The Titanic Hypocrisy of the Republican Party
Mulvaney Empowers Jared and Ivanka
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
Trump Grows Frustrated with Shutdown
Shutdown Is Hurting Trump’s Approval
Cohen Fears Trump Rhetoric Puts His Family At Risk
• A Day of Shutdown Theater from Trump
• Mueller Filing Confirms Kilimnik Connection
• Gillibrand Makes It Official
• Gabbard Has Anti-LGBTQ Skeletons in Her Closet
• House Vaguely Rebukes King
• Brexit, May Both in Trouble
Donald Trump's AG nominee, William Barr, made his first appearance before the Senate on Tuesday. The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, particularly Cory Booker (NJ), grilled him rather mercilessly. He's danced this dance before, having served as AG from 1991 to 1993 under George H. W. Bush, and having been confirmed three different times by the Senate overall, and so he bobbed and weaved pretty skillfully.
Barr said a number of things that Democrats and any other folks concerned about Donald Trump/Russiagate will be glad to hear. Among them:
- That he is committed to transparency
- That he will "scrupulously" follow Justice Dept. guidelines regarding special counsels
- That he won't be "bullied" by Trump
- That he's been "good friends" with special counsel Robert Mueller for 30 years, trusts him, and doesn't think Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt
- That he will allow Mueller to complete his work, unless there is cause to fire him
On the other hand, Barr also had a few responses that made the Democrats none-too-happy:
- That he will not recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, despite possible conflicts of interest
- That even if it's not a witch hunt, he understands why the president might feel that way
- That he sees "no reason" to revisit Justice Dept. policy against indicting sitting presidents
- That, in view of the above, it may be necessary to keep some elements of Mueller's report a secret. "If you're not going to indict someone, then you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That's not the way the Department of Justice does business," he explained.
Barr will sit for another day of grilling today. But the bottom line is that he hasn't done anything to derail his candidacy, and assuming no missteps today, he's going to be confirmed easily. From the perspective of those who do not like or trust Donald Trump, Barr is probably the best nominee they are going to get. On the other hand, he did leave himself with some wiggle room, so there's little certainty until he's actually in office and has the opportunity to practice what he preached in his hearing. (Z)
Neither side in the shutdown drama has any interest in backing off their positions right now, and so we have entered the kabuki phase, in which the primary order of business is posturing in an effort to win the PR battle. Donald Trump, of course, knows a bit about staging a reality TV show, and so stunts from him and (maybe) his staff dominated the day's headlines.
The drama actually began on Monday night, when the President hosted the Clemson football team in honor of their recent national championship. Instead of having the White House staff cater the affair, he made a big point of serving vast amounts of fast food, and a big point of letting everyone know that he paid for the food himself. The White House even released photos of the President standing next to the spread:
Trump's purpose was twofold: To reaffirm his image as a man of the people, and to illustrate the impact of the shutdown. The latter part is highly questionable, since even if the catering staff is furloughed, the White House mess is still open and could certainly have provided the food. Further, is there anyone in the country who was unmoved by all the folks who aren't getting paid, and all the trash at parks, and the airport delays, but was deeply moved by the fact that a group of football players were reduced to eating Big Macs? In any event, the maneuver has been poorly received, on the whole. Some critics have pointed out that items from the dollar menu are hardly apropos for recognizing a lifetime of hard work, others have focused on how it was just generally tacky, and still others wondered why—if the White House is currently not up to the task—Trump didn't just have his hotel handle the catering?
The Clemson event was just the appetizer, however. The biggest news of the day on the shutdown kabuki front was the anonymous op-ed published by the right-wing site The Daily Caller. The disclaimer at the head of the piece was essentially copied and pasted from the notorious anti-Trump editorial in the New York Times, with the site explaining that, "The Daily Caller is taking the rare step of publishing this anonymous op-ed at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose career would be jeopardized by its disclosure." In the op-ed itself, the author essentially argues that the shutdown is a good thing, because it will illustrate how unnecessary much of the federal bureaucracy is, and will ultimately shrink the size of the government. For example, he or she writes:
Federal employees are starting to feel the strain of the shutdown. I am one of them. But for the sake of our nation, I hope it lasts a very long time, till the government is changed and can never return to its previous form.
