more control over how its packages are delivered, rolled out a program ... that lets entrepreneurs around the country launch businesses that deliver Amazon packages."
- "They'll be able to lease blue vans with the Amazon logo stamped on it, buy Amazon uniforms for drivers and get support from Amazon to grow their business."
- "Amazon said it can cost as little as $10,000 for someone to start the delivery business."
- "With these vans on the road, Amazon said more shoppers would be able to track their packages on a map, contact the driver or change where a package is left."
- "Amazon has beefed up its delivery network in other ways: It has a fleet of cargo planes it calls 'Prime Air,' announced last year that it was building an air cargo hub in Kentucky and pays people as much as $25 an hour to deliver packages with their cars through Amazon Flex."