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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Puzder Withdraws Nomination
      •  Trump Picks Harward for NSA
      •  Who Told Flynn to Talk to the Russians?
      •  What Is Pence's Role Now and Going Forward?
      •  Trump Says Palestinian State Not Needed
      •  Trump Rambles in Press Conference
      •  Bannon v. Breitbart
      •  Anyone's a Candidate for Office These Days. Anyone.

Puzder Withdraws Nomination

Yesterday afternoon, Andrew Puzder thanked President Donald Trump for nominating him to be secretary of labor, but said he no longer wanted the job. Reportedly, top Republicans in Congress urged Trump to withdraw the nomination, presumably because the votes for confirmation weren't there. It is known that four Republican senators would have voted "no," and as many as 12 more may have turned against him after they viewed a video of his ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and telling about how he abused her. Also not working in his favor is the fact that he employed an undocumented immigrant as a maid and failed to pay the required taxes on her services. All in all, it might have been too much for Senate Republicans to take, so they sent word to Trump that if Puzder were to be put to a vote, he would lose.

Democrats are cheering Puzder's withdrawal, but it's really small potatoes. The secretary of labor is not a major force in the government. (Quick quiz: see if you can name the three most famous secretaries of labor in all of American history.) Trump got his first choices for the secretaries of state and education as well as for attorney general, all of whom were very controversial. Also unusual in the case of Puzder is that there was a lot of opposition to him from the right as well as the left. The right's complaint is that Puzder just loves hiring undocumented immigrants, both personally and at the restaurants he ran.

Having a cabinet secretary nomination fail or be withdrawn isn't all that unusual. It has happened to at least one nominee of each of the past five presidents. Two of Bill Clinton's nominees for attorney general had to withdraw for various reasons. George W. Bush's pick for labor secretary, Linda Chavez, was forced to withdraw after it became known that she had hired an undocumented immigrant. Bush's pick for homeland security, Bernard Kerik, also had to withdraw. Barack Obama's picks for secretary of commerce, Bill Richardson, and HHS, Tom Daschle, also had to withdraw. So losing one nominee is par for the course. While Democrats are happy about getting rid of Puzder, they would have greatly preferred blocking Betsy DeVos (education) or Jeff Sessions (attorney general). (V)

Trump Picks Harward for NSA

Late Wednesday night came word that Donald Trump has settled on a New National Security Adviser: Robert Harward, former Navy SEAL and vice-admiral. He has an impressive resume, the support of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other members of the administration and, perhaps most importantly, is unlikely to have any skeletons in the closet, or calls to Russia on his phone bill. He has not accepted the job as yet, but a lieutenant is collecting resumes with an eye toward "cleaning house" with Trump's national security team. It's likely he'll make a final decision by the end of the week. (Z)

Who Told Flynn to Talk to the Russians?

The focus on Flynngate so far has been Flynn's fall from grace so quickly, but a more substantial question is only starting to come into focus: Why did he talk to the Russian ambassador at all? Flynn is a three-star general whose experience is almost entirely in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He knows nothing about Russia or Europe. It strains credulity that someone who has so little knowledge of Russia would suddenly call the Russian ambassador five times on Dec. 29 on his own. He did accept a paid speaking gig in 2015 for a Russian television station, but that is hardly a reason to call the Russian ambassador a year later. It seems far more plausible that someone told him to do it. The question is: Who? And while we are at it: Why? Flynn himself has never been a Russophile. In mid-2016 a book he coauthored came out and listed Russia, along with China, North Korea, Syria, and a few others as countries the U.S. was fighting. In other words, his calls don't seem the acts of a rogue staffer. Someone probably put him up to it. More investigations are surely needed here, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle say that they are coming. (V)

What Is Pence's Role Now and Going Forward?

President Donald Trump knew about Michael Flynn's calls to the Russian Ambassador for two weeks and didn't bother to mention it to Vice President Mike Pence, who then went on television and made a fool of himself. What gives? The White House has already become a battlefield with Team Bannon, Team Kushner, and Team Priebus scrambling for the best positions and most power, Where does Pence fit in? Or does he? He clearly is not part of Trump's inner circle or he would have known what was going on before he read about it in the Washington Post.. A key question now is, does this strengthen him or weaken him?

On the one hand, his not being part of the sordid mess that is Flynngate strengthens him and makes it look like he is not playing games with national security. If it later turns out that Trump ordered Flynn to call the Russian ambassador and make a deal with him and this ultimately leads to Trump's impeachment, Pence will be able to come out of this with clean hands.

On the other hand, if Trump's only interest in putting Pence on the ticket was to get the evangelical vote and now that that's been accomplished, he has no more use and will be kept in the dark for the next 4 years, that doesn't exactly make him a power player and means he will have little influence. Time will tell. (V)

Trump Says Palestinian State Not Needed

After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Donald Trump said that while a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine) was the easier path to peace in the Middle East, it wasn't essential and that he was open to other options. Of course, for the Palestinians, the Arabs, and most of the rest of the world, a one-state solution is no solution at all and will not lead to peace.

One small thing Trump said that might make achieving peace less difficult is that maybe it would be better if Netanyahu would stop approving new settlements on the West Bank. However, domestic political considerations make that difficult for Netanyahu to control, since the settlers have their own political party and leader, Naftali Bennett, and in Israel's fragmented parliament, Netanyahu needs their support to stay in power.

On ISIS and terrorism, the two leaders are in complete agreement. They even used the same terminology: "radical Islamic extremism." However, no new plans for combating it were announced. (V)

Trump Rambles in Press Conference

In a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Donald Trump was asked a fairly commonplace question about the recent uptick in anti-Semitic acts in the United States. His response:

Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had—306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there's no way to 270. And there's tremendous enthusiasm out there.