The lapse in appropriations is more than a battle over a wall. It is an opportunity to strip wasteful government agencies for good.
On an average day, roughly 15 percent of the employees around me are exceptional patriots serving their country. I wish I could give competitive salaries to them and no one else. But 80 percent feel no pressure to produce results. If they don't feel like doing what they are told, they don't.
Given how many things are currently broken due to the shutdown—TSA, SNAP, IRS, national parks, SBA, etc.—the argument that this shutdown will shine a light on how unnecessary most federal employees are is more than a little tenuous, and is rather insulting to those folks at the same time. Naturally, Trump retweeted the piece shortly after it went live.
There are many things about this op-ed that do not pass the smell test. Among them:
- Why did it need to be anonymous? If the President liked the op-ed
enough to retweet it, why would the author's job be in danger?
- Why isn't Trump angry? A leaker is a leaker, and if someone on Team
Trump has gone rogue, and taken matters into their own hands, he should be irked. After all, this
op-ed is pretty provocative, and runs the risk of inflaming public sentiment as opposed to guiding
- Why was it published by a fairly minor website? If the op-ed is what
it claims to be, it's fairly major news. Surely, the New York Times would have published it,
if it was legitimate. Or, if they are "fake news," then the Wall Street Journal. One is
forced to wonder if The Daily Caller was the highest-profile outlet that was willing to publish it
without asking too many probing questions.
Inasmuch as Donald Trump has a long history of adopting an alternate identity when it suits his needs, this bears all the hallmarks of having been written on his orders. Or, at very least, written with his knowledge.
Those were Acts I and II of Tuesday's performance, now on to Act III. Using Twitter, Trump ripped into Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), blaming them for the shutdown, and repeating his usual talking points about immigrants and crime and security and drugs. Then, he attempted to do a ham-fisted end run around them, and invited members of the House Democratic caucus to come and have lunch with him, sans Pelosi. Those folks are not fools, and know if they accepted his invitation, that; (1) Their base would kill them; (2) Pelosi would kill them; and (3) Trump doesn't stand by his deals, and so anyone who talks to him risks suffering all kinds of blowback, and then being left holding the bag. To nobody's surprise, no Democrat showed up for the lunch meeting (which probably means they were spared having to eat reheated Quarter Pounders).
In the end, Trump's actions are not consistent with those of a man who is confident in his position. In particular, the argument that vast numbers of federal employees are extraneous is undermined by the fact that, on Tuesday, the administration began reclassifying tens of thousands of employees as essential, meaning they will have to return to work soon (without pay, of course). Meanwhile, the effects of the shutdown grow more acute each day. TSA absenteeism is going up, up, up, with some employees calling in sick in protest, and others doing so in order to work other jobs and pay their bills. State Department employees are also stretched too thin, and U.S. diplomacy across the world is suffering. In other words, pressure on Trump is mounting; we shall see how long he can resist it. (Z)
Because Paul Manafort's attorneys don't understand how to use their redaction software properly, the cat was already out of the bag: Special counsel Robert Mueller believes that Manafort was feeding information to Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik while managing Donald Trump's presidential campaign. On Tuesday, Mueller filed a 31-page memo confirming that is exactly what he thinks.
Unfortunately for those of us with inquiring minds, Team Mueller does know how to use redaction software properly. So, much of Tuesday's filing remains a secret to the general public. However, the memo also includes the evidence Mueller has collected in support of his case against Manafort: 157 pages of it, including e-mails, text messages, phone records, and the like. In short, Paul Manafort picked the wrong guy to lie to. And if there was any doubt that Mueller had plenty of evidence in support of his claims, well, there's no doubt anymore. (Z)
It's been evident for more than a year that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was planning a presidential run. It's been evident for several weeks that she was surprised by the timing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) jumping into the race, and that she was hustling to make up for lost time, so as to get her hat into the ring as soon as possible. On Tuesday, Gillibrand made it official during an appearance on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert": She's forming an exploratory committee to assess a potential presidential bid. This is the first step that most of the serious candidates take, so that they can get to work without triggering the full set of FEC campaign finance rules (although Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, and Julián Castro both skipped right to a formal announcement of their candidacies).
