• Tillerson Confirmed as Secretary of State
• Foreign Relations off to a Rocky Start
• Collins and Murkowski Will Vote against Confirming Betsy DeVos
• House Republicans Kill Two Obama-era Regulations
• Biden Endorses Perez for DNC Chair
• Airline Stocks Lose $5 Billion
• Trump Celebrates Black History Month
Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee boycotted the hearings on cabinet nominees Tom Price (HHS) and Steve Mnuchin (treasury) for the second straight day. Under committee rules, at least one Democrat must be present for there to be a quorum, which is needed for a vote on the candidates. So, the Republicans simply changed the rules so votes could be taken with no Democrats present. Then they voted and both were approved.
Today's actions could be a sign of what is to come. The Senate has many tools at the disposal of the minority to block the majority, or at least delay it endlessly. The filibuster is the best known, but there are others, including the requirement for unanimous consent to move forward on nominations and legislation. The Democrats are now faced with a choice: Obstruct and risk having the protections of the minority gutted, or acquiesce and let the majority do what it wants to. Either way, the majority is likely going to get its way unless three Republicans decide to defect. The Democrats may well decide that having protections for the minority are meaningless because if they use them, they can be eliminated, as we saw yesterday. The difference is what happens in the long run. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) knows that some day the Republicans will be in the minority, and once the protections are gone, they are not coming back. Killing the minority's protections is clearly a Faustian bargain for him. (V)
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state on a vote of 56 to 43. All the Republicans supported him, despite the misgivings a number of them have. They were joined by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Angus King (I-ME). As secretaries of state go, this was a real squeaker. Hillary Clinton was confirmed 94-2, John Kerry was confirmed 94-3, Condolleeza Rice was confirmed 85-3, and Colin Powell was confirmed unanimously.
For Tillerson, getting confirmed may be the easy part. He has ties to Vladimir Putin, someone many Republicans do not trust. They will be watching carefully to see what he does with respect to Russia. In other areas of the world, he has basically no experience at all. It is hard to imagine him brokering peace in the Middle East or dealing effectively with ISIS, China, and other problem areas about which he knows very little. (V)
Following his confirmation on Wednesday afternoon, Rex Tillerson was sworn in as Secretary of State on Wednesday evening. He's going to have his plate full when he sits down for his first full day on the job on Thursday, with no less than four significant international incidents making headlines on Wednesday.
To start, trouble is brewing again in Ukraine. After two years of cease-fire that was observed on a fairly consistent basis by both sides, fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has recommenced, with more than a dozen people dead. It's too early to say with certainty what it all means, but observers note that the separatists appear to have had logistical support from Moscow, and that this could very well be a test to see how the Trump administration responds. Thus far, Washington has had no comment.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has made a round of phone calls this week, including one to Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. In view of this weekend's anti-immigration order, Turnbull inquired about an agreement the U.S. made to accept over 1,000 refugees currently living in Australia once they could be properly vetted. Trump declared that it is a "dumb deal," and suggested that the next Boston bomber could be among the group. Reportedly, the conversation ended with the President abruptly and angrily slamming down the phone. Trump says he is going to reevaluate the deal, which will surely result in its cancellation. This will not please Australia, one of the United States' closest allies.
That was not the only noteworthy phone call. Trump also chatted with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. Given the adversarial relationship between the two men, the transcript of the call was supposed to remain secret. However, the Trump White House leaks like a sieve, so an insider anonymously released a copy to the media. "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there," Trump told his counterpart. "You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it." If Trump follows through, he'd be the first president to invade Mexico since Woodrow Wilson.
Finally, like the Russians, the Iranians appear to be testing the new administration. They conducted a missile test recently, and also assisted militants in an attack on a Saudi naval vessel. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn announced Wednesday that, "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice." It is unclear what that means, and administration officials declined to elaborate later in the day. Flynn did make certain to explain how this is all the fault of the Obama administration, however, and its enabling of Iran's "provocative behavior."
