Tuesday, July 16, 2019

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“Nativist, Xeno­pho­bic, Coun­ter­fac­tual and Po­lit­i­cally Stu­pid”

Who called the president’s deplorable words about The Squad those four things?

Nancy Pelosi?

EJ Dionne?

George Conway?

The New York Times ed board?

Doug Heye

None of the above. 

Brit Hume of Fox News did. 

I’m tempted to end this episode of Wide World of News right there. 


My take:

Two things happened in the last 48 hours that are quite unusual in the Age of Trump. 

Well, one of the things definitely happened. The Gang of 500 thinks the other thing happened. But they have thought that before and been wrong. 

The unusual thing that definitely happened: many (not most, not all, but many) elected Republicans denounced Trump’s language in semi-certain terms. There were few of the weasel worded, “That isn’t something I would have said” or “The president will tweet what he will tweet.”

No, these were largely varying degrees of condemnation of the words and the man, although many felt compelled to criticize Democrats as well in their statements. 

So: why?

Why would they risk the wrath of the Republican base, whose inevitable and severe retribution towards any elected official with the temerity to cross Donald J. Trump, billionaire (who has owned a mansion and a yacht) is typically given as the rationale for why silence in the face of Trumpian outrages is the golden rule?

According to my analysis of the data, and by looking into the soul of the Senator sitting next to me, I would say that those who spoke out did so 70% based on actual outrage and 30% based on concern about the Republican brand. 

Because, you see, many of them cling to the now quaint and antiquated notion that there is a Republican brand that survives, that hasn’t been subsumed by the Trump Party brand. 

Someone should really speak to them about that. 

The thing that might have happened is that Donald Trump, tweeting with strategy aforethought (not out of pique or a desire to change the subject from….goodness knows what), might have made a colossal political blunder THAT WILL ACTUALLY HAVE REAL NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES FOR HIM. 

There are too many times to recall in the last four years when the Gang was certain, certain Trump had committed a sin both moral and political for which he would pay a price. 

This time, everyone, even people “close” to Trump (who is actually close to Trump?), thinks this was both wrong and wrong. 

How will we know if this damages the president?

The Washington Post has some White House tea leaves of frustration, rather than moral indignity: “Inside the White House, few aides offered a vigorous defense of Trump’s tweets and statements, even privately. There was some frustration that the president had inserted himself into what was an internal Democratic feud…There was frustration in the White House that by going so far in his tweets, Trump had squandered the moral high ground, impeding the administration and his campaign’s ability to use Omar and Tlaib’s more controversial comments to political advantage.”

There will be a lot of clarifying falling action starting today (to be sure, just the very beginning of the falling action on this, which won’t conclude until November, 2020, at the earliest).

Joe Biden, who Monday said the comments were “racist” and the president “a bully,” will say more Tuesday, including a recorded, promoted appearance on “Morning Joe.”

The House Republican leaders (largely silent so far) are holding a press conference at 10am ET, and if they think they can get away with the usual song and dance routine this time, they are very poorly staffed.   Leader Kevin McCarthy’s limited remarks on Monday will be the starting point for the media’s queries.

Mitch McConnell, who declined to comment on all this on Monday, is holding his weekly leadership press conference too, and he said he would “be happy” to address the issue then.  He will likely address it, but chances are, he isn’t – and won’t be — happy, because he long ago grew tired of dealing with this president’ actions which he does not believe further the interests of Republicans.  And which he finds personally exhausting, which he has started to tell people with increasing frequency and, yes, frustration.

The president has a “closed press” Cabinet meeting at 1130am ET and it is not totally crazy to think that the situation is grave enough that someone might respectfully speak truth to power in that meeting, and that that someone or a different someone might leak the fact that the Emperor-King was ever-so-mildly challenged in front of the court. (But based on how Team Trump reacted/dodged on Monday, that might be a silly thing to have typed.)

Will business leaders, who condemned Trump after Charlottesville, step up now?

And a vote is expected as early as Tuesday on Speaker Pelosi’s resolution of condemnation in the House.  How will Republicans vote? Hard to know right now.

If what the president said wasn’t so disgusting and horrible, this would be very interesting to watch. 

Eventually, someone will poll. 

Politico has this useful history lesson:

“There’s also evidence that moments in Trump’s presidency when he’s been accused of making racist statements have done the most harm to his image. When Trump claimed there were ‘very fine people on both sides’ after white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., killing one woman and leaving others injured, his approval rating dipped to a low of 39 percent. And after word leaked out of the White House that Trump once referred to El Salvador, Haiti and African nations as ‘shithole’ countries, his rating fell to 36 percent.”

Meanwhile, the looming debt ceiling and budget crashes constantly continue to loom, as the Big Casino finances of the world’s great democratic experiment always do. 

The Washington Post story does a brilliant job of summing up the state of play as Tuesday dawn breaks — with the exception of failing to reveal if Nancy Pelosi is bluffing. Although, one could argue, there’s no reason to bluff when you hold the far better hand. 

It would be easy to understand the Speaker’s being confused as to why the Secretary of the Treasury is going from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other acting like a man with four aces when in fact he has a 2, a 3, a 4, a 5, and a 7. 

The administration and the Republicans need a deal to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a government default, and they need a budget deal to avoid a shutdown, since congressional leaders of both parties believe the GOP will be blamed for either of those possibilities.

My take: The fight over the president’s “go back to your countries” remarks is running parallel to the budget and debt talks that are far from completed and which could quickly produce a big crisis of their own.  Pelosi and Mnuchin are expected to talk again on Tuesday.  With tensions running high, what momentum is there for a deal? 

Because Pelosi is a patriot, and because she is likely to extract a lot on her list of demands in return for bailing out a semi-desperate Treasury Secretary, there will likely be an agreement. But it will also likely be a short-term pact that kicks the can towards Halloween, Thanksgiving, or, yes, Christmas.