We profiled Gillibrand last week, when it was clear her bid was imminent. So, you can read our assessment of her strengths and weaknesses there. She enters a field that is already crowded, and that figures to get more so very soon. There are only so many experienced staffers to go around, and only so much money available from donors at this point in the process. There is some evidence that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will be the next to pull the trigger, but an announcement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) in the next week or two would not be a surprise, either. Other senators who are thinking seriously about a run, including Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Cory Booker surely also realize that time is getting tight, as do Joe Biden, Beto O'Rourke, and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO). So, the odds are pretty good that by the time the calendar turns to spring on March 20, the Democratic field will be at least a dozen strong. (Z)
We've noted, many times, that one of the downsides to formally announcing one's candidacy for president is that the target on one's back grows geometrically in size. Tulsi Gabbard, who just declared over the weekend, is serving as a useful illustration of that point. She garnered some of the wrong kind of headlines on Tuesday, as reporters reminded the world of her work for an anti-LGBTQ organization run by her father (a prominent member of the Hawaii legislature), as well as her staunch opposition to gay marriage/civil unions, at the start of her political career (early 2000s).
It is true that quite a few Democrats back then held views on LGBTQ rights that are way out of step with the modern Party. That includes Barack Obama, who was officially opposed to gay marriage until 2012. However, Gabbard comes from a very blue, and very progressive, state. She almost certainly did not need to be anti-gay marriage in order to get elected, and she certainly didn't need to be as outspoken on the issue as she was. On top of that, she's taken other positions—many of them quite recent—that are going to get scrutiny and are going to give Democratic voters, particularly progressives, pause. In particular, she's pretty hawkish on Middle Eastern matters. She opposed intervention in Syria, lambasted the Iran nuclear deal, and she visited Fox News several times to share her view that politicians should not shy away from using phrases like "radical Islam" and "Islamic extremism."
That said, pretty much all of the Democrats who plan to run as progressives this year have some weak spots when it comes to their progressive bona fides. Beto O'Rourke has a centrist voting record, and only recently "discovered" the merits of progressive positions on corporate regulation and the minimum wage. Kirsten Gillibrand used to be a centrist, too, and defended tobacco giant Philip Morris while in private practice. Elizabeth Warren was once a Republican, and has handled her Native American heritage clumsily. Kamala Harris was a prosecutor who put a disproportionate number of people of color into California's prisons. Cory Booker has taken a sizable amount of money from Wall Street and from other corporate interests, and has vocally defended private equity fund managers. Bernie Sanders was once strongly pro-gun. Obviously, Sanders' skeletons were not fatal for progressives in 2016; we will presumably soon know which skeletons they are willing to overlook in 2020. (Z)
On Monday, the House Republican Steering Committee stripped Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of his committee assignments in response to remarks he made in the New York Times expressing support for white supremacy and white nationalism. On Tuesday, the House voted 424-1 in support of a resolution that was ostensibly meant as a rebuke to the Congressman, but didn't actually mention him by name. Instead, it broadly declared that the House, "[R]ejects White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States." Way to go out on a limb, there.
That one "nay" vote was from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who felt that Tuesday's resolution did not go far enough. He's got a resolution that could come up for a vote as soon as today, and that would censure King by name. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) has one, too. On one hand, formal censure is only symbolic, and so isn't that much of a sanction. On the other hand, that's all the punishment that Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI) got, which would mean that King is in danger of being lumped in with the most notorious non-criminal member of Congress of the last century.
Rush and Ryan aren't the only ones who think that something more needs to happen; quite a few members have called for King to resign, as has the Des Moines Register, the biggest paper in the Congressman's home state. King is not likely to heed such advice, especially since he's playing the victim card right now. However, he's now toxic enough that he'll get no help from the GOP if he tries to run for reelection, and that he will likely get knocked out in the Republican primary in 2020 if he doesn't bow to reality and retire. (Z)
It's just over two months before the UK is supposed to leave the EU (March 29). And so, Prime Minister Theresa May was compelled to bring her Brexit plan up for a vote in parliament, despite surely knowing that it would fail. It did, in historic fashion, by a vote of 432-202. Because of the way that the British parliament works (with lots of party loyalty, and bills not being brought up unless they are likely to win), that is the most lopsided defeat of a bill in modern British history.
