• Ghosts of Administrations Past Coalescing Behind Tillerson
• Trump May Not Take Action Against Russian Hackers
• Trump Reveals Some Details of His Plan for His Businesses
• Trump Grill Gets Fried
• North Carolina GOP Smacks New Governor
• Montana House Seat in Temporary Limbo
Yesterday, Donald Trump chose Rep. John Michael "Mick" Mulvaney (R-SC) as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, is a deficit hawk who supports big spending cuts across the entire federal government. He has often opposed his own party as insufficiently willing to take the meat cleaver to the budget. Mulvaney was first elected to the House in 2010 as a tea party candidate. Last month he was reelected for the third time.
If Trump tries to carry out some of his campaign promises, in particular major tax cuts paired with big infrastructure spending, it will make the deficit soar, something that will not sit well with Mulvaney. The position requires Senate confirmation.
In addition to his job in putting together the federal budget, the director of OMB also coordinates executive branch regulations across agencies. This would put him at the center of Trump's plan to repeal most of the regulations imposed by the Obama administration. (V)
For a few days after his nomination was announced as Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of State, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson looked like he might be a dead man walking, with his close ties to Russia being a bridge too far for Senators like Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John McCain (R-AZ). Now, however, many GOP elites are rallying behind Tillerson, including some prominent names from past Republican administrations: former CIA director Robert M. Gates, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former vice president Dick Cheney, and former president George W. Bush.
It is unclear, at this point, what these individuals' motivations may be, but a number of ideas have been put forward: (1) that they have been pressed into service by Trump; (2) that they have political goals they are trying to advance, independent of Trump; (3) that they have personal goals they are trying to advance, independent of Trump; or (4) that they have business goals they are trying to advance, independent of Trump. These are not entirely exclusive of one another, of course, and different individuals may have different motivations. Though it should be pointed out that Rice and Gates are on the payroll of Exxon, and Cheney and Bush have longstanding ties to the petroleum industry, so possibility #4 looms large.
In any end, the most important thing may be what Rubio thinks, as he is likely to be the deciding vote on the all-important Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's looking to rebrand himself in anticipation of his next presidential run, and this is a high-profile opportunity to either put himself forward as a "maverick who does what's right, regardless of partisan considerations" or as a "GOP footsoldier who fights the good fight in the trenches." He's got about a month to decide which one he wants to be. (Z)
RNC Spokesman Sean Spicer was asked on Saturday about the Russians' involvement in the presidential election, and said that President-elect Donald Trump would not be committing to anything at this point:
I think to presume that he's going to do anything at this point would be premature. He is not president yet. President Obama has every right to carry out the duties that he sees fit based on the information he has through the rest of his term.
Now, let's translate that politician-speak into normal English: "We would like to bury this so deep that it will be harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa. The only thing that will change that is if it becomes politically impossible to do so."
Trump's dilemma here is understandable; it's not so easy to vigorously pursue an investigation when every new revelation undermines the legitimacy of the president. Trying to deflect a bit of the heat, Spicer tried to draw a parallel between this situation and Trump's pre-election claims of voter fraud, opining:
It's interesting how prior to the election when everybody thought Hillary Clinton was clearly going to be the winner they wanted everybody to sit and sign Kumbaya about the integrity of the voting systems.
It's a nice attempt by Spicer to imply hypocrisy, but the situations aren't quite the same. The claims of fraud made by Trump and his lieutenants were unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. If, by contrast, the sitting president and the CIA and the FBI and a dozen other agencies agreed that Hillary Clinton had benefited from fraudulent votes, she would have had little choice but to have someone look into the matter. And if she did not, Congressional Republicans would undoubtedly have launched their own investigations. It will be interesting to see if Trump is held to the same standard—though, to the credit of the members of Congress, it certainly looks like he will be. (Z)
Donald Trump has hemmed and hawed when it came to questions about his plan to separate himself from his business interests. His lieutenants have refused comment when pressed on the question, and The Donald himself postponed a press conference scheduled for this Thursday at which he was supposed to reveal all. The presumption has been that his foot-dragging is political—he does not want to draw attention to the issue until after the Electoral College has voted. However, insiders say that another big part of it is that Trump's entire identity is tied up in his empire, and that he's having a hard time letting go (or even conceiving of letting go).