There's no question that Trump is adopting an aggressive, "take no prisoners" approach to foreign affairs that mimics his approach to the real estate business. The problem is that the era of "big stick diplomacy" ended a long time ago, right around the time that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Czar Nicholas II met their fates. It's a multilateral world these days, whether the President likes it or not. And antagonizing enemies while also alienating close allies is a very dangerous game, indeed. (Z)
Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican megadonor, has been nominated to be secretary of education. Her hearing before the Senate HELP Committee was extremely contentious. Among other things, she said it should be up to the states to determine if they want to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Disability-rights groups were appalled by her suggestion that states could just ignore a federal law if they didn't like it. So was Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who yesterday spoke on the floor of the Senate to announce she would vote to reject DeVos. Immediately following her was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who said that thousands of Alaskans had contacted her, asking her to vote no on DeVos.
No Democrat has come out in support of DeVos, so if Collins and Murkowski are the only Republicans to vote no—along with all 48 Democrats—then Vice President Pence will get to carry out his first official duty as president of the Senate and break the 50-50 tie. Democrats are looking hard for one more Republican to oppose DeVos, and Republicans are searching for a Democrat to support her. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), one of the most conservative Democrats, has already said he will vote against DeVos. Most likely, all the red-state Democrats will oppose her because most of them are poor states and the senators fear she will take money away from their public schools and give it to unaccountable private, charter, and religious schools, something she did in Michigan, with poor results. (V)
Republican members of Congress may not be too happy about all the negative headlines being generated by the White House these days. The silver lining, however, is that it allows them to avoid undue attention when passing bills that may not please the public too much. This certainly seems to be what happened on Wednesday, when GOP representatives killed two Obama-era regulations, one of them forbidding mining corporations from dumping their waste into local waterways, the other requiring oil and gas companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments.
There is no good way to spin this—no congressman can say with a straight face that these moves will create jobs or "drain the swamp" or achieve some other positive benefit for the American people. It's implausible that this was done for anyone other than the lobbyists. And, in that circumstance, the members try to fly as far under the radar as is humanly possible. Which, by all appearances, is exactly what they did. The Senate is expected to give their approval today, and the repeals should be on President Trump's desk by the end of the week. (Z)
Half a dozen or so candidates are running for the job of chairing the Democratic National Committee. While endorsements are of questionable value in national or state elections, they be worth more in the DNC race since there are only 447 voters—the members of the DNC. Yesterday, former vice president Joe Biden endorsed former secretary of labor Tom Perez. Biden's endorsement may matter because a number of progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen.Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are behind Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN). Biden is widely respected by the "Democratic wing" of the Democratic Party, so his support for Perez may even out the score. (V)
Muslims wanting to enter the U.S. weren't the only victims of last Friday's executive order to ban the entry of people from seven majority-Muslim countries. The S&P 500 airline index dropped 3.8% this week, erasing nearly $5 Billion from the collective value of the airlines. Investors were concerned about other countries retaliating against the U.S., possible loss of business from Muslim travelers (both from the affected countries and from other ones), and the increased costs the airlines will incur enforcing the rules and getting sued if they make mistakes. The airlines are no doubt working their contacts in Congress, letting them know that the executive order is bad for business.
The order and the effect could be prototypes for future orders or laws and their effects. Suppose Donald Trump imposes a 20% tariff on products imported from Mexico and Mexico responds in kind. The U.S. exports millions of dollars worth of corn to Mexico every year and if the price suddenly jumps by 20%, probably they will import a lot less from the U.S. Farmers in Iowa and Nebraska are going to none too happy about that, and are likely to inform their representatives and senators of their displeasure. Virtually any kind of obstacle to free trade Trump throws up is going to be followed by a reaction, and the people affected by the reaction will be none too happy. (V)
On Wednesday, in honor of the start of Black History Month, Donald Trump gathered all of the black people at his disposal for a White House "listening session." That meant a handful of black staffers, plus HUD Secretary-designate Ben Carson and reality television star and Trump supporter Omarosa Manigault. All were there to share their views of the black community.