In other news:

A new New Hampshire Democratic primary poll shows how very wrong I was about the level of Bernie Sanders’ floor of support in the Granite State.  This thing is a jump ball, although Biden still leads numerically.

Bruce Mehlman’slatest slides on 2020 (and beyond) are hot off the e-presses.  Great look at the state of the two parties and the presidential race.

The president’s formidable fundraising, including from fat cats who opposed him four years ago, continues apace, per Politico.  Oh, and also from small-dollar donors, per the New York Times.

My take: Democratic strategists don’t take about this much publicly (except in fundraising pitch emails of their own), but they are worried about the asymmetry going on here.

Biden had a lot of donors max out in the second quarter, putting pressure on him to find more bundled donations and expand his grassroots support in the third quarter, or risk seeing his number fall.

My take: Achieving this will only come with more political and polling success than the former VP currently is enjoying. It will be a bad day for his comms staff if they have to spin a bad fundraising number in the fall.

Big Four

Presidential candidates to focus on older voters’ issues at AARP/Des Moines Register forums.

Joe Biden draws line against progressives on health care.

Booker’s Iowa senior adviser leaves, citing personal reasons.

Nevada committee turns its attention to boosting participation in 2020 census.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

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Every Important DC Relationship Now Involves Nancy Pelosi

1. Pelosi and the President

Outrageous Trump tweets targeting The Squad bring the Speaker to their defense.

My take: Trump’s “racist and breathtakingly divisive” tweets broke his usual mode of doing things that are shocking but not surprising.

His Sunday 280-character bombs were both shocking and surprising.  In the short term, he has inexplicably given Pelosi a chance to unite her party and the Democratic House caucus against their (long-time) common enemy, and calm the intra-party battle that was raging right up until the moment Trump tapped his phone.

Although condemnation was quick and universal on the Democratic side (Hillary Clinton weighed in), there is no one else in America now who projects Pelosi’s moral and political authority to stand up to Donald Trump when he crosses a line.  

The media’s love affair with Pelosi is now as long-running as it is justified as it is (nearly) unanimous.  She will surely be unwavering in galvanizing her party, and much of the nation, against the president’s outrageous outburst.  She will be helped by the fact that many Republicans are privately disgusted.

So Team Pelosi’s project today (with the media rightfully joining in): getting Republicans to say what they think about the president’s words.

There is this: “Doug Heye, a Republican strategist, called Mr. Trump’s tweets about the Democratic House members racist but said that GOP lawmakers would find it hard to comment on them, given the president’s enormous popularity among Republicans.”

“’If you were a Republican member of Congress for 10 years and didn’t speak out on “birtherism,” are you going to speak out now?’ Mr. Heye said.” (WSJ)

I think, just this once, Mr. Heye will be wrong.  By tomorrow’s episode of Wide World of News, some Republicans will have almost certainly weighed in.

We have seen Trump take purposefully provocative steps many times. In this case, he seemed to be trying to stoke the tensions in the Democratic Party by highlighting the controversial Squad.  Instead, he has given Pelosi an opening to re-unite her full caucus.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), as quoted in the Washington Post:  “I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring everybody together — I think the president just did that for us. Nobody in our caucus is going to tolerate that kind of hatred.”

2. Pelosi and The Squad

Despite the president changing the storyline, there were 72 hours more of extraordinary weekend sniping between the Speaker and the progressive movement, exposing real fissures that are not likely to go away for long, despite Trump’s apparent error.

My take:  Republicans historically have claimed that the press hypes the disputes within their party but papers over divisions between Democrats. This is one time when even Rush Limbaugh can’t make that charge with a straight face. 

The “Pelosi vs The Squad” narrative was barreling full steam ahead down the media tracks, with no end in sight, with reasonable people warning/predicting that it could cost the Democrats the White House. 

The tensions are certainly making it much harder for the party to speak with one voice, and talk about matters such as, say, the president’s health care policies. 

Although Pelosi has never been beloved by portions of the activist left, it was striking to see the negative reaction the crowd at this weekend’s Netroots Nation delivered at the mere mention of her name.

Although this battle started out based on real disagreements about how to change America, it has now become highly personal, with insults and jibes shooting in both directions. 

The assumption in the current coverage is that Trump’s actions have healed the Democratic breach. There are, however, votes and hearings galore coming up that will bring the divisions back into play. For Pelosi, the key is the make the fights substantive (and subject to gentle-but-firm whip counts) and not personal.

3. Pelosi and Bob Lighthizer

If you don’t think the fate of the new North American trade deal hangs in the balance, and if you don’t think big business is freaking out about it, you are not paying sufficient attention.

My take: Pelosi would like to solve this problem for the right reasons. Lighthizer would like to solve this problem for the right reasons. There is a lot more trust between them than exists between Pelosi and Trump.  It is going to take much more political will, creativity, and luck to solve this.

4. Pelosi and Steve Mnuchin

If you don’t think the fate of the U.S.’s fiscal reputation hangs in the balance over the debt ceiling limit, and if you don’t think big business is freaking out about it, you are not paying sufficient attention. 

My take: Pelosi would like to solve this problem for the right reasons. Mnuchin would like to solve this problem for the right reasons. There is a lot more trust between them than exists between Pelosi and Trump.  It is going to take much more political will, creativity, and luck to solve this.

5. Pelosi and the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates

The Speaker didn’t say this: “Donald Trump, you can see it in his face. He thinks the game is coming to him. You can see it in his face every day.”

My take: Michael Bennet said it.  But the Speaker is thinking the same thing, and she is concerned.  She has her hands full with 1 through 4 above (and more), so/and she can’t micro manage the nomination process. 

Although she is to the left of Bennet on some policy issues, she shares his concern that what is happening on immigration and health care in the presidential nomination process could give her country four more years of Donald Trump.  She knows that if she doesn’t do everything she can to possibly stop this from happening, that outcome will be a part of her legacy.  A part her grandchildren will ask her about until her last days on this earth. 

