The worst kind of crooks

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On the roster: The worst kind of crooks - Poll shows voters skeptical about tax law - Dems will hold off on pushing out Pelosi, for now - Scott opens Florida Senate campaign on term limits - Cloaking device failure

THE WORST KIND OF CROOKS
Happy Tax Day to all of our fellow conscripts in funding the federal government.

Americans paid something like $1.7 trillion in the previous fiscal year, so even if revenues are down this year as expected, we will still be ponying up plenty today.

Nothing highlights the tension between the government and the governed quite as clearly as Tax Day. Americans overwhelmingly believe that tax rates are pretty fair and most see their tax payments as a patriotic duty.

But when the government wastes your money or uses it for corrupt purposes it makes Americans particularly angry.

One of the reasons Republicans are freaking out so much about the $1.3 trillion spending package they pushed through before Easter is that they know as Americans are dropping checks in the mail today they will be thinking about all that money flying out the door.

And no matter how much Republicans these days like to bemoan the “Deep State,” those concerns will never match the longstanding antipathy Americans have for the IRS. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in his decision in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland “that the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” And, no doubt, many Americans feel like their bank accounts are rather destroyed today.

That’s why Republicans had such success in highlighting the alleged corruption in the Obama-era IRS. We would argue that Lois Lerner did as much to help the GOP take the Senate in 2014 as anyone.

Lerner was accused of suppressing conservative groups ahead of the 2012 election by targeting their tax-exempt statuses. In our post-apocalyptic campaign finance system, outside groups use loopholes in tax law designed for charities to instead raise and spend money on political endeavors.

Lerner would eventually be found to have been a bad manager, but was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. But when then-President Barack Obama said in 2014 that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” at the IRS, Republicans found a very useful lever with which to pry at midterm voters.

People are usually willing to believe the worst about people or institutions they hate, and Lordy day do Americans hate the IRS.

One of the things that keeps the United States from turning into a banana republic is the cynical, often hypocritical attacks on corruption employed by both parties. Much like with deficit spending, it always tends to be the party out of power that expresses concern. Then, having successfully exploited the subject to maintain majority, the party in power is more mindful of the potency of the issue, at least for a little while.

The same Democrats who couldn’t see anything corrupt about Lerner cracking down on conservative groups are suddenly aghast about EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s lavish lifestyle. But Americans of both parties and of neither party have an interest in enacting strong penalties for misconduct, even conduct that is only brought to light out of narrow partisan interest. It may be hard for partisans when the blows fall on their own side, but we benefit as a culture in the name of this tit-for-tatism.

We noted with interest the growing calls for President Trump to pardon former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who was sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of a host of political corruption offenses, including trying to sell an appointment to the Senate seat left vacant by Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008.

Trump and Blagojevich have a personal connection having been cast mates on the NBC reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump eliminated Blago from the contest after the convicted but-not yet incarcerated politician failed to properly research facts about the Harry Potter book series for a challenge. Blagojevich’s epitaph for the show can be found in his explanation for his failure: “But it’s Slithering and it’s Hufflepuff and it’s Ravencloth…”

The former governor’s lack of knowledge about young adult literature did not harden Trump’s heart toward him. Trump said the sentence handed down against Blagojevich the next year was a “tragedy.”

Now Blagojevich’s wife and others are appealing to Trump for a pardon or at least a commutation of his sentence.

The Chicago Sun Times argues that Blagojevich deserves mercy because it would be, “bad news for the principle of proportionate justice.”

Even as a political note of West Virginia origin, we find this blasé attitude about public corruption pretty stunning. There are probably people in prison in Illinois for 14 years or longer for nonviolent drug offenses or crimes of passion. If people are worried about proportionality, perhaps they should save a thought for those folks and not for a greedy man who abused the public trust for his own benefit.

If we are to be concerned about proportionality, than no crimes would be as serious as those that are perpetrated against the public trust. Corrupt governments almost invariably become authoritarian ones.

Americans are having a hard time these days separating good politics from good government. That’s not anything new. But increasingly we hear arguments that suggest the solution to the unequal application of the law is to not apply it at all.

If you do that, then the whole country will end up just as corrupt and ungovernable as Illinois is.