A vote of no confidence in May is expected today. She will probably survive, but beyond that, nobody quite knows what happens next. Given that many of the "nay" votes were from MPs who felt May's deal was too weak, many others were from MPs who felt it was too aggressive, and still others were from MPs who don't want to leave the EU at all, there's not exactly a middle ground upon which a new deal can be put together. Further, there's no indication that the EU would be willing to reopen negotiations, even if May tried. So, the UK could leave the EU with no plan in place at all, which would be pretty bad for the Brits. Or, there could be a delay, or a new referendum, or possibly even a cancellation of the Brexit. It's a brave new world across the pond.
Meanwhile, one cannot help but notice the similarities between the UK and the US right now. A portion of the population was not happy with the direction in which the modern world was heading, and so pushed back by supporting a simple solution to their problems, designed to create a stronger barrier between them and the alleged "source" of those problems. In the U.S., it was a literal wall, while in the U.K. it was a financial wall. In both cases, the simple solution has proven to be not-so-simple, and not much of a solution, and has thrown the government into chaos. There may just be a lesson in all of this. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan15 Engineering 101: Why a Wall Is a Bad Idea
Jan15 GoFundMe Campaign for Wall Falls Apart
Jan15 Congressional Republicans Strip King of Committee Assignments; Some Demand His Resignation
Jan15 Abrams Exploring Senate Bid
Jan15 TV Ads No Longer a Priority for Priorities USA
Jan14 Americans Blame Trump for the Government Shutdown
Jan14 Barr's Confirmation Hearing Will Be All about Mueller
Jan14 Why Manafort's Polling Data is a Big Deal
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part I: Trump Hid What He Said to Putin from U.S. Officials
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part II: FBI Suspected Trump Might Be Working For Russians
Jan14 Giuliani Thinks Mueller's Report Will Be Horrific, But Has a Plan
Jan14 Monday Q&A
Jan11 Shutdown, Day 19: Much Theater, Little Progress
Jan11 Trump Campaign Had Over 100 Contacts with Russians
Jan11 Cohen to Testify Before Congress
Jan11 White House Thrilled by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Health Problems
Jan11 Steve King Can't Figure out When "White Supremacist" Became Offensive
Jan11 Crowded Presidential Field Could Imperil Democrats' Chances at Retaking the Senate
Jan11 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Kirsten Gillibrand
Jan10 Trump Storms Out of Meeting with Democrats
Jan10 House Democrats Use Health Care to Pressure Republicans
Jan10 White House Wants to Expand Trump's Tariff Powers
Jan10 Barr Met with Senators Yesterday
Jan10 Rosenstein Plans to Leave the Justice Dept. after Barr is Confirmed
Jan10 Romney Gets a Chilly Reception in the Senate
Jan10 Steyer Will Not Run in 2020
Jan10 Thursday Q&A
Jan09 Smoke, Meet Gun
Jan09 Trump Gives Border Speech He Didn't Want to Deliver
Jan09 Takeaways from Tuesday's Speeches
Jan09 Other Shutdown News
Jan09 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Jan08 Shutdown Day 17: Things Are About to Go from Bad to Worse
Jan08 Can Trump Really Declare a National Emergency?
Jan08 How Much Is $5 Billion, Really?
Jan08 Trump Administration May Try to Suppress Parts of Mueller Report
Jan08 Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Miss Oral Arguments for the First Time
Jan08 How Re-electable Is Donald Trump Right Now?
Jan07 Trump Offers an Alternative to a Concrete Wall: A Steel Wall
Jan07 Trump in No Hurry to Name Permanent Cabinet Members
Jan07 Schiff Is Not Interested in Impeaching Trump
Jan07 Ex-Felons Can Register to Vote in Florida Tomorrow--Maybe
Jan07 Sixteen Big Questions about Mueller's Investigation
Jan07 Money Is the New Straw Poll
Jan07 Petition Asks NYC to Rename a Stretch of Fifth Avenue
Jan07 Monday Q&A
Jan06 Shutdown Talks Going Nowhere Fast
Jan06 Senate Kicks Hundreds of Nominees Back to Trump