In Other News

Read these things:

Extraordinary lattice work in this Washington Post story about acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.  If you care about palace intrigue, this story will take your breath away. If you don’t care about palace intrigue, you just need to know that Mulvaney is using his powers to deregulate as fast as he possibly can.

My take: Too many people cooperated with this story for Trump’s liking. A lot of people will mention the piece to him. There is a chance that by week’s end, there will be some changes in how Mulvaney operates.

On the other hand, this Wall Street Journal story will only reinforce the president’s enthusiasm for his ambassador to Germany, the Honorable Richard Grenell.

My take: Most observers think being good on cable TV is the only way for an ally to win the president’s love.  However, having Twitter game and demanding change from European countries can also do the trick.

Will Joe Biden fight back in the next debate? Dan Balz explores that key question. 

My take: While the former VP ponders going on offense, watch for him to have to play more defense on issues such as trade and his national security record.

New Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll numbers show Biden and Sanders beating Trump now. 

My take: The election isn’t now.

China’s economic growth slows, potentially giving the Trump administration the leverage it finally needs to strike a trade deal.

My take: Trump has always needed an agreement by the State of the Union. Now Xi might also.

Big Four


‘Stand up for what we believe in’: Only Pete Buttigieg gets standing ovation from Corn Feed audience.

New Hampshire

Biden campaigns as Obamacare’s top defender.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

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The 8 Biggest Questions in the Democratic Presidential Nomination Contest

1. Does Joe Biden have it in him to correct what ails his campaign?

My take: Literally every Democrat I spoke with this week who is not on Biden’s payroll thinks he does not.  But a politically weak Biden, like a politically weak Hillary Clinton four years ago, can nonetheless win the nomination. 

He still leads in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll, and he has a monster post-debate edge in a Fox News poll of South Carolina (35% to 14% for Sanders and 12% for Harris).

Biden gave a foreign policy speech Thursday, but supportive Democrats worry that the coverage of his campaign continues to be mostly about process (like this Washington Post story saying his donated Senate papers remain under seal), not his vision for America’s future.

2. What single piece of media content should most concern the Democrats today?

My take: David Ignatius’ essential reading Washington Post column.  Ignatius is no fan of Donald Trump, but he rounds up all the reasons why the president’s re-election prospects are looking stronger, in part because of the leftward movement and disarray on the Democratic side. 

Ignatius doesn’t quote Bill Clinton’s famous line, but he might as well have: In politics, sometimes it is better to be strong and wrong than right and weak.

3. Is there any reason to think that the Democratic field will continue to move inexorably to the left on issues that will make it harder for the eventual nominee to win a general election?

My take: As of this morning, absolutely yes.  The civil war between Speaker Pelosi and The Squad is both a symptom and a cause of the pressure the progressive movement is putting on establishment leaders in Congress and on the party’s presidential candidates to go further to the left, or risk wrath.

The dangers of this dynamic are being called out by conservatives (the Wall Street Journal editorial page has no fewer than three gleeful pieces on this point Friday, including one in which Peggy Noonan says AOC is “a one woman Committee to Re-Elect the President.”)

But the left is venting, too. Listen to Missouri Democratic Congressman William Lacy Clay in an appearance on Fox News, blasting AOC and Co.:

“It was such a weak argument to say she was being picked on and that four women of color were being picked on by the speaker. It tells you the level of ignorance to American history on their part as to what we are as the Democratic Caucus.”

“It is so inappropriate. So uncalled for. It does not do anything to help with unity. It was unfair to Speaker Pelosi.”

“It’s going to take a process of maturing for those freshman members.”

Pelosi tried to tamp things down Thursday, but there is no figure in the party, including the Speaker, strong enough to tame the powerful forces that have been unleashed.  Because, democracy. And, because, social media.

4. Are the Big 5 (Biden, Warren, Harris, Sanders, and Buttigieg) the only ones in the hunt?

My take:Politico has a story detailing the challenges facing the rest of the field. It is remarkable how rarely any of the other candidates break even 2% in any national or key state poll. 

The press has settled into the narrative that almost all the oxygen should go to the Big 5, making it hard for the others to raise money, rise in the polls, and get noticed enough to raise money or rise in the polls. Expect a cacophony of attempts to have breakthrough “moments” at the next pair of debates.

The biggest source of comfort to this group in the WSJ/NBC poll: Just 12 percent of respondents said they had definitely made up their minds about which candidate they will support in the nomination fight.

5. Are Iowa and New Hampshire going to be as important as ever in determining who wins the nomination?

My take: They are shaping up to be, even though it is on one level irrational to let two small, non-diverse states create unstoppable momentum.

Look for one or more of the Big 5 to start making the case that those two states are important, but shouldn’t be so determinative of who wins the nomination.  Harris has already put her toe in the water on this argument, suggesting a competitive showing in Iowa is good enough to go forward.  With few exceptions (John McCain in 2008), candidates have failed to win this rhetorical fight with the press in the past. 

The media holds two contradictory impulses on this point: it would like a drawn-out nomination battle, but it can’t seem to shake its narrative need for Iowa and New Hampshire to play a major winnowing role.

6. How will Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris respond to increased pressure and scrutiny?

My take: As I have suggested before, the answer to that question could well determine who the nominee is.  Both Republicans and Democrats now have opposition research on both loaded in the sling, ready to fire, at a place and time of their choosing.  Look for some of it to be let loose shortly before the upcoming debates.

7. How much bang for the buck will Warren get from her massive staff on the ground in Iowa?

My take: The way to win Iowa hasn’t changed since 1976 – organize, organize, organize, and get hot at the end.  It now appears that Warren is the kind of candidate who could get hot at the end.  So her poll standing there now does not matter much.

8. What explains the gap between Pete Buttigieg’s fundraising support and polling support?

My take: Inside the bubble of those paying close attention, Mayor Pete is well known.  Outside the bubble, despite his many media appearances, he still has relatively low name ID and narrow support from mostly white, educated, and wealthy backers.  The collective big brains of Team Buttigieg are trying to solve this problem, but if he does not succeed, he won’t be the first candidate of this type to fail to expand his demographic backing beyond this rarified group (Tsongas ’92, Bradley ’00).