THE RULEBOOK: YOU AIN’T LYING 
“As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 10

TIME OUT: WHO’S HELPING WHOM?
Atlantic: “Here’s one among the many provocative questions raised by Kendrick Lamar’s Damn winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music: Is Damn the best work of rap or pop ever made? The Pulitzers, whose only stated criteria is ‘for distinguished musical composition by an American’ in the eligible timeframe, have previously only awarded classical and jazz artists. By making an exception for Lamar, the Pulitzers could be seen as saying that he is, well, the exception. … This is a dubious and snobbish thought, yes—but it’s a result of the inevitably thorny logic that always goes along with artistic awards-giving. That it took until 2018 for the Pulitzers to award a work of rap or pop might say something about the evolution of those genres… The rapper’s win is probably more significant to the reputation of the prize itself than to the prizewinner; it almost feels as though the Pulitzers won a Kendrick Lamar, and not the other way around. After all, the Lamar news will be, no doubt, the means through which lots of people learn that the Pulitzers have a music category at all.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.2 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.4 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 39% approval - 55% disapproval; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approval - 54% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 52% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 46.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 5 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 1.4 points  
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 47% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 47% Dems - 40% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 46% Dems - 43% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP; Marist College: 44% Dems - 39% GOP.]

POLL SHOWS VOTERS SKEPTICAL ABOUT TAX LAW
WSJ: “More people view the Republican tax overhaul as a bad idea than a good one, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found, but Americans see the GOP as better equipped than Democrats to handle taxes, trade and other economic issues. The result is a mixed bag for the Republican Party, which has been hoping to battle political headwinds in the midterm elections by promoting the tax cut that Congress approved four months ago and by celebrating improvements in the economy. The poll also found that Americans see the Democratic Party as better able than the GOP to handle other prominent policy issues, including sexual harassment, health care and gun violence. As the midterm campaign heats up, Republicans have aimed to make a central campaign issue of the tax cut, which passed with no Democratic support and was signed by President Donald Trump in December. Ever since its enactment, the tax plan has been more unpopular than popular, Journal/NBC News polls found.”

Ad barrage aims to convince them - USA Today: “Republicans are pinning their midterm election hopes on the massive tax overhaul signed into law last year, and it shows. GOP groups and candidates have run nearly 17,800 spots this year that tout tax reform, according to a USA TODAY analysis of television advertising. The barrage has forced Democrats to retaliate with commercials that slam the tax cuts as helping the wealthy -- and endangering Medicare and Social Security in the years ahead. Americans for Prosperity, a deep-pocketed group aligned with conservative billionaire Charles Koch, is helping to drive the Republican spending as it pummels vulnerable Democratic senators in states friendly to President Trump. The group bought more than a third of the television spots mentioning the tax overhaul passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in December…”

House Republican PAC lays out target list for ad spending - WaPo: “The Congressional Leadership Fund, the leading Republican super PAC focused on the House, is booking $48 million in ad reservations ahead of the November midterm elections — giving its first indications of where it intends to focus its considerable resources this year. Most of that — $38 million — is reserved for television airtime in 20 battleground House districts. In five of them — held by GOP Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Garland ‘Andy’ Barr (Ky.), Steve Knight (Calif.), Claudia Tenney (N.Y.) and Mimi Walters (Calif.) — the reservations are extensive enough to keep CLF on air from Labor Day, the unofficial start of campaign season, all the way through Election Day on Nov. 6. The remaining $10 million will be spent on digital advertising in 30 districts.”

Republicans face recruiting challenge for Ryan’s Wisconsin seat - Roll Call: “Wisconsin Republicans are still searching for a suitable candidate to fend off popular Democratic candidates in the once-safely red 1st District that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said last week he won’t run for again. Wisconsin state Sen. Dave Craig, a former Ryan aide was the latest to pass on running for the seat Ryan is vacating at the end of his term, Craig tweeting Friday night that he was thankful for the support he had received from those encouraging him to run, but ‘the timing to run for Congress is not right for our young family.’ Other potential candidates the GOP hoped would jump into the race also passed on bids to replace Ryan after the speaker announced last week he would not seek another term in November.”

DEMS WILL HOLD OFF ON PUSHING OUT PELOSI, FOR NOW 
WaPo: “Democrats who have pushed for Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s ouster as House minority leader are standing down — at least until after November’s midterm elections. … The possibility of majority control also gave new life to a looming question: Will Pelosi, or someone else, lead the party? Democrats say they are focused on one task — winning — and have clamped down on talk of replacing Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has guided the party for 17 years, served as speaker from 2007 to 2011 and is intent on reclaiming the gavel. ‘We have one North Star: 218 seats. Period,’ said Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), the chairman of recruitment at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Several Democrats have called for a new, younger leadership team, helmed by someone other than the 78-year-old Pelosi. The prodigious fundraiser, who says she has raised more than $49 million for Democrats in this election cycle alone, turned back challenges in 2011 and 2015.”

