The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Trump Doesn’t Need Different GOP Senators, He Needs More of Them

Steve Bannon to Sean Hannity this week, discussing efforts to recruit primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators: “Nobody’s safe. We’re coming after all of them.”

If every Republican senator is going to get a primary challenger backed by Bannon, no matter what, then what’s the incentive to vote Bannon’s way between now and Election Day?

“It’s about sending a message!” Yes, it sends the message that there is no amount of loyalty to Trump that is sufficient to placate the Steve Bannons of the world, so you might as well vote the way you and your constituents prefer and let the chips fall where they may.

The problem for the Trump administration is not really one of insufficiently loyal or cooperative Republican senators. Peruse the tables over at Five-Thirty-Eight about how often GOP senators vote the way the Trump administration prefers. Fifteen Republican senators have voted with the White House 95.9 percent of the time. The least “loyal” Republican senator is Susan Collins of Maine, and even she has voted with the White House position 79 percent of the time. The most cooperative Democrat has been Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who votes with the White House position 55 percent of the time.

Apparently the angry populists can’t read a chart. If the Trump administration wants to get more legislation passed by the Senate, it doesn’t need different Republicans; it needs more Republicans. Replacing the most cooperative Democrat with the least cooperative Republican will still get a vote going your way an additional 24 percent of the time. A person who really wanted to see the Trump agenda become law would skip over the primary challenges and focus entirely on unseating the half-dozen or so vulnerable Democratic senators in 2018.

As I noted this weekend, one of Bannon’s targets, John Barrasso of Wyoming, is one of those senators who has voted with the White House’s position 95.9 percent of the time. The two times he didn’t was on Russian sanctions; on one of the votes the tally was 98 to 2. There is no right-of-center ideology or policy argument against Barrasso remaining as a senator. It is entirely stylistic. Ask a Trump supporter why Barrasso has to go – and I have – and you get answers like “they didn’t pass repeal and replace.” But that’s the fault of John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and, in the most recent case, Rand Paul! Barrasso voted for it.

No, the Bannon argument is entirely about style. Barrasso is an even-tempered, soft-spoken statesman and that sort of lawmaker doesn’t hold the interests of the angry populists. This is an argument about aesthetics masquerading as one about ideology and policy. The angry populists want to be entertained. They want drama. They prefer Roy Moore suddenly pulling out a handgun on stage. A good portion of people probably tuned out the paragraph up there because it involves numbers and percentages. Barrasso feels like an establishment squish to them, so he’s got to go.

Steve Bannon wants to send former Congressman Michael Grimm back to the House of Representatives, describing Grimm as “a straight-talking, fire-breathing, conservative populist.” Perhaps, but he’s also a convicted tax felon who served seven months in prison and who admitted in court to hiring illegal immigrants at a restaurant he co-owned. I thought the populist revolution was supposed to go after employers who hire illegal immigrants. But Grimm is an angry guy who once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, so I guess he gets a pass. Aesthetics!

How Long Has Hollywood Known about Weinstein’s Alleged Misconduct?

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal is just getting started.

As more women have come forward, questions have swirled over who in Hollywood might have known something and even directly or indirectly enabled him or protected him. Roughly two dozen former assistants and young actresses have said the powerful and widely feared producer routinely asked them to his hotel room under the pretense of talking about roles or work, and then solicited massages while he was naked or wearing a bathrobe, or sexually forced himself on them.

Ms. Paltrow told The Times that when she was 22, Mr. Weinstein invited her to his hotel bedroom for a work meeting and later proposed a massage. She said she had fled in terror and later relayed the incident to her boyfriend at the time, Brad Pitt. Mr. Pitt confirmed that he later confronted Mr. Weinstein at a theater premiere and told him to never touch her again.

Mr. Affleck later dated Ms. Paltrow, though it is not known whether she relayed news of the incident to him.

George Clooney has also weighed in on the controversy, telling The Daily Beast in an interview that was published Monday night that while he was aware of rumors that young actresses had slept with Mr. Weinstein to get roles, he had been unaware of any misconduct or the settlements Mr. Weinstein had reached with women.

“I didn’t hear anything about that, and I don’t know anyone that did. That’s a whole other level, and there’s no way you can reconcile that,” said Mr. Clooney, who has worked with Mr. Weinstein repeatedly over 20 years. “There’s nothing to say except that it’s indefensible.”

A lot of people will be asking how the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., could not bring charges against Weinstein after the New York City Police Department managed a sting operation and caught Weinstein saying “I’m used to it” and “I won’t do it again” when discussing previous groping of a 22-year-old model.

The evidence that this was an “open secret” in Hollywood is piling up. The NBC sitcom 30 Rock had a character declare, “I’m not afraid of anyone in show business, I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions.” In 2013, while hosting the Oscars, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane cracked a joke referring to the nominees for best supporting actress: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

Were these jokes, or a twisted warning? And what does it say about Hollywood that there could be veiled jokes or allusions to Weinstein’s behavior, but no actual consequence?

Hey, Remember the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Finally, some good news from a reader in the Dakotas:

The Dakota Access Pipeline has boosted North Dakota’s tax revenues by $18 million in its first three months of operation, according to an analysis by the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Director Justin Kringstad said Tuesday producers have seen a $2 increase in the average price for Bakken crude in June, July and August compared to 2016 figures. He attributes the increase to more competitive transportation costs as a result of Dakota Access going into service in June.

That $2 boost for every barrel equates to $6 million in additional oil tax revenue for the state each month, Kringstad said.

His figures are based on current North Dakota oil production, which increased 3.5 percent in August to an average of 1.08 million barrels per day, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources reported Tuesday.

Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said the figures he’s seeing in his office are consistent with Kringstad’s estimates.

“It’s helping all the producers and royalty owners regardless of whether those barrels are actually traveling down the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Rauschenberger said. “That has really set the market and made the transportation much more competitive leaving North Dakota.”

If that trend continues, Rauschenberger estimates North Dakota will see a boost in oil tax revenue of $140 million each two-year budget cycle.

Some people think conservatives hate higher tax revenues. No, we hate higher tax revenues when they’re driven by tax increases. When production and economic activity increase, generating more tax revenue, we’re quite happy.

ADDENDA: Odd and tough day yesterday. On the way back from CNN on the New York City subway yesterday afternoon, a fistfight broke out right in front of me. I missed what triggered the altercation, apparently a bald guy thought a long-haired guy had either tripped him or tried to snatch something from him. It was like one of those scenes in a Western when all the townspeople close the shutters and hide before the big gunfight; everyone around me seemed to scatter and disappear; it’s as if the other riders somehow developed the ability to blend into the walls. Being the big idiot that I am, and not having much space to maneuver or back away, I reacted by going into . . .  “Dad mode” and yelling at them. I know this will probably shock you, but yelling “Stop it! That’s enough! Calm down! Separate!” does not work on two enraged grown men. I actually did get the bald guy to stop whaling on the long-haired guy after . . .  oh, probably ten to fifteen punches . . .  and then the long-haired guy decided to kick the bald guy, starting the fight up again. No one else dared to even verbally intervene. (If New Yorkers are redeveloping the ability to avert their eyes from violence perpetrated right in front of them, I guess this means the Giuliani era really is over.)

Eventually the train finally stopped in a station, and the two guys headed to the platform, where they continued to yell at each other. The conductor announced the train was staying in this station — I don’t know if it was because someone managed to report the fight, or because of some other issue — and the two guys blended into the crowd. I stepped off the train, saw two cops descending the stairs, and ran over to them, relaying what had happened.

So how was your Tuesday?


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