In other news:

Big Casino: Pelosi “ready” for summer global budget/debt deal.

ICE raids still on tap for weekend.

Trump drops Census fight.

Latest on the Gulf storm.

R. Kelly arrested.

Big Four

New Hampshire

Bill allowing ‘X’ gender on licenses becomes law.

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Gridlock, Pelosi Edition

Speaker juggling debt ceiling, budget talks, impeachment calls, North American trade deal, and The Squad.

My take: The single most important story for you to read today is this Washington Post tour de force on the state of play of the Big Casino matters of the debt ceiling/budget deal/spending caps (DCBDSC), plus the North American trade deal thrown in for good measure.

Once upon a time, and today, unrealistic fantabulists imagined all these issues could be dealt with before the August congressional recess.

Halperin’s First Rule of Capitol Hill: The old saw that “Congress only acts at the last possible minute and when it absolutely has to” is no longer true – now typically Congress blows past apparent hard “deadlines” and fails to act even then.

Pelosi reportedly trusts only Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on budget matters (having lost faith in the acting White House chief of staff and the man running OMB, whose name she apparently at least once failed to know/remember).

Pelosi reportedly only trusts Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer on the North American trade deal.

Right at the end of the Post story, the paper drops this:

“In private, Pelosi and Trump’s conversations on the border spending bill and other topics have been more cordial and productive than their public comments might suggest, aides say. But for the House speaker and the president, the coming battles over the budget and trade could prove the biggest test yet.”

It seems impossible to imagine that Pelosi can find a way to raise the debt ceiling anytime soon without a budget deal.   It seems impossible to imagine Pelosi can find a way to get the necessary progressive support for the new Mexico/Canada trade deal anytime soon.

Rationally and irrationally, the most likely way to break these logjams would be direct talks between Pelosi and Trump.  But that seems impossible too.

What the Speaker wants on these matters is clear: a budget deal through the election that increases domestic spending (and raises the debt ceiling and nixes the spending caps) and a North American trade deal that the left can love.

What does the Speaker want the outcome to be regarding the extraordinary public fight with the progressives in her caucus?

She wants them to keep their unhappiness private, inside the family. She wants them to stop tweeting criticism of the more centrist Democratic members of the House, who help account for their majority.  And she wants liberal congressional staffers to stop tweeting criticism of her team (that last practice might appall her more than anything else).  

With Bob Mueller’s pending testimony a week away, she wants the committee chairs to stage manage the spectacle in a way that appeases the left, doesn’t embarrass the party, and keeps calls for impeachment (which she is still certain would be a political error for 2020) on a low boil.

That is, for a Speaker, a lot to ask for.

But that is what she wants, and her lieutenants are right now, per usual, backing her up big time.

Gridlock, Trump Edition
My take: The President is most certainly delighted to watch the tensions between Pelosi and The Squad but, despite the way he often behaves, he is in fact not a bystander on the Big Casino or North American trade cliffhangers.

The path to success on these matters is not clear and failure could cause the stock market and the real economy to take big hits that would be extremely bad for America and for Trump’s re-election prospects.

The same is true for the trade talks with China: The path to success is not clear and failure could cause the stock market and the real economy to take big hits that would be extremely bad for America and for Trump’s re-election prospects.

Again, the Washington Post has that nailed too, saying a new hardline Chinese negotiator seems to make a deal less likely.

The forty-two ring circus that is Donald Trump’s Washington should not obscure for you the ticking calendar on these issues: Big Casino DCBDSC, North American trade, and China trade. 

Done before the August recess? Nah.

Done by Christmas? More likely, but still hard.

As I said, we know what Pelosi wants on these matters. The two key questions are: what does Trump want and how in the heck does he think he is going to get them before the nation defaults on its obligations, a government shutdown looms, and the economy tanks on word of the collapse of talks on two “vital” trade pacts?

No one knows the answers to those questions, including, it would be safe to wager, Donald J. Trump.

In Other News

Those ICE Raids Reportedly Back on for Weekend

My take: If Trump goes through with this, it will roil the immigration story right back to the top of the news heap.

Acosta Apparently Satisfied Trump

My take: Status quo ante still holds (Acosta can likely survive until/unless Senate Republicans turn on him.)

McConnell Opponent Flip Flops to Kavanaugh Opposition

My take: Amy McGrath can raise Beto-like money because of her opponent, but beating the Senate Leader will require running a near-perfect campaign. This is an extremely inauspicious beginning.  Team Mitch will do everything it can to keep McGrath off balance, a job will that be made easier if she is unprepared for even the most obvious questions imaginable. When the opposition research starts to drop, she is going to need to be a lot more ready.

Karl Rove on Democratic Field

My take: Read this column to understand how giddy the President’s campaign is about the current state of the Democratic race (which POTUS remains uncharacteristically quiet about for a reason).

John Podhoretz on Democratic Field

My take: Read this column to understand what Joe Biden needs to do to get back up off the floor.

RIP: Jim Bouton

Big Four

New Hampshire

Sanders facing tougher 2020 competition for liberal support.

Sununu vetoes election finance reform bills.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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How Is Everybody Doing?


* Court: Can’t block Twitter foes

* NY Times: Co-hosted solo party with Epstein

* Suffers Census question setback on lawyer change

* Displays more selective amnesia on ties to UK ambassador

* Florida strip club to use presidential golf course for fundraiser

My take: Investigative reporting on Epstein ties still in overdrive as Chaos Presidency threatens to further turn off suburban voters.


* Controls fate of new Mexico-Canada trade deal

* Plans July legislative sprint meant to appease all caucus factions

* NY Times publishes its version of “Speaker vs Squad” feud

My take: Apparent rare moment of regret and recalibration by Pelosiover unnecessary self-inflicted inflaming of intra-caucus tensions.