Crowley positions himself as replacement - Politico: “Rep. Joe Crowley — buoyed by a caucus thirsty for change and his rising national profile — is angling to become the next House Democratic leader if Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats fall short. Whether Democrats win the House majority or not, the affable Queens party boss and current Democratic Caucus chairman would have to first go through the party’s long-time septuagenarian leaders — Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn — who’ve shown no hurry to head for the exits. In fact, the three have already started sending strong signals that if Democrats take the House they’re prepared to beat back a younger generation clamoring for new leaders. But in interviews with nearly 30 Democratic lawmakers and aides, almost all said it’s no secret that Crowley … is doing everything possible to position himself for if and when there’s a shakeup at the top.”

Planned Parenthood and allies to spend $30 Million targeting GOP - Roll Call: “A coalition of liberal organizations that includes the political arm of Planned Parenthood rolled out a $30 million program Monday to mobilize ‘infrequent voters’ to cast ballots for progressive candidates in the midterm elections. Infrequent voters include people of color, women and young people, the coalition says in a joint news release. The initiative will target voters in Michigan, Florida, and Nevada. Florida and Nevada are the site of two Senate races that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Tossup.”

SCOTT OPENS FLORIDA SENATE CAMPAIGN ON TERM LIMITS
Tampa Bay Times: “Just a week into his U.S. Senate campaign and Rick Scott is set to release his first TV ad, focusing on term limits, backed by $2 million. ‘In Washington they say term limits can't be done. That's nonsense,’ Scott says in the ad. The campaign is putting $2 million behind the ad, both on TV and digital, per a source. Politico reported the buy earlier Monday. Scott wants to limit Senators to two terms and House members to six — so a total of 12 years.”

Blankenship takes the fight to McConnell - Politico: “A brewing fight between West Virginia GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship and national Republicans spilled into the open Monday when the coal baron compared Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to Russians interfering in his state’s election. ‘McConnell should not be in the U.S. Senate, let alone be the Republican Majority Leader. He is a Swamp captain,’ Blankenship said in a statement Monday. ‘The Russians and McConnell should both stop interfering with elections outside their jurisdictions.’”

Hawley pumps up pressure on Missouri governor - St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said Tuesday that his office had uncovered evidence that Gov. Eric Greitens may have committed a felony by using a charity donor list to solicit donations to fuel his 2016 campaign for governor. Hawley, who like Greitens is a Republican, said his office possessed evidence that Greitens obtained and transmitted a donor list without the permission of the St. Louis-based charity The Mission Continues, which Greitens founded in 2007 but left in 2014. … Hawley, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., this year, also called on Greitens to resign last week after the House committee's report. On Monday, Greitens' attorney, Ed Dowd, asked Hawley to recuse himself from investigating the embattled chief executive…”

WHITE HOUSE SNUBS COHEN AS LEGAL WOES MOUNT 
WaPo: “It's a well-worn path: Someone in President Trump's orbit gets in trouble, and the White House bends over backward trying to distance itself from that person — often in ways that strain credulity. Top aides suddenly become interlopers. Foreign policy advisers become ‘coffee boys.’ The crucial months of the 2016 campaign are reduced to an insignificant period of time. We are assured that Trump doesn't even really need aides. Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is the latest to be on the receiving end of this treatment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Monday that Cohen was just another lawyer. ‘I believe they've still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know,’ she said. Fellow White House spokesman Hogan Gidley repeated the talking point on CNN on Monday night, saying that Cohen was one of ‘many’ Trump lawyers.”

