• Trump Signals Openness to Amnesty
• Betsy DeVos Steps in it Again
• Banning Reporters from a Press Conference May Be Illegal
• FBI Was Going to Hire Christopher Steele
• Trump's Management Style Is Unchanged
President Trump delivered his much-anticipated address to Congress on Tuesday night, and it was very...presidential. He got off to a running start by lamenting the recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents, and then launched into a speech that was decidedly different from past Trump addresses. There was much optimism and, unlike the inaugural, fairly little doom and gloom. He only gloated about his electoral victory in a very muted way, and took only a couple of brief shots at Barack Obama. The address was largely free of falsehoods and distortions. Trump had a particularly winning moment when he singled out the widow of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, and called him "a warrior, and a hero" while she received a two-minute standing ovation. That will be the clip that plays on all the news shows on Wednesday.
In short, the tone and the style of the speech represented a big departure for Trump. The content, by contrast, was a "greatest hits" of campaign promises. He talked about, in roughly this order: saving the middle class, infrastructure, drug abuse, cleaning up the inner cities, draining the swamp, terrorism, the Supreme Court, NAFTA, tax reform, jobs, building a wall, repealing Obamacare, law enforcement, and defense spending. The biggest surprises in this portion of the speech, which formed the bulk of Trump's remarks, were (1) He defied new National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and used the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," (2) He declared that, "we strongly support NATO," and (3) His remarks on immigration reform were entirely inconsistent with the more judicious approach Trump had endorsed just hours earlier (see below).
One thing that was almost wholly lacking on Tuesday night: specifics. The only thing Trump said that could be regarded as an actual proposal, one that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) & Co. could theoretically work on immediately, was this:
I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States—financed through both public and private capital—creating millions of new jobs.
Even that one is not all that specific, of course. And beyond that, Trump relied almost entirely on the generalities that carried him through the campaign. This being the case, the most consequential part of the address may actually be a brief line that came near the end: "The time for trivial fights is behind us." If Trump actually commits to this, then it will mark a radical shift in style from the Tweeter-in-chief approach we've seen for the last six weeks. On the other hand, if he insists on further score-settling, and complaining about "Saturday Night Live," and arguing about how many people attended the inauguration, then he's going to be reminded of this bit, over and over.
The response to the speech was predictable. Congressional Democrats were underwhelmed, to the point of laughing openly when Trump talked about draining the swamp (that was probably pre-arranged). Congressional Republicans tried to drown out the laughter with applause (that was probably pre-arranged, too). Paul Ryan, for his part, had trouble sitting through some parts of the speech, noticeably rolling his eyes a bit when Trump—as is his wont—used "better negotiating" as a panacea, declaring that it is the solution to America's problems in the Middle East. When the address was over, Democrats ran for the exit, denying Trump the warm, bipartisan departure that is generally customary. Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, "His speeches and the realities are very, very far apart. Until his reality catches up with his speeches, he's got big trouble." The blue team's response to the address, delivered by former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, focused primarily on Obamacare, and how the program should be reformed rather than scrapped. "You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health care away from millions of people who most need it," he declared. "This isn't a game. It's life and death for people."
If this speech really does mark the debut of a "New Trump," then it will find its way into the history books as one of the most dramatic gear shifts in presidential history. If it does not, which seems the likelier outcome, then it will primarily serve to please Trump's base, and to (temporarily) stanch his bleeding in the polls. (Z)
On Tuesday afternoon, before his address to Congress, Donald Trump spoke to reporters at the White House. And during that session, he suggested he was open to a more liberal version of immigration reform, allowing non-criminal undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States, albeit without citizenship. That's rather different from past promises to deport 11 million people.
As with so much of what Trump says and does, it's hard to know what to make of this. His words certainly run contrary to his actions, particularly the more aggressive enforcement of border security that began just last week. He also made no mention of this new approach in his speech on Tuesday night. Further, Trump's base would be furious at this change of direction; if he has any doubts, he can talk to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) about what happened when he dared to propose any form of amnesty. Presumably, Steve Bannon will be reining such talk in early Wednesday morning.
