Friday Talking Points -- Donald Trump, Loser

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It was just another week in Trumpland, folks. By that we mean more scandalous behavior and bumbling incompetence packed into one single week than most White House administrations show during an entire term of office. The week really began with the news last Friday that Sean Spicer had decided to quit, upon hearing that Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci was to be his new boss. The week ended (the news is breaking even as we write this) that Trump is sacking his chief of staff, Reince Priebus. During the week, Trump also tried his darndest to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to quit in frustration, while rumors appeared that Rex Tillerson is planning his "Rexit" as well. For good measure, Mooch fired an underling of his, and then just threatened to fire his entire department if he couldn't figure out who was doing all the leaking. In other words, it's getting kind of crowded beneath the Trump bus, as more and more people are casually thrown under it (and as the wheels begin to come off entirely). Just another wacky week at the Trump White House, in other words. Maybe Reince got tired of all the winning?

In normal times, any one of these would be a major news story for weeks (if not months), but in the crisis-an-hour Trump White House, it was just about par for the course. Consider: because of everything else that was going on, the amazing fact that Trump's son and son-in-law had to testify before congressional committees on possible collusion with a foreign power barely even made a blip in the news.

Of course, even all of the above was minor news this week, because of what Congress was busy doing (and not doing). Donald Trump finally got a major piece of legislation passed through his Republican Congress. It was even a wildly bipartisan bill, which passed with near-unanimous majorities in both the House (419-3) and the Senate (98-2). Unfortunately for Trump, the bill is a serious slap in his face because while it increases sanctions on North Korea, Iran, and Russia, it also strips the president of the power to determine when to ease those sanctions. In the clearest terms, Congress is saying, with one very loud voice: "Mr. President, we just do not trust you with Russia." Trump is apparently unclear on how the veto works, or (to be charitable) perhaps his new spokesman The Mooch is the one who didn't crack a U.S. Civics 101 book. Mooch said Trump is considering vetoing the bill in order to get a better deal from Congress. But there are already more than enough votes to overturn such a veto. Instead of just quietly signing it and hoping nobody notices, if Trump vetoes it he would publicly suffer yet another embarrassing legislative defeat. A lose-lose situation, in other words.

Even Congress wresting powers away from Trump in a checks-and-balances struggle, though, wasn't the main news from Capitol Hill. The biggest news was the Republican "repeal and replace Obamacare" effort -- seven years in the making -- crashing and burning spectacularly in the Senate, over the course of the entire week. The "Plum Line" blog at the Washington Post summed up this whole fiasco nicely:

Guess what, America: This is what you get when you elect Republicans. It goes much further than their repugnant and disastrous effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but all the contemporary GOP's pathologies could be seen there: their outright malice toward ordinary people, their indifference to the suffering of their fellow citizens, their blazing incompetence, their contempt for democratic norms, their shameless hypocrisy, their gleeful ignorance about policy, their utter dishonesty and bad faith, their pure cynicism, and their complete inability to perform anything that resembles governing. It was the perfect Republican spectacle.

But we're going to devote the talking points to this epic legislative failure, so we're only going to note it in passing for now. Maybe we could fit it all in a tweet? How about:

Trump's score for the week in Senate: lose-lose. Power stripped away, and repeal Obamacare bills go down in flames. So sad! #Loser

That was kind of fun, and we've got a lot more peripheral news to get to, so we're just going to deliver it all in 140 characters or less.

Ready? Here's the week in Trumpland that was:

Mooch hurls F-bombs at NYer reporter, then complains when he's quoted. Funniest tweet pointing this out from @pkcapitol:

So if he thought he wasn't on record, then he was on background/off record. Talking about internal WH feuds. Which would be ... leaking?

Mooch also accuses Steve Bannon of being able to perform (as the genteel folks at CBS News put it) "self-fellatio." #Winning!

GOP's skinny repeal failure came 52 years to the day after Medicare and Medicaid passed the Senate. Embarrassing!

Trump tries leaning on GOP senators, and they leaned right back.

Murkowski threatened by Interior Dept. head, boneheaded move since she chairs committee overseeing Interior. #Whoops!

Judiciary Cmte Chair Grassley says his calendar is too full to confirm anyone else for AG, if Trump fires Sessions. #FairWarning

Ben Sasse, also on JudCmte: "If you're thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the attorney general, forget about it."

Also from Sasse: "The presidency isn't a bull, and this country isn't a china shop." #Ouch

Lindsey Graham announces bill to prevent Trump from firing Bob Mueller. #DoubleOuch

McCain, other Republicans, push back hard on Trump's hastily-tweeted policy to ban transgendered people from serving.

This culture war is going to backfire on Trump in a big way. America has moved on, Trump has not.

Trump now less popular than he was on election day in 47 states. #MAGA!

Rick Perry was punked by caller who wanted to talk about pig manure. #Priceless! #Oops!

Trump speaks to Boy Scout Jamboree, Boy Scout leader immediately apologizes for subjecting children to such a spectacle.

