The Wires

The Ledes

Saturday, March 25, 2017.

New York Times: "Five years after a child sex abuse scandal rocked Penn State, damaging its reputation, exposing a revered coach as a serial predator and sending him to prison, a jury on Friday convicted the former president of the university of child endangerment for failing to stop the abuse. On its second day of deliberations, the jury in Harrisburg, Pa., found Graham B. Spanier guilty of one misdemeanor count, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was also found not guilty of two felony charges, for his handling of allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach." -- CW 

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

Guardian: A statement by the Academy of Motion Pictures said "that PwC – formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that has been used by the Academy to handle the voting process for 83 years – had taken full responsibility for 'breaches of established protocols' that led to the error.... On Monday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that ... Brian Cullinan, one of two accountants whose job it was to hand out the winners’ envelopes..., had tweeted a behind-the-scenes photo of [best female actor winner Emma] Stone holding her statuette. The tweet, sent moments before the best picture announcement, raised the question of whether the accountant was distracted, handing Beatty the duplicate envelope." -- CW ...

... Actually, No, It Was Donald Trump's Fault. The Hill: "President Trump is calling Sunday’s Oscar ceremony 'sad,' saying the awards show was 'focused so hard on politics' it led to the epic mix-up over the best picture winner. 'I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,' Trump said Monday in an interview with Breitbart News." CW: Because everything is about Drumpf. 

Los Angeles Times: "In one of the most surprising upsets and shocking moments in Oscar history, the poetic coming-of-age drama 'Moonlight' took home the top prize for best picture at the 89th Academy Awards, beating out the heavily favored 'La La Land,' which was actually announced as the winner. The win for 'Moonlight' came in a chaotic and confused moment that played out live in front of an audience of millions, as presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway initially presented the evening’s final award to 'La La Land,' only to have one of the film’s producers announce that 'Moonlight' had, in fact, won." -- CW 

Here's the LA Times' "live coverage" page.

CW: It would have been way better for the world if the Electoral College had admitted, as a body, that "There's been a mistake." Unfortunately, actors & film producers have more integrity than electors.

The New York Times embeds the February 23 late-nite's show responses to the latest political news.

Washington Post: "A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky planets, scientists say. The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth.... The newly discovered solar system resembles a scaled-down version of our own. The star at its center, an ultra-cool dwarf called TRAPPIST-1, is less than a tenth the size of our sun and about a quarter as warm. Its planets circle tightly around it; the closest takes just a day and a half to complete an orbit and the most distant takes about 20 days.... TRAPPIST-1 is so cool that all seven of the bodies are bathed in just the right amount of warmth to hold liquid water. And three of them receive the same amount of heat as Venus, Earth and Mars, putting them in 'the habitable zone,' that Goldilocks region where it's thought life can thrive." -- CW 

Here's a Houzz feature on Frederick Douglass's D.C. home. Since it's not far from Donald Trump's new (temporary) digs and is every bit as fancy, the Trumpster might want to pay a visit to someone who's done such "an amazing job" that he's "getting recognized more and more." SCROTUS may be surprised to discover that Mr. Douglass is not at home. Too bad, because if Mr. Douglass weren't dead, he could have showed Donaldo his portrait, which for some time was owned by W.E.B. Du Bois (or DeBois or whatever).

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

Rosie O'Donnell's new Twitter profile pic. Thanks to Unwashed for the link. -- CW 

CNN: "The book publisher Penguin is printing more copies of George Orwell's dystopian classic '1984' in response to a sudden surge of demand. On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning the book was #1 on Amazon's computer-generated list of best-selling books. The list reflects hourly book sales. The 68-year-old novel appeared on the list on Monday, hovered around the #6 spot for much of the day, rose to #2 by Tuesday afternoon and then hit #1." -- CW 

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Monday
Mar272017

The Commentariat -- March 28, 2017

Late Morning Update:

Devlin Barrett & Adam Entous of the Washington Post: "The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry. According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege. Yates and other former intelligence officials had been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week, a hearing that was abruptly canceled by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).... As acting attorney general, Yates played a key part in the investigation surrounding Michael T. Flynn.... A White House spokesperson called the Post article 'entirely false.'...” ...

     ... CW: If the Post story is "entirely false," then the Post has forged a DOJ letter to Yates' attorney essentially telling him Yates must have her testimony pre-approved by the White House.

Brooke Seipel of the Hill: "Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, joined calls for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to step down, adding that his conduct and interactions with the White House look like 'a cover-up.'" CW: No kidding. If Trump didn't do something or know something we don't know, he would welcome an actual investigation because it would force Democrats to clear him. Nunes' actions demonstrate that he doesn't trust the president & his cronies, either.

*****

SCROTUS Attacks Earth. Juliet Eilperin & Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions. The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.... Some of the measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to alter broader economic trends that are shifting the nation’s electricity mix from coal-fired generation to natural gas and renewables." -- CW ...

... Just Another Empty Trump Promise. Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday to roll back most of President Barack Obama’s climate change legacy, celebrating the move as a way to increase the nation’s 'energy independence' and to restore thousands of lost coal mining jobs. But energy economists say the expected order falls short of both of those goals — in part because the United States already largely relies on domestic sources for the coal and natural gas that fires most of the nation’s power plants.... The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closings would probably stay open, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist.... But even so, 'the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization,' he said. 'They’re not hiring people. So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs.'...” -- CW ...

... Scott Pruitt, "Moderate" Climate-Change Denier. Andrew Restuccia & Alex Guillén of Politico: "In discussions with the White House over the executive order Trump is scheduled to sign on Tuesday, Pruitt successfully argued against including language revoking the agency's 2009 'endangerment finding,' according to two sources close to the issue. The endangerment finding declared that greenhouse gas emissions threaten human health and welfare and made EPA legally responsible for regulating carbon dioxide. It later set in motion much of former President Barack Obama's climate agenda. To many conservative skeptics of mainstream climate science, overturning the finding is an essential first step toward successfully undoing Obama administration climate regulations on everything from power plants to vehicles. But Pruitt, with the backing of several White House aides, argued in closed-door meetings that the legal hurdles to overturning the finding were massive, and the administration would be setting itself up for a lengthy court battle. A cadre of conservative climate skeptics are fuming about the decision.... Trump administration officials have not totally ruled out eventually targeting the endangerment finding." -- CW ...

... Coral Davenport provides a synopsis of what Trump administration climate-change deniers have said about climate change, starting with the Denier-in-Chief. -- CW ...

... CW: The irony of all this is that not only would the planet be far better off without dirty energy, but so would the workers whose jobs TrumpWorld is "saving" with its coal-centric policies. The administration's purpose is to keep Americans down, dirty and death-defying rather than to try to move them to less hazardous -- and usually far more pleasant -- clean-energy jobs. Hillary Clinton, BTW, had a plan to improve coal miners' prospects. But in mining country, the dimwits voted her down.


Nunes' Midnight Run, Ctd. The Plot Thickens. Matthew Rosenberg & Emmarie Heutteman
of the New York Times: "Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, met on the White House grounds with a source who showed him secret American intelligence reports a day before he revealed that President Trump or his closest associates may have been 'incidentally' swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.... The spokesman for Mr. Nunes, Jack Langer, said the congressman met with his source at the White House because he needed access to a secure facility where people with security clearances can legally view classified information. But such facilities can also be found in the Capitol building, and other locations across Washington.... Sean Spicer ... said Monday that White House officials had no previous knowledge of Mr. Nunes’s visit to the White House grounds, saying the only information he had had come from 'public reports.'” ...

     ... CW: What is a "security facility" on "the White House grounds"? Sounds like Nunes met his mole in the dark behind the bushes under the third window to the right of the South Portico. We're going to find out next that Nunes jumped the White House fence to get there. Yesterday, Jack Goldsmith called Nunes' behavior "inappropriate-bordering-on-bizarre. Time to delete "bordering-on." ...

... Jake Tapper of CNN: "The California Republican confirmed to CNN in a phone interview Monday he was on the White House grounds that day -- but he said he was not in the White House itself.... [As for Spicey's claim that 'White House officials had no previous knowledge of Mr. Nunes’s visit,' a former government intelligence official told CNN on Monday that members of Congress, like the general public, must be cleared and escorted into facilities on White House grounds. 'Every non-White House staffer must be cleared in by a current White House staffer,' the official said. 'So it's just not possible that the White House was unaware or uninvolved.'"...

     ... CW: Even Spicey, who is unusually willing to make nonsensical assertions, said, "... I don't know why he would ... come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense. So I'm not aware of it, but it doesn't really pass the smell test." As for the location of the meeting, my behind-the-bushes theory is looking good. Tapper reports, "A spokesman for Nunes said he 'met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source.'" In other words, Nunes was not in a secure location when Bannon whoever showed him the docs, but proximate to it. So bushes. But then Tapper goes on to punch a hole in my theory: "A government official said Nunes was seen Tuesday night at the National Security Council offices of the Eisenhower building which, other than the White House Situation Room, is the main area on the complex to view classified information in a secure room. The official said Nunes arrived and left alone." ...

... This Is Rich. Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to reframe the story about Trump’s shady connections with Russia as really being about the leakers who have conveyed information anonymously to the media.... In February, Press Secretary Sean Spicer reportedly went as far as to scour White House staffers’ phones in an effort to get to the bottom of who is leaking information.... But during his Monday press briefing, Spicer ... said he’s not concerned about the possibility that someone in the White House leaked to House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).... Asked about possible White House complicity during Monday’s presser, Spicer wouldn’t confirm or deny anything.... The evening of Nunes’ press conference, Dan Scavino Jr., assistant to the president and director of White House social media, praised him for his loyalty to Trump, characterizing the House intel chair as 'a member of [Trump’s] campaign from the start.'” -- CW ...

... Eli Lake of Bloomberg: "In an interview Monday, Nunes told me that he ended up meeting his source on the White House grounds because it was the most convenient secure location with a computer connected to the system that included the reports, which are only distributed within the executive branch. 'We don't have networked access to these kinds of reports in Congress,' Nunes said. He added that his source was not a White House staffer and was an intelligence official." -- CW ...

... digby: "Look, it's been pretty obvious that he got this information from the White House since Trump himself telegraphed over a week ago that 'something' was coming: 'Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that despite all the denials from every institution and person in a position to know, "You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”' He always tips his hand. He can't help himself." -- CW ...

... Tom LoBiano & Deirdre Walsh of CNN: "Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Russia investigation, called on House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation in a stunning split between the two top investigators." Thanks to Diane for the link. -- CW ...

... Matthew Rosenberg & Emmarie Huetteman of the New York Times: Nancy "Pelosi echoed Mr. Schiff’s call for Mr. Nunes to recuse himself, saying his behavior had 'tarnished' his post and urging Speaker Paul D. Ryan to speak out. 'Speaker Ryan must insist that Chairman Nunes at least recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation immediately,' she said in a statement. 'That leadership is long overdue.' In an apparent attempt to change the subject, Mr. Trump on Monday night questioned why the House Intelligence Committee is not looking into connections between Hillary Clinton and Russian officials." -- CW ...

... Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "President Trump sought Monday to pressure the House committee investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, arguing that the panel should be probing Bill and Hillary Clinton’s alleged ties to the country instead of those of his own campaign advisers. In a pair of evening tweets, Trump wrote that the 'Trump Russia story is a hoax' and listed a string of alleged financial and other connections the Clintons have had over the years with Russia. He asked why the House Intelligence Committee is not investigating the former president and former secretary of state." CW: Very disappointed Trump has not yet fingered President Obama as a tool of Putin. See also Marvin S.'s commentary below. ...

