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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Kelly Gets Sucked In
      •  Trump Working on Phone Calls to Soldiers' Families
      •  Congress Wants to Review Presidential War Powers
      •  Conservatives Willing to Bend in Order to Get Tax Cuts
      •  Trump Lifts the Curtain
      •  A Golden Age for Lobbyists
      •  JFK Assassination Secrets Likely to Remain Secret

Kelly Gets Sucked In

In his relatively brief time as White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly has endeavored to establish himself as a font of integrity in an administration where that virtue is not always to be found. He's stayed out of, and above, the fray on numerous issues where he might have been drawn in. Several times, he seemed to signal that his duty was to the nation rather than the President, and that there were some places that Donald Trump might go that he would not follow. But now, so much for that.

On Thursday, Kelly attempted to intervene in the squabble between Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) and Trump. During his press conference, he tried to explain what the President meant when he spoke to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, regardless of what Trump may actually have said. If the Chief of Staff had stopped there, he would have been ok, but he just had to keep going and do a little character assassination. So, he told a story about what kind of person Wilson "really" is, and how she used the 2015 dedication ceremony for a new FBI building in Miami to selfishly claim responsibility for getting the structure built:

And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money—the $20 million—to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

Later in his remarks, Kelly made a point of specifically scolding Wilson for besmirching a day that was not only meant to dedicate a new FBI building but also to honor two fallen Miami FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove.

Kelly's story did not sound quite right to the reporters who heard it, since Wilson only took office in 2013, and so would not have been in Congress when the building's funding was approved. On Friday, the staff of the (Florida) Sun-Sentinel did some digging around, and found video of Wilson's remarks on that day. As it turns out, Kelly's story is an almost complete fabrication. Wilson said nothing about money, nor did she claim responsibility for getting the building built. Among the things she did say, however, was that, "It is our patriotic duty to lift up Special Agent Benjamin Grogan and Special Agent Jerry Duke ... and place their names and pictures high, where the world will know that we are proud of their sacrifice."

Kelly has yet to comment on the video, but the White House is closing ranks around him. The adult sons of Trump both found their way on to television Friday, so that they could continue to slam Wilson. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did the same, describing the congresswoman as, "all hat, no cattle." Very folksy. Sanders also proposed that answering questions about Kelly's remarks was not necessary, because a former four star Marine general is "above reproach." So, he's kind of an American version of the Pope.

Time will tell if the White House finally drops the matter, which just keeps getting the administration into more and more trouble. Whatever happens, however, the damage to Kelly's reputation is done. Not unlike Colin Powell when he spoke to the U.N. about weapons of mass destruction, Kelly sacrificed the bipartisan credibility he enjoyed in order to advance his boss's less-than-honest narrative of events. Only he can know if it was worth it. (Z)

Trump Working on Phone Calls to Soldiers' Families

No wonder Donald Trump does not like to have press availability. On Monday, he submitted himself to the White House press corps for an open question and answer session, which quickly (and predictably) became focused on the four American soldiers who died in Niger. Apparently unprepared, and feeling defensive as he was grilled about his failure to recognize the fallen men, Trump turned to a favorite strategy: bluster. He announced that he was far better than his predecessors (translation: Barack Obama) when it comes to honoring the military dead, and that he makes a point of sending a letter to and then calling each of their families. Previous presidents (translation: Barack Obama) never did any of that, declared Trump.

The latter part of Trump's claim was the first to be challenged. Literally within the hour, Obama-era officials were talking to media outlets to tell them that the 44th president called the families of military dead on a regular basis, and also did things like send letters, hold receptions, and visit military hospitals. Within 24 hours, dozens of Gold Star families had publicly confirmed this. And on Friday, the former portion of Trump's claim was shown to be less than truthful. It turns out that Trump has not made a habit of contacting the families of those lost in the line of duty. Consequently, his staff has now spent the last couple days hurriedly compiling a list of names and phone numbers, so the President can make a bunch of phone calls and make his statement technically true.

It is remarkable that Trump and John Kelly (see above) are willing to peddle such obvious falsehoods. Surely they must know that millions of people are watching, and some of those millions will have information that disproves their tall tales. In any event, given how much trouble Trump created with this week's press conference, he's likely to schedule the next one right around the time Halley's Comet returns. (Z)

Congress Wants to Review Presidential War Powers

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), passed just three days after the September 11 attacks as it was, grants the president broad powers to combat terrorism. Now, following the recent disaster/mystery in Niger, many Congressional leaders are thinking the time has come to trim back those powers.