Judge denies Trump, Cohen pleas, want to ‘move fast’ - Daily Beast: “President Donald Trump and his longtime attorney Michael Cohen both lost a court challenge related to the FBI’s seizure of Cohen’s documents they both claim are protected by attorney-client privilege. … U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood denied the requests and ruled that prosecutors will get first access to the information, followed by Cohen’s defense team ten days later. Wood noted that she has not yet decided whether she will appoint a special master in the case at all. ‘It’s not that you’re not good people,’ Wood told Cohen’s attorneys on Monday afternoon, near the end of the two-hour proceeding. ‘It’s that you’ve miscited the law.’ Wood told both sides to review the documents quickly and to prepare ‘proposals for how we can move fast’ on the case going forward.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Mattis, Dunford to look to calm Congress on Syria strikes - Politico

Corker offers open-ended military authorization - Roll Call

Trump at Mar-a-Lago to host Japanese Premier Abe this week AP

Pompeo confirmation votes as soon as next week Politico

President will target pharmaceutical companies next week - Politico

Supreme Court strikes down key deportation provision, with Gorsuch help - Fox News

Kevin Williamson
: ‘A liberal democracy, or a militant one?’ - Commentary Magazine

Ohio GOP gubernatorial primary gets even uglier - Cleveland.com

Pennsylvania Republican Dent, already retiring, will now step down in May - The Hill

McCain recuperating after treatment for digestive ailmentArizona Central

Scalise doing well after follow-up procedure - WaPo

Duckworth likely to get exemption to bring newborn daughter to Senate floor - Politico

Five-seat Federal Trade Commission down to one member - The Hill

AUDIBLE: #MBVA 

“It means that I’m really counting on that special committee to come up with a way to make budgets valuable again.” – Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., talking to reporters about his proposal to either reform or abolish his own committee.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Alas, I am a couple of days behind in my study, but I read with interest your piece on ‘our awful congress.’ There is no doubt, you argued, that the Speaker's resignation ‘is part of an ongoing brain drain in Congress.’ You further suggested that the smart guys can bear it no longer. That may be exactly the point. I note that Republicans are voluntarily retiring at a greater rate than Democrats. The election will tell the tale, of course, but we appear to be losing the members whose fundamental political concern is for the health of the country while the other party seems to be concerned only with political power. The questions I think we must ask in November is:  who will stand for our Republic and who will stand for free stuff?” – William Lennard, Bella Vista, Ark.

[Ed. note: I hear you, Mr. Lennard, but I would only caution you to be slower and more charitable in your characterizations of the motives of your political opponents. I would point out further that when it comes to small-r republicanism, the Republican Party has not exactly been a master class in Madisonian virtue. I am confident in our future, even of our awful Congress, because I have confidence that the fights we are having now will inform and enliven the next generation, just as has always been the case.]

“Ok, I have to call a timeout. I really love that you address the Rulebook every day. But honestly, sometimes, I don't track well with their early American language. Sometimes I need a Good News translation. Can you help a fellow out here?” – Paul Sellers, Atascadero, Calif.

[Ed. note: You and me both, Mr. Sellers! Brianna and I try to seek balance between letting Messrs. Madison, Hamilton and Jay speak for themselves without our interference while still making sure that their 18th century construction and usage is accessible to modern readers. We may never go all the way to “The Message” or even “Good News,” but maybe we will try to edge a little closer to a New Oxford Annotated Bible sensibility.]

“Chris and Brianna, This may have been addressed before during the Roy Moore debacle, so forgive any redundancies. If national political parties like the RNC do not want a candidate to win their nomination (Don Blankenship), what forces them to allow participation in their primaries? The optics may not look well in ‘denying’ the voters their choice, but I was wondering if the law demands they anoint whomever enters and wins the primary. Or, for that matter, if they can deny anyone entry into a primary contest. … Go Cardinals!” – Jack Whiteman, St. Louis

[Ed. note: To your last point first, Mr. Whiteman, I am feeling dangerous pangs of optimism about the Cardinal’s chances this year. I don’t know if that makes me a sucker or an optimist, but I’m going to let it ride for now. As for the question of partisan primaries, this is the product of a century-long effort by progressives to democratize the nominating process. It was long argued that more direct democracy would be better at defeating corruption and party bosses. In post-Watergate reforms, the concept was triumphant and helped produce the political world we know today. A party cannot deny the nomination to a primary winner barring extraordinary measures. A party can, however, refuse to fund, endorse or cooperate with a candidate.

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CLOAKING DEVICE FAILURE 

UPI: “Police in Georgia shared security camera footage of a GameStop store burglar who tried to conceal his face with an unusual disguise -- a clear plastic wrapper. The St. Marys Police Department posted video to Facebook showing security camera footage from the Thursday night burglary. The video shows the male suspect wearing the plastic wrapper from a package of bottled water over his head, completely failing to hide his face with the clear plastic. Police are asking members of the public for help identifying the ‘craftily disguised gent.’ ‘You can help us catch him, once you stop laughing,’ police wrote.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.