There’s not any argument at this stage that somehow the election of President Trump was not legitimate, but there’s no question that there was a very serious effort made by Mr. Putin and his government, his organization, to interfere in major ways with our basic, fundamental democratic processes. In some quarters, that would be considered an act of war. -- Darth Vader Dick Cheney, Monday

Trump Signs Screw-the-Workers Bill into Law. Bryce Covert of ThinkProgress: "... on Monday, President Trump signed a measure that will make it easier for [federal contractors] to ... abuse their employees. The measure rolls back an order signed by President Obama, known as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, that required any company bidding on a contract of $500,00[0] or more to disclose labor law violations over the last three years. Those disclosures then had to be taken into account during the bidding process.... Earlier this month, Republicans in the Senate used the Congressional Review Act and voted along party lines to undo the order. They sent it to Trump, who signed it on Monday.... [Because the new law applies to all of a company's workers, not just those working on government contracts,] the executive order had a large reach  —  federal contractors are estimated to employ over 18 percent of the American workforce." CW: How do you like that, Trumpbots? 

Michael Crowley of Politico: "After months of overtures from ... Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Trump administration is trading harsh diplomatic words with Moscow, further dimming the prospects for a strategic alliance between the two countries.... Sean Spicer opened his Monday briefing by reading a statement saying the U.S. 'strongly condemns' the detention of hundreds, including leading Putin critic Alexei Navalny, following a weekend crackdown on peaceful anti-corruption protests across Russia. The statement featured the toughest language Trump’s White House has directed at Putin’s government, surprising some Russia hawks unsure whether Trump — who has repeatedly avoided criticizing Putin — would allow the government to rebuke Moscow’s actions.... Meanwhile, the Kremlin has in recent weeks steadily sharpened its rhetoric about the Trump administration, which has recently taken steps perceived in Moscow as adverse to Russian interests."-- CW 


Guardian
: "Residents in Mosul were instructed [by the Iraqi government] not to leave their homes ahead of airstrikes last week that are reported to have killed more than 150 civilians, Amnesty International has said. The recent spike in civilian casualties suggests the US-led coalition in Iraq is not taking adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths as it battles Isis alongside Iraqi ground forces, according to a report by the human rights group on Tuesday.... Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, said: 'The fact that Iraqi authorities repeatedly advised civilians to remain at home, instead of fleeing the area, indicates that coalition forces should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant numbers of civilian casualties....'" -- CW ...

... Washington Post Editors: "President Barack Obama was frequently criticized, with some reason, for micromanaging military strike decisions and exercising excessive caution. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has talked loosely about heavily bombing Islamic State-held areas and has stepped up direct U.S. involvement in the fighting. Defeating the Islamic State more quickly through the greater use of U.S. force is a worthy goal. But doing so at the cost of higher civilian casualties would be a serious mistake." -- CW 

Dana Milbank: "Trump looks more and more like a man without a plan. He promised he would have a health-care plan that would be cheaper and better than Obamacare and would cover just as many. But when it came time to deliver, he had nothing. He left the policy to House Speaker Paul Ryan.... The bill collapsed in spectacular fashion under opposition from Democrats, moderate Republicans and conservatives — and Trump is blaming everybody but himself. During the campaign, he said he had a secret plan to defeat the Islamic State. He said he had a 'foolproof' plan of 'defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.' Now, it turns out, he has no plan. He has asked the Pentagon to create one. 'We will figure something out,' he said last week.... Next up ... is Trump’s promise to enact 'historic' tax reform. But now that it’s time to present a policy, the promise looks more histrionic than historic." And so forth. -- CW ...

Taylor Link of Salon: "...Donald Trump’s approval rating has crumbled to 36 percent, a low point never reached by former President Barack Obama, according to Gallup daily tracking poll. In need of a win following the legislative collapse of Trumpcare, Politico reports that the Trump administration plans on rolling out executive orders on trade, energy to manufacture some needed triumphs. In a text message to Politico, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said that there would be 'action, action, action' from the White House this week. On ABC’s “This Week” Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said that Trump will sign an executive order that will scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan." -- CW 

The Most Unethical President Ever, Ctd. Aaron Rupar: "... Donald Trump visited the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia twice in the past weekend — on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, Donald Trump, Jr. promoted an upcoming event at the club on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.... On Saturday, President Trump’s aides said he traveled to Trump National for 'meetings,' but he was later photographed wearing golf cleats. Club members told Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg that Trump indeed played a full 18 holes 'with the club pro and a club members.' On Sunday, Trump again traveled there for 'meetings.' He was photographed watching golf with unidentified men before heading back to the White House.” -- CW 

Brooke Seipel of the Hill: "Protesters are organizing a march on Washington D.C. this tax day in protest of President Trump and to demand the release of his tax returns. The march is planned for April 15th, what is traditionally tax day, though the deadline for filing taxes has been pushed back this year to April 18th, as the 15th is a Saturday. A website for the event 'The Tax March' describes itself as a 'movement' not an organization, and says that the march is to signal to the Trump administration that voters do care about his tax returns and want them to be released." CW: Now that Trump says he is into "tax reform," his returns are more important than ever to assess how much he would personally benefit from any proposals that might come out of the White House.

Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "State and local governments seeking Justice Department grants must certify they are not so-called sanctuary cities in order to receive the money, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday." -- CW ...

... Graham Vyse: "Speaking at the White House on Monday, the attorney general asserted that 'when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws our nation is less safe.' But studies show that sanctuary cities do not make us less safe. Rather, refusing to aid ICE in rounding up undocumented residents makes policing immigrant neighborhoods easier. CW: Hey, never let the facts get in the way, especially if they are presented by pointy-headed professors. ...

... David Kurtz of TPM: "Perhaps the White House had planned all along for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make an appearance at today's press briefing to rail against sanctuary cities. But the timing is consistent with what I've long feared will be the impulse for the Trump administration: When the going gets rough (failed Obamacare repeal, low poll numbers, etc), it will fall back on appeals to racism and xenophobia to regain political footing." -- CW ...

... Charles Pierce: "... I can see the vague outlines of some serious Fourth Amendment problems down the road. That it is mean-spirited is beyond doubt. That it puts local law enforcement officials — especially in the cities — in impossible binds is beyond question. There have been howls for decades from conservatives about federalizing law enforcement. These calls seem to have grown fainter in recent months. [Sessions] is bringing people together. I'll give him that." -- CW ...

... Kristine Phillips of the Washington Post: "Nearly two dozen people from five states are accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his communications with the Russian government and subsequently trying to cover up that lie, according to a complaint sent to the Department of Justice. The complaint, which names 23 residents, states that Sessions gave false and misleading testimony during his confirmation hearing in January when he told the Senate committee that he 'did not have communications with the Russians.' It further accuses the attorney general of covering up the alleged perjury by directing a spokeswoman to make a public statement saying he did not mislead the committee.... How the agency will handle a complaint against its leader is unclear." -- CW 

The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Eric Lipton of the New York Times: "Since Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, was named by President Trump as a special adviser on regulatory matters, he has been busy working behind the scenes to try to revamp an obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule that governs the way corn-based ethanol is mixed into gasoline nationwide.... Mr. Icahn is a majority investor in CVR Energy, an oil refiner based in Sugar Land, Tex., that would have saved $205.9 million last year had the regulatory fix he is pushing been in place.... Since Mr. Trump was elected president with Mr. Icahn’s very vocal support and nearly $200,000 in political contributions to Republican causes — the stock price of CVR Energy has soared. By late December, it had doubled. It is still up 50 percent from the pre-election level, generating a windfall, at least on paper, of $455 million as of Friday.... 'This is a mile out of bounds by any standard,' said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, who, along with other Democrats, sent a letter Monday to Mr. Icahn, the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Justice to object to Mr. Icahn’s dual roles, and to ask new questions." -- CW ...

... Alexandra Stevenson of the New York Times: "Carl Icahn ... has been pulled into a high-profile insider trading trial taking place in federal court in Manhattan. The Las Vegas sports gambling kingpin William T. Walters is charged with using nonpublic information while trading shares of Dean Foods, one of the country’s largest dairy processors. The case has already brought down the former chairman of Dean Foods and drawn in the professional golfer Phil Mickelson. Now ... the prosecutors allege that Mr. Walters could have made profitable trades in Clorox stock in 2011 based on tips he might have received from Mr. Icahn, his friend." The judge has not yet ruled on whether or not prosecutors can introduce the Clorox evidence. -- CW ...

... The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Victoria Guida of Politico: "Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden is asking the top U.S. ethics officer to examine whether Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin violated his ethics agreement by talking up a movie he helped finance. 'I’m not allowed to promote anything I’m involved in,' Mnuchin said at a Friday event hosted by Axios. 'So I just want to have the legal disclosure; you’ve asked me the question, and I am not promoting any product. But you should send all your kids to "Lego Batman.’” Mnuchin is credited as an executive producer on the movie, which was produced by a film company he founded — Ratpac-Dune Entertainment. He pledged to divest his financial interests in the company within four months of his confirmation. Mnuchin was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 13.... Wyden pointed to the Treasury secretary’s pledge to not 'participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that to my knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity until I have divested it.' The senator also cited OGE regulations that bar government employees from using their position to endorse a product." ...

     ... CW: In fairnest to Munchkin, he was just following the examples set by his Dear Leader, Ivanka Trump & Kellyanne Conway.

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "House Speaker Paul D. Ryan told Republican donors Monday that he intends to continue pushing for an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system by working 'on two tracks' as he also pursues other elements of President Trump’s agenda." -- CW ...

... Jordan Fabian: "House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) met with Vice President Pence and other senior officials at the White House on Monday they map out a path forward after the disastrous collapse of their healthcare plan. Ryan also spoke briefly with President Trump after meeting with Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to discuss their agenda, according to the Speaker’s office." -- CW ...

... Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post: "Trump wants a tax cut across the board, according to the plan he published during the campaign. He has proposed relief for the wealthy especially, but also for less affluent households. The plan that Ryan (R-Wis.) and his colleagues in the House have put forward would not substantially reduce taxes for the middle class, and many households would pay more. Trump's plan ... would be extremely costly for the government, and the president's past comments suggest he would be willing to put the federal government deeper into debt to fund breaks for the middle class. Ryan's plan would instead simplify and streamline the tax code in accordance with conservative orthodoxy, eliminating the goodies for households with modest incomes that Trump would preserve or expand." ...

     ... CW: Bear in mind that Trump's "plan" was a campaign-generated proposal. He made a lot of empty promises during the campaign. I'll bet he gets on Ryan's page faster than you can say "earned income credit." ...

... Brian Beutler: Republicans "are a party that put achievable goals out of reach by indulging in expedient pandering. Their plan’s only weakness was that it might some day end in success. Trump in particular embodies the real but temporary political advantages of shamelessness. Politicians who win by saying anything will be expected to deliver everything. This isn’t just a story about the contradictions between Trump’s fraudulent campaign and his denuded administration. It’s the story of how the ruthless pursuit of power left an entire party unable to exercise it now that it’s theirs." -- CW ...

... David Leonhardt of the New York Times: "Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Tom Price may succeed where left-wing dreamers have long failed and move the country toward socialized medicine. And they would do it unwittingly, by undermining the most conservative health care system that Americans are willing to accept.... Price had spent years proposing bills to take away people’s insurance.... This weekend, Trump tweeted that 'ObamaCare will explode,' and Price, now Trump’s secretary of health and human services, has the authority to undermine parts of the law. Here’s where the irony begins: He can more easily hurt the conservative parts than the liberal parts." Leonhardt goes on to explain how that would work -- and how Democrats can take advantage of it. -- CW ...