There is universal consensus that George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama, stretched the AUMF to its limits, using it as justification for all sorts of military actions that were never envisioned when the bill was adopted. Congress does not, generally speaking, enjoy ceding so much power to the executive branch. Since the fellow that has reopened this discussion is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), it is also fair to say that Congress is unhappy having that much power specifically in Donald Trump's hands. There has been talk previously of scaling back the AUMF, so nothing may come of this, but the odds are that Corker—who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will be discussing the question with Secretary of Defense James Mattis next week—makes something happen before he exits stage right. (Z)

Conservatives Willing to Bend in Order to Get Tax Cuts

The Freedom Caucus folks in the House, and their close friends in the Senate, were unbending on any and all issues while Barack Obama was in office. And, in the first ten months of Donald Trump's term, they have generally signaled that nothing has changed just because there's a guy with an (R) next to his name in the White House. However, like everyone else who's paying attention, they know that changing the tax code is going to be very hard, and that their window for doing do is getting more and more narrow. Deciding for the first time in a while that a partial win is better than no win, they are now indicating that they will back off on some of their demands about spending cuts, so as to make tax cuts more viable.

This is a big step forward for Republicans' hopes of changing the tax code, and a pretty strong indication of how keenly everyone in the GOP is feeling the need for a legislative victory. This is still a very big mountain to climb, but Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have to be feeling cautiously optimistic. (Z)

Trump Lifts the Curtain

There are a number of things that have become clear about reality-star-turned-president Donald Trump since he took office (and since he became a candidate). On Friday, however, he formally confirmed them in an interview with Fox's Maria Bartiromo, giving viewers a little peek behind the Trump administration curtain. Most notably, he acknowledged that Twitter helps him "sell" his presidency and to keep the base coming back for more. "You know, you have to keep people interested," the President said. "But, social media, without social media, I am not sure that would be here talking. I would probably not be here talking."

Trump also told Bartiromo that there is strategy to his arguments with GOP lawmakers, because "sometimes it gets people to do what they're supposed to be doing." There's probably some truth here, though it's likely he's also retroactively justifying behavior that was largely impulsive rather than considered and calculating. And even if he is thinking strategically, not many presidents have had success while feuding with the Senate. That includes, of course, Trump, who has yet to get a major piece of legislation through the body. For those who want to see the interview, it airs on Sunday and Monday. (Z)

A Golden Age for Lobbyists

A lot of big-ticket issues are now, or have recently been, on the national docket, from health care to taxes to immigration policy to environmental regulation. The Congress and White House are controlled by the same party, and it's the party that is pro-business. There also appear to be a number of holders of high office who are unusually comfortable—even by Washington standards—taking money from private entities. Add it all up, and America's moneyed interests think that now is the time to get things done. Which means it's a great time to be a lobbyist.

Leading the way is well-known lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has collected nearly $30 million in fees since Donald Trump took office. Crossroads Strategies, BGR Group, Squire Patton Boggs, and Covington & Burling, among others, also have eight-figure tallies. And the best part is that nothing much is actually getting done, which just means more work for the lobbyists. "With tax reform in high gear, a continued focus on areas such as health care and trade, and federal budget negotiations, I would expect this level of activity to continue through the remainder of the year and into 2018," gushed Akin Gump partner Hunter Bates. Bates used to work for Mitch McConnell, though he surely does not take advantage of that connection now that he's in the private sector. In sum, it would appear that "drain the swamp" has been dropped down the list of priorities, right below "get Mexico to pay for wall." (Z)

JFK Assassination Secrets Likely to Remain Secret

This is more about 1960s politics than modern politics, but in any case, the federal government is supposed to release a large amount of classified material related to the JFK assassination next week. Next Thursday, specifically, under the terms of a bill signed into law by George H. W. Bush in 1992. The purpose, ostensibly, is to tamp down on conspiracy theories related to Kennedy's untimely demise. As the date is drawing near, however, Donald Trump is indicating that he will declare most or all of the material to be classified (which is his prerogative), and that it will not be released.

The administration's stated concern, and there's no particular reason to think they are being untruthful, is that some of the information in the files could compromise current intelligence-gathering efforts. It is true that keeping the files classified will stoke the conspiracy theorists' fires; "The government clearly has something to hide!", they will say. However, Bush and the members of Congress responsible for the 1992 law clearly did not study conspiracy theorists, because it is also true that releasing the information would also stoke the conspiracy theorists' fires. They would discover more "proof" in support of their theories in the new materials, and would ignore anything that might contradict their theories. These are called confirmation bias and congruence bias, respectively. Point is, if the goal is to quiet conspiracy theorists, releasing the files isn't going to do that. So, if there's any non-conspiracy-related downside to releasing them, might as well keep them secret. Especially since everyone already knows it was the Mafia, working with the Cubans, under the direction of LBJ and Richard Nixon, who killed JFK. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct20 Numbers 43, 44 Slam Number 45
Oct20 Kelly Leaps to Trump's Defense
Oct20 Trump Commends Trump For Handling of Puerto Rico
Oct20 Trump Continues to Flog NFL
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