• Senate Takes First Step Toward Repealing Obamacare
• Tillerson Evades Senators' Questions
• Booker and Lewis Testify Against Sessions
• Chao Sails Through Easily
• Mattis Aggravates House Democrats
• Cubs to Visit Obama on Monday
President-elect Donald Trump held a press conference yesterday, his first in six months, and made it clear his presidency is going to like none of his predecessors'—and not in a good way. He is defiant, will continue to attack his opponents, ignore reporters' questions, not reveal his tax returns, pooh-pooh ethical and financial conflicts of interest, refuse to put his assets in a blind trust, and deny the reports that his campaign had contact with Russia before the election.
He also made if clear that his promise not to do business deals while president is out the window, as he said he discussed a $2 billion deal with a Dubai businessman Hussein Damack last weekend, but decided against it. In case anybody missed the point, he said: "I could actually run my business and run my government at the same time."
Despite this boast, Trump said he was looking at a plan to shift some assets into a trust managed by his adult sons. However, he would continue to own the company and presumably know what assets it has, thus making it very possible to make official decisions that benefit him personally. Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics, immediately denounced Trump's plan, saying that it doesn't meet the standards all presidents have met for four decades. Then he added: "Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective." Shaub pointed out that a trust controlled by Trump's children doesn't meet the test of being a blind trust. Now, in all fairness to Trump, it would be nearly impossible to sell his hundreds of companies quickly, and simply donating them to his children would incur a massive gift tax. But it would be possible to put them in a trust run by an independent trustee, who could start the process of selling off hotels and golf courses one by one and using the proceeds to buy stocks, bonds, and other assets without telling Trump what he had bought.
Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post's fact checker, did a fact check on the press conference and found 15 statements that don't pass muster, ranging from exaggerations to statements that are flatly untrue. For example, Trump said, "The only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters." However, a Pew Research Center poll conducted last week showed that 60% of Americans want him to release his tax returns.
In short, Trump was extremely arrogant. While he didn't quote Louis XIV ("l'état, c'est moi"), that is probably only because he doesn't speak French. But the sentiment is clearly the same. He is going to drive the Democrats nuts, but they have only limited power (filibustering legislation and Supreme Court appointments). But there is a fair chance he is also going to cross Republicans in Congress one time too many. The British bookie Ladbrokes is taking bets on whether Trump finishes his first term. Currently the implied probability that he either resigns or is impeached before Jan 20, 2021, is 52%. (V)
Determined to move fast on repealing Obamacare, and to make a show of it at the same time, Senate Republicans burned the midnight oil in a marathon voting session on Wednesday night. The result was a budget blueprint for moving forward that will now be sent to the House so that the budget reconciliation process may begin.
The vote was 51-48, splitting mostly along party lines, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) joining the Democrats in voting against, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) absent. Since Wednesday's measure is largely symbolic, that vote is not entirely instructive, as GOP senators who are wavering do not yet have a need to stick their necks out. Those individuals will face a much starker choice once it is clear what the replacement bill looks like, or whether or not there even is a replacement. President-elect Trump promised that a replacement was coming as soon as Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is approved as Secretary of Health and Human Services. "We are going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan," he said. "It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour." That's a pretty definitive promise, though Trump's promises to make Mexico pay for the wall, to release his taxes after his audit, and to stop using Twitter were also pretty definitive, so we shall see. (Z)
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee, didn't do so well at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. When asked if Vladimir Putin was a war criminal, he ducked. He also wouldn't answer a question about whether the U.S. should impose more sanctions on Russia on account of Putin's interfering with the election. He also hedged on whether Saudi Arabia and the Philippines were human rights violators. One thing he was crystal clear about, however, is that ExxonMobile never lobbied against Russian actions after Russia invaded the Crimea. In truth, the company actually lobbied strongly against sanctions. He knows that very well, so this falls in the category of "lie."