It's not exactly a representative list, but that did not matter too much, because Trump did relatively little listening, preferring talking instead. He indulged in a lengthy monologue that encapsulated most of what he knows or thinks about when he hears the phrase "African American." There was an homage to Frederick Douglass, who Trump seems to think is largely unknown to anyone but himself. There was a rehash, for the umpteenth time, of the "unfair" story that the President had removed MLK, Jr.'s bust from the Oval Office (a story that was quickly withdrawn and apologized for). There was bragging about how large a percentage of the black vote that he got (8 percent). And, in a conclusion that is as certain as Lynyrd Skynyrd playing "Freebird" during the encore, Trump lamented all the crime in the "inner city," since—in his mind—that is where 100% of black people not named Ben or Omarosa live. At least Trump did not post a picture of himself eating watermelon to Twitter.
Given that he is following a black president, there is probably nothing Donald Trump could do that would live up to his predecessor on this particular subject. Wednesday's performance did nothing to allay that suspicion. Trump probably should just spend the next four Februaries pretending he's never heard of Black History Month. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb01 Jeff Sessions' Committee Vote Postponed until Today
Feb01 Democrats Boycott Senate Finance Committee Votes on Mnuchin and Price
Feb01 Betsy DeVos Approved by Committee on Party-line Vote
Feb01 Another Campaign Promise Bites the Dust
Feb01 Four States Sue Trump Administration
Feb01 EU President Slams Trump
Feb01 Republicans Plan to Sell Off 3 Million Acres of Public Land
Feb01 Poll: Nation Sharply Divided on Muslim Ban
Feb01 Trump's Voter Fraud Expert Is Registered in Three States
Jan31 It's a Monday Night Massacre
Jan31 Congressional Staffers Helped Write the Muslim Ban
Jan31 Obama Speaks Out Against Immigration Ban
Jan31 Trump Supporters Feel Safer, Probably Aren't
Jan31 Trump Signs New Executive Order to Reduce Regulations
Jan31 Trump Expected to Name Supreme Court Justice Today
Jan31 Could Trump Put the House in Play in 2018?
Jan31 Does Steve Bannon Want a Constitutional Crisis?
Jan31 Does Steve Bannon Have a Fundamental Philosophy?
Jan30 Trump Doubles Down on Muslim Ban
Jan30 Cheney Opposes Muslim Ban
Jan30 Visitors to U.S. May Be Required to Disclose Social Media Accounts, Cell Phone Contacts
Jan30 ACLU Received $19 Million in Donations Since Saturday
Jan30 Senate Democrats Have to Make a Key Decision Very Soon
Jan30 NSC Reorganization Flies Under the Radar
Jan30 Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Person in the World?
Jan30 Trump is No Andrew Jackson
Jan30 SAG Awards Turn into the Anti-Trump Show
Jan30 He Who Lives By the Twitter...
Jan29 Green-Card Holders Refused Readmission to the U.S.
Jan29 Fallout from Trump's Order Is Swift
Jan29 Jews Speak Out Against Trump
Jan29 Trump Signs Three More Executive Orders
Jan29 Trump's Approval Rating is Sinking
Jan29 Trump Apparently Uses Unsecured Phone
Jan28 Trump Meets Theresa May
Jan28 Trump Issues More Executive Orders
Jan28 Trump's Approval Rating is 36%...Unless it's 55%
Jan28 How Might Mexico Respond to the Wall?
Jan28 Wall Construction 101
Jan28 McCain Will Fight Trump on Lifting Russian Sanctions
Jan28 McConnell: We Are Not Going to Change the Senate Rules
Jan28 What Are Senate Democrats Doing?
Jan27 Fight with Mexico Heats Up
Jan27 Theresa May Meets Donald Today
Jan27 Trump's Staff and Family Registered to Vote in Two States
Jan27 Dow Hits 20,000
Jan27 DeVos Might Be in Trouble
Jan27 Why Does Trump Ask His Staff to Lie?
Jan27 Is Donald Trump Just Plain Crazy?