Jan. 24

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Trump Offers Red Meat to Three Key Constituencies

In his first regular business day in the Oval Office, Donald Trump signed executive orders that will greatly please three key groups within the Republican Party, namely:

During the campaign, Trump often recited a laundry list of things he would do on Day 1. In fact, he did almost nothing on Day 1 and these three executive orders plus one ordering federal agencies to "ease the burden" of the Affordable Care Act on insurance companies, doctors, and others are all he has done from his initial list for his first day in office. (V)

Trump's Actions So Far Are Largely Symbolic

President Trump has certainly taken a few dramatic actions, and made some headlines, in his first several days in office. However, he's also picking primarily the low-hanging fruit—doing things that are more symbolic than substantive. For example, fulfilling his promise to withdraw from the TPP was a great photo-op, but it didn't actually mean much. Congress had never approved the deal, and members on both sides of the aisle had soured on it, so it would have gone the way of the dodo regardless of what Trump did or did not do.

Similarly, details have begun to emerge on Trump's very first official action as president: His decision to cancel a small rebate that President Obama had awarded to mortgage holders. Again, the maneuver was taken—and taken so very rapidly—with symbolic significance in mind. Specifically, Trump's goals were to (1) hit the ground running, with a dramatic gesture designed to please fiscal conservatives, and (2) to extend a yuge middle finger to Obama.

Of course, the time will come when the low-hanging fruit is all picked. And that is when a president really starts to earn his paycheck (though Trump is declining his, which—depending on how things go—may prove to be eerily apropos). (Z)

McCain, Graham, and Rubio Will Back Tillerson

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), whose 2008 presidential campaign slogan was "Country First," has decided that when push comes to shove, it's "Party First." McCain has grave reservations about Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, who has no experience whatsoever in government or foreign affairs, having spent his entire career at Exxon. But after talking to President Trump, McCain decided to vote for a nominee he doesn't think is up to the job. If anyone ever writes a sequel to John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, McCain is probably not going to be featured as one of the stars. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also has serious doubts about Tillerson, but will also vote for him. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) hammered Tillerson during his confirmation hearings on his views about Russia, Cuba, and China, but has also decided to vote for his confirmation. Late Monday, they all made it official; Tillerson will be voted on by the full Senate later in the week.

The picture here is quite clear: Few, if any, Republican senators are willing to cross Trump on anything, even when they think he is completely wrong, such as nominating the unqualified people for key positions. It is likely that Trump will get whatever he asks from the Republicans in Congress, as they are all afraid to anger a man known to bear grudges for a long time. This is something of a gamble; if the Trump presidency blows up, then anyone and everyone who abetted him could end up holding the bag. Recall, for example, how a vote for George W. Bush's war in Iraq proved to be an anchor around the neck of many senators (see Clinton, Hillary). Rubio, in particular, affirmed an already-existing perception that he is squishy and without conviction. "The only thing you can consistently count on when it comes to Marco Rubio is his capacity to cave," said conservative publisher and pundit Ben Domenech on Monday night. Rubio, for his part, took to Facebook to post a sharply-worded declaration that Tillerson's underlings would not get "the same deference" as their boss. Apparently, the Senator believes that what people really care about us how you vote on Undersecretary of State for Management. That's the big one. If Rubio is still harboring presidential ambitions; they are growing more dim on a daily basis. If Trump is successful, then a 2020 run is not viable, and if Trump is not successful, the S.S. Rubio will sink along with him.

What still remains to be seen is whether the Democrats are also scared of Trump. While they cannot filibuster nominations—except for the Supreme Court—if they hold together they can block all legislation that cannot be passed using the budget reconciliation process. Democratic filibusters could be the only legislative check on Trump's power, time will tell if they will use them. (V)

Pompeo is Confirmed

Another member of the Trump administration may now begin his duties. By a vote of 66-32, Mike Pompeo was approved as leader of the CIA on Monday night. He was not among the most controversial Trump nominees, so his confirmation is not a surprise. At this point, the only nominees who have even a slight chance of being declined are probably Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos (due to her disastrous hearing) and HHS Secretary-designate Tom Price (due to his insider trading). And even they will likely be confirmed. (Z)

CIA Reactions to Trump's Visit are Mixed

Quite a few CIA officials have offered up their reviews of Donald Trump's surprise visit this weekend, and they are all over the map. They were pleased, of course, to get some support from The Donald after being targeted for so much criticism. On the other hand, many found his remarks to be off-putting. "It was good that he came, but it came across as very political," said one, "He didn't understand his audience, which is the most apolitical crowd in Washington." Another called the visit "inappropriate," while a third described the general reaction as, "a mix of cautious gratitude and bemused acceptance, along with disappointment and worse."