With that said, Trump's team has begun to reveal certain details of The Donald's thinking, as it currently stands. He says that he will not receive briefings about his business interests, and is open to limiting business-related contact between himself and his two adult sons (who will be running things while their father is in the White House). Trump has also promised that "no new deals" will be made while he serves as president. At the same time, the President-elect also feels that certain things are not negotiable. He wants to be able to return to his business career once he's done in Washington, and he's not willing to allow anyone outside the family own or market the rights to the Trump brand.
This preliminary information leaves a great many questions unanswered. For example, how will foreign leaders be persuaded not to consider Trump's business interests when dealing with him? What will happen with Ivanka, given that she apparently wants to remain involved with the business, but also appears slated to act as First Lady? And, perhaps most importantly, can Trump actually put his businesses out of his mind, the way he says he can? "I just can't imagine him not paying attention to it," observes one longtime friend, while biographer Timothy O'Brien says, "Oh my god, it'll be the first thing on his mind when he wakes up in the morning."
In the end, if Trump settles on anything less than total divestment for the rest of his life (and his family's life), then there will be conflicts of interest. So, either he continues to "come to grips" with the situation until he reaches this same conclusion, or else it's going to be four years of complaints, investigations, lawsuits, and overtime for Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald. (Z)
Earlier this week, we noted that going to the movies does not guarantee a momentary escape from the unpleasantness of American politics. Now, it turns out that going out to eat provides no guarantees, either. At least, not if your plan is to dine at the Trump Grill in New York.
The current kerfuffle started with a review in the Trump-hostile Vanity Fair, which was entitled, "Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America." The reviewer, Tina Nguyen, received a meal that she regarded as sub-par in surroundings that she regarded as sub-par:
As my companions and I contemplated the most painless way to eat our flaccid, gray Szechuan dumplings with their flaccid, gray innards, as a campy version of "Jingle Bells" jackhammered in the background, a giant gold box tied with red ribbon toppled onto us.
Beyond the scathing review, however, Nguyen endeavored to argue that the failures of the restaurant (it's badly run, it's tacky, it hides a lack of substance behind an impressive veneer) are a microcosm of the failures of Trump the man. The subtitle of the review, in fact, was, "And it reveals everything you need to know about our next president."
Needless to say, Trump did not take kindly to this, and—as is his custom—he quickly jumped onto Twitter to express his displeasure, writing, "Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!" This not only triggered a round of stories about the review and the President-elect's response, it also rallied the anti-Trump troops to wreck the restaurant's Yelp page. Although the Yelp staff can identify and remove obviously fake reviews (e.g. "I tried to get in but there was a giant wall around the building.") it's much harder for them to cope with negative reviews that appear legitimate (e.g. "[P]lease wash the urine off the toilets. I expect a modicum of cleanliness in your facilities.") As a consequence, the restaurant's Yelp rating has dropped from four stars down to one-and-a-half stars. It's an early indication that the presidency might not be the boon for Trump's business that he expects it to be. (Z)
The North Carolina governor's race was both very close and very bitterly contested. In the end, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) was compelled to admit defeat, clearing the way for the inauguration of his Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper. However, on his way out the door, McCrory partnered with the Republican-controlled legislature to give Cooper a nasty little housewarming gift. It's a group of bills that would dramatically reduce the powers of the governor. Cooper will have only 425 patronage positions at his disposal (down from 1,500), may have to get legislative approval for the members of his cabinet (if that bill is signed), and will have less influence over the members of the board of elections and the trustees of the University of North Carolina. Cooper has vowed to challenge the new rules in court, but experts say his odds of prevailing are not good.
Normally, politicians avoid these kinds of tit-for-tat games, since they look petty in the eyes of voters, and since they know the shoe will one day be on the other foot. However, the North Carolina legislature has shown us, with HB-2, that they are particularly willing to sacrifice long-term damage for short-term gain. In this case, however, the gain could be particularly short-term. North Carolina is already purple and trending blue. Further, the legislative districts are going to be redrawn in advance of the 2017 state elections, as a federal judge ruled that the current map is gerrymandered to the point of breaking the law. So, a number of McCrory's accomplices could share his fate as early as next year. (Z)
Recently, the state of Montana changed its rules about what happens when a seat in Congress becomes vacant. And now, they've got a vacancy: The state's only representative, Ryan Zinke, is about to resign so he can join Donald Trump's cabinet. According to the new law, an election will be held in 85 to 100 days to fill Zinke's seat. What is unclear, however, is what will happen in the interim. Namely, is the governor of Montana allowed to choose a temporary fill-in? Gov. Steve Bullock (D) says that he is. Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (D), on the other hand, says that the Constitution allows for only temporary senators, and not temporary representatives.