... Jordan Weissmann of Slate: "The only way Obamacare will explode is if Trump lights the fuse." Weissmann discusses a pending appeals court case that Trump-Sessions & Congressional Republicans could use to ignite that fuse. -- CW ...

... Brian Beutler: "The Republican opposition to Obamacare is about to become more dishonorable than at any point since Obama signed it seven years ago. Republican leaders, including President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have done almost nothing to disguise their intent to mismanage the Affordable Care Act into failure.... Republicans are taking, and will continue to take, affirmative steps to harm the law in order to manufacture its collapse.... Democrats in Congress have an added obligation not just to decry the GOP’s mischief or malign neglect, but to loudly propose legislation that would address some of Obamacare’s real problems.... It will be essential for Democrats to point to solutions Republicans are intentionally shunning, not just attack them for abdicating their obligation to faithfully execute the law." -- CW ...

... Sarah Jones of the New Republic: "... Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, lives to fight another day. But unlike the law’s previous brushes with death — most notably its bruising encounters with the Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 — this latest example of its resilience represents a turning point, if Democrats choose to seize the opportunity. For three reasons — political, structural, and moral — now is the time for the Democratic Party to begin building a proposal for a single-payer health care system." -- CW 

... Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post: "The Death Of Trumpcare Is The Ultimate Proof Of Obamacare’s Historic Accomplishment." Cohn goes on to contrast the arduous work Democrats -- Obama, Pelosi, Max Baucus, and many others -- put in in order to cobble together the ACA, and contrasts it with Trump/Ryan's slapdash rollout of CAHCA. ...

... CW: Also working against Republicans: (1) they hate government, so "governing" to them means undoing government, and (2) their plans are so damaging to ordinary Americans that they have to hide their real aims from the public via obfuscation & outright lies. ...

... BUT David Graham of the Atlantic argues that the failure of CAHCA may have saved Trump's presidency: "With the failure of the repeal-and-replace effort, Trump — despite his own best efforts — unwittingly rescued himself from the passage of a hugely unpopular bill that would have hurt his own voters most.... The tax reform that Ryan and Trump still say they will pursue is likely to be highly regressive, and if the failure of the AHCA makes it harder to push through a regressive tax plan, that too may be a case of Trump unwittingly dodging a bullet." -- CW ...

     ... CW: This is consistent, too, with my theory that Trump has always been a lucky doofus. No matter what stupid thing he does, some outside force beyond his control or imagination swoops in to save him.

 

 

Mike Allen -- the Hedda Hopper/Page Six of Washington -- of Axios: "A top Republican with close ties to the White House tells me that after the GOP failure on healthcare, a government shutdown — looming when a continuing resolution runs out April 28 — is "more likely than not... Wall Street is not expecting a shutdown and the markets are unprepared." And Chris Krueger of Cowen Washington Research Group today will warn financial clients: 'Hello April 29 government shutdown.' That's Day 100 of the Trump presidency, by the way." Emphasis original, because Allen can't help it. -- CW 

Ed O'Keefe & Dave Weigel of the Washington Post: "Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, may fall short of the votes needed for smooth passage in the Senate next week, potentially dashing Republican hopes for an easy victory after the stinging defeat of the American Health Care Act last week. Gorsuch needs 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle required of high-court confirmations in the Senate, but Republicans, who hold just 52 seats, may not have the votes in a chamber that is divided deeply along partisan lines. Republicans do, however, have the votes to choose the 'nuclear' option — to change the rules and allow Gorsuch’s confirmation (and others after it) to proceed on a simple majority vote. That would upend a longstanding Senate tradition that forces the governing party to seek bipartisan support.... A final vote on Gorsuch is still more than a week away." -- CW ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker assesses Judge Neil Gorsuch's political and judicial philosophies. "His predilection for employers over employees is such that it yielded a circuit-court opinion of almost Gothic cruelty.... The Supreme Court is, as political scientists like to say, a counter-majoritarian institution: the President and the members of Congress must answer to the voters; the Justices, who serve for life, answer only to the commands of the Constitution. But, in doing so, it’s their duty to speak for those who lack political power. The Trump era has already meant trouble for these people — the poor, the sick, dissenters, immigrants — and Gorsuch, for all his intellectual distinction, has shown scant regard for their concerns. There’s little reason to believe that he would as a Justice, either." CW: Nothing new to see here, but a good synthesis. 

Beyond the Beltway

AP: "A white suspect accused of the fatal stabbing of a black man on a Manhattan street has been indicted on a charge of murder as an act of terrorism. James Harris Jackson, 28, appeared briefly in court on Monday and did not speak. Prosecutors had previously also charged him with murder as a hate crime.... Jackson is accused of killing Timothy Caughman, 66, a stranger to him.... Speaking with a reporter for the Daily News at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, Jackson said he had intended it as 'a practice run' in a mission to deter interracial relationships.... In the Rikers interview, Jackson said in retrospect that he would rather have killed 'a young thug' or 'a successful older black man with blondes ... people you see in Midtown. These younger guys that put white girls on the wrong path.'” -- CW  

Way Beyond

Trump Effect Hits Nova Scotia Man. AP: "A Canadian provincial government has withdrawn a man’s eponymous personalized vehicle license plate, saying Lorne Grabher’s surname is offensive to women when viewed on his car bumper. Grabher said Friday that he put his last name on the license plate decades ago as a gift for his late father’s birthday, and says the province’s refusal to renew the plate late last year is unfair." ...  

     ... CW: The AP story says nothing about Trump, but don't tell me the government's decision isn't a direct result of "grab them by the pussy." If you were driving behind Grabher in March of last year, you probably would have read the plate as a surname, pronounced something like "Grah-ber." Now you would read it "grab her." Not your fault. Or his.

Sunday
Mar262017

The Commentariat -- March 27, 2017

Aw, Here's a Nice, Family-friendly Story: Trump Hands off His Government Job to His Kids. Ashley Parker & Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: “President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises ... by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions. The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner ... will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington.... In a White House riven at times by disorder and competing factions, the innovation office represents an expansion of Kushner’s already far-reaching influence.... Ivanka Trump ... will collaborate with the innovation office on issues such as workforce development but will not have an official role, aides said.” ...

     ... Steve M. "... if an announcement like this had been made by President Hillary Clinton, even if it didn't involve her daughter or her daughter's husband, can you imagine the contempt with which it would have been met, especially by liberals who chide the Democratic Party for abandoning the heartland?" -- CW ...

     ... Mark Sumner of Daily Kos: "Because, as the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, sell it off. The fact that government is not anything at all like business, has never bothered Republicans. So it’s not unexpected that Trump might implement a WWWD (What Would Walmart Do) program.... While Donald Trump is anxious to destroy existing offices and departments, he’s creating a brand new one, to be lead by his 36-year-old son in law, a man who has never held elected office, never stood for Senate review, and who isn’t screened out by nepotism laws because … no one knows why." -- CW ...

... CW: I wonder why that came out today? To show Trump is moving on from the healthcare debacle? Nope. ...

... ** The Russia Connection, Ctd. Jo Becker, et al., of the New York Times: "Senate investigators plan to question Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a close adviser, as part of their broad inquiry into ties between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to the Kremlin, according to administration and congressional officials. The White House Counsel’s Office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, according to the government officials. The meetings included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank.... The Senate panel’s decision to question Mr. Kushner would make him the closest person to the president to be called upon in any of the investigations, and the only one currently serving in the White House." -- CW ...

... BUT Trump Is Moving on. Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "Picking themselves up after the bruising collapse of their health care plan, President Trump and Republicans in Congress will start this week on a legislative obstacle course that will be even more arduous: the first overhaul of the tax code in three decades. Mr. Trump’s inability to make good on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act has made the already daunting challenge of tax reform even more difficult.... Speaker Paul D. Ryan acknowledged on Friday, 'This does make tax reform more difficult.'... It remains unclear whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan are in agreement on taxes.” --CW ...

... AND There's This. Environmental Pollution Agency, Ctd. Martin Pengelly of the Guardian: "Donald Trump will on Tuesday sign an executive order to unravel Barack Obama’s plan to curb global warming, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Sunday, claiming the move would be 'pro-growth and pro-environment'.... [Scott] Pruitt said the Trump order would undo the Obama administration’s clean power plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.... Supporters of the clean power plan, including some Democratic-led states and environmental groups, argue it would promote thousands of clean energy jobs and help the US meet ambitious goals to reduce carbon pollution set by an international agreement reached in Paris in late 2015.” ...

     ... CW: That's true, of course, but Obama's clean power plan would cut some unsafe dirty energy jobs that matter to Pruitt's base of dirty energy magnates. The Trump/Pruitt pollution plan will likely lead to fewer American jobs in total. As Heather Smith of Grist reported last May, "Jobs in solar energy now outnumber jobs in coal mining and the oil and gas industry added together, says a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)." Trump/Pruitt are just ignorant and irresponsible; they're corrupt. ...

... Matea Gold & Chris Mooney of the Washington Post: "Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, Republican mega-donors ... appear intent on putting muscle behind the fight to roll back environmental regulations, a central focus of the new administration.... The wealthy family is continuing to support the work of the Heartland Institute — a group that embraces views that have long been considered outlier positions by the scientific community, but that are ascendant in Trump’s Washington." -- CW  

Huckster-in-Chief. Philip Bump quantifies what I wrote in yesterday's Commentariat -- that a "working weekend" for the Trumpster means hawking his wares: "... for the equivalent of three full weeks of his just-over-nine weeks as commander in chief, [Donald Trump] has spent all or part of a day at a Trump property — earning that property mentions in the media and the ability to tell potential clients that they might be able to interact with the president." -- CW ... 

President Trump ... spends his down time as a walking advertisement for his businesses. It is a major departure from historic norm and degradation of the office. -- Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen ...

... Eric Lipton & Noah Weiland of the New York Times: "President Trump’s Saturday started with a trip to the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va. By Saturday night, on one of the few weekends since the inauguration that Mr. Trump remained in Washington, the president was dining at the Trump International Hotel a few blocks from the White House.... On Sunday morning, Mr. Trump was once again at the family’s Virginia golf course. For Mr. Trump, it was just another weekend with a presidential-size spotlight on his family’s business outlets, a pattern that started during his transition when he drew international attention to the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.... Critics increasingly argue that the visits are priceless advertising and that Mr. Trump and his family are using the presidency as a way to enrich themselves.... Mr. Trump has now made three visits to the Trump National Golf Club, a string of trips that started after Eric Trump came to Washington this month to promote the 2017 Senior P.G.A. Championship tournament ... being held [there] ... on Memorial Day weekend. Tickets to the event are being sold as Mr. Trump is pushing the golf course into the spotlight...." -- CW ...

... Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Caroline Bankoff of New York: "Late Sunday afternoon, Fox News’s Twitter issued a 'news alert' informing the public that ... Donald Trump was 'spending the weekend working at the White House.' It was a weird tweet for a couple of reasons: First, the idea that the president of the United States, typically a very busy person, had to keep doing his job over the weekend doesn’t exactly seem newsworthy. Second, Trump spent a significant portion of the weekend at his Virginia golf course." -- CW 

... Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Asked about the tweet on the Sunday news shows, two Freedom Caucus members [-- Mark Meadows (N.C.) & Jim Jordan (Ohio) --] appeared set on avoiding a confrontation with the president.... 'He's a big whiney-baby & we don't want to hurt his widdle fee-fees,' Jordan said. [CW: Okay, I made that up.] White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended Trump’s tweet, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that the president 'hit the bull’s eye' with it.... 'We are going to be prepared to lead again, and if Democrats come on board with a plan down the road, we’ll welcome that,' Priebus said. But he also noted, 'At the end of the day, I believe it’s time for the party to start governing.'... 'Stop undermining ACA, and we’ll work with them,' Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on ABC.” -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress: "... this time around, Trump appears to have actually latched onto his real enemies. There may be no greater threat to Trump’s presidency  ... [ than] the ultra-conservative groups that are pushing him to embrace ideas that have barely any support among the electorate. As a candidate, Trump seemed to understand that the harsh austerity favored by movement conservatives was a political non-starter.... Indeed, candidate Trump’s persona more closely resembled racist populists who were a dominant force in the American South for many years.... This was a much easier agenda to sell to the electorate than movement conservatism.... Ryan’s policies, which were widely embraced by Republican lawmakers in the Obama years, are unpopular with the general public, unpopular with Republicans as a whole, and even unpopular with Republican donors.... Trump campaigned on white nationalism as an alternative to austerity. As president, however, he’s tried to implement both a nationalist agenda and an austerity agenda." -- CW ...