In particular, Tillerson had an especially testy exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)—a hawk on defense who has no particular love for Donald Trump, having lost to him in the Florida primary, which knocked him out of the presidential race. The two clashed over whether Putin is a war criminal and whether Putin has a habit of killing people who oppose him. Tillerson did say one thing to get on Rubio's good side, however: He is for maintaining the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Since the Republicans have only an 11-10 edge over the Democrats on the committee, if Rubio were to vote against Tillerson, the committee recommendation to the full Senate would be "reject." That might provide cover for other senators who don't like Tillerson's cuddling up to his buddy Putin, like Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and James Lankford (R-OK), who also expressed reservations about Tillerson on Wednesday. (V)
As expected, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) took to the stand to testify against their colleague Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in his second day of hearings to be confirmed as attorney general. They both characterized his record on civil rights as dismal, and said that if he cannot stand up for all citizens, regardless of religion, creed, or color, he's not the man for the job. "We all live in the same house—the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look out for all of us and not just for some of us," declared Lewis.
Sessions' defenders, meanwhile, leapt to his defense. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) was particularly outspoken, insisting that the Alabama Senator has been unfairly targeted as part of the Democrats' ongoing "war on whites." It is fortunate that we have a well-off 62-year-old white man to help clarify for us that the well-off 70-year-old white man is the real victim here. Brooks, incidentally, is under consideration to be appointed to Sessions' senate seat in the event of confirmation. So, the Congressman is surely being completely objective here. Yes sir, he has no agenda whatsoever. (Z)
In contrast to the acrimonious atmosphere at Rex Tillerson's and Jeff Sessions' hearings, and James Mattis' non-hearing, Secretary of Transportation-designate Elaine Chao glided through her hearing yesterday with ease. Even the Democrats praised her for her "grace and excellence." The Taiwan-born Harvard-educated Chao is one of the most experienced of all the cabinet nominees. She was secretary of labor under George W. Bush as well as deputy secretary of transportation under George H. W. Bush. In addition, she ran the Peace Corps for 2 years in the 1990s. Being married to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) probably doesn't hurt either, although there might be some complaints about the executive branch being in bed with the legislative branch. Most likely, Chao will be approved by the full Senate unanimously, unless McConnell decides to recuse himself. (V)
Secretary of Defense-designate Gen. James Mattis was scheduled to meet with House Democrats to answer questions on Wednesday, but then backed out at the last minute. Lawmakers were rather furious over the snub, with Adam Smith (D-WA) complaining that, "The Republicans have been spending eight years complaining about the executive branch usurping legislative branch power and here's their first move from the new administration is to ignore us on something."
Normally, the House of Representatives does not matter when it comes to confirming appointments, since that job is the province of the Senate. Mattis is a special case, however, because he is forbidden by law from assuming the leadership of the defense department right now. There is supposed to be a minimum seven-year gap between service on active duty and appointment as secretary; Mattis has been retired for only three years. Ergo, a special law waiving the requirement will have to be passed by both houses in order for him to serve. Of course, if they do that, one wonders why they have the law in the first place, but that's Congress for you. In any case, Mattis will be able to get both his waiver and his confirmation without any support from the blue team, so House Democrats' complaints may be full of sound and fury, but they signify nothing. (Z)
Over the past several decades, it has become customary for championship teams in various sports to pay a visit to the White House, where they generally shake hands with the president and give him a jersey with his name and presidential number on it. Luckily for Barack Obama, his #44 corresponds with some very fine athletes, particularly Yankees #44 Reggie Jackson, Braves #44 Hank Aaron, and Lakers #44 Jerry West. #45 Trump, by contrast, has only the Cardinals' Bob Gibson, and few months of the Bulls' Michael Jordan before he switched back to #23.
Anyhow, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series back in November, which means they're in the queue. Generally, baseball teams wait until the season following their triumph, when they are in Washington to face the Nationals. For the Cubs, that would be at the end of June. However, the team sped up the timeline, and will be slotted in next week, just before Obama leaves office.