Richard Nixon once warned the press: "Don't listen to what we say, watch what we do." With Trump, it is still too early to tell when he really wants to do. Deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and granting them all amnesty are not compatible. At some point he is going to either (1) deport them, (2) grant them amnesty, (3) do nothing and see what happens (see below), or (4) tell Paul Ryan to figure it all out. Eventually, we will know. Probably. (Z)
Donald Trump feels that his entree to connecting with black voters is through supporting education, and so he's on a big pro-Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) kick. In view of of this, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a statement in which she declared, "HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice." The tone-deafness here is remarkable; it certainly makes it appear that DeVos does not know that black students "chose" to attend HBCUs because Southern segregationists gave them no other option.
Never has a Secretary of Education made so many headlines in so short a time. DeVos is wildly unpopular, such that she spends her days under a microscope unknown to previous occupants of her job (and, indeed, unknown to nearly all cabinet secretaries). She's also lived a privileged, clearly very sheltered existence, and she's obviously somewhat out of touch. One wonders if she will choose to throw in the towel sooner rather than later, or if her boss might choose to throw in the towel on her behalf. (Z)
A ruling by a federal judge on Monday said that the New York Police Dept.'s ban of a reporter it didn't like may be unconstitutional. The ruling was preliminary, but if upheld by the appellate courts and Supreme Court, could have far-reaching implications. Last week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer banned about half a dozen news organizations from a briefing he was giving. Those organizations are now likely to sue and the whole matter of whether Spicer or Trump can ban organizations whose reporting they don't like is probably going to end up in the Supreme Court, unless the administration backs down. (V)
Former British spy Christopher Steele's now-famous report on Donald Trump has never been confirmed or shown to be fake, although some (minor) parts of it have been verified. Steele has a reputation as a careful spy who does good work, but that doesn't mean the dossier he compiled is true. However, yesterday the Washington Post reported that last fall, when the FBI had concluded that Russia had intervened in the U.S. election, the Bureau had enough confidence in Steele to offer him a contract to continue his investigation. After his report went public, the deal fell through, but the fact that the FBI was prepared to hire Steele says something about the quality of the work he does. The FBI has some basis for its faith in him because it previously had hired him to investigate corruption in the world soccer organization, FIFA.
While the report contained some salacious material about Trump's "entertainment" preferences, the most explosive sentence was probably: "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting, and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years." Needless to say, if it could be proven that Trump's whole candidacy was Vladimir Putin's idea and executed with Putin's backing, Trump would have a bit of explaining to do. Trump has said the entire report is false. (V)
Donald Trump's first month in office has been marked by an erratic and inconsistent style. Statements are made by one person in the White House, and within an hour someone else contradicts them. Goals and plans change by the day. For someone who has run a big organization, Trump seems woefully unprepared to run a big organization. But according to a long article in Politico, Trump was never much of a manager and his company, despite its size, was structured like a Mom & Pop small business rather than like a normal multibillion dollar corporation. Typically, a company the size of Trump's would have a hierarchical management structure with a clear chain of command. Trump's company doesn't have that. A group of about a dozen executives on the 26th floor run the whole show, but Trump meddles in everything.
For example, when the airline he bought with $400 million of borrowed money began bleeding money, he tried to reduce costs by cutting the number of pilots on each plane from 3 to 2. Only when he was told that would be illegal, did he drop the idea. When he had three casinos in Atlantic City, they all had their own operating systems. Most businessmen would have combined operations to take advantage of economy of scale. Trump didn't. That he is an impulsive hirer is beyond any doubt, as is his reluctance to fire people who are not performing.
Barbara Res, who was an executive vice president in the Trump Organization for decades, said: "He gets an idea in his head and just says: 'Do it.' There's no direction. The idea isn't built up or fleshed out. He just says: 'Let's do this.'" Louise Sunshine, who was also an executive vice president, had this to say about how he is running the White House: "Same management style. He's always created competition and chaos." Artie Nusbaum, one of the heads of the construction company that built Trump Tower, had this to say: "I don't think he manages. I think he just lets it all happen." Biographer Gwenda Blair wrote this about his projects: "There was no formal business plan, no development strategy. Instead, Donald would come up with ideas, do the preliminary calculations in his head, then tell someone to get moving on it."
In short, he has always run a seat-of-the pants operation and seems to be continuing in that style now. He will soon discover that when he has some half-baked idea and tells Paul Ryan to go pass it, Ryan will salute, ignore Trump's plan, and then later present Trump with Ryan's own bill for his signature. Some presidents (e.g., Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter) were micromanagers who studied everything that came before them and then made decisions down to the smallest details. Trump is the exact opposite. He studies nothing, comes up with vague ideas, and tells other people to carry them out. We'll know in a few months how well that works out for him. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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