... Stubby Finger-Pointing, Ctd. Kyle Cheney & John Bresnahan of Politico: "... Trump’s ire, apparently, wasn’t limited to the conservative rebels. Appearing on NBC’s 'Meet the Press' Sunday, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) — leader of the moderate Tuesday Group — confirmed that Trump upbraided him during a recent meeting at the White House and accused him of 'destroying' the Republican Party. Dent was referring to an anecdote published Sunday in the New York Times Magazine describing the tense confrontation. 'According to an attendee, Trump angrily informed Dent that he was "destroying the Republican Party" and "was going to take down tax reform — and I’m going to blame you," the magazine’s Robert Draper reported.... 'I think the president’s disappointed in a number of people that he thought were loyal to him that weren’t,' [Reince] Priebus said.... Infighting even erupted among Republican lawmakers. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) resigned from the House Freedom Caucus Sunday over the group's opposition to the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.... Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) said Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) 'betrayed Trump and America and supported [House Democratic leader Nancy] Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare.'” -- CW 

... Kevin Drum: "Trump Throws Ryan Under the Bus in the Classiest Way Possible.... Within 24 hours Trump is sticking a shiv in Paul Ryan's back without even a pretense of keeping it private. He doesn't have the guts to tell Ryan to his face, so instead he uses a TV show to pass along the message. The real message, of course, is that no one should ever work with Trump. He'll throw you under the bus at the first hint that he needs someone to take the blame for something that went awry." CW: See related story by John Wagner, linked yesterday (second-linked Wagner story)." (Drum post also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The 250-Pound Weakling in the White House. David Atkins of the Washington Monthly: "A Weakened Trump Outsources Demand for Ryan Resignation to Fox News Host.... The President of the United States is legally barred from making advertisements for products and services, a statute likely violated by this vague missive [CW: that Reince Priebus claimed was] unrelated to an actual interview or policy item.... If Paul Ryan is supposed to write the legislation and bang everyone’s heads together, what is Trump useful for, exactly?... Trump isn’t even enough of a man to demand Paul Ryan’s resignation himself. He passed it off to a second-tier Fox News host to do it for him. Pathetic." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Harold Pollack, in Politico, has a very nice summary of what was wrong with CAHCA & with the process of slapping it together. In summary, everything. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Freedom Caucus Secret Handshake. Rachel Bade, et al., of Politico: "Speaker Paul Ryan and House leaders had been toiling behind closed doors for weeks assembling their Obamacare repeal bill as suspicion on the far-right simmered to a boil. So on March 7, just hours after Ryan unveiled a plan that confirmed its worst fears, the House Freedom Caucus rushed to devise a counterstrategy.... The group met that evening and made a secret pact. No member would commit his vote before consulting with the entire group — not even if Trump himself called to ask for an on-the-spot commitment. The idea, hatched by Freedom Caucus Vice Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was to bind them together in negotiations and ensure the White House or House leaders could not peel them off one by one." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Paul Krugman: "... if Mr. Trump really wanted to honor his campaign promises about improving health coverage..., there’s a lot he could do, through incremental changes, to make it work better. And he would get plenty of cooperation from Democrats along the way. Needless to say, I don’t expect to see that happen.... [Trump]’s initial reaction to health care humiliation was, predictably, vindictive. He blamed Democrats, whom he never consulted, for Trumpcare’s political failure, predicted that 'ObamaCare will explode,' and that when it does Democrats will 'own it.' Since his own administration is responsible for administering the law, that sounds a lot like a promise to sabotage Americans’ health care and blame other people for the disaster." -- CW ...

... Greg Sargent: "Now that the GOP plan to wipe out Obamacare lies in smoking ruins, President Trump is mulling a new and fiendishly clever scheme: allow the law to collapse, or even further undermine it through executive action, and pin the blame for the resulting human toll on Democrats. As it happens, Trump does have the tools to inflict immense damage on the Affordable Care Act and hurt a lot of people in the process.... If Trump wants, he can unleash serious damage by undermining the individual markets in three ways." -- CW ...

... E.J. Dionne: "Democrats can celebrate, but they cannot be complacent. They will have to expose and fight any efforts by the Trump administration to sabotage the Affordable Care Act through regulation. They should propose a package of improvements to make the ACA work better and dare Trump — and the dozen or so non-right-wing Republicans who helped block the Trump-Ryan bill — to join them." -- CW ...

... Inaction Has Consequences. Lesley Clark of McClatchy: "... the financial services firm KBW warned investors that collapse of the bill could illustrate an inability to govern, making the prospect for tax reform iffy, as well as increasing the chance of a government shutdown in April and a 'messy fight' over raising the debt ceiling in this fall." -- CW 

Adam Davidson of the New Yorker on "Trump's abuse of government data.... Throughout the campaign, Trump openly mocked employment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis as 'phony' and 'totally fiction.' His tone changed when he wanted to take credit for a good jobs report. In March, Sean Spicer said at a press briefing that the President wanted to make clear that the unemployment rate 'may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.'... Kathleen Utgoff, who ran the B.L.S. under President George W. Bush, told me..., ‘Now you are politicizing [the numbers].’ She said that she is 'terrified' by the President’s willingness to declare the government data 'very real' or fake news based solely on how they reflect on him.” -- CW  

"‘Small Government’ Conservatism Is Killing Republican Voters." Eric Levitz of New York: "Trump gave the GOP the rebrand it desperately needed. But, thus far, he’s made few alterations to the actual product. And, judging by their failed attempt to pass a supply-side tax cut dressed as a health-care bill, Republicans believe that the only thing their agenda ever lacked was a racist reality star as its salesman. But they are wrong about that: Movement conservatism is failing politically because its policies have never had less to offer the voters it relies on. New research on the surging death rate among white, non-college-educated Americans offers a harrowing testament to this fact.... Republicans can continue putting the superstitions of misanthropic billionaires above the needs of their downscale voters. But in doing so, they will send more 'forgotten men and women' to early graves. And, eventually, the righteous people may take the GOP down with them." --safari


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article140674448.html#storylink=cpy

Karen DeYoung & Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials. In a memo this month to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Mattis said that 'limited support' for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — including a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port — would help combat a 'common threat.'” -- CW 

Laurel Raymond of ThinkProgress: "... the Times of London is reporting that [at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel March 17,] Trump ... [presented her with] an invoice for what Germany 'owes' [NATO].... The Times estimates that Trump likely presented Merkel with a bill for 300 billion euros.... The core of NATO is an agreement for common defense — not a quid-pro-quo banking transaction.... 'The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,' a German minister told the Times, calling the bill 'outrageous.'... And, the [U.S.] military spending [in Europe] doesn’t all go directly to NATO  —  that is, the U.S.’s 600 billion plus military budget is not directly handed over to NATO.... The first time the NATO countries’ mutual defense obligations came into action was after 9/11, in defense of the United States." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... CW: If you're willing to jump through some hoops, you can read the original Sunday Times story here. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

The Most Unethical White House Ever, Ctd. Josh Voorhees of Slate: "The available evidence suggests that more than two months since starting work at the White House, [Kellyanne] Conway still hasn’t sold the D.C. consulting firm she founded in 1995.... If Conway is taking an active role in White House decision-making that directly impacts the fortunes of her firm’s clients, it would pose a far larger problem than her unapologetic Ivanka [clothing line] endorsement did: It could be a federal crime punishable with prison time.... Conway appears to be in a position to use her public office to directly advance the interests of her private business.... According [to] the Polling Company’s website, Conway 'resigned' as president and CEO 'effective January 20th, 2017'.... A White House spokeswoman appeared to confirm that Conway does indeed still own the company but went on to suggest that she is waiting to sell it until the Office of Government Ethics grants her what is known as a certificate of divestiture.” -- CW 

More Infighting in TrumpLand. Ben White & Nancy Cook of Politico: "The fight for the direction of Donald Trump’s presidency between the Goldman Sachs branch of the West Wing and hardcore conservatives is spilling into the Treasury Department, threatening Trump’s next agenda item of overhauling the tax code. Conservatives inside and outside Treasury say the new secretary, former Goldman Sachs banker, movie producer and Democratic donor Steven Mnuchin, is assembling a team that is too liberal and too detached from the core of Trump’s 'Make America Great Again' platform of ripping up trade deals, gutting the Dodd-Frank banking rules and generally rejecting 'globalism' in all its forms." -- CW 

Julian Borger of the Guardian: "The House intelligence committee investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged links with Moscow looks in danger of unravelling as a result of the unexplained behaviour of its chairman, Devin Nunes, a former Trump adviser. Such behaviour reportedly includes an unexplained disappearance from an Uber ride with a staffer on Tuesday night, described by his Democratic counterpart as a 'peculiar midnight run'. The investigation subsequently appeared to stall, with Nunes calling off a critical hearing scheduled for Tuesday 28 March, at a time when his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, said he had seen more than circumstantial evidence of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia." -- CW ...

      ... Update. Greg Miller & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post write a more extensive report on Nunes' Trump-friendly "investigation" which covers much of the same material Borger does. There's this, for instance: "To review classified files without breaking the law, Nunes would have needed to do so at a secure facility. Congressional officials said that the director of National Intelligence, the FBI and National Security Agency had all indicated that they got no late-night visit from Nunes, a trip that probably would have been entered in security logs." CW: Hmmm. So now who's going to investigate Nunes? The FBI? "Devin's Midnight Run" is moving into slapstick territory. ...

... CW: Here's what former Dubya Assistant AG Jack Goldsmith has to say, in Lawfare, about Nunes: "... the inappropriate-bordering-on-bizarre behavior last week (and earlier) of HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes. Nunes has long been in the bag for President Trump. His terrible judgment and his close connection with Trump and some of the actors under investigation has practically destroyed the credibility of the investigation that his committee, under his 'leadership,' is conducting on the Russia matter. If the Republicans were smart they would remove Nunes from HPSCI leadership, and fast." -- CW  

The president’s real troubles again today were not with the media but with the facts. -- Scott Pelley on the CBS Evening News last month ...

... ** Annals of Journalism, at Long Last. Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Far more than his competitors — Lester Holt on NBC and David Muir on ABC — [Scott] Pelley[, the CBS Evening News anchor,] is using words and approaches that pull no punches [when it comes to Trump & other administration fabulists]. CW: I haven't watched the nightly news in several years, but maybe I'll turn to CBS. ...