* Leads in new national poll

* Regular Joe now a millionaire

My take: Voters care less than reporters do about politicians’ personal wealth but candidacy still faces extreme skepticism from even many of his friends.


* Draws former fighter pilot as Democratic opponent for re-election

* Costa: Democrats try to turn Senate Leader into national boogeyman for 2020

* In classic move, compares himself to Obama on reparations, slavery family past

My take: Political press would love to see him lose, but turning him into face of GOP beyond Bluegrass State tough to do in Age of Trump


* New York Times essential reading profile

*  Washington Post essential reading on his famous associates

My take: Potential blackmail storyline could be game changer for media, legal case.


* Kathleen Parker: he has to go

* Wall Street Journal ed board defends Labor Secretary

* Report: Acting chief of staff Mulvaney wants him out

My take: Can probably hold on to job until/unless Republican Senators call for him to quit, or if there are new new facts.

Rip Torn


* Video sample of his iconic brilliance

My take: Highly rated and/but/yet underrated as an acting genius.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

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The Politics of Epstein

In an indictment alleging conduct that indeed does “shock the conscience,” prosecutors laid out their criminal case against Jeffrey Epstein. 

The New York Times editorial board does a very good job of asking and answering an important question for our society: “Who Protected Jeffrey Epstein?”

Here are the answers to the other key political questions:

Q. What is Donald Trump’s relationship with Epstein?

A. This comprehensive-ish Washington Post story suggests the Trump-Epstein relationship was, not is.  There is a well-documented past between the two, but as of now, nothing to substantiate all those blind items that insiders email back and forth all day suggesting a more lurid and modern connection.

But ears are pricked by this: “The White House did not respond to a request for comment.”

There is more investigative digging going on here, but, remember: it has been going on for years.

Q. What is the White House posture towards Labor Secretary Acosta, who presided as US Attorney in Miami over the original Epstein sweetheart plea deal?

A. Again, the Washington Post has the state of play:

“Officials at the White House… are nervous that Democrats will encourage women allegedly abused by Epstein to testify publicly before Congress, drawing attention to Acosta’s work on the plea deal, according to current and former administration officials.”

‘Trump has no immediate plan to force out or fire Acosta, two White House officials said.”

Q. What is Team Bill Clinton doing regarding all the chatter about him?

A. Coming forward with the most comprehensive account of the Clinton-Epstein relationship it has ever given:

“Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña said the former president ‘knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York.’ He said that, in 2002 and 2003, Clinton took four trips on Epstein’s plane with multiple stops and that staff and his Secret Service detail traveled on every leg.”

“’He’s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade, and has never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida,’ Ureña added.”

Q. What about the involvement of the Southern District’s Public Corruption Unit?

A. Courtesy of the very smart Mimi Rocah :

“What should we make of reporting that Epstein’s prosecution is being overseen by the Public Corruption Unit of the SDNY? Short answer: It’s too soon to say. It could mean that a public official is being investigated or will be charged with Epstein. That could be a minor public figure or a major one. It could mean that SDNY is investigating misconduct in the plea that Epstein was given in 2008. Or it could mean none of those things.”

Q. What are the chances that Epstein gives up his famous friends to try to save himself?

A. Again, courtesy of Mimi Rocah:

“Could Epstein cooperate and implicate other powerful men who were involved in this sex trafficking, both Republicans and Democrats? Yes—but the SDNY will not cooperate with a child predator like Epstein easily (for good reason in my view). In my 16 years as a prosecutor, I am only aware of two instances in which someone convicted of a crime of this nature was offered a cooperation agreement. That means Epstein would have to have some very valuable and verifiable information to trade for a cooperation agreement.”

Let’s be clear: these are all partial answers, valid only right now, and subject to change (maybe even by the time you read this).

In other news:

Warren Raises $19 million in Q2

My take: This is undeniably a signal achievement that establishes Warren’s place in the race as rising towards the top.  But now the surging Massachusetts Senator, like all the candidates in this crowded field, has more to prove.  Can she spend the new coin effectively to move up in Iowa? What will she raise in Q3?  And, still and most importantly, how will she fare when she has her time in the barrel?

Barr Claims to Have Solution to Census Question

My take: Nearly all experts continue to say this is a slow-motion waste of time.  But veteran observers of Barr’s verbal body language see in his remarks reason to wait until we see what he has up his well-tailored sleeve before declaring this Trump-driven quest dead.

US-China Trade Talks Heat Up a Smidge

My take: If you are interested in the president’s prospects for re-election, watch this space closely. Even incremental developments matter big, because there is almost nothing that will impact 2020 more than how the president finesses the economic relationship with China.  A deal before the State of the Union and Iowa caucuses will at a minimum goose the markets.

Trump’s Special Path to Wharton

My take: Essential reading from the Washington Post’s muckraking Michael Kranish on how Donald Trump went Ivy, based on what appears to be the first on-the-record interview with the family friend/admissions official who played a key role.  For those who are still looking for more data to confirm that Trump is a lying mythmaker.

Big Four


Sioux City to host forum on Native American issues among presidential hopefuls.

Julián Castro returns to Iowa, trying to grab onto new interest after the national debate.

New Hampshire

In Concord, Gillibrand speaks up for equal pay, equal protection.

South Carolina
SC senators discuss school accountability, state takeovers.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

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There Are Two Kinds of Wide World of News Readers

Those who spent part of their Sunday reading Maureen Dowd’s interview with Nancy Pelosi and those who did not.

My take: If you are in the second group, read the column now. It captures perfectly the Speaker’s views on the dominant things in her life: her grandchildren, the president, Mitch McConnell, chocolate, and the divisions within the House caucus. 

The only thing that was missing was what she thinks of Joe Biden, which, after the grandchildren and chocolate, might end up being the most consequential matter she faces in the next year.

