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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Government Funded Through September
      •  Gorka Off National Security Council
      •  Biden Speaks in New Hampshire
      •  Democrats Can't, Won't Work with Trump
      •  How Good a Negotiator Is Donald Trump?
      •  Priebus Says the Administration Has Considered Changing Libel Laws
      •  Ros-Lehtinen to Retire

Government Funded Through September

Late last night, news broke that Congress had reached agreement on a budget deal. This will keep the government funded through September, and will avoid a shutdown.

Inasmuch as the GOP controls the White House and both houses of Congress, Donald Trump got several things he wanted. That includes $15 billion to fight terrorism, although $2.5 billion of that won't be made available until Trump presents a plan for defeating ISIS to Congress. The President also got $1.5 billion in new border security spending, and $68 million to pay for his personal security expenses through the end of the year.

The real story, however, is how well the Democrats did from their position as the minority party. First and foremost, they defeated any spending on the Mexican Wall (at least for now). They also secured $2 billion in new spending for the National Institutes of Health, as well as continued funding for Obamacare subsidies. The blue team also defeated riders that were anti-environment and anti-abortion. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who was clearly pleased with himself, summed the matter up:

This agreement is a good agreement for the American people, and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table. The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren't used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education, and infrastructure.

So, the American people can enjoy nearly six months of the government paying its bills before partisans on both sides begin threatening again to shut down the government. (Z)

Gorka Off National Security Council

These days, it would seem that being appointed to the National Security Council is even more hazardous for one's career than being named the drummer in Spinal Tap. The latest casualty: Sebastian Gorka, outspoken protege of Steve Bannon, who is expected to resign his seat sometime this week.

Gorka has all manner of liabilities, such that he had become a headache for the White House. He's very, very far-right, and an outspoken Islamophobe. He is openly mocked by experts within his field, and there are serious questions about the validity of both his Ph.D. degree and his U.S. citizenship. There is evidence he has connections to Nazi groups in Europe, and overwhelming evidence that he is, at very least, a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-semite. Judging from the other members of the administration, none of these issues is, by itself, disqualifying when it comes to serving in the Trump White House. However, the complete package was apparently just a bit much. (Z)

Biden Speaks in New Hampshire

Former vice president Joe Biden has kept a high profile since leaving office in January, appearing on various talk shows, founding the Biden Foundation, and working with two different Biden Institutes (at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware). On Sunday, he will continue his habit of remaining busy, speaking at the annual McIntyre-Shaheen dinner in New Hampshire.

As is the case when any potential presidential candidate so much as sneezes in the direction of the early primary states of Iowa or New Hampshire, Biden's appearance has reignited talk that he's going to make a run for the White House in 2020. Far from pulling the "full Sherman," the former veep is happy to let such speculation run rampant. "That's a long way off," says friend and confidante Ted Kaufman. "It'll be a long time before he'll have to think about that. And a lot will depend on where he is, where the country is, where the party is." Biden will be 78 on Election Day 2020, and would be 87 at the end of a hypothetical two-term presidency. In the past, that would be a deal-breaker, but given that his would-be opponent will be 74, age may not be so much of an issue. (Z)

Democrats Can't, Won't Work with Trump

When Donald Trump was elected president, there was a school of thought that he might turn into a centrist of the sort that we haven't seen in a while, perhaps since the days of Dwight D. Eisenhower. After all, while Trump was elected primarily on the strength of Republican votes, he was a Democrat until recently, and his two closest advisers—his daughter and his son-in-law—are Democrats. Maybe the campaign rhetoric was all talk, and that once he was in the White House, the President would pivot to the center and act like the outsider he always claimed to be.

100 days in, it is clear to Democratic officeholders that those hopes were a pipe dream. Trump has shown no interest in leaving his campaign rhetoric behind, in embracing centrist ideas, or in reaching across the aisle. Indeed, his only use for Democrats seems to be as villains in his scathing attacks on his "enemies." "This notion of the battle between Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon and who prevails is irrelevant in many ways to the policies," says Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). "What Democrats are responding to is the substance of the policies: It doesn't matter who wins the internal battles in the White House."

But it's more than just being unable to work with Trump. After the difficult first 100 days, they don't want to work with Trump. Polls tell the blue team that The Donald is very unpopular, and constituents tell them they want obstruction. "What I'm hearing from my constituents, even some who've been more ambivalent," says Cicilline, "[is] it's really important to stand up and resist and try to mitigate the damage that he's likely to cause." Hardening the Democrats' resolve even further is their assessment, well-supported by available evidence, that Donald Trump is mercurial and chameleon-like. Even if he seems to be conciliatory and open to compromise one day, he could easily change his mind and be on the attack the next. Add it all up, and it would appear four more years of gridlock are in the offing. (Z)

How Good a Negotiator Is Donald Trump?

At the very center of Donald Trump's case for the presidency was his skill as a negotiator. He regularly deployed "better negotiation" as a panacea for solving virtually all that ails America: North Korea, NAFTA, job loss, China, the Middle East, health care prices, etc. Never mind that Trump's career does not necessarily justify his claims; for many years his organization's business model has primarily been licensing the Trump name, which requires relatively little negotiating. And as president, Trump has yet to demonstrate much negotiating prowess on those occasions that would seem to call for it (the AHCA, for example). Indeed, reviewing the first 100 days, Slate's Seth Stevenson concludes that the emperor has no clothes, and that Trump has actually proven himself to be a terrible negotiator. Stevenson has all manner of criticisms, but the most important are:

  • Trump doesn't know the playing field: Literally the first lesson in Negotiation 101 is "do your homework." There is much advantage in knowing exactly what the stakes are, and when and where your adversaries may be willing to bend. Trump has shown no particular interest in doing this kind of painstaking prep work. During the first, unsuccessful attempt to repeal Obamacare, for example, he barely understood the issues in play ("Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.") and he put little effort into figuring out where the various stakeholders stood.