... Annals of Journalism, Ctd. Guardian: "Veteran newsman Ted Koppel has told Fox News commentator Sean Hannity that he is 'bad for America' in an interview that aired on CBS. The discussion on the network’s Sunday Morning show focused on the polarisation of politics and the media in the US. During the interview, Koppel, the former ABC Nightline anchor, said that the conflation of opinion and editorial content was dangerous.... [Koppel] tried to explain his reasons, but was interrupted several times by Hannity.... After the interview aired, Hannity fired back with a tweetstorm alleging that the interview had been cut significantly from 45 minutes to less than two and accusing CBS of broadcasting 'Fake Edited News'.” -- CW 

Beyond the Beltway

American "Justice", Ctd. Justin Glawe of The Daily Beast: "A court-appointed investigator has found that the United States attorney’s office for Kansas is in possession of hundreds of phone and video recordings of communications between attorneys and their clients, inmates at a privately run prison facility in Leavenworth. At least 700 attorneys are believed to have been recorded without their knowledge, the investigator’s report submitted to a federal court said...Prosecutors obtained recordings of the conversations with the help of the private-prison company that runs Leavenworth, CoreCivic, and the company that provides communications services there, Securus Technologies. Both companies have been sued several times in the past for violating the constitutional rights of inmates by recording calls between them and their attorneys...CoreCivic’s stock was plummeting six months ago following a Justice Department order that called for the federal government to stop using private prisons, but the company’s outlook—and its stock price—have been invigorated with the election of Donald Trump." --safari

Way Beyond

Andrew Higgins of the New York Times: "The Russian police arrested hundreds of people in nationwide anti-corruption protests on Sunday, including the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in Moscow, where thousands gathered for the biggest demonstration in five years against President Vladimir V. Putin. The protest in the capital took the form of a synchronized walk along a major shopping street to avoid a ban on unsanctioned stationary gatherings. It coincided with similar rallies in 98 other cities and towns across the country — from Vladivostok in the far east to Kaliningrad in the west — according to the organizer, Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation." -- CW ...

... Sam Fellman of BuzzFeed: "Neither the White House, the State Department, nor the US Embassy in Moscow had issued any statements by Sunday afternoon. As of 2 p.m. Eastern time, a State Department spokesperson was unable to provide any statements, or say if one was expected. On Sunday night, roughly 12 hours after images and reports of the crackdown began emerging from Moscow, the top State Department spokesman issued a statement strongly condemning the detention of hundreds and calling for the immediate release of all peaceful protesters." -- CW ...

... Rebecca Morin of Politico: "After Sen. Ben Sasse questioned why U.S. leaders were not commenting on the suppression of Russian protesters, the State Department criticized Russia's handling of peaceful protesters on Sunday, calling it 'an affront to core democratic values.'... Donald Trump and his White House have not commented on the situation, which came amid protests against corruption in the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin." -- CW 

Hamas closed its only civilian border crossing with Israel on Sunday, and Israeli troops were on high alert as tensions between the two enemies continued to rise two days after a senior Hamas operative was mysteriously shot at point-blank range in the garage of his home. Hamas has accused Israel of being behind the killing of Mazen Fuqaha, 38, a senior commander in the militant Islamist movement’s military wing. He spent nine years in an Israeli prison for his part in planning suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israeli civilians during the second intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s." -- CW 

Saturday
Mar252017

The Commentariat -- March 26, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Harold Pollack, in Politico, has a very nice summary of what was wrong with CAHCA. In summary, everything. -- CW ...

... Freedom Caucus Secret Handshake. Rachel Bade, et al., of Politico: "Speaker Paul Ryan and House leaders had been toiling behind closed doors for weeks assembling their Obamacare repeal bill as suspicion on the far-right simmered to a boil. So on March 7, just hours after Ryan unveiled a plan that confirmed its worst fears, the House Freedom Caucus rushed to devise a counterstrategy.... The group met that evening and made a secret pact. No member would commit his vote before consulting with the entire group — not even if Trump himself called to ask for an on-the-spot commitment. The idea, hatched by Freedom Caucus Vice Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was to bind them together in negotiations and ensure the White House or House leaders could not peel them off one by one." -- CW ...

... Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Asked about the tweet on the Sunday news shows, two Freedom Caucus members [-- Mark Meadows (N.C.) & Jim Jordan (Ohio) --] appeared set on avoiding a confrontation with the president.... 'He's a big whiney-baby & we don't want to hurt his widdle fee-fees,' Jordan said. [CW: Okay, I made that up.] White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended Trump’s tweet, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that the president 'hit the bull’s eye' with it.... 'We are going to be prepared to lead again, and if Democrats come on board with a plan down the road, we’ll welcome that,' Priebus said. But he also noted, 'At the end of the day, I believe it’s time for the party to start governing.'... 'Stop undermining ACA, and we’ll work with them,' Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on ABC.” -- CW ...

... Kevin Drum: "Trump Throws Ryan Under the Bus in the Classiest Way Possible.... Within 24 hours Trump is sticking a shiv in Paul Ryan's back without even a pretense of keeping it private. He doesn't have the guts to tell Ryan to his face, so instead he uses a TV show to pass along the message. The real message, of course, is that no one should ever work with Trump. He'll throw you under the bus at the first hint that he needs someone to take the blame for something that went awry." CW: See related story by John Wagner, linked below (second-linked Wagner story)." ...

... The 250-Pound Weakling in the White House. David Atkins of the Washington Monthly: "A Weakened Trump Outsources Demand for Ryan Resignation to Fox News Host.... The President of the United States is legally barred from making advertisements for products and services, a statute likely violated by this vague missive [CW: that Reince Priebus claimed was] unrelated to an actual interview or policy item.... If Paul Ryan is supposed to write the legislation and bang everyone’s heads together, what is Trump useful for, exactly?... Trump isn’t even enough of a man to demand Paul Ryan’s resignation himself. He passed it off to a second-tier Fox News host to do it for him. Pathetic." -- CW 

Laurel Raymond of ThinkProgress: "... the Times of London is reporting that [at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel March 17,] Trump ... [presented her with] an invoice for what Germany 'owes' [NATO].... The Times estimates that Trump likely presented Merkel with a bill for 300 billion euros.... The core of NATO is an agreement for common defense — not a quid-pro-quo banking transaction.... 'The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,' a German minister told the Times, calling the bill 'outrageous.'... And, the [U.S.] military spending [in Europe] doesn’t all go directly to NATO  —  that is, the U.S.’s 600 billion plus military budget is not directly handed over to NATO.... The first time the NATO countries’ mutual defense obligations came into action was after 9/11, in defense of the United States." ...

     ... CW: If you're willing to jump through some hoops, you can read the original Sunday Times story here.

*****

Donald Dimwit. Michael Shear of the New York Times: "Mr. Trump — who sold himself as a winner who could turn around a country that 'doesn’t win anymore' — has endured a litany of missteps, controversies, resignations and investigations, all of which have dented his 'I alone can fix it' vow to remake government with businesslike efficiency. A month shy of the 100-day mark that presidents use to gauge success, Mr. Trump’s largely self-inflicted setbacks are evidence of a novice politician, often uninterested in the inner workings of government, who is struggling to wield his constitutional authority or fully understand the limits of his office.... As Mr. Trump seeks to recover, the president’s difficulties in governing effectively ... pose a far greater threat to his coming initiatives on a tax code overhaul and infrastructure than any obstruction Democrats could come up with." -- CW ...

     ... CW: To be clear, Trump has not "endured" "a litany of missteps," etc. They are his doing. ...

... Chas Danner of New York: "... a central, self-made myth about Trump — that he is a master deal-maker — seemed to evaporate when it came to negotiating legislation. Indeed, insider accounts suggest that Trump’s deal-making style likely hurt the AHCA more than it helped, as did his seeming lack of commitment to the actual process of policy-making and governing. Here are some of the key takeaways (and leaked bits of gossip) that have emerged in the various postmortems published since the AHCA’s demise on Friday." CW: Here's my favorite:

He invited members to the White House for bowling sessions, gave others rides on Air Force One (complete with ­lasagna) and grinned for pictures in the Oval Office, where he reminded lawmakers of his margins of victory in their districts. -- Robert Costa, et al., of the Washington Post, March 24

The 'dealmaking' may consist of promising the fellas a ride on AF1. -- Constant Weader, March 21

... John Wagner, et al., of the Washington Post: "The stunning collapse of the Republican health-care bill now imperils the rest of President Trump’s ambitious congressional agenda, with few prospects for quick victory on tax reform, construction projects or a host of other issues in the months ahead despite complete GOP control of government. While Republicans broadly share the goal of Trump’s promised 'big tax cuts,' the president will have to bridge many of the same divides within his own party that sunk the attempted overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. And without savings anticipated from the health-care bill, paying for the 'massive' cuts Trump has promised for corporations and middle-class families becomes considerably more complicated.: -- CW ...

     ... Cristiano Lima of Politico: "White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that it was purely coincidental that a Fox News personality ... Donald Trump had urged social media followers to watch Saturday had called for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s resignation." CW: Okay, if Prince Rebus says it, it must be true. My deepest apologies to the Dear Leader, ha ha. ...

... CW: I'm dreaming of a catatonic Congress. ...

... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: " Trump claimed credit first [for scuttling the vote on CAHCAl].... But it is more likely that this was a defensive maneuver, meant to make it look like he was in control of a situation spiraling out of his control.... Trump’s decision to take credit for folding the GOP’s cards, however, will have consequences. The supposed master of the deal will begin the next negotiation (and probably every negotiation thereafter) in a weakened position because of it. Trump’s one negotiating tactic for this bill was to bluff and bluff and then bluff some more, going so far as to force his fellow Republicans to vote on something they hate to punish them politically. That bluff has been taken off the table for future use." -- CW ...

... Trump Undermines Ryan While Pretending to Support Him. John Wagner of the Washington Post: "A Fox News personality — whom President Trump had urged his supporters to watch Saturday night — called on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to step down, saying he had done a disservice to Trump by failing to pass a high-profile health-care bill last week.... 'Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M. — Donald J. Trump, March 25, 2017. At the top of her show, Jeanine Pirro ... delivered a scathing commentary on Ryan’s performance in the days leading up to the decision to pull the House Republican bill to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.... The White House did not respond Saturday night to questions about whether Trump knew what Pirro was going to say." CW: Trump is a nasty SOB, isn't he? ...

... CAHCA Failure Foils More than One Diabolical GOP Plot. Matt O'Brien of the Washington Post: "Why were Republicans rushing to vote on a health-care plan that they'd barely finished drafting, that budget scorekeepers hadn't had a chance to fully evaluate, and that ... was widely despised?... Only by rushing to reshape a full sixth of the American economy ... would Republicans be able to use health care to pave the way for the rest of their agenda.... The GOP didn't want to let a detail like tens of millions of people losing their health insurance get in the way of two tax cuts for the rich.... The crazy thing is that this first tax cut for the rich (in the form of Obamacare 'repeal and replace') would have made a second one (this one coming in the form of 'tax reform') look more affordable. That's because, due to parliamentary rules, tax revisions can't lose any revenue outside the 10-year budget window if it's going to be permanent. The question, though, is lose revenue compared to what. If Republicans had repealed the Affordable Care Act's $1 trillion worth of taxes before they revised taxes, that's $1 trillion less they'd have to come up with to make it look like money wasn't being lost. Now, without those phantom savings, tax restructuring..., Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) admitted, will be 'more difficult.'” -- CW ...

... Nikita Vladimirov of the Hill: "President Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon sought to use the healthcare vote this week to make an 'enemies list' of lawmakers who would vote 'no' on the GOP initiative.... A Hill GOP aide involved in last-minute negotiations told the Times that Bannon and White House legislative affairs director Marc Short pressured the president to let the House vote on the ObamaCare replacement bill. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, strongly advised Trump against letting the bill go to a public vote on Friday, as several dozen Republicans remained opposed to the legislation. According to the Times, Ryan argued that publicly exposing the GOP lawmakers who opposed the bill could do substantial damage to Republicans, especially those who could face primary challenges." -- CW ...