However, the most important immediate implication of Pelosi’s remarks can be found in this Washington Post article by Bob Costa, in which he captures the pointed return of fire at Pelosi from the world of Representatives Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley (and their allies), who feel slighted, yet again, by the Speaker’s apparent dismissal of their influence and importance.

The Costa article is every bit as important to read as the original Dowd column. Together, they are a master class in the current divisions within not just the House caucus but within the party as a whole.

Unlike a lot of fights between politicians, this is not a disagreement based on power or personality.  It is not really even about policy exactly, either.

And, unbelievably enough, it isn’t even primarily about how Capitol Hill Democrats should conduct themselves in the Era of Trump.

What this conflict between the Speaker and the four outspoken and press savvy members of her caucus is about is this: is working within the system to accomplish as many progressive goals as possible the right way to go, or has that been tried and failed and Democrats need to accept nothing short of the revolution many of their constituents in their dark-Blue districts are demanding?

To state the obvious (that is what Monday mornings are for…), that debate is playing out on the presidential campaign stage as well.

Neither side is going to back down anytime soon.

There is an argument to be made that all this energized debate is good for the Democratic Party’s chances of beating Donald Trump. 

If you are a Democrat, however, making that argument requires having the optimism of someone who strolls down the carny confident they can effortlessly toss a ring around the neck of a glass Coke bottle.

Did Biden’s Weekend Apology Over Segregationist Remarks Succeed?

Decision to say he was sorry reflects concern inside his campaign about holding onto his African-American support, especially in South Carolina.

My take: We don’t know whether the gambit defused the situation, as evidenced by two separate person-on-the-street quotes in twodifferent, side-by-side Washington Post stories:

“’I don’t buy all the negativity about his past because all I’ve seen him do is work for the common good,’ said Virginia King, a 63-year-old Charleston resident who attended Biden’s town hall on Sunday.”


“’The fact that he’s still tone-deaf in 2019, and he served with a black man for eight years . . . it’s offensive,’ said Coretta Graham, a former prosecutor from Corpus Christi, Tex., who chairs the local Democratic Party there. ‘If you’ve been with someone that long, you ought to know. . . . To me, that means you weren’t paying attention.’”

For now, the biggest newspaper in South Carolina breaks the tie:

The State: Why black Joe Biden supporters in SC remain loyal, despite his record on race.

Internet Waits for Epstein Case to Intersect With Political World

Monday court appearance and unsealing of indictment could expand case beyond wealthy and powerful convicted sex offender.

My take: Of all the speculation on social media and the web, this tweet from DNC member Christine Pelosi (daughter of the Speaker) is getting the most attention:

This Epstein case is horrific and the young women deserve justice. It is quite likely that some of our faves are implicated but we must follow the facts and let the chips fall where they may – whether on Republicans or Democrats. #WeSaidEnough #MeToo

Let’s all allow the fevered speculation to give way to what federal prosecutors say Monday. Then we can recalibrate.

It will be interesting to learn what drove the feds in New York to seek to fix the injustice which occurred in the original prosecution of Epstein, in which his victims’ rights were blatantly violated.

Trump Justice Department Changes Lawyers on Census Case

Move comes as administration looks for a way to get citizenship question back on the form after adverse court rulings.

My take: It seems clear, per this Washington Post story, that President Trump is determined to win on this one, either via litigation or executive action.  Career DOJ lawyers, expert opinion, and media coverage are 95% against him here. Which doesn’t mean he will give up anytime soon.  But it also doesn’t mean Trump will win.  As of now, he is most likely to go down fighting.

“Don’t Forget Health Care”

Washington Post has essential read on federal court case that could put Republican efforts to invalidate ObamaCare back front and center.

My take: Right now, this is the one issue most likely to cause a public fissure between the White House and other Republican candidates in 2020.

In Other News

Iran’s announcement that it is breaching previous limits on uranium enrichment is a bigger deal than the president’s unhappiness with Fox News, including its weekend anchors (for unspecified sins).

Report: Tom Steyer to enter Democratic nomination battle.

Do not underestimate the implications of Steyer becoming the only candidate with the capacity to self-fund his effort. Super Tuesday is expensive.

ICYMI: ABC News/Washington Post poll shows higher Trump approval rating and a path to victory, but still many issue problems at the moment.

Interesting, but still relatively meaningless for both sides until there is a Democratic nominee.  Trump’s numbers are good enough to win and bad enough to lose!

Top sports story: USWNT fans chant for equal pay after another World Cup Final win

Top business story: Deutsche Bank looks to cut 20% of staff in major overhaul

Top entertainment story: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ opens with a record-setting $185 million Independence Day stretch

Big Four


Iowa, Nevada to launch caucus voting by phone for 2020.


Do Latino voters really care if the 2020 candidates speak Spanish?

South Carolina

Harris accepts Biden’s apology in SC over segregationist comment that stirred up 2020 race.

Why SC is likely stuck with a stockpile of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear materials.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

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Somewhere, Michael Deaver Smiles

Trump confounds critics by “normalizing” himself (for one night only?) with uber-presidential Fourth of July extravaganza.

My take: Every word in the president’s lyrical Thursday night speech could have been delivered by Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Democratic elected officials and liberals (including liberal journalists who pretend they aren’t liberals) played right into Trump’s hands for weeks by carping about the event, anticipating that it was going to be a MAGA rally on steroids, filled with Soviet-style military hardware, egomaniacal boasting, attacks on the “fake news,” denigrating comments about progressive Democrats, and chants of “lock her up.”

Instead, the clever White House speechwriters and a highly skilled television producer (who happens to be president of the United States) flipped the script and turned Donald Trump into something he rarely has been in office: a non-partisan lover of United States history and of the best the nation’s rainbow coalition of citizens has to offer. 

The inclusion of American heroes in the audience (a la at a State of the Union address) and use of historical references were deft touches.  And I would guess the number of non-white legends mentioned by Trump was probably not an accident.