It is understandable that Bullock is eager to avoid a situation where Montana has zero representation in the House for the crucial first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency, since there's likely to be a lot of pork available for the grabbing. On the other hand, most neutral observers say that the law and past precedent favor McCulloch's interpretation. Likely, if Bullock thinks tactically—that is, he chooses a ZInke-like Republican as the temporary replacement—then the GOP-run House will seat that person, and that will be that. If he tries to squeeze a Democrat through, by contrast, then lawsuits will be in the offing.
At the moment, while this issue is likely to be of interest only to Montanans, it's not impossible that it causes Zinke to reconsider. This could trigger a domino effect wherein he keeps his seat, is available to run for the Senate in 2018, and thus lengthens the Democrats' already long odds of retaking the upper chamber in the midterms. So, this bears watching. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec17 Trump Tries to Calm His Supporters
Dec17 Clinton Said that She Was Beaten by Putin and Comey
Dec17 FBI Agrees with CIA that Russia Helped Trump Win
Dec17 No Briefing for Electors
Dec17 Trump Has Assembled a Team of Bosses
Dec17 Perez Throws His Hat into the Ring
Dec17 Americans Have No Idea How Many Muslims Live in the U.S.
Dec16 Democrats and Republicans Differ on How to Investigate the Russian Hacking
Dec16 Trump Thanks Black Voters for Not Voting
Dec16 Graham Explains How Tillerson Can Get His Vote
Dec16 Trump Cabinet a Wee Bit Top-Heavy
Dec16 Trump Picks Hardliner for Israel Ambassadorship
Dec16 Whither the Democrats?
Dec16 Could 2017 Be Worse than 2016?
Dec16 Net Neutrality in Jeopardy
Dec16 Bill Gates: Trump Could Be Like JFK
Dec15 Romney Gets the Job after All
Dec15 Fiorina Being Considered for Intelligence Director
Dec15 What Went Wrong in Michigan for Clinton
Dec15 Bolton May Be Harder to Confirm than Tillerson
Dec15 D.C. Hotel Turning Into a Headache for Trump
Dec15 Another Day, Another Conflict of Interest
Dec15 Russians Also Intervened in House Races
Dec15 Twitter CEO Not Invited to Tech Summit
Dec15 Gates, Rice and Baker Have Ties to Exxon and Russia
Dec15 Culture Wars Meet Star Wars
Dec14 Trump Picks Perry to Lead the Er, Uh, Whatever Department.
Dec14 Zinke Tapped for Interior
Dec14 McCain Could Be a Real Problem for Trump
Dec14 Why Tillerson?
Dec14 Tillerson Undermined U.S. Foreign Policy in 2011
Dec14 Manchin Will Stay in the Senate
Dec14 Roger Stone: Trump Interviewed Romney Just to Torture Him
Dec14 Trump Humiliates Ryan
Dec14 Fed May Block Trump's Promised Economic Boom
Dec14 Clinton's Popular Vote Lead Approaches 3 Million
Dec13 Trump Wins Wisconsin
Dec13 Electors' Lawsuit Fails
Dec13 Trump's Conflicts of Interest May Already Be Showing in Turkey
Dec13 Trump Postpones News Conference
Dec13 Senate Committee to Investigate Russian Influence on the Election
Dec13 A Battle Is Brewing in the Senate over Tillerson
Dec13 Democrats Not Ready for Trump's First 100 Days
Dec13 Trump to Hang Nixon Letter in Oval Office
Dec13 Plotting, Planning, and Scheming Against Trump
Dec13 Democrats Rediscover Federalism
Dec13 New York Times Gets Out the Big Guns
Dec12 Comey Likely Decided the Election
Dec12 Trump Says He Doesn't Believe CIA Report of Putin Helping Him