... Mike Allen of Axios: "When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon's opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: 'Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.' Bannon's point was: This is the Republican platform. You're the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset. One of the members replied: 'You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either.'" Emphasis original. -- CW ...

...

Trump crowed that 'when people get a 200 percent [premium] increase next year or a 100 percent or 70 percent, that’s their [the Democrats’] fault.'...  'Here’s the good news,' he added. 'Health care is now totally the property of the Democrats.'... The president would have rather let the country’s health care system disintegrate than exercise his formidable negotiating prowess?” -- CW ...

You know how you said at campaign rallies that you did not like being identified as a politician? Don’t worry. No one will ever mistake you for a politician. After this past week, they won’t even mistake you for a top-notch negotiator.... And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment." -- CW ...

... Matt Flegenheimer & Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times: "Less than 18 months after being elected speaker, [Paul] Ryan has emerged from the defeat of the health care bill badly damaged, retaining a grip on the job but left to confront the realities of his failure — imperiling the odd-couple partnership [with Trump] that was supposed to sustain a new era of conservative government under unified Republican rule.... In this first fight, Mr. Ryan’s more orthodox right-leaning vision was co-opted only halfheartedly by Mr. Trump, who has few fixed political beliefs, in service of a bill the president never well understood, even as he laid on the superlatives in praising it." -- CW ...

... Jeet Heer of the New Republic: "During last year’s Republican primaries, Marco Rubio famously described Donald Trump as a 'con artist.' But this week ... we’ve seen the con artist get played by an even slicker, more professional grifter. And Trump is not alone in being conned: House Speaker Paul Ryan has been fooling a lot of people for a long time, making the world believe that he’s the foremost Republican policy wonk, an expert in the fine print of budgets who could bring a much-needed seriousness to Washington. In an ideal world, the damage caused by Ryan’s role in pushing the deeply flawed AHCA won’t be limited to his relationship with Trump. This episode should strike at the real root cause of the mess: The powerful, persistent Washington myth that Ryan is a policy genius." CW: Thanks to PD Pepe for the link. ...

They tried to sweeten the deal at the end by offering a more expensive bill with fewer health benefits, but alas, it wasn’t enough! -- Jon Favreau, President Obama's former speechwriter, in a tweet

... Alexander Burns of the New York Times: "... with the collapse of the legislation on Friday..., Republican representatives [who reluctantly backed CAHCA] now have nothing to show for their trouble. They ventured far out on a political limb, only to watch it disintegrate behind them. And when they run for re-election next year, they may have to defend their support for a politically explosive bill that many Republicans backed only reluctantly, and that never came close to reaching the president’s desk. The fiasco in Washington is already rippling at home: Back in their districts, there are early signs of backlash against these lawmakers, including from constituents who voted Republican last November." ...

     ... CW: And I'm feeling ever-so-sorry for "representatives" who decided to sell out their constituents for the (false) promise of bowling a few rounds in the White House basement. ...

... ** Jamelle Bouie: "Beyond the politics of this debacle, it’s worth saying that Trump’s failure is a boon for the millions of Americans who rely on Obamacare — either through subsidies or Medicaid — for access to the health care system. In beating back the Republican effort, defenders of the Affordable Care Act saved lives and kept countless people from financial ruin. There’s a lesson here. Organizing works. Calling your lawmaker works. Showing up to make your voice heard works. Yes, the collapse of Trumpcare wouldn’t have happened without a perfect storm of hubris and incompetence at the top, but on the ground activism made those winds more potent by weakening the resolve of rank-and-file lawmakers and stiffening the spines of Democratic politicians." CW: Read the whole post. Bouie just eviscerates the whole Republican Thug Caucus. ...

... ** Michelle Goldberg of Slate: "The cruel and stupid legislative clusterfuck known as the American Health Care Act has now failed. In trying to ram it through, however, Republicans succeeded in demonstrating, with coruscating clarity, what misogynist government looks like. In the negotiations over the ACHA, male Republicans treated women’s health as a token to be traded away, repeatedly upping the ante with inventive new ways to make women vulnerable. Before it went down in flames, the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare showed us how total disregard for women’s lives translates into policy." -- CW 

Tim Mak of The Daily Beast: "Hours before the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee announced his shocking claims about surveillance of the Trump transition team on Wednesday morning, he practically disappeared. Rep. Devin Nunes was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts...Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, hinted at the unusual circumstances Friday during a press conference, criticizing the chairman for 'what appears to be a dead of night excursion.' It appears Schiff was being literal...Where Nunes went and who his source was for this information—which he said was still incomplete—is now a mystery with serious repercussions for the independence of his investigation into Russian interference with U.S. elections." --safari

The Carnage Presidency. Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "The U.S. military acknowledged for the first time Saturday that it launched an airstrike against the Islamic State in the densely packed Iraqi city of Mosul, where residents say more than 100 people were killed in a single event. If confirmed, the March 17 incident would mark the greatest loss of civilian life since the United States began strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in 2014.... Allegations of large-scale civilian carnage deepen questions about the conduct of counterterrorism operations under President Trump, who promised to act more aggressively to stamp out militant groups but whose short presidency has been marked by a spate of high-profile incidents in which civilians may have died." -- CW ...

... Martin Chulov & Emma Graham-Harrison of the Guardian: "Iraqi military leaders have halted their push to recapture west Mosul from Islamic State as international outrage grew over the civilian toll from airstrikes that killed at least 150 people in a single district of the city. The attack on the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood is thought to have been one of the deadliest bombing raids for civilians since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Rescuers were still pulling bodies from the rubble on Saturday, more than a week after the bombs landed, when the US-led coalition confirmed that its aircraft had targeted Isis fighters in the area.... British planes were among those operating in western Mosul at the time. Asked if they could have been involved in the airstrikes, a spokesman did not rule out the possibility of British involvement...." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Landay of Reuters: "U.S. Central Command said in a statement that it took the allegation seriously and has opened an investigation 'to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties.'" -- CW ...

...Juan Cole: "Candidate Donald Trump called last year for carpet-bombing of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. It is possible that Trump has loosened the rules of engagement for the US Air Force, which is providing air support to the Iraqi Army. Dubai’s al-Khaleej reports that after a US airstrike on West Mosul on Thursday that is alleged to have killed over 200 innocent civilians...The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that an Iraqi civilian defense force is reporting that 500 corpses of civilians killed by air strikes have been discovered in Mosul...The US military admitted to carrying out the deadly strike, but were careful to underline that it had been called for by the Iraqi Army. Trump’s war strategy seems to be so unsuccessful that the US Air Force is trying to pass the blame for it off onto the Iraqi Army!" --safari...

... Michael Schmidt & Tim Arango of the New York Times: "In a statement on Saturday, Lise Grande, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official for Iraq, said, '...Parties to the conflict — all parties — are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of firepower.'” -- CW 

Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "During his news conference on Friday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to argue that President Trump couldn’t possibly have worked harder in his unsuccessful effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Spicer also said Trump planned to spend a 'working weekend' in Washington, D.C. But on Saturday, Trump headed to a golf course for the 12th time during the nine weeks he’s been president. And by visiting the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia, Trump  —  who repeatedly ripped President Obama for his much less-frequent golf outings and promised he 'would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done' during the campaign  —  has now visited a Trump-branded property for eight straight weekends. That covers all but the very first weekend of his presidency." ...

    ... CW: By "working weekend," what Spicer meant was that Trump would be working to promote another of his properties. So Rupar is very, very mean to suggest that spicer was dissembling again and that Drumpf is a lazy boy. Unlike previous presidents, Drumpf has two jobs: SCROTUS and businessman. We are not surprised.

Obnoxious Guy to Leave White House (No, Not That One.) Annie Karni & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president who oversees Donald Trump's television surrogate operation, is expected to leave his high-profile post, multiple sources close to the administration told Politico.... Epshteyn had added to the impression of an antagonistic White House by throwing his weight around in network greenrooms in a manner that has further strained the relationship between the administration and the television networks.... He has offended people in green rooms with comments they have interpreted as racially insensitive and demeaning." CW: Just a misimpression, I'm sure.

Peter Holley of the Washington Post: "When Helen Beristain told her husband she was voting for Donald Trump last year, he warned her that the Republican nominee planned to 'get rid of the Mexicans.' Defending her vote, Helen quoted Trump directly, noting that ... he said he would only kick the 'bad hombres' out of the country, according to the South Bend Tribune. Months later, Roberto Beristain — a successful businessman, respected member of his Indiana town and father of three American-born children — languishes in a detention facility with hardened criminals as he awaits his deportation back to Mexico, the country he left in 1998 when he entered the United States illegally." -- CW: Uh, Mrs. Beristain, Trump thinks your husband is a "bad hombre."

Jennifer Palmieri in a Washington Post op-ed: "The Clinton campaign tried to warn Americans about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. The press was more interested in reporting on Trump's sexcapades. Democrats need to ensure the matter gets more attention now. -- CW 

Krissah Thompson & Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post on what President and Michelle Obama have been doing since President Obama left office: "... while other recent ex-presidents have devoted their retirement years to apolitical, do-gooder causes, Obama is gearing up to throw himself into the wonky and highly partisan issue of redistricting, with the goal of reversing the electoral declines Democrats experienced under his watch." ...

     ... CW: It does no surprise me that Obama is "throw[ing] himself into ... redistricting." In a much-praised but apparently little-read 2008 profile of candidate Obama, Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker described what Obama did after he lost his first Congressional election: study up on & take advantage of a subsequent politically-motivated Congressional redistricting.

Beyond the Beltway

Los Angeles Times: Violence erupted at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach on Saturday after a protester opposed to President Trump allegedly doused a female organizer of the event with pepper spray, sparking a brawl that ended with several arrests. A group of flag-waving Trump supporters tackled the man with the pepper spray, who was wearing a black mask, and started punching and kicking him, according to witnesses. Several other fights also broke out between demonstrators. The crowd chased the masked man, who jumped over a fence and started running along Pacific Coast Highway, where he was detained by California Highway Patrol officers.... The dozen or so counter-demonstrators ... were overwhelmed by several hundred Trump supporters.... One [counter-protester] told a reporter that the group only used pepper spray after they were shoved and punched by their rivals.... Capt. Kevin Pearsall of California State Parks said ... all [four people who were] arrested were counter-demonstrators." -- CW

Way Beyond

Alan Wong of the New York Times: "A committee dominated by supporters of the Chinese government chose Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s next leader on Sunday, opting for Beijing’s preferred candidate in a move likely to dismay residents who see the city’s freedoms as being under threat from China. Mrs. Lam, a former No. 2 official in the city, received 777 out of 1,163 votes cast to become the next chief executive, as Hong Kong’s leader is called. She defeated John Tsang, a former finance secretary who polls indicated was more popular with the public. The leader of this semiautonomous Chinese city of 7.3 million is chosen by just 1,194 electors, most of them business and political figures who have close ties to Beijing. In an apparent act of protest, one elector drew a cross on the ballot with check marks, and another wrote an obscenity on it." -- CW 

Friday
Mar242017

The Commentariat -- March 25, 2017

Robert Pear, et al., of the New York Times: "House Republican leaders ... pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor Friday afternoon in a significant defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan conceded, 'We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.' The defeat ... exposed deep divisions in the Republican Party that the election of a Republican president could not mask. It also cast a shadow over the ambitious agenda that Mr. Trump and Republican leaders had promised to enact once their party assumed power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The drama of the day underscored the futility of the leaders’ efforts. Mr. Ryan rushed to the White House shortly after noon to tell Mr. Trump he did not have the votes for a repeal bill that had been promised for seven years — since the day Mr. Obama signed his landmark health care act into law.... Mr. Trump, in a telephone interview moments after the bill was pulled, blamed Democrats and predicted that they would seek a deal within a year, he asserted, after 'Obamacare explodes' because of high premiums. He also expressed weariness with the fight, which was a fraction of the length of time that Democrats devoted to enacting the Affordable Care Act.” (This is an update of a story linked yesterday afternoon, and what a lovely update it is.) -- CW ...