Long-term, Trump's relationship with the agency projects to be rather bumpy. On one hand, there is much satisfaction with his choice of Mike Pompeo. On the other hand, the President will surely lay into the CIA again at some point or another, when something new displeases him. Further, he's rather duplicitous, and—as one agent points out—the staff's "focus in life is to see through lies and deception." Perhaps most significantly, the agency's identity is deeply rooted in the Cold War and in foiling the Russians. Any rapprochement with Vladimir Putin will not go over well. (Z)

Trump Harps on Voter Fraud Again

After letting the issue rest for a few weeks, President Trump returned to one of his favorite "alternative facts" on Monday: That he actually won the popular vote in November, and that Hillary Clinton's vote total was bolstered by 3-5 million votes from undocumented immigrants.

This claim, of course, has no more basis in fact than Trump's insistence that his inauguration was better-attended than Barack Obama's. And both claims speak to some rather serious insecurity on the part of The Donald, as well as a deep and abiding desire to always be #1. On the latter point, Trump is almost certainly headed for massive disappointment. Consulting the various lists of presidential rankings, we find that only a dozen or so are regarded as "great" or "near great." So, that's about 27%. And many of them (Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Woodrow Wilson, John Adams, etc.) were actually very unpopular while they were serving. So, it's very tough to be a widely-beloved president while in office, and presumably the odds get worse when one begins one's term badly underwater in terms of approval ratings.

Assuming that Trump does not become JFK or Ronald Reagan, how will he cope? Will he persuade himself that he actually is popular—that the women's marches aren't so much protests as they are "alternative celebrations"? LBJ, among others, attempted to delude himself in this way, although even he eventually had to bow to reality. Or, could Trump eventually decide that he doesn't like it when he's not "winning," and decide to throw in the towel? Anything's possible in a situation as unprecedented as this one is. (Z)

Media Are Starting to Call Out Trump on His Lies

As noted above, at his meeting with congressional leaders yesterday, Donald Trump said that he won the popular vote. Many news outlets have this story on the front page today. Some of them even point out in the headline that Trump just made this up and it has no basis in fact. Here are some of the headlines:

Even the sources that don't mention Trump's lie in the headline, put it in there a bit further down. Bloomberg has a subhead below the headline reading: "No evidence supports claim of millions of illegal votes." Fox buried the inconvenient truth at the end of the second paragraph, referencing Trump's earlier tweet about the illegals voting: "At the time, multiple law enforcement sources told Fox News that there was no evidence for Trump's claims." So we seem to be entering a period in which editors are refusing to just publish what Trump and his spokeman say, without pointing out that some of it is not true.

Trump has made it clear that he hates the "dishonest" media. The feeling is clearly reciprocal. Trump's strategy here is clearly going to keep saying that you can't trust the media (possibly excepting Fox News). It is worth noting that we are only 4 days into Trump's administration, early in the "honeymoon" period. If it is starting out like this, once the honeymoon is over, things may get rougher. (V)

Did Obama Keep His Promises?

Every politician makes promises. Sometimes they even try to keep them, but even when they try, they don't always succeed. Now that Barack Obama's presidency is over, we can see how well he did. The Washington Post has compiled three lists of Obama's promises: those he kept, those he compromised on, and those he broke. Here they are:

Promises Obama kept: Promises Obama compromised on: Promises Obama failed to keep:

As can be seen, the list of broken promises is longer than the list of kept promises. However, most of the broken promises require congressional action, and after the Republicans took control of Congress in 2010 and decided that the answer to everything he proposed was "no," he didn't have much of a chance to keep them. The Post has more detail on each of the items above. (V)

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