• North Korea Not Backing Down
• Trump's America Is Less Safe
• What Is MS-13?
• Secret Service Spread Thin
• Democrats Considering Suit Against Trump
• Lewandowski Appears to Be Selling Access to Trump
Today is the 100th day of Donald Trump's presidency, which means it's time for anyone and everyone to weigh in with their assessments. That includes, naturally enough, the President himself. He sat for several interviews in the past two days, along with giving his weekly address, and he gives himself very high marks, declaring, "I truly believe that the first 100 days of my administration has been just about the most successful in our country's history. Our country is going up, and it's going up fast."
None of this stands up under scrutiny, of course. While the Dow is up around 1,000 points since Trump took office, other economic indicators are mixed, and job growth, in particular, has been level. As to the comparison to other presidents' first 100 days, no historian could rank Trump ahead of FDR, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or much of anyone else and keep a straight face. Trump, whether he meant to or not, has somewhat tacitly acknowledged this by deciding that his signature accomplishment so far is the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. "My administration is the first in modern political era to confirm a new Supreme Court justice in the first 100 days," he said. "The last time it happened was 136 years ago, in 1881." This "accomplishment," of course, had little to do with Trump, and everything to do with Senate Republicans manipulating the system, up to and including abolishing the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees. Similarly, the fact that, say, Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson or JFK did not appoint a justice in their first 100 days has nothing to do with them—you can't appoint a Supreme Court justice if there's no open seat. Not that FDR didn't try, of course.
While Trump may give himself a glowing review, his enthusiasm does not extend to everyone in Washington, however. When it comes to Congress, the President says he's disappointed, though he insists he still likes his GOP colleagues. "I'll tell you Paul Ryan's trying very, very hard," said Trump. "I think everybody is trying very hard. It is a very tough system." Trump also gave Congressional Republicans credit for passing 28 bills since he took office, though he neglected to mention that nearly all of them are rollbacks of Obama-era regulations, or else minor bookkeeping matters, like naming federal facilities. Maybe they'll do better in the next 100 days. (Z)
The U.S.S. Carl Vinson is getting closer and closer to North Korea (just 800 miles away!), where it will stage some sort of demonstration along with the Japanese navy. Further, on Thursday, Donald Trump warned of the potential for a "major, major conflict" with the North Koreans. So, that's a one-two punch of saber-rattling. Apparently, Kim Jong-Un is not cowed, because he staged yet another failed missile test on Friday.
Kim's behavior—both on Friday and, well, ever since he took power—has many in the media asking if he's mentally unbalanced. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that is not the case, and that Kim knows exactly what he's doing. Kelly is likely right, Kim seems to have adopted the opposite mantra of Theodore Roosevelt, speaking loudly and carrying a small stick. In that way, he's much like...Donald Trump. In fact, the two leaders have quite a bit in common—no political experience prior to assuming leadership of their countries, an obsession with their image, a cult of personality, questions about their mental fitness. Perhaps that is how they know how to push each other's buttons so well. (Z)
As noted above, there are all sorts of "100 days" assessments of the Trump administration bouncing around right now. One of the best is by Philip Carter, a former military officer and political operative, and an expert in international affairs. The only thing positive Carter has to say about Trump is that he's avoided catastrophe; beyond that, however, "his foreign policy makes no sense, and nearly every military move has been a mistake."
Carter's critique begins with the observation that "personnel is policy," and takes Trump to task for his shortcomings in that regard. Several of the President's high-profile choices—Michael Flynn, putting Steve Bannon on the NSC, trying to appoint K.T. McFarland and failing, appointing Sebastian Gorka with his potential Nazi ties—have blown up in his face. Meanwhile, Trump has not seen fit to staff the vast majority of lower-level positions in the Pentagon and other key agencies. The result is that at a time when Trump needs a well-functioning NSC the most, he doesn't have it.
The lack of a proper NSC, in turn, results in a foreign policy that lacks any cohesion, and gives the impression of lurching from crisis to crisis with no particular plan. This is exemplified, in particular, by the revolving love-hate relationship with both Russia and China. Meanwhile, in those places where Trump has largely continued Barack Obama's policies, he has caused things to degrade. For example, the President has done little to change America's approach to Iraq, except to alienate the Iraqis with his Muslim travel ban.
