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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senate Confirms Pruitt
      •  Business and Politics Keep Colliding
      •  Ryan's Tax Plan Is Running into Trouble
      •  Veteran John McCain is Back at War--with Donald Trump
      •  Russian Headache Getting Worse for Trump
      •  Could Mark Sanford Tell Trump to Take a Hike?
      •  Score Settling Continues as Trump Administration Staffs Up

Senate Confirms Pruitt

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The vote was 52-46, with two Democrats—Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV)—voting for Pruitt. Both of them are from energy-producing states and both face tough reelection campaigns in 2018. Pruitt repeatedly sued the EPA, while taking large campaign contributions from oil and gas companies that stood to gain from those lawsuits. He will soon begin gutting the EPA, laying off many employees and ending some of its programs that protect the country's air and water. Members of President Donald Trump's transition team, such as Myron Ebell, have talked about firing up to two thirds of the EPA employees.

One item high on Pruitt's to-do list is returning supervision of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act back to the states—except when he doesn't like what a state (e. g., California) might do. Environmentalists fear that in many states, lobbyists for fossil fuel companies will overpower the state legislatures and get them to repeal regulations on mining, drilling, and fracking. (V)

Business and Politics Keep Colliding

For a decade, Donald Trump has been trying to get "Trump Construction" trademarked in China without success. But all of a sudden, the Chinese government reversed course. They invalidated a rival claim on the trademark back in October, gave preliminary approval in November, and officially granted the trademark this week, after a three-month waiting period.

Needless to say, the timing of this development is raising questions, as it certainly looks like China is trying to curry favor with Trump, in hopes of getting favorable treatment in other areas. "China is going to want concessions from Mr. Trump, and this is now the first in what will be a series of efforts to influence him," said former White House ethicist Norman Eisen. Another possibility, for those who wish to think more conspiratorially, is that China is well aware of the Constitution's emoluments clause, and they are giving Trump concessions specifically in order to get him into hot water. Either way, it's more evidence that Trump the businessman and Trump the president cannot be separated from each other.

The news is better for Trump's daughter, Ivanka, though. Trump supporters—who are looking for a way to push back against Trump product boycotts—have been snapping up Ivanka's perfume, such that the spray-on and roll-on versions are now the top two sellers in their category on Amazon. That the purchasing behavior is guided by politics, rather than the olfactory sense, is hardly in doubt; fully 95% of the reviews are either of the five-star (highest possible) or one-star (lowest possible) variety. It's unclear if the First Daughter actually profits from these sales any more, but at very least, she can say it's not her fault if Washington stinks these days. (Z)

Ryan's Tax Plan Is Running into Trouble

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is no fan of President Donald Trump or his plans, but has so far held his tongue in order to stay on passable terms with The Donald, whose signature Ryan needs on a number of bills he wants Congress to enact. One of his top priorities is a tax bill, which will cut the top rate for rich people. However, Ryan doesn't want to increase the federal deficit, so he needs to find a large source of revenue to make up for the loss. His plan is a border adjustment tax, which would exempt exports from tax and impose a tax on imports. The border adjustment tax would raise a trillion dollars over 10 years. That plan effectively means U.S. consumers would pay for the tax cut for rich people.

Most likely, all Democrats will vote against it, so even if Ryan shepherds it through the House easily, Republicans can't afford to lose more than two Republicans in the Senate. Already, one Republican senator has come out very strongly against it: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Walmart). Retailers that import a large quantity of goods from China (such as Walmart) are wildly against the plan and have already informed their senators. Cotton took to the Senate floor yesterday to basically announce he is not voting for any border adjustment tax. His Arkansas colleague, Sen. John Boozman (R-Walmart), is probably also a lost cause. That means the Republicans can't tolerate any more defections. Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said: "It's beyond complication. It's a bad economic proposition." He could be #3

Another problem is the Koch brothers' network. The brothers' Pine Bend refinery in Rosemont, MN, imports 320,000 barrels of oil a day from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta. A tax on that oil would be a big hit to the brothers' bottom line. They are likely to strongly oppose a border tax, unless Canada is exempted. Having a full-blown war between the Koch brothers and the Republican Party would be unusual, to put it mildly.

Furthermore, according to insiders, Steve Bannon likes Ryan's plan but the president's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is opposed. While Bannon doesn't like being pushed around, neither does Cohn. So if the bill ends up on Trump's desk, there will be an epic fight in the White House about whether the president should sign or veto it. During the campaign, whenever someone pointed out that Trump knew nothing about some area, his answer was always: "I'll hire terrific people to advise me." Of course, experienced insiders knew that the president's advisers offer strongly differ on contentious issues. If some kind of bill makes it out of Congress, Trump will soon discover where the buck stops. (V)

Veteran John McCain is Back at War--with Donald Trump

Most Americans regard Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as a military hero who survived 5½ years at the "Hanoi Hilton" prison, of which 2 years were in solitary confinement. In July, Donald Trump tweeted: "He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." Needless to say, McCain is no fan of Trump and it's starting to show. In a speech in Germany, McCain suggested that the Western world is in more peril now than when Barack Obama was president. Briefly summarized, some of the points he made were:

  • We are turning away from universal values to old ties of blood and race and sectarianism
  • We are seeing resentment towards immigrants and minority groups, especially Muslims
  • There is a growing unwillingness to separate truth from lies
  • More and more citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and even romanticizing it

McCain didn't mention anyone in particular, but most conference attendees probably got the message. McCain didn't attack Trump prior to November, since he was also campaigning in Arizona, a state that Trump won. But now, at 80, and probably in his final Senate term, the gloves are coming off. As an unrequited cold warrior and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain is in a position to be a real pain to Trump if he so chooses. (V)

Russian Headache Getting Worse for Trump

On Friday, high-ranking members of Congress from both parties met with FBI Director James Comey to discuss ongoing efforts to investigate Russian interference in last year's election. Most of the members who were present did not comment on what they heard, though Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took to Twitter to say, "I am now very confident Senate Intel Comm I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of #Putin interference and influence." Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said much the same. So, this problem isn't going to be going away anytime soon, regardless of what the White House might want.

Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that Russia is souring on Trump. This week, the Russian government has been testing the limits of what it can get away with; for example, they have deployed a cruise missile in apparent violation of their treaty obligations, and have stationed a spy ship off the coast of Delaware. Russian newspapers (which often take their cues from Vladimir Putin) had been full of laudatory coverage of Trump, but are now growing much more critical. One possibility, according to experts, is that the Russians are angry about Trump's behavior in recent days, including a handful of anti-Russian statements he made after jettisoning Michael Flynn. Another possibility is that Putin has concluded that Trump's flightiness, plus the enormous political pressure on him, mean that The Donald is no longer the "useful idiot" he was expecting. In either case, it looks like John McCain and the other cold warriors may get what they want, namely a continuance of the United States' chilly relationship with the Russians. (Z)

Could Mark Sanford Tell Trump to Take a Hike?

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) is undoubtedly the most famous person in the world who claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was actually in Argentina with his paramour, Maria Belén Chapur, for six days. The media hunted for him ferociously and when he was caught without his hiking boots on, his wife divorced him and his career (he was then governor) was ruined. But when Jim DeMint left the Senate and then-governor Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) to be DeMint's replacement, Sanford made a comeback, ran for Scott's former seat in the House, and won.

Sanford is now starting to attack Donald Trump, saying: "If you've already been dead, you don't fear it as much." Sanford was a policy wonk as governor and a real stickler for the truth. Trump is not his kind of guy. At some point, Republicans in Congress are going to discover that Trump isn't really a Republican and doesn't support the things they hold dear, like free markets and free trade, and Sanford could be at the core of the resistance, the guy who points out that the emperor has no clothes. In any event, Sanford is a surprisingly interesting and unconventional politician and Politico has a long piece about him and what he might mean for the Republican Party. (V)

Score Settling Continues as Trump Administration Staffs Up

One problem that Team Trump has had, as it tries to fill the many positions that make up the executive branch, is that a lot of qualified people are not interested (see Harward, Robert). Another big obstacle, however, has been an unwillingness to let bygones be bygones, and to hire people who were once opponents. While Barack Obama took his main opponent in 2008 and made her his secretary of state, Donald Trump (and, likely, Steve Bannon) are fixated on purging anyone who did not support the President throughout the election process.

In the State Department, for example, newly approved Secretary Rex Tillerson has gotten to work putting his stamp on things, which means ending assignments prematurely, reassigning people all over the place, and generally creating chaos. Tillerson could probably use the services of Elliot Abrams, whom he chose to be his right-hand man, right now. However, Abrams criticized Trump during the campaign, and so his appointment was vetoed.

A nearly identical situation played out at HUD this week. If there's anyone who needs able lieutenants, it's presumably Ben Carson, who chose the well regarded Shermichael Singleton as a senior adviser. Then, someone reminded the White House that Singleton wrote a moderately critical op-ed about Trump back in October. And so, just days after starting work, Singleton was fired. Reportedly, Carson was entirely unaware of the move until he noticed that Singleton was no longer present at meetings.

It's clear, at this point, that Trump and his lieutenants have decided what their priorities are. Given how divisive this particular election was, that means that an enormous percentage of potential candidates for government jobs (Democrats, Republicans who supported other candidates and/or criticized Trump) are not available. If a president shrinks his available talent pool by, perhaps, 85% or 90%, then it's going to be very hard indeed to staff the government with the "best people" that were promised. Or with any people, for that matter. Which may be why this administration is woefully understaffed compared to other administrations at this point in the game (60 of 691 jobs have been filled). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb17 Trump Holds a Chaotic News Conference
Feb17 Harward Says, No Thanks
Feb17 Trump Names Alexander Acosta to be Secretary of Labor
Feb17 Mike Dubke Chosen as Communications Director
Feb17 Publications Are Offering Ways to Provide Tips Anonymously
Feb17 Chaffetz Gets to Work
Feb17 Current Wall is Full of Holes
Feb16 Puzder Withdraws Nomination
Feb16 Trump Picks Harward for NSA
Feb16 Who Told Flynn to Talk to the Russians?
Feb16 What Is Pence's Role Now and Going Forward?
Feb16 Trump Says Palestinian State Not Needed
Feb16 Trump Rambles in Press Conference
Feb16 Bannon v. Breitbart
Feb16 Anyone's a Candidate for Office These Days. Anyone.
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