  • Trump is too adversarial: Not long after the professor for Negotiation 101 finishes the lesson on doing your homework, he moves onto the distinction between competitive and collaborative negotiation. Competitive negotiation is a war, in which both sides work to get as much as they can for themselves. It leaves long-lasting scars, and is generally only advisable when there will be no future relationship between adversaries. Collaborative negotiation is much more cooperative; adversaries attempt to partner together to achieve the best result for both. Collaborative approaches are preferable in ongoing relationships. They are also favored for very public negotiations, since future negotiating partners will take note of how current negotiating partners are treated. Trump, of course, has adopted an overwhelmingly competitive stance, regularly referring to the leaders of other countries (and of the other political party, and even factions within his own party) as "opponents," "enemies," "bad people," and worse.

  • Trump is too much a bully: We are fond of deploying Theodore Roosevelt's aphorism "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Roosevelt knew a little something about negotiation, he won a Nobel Prize for it (specifically, for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War). Trump, by contrast, prefers to negotiate by speaking loudly. Bluster is rarely successful, since it tends to make adversaries dig in their heels, and refuse to yield even when they otherwise would have been open to compromise.

  • Trump anchors poorly: Yet another Negotiation 101 concept is the "anchoring effect." In short, it generally behooves a negotiator to make the first offer, since that offer becomes the "anchor" around which negotiations are based. If, for example, "Tom" is selling a car, he is more likely to get the $4,500 he wants if he starts by proposing a price tag of $5,000, as opposed to allowing potential buyer "Jerry" to start by proposing $3,500. However, a poorly chosen anchor can backfire. If a negotiator sets the anchor in a place too favorable to themselves, it can alienate his adversaries. That problem is heightened if the negotiator promptly backs down without gaining any concessions. This sends the message that the "first offer" is not serious, and that the negotiator will back down if forced into a game of chicken. Trump's recent—and, ultimately, empty—threat to shut down the government if he did not get funding for the Mexican wall is instructive on this point.

As with any assessment of Trump's presidency, it's still early, and we can't reach definitive conclusions yet. With that said, it is not so much that Trump has made negotiating mistakes (though he has), it's that he's revealed a philosophy of negotiation that is almost universally regarded as counterproductive. So, in this case, an early assessment may actually be pretty meaningful. (Z)

Priebus Says the Administration Has Considered Changing Libel Laws

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, and he shared a concerning bit of news: The administration has "looked at" changing libel laws. Adopting his boss' harsh anti-media rhetoric, he declared that, "newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news."

It's very hard to know what Priebus is getting at here, but it's worth nothing a few important points about libel law. First of all, there is no federal libel statute; this particular offense is a state-level concern. That would make any change to come from the Trump administration a huge power grab. Further, the burden in a libel case is very high. A claimant generally has to prove that the damaging information was false, that the guilty party knew (or should have known) the information was false and printed it anyway, and that the false information resulted in specific damages to the wronged party. For public figures, which are assumed by the courts to be fair game for both parody and criticism, prevailing in a libel case is particularly difficult. And, perhaps most importantly, a libel claim is a tort—a civil claim that results in financial (and possibly other) penalties, but not in prison time.

All of this is to say that the New York Times, et al., may have made errors, and some of those errors may have been very careless, but they have not come within a mile of running afoul of libel law. Further, even if the laws were somehow changed in a way that would make the Times guilty of some offense—something that would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment—does the administration really want to start filing large numbers of civil lawsuits against Politico and MSNBC?

In fact, while Priebus used the word "libel," presumably what Donald Trump really wants is a change to the laws governing sedition. That is a federal concern, and is also a criminal matter by which guilty parties can be imprisoned. However, if this is the President's dream, it is also a non-starter. The Supreme Court has made clear, again and again, that sedition law applies only in a narrow range of circumstances. The most significant case on the books is the landmark Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), in which the Court declared that the government can only punish inflammatory speech if that speech is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."

Priebus is a lawyer, and although his specialty is corporate law, he presumably took constitutional law at some point, and so knows these things. Which means that his declaration on Sunday was probably just a rhetorical flourish meant to please his boss, and to try to send a warning to the press. Not that any self-respecting journalist would pay any attention to such an empty threat. (Z)

Ros-Lehtinen to Retire

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has announced that when her current term—her 19th—is up, she will retire. The moderate Republican is best known for being the first Cuban-American to serve in Congress, and for being the first Republican to endorse marriage equality.

Ros-Lehtinen insists that the timing had nothing to do with Donald Trump, although she is not a fan. She also says that she is not worried about winning re-election, were she to decide to stand for office again. She may be right, but it is also the case that her district—FL-27—is solidly Democratic (D+5 according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index). Now that the popular incumbent is stepping down, the DCCC thinks—quite rightly—that they have an excellent chance to claim the seat. If other moderate Republicans follow her lead, then the blue team's chances to net 24 seats will become better than it was even a week ago. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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