The question this raises is: Why? It's not so easy for a baseball team to assemble in the offseason, though the Cubs do have another event planned next week. The team has not explained itself, though there are really only two possibilities. The first, more benign, explanation is that they wanted to visit a Chicago president (though Obama is actually a White Sox fan), as opposed to a New York president. The second, more politically charged, possibility is that they were trying to avoid Donald Trump. While baseball players tend to be fairly conservative on the whole, Cubs manager Joe Maddon is definitely a latter-day hippie, and the team's roster does include a sizable number of black and/or Latino players.
While the availability of Barack Obama may have allowed the Cubs the luxury of avoiding a controversial stance, that option will not be available to teams after next week, and this issue is not going to go away. Already, a number of athletes have refused to stay at Trump-owned hotels, and there is every reason to believe that some of them will choose not to visit the Trump White House. In particular, the 2017 NBA championship is very likely to be won by either the Golden State Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers, and players on both teams have suggested they would decline The Donald's invite. The upshot is that there is going to be no area of American life, it appears, that will be insulated from the ill-will and rancor that seem likely to define the Trump era. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan11 Sessions Denies Racism Charges
Jan11 Is McConnell Pulling a Fast One?
Jan11 Clinton's Cabinet Shortlist Leaks
Jan11 Trump Wants the ACA to Be Replaced Quickly
Jan11 Trump Meets With RFK, Jr.
Jan11 Obama Bids Farewell, but Is Not Leaving on Jan. 20
Jan11 Majority of Voters Don't Like Trump's Transition
Jan11 Bad News Just Keeps Coming for Crowley
Jan10 Booker to Testify Against Sessions
Jan10 Jared Kushner to Be Named Senior Adviser to the President
Jan10 Kushner: Trump Didn't Really Believe Conspiracy Theories
Jan10 What Can Trump Do on His First Day in Office?
Jan10 McConnell: Trump's Hopes on Russia "Will Be Dashed Pretty Quickly"
Jan10 Anti-Trump Movement Will Operate in California and New York
Jan10 Trump Fires Back at Streep
Jan09 Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Will Start This Week
Jan09 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Jan09 Unpaid Trump Advisors May Also Have Conflicts of Interest
Jan09 McConnell: Repeal of the ACA Will Begin This Week
Jan09 Toll Roads Are Coming
Jan09 Golden Globes Turns into the Anti-Trump Show
Jan09 Trump to Inaugural Announcer: You're Fired
Jan08 Trump Insiders Dive into the Swamp
Jan08 Trump: Only Stupid People Oppose a Good Relationship with Russia
Jan08 Sessions Not a Civil Rights Activist, After All
Jan08 Cabinet Nominees May Be Confirmed Before Ethics Reviews Are Finished
Jan08 Kushner Has His Own Conflicts of Interest
Jan08 Monica Crowley Plagiarized Large Parts of Her Book
Jan08 A New Era of Muckraking is Upon Us
Jan08 Get Ready for More Bathroom Bills, Other Anti-LGBT Legislation
Jan07 Putin Ordered Russian Hacking to Help Trump
Jan07 Donald Trump is Elected President
Jan07 Fourth GOP Senator Won't Vote for Repealing the ACA without a Replacement
Jan07 Obamacare Repeal Could Cost 3 Million Jobs
Jan07 Trump Slams Toyota
Jan07 Trump Slams Schwarzenegger
Jan07 "Mad Dog" Mattis is Mad
Jan07 Trump Favorite Is Elected Ohio State GOP Chairwoman
Jan06 Voter Fraud May Have Occurred--in the Electoral College
Jan06 U.S. Intelligence Has Conclusive Evidence that the Russians Hacked the DNC
Jan06 Dan Coats to Be Director of National Intelligence
Jan06 Another Campaign Promise Looks Ready to Bite the Dust
Jan06 Everyone Owns a Piece of Trump
Jan06 Can Trump Tweet Congress into Submission?
Jan06 Cotton Also Wants Obamacare Replacement in Place
Jan06 Republicans Want to Rein in Liberal Cities
Jan06 Former Congressional Staffers Create Guide for Resisting Trump
Jan05 Rand Paul Won't Vote for ACA Repeal and Delay
Jan05 Obama Strategizes with Democrats