The upshot is that Trump needs to get a proper staff (and a budget) in place, and then needs to think more about national security, and less about showing off for his base. Until then, concludes Carter, "we will all be consigned to living in a state of national insecurity." (Z)
Donald Trump's latest bugaboo, which he has used—in particular—to urge funding for the Mexican wall, is MS-13. For example, during a speech to the members of the NRA on Friday, Trump said:
MS-13, you know about MS-13? It's not pleasant for them anymore. That's a bad group. Not pleasant for MS-13—get them the hell out of here, right? Get them out.
Based on footage of the event, this was among the best-received portions of the speech.
So, what is MS-13? Although the name sounds like it might be a division of British intelligence, or a piece of software from Bill Gates, or maybe a public school in New York, it's actually one of the world's most feared and most violent street gangs. It formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but did not become truly powerful until some members were deported back to Central America, where they were able to recruit a larger number of more violent gangsters. They are blamed for a large number of particularly heinous crimes, although their reputation is such that it's sometimes hard to separate truth from fiction.
This reputation seems to be the reason Trump has seized upon the gang since, according to experts, there is little these days that separates MS-13 from other street gangs. That is to say, the Central American branch of the gang is certainly very bad, but the American branch is no worse than the Crips or the 18th Street Gang or the Latin Kings. Mentioning MS-13 in speeches, then, does not speak to a serious effort to form a coherent anti-gang policy, as much as it does propagandizing against undocumented immigrants.
Therein lies a rather significant problem. Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to be a source of new gangsters than they are to be the victims of gangsters. And the more Trump rails against undocumented immigrants, the less they will be willing to help authorities, for fear of deportation or other recrimination. Thus, in a dynamic similar to the one we see with Trump's Muslim travel bans and ISIS, his anti-MS-13 statements may actually serve to make Americans less safe, and not more so. (Z)
The Secret Service has its work cut out for it these days. So much so that they want another $60 million in funding for 2017 alone, which—if they get it—will push their budget north of $2 billion.
There are two issues, in particular, that make this president particularly challenging to protect. The first is his jet-setting ways, along with those of his family. Beyond the costs of keeping the White House safe, the USSS has to decamp regularly to Mar-a-Lago, and keep Trump Tower safe, and keep an eye on Trump's very busy and very globe-trotting children. Not helping matters is that much Trump family travel happens on the spur of the moment, which makes planning especially difficult and especially expensive.
The second issue is one that might not immediately cross one's mind, but becomes obvious once pointed out: Twitter. The Donald's use of social media allows him to interact with the American people in a way that we've never quite seen before. However, it also allows them to interact with him in a way that we've never quite seen before. That, coupled with Trump's personal style and policy positions, has resulted in a "tidal wave" of threats against the President. It's not possible to investigate all of them, but they do all have to be examined, with the credible ones looked into. That's not easy to do when working with only 140 characters' worth of information. And there's deep concern, bordering on paranoia, about what happens if they decide to ignore a Twitter user who turns out to be actually dangerous (like Sara Jane Moore, who tried to assassinate Gerald Ford in 1975 just months after the Secret Service decided she was not dangerous). Trump's not going to stop tweeting, of course, so they are going to have plenty of time to hone their skills. (Z)
It is quite likely that Donald Trump either will violate, or already has violated, the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. It is quite unlikely that a Justice Department led by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is going to do anything about it. So, Senate Democrats—led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—are thinking about taking matters into their own hands, and filing suit against the President.
The biggest problem would appear to be whether or not the Senators can persuade a court that they have standing to file suit. If they think they've got a shot, it's hard to imagine they won't move forward with this. First of all, just the theater of standing up to Trump will score major points with the base. Then, if they are able to actually move forward, they might be able to come up with all sorts of treasures—including, very possibly, tax returns—during the discovery process. And if the blue team somehow prevails in the suit, then jackpot. The Republicans sued Barack Obama more than once, and the Democrats did the same to George W. Bush, so there's certainly precedent for something like this. (Z)
Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, says that he is not a lobbyist. Donald Trump, former candidate of Corey Lewandowski, says that he's draining the swamp. Both claims would appear to be called into question by new revelations that Lewandowski is trying to attract foreign governments as clients by promising them meetings with high-ranking officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Trump himself.
Lewandowski, of course, has all sorts of explanations as to how his activities are not lobbying and are not unethical. For example, he insists that he doesn't advocate specific causes, and instead says he acts like a "sherpa," telling clients whom to call and what to do. His explanations have left ethics watchdogs unimpressed; some White House senior staffers share that view. "Why is Corey in the West Wing?" asked one insider, off the record. It will be interesting to see which of Trump's three campaign heads—Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, or Steve Bannon—end up being the biggest headache, when all is said and done. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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