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that's going on. There's a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I'll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you're going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening. And you're going to see a lot of love. You're going to see a lot of love. OK? Thank you.

This has gotten a lot of negative attention, for two reasons. The first is that it's rambling to the point of being nonsensical. And it's actually worse when watching the video, which is available at the link above. When the clip was played for the talking heads on CNN, all four of them—the left-winger, the centrist, the right-winger, and the other left-winger—couldn't help but shake their heads.

The bigger problem is that Trump was lobbed a nice, big softball—an opportunity to condemn anti-Semitism, and he chose not to take it. Given the number of anti-Semitic moments he blundered into during the campaign, not to mention the perception that his top adviser is an anti-Semite, it's not a great look.

Reading Trump's words over, one is reminded of the words of a Chicago Times editor many years back, who wrote, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States." Of course, he was talking about the Gettysburg Address, so maybe one day Trump's statement will be ranked with the wisdom of the ages. (Z)

Bannon v. Breitbart

Breitbart News has reported that Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus are on the outs, and that Bannon is trying to get his rival fired. The story apparently has Bannon "livid." He insists that, "The story is totally untrue. Reince is doing a great job. I couldn't ask any more from a partner." Bannon also says that he's had no contact with the publication he used to help since he stepped down to advise The Donald.

It's not easy to parse what's going on here. Is Bannon angry because Breitbart is rabble-rousing and/or inventing fake news? Hard to imagine that he's forgotten how the site works in the four months since he left. Does he expect Breitbart to clear stories with him before they run? That would seem to be at odds with his pledge that he has no influence over the site any more. Is this just theater for our benefit, to help sell the notion that Breitbart is "independent"? Maybe. Did Breitbart get uncomfortably close to the truth? Could be—we'll see if Priebus goes the way of the Flynn in the next month or two. (Z)

Anyone's a Candidate for Office These Days. Anyone.

Michigan Republicans are looking for a sacrificial lamb—er, an interested candidate—to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) for her seat in 2018. And in a world where a reality TV star with no political experience occupies the White House, it would seem nobody is beyond consideration, because they are giving serious thought to running rapper Kid Rock (aka Robert Ritchie).

Kid Rock's selling points: He's well-known, he supported Donald Trump, and he agrees with the GOP on some issues (taxes and military spending, mostly). His liabilities: He has zero political experience, barely graduated high school, has (unwittingly) been the star of more than one sex tape, and he was once a drug dealer. With a resume like that, why stop at Senator? Sounds like potential majority leader material. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb15 What Did the President Know and When Did He Know It?
Feb15 More Russian Headaches for Trump
Feb15 Perez Claims to Have 180 of the 224 Votes Needed to Be Elected DNC Chairman
Feb15 Hillary 2020?
Feb15 House Freedom Caucus Throws Up a Roadblock to Repealing the ACA
Feb15 Puzder Told Ex-Wife: I Will See You in the Gutter
Feb15 More Protests Are Coming
Feb15 Trump Will Have Huge Power to Reshape the Courts
Feb15 Ethics Office Recommends Punishing Conway
Feb14 Out Like Flynn
Feb14 Mnuchin, Shulkin Confirmed by Senate
Feb14 Four GOP Senators Undecided about Puzder
Feb14 What Does Trump Really Believe?
Feb14 Trump's Approval Rating Hits New Low in Gallup Poll
Feb14 Strange New Senator
Feb13 Cornyn: A Physical Wall on the U.S.-Mexico Border Would Not Rate High among Texans
Feb13 Trump Beats Voter Fraud Drum Again, and Again
Feb13 Trump's Good Friend Says Priebus Has to Go
Feb13 Conway Knows Exactly What She is Doing
Feb13 Impeach Trump!
Feb13 Thus Far, the Presidency Has Been Bad for Business
Feb13 Former NSA Analyst: Spies Don't Trust Trump
Feb13 The New Tea Party?
Feb13 Wait, That's Not Donald Trump
Feb12 North Korea Fires a Missile
Feb12 Trump Vetoes Tillerson's Choice for Deputy
Feb12 Steve Miller Is Almost as Powerful as Steve Bannon
Feb12 New White House Press Secretary?
Feb12 Trump Says He Will Negotiate the Price of the Border Wall Way Down
Feb12 The Obamacare Purge Is Underway
Feb11 Trump Caves to China
Feb11 Flynn Looks to Be in Hot Water
Feb11 Russia May Hand Snowden over to Trump
Feb11 Some Details of Trump Dossier Confirmed
Feb11 See You in Court
Feb11 Trump Administration Won't Take Ban to SCOTUS Right Now...Or Maybe They Will
Feb11 What Might TrumpCare Look Like?
Feb11 DeVos off to a Rough Start
Feb10 Ninth Circuit Court Deals Setback to Trump
Feb10 Price Approved as HHS Secretary
Feb10 Trump Talks to Xi
Feb10 Former Director of National Intelligence Opposes Travel Ban
Feb10 Trump Attacks Blumenthal over Judge's Remarks
Feb10 Conway Violated Ethics Law When Telling People to Buy Ivanka's Stuff
Feb10 Chaffetz Faces Tough Crowd at Town Hall
Feb10 Results of 2018 Election Could Depend on Trump's Approval Rating
Feb10 Judge James Robart Is in the News
Feb09 Trump Attacks Nordstrom for Dropping Ivanka's Clothing Line
Feb09 Gorsuch Says Trump's Attacks on Judiciary Are "Demoralizing"
Feb09 Senate Confirms Sessions