• House Votes to Gut Office of Congressional Ethics
• No Hacking Revelations, After All
• What to Watch about Trade
• Trump Reportedly Picks Trade Representative
• Battle Over Sessions Has Begun
• Obama Will Give His Farewell Address on Jan. 10 in Chicago.
• Another Secretary Position May Need to Be Filled
Congress is back in session today, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will be there to greet his former colleagues. He will meet with the full Republican caucus. The main topic on the agenda is repealing the Affordable Care Act as quickly as possible. While Republicans all agree that it has to go, they are not all on the same page about the details. For example, although all the Republicans want the repeal bill passed and signed within a month, they differ on when the repeal should be effective. Some Republicans want it killed as soon as soon-to-be-president Trump signs the bill. Others don't want it to go into effect until after the midterm elections. Also to be discussed is what portions of the law, if any, should be salvaged, and how. (V)
Apparently, the House Republican Conference had an item of business even more pressing than killing the ACA. In a surprise move on Monday, they voted to end the Office of Congressional Ethics' (OCE) status as an independent entity, and to incorporate it into the House Ethics Committee, which reports to whichever party happens to control the House.
The OCE was created in 2008 following a spate of fundraising and corruption scandals in the House. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who was the driving force behind Monday's vote, says that the change will make things more efficient. He and other Republicans believe that the OCE has become a platform for false accusations and witch hunts. This is certainly interesting, since the GOP has controlled the House for 6 of the 8 years the OCE has existed. House Democrats were not pleased by the change, naturally. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a prepared statement, said:
Republicans claim they want to 'drain the swamp,' but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.
Watchdog groups were not happy, either. Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters, slammed Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), declaring that he is, "giving a green light to congressional corruption." In truth, he reportedly opposed the move, though it's possible that was just for appearances.
At best, dialing down ethics safeguards so rapidly—and on a federal holiday, where the story might just get lost—does not look good. At worst, it's not a good sign for the next 2-4 years (or more). (Z)
At his New Year's Eve party on Sunday, Donald Trump said that on Tuesday or Wednesday he would delivering new revelations about Russian hacking of the presidential election, declaring that he knows "things that other people don't know." On Monday, spokesman Sean Spicer "clarified" Trump's meaning, telling CNN's "New Day" that, "It's not a question of necessarily revealing. He's going to talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand."
Needless to say, there's no real overlap between Trump's words and Spicer's words. "I know things that other people don't know" does not mean, "I'm going to share my conclusions." What we have, yet again, is a case of Team Trump playing word games. What's different this time, however, is that a Trump spokesman (not Spicer) effectively admitted that is the case. Also speaking to CNN on Monday, former CIA Director and current Trump adviser James Woolsey observed that the President-elect is, "an expert at this kind of weaving around and attracting everybody's attention." In response to further questioning, Woolsey acknowledged that Trump might well be "playing us," and said, "Why not? He's not interfering with anything...He has a point, which is that it is entirely possible to have various definitions of hacking."
If that really is Trump's point—that there are various definitions of hacking—it's not a very good one. It's like the old joke about being "kind of a virgin"—either there was hacking or there wasn't. In any event, The Donald is not the first politician to engage in verbal gymnastics and in talking out of both sides of his mouth. They all do it; the difference is that Trump's double-talk is unusually overt and ham-fisted. Rarely have we seen so little subtlety in saying one thing and then spinning it into another. And when we have, the guilty party was generally ridiculed for their behavior. Consider, for example, Bill Clinton's attempt to parse "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" into "Well, I did, but it was only oral sex, so that doesn't count." He hasn't yet lived that one down, and presumably he never will. Can Donald Trump play these sorts of games day-in and day-out and get away with it? Perhaps by overloading Americans with so many instances that it's hard to latch on to just one? He certainly managed to pull it off during the campaign, so it's possible, although 4 years is a much longer timeframe than 6-8 months. (Z)
Trade policy has rarely even been mentioned during modern presidential campaigns—until 2016, when it formed the core of President-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy. The Hill has put together a list of specific items to watch to see if he really meant any of the things he said. Here is a brief summary:
- The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Trump vowed to pull
out of the TPP, claiming it will hurt America and destroy jobs. Technically,
pulling out is easy. All he has to do is write a letter to the deal's
administrator in New Zealand. Politically, not so much. He will quickly discover
that many large companies are strongly in favor of it and will not be afraid to
denounce him for killing the deal. Also, it is possible that some Republicans in
Congress will explain to him that the purpose of the agreement was to rein in
China, which is not a party to the TPP. By killing the agreement, China, a
country that Trump does not especially like, will be much freer to dominate Asia
and the Pacific region. Saying you don't like the TPP is one thing; living with
the consequences of killing it off is something a bit different.
