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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Tillerson Receives a Chilly Reception in Moscow
      •  Trump Now Wants to Do Healthcare Before Tax Reform
      •  Trump May Be Sick of Bannon
      •  Trump Now Likes NATO
      •  Trump Plays into Kim Jong-Un's Hands
      •  United Airlines, Wells Fargo, and the Democratic Party
      •  Coffman: Spicer "Needs To Go"

Tillerson Receives a Chilly Reception in Moscow

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for three hours in Moscow yesterday. It did not go well. The meeting started with public remarks, in which Lavrov denounced the U.S. missile strike in Syria and accused the U.S. of behaving unpredictably (which President Donald Trump probably sees as a compliment). However, it is less likely that Trump will see the remarks of Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as a compliment. Ryabkov said: "In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington." After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov's spokeswoman, Maria Zakhavova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists were acting like they were at a "bazaar," shouting questions at her.

After talking to Lavrov, who is very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tillerson spoke with Putin himself. Tillerson pressured Putin to drop his support for Syrian leader Bashar Assad, but Putin was having none of it. He said that the level of trust between the U.S. and Russia has deteriorated. Putin has not admitted that the poison gas attacks in Syria were perpetrated by Assad and said the U.S. might fake such attacks to create a pretext for attacking. All in all, very little positive came out of Tillerson's visit.

This must be disappointing, at the very least, for Trump. One of the reasons he picked Tillerson for secretary of state is that Tillerson had dealt with Putin when he was CEO of Exxon and even received a high honor from the Russian leader in 2013. Maybe Trump thought Putin would be a pushover for Tillerson. It doesn't look like that is going to be the case any time soon. (V)

Trump Now Wants to Do Healthcare Before Tax Reform

After failing to get even a vote on a healthcare bill, Donald Trump was willing to drop the subject and go for tax reform. Yesterday, he changed his mind and said that he wants to prioritize repealing the Affordable Care Act. There is a good reason that he wants to do healthcare first: Getting rid of the taxes and spending in it make it easier to do tax reform using the Senate's arcane budget reconciliation process. But the basic fact remains that there is no working majority in the House for Speaker Paul Ryan's AHCA bill, and changing the order in which the bills are considered doesn't make that inconvenient fact go away.

It is also possible that Trump has just discovered that passing a tax reform bill is also no walk in the park. Republicans are deeply divided over which taxes should be cut and how this can be accomplished without blowing a gigantic hole in the budget. Possibly after seeing all the potential pitfalls in the tax reform fight, he decided that maybe healthcare would be easier after all. However, he gave no indication how he was going to get the missing votes for healthcare in the House, let alone the Senate, where it seems doomed from the start. (V)

Trump May Be Sick of Bannon

Steve Bannon promised disruption when he took the job of chief strategist at the White House, but now it appears that he may be the one disrupted. The war between Bannon and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has played out in public and gotten enough attention that Trump told the two of them to work it out. That apparently didn't happen (yet), so Trump had a few choice words about Bannon yesterday:

I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late, I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary. Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.

That's not exactly a statement Bannon wants in the letter of recommendation Trump writes when Bannon applies for his next job, which may be sooner rather than later. The words suggest that Trump has had it with Bannon's bomb throwing, and especially with his losing. His job was to plot victory after victory, and so far victories have been few and far between (with the exception of getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, a project in which Bannon played no role).

If it weren't for the support of Rebekah Mercer, Trump's biggest campaign donor and a close friend of Bannon, Bannon would probably already be gone. But Bannon's enemies in the White House include not only Kushner, but also Ivanka Trump and Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who are not about to let up. In addition, the neocons, led by Elliott Abrams, want Bannon out of there. In a recent interview, Abrams said: "He's not a good influence on the president." At this point, Washington is rife with rumors that Bannon won't last very long. (V)

Trump Now Likes NATO

Donald Trump made many and varied declarations while he was running for the White House, but one of the most frequent was that NATO was an obsolete organization, and that he planned to limit or end American support for the organization. Then, on Wednesday, he met for a couple of hours with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. After, Trump announced that NATO is "no longer obsolete."

This is, of course, just the latest dramatic U-turn to come from Trump. Others include his 180-degree turns on bombing Syria, the competence of Janet Yellen, Chinese currency manipulation, and Steve Bannon's seat on the NSC. How can we explain this? Here are some possibilities; some, all, or none of them may be correct:

  • Things look very different once you're in the Oval Office
  • Things look very different once you've had time to think about them a bit
  • The decline of Steve Bannon (see above), has led to the abandonment of anti-globalist positions
  • The rise of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump has led the President to adopt a more conventional agenda
  • Trump is easily manipulated by more skilled diplomats, like Xi Jinping and Stoltenberg
  • Trump always knew that some of his positions were non-starters, and he's now jumping ship on those as rapidly as he can, before another election season comes along

It's all speculation at this point, and we may never know exactly what the dynamic is, since Trump is wont to deny that he ever held alternate positions on issues. In any case, surely some of Trump's base (read: The Breitbart crowd) is going to be unhappy with a lot of these changes. (Z)

Trump Plays into Kim Jong-Un's Hands

Donald Trump does not want to invade or nuke North Korea; either choice would quickly turn messy. This being the case, Trump has settled for a little saber-rattling, sending a fleet of U.S. warships to Asia in a "show of strength," in hopes of cowing Kim Jong-Un.