... Robert Costa, et al., of the Washington Post: "House Republican leaders abruptly pulled a rewrite of the nation’s health-care system from consideration on Friday, a dramatic defeat for President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) that leaves a major campaign promise unfilled and casts doubt on the Republican Party’s ability to govern. In addition to leaving the Affordable Care Act in place, the news also raises questions about the GOP’s ability to advance other high-stakes agenda items, including tax reform and infrastructure spending. Ryan is still without a signature achievement as speaker — and the defeat undermines Trump’s image as a skilled dealmaker willing to strike compromises to push his agenda forward." -- CW (This is a substanial rewrite of an article linked yesterday.) ...

... ** "Hello, Bob." Trump Blames It on Democrats. Again and Again. Robert Costa: "President Trump called me on my cellphone Friday afternoon at 3:31 p.m.... His voice was even, his tone muted.... 'Hello, Bob,' Trump began. 'So, we just pulled it.'... Before I could ask a question, Trump plunged into his explanation of the politics of deciding to call off a vote on a bill he had been touting. The Democrats, he said, were to blame. 'We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,' Trump said.... There was little evidence that either Trump or House Republicans made a serious effort to reach out to Democrats.... Trump said he would not put the bill on the floor in the coming weeks.... 'As you know, I’ve been saying for years that the best thing is to let Obamacare explode and then go make a deal with the Democrats and have one unified deal. And they will come to us; we won’t have to come to them,' he said. 'After Obamacare explodes.'... My question for the president: Are you really willing to wait to reengage on health care until the Democrats come and ask for your help? 'Sure,' Trump said. 'I never said I was going to repeal and replace in the first 61 days' — contradicting his own statements and that of his own adviser, Kellyanne Conway....” Trump goes on in this vein at some length. -- CW ...

     ... CW: The WashPo hired Costa away from the National Review, I think it was, because he was very well-connected with right-wing movers & shakers. Yes, he is. ...

... New York Times Editors: "Repealing the Affordable Care Act was meant to be the first demonstration of the power and effectiveness of a unified Republican government. It has turned out to be a display of incompetence and cruelty." -- CW ...

Forget about the little shit. Let's focus on the big picture here. -- Donald Trump, to confederate Congressmen, Thursday afternoon ...

... Tim Alberta of Politico: "The lawmakers ... were disturbed by [Trump's] dismissiveness. For many of the members, the 'little shit' meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill — and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country. 'We’re talking about one-fifth of our economy,' a member told me afterward. Ultimately, the meeting failed to move any votes.... The president had been working on many of them individually in recent days, typically with what members described as 'colorful' phone calls, littered with exaggerations and foul language and hilariously off-topic anecdotes....  By and large, Trump's first attempt to corral the Republican-controlled Congress ... failed miserably." Albert goes on to outline the details of why Trump failed. -- CW ...

... Robert Costa, et al., of the Washington Post: "Trump’s effort was plagued from the beginning. The bill itself would have violated a number of Trump’s campaign promises, driving up premiums for millions of citizens and throwing millions more off health insurance — including many of the working-class voters who gravitated to his call to 'make America great again.' Trump was unsure about the American Health Care Act, though he ultimately dug in for the win, as he put it. There were other problems, too. Trump never made a real effort to reach out to Democrats, and he was unable to pressure enough of his fellow Republicans. He did not speak fluently about the bill’s details [CW: because he's (a) stupid and (b) doesn't give a fuck] and focused his pitch in purely transactional terms. And he failed to appreciate the importance of replacing Obamacare to the Republican base; for the president, it was an obstacle to move past to get to taxes, trade and the rest of his agenda [CW: aimed at further privileging himself & his cronies]." -- CW ...

... Greg Sargent: "Trump seems to imagine that Democrats will also want repeal at some point, rather than to take constructive steps to fix the law by shoring up the exchanges. After all, the bill simply must be a disaster, since Trump says so, and the only question is when Democrats will finally realize this and want to get out from under it (with his help). He still plainly has no understanding whatsoever of the basic policy dilemmas at play here." -- CW ...

... CW: I don't know why anyone is shocked by Trump's failure. Despite his constant claims of being a negotiator nonpareil and a fabulously successful businessman, he "negotiated" himself into multiple bankruptcies by accepting ridiculously-high interest-rate loans on very iffy business ventures. He's been the defendant in thousands of lawsuits, many a result of his piss-poor negotiations. And this was in a field in which he had been working for years. He's just a dumb boob who was born with a gold-plated spoon in his mouth.

... Ryan Proud of Producing Fundamentally Flawed Bill. Justin Fishel, et al., of ABC News: "House Republican leaders decided to pull their Obamacare replacement bill at the last minute at the request of ... Donald Trump -- capping a rocky series of weeks since the controversial measure was introduced and an order from the president for legislators to put their cards on the table today. A GOP aide tells ABC News that Trump called Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at 3 p.m. to tell him to pull the bill. The next House votes are scheduled for Monday, so no further votes are expected in the House for the day or the week. 'We've got to do better and we will,' Ryan said at a hastily arranged press conference this afternoon. 'This is a setback no two ways about it,' but GOP leadership is emerging from the day 'motivated to step up our game and deliver our promises.' Ryan said ... 'I'm really proud of the bill we produced,' but later in his speech called it a 'fundamentally flawed' piece of legislation." -- CW ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post on why House GOP "No on CAHCA" reps aren't afraid of Trump's threats: "... we have: A broadly unpopular president ... Backing an even-more-unpopular bill ... Using the threat of electoral loss as a stick, despite having only won the weakest presidential victory in American history." -- CW ...

... "Nobody Knew Governing Could Be So Complicated." McKay Coppins of the Atlantic: "Republicans are just as likely to pander to Sean Hannity as they are to their local newspaper editorial boards. And the deregulation of political money has enabled cash-flush outside groups with narrowly tailored agendas to strip party committees and old-guard gatekeepers of their power and relevance. The result is a caucus full of conservatives with excellent ratings from the Heritage Foundation, and no idea how to whip a vote." -- CW ...

... Bob Bryan of Business Insider: "'Today is a great day for our country,' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. 'What happened on the floor is a victory for the American people.' Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ascribed the failure to the president. 'So much for the Art of the Deal,' he said in a statement, referring to Trump's famous [CW: ghost-written] business book. 'Ultimately, the Trumpcare bill failed because of two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office: incompetence and broken promises,' Schumer said. 'In my life, I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House today.'" -- CW ...

... Steve Benen: "... a variety of factors contributed to this humiliating failure. Paul Ryan, for example, wrote a ridiculous piece of legislation behind closed doors, failed spectacularly to get any buy-in from stakeholders, couldn’t think of any substantive defenses, and had even more trouble leading his party’s factions. Donald Trump, meanwhile, couldn’t be bothered to learn the basics of the debate, made no real effort to sell the plan’s purported merits to the public, and proved to be an abysmal deal-maker.... But let’s not overlook one of the more important factors: regular ol’ Americans stepped up in a big way, pressured lawmakers not to take their families’ health benefits away, and it made an enormous difference.... Health care proponents and their allies should remain vigilant, knowing that there are additional rounds to come. But in the meantime, progressive activists and their allies can take a bow. They helped derail a dreadful and dangerous piece of legislation." Emphasis added. ...

   ... CW: I'm with Steve. Thanks not just to House Democrats but also to all of you who attended town hall meetings and protests and who wrote letters & phoned your Congresscritters.

... Ezra Klein: "This is a failure for Speaker Paul Ryan on many levels. He wrote this bill, and when the speaker takes over the process like that, the upside is it’s supposed to create legislation that can pass. On this most basic task, Ryan failed, and failed spectacularly.... But beyond the legislative and tactical deficiencies, the AHCA reflected a deeper failure of moral and policy imagination. Ryan spent the latter half of Barack Obama’s presidency promising to repair the Republican Party’s relationship with the poor (remember Ryan’s 'poverty tour'?). Throughout the AHCA’s short life, the limits of Donald Trump’s attention span were on sharp display. He never bothered to learn enough about the AHCA to make a persuasive case for it.... The bill is less than 20 days old, but Trump is already telling reporters, 'It's enough already.' That’s what you say after working on health reform for years, not days.... Trump’s line on the bill’s failure is it’s Democrats’ fault. Of course, neither Trump nor Ryan nor anyone else ever tried to get a Democratic vote. They didn’t meet with Democrats, and from the beginning, they used the reconciliation process precisely because it meant they wouldn’t have to deal with Democrats." -- CW ...

... Adam Raymond of New York: "Friday afternoon’s collapse of Trumpcare was more than just a crushing failure for President Trump, Paul Ryan, and the whole of the GOP; it was a victory for Democrats — truly a rare bird in Washington, D.C., these days. As news broke Friday afternoon that the House wouldn’t even hold a vote on the disastrous American Health Care Act bill, Democrats took a moment to celebrate with some decently crafted Twitter owns directed squarely at Trump. Many of them snarked on the president’s inability to cut a deal for the bill to pass, a seemingly ironic outcome given the title of his best-selling, ghost-written book, The Art of the Deal." -- CW ...

... "Sometimes the Swamp Drains You." Ezra Klein: "... Trump has become a pitchman for Paul Ryan and his agenda. He’s spent the past week fighting for a health care bill he didn’t campaign on, didn’t draft, doesn’t understand, doesn’t like to talk about, and can’t defend. Rather than forcing the Republican establishment to come around to his principles, he’s come around to theirs — with disastrous results.... The AHCA breaks Trump’s promises to his base so fulsomely, so completely, that when told by Tucker Carlson on Fox News 'that counties that voted for you, middle-class and working-class counties, would do far less well under the bill,' Trump was reduced to saying, simply: 'Oh, I know.' Donald Trump has become Paul Ryan with orange hair.” CW: As I've said, I don't think Trump had any idea CAHCA was hurting "his people," although it wouldn't matter to him if it did, so long as he could blame somebody else for it. ...

... CW: Also see commentary at the end of yesterday's Comments thread. ...

... Jonathan Chait: "... the political project dedicated to restoring the pre-Obamacare status quo, in which people too sick or poor to afford their own insurance without the subsidies and regulations of the Affordable Care Act could be safely ignored, is gone forever. And it is dead for the best possible reason, the reason that undergirds all social progress: because a good idea defeated a bad one.... Republicans have spent eight years fooling themselves about Obamacare. They have built a news bubble that relentlessly circulates exaggerated or made-up news of the law’s shortcomings and systematically ignores its successes.... The existence of the mythical Republican health-care plan was the foundation for every serious critique of the law. And now that that plan has finally appeared, virtually the entire conservative intelligentsia has been forced to admit it is worse than Obamacare.... The right’s insoluble problem is that people who have insurance like it.... Conservatives disagree philosophically with the very concept of insurance as most Americans experience it. Insurance means spreading risk, which is a form of redistribution.... The form taken by Obama’s health-care reform will change over the decades to come. But its central triumph, creating a federal right to access to basic medical care, will never be taken away." ...

     ... CW: I don't share Chait's optimism. If the super-wingers in the GOP gang of thieves had been a little less super-nasty and/or the Republican-picked CBO director less honest, at least 14 million Americans would have lost affordable access to health insurance, and many millions more would have had to cut back on other needs & wishes to pay for higher premiums. Trump and I agree on one thing: it can still happen. ...