- NAFTA: Trump also promised to renegotiate the
22-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. The incoming secretary of
commerce, Wilbur Ross, is a strong opponent of the agreement. So is Peter
Navarro, the head of the newly created National Trade Council. Again, businesses
will scream at this because many existing products are built from components
that travel back and forth across multiple borders before shipment to stores. In
the end, most of the focus will be on Mexico, rather than Canada, and Mexico
doesn't bring a lot of firepower to the table, so Trump might get most of what
he wants here.
- Consolidating trade power: Trump also wants to
consolidate the power to make trade deals in fewer hands than is the case
now. Specifically, he wants Ross and Navarro to be the key players on trade.
This would remove power from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which
has taken the lead in previous trade deals. Trump has little use for the USTR
and hasn't even named anyone to the position yet. While Ross works on NAFTA,
Navarro will be the point man on China. He has written two books critical of
China's foreign and economic policies and supports a 45% tariff on goods
imported from China. Not only will he get the Chamber of Commerce and many
consumer groups trying to bite his head off for this, but if he is successful
with the tariff, it could spark a trade war with potentially disastrous
- Tariffs on countries and companies: Trump has long
called for big tariffs on goods from countries like Mexico and China. What's new is
also calling for tariffs on companies that send jobs overseas. Under existing
law, the president has the power to levy emergency tariffs to protect specific
industries, not but to punish individual companies. Would Congress go along with
giving this power? Stay tuned, but keep in mind that Congress has long felt that
the executive branch has too much power and giving it more might not be what it
has in mind as the solution.
- China's currency: Trump has often branded China a currency manipulator, keeping its currency's value much too low with respect to the dollar to encourage exports to the U.S. and deter imports from the U.S. He may order the secretary of the treasury to label China a currency manipulator and impose penalties as a consequence. All this is well and good, except Trump may not fully understand that harsh moves in the direction of China are not going to sit well with China's leaders, and unlike Mexico, China has a lot of real power. To start with, China holds $3 trillion in U.S. currency. If it decided to sell off a goodly chunk of it, the dollar would crash on world markets. In a way, that could help the U.S. economy by making exports cheaper in foreign markets, but since Trump cares a lot about prestige, seeing constant headlines like: "Dollar continues to crash and burn" would be likely to enrage him.
As with so many things, railing against trade policy when you have no power to change any of it is quite different from railing against it when you do have that power. (V)
Consistent with his intent to consolidate power over trade (see above), Donald Trump has taken his time in nominating his U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). But now, he has apparently made his pick: lawyer Robert Lighthizer.
The person who leaked this information is a member of Trump's transition team, but was not authorized to speak on the record, so the nomination is not official quite yet. Still, Lighthizer makes sense; he served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan, and his private practice has "focused on market-opening trade actions on behalf of U.S. companies seeking access to foreign markets," according to his firm's webpage. Given his clear qualifications, and the relatively limited role he's expected to play in the Trump administration, he should sail through the confirmation process if he is indeed nominated. (Z)
Reportedly, Senate Democrats have chosen eight of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees to target. High on the list is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Attorney General-designate. In fact, the fight over Sessions is already underway, with outside groups (the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, People For the American Way, and the Alliance for Justice) taking up the baton before the Senate can even be called to order.
The general concern about Sessions is that he has less-than-enlightened views on race, and that he has a history of prosecutorial misconduct. The specific complaint being lodged is that the paperwork Sessions submitted to Congress is incomplete. Perhaps apropos to someone who wants to be America's top lawyer, he used an old lawyer's trick, bulking up his application with a bunch of meaningless documents. How much? Well, his file checked in at just over 150,000 pages. The purpose of this trick is either (1) to slide troublesome things past that are buried deep inside the mountain of detritus, or (2) to distract attention from gaps in the data set. Sessions appears to have been shooting for #2, but it did not work, because Democratic senators and the activist groups listed above have already taken note of the omissions. They are putting enormous pressure on Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to delay hearings until Sessions fills the holes in his record. Grassley has yet to indicate which way he's leaning, although it's awfully hard to argue with the basic point that a person does not engage in shenanigans like these unless they've got something they're trying to hide. (Z)
President Barack Obama has announced that he will give a farewell address in Chicago on Jan. 10. Farewell addresses are a tradition for presidents going back to George Washington. Washington famously warned about the dangers of "factions" (what are now called political parties) and their tendency to look out for what is good for them rather than what is good for the country. It is a theme Obama might well repeat.