It was clear even before the speech that Democrats were making a huge mistake carping about the president’s wanting to celebrate the Fourth of July with taxpayer funds.  Trump advisors have been gleeful at all the talking heads, politician sound bites, and media coverage criticizing the president juxtaposed with Trump’s patriotic, virtual flag waving on Twitter.

The speech was so apolitical, this is the best the AP could comically do to suggest otherwise: “He largely stuck to his script, avoiding diversions into his agenda or re-election campaign. But in one exception, he vowed, ‘Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars,’ actually a distant goal not likely to be achieved until late in the 2020s if even then.”

If the Democrats and liberals who unwittingly aided and abetted the president’s success in scoring a political win do not learn every possible lesson about how badly they handled this, they will be letting down the tens of millions of Americans who are counting on them to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

Trump laid a trap for his critics, fully leveraging the benefits of incumbency. His critics walked right into it.  Chances are they will just do their normal thing and be angry at the president, rather than do the soul searching required to stop behaving this way in time to defeat him.  Democrats and liberals will be making a major error if they comfort themselves by saying Trump’s speech will only appeal to the base of his party.

Charlie Brown was Nostradamus compared to the Democrats and liberals who fall for this over and over again.

Beating an incumbent president is really hard. 

Team Trump just showed it knows how to both keep a secret and utilize the powers of the presidency to enhance his chances for re-election. The Democrats just showed that they have such antipathy for Donald Trump that they can’t resist falling for his tricks so thoroughly that they become characters in his self-created dramas and do his bidding.

In other news…

Team Biden Puts Harris on Defensive Over Busing

My take:  The California Senator isn’t in a full-on retreat, but the former VP’s operation has aggressively forced the press to scrutinize her wobbly position on the issue undergirding her debate moment. Harris now seems to be arguing that her only problem is with Biden’s past, not his current stance. 

The New York Times’ coverage is typical – critical but understated: “This is not the first issue on which Ms. Harris has muddled her response — she has also struggled to articulate whether she thinks private health care should be eliminated — but the California senator dismissed questions about her consistency.”

Kicker: Biden, who Democrats say needs to make his campaign about something other than electability and inevitability, tells reporters in Iowa: “I’m still way ahead.”

PS: Biden interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN Friday morning.

Bernie Recalibrates…Maybe

Politico says the Sanders campaign is happy about where things stand while still considering making some changes.  (“sharpening a new line of attack against his rivals and experimenting with different ways to connect with hard-to-reach voters …also continuing to shift from big rallies to more intimate events in the nation’s early states, such as ice cream socials and selfie lines — an acknowledgment that Sanders needs to adopt a more personal approach and participate in additional retail politicking to win.”)

My take: Sanders still has a lot of donors, volunteers, and fans.  And/but his campaign’s dismissal of the latest polls sounds like old-fashioned spin.  There is no doubt that a warmer personality would help the Vermonter’s fortunes with some voters, but many of his backers believe his mega rallies are among his most important ways to demonstrate strength and electability.

Kicker:“Very quickly,” he said, in response to a selfie request in Iowa on Thursday.


The Trump administration has until 2pm Friday to say how it plans to try to save the Census citizenship question, with skepticism abounding and presidential desire still riding high.


Key US government employment data will be released at 8:30am ET, as Washington Post profiles “40%” of Americans left behind while the economy grows, and as the Wall Street Journal editorial board makes the case for the Trump economy.


Full Southern California earthquake coverage here.

Top sports story: Joey Chesnut devours 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes for his 12th Nathan’s hot dog eating contest win
ABC 30 

Top business story: Oil prices to drop as global demand fears grow

Top entertainment story: ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ producer arrested by Malaysian anti-corruption investigators

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

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Happy Independence Day

The non-stop Trump Show is exhausting for many and/but a hit program for his base.

On this day of celebration, the commander-in-chief is at war with:

— the Democrats, “his” Pentagon, the press, and tradition, over his 4th of July military-infused rally, which might be rained on and/or draw a crowd so small that there could be an inauguration-style embarrassment up ahead.

— “his” Senate Republicans, over his budget proposal.

— the courts, the Democrats, and liberal editorial boards, over his confusing continued pursuit of a Census citizenship question rejected by the judicial branch.

— the courts and civil liberties groups, over his immigration policies.

My take: The president will continue to take heat for all of these battles.

On the merits, criticism of his stances is perfectly justified.

The challenge for our great American institutions and traditions on this grand holiday is that we have a person in the Oval Office who has a showman’s feel for how to pick his fights — and an escape artist’s capacity to slip away from one hairy situation into another fresh one.

All you need to read are the closing paragraphs of the Washington Post’s story about tonight’s expensive DC festivities that the president has programmed with himself as the star:

The president’s advisers say Trump sees the event as a way to associate himself with the flag and patriotism, which will resonate with many Americans the way his comments criticizing National Football League players for kneeling during the national anthem did.

After wading into the anthem debate, according to two former senior administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, Trump told his aides, “It’s a winning issue for me.”

“What are they going to say? I’m being too patriotic? I believe in America?” one official recounted Trump saying. “Give me a break.”

Asked about the event Wednesday, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh was unapologetic. “President Trump loves this country,” Murtaugh said. “He’ll never apologize for that.”

These tactics and mindset – and the efforts to combat them — will be the story of 2020.

In other news:

Biden vs. Harris bubbles over in Iowa.

Harris busing stance is now as confusing as her position on private health insurance.

New Iowa poll suggests Biden support has collapsed.

Warren makes a sustained play for African-American support.

Top sports story: Simmons, 76ers, working through details of max contract extension

Top business story: U.S. manufacturing outlook falls closer to contractionary level
Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ eyes a $30 million opening weekend

Big Four


In Iowa, Kamala Harris says of Trump: ‘We have a predator living in the White House.’

Joe Biden on Donald Trump’s Fourth of July parade: ‘He misses the whole point’.

Buttigieg to roll out national service policy during Iowa visit, including ‘Climate Corps’.

Trump sends nearly $1 billion to Iowa farmers to help stem trade losses. It’s the second-largest amount, nationally.