... David Frum agrees with Chait: "If the Republican Party tripped over its own feet walking across this empty ballroom, it will face only more fearsome difficulties in the months ahead, as mid-term elections draw closer. Too many people benefit from the law — and the Republican alternatives thus far offer too little to compensate for the loss of those benefits.... Paul Ryan still upholds the right of Americans to 'choose' to go uninsured if they cannot afford to pay the cost of their insurance on their own. His country no longer agrees.... Those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes intransigence, radicalism, and anger over prudence, moderation, and compassion." CW: This is largely an I-told-you-so post, but it's worth a read, even though you'll certainly disagree with some of Frum's conservative views. ...

... Trump Scolds Freedumb Caucus. Louis Nelson of Politico: "After days of negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus over legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare..., Donald Trump lashed out at the GOP’s uncooperative conservative wing Friday morning, telling his millions of Twitter followers that their stubbornness is working in favor of Planned Parenthood. 'The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!' Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.... 'After seven horrible years of ObamaCare (skyrocketing premiums & deductibles, bad healthcare), this is finally your chance for a great plan!' Trump wrote on Twitter in a post that preceded his Planned Parenthood dig." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... A brief history of a well-deserved debacle:

... Family Squabble. Kate Bennett of CNN: "While the rest of his senior staff scrambled to squeeze votes for President Trump's flailing health care package, one person remained notably absent for most of the week: Jared Kushner. Along with this wife, Ivanka Trump, another key cog in the president's inner circle, Kushner was on vacation until Thursday, skiing with family in the posh Colorado town of Aspen.... Meanwhile, back in Washington, Trump was fuming. According to a source close to the president, '[Trump] is upset that his son-in-law and senior adviser was not around during this crucial week.' Kushner did appear at the White House on Friday during the last gasps of the Obamacare repeal effort. A White House spokesperson flatly denied the President is frustrated with Kushner." -- CW 


The Russia Connection, Ctd.
David Ferguson of RawStory: "Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI) told LGBTQ activist and Sirius XM radio host Michelangelo Signorile that he has seen 'damning evidence' that shows collusion between Pres. Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government in an effort to turn the election in Trump’s favor. 'There are things that I know,' Pocan said, according to Towleroad.com, 'just that I’ve read in classified reports that I’m sure will still come out that will continue to be damning evidence when it comes to this relationship between the Russians trying to influence our elections and ultimately I think the Trump campaign’s potential coordination on it.'" --safari ...

... Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: "Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has abruptly canceled a public hearing scheduled for next Tuesday with former DNI director James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. The hearing is part of the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, including whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives. The ranking member of the Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), characterized Nunes’ decision as an effort to choke off public information about the inquiry." --safari ...

Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes said that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has volunteered to testify before his committee, which is investigating alleged ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia as well as the Kremlin’s activities in the 2016 election." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Caitlin MacNeal of TPM: "House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) said on Thursday night that he felt an obligation to tell President Donald Trump about 'incidentally collected' information on Trump and his associates from the intelligence community because the President has been criticized in the media. 'It’s clear that I would be concerned if I was the president, and that’s why I wanted him to know, and I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him because, as you know, he’s taking a lot of heat in the news media,' Nunes told Fox News' Sean Hannity." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... David Corn of Mother Jones: "...  with a series of elliptical statements, [Devin Nunes] suggested that on Wednesday he had gone off half-cocked — which is not SOP for an intelligence committee chairman in charge of a highly sensitive and politically charged investigation.... [Putting together his various public statements,] the scenario looks like this: Someone told Nunes that the identities of Trump and/or Trump associates appeared in intelligence reports based on surveillance conducted during the transition. Nunes then reviewed some of these documents this week. And on Wednesday afternoon (two days after a holding a day-long hearing with FBI chief James Comey and NSA head Mike Rogers), Nunes — without telling his fellow committee members and without conducting any thorough examination of the matter — went public. That is, he went rogue. And he rushed to the White House to share his half-baked information with Trump.... Nunes' own account bolsters the argument that he is not a credible manager of the probe of the Trump-Russia scandal." -- CW ...

     ... In an update, Corn writes, "At his Friday afternoon briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked if he could deny the White House passed the information to Nunes. He replied, 'I'm not aware of where he got the documents from.'" CW: That's not even a non-denial denial. It seems almost certain now that the administration (or one of its lackeys) was the source of docs suggesting "incidental" eavesdropping. Nunes refused to name his source, even to the ranking Democrat on the committee. If his source were an intel agency or some other legitimate entity, he would have said so, even if he didn't name the specific agency.

... Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: "On Monday, when the House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing about Russian involvement in the U.S. Presidential election, Republican members were almost completely focussed on leaks.... With all the focus by Republicans on leaking classified information, Democrats on the committee were stunned when, in one little-noticed moment during the five-hour hearing, a prominent Republican [Peter King (NY)] seemed to let slip what two members of the panel told me was a piece of classified information.... King had ... revealed that the classified version of the report had concluded 'that historically Russians have supported Republicans.'” -- safari ...

... Elizabeth Landers & Jeremy Diamond of CNN: Rick Gates, the longtime deputy to ... Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was forced to leave his position with a nonprofit supporting Trump this week due to his longstanding relationship with Manafort, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Gates' exit from America First Policies came after the Associated Press reported this week that Manafort had sought to further Russian government interests in his work for a Russian businessman." -- CW 

The Most Unethical Presidency Ever, Ctd. New York Times Editors: "Since the election, it has been clear that Donald Trump cannot both be president and maintain a lease on the government-owned Old Post Office building in Washington, where he opened an opulent hotel last year. Now, a federal official who works for the agency that negotiated the lease (and that, conveniently, reports to the president) has come up with a bizarre, tortured and ultimately dishonest rationale for why Mr. Trump can keep it.... On Thursday, however, an agency contracting official, Kevin Terry, declared that the president was not in violation because he had agreed not to receive any profits from the hotel until after he leaves office.Mr. Terry engages in legal gymnastics that no lawyer could credibly defend. It should not matter when Mr. Trump accepts the profits from the hotel.... Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Congress is unwilling to force the president to divest or even to investigate his businesses and finances.... Until Congress does its job..., lawsuits may be the only avenue of protest." -- CW 

Clifford Krauss of the New York Times: "The Trump administration announced on Friday that it would issue a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a long-disputed project that would link oil producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. The announcement, by the State Department, reversed the position of the Obama administration. It followed a 60-day review that was set in motion as one of the first acts of President Trump’s tenure." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Mnuchin Inserts Balls into Mouth. Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "During an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen on Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin went above and beyond in praising his boss. 'This guy’s got more stamina than anybody I’ve ever met,' Mnuchin said of Trump. 'I mean, I thought I was in good shape. I traveled with him all the time…. I mean, it’s unbelievable. He’ s constantly doing things.'... 'He’s got perfect genes,' Mnuchin said of Trump. 'He has incredible energy, and he’s unbelievably healthy.' Mnuchin doesn’t seem to have been joking.... This might seem like idle chatter. But as we covered last summer, the link Trump makes between his good genetics and his fitness to lead comes out of the white supremacist playbook." --safari

Karoun Demirjian: "The Senate on Thursday confirmed David M. Friedman to be the next ambassador to Israel, making him the first of President Trump’s selected foreign emissaries to take his post. Friedman earned the support of only two Democrats in the 52-to-46 vote: Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.). No Republicans opposed him. Republican support for Friedman was a sure thing despite a rocky confirmation hearing last month, punctuated not only by protesters critical of his statements opposing a Palestinian state and supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but also by Democratic senators concerned about the harsh rhetoric he has used to attack politicians whose Israel policy differs from his." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

The Most Unethical Presidency Ever, Ctd. Dan Alexander of Forbes: "After Promising Not To Talk Business With Father, Eric Trump Says He'll Give Him [Quarterly] Financial Reports." CW: Darn! I was so counting on Little Count Dracula to be an upstanding, ethical citizen. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Alan Yuhas of the Guardian: "Eric Trump’s statement alarmed ethics experts, including Lisa Gilbert, a director at the not-for-profit watchdog Public Citizen. 'It confirms our worst assumptions about the lack of separation between his business and current office,' she said. 'There’s no way to reconcile quarterly updates from your son.'... The watchdog released a report this week analyzing the first two months of the Trump presidency. It concluded that Trump had broken several promises to 'isolate' himself from the business, that his White House was 'clouded by corruption and conflicts', and that he had surrounded himself 'with the same major donors and Wall Street executives he claimed he would fight if elected'.” -- CW ...

... digby on the wonderfulness of the Trump progeny. -- CW 

** WTF? Insanity. David Ferguson of RawStory: "Former CIA Director James Woolsey said that he attended a secret meeting in September with ousted Trump national security adviser Adm. to plan a covert operation to 'whisk away' a fugitive cleric and hand him over to Turkey’s authoritarian government. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Woolsey and other people present at the meeting confirmed that Flynn was coordinating with officials from the cabinet of right-wing Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan in anticipation of extraditing Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey should Trump win the presidency.... The 'dead of night' operation was intended to circumvent normal U.S. extradition laws, Woolsey said. The meeting took place on Sep. 19, and Woolsey said he arrived late only to be startled and alarmed that the discussion was treading into potentially illegal territory." --safari ...

   ... CW: Isn't it time to try Flynn -- and perhaps some in his cohort -- for treason?

Darla Mercado of CNBC: "Amazon, the online merchandise juggernaut, will collect sales taxes from all states with a sales tax starting April 1. Tax-free shopping will be over as of next month in Hawaii, Idaho, Maine and New Mexico, the four remaining holdouts. Since the beginning of this year, Amazon has added a number of states to its roster of jurisdictions where it collects sales taxes.... After April, the only states in which Amazon won't collect taxes are Alaska, Delaware, Oregon, Montana and New Hampshire. These five states don't have sales levies." -- CW 

Beyond the Beltway

** Patrick Caldwell of Mother Jones: "On the same day the House was supposed to pass a bill dismantling Medicaid, Kansas Republicans took a big step toward expanding the program in their state. In a voice vote Thursday morning, a committee in the Kansas Senate approved legislation that would enable the state to take advantage of an Obamacare provision offering Medicaid health insurance coverage to a wider group of poor people. The federal government would provide the vast majority of the funding...The Kansas House overwhelming passed Medicaid expansion earlier this year. The full state Senate is expected to vote on the issue Monday, according to KCUR. But they would likely need to cobble together a veto-proof majority, since Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has vocally opposed to adopting the program." --safari

Way Beyond

Christopher Dickey & Anna Nemtsova of the Daily Beast: "Russian interference in the American elections last year was downright subtle compared to what we’ve seen this week in the run-up to French presidential elections.... On Friday, [Vladimir] Putin endorsed his candidate: far-right-wing, anti-European-Union, anti-NATO, anti-immigrant, anti-American, pro-Trump candidate Marine Le Pen. Of course, Putin said, 'We don't want to influence in any way the events going on [in France],' but his government received Le Pen as if she already were settled in as the head of state in Paris.... In 2014, when Le Pen’s National Front Party could not secure any loans from French banks, she turned to Russia and received millions of dollars from a now defunct institution there. Putin, at the same time, received endorsement from her party for his takeover of Crimea." -- CW 

Declan Walsh of the New York Times: "Six years after roaring crowds ousted him at the peak of the Arab Spring, former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was freed on Friday from the Cairo hospital where he had been detained, capping a long and largely fruitless effort to hold him accountable for human rights abuses and endemic corruption during his three decades of rule." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)