It's not going to work and, in fact, the entire exercise is doing more harm than good. First, Kim has a ninth-degree black belt in bull**it. He knows an empty gesture when he sees it. Second, as CNN's Will Ripley and James Griffiths point out, Trump's actions play right into a narrative that Kim, his father, and his grandfather have been peddling since the 1950s: The U.S. hates North Korea, and is looking for any excuse to invade. So, Trump's deployment of the USS Carl Vinson and supporting ships is not only failing to frighten Kim, it's providing the North Korean leader with a valuable propaganda opportunity. If Trump had checked with Joseph H. Yun, United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy, then Yun might have enlightened the President as to the probable impact of his actions. But that did not happen, perhaps because Yun is an Obama appointee. (Z)

United Airlines, Wells Fargo, and the Democratic Party

United Airlines and Wells Fargo were in the news this week for different reasons, but the Democrats would be wise to take notice. Republicans, too, actually. United had police drag a nondisruptive, paying passenger from a flight in order to make room for a United employee. While legally they were probably covered, the incident got a lot of people very angry. Wells Fargo made the news for a different reason: Its board decided to claw back $75 million from two executives responsible for encouraging and rewarding employees for creating fake bank accounts, which was most definitely not legal.

So where do the Democrats fit in here? As Henry Grabar notes, a lot of people think big corporations run roughshod over their customers and don't give a hoot about them. This manifests itself in hundreds of ways, with airlines, banks, cable television, health insurance, and telephone companies near the top of a long and growing list of hated companies. What the Democrats could do is stand up for the consumer and propose legal "consumers' bills of rights," possibly in different sectors. But there are also some abusive items that cut across sectors, such as the fact that many companies' "terms and conditions" require customers to waive their rights to join class action suits and submit to arbitration in the event of a dispute. In principle, Republicans could also do bills of rights, but they seem to be against the idea in principle. In fact, a priority for them is gutting the Dodd-Frank Act, which reins in the banks. Still, if either party can become identified with protecting consumers against corporations, it could be a political winner.

The United Airlines incident is not going away any time soon. The passenger who was hauled off the flight, Dr. David Dao, has retained high-powered personal-injury lawyer Thomas Demetrio, who has gotten over $1 billion for his clients. Dao also hired corporate law specialist Stephen Golan. Together, the two hires suggest that Dao is going to hit United with a two-pronged attack. First, its procedure for trying to get volunteers to give up their seats was flawed (e.g., because United stopped the auction at $800 instead of going to the legal limit of $1,350). Second, the officers shouldn't have manhandled him so badly during the removal process that he needed to be hospitalized. United is soon going to faced with a difficult choice: settle with Dao for a very large amount of money or endure a public trial, with a large amount of negative publicity. The lawyers wasted no time and yesterday filed an emergency request with Cook County Circuit Court demanding that the airline and airport retain all surveillance videos, cockpit recordings, flight manifests, crew lists, and other materials. The public is with Dao and if the Democrats are paying attention, making consumer rights an important part of their 2018 platform could be a winner. (V)

Coffman: Spicer "Needs To Go"

The fallout from White House Sean Spicer's ill-conceived remarks about Assad/Hitler continues to mount. Already, a wide range of Democrats, from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on down, have called for his ouster. So too have Jewish leaders, and some journalists. Now the first GOP officeholder, Colorado representative Mike Coffman, has joined the chorus, telling attendees at a town hall that, "He needs to go."

A White House Press Secretary simply should not be this kind of liability, week in and week out. At this point, it is so clear that Spicer's head is eventually going to roll that we are left to wonder why Trump hasn't swung the ax already. Perhaps he is trying to space it out, so he doesn't suffer too many "losses" in close succession. Maybe he's not ready to deal with the hassle of finding another person willing to go before the press corps and peddle blatant falsehoods. Or, it could be that he doesn't want to seem to be taking "orders" from Pelosi. It could even be that Trump is just saving Spicer's ouster for the next time he needs to push some other unpleasant, possibly Russia-related, story from the headlines. In any event, it's almost inconceivable that Spicer makes it to his one-year anniversary. Heck, even the 100-day anniversary is looking tenuous right now. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr12 Republican Estes Wins Special Election in Kansas
Apr12 Spicer Goose Steps in It
Apr12 Nunes Was Apparently Making Things Up
Apr12 The Infrastructure Bill Could Fail Just Like the Healthcare Bill
Apr12 Trump Falsely Claims He's Created 600,000 Jobs
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Apr12 Christie Calls for Government to Forbid Overbooking of Flights
Apr11 Neil Gorsuch Sworn in as Associate Supreme Court Justice
Apr11 Merrick Garland Could Get Revenge
Apr11 What Has Trump Done So Far?
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Apr11 Federal Judge Overturns Texas Voter ID Law--Again
Apr11 Trump's Travel Expenditures Are Skyrocketing
Apr11 Trump Wins Pulitzer Prizes
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Apr11 Cook Moves Two Special Elections towards the Democrats
Apr11 Alabama's "Luv Guv" Resigns
Apr10 Another Flynn Appointee to the NSC Is Sent Packing
Apr10 Will Trump Ask Congress for Authority to Wage War in Syria?
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Apr10 Slight Majority Supports Bombing of Syria
Apr10 State Department Staff Preparing for Cutbacks
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Apr09 Trump and Xi Met, Talked, and Accomplished Nothing
Apr09 U.S. Carrier Group Headed to North Korea
Apr09 Bannon and Kushner Are Forced to Promise to Be Nice to Each Other
Apr09 Tillerson Is Kushner's Understudy
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Apr09 Burned Out on Coal
Apr09 Anti-Trump Bar Opens in New York
Apr08 McConnell's Daring Plan Worked
Apr08 Syria Strike Raises Many Questions
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Apr07 U.S. Attacks Syria
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Apr07 Nunes Temporarily Steps Down from Role in Trump-Russia Probe