On the surface, this was a kind of silly week in politics. The biggest news arc involved former FBI Director James Comey promoting his book about being fired by President Donald Trump, which didn’t reveal anything especially new. The week ended with House Republicans releasing secret memos Comey wrote long ago that reveal the exact same stuff he’s been saying.
But somewhat below the hype radar, a number of other stories developed with bigger implications. In the far-off penumbra of Trump’s legal problems that center on his attorney Michael Cohen’s involvement with various hush-money payments, a lot happened — some funny but some conceivably quite damning. Tammy Duckworth and her baby made history. Senate Democrats got some cheery news. And on the foreign affairs front, it became clear that the Trump administration is a good deal more serious about pursuing a comprehensive diplomatic agreement with North Korea than we realized.
Here’s what you need to know.
Michael Cohen had some fun in court
Faced with sudden legal jeopardy after an FBI raid on his office, Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen found himself in the midst of a flurry of legal activity.
- Mystery work for Sean Hannity: The drama started when at a hearing related to Cohen’s assertions of attorney-client privilege, Judge Kimba Wood forced him to reveal the name of his third client — not just Trump and scandal-plagued RNC fundraiser Elliot Broidy but also Fox News host Sean Hannity, who says Cohen’s legal work was about real estate.
- We’ll always have Prague: A McClatchy report claims that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen actually did go to Prague in 2016, just as the Steele dossier alleges. Cohen continues to deny this, but also this week dropped his libel lawsuit against Buzzfeed for their decision to publish the dossier.
- Karen McDougal is free to speak: Meanwhile, Karen McDougal has been released from her agreement (an agreement Cohen was apparently involved in writing) with National Enquirer and is now free to speak publicly about her alleged affair with Trump.
A baby went to the Senate floor
Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first sitting senator to give birth last week, and this week the Senate changed its rules and allowed her to bring the baby onto the floor with her so she could cast a vote.
- Skeptical senators: Not everyone loved the idea, including Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who said, “I don’t think it’s necessary,” and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who wondered, “What if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), meanwhile, seemed confused by the idea of a diaper bag.
- In-person voting required: Senate rules require votes to be cast in person, which makes it difficult for Duckworth to take any real parental leave and also means that practical control of a 51-49 Senate often hinges on McCain’s medical condition and Vice President Mike Pence’s travel schedule.
- What’s next? Most senators continue to be old men, so the 10 babies scenario is far-fetched, but scenarios in which senatorial illnesses meaningfully impact vote counts are very likely.
Democrats got some good news in Senate polling
The 2018 Senate map is brutal for Democrats, forcing them to defend an enormous number of seats in states that Trump won — including West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin — but this week a series of good poll numbers cheered Senate Democrats.
- Democrats in the lead: Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly polled with solid leads over both the Republicans running against him while Kyrsten Sinema is leading all her GOP opponents in the Arizona Senate race, and Democrat Phil Bredesen seems to have an early lead in Tennessee. Republicans, meanwhile, are increasingly worried they may be saddled with an unelectable nominee in West Virginia.
- The eyes of Texas: The race that’s most engaged national grassroots Democrats, however, is Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s longshot challenge to Ted Cruz in Texas. O’Rourke has posted stellar fundraising numbers, and the most recent poll has him losing to Cruz by just three points.
- On the other hand: There simply hasn't been very much Senate race polling so far this cycle, and we all know that thin state polling can sometimes go awry.
Mike Pompeo took a secret trip to North Korea
- The Trump administration revealed Wednesday that CIA Director Mike Pompeo held secret talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un over the Easter holiday, boosting White House hopes for upcoming Trump-Kim talks and adding momentum to Pompeo’s push to be confirmed as secretary of state.
- Friendly signs from the DPRK: In an important premeeting concession, the North Koreans have said that removal of US troops from South Korea is not a precondition for freezing their nuclear weapons program — though they’ve promised this before, only for talks to break down later.
- Pompeo confirmation in the balance: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) says he is opposed to Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is so far undecided, and John McCain (R-AZ) has been generally unavailable to vote due to illness, so Pompeo will need Democratic votes to be confirmed. So far he can count on Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) but will probably need another red-state Democrat or two to go over the top.
- On track to meet: When the Trump-Kim meeting was first announced, there was considerable skepticism that it would ever happen, but both sides for their own reasons appear very committed to seeing it through.