To heal student ‘trauma,’ Tim Ryan wants a mental health counselor in every school.

Have a safe and sparkly holiday.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Where We Are

Late Tuesday, as I was pondering national and Iowa polls showing Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren surging, and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders falling, I got a series of text messages from a wicked smart Democrat with no horse in the field.

The messages read as follows:

“So, Bernie is dead but he doesn’t know it yet. Biden has some serious vulnerabilities. I’m downgrading him significantly.”

“What odds would you give Bernie of getting the nomination at this point?  Warren and Harris are both higher in my view.” 

“And the debate hurt Biden more than the polls are showing right now. [Harris] cut an artery and he is slowly bleeding out.” 

“KH has stepped up at impact moments (announcement / Kavanaugh/ debate).”

Let’s take these thoughts in turn and advance them:

1. Bernie is not dead, but he is in serious trouble. Warren is beating him on issues and momentum; Buttigieg outraised him in the second quarter.  Sanders’ horrid debate performance got little attention because Biden’s horrid performance had more impact on the race.  Bernie’s campaign team cannot force him to have a second act, which he needs. I overestimated his capacity to hold onto a good share of his 2016 supporters.

2. Biden does indeed have some serious vulnerabilities, which I have written and talked about at length since before he entered the race. In fact, he hasn’t even scratched the surface on all the ways his candidacy and campaign skills are highly problematic (and not just for 2020).  His chances should indeed be downgraded significantly.  On paper, he should still be considered the frontrunner. But presidential elections are not run on paper.

3. I still give Sanders about a 14% chance of being the nominee, because he could win a bunched up Iowa and then fight his way to a plurality of the delegates.  But he is losing support from his previous demographic base, not expanding his support into the areas he was so weak in against Hillary Clinton.  Is he “deader” than Biden? He is.

4. Warren and Harris do indeed now have a better chance for the nomination than Sanders. More on that in a moment.

5. Biden IS in more peril than this round of polls suggests. He will likely soon be passed by Harris and perhaps Warren. At that point, many of the bundlers and establishment types, who were for him with as much enthusiasm as one would have for an anchovy pizza from a vending machine, will take their leave.  A campaign shakeup would be useless because the problem is not the staff (although there ARE some staff problems there). The problem is the candidate.

6. Harris DID have a great announcement event and has excelled at some Senate hearings. And Warren has had her boffo moments too. But Harris’ dealing with questions about private health insurance and about her record as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general, and Warren’s attempt to deal with questions about her heritage, suggest we should not be too quick to jump to the conclusion that these two surging candidates will be immune from fumbles and flubs when the spotlight burns brighter/harsher. Which, after some additional momentum-fueled days of positive coverage, it most surely will.  They will both have their days (weeks?) in the barrel, and nobody (NOBODY) can say now how they will perform when their time comes.

7.  Never in the history of the Republic have two leading women presidential candidates battled it out for the nomination of either party. That would be momentous. Would they drop opposition research on each other? Attempt to cut each other down with scathing debate one-liners? Run negative ads against the other one?  Will Harris feel pressured by Warren and the base to move more to the left, or will she see an opening with Biden’s fall to become the center-left favorite?  Or can she somehow do both?

8. Can Buttigieg or anyone else crash this party?  As I wrote yesterday, Iowa is the most rational route there, but the Gang of Four, even with a weakened Biden and a weakened Sanders, are going to take up a lot of space in the Hawkeye State caucuses.  We shouldn’t rule out Mayor Pete until we see what he gets in return for spending his 2nd quarter money, and how much he raises in the 3rd quarter.  And in the spirit of eternal possibility and patience, we should hold open the chance that someone else could leapfrog over the others now at 0%-3% and get in the hunt. But it is very, very unlikely at this point.

9.  The fact that in the span of a month, the field has been scrambled so that the order of likelihood of being nominated is now (1) Harris, (2) Warren, (3) Biden, and (4) Sanders should remind us all that there are many more twists and turns coming.  There has never been a nomination contest in either party quite like this.  Humility is called for.   Even in morning tip sheets.

10. And we must all once again remember the wise words of Chairman Haley Barbour: In politics, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems.  Although, this morning, things are looking very bad for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.  The same is true for them as it is for Warren and Harris: if they want to win the nomination, they are going to have to be prepared to fight for it, smartly and relentlessly, for many months to come.

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In other news:

Government Report: Conditions on Mexican Border Are Grim

My take: We are a better country than this. Forget the politics (and there are a lot of politics on both sides).  Fix how children are being treated now. It is the only moral thing to do.

Trump Uncharacteristically Quiet About Democrats’ Border Cave

But others are talking.

Read what Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Washington Post about the unanimous position of the Democratic presidential contenders from Debate 2 on immigration decriminalization:

“That is tantamount to declaring publicly that we have open borders.  That is unworkable, unwise and does not have the support of a majority of American people or the Congress, and if we had such a policy, instead of 100,000 apprehensions a month, it will be multiples of that.”

My take: The president will be saying much the same thing, more colorfully, come the general election.  The Wall Street Journal ed board has figured this out too.

Census Citizenship Question Dropped

My take: Rare decision to quit, not fight, shows some Wizard behind the Trump Oz curtain decided the politics of their quest was not smart. Find the Wizard, and we can understand why.

Trump to Hold Rally in North Carolina on Day of Mueller Hill Appearance

My take: Of course.

Trump Campaign and RNC Raise Record Coin

My take: It is important to focus on how presidential campaign money is spent at least as much as on how much is raised.  A lot of the re-elect’s cash is quietly going to general election voter modeling, giving the incumbent a huge head start. 

Top sports story: USWNT outlasts England, will head to World Cup Final 

Top business story: More than 80% of S&P 500 firms have slashed their expected earnings 

Top entertainment story: Summer box office numbers continue to disappoint as companies and audiences pivot to streaming

Big Four

New Hampshire

John Delaney holds 100th presidential campaign event in N.H.

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