Obama will also no doubt talk about his achievements, one of which is the Affordable Care Oct, which the Republicans plan to repeal within weeks. He will also surely talk about how he inherited an economy in freefall, and got it stabilized and growing, creating 15 million new jobs on his watch. He is also likely to mention that the Dow Jones Index was at 7,949 the day he took office and is currently at 19,763. He will surely also warn people about some of the threats posed to the country by his successor, albeit in muted language. (V)
There are three or four cabinet secretary slots still open (DNI, VA, Agriculture, and maybe USTR), but a fifth one that no one is even talking about may be more important than any of the others. For 30 years, the person sitting just outside Trump's office in Trump Tower has been his personal secretary, Rhona Graff. All this time, she has been the gatekeeper who decides which people get to see Trump and which don't. Trump has relied on her judgment to manage his most important resource—his time.
She hasn't decided yet whether she will move to D.C. or not because her daughter is a junior in high school in New York. Graff is no ordinary secretary. She has a master's degree in education and has played an important role in advising Trump and helping out with deals. She also heads up the media relations department in the Trump organization and manages all aspects of Trump's daily routine. Secretaries of state are a dime a dozen, but losing this secretary could be a real hit to Trump if she decides to stay in New York. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan02 Trump Likes Schumer Best?
Jan02 Trump Will Keep Tweeting
Jan02 Democrats Will Target Eight Cabinet Nominees
Jan02 Congress Will Start Repealing the Affordable Care Act Tomorrow
Jan02 House, Senate Likely to Butt Heads on Medicare
Jan02 Coal Miners Expect Trump to Deliver
Jan02 Top Wall Street Journal Editor Is Leery of Saying that Trump Lies
Jan01 Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Get It
Jan01 Vermont Utility Hit By Same Hackers as DNC
Jan01 Trump Pooh-poohs Russian Hacking, Says Computers Can't Be Trusted
Jan01 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Jan01 The Larger Meaning of the Inaugural Snubs
Jan01 Which Senators Will Throw in the Towel in 2018?
Jan01 How Will Democrats Handle Supreme Court Vacancy?
Dec31 Obama's Final Moves to Stymie Trump
Dec31 Obama Meeting with Congressional Democrats to Strategize on Obamacare
Dec31 McConnell Will Play a Key Role in 2017
Dec31 Trump Praises Putin
Dec31 Trump Planning to Keep Private Security Force
Dec31 Spend New Year's Eve With the Trumps for Under $600
Dec31 Inauguration Planning Keeps Leaving Egg on Trump's Face
Dec31 North Carolina Judge Temporarily Blocks New Republican Laws
Dec30 America Retaliates against Russia
Dec30 Trump May Be Bad News for Israel
Dec30 Deploraball Highlights Schism within the Alt-right Movement
Dec30 Should the Media Ignore Trump's Tweets?
Dec30 Republicans May Target Medicaid Rather than Medicare
Dec30 Heller to Run for Reelection to the Senate
Dec30 States with the Most, Least Electoral Integrity
Dec30 Electoral College Precedent Has Been Set
Dec29 Retaliation Against Russians Coming Soon
Dec29 Trump Looking Hard for a Secretary of Agriculture
Dec29 Trump Says He Will Write His Own Inaugural Address
Dec29 Trump Claims Credit for 8,000 More Jobs Saved
Dec29 Democrats Are Calling for Nationwide Rallies on Health Care Jan. 15
Dec29 Virginia May Afford Early Assessment of Trump Presidency
Dec29 Trump-Obama Relationship Deteriorates
Dec29 The Worst Predictions of 2016
Dec29 Whither the White Supremacists?
Dec28 Trump Rewards Donors Big Time
Dec28 Trump's Inexperience Is Going to Cause Him Trouble Settling Disputes
Dec28 There Will Also Be Battles in Several States
Dec28 Graham: 99% of Senators Believe Russians Interfered
Dec28 More States Consider Circumventing Electoral College
Dec28 Trump Fires Back on Foundation
Dec28 The Four Most Undersold Stories of the Year
Dec28 Kim Jong-un Sensing Opportunity
Dec27 Trump To Inherit over 100 Judicial Vacancies
Dec27 Stephen Miller to Pen Trump Inaugural