And, finally, a suggestion, so we can continue using this same joke over and over again:

Maybe Reince Priebus can get communications job with GOP Natl Committee? His name without vowels used to perfectly fit his job: RNC PR BS

We are going to add an Honorable Mention to the collective winners of the MIDOTW award we handed out three weeks ago -- all the people who took the time to protest the Senate bill. The protests were effective, and they were absolutely necessary. The GOP tried to sneak something by in the middle of the night, and they might have actually been successful in doing so; but the consequences of killing Obamacare were there for all of them to see, for weeks on end. The protesters did not go quietly into that good night, and for this everyone else is indebted to them. Standing up and being heard worked, so each and every protester and each and every person who called their senator to express disapproval deserves our thanks and a big round of applause. Well done!

But this week we're going to instead give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to Chuck Schumer. Schumer is proving his worth as the leader of the Senate Democrats. There was not a single defection among his caucus, on any of the important votes. That's a stunning level of solidarity, for Democrats. In more normal times, Republicans might have been able to peel off a few conservative Democratic votes, from states where Democratic senators are vulnerable (of which there will be many, in 2018). But this time around, none budged.

Of course, Schumer isn't solely responsible for this amazing display of unity among his caucus, but as head of the party in the Senate, he deserves a goodly amount of the credit. His speech after the failure of the skinny bill was dignified (he avoided spiking the football and doing an end-zone dance, for the most part). Rather than gloating, he urged Republicans to heed McCain's lofty words about regular order and return the Senate to a working condition.

If even one Democrat had crossed the aisle, we'd still be dealing with all the repeal-and-replace nonsense. The vote was that close, so it is all the more remarkable that no Democrat ever wavered. So, to Chuck Schumer for doing a masterful job of keeping his caucus together as a rock-solid voting bloc, we hereby award him this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

For the second week in a row, we felt no Democrat rose (or sank) to the level of being worthy of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. There was a congressional aide who worked for Democrats (most recently Debbie Wasserman Schultz) who was arrested at an airport on charges of fraud, just before boarding a flight to Pakistan, but it's hard to see any congressional staffer (no matter how disappointing) rising to the level of what is supposed to be a national award.

As always, feel free to suggest candidates for the MDDOTW down in the comments, but for now we're (once again) putting it back on the shelf until next week.

Democrats had a good week last week. Mostly this was nothing more than standing back and watching while Republicans and Donald Trump had a very bad week, to be completely honest. Even so, we didn't notice anyone being particularly disappointing during the week.

Volume 447 (7/28/17)

If there weren't such a maelstrom of incompetence swirling from Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, then we would be devoting this week's talking points to the new agenda Democrats rolled out this Monday -- "A Better Deal." We did examine the new platform at length earlier this week, so if you'd like to read our take on it, feel free.

Instead, we've got to devote all our talking points this week to the death of "repeal and replace." Unlike Chuck Schumer, we simply have no compunctions about happily dancing around on its grave. Give us a football, and we'll gleefully spike it. Victories like this really shouldn't happen when the Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, but so far the GOP seems determined to prove they can't legislate their way out of a paper bag. Choose your own metaphor -- Keystone Kops, gang who couldn't shoot straight, circular firing squad, do-nothing Congress, can't-do Congress, herding cats -- there are certainly plenty of fitting ones to choose from.

Once again: victories like this rarely happen for a minority party. So you've got to enjoy them to the fullest when they come along.


The most insane thing about the skinny repeal bill was the process it went through, of course.

"The Republican leadership tried to sell its skinny repeal bill using language that harkens back to the infamous quote from Vietnam: 'We had to destroy the village in order to save it.' Only this time, it was: 'We have to pass the bill in order to kill the bill.' I can't ever remember a Senate bill going through such an insane process, personally. It was a bill nobody wanted to see become law, and in fact failed in part because Paul Ryan wouldn't swear a blood oath that it wouldn't become law. So why pass it in the first place, if it's that bad? This bill to redesign one-sixth of the American economy was eight pages long, and the text of it was not released to anyone until two hours before the scheduled vote. That's pretty breathtaking contempt Mitch McConnell showed the Senate, folks. Over and over again, Republicans prove that their best campaign slogan should really be: 'Government doesn't work -- elect us and we'll prove it!'"

McCain punked everyone

John McCain traveled back to Washington to have some fun, this week.

"While others have nothing but lofty praise for John McCain, I think everyone's missing the fact that he essentially punked everyone in sight -- his leadership, his party, the president, and the media. He played a game of 'Will he or won't he?' all week long, and in the end appeared as the savior of Obamacare. But when you examine it in detail, it wasn't exactly a profile in courage. If he had just stayed home and recuperated, the outcome would have been exactly the same -- the death of repeal-and-replace -- but it would have happened days earlier, as the vote on the motion to proceed would have failed. McCain finally got his political revenge on Trump, who had welcomed him back to Washington with open arms, tweeting: 'So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave - American hero! Thank you John.' McCain played his cards close to the vest to the very end, and when he voted 'no' he guaranteed his continued appearances on the very same television shows he had decried ("loudmouths!") earlier in the week. By keeping everyone guessing, McCain cast himself as the deciding vote. But, again, if he had just stayed home and not voted we would have gotten the same result days earlier. McCain played the media, McConnell, and Donald Trump like a fiddle."

Credit where credit is due

If not McCain, then who?

"The real credit for defeating the disastrous skinny repeal bill goes first and foremost to the Democrats who held firm against all the GOP nonsense. But on the other side of the aisle, the credit should mostly go to the two women -- Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski -- who never wavered in their opposition. They consistently voted against everything Mitch McConnell was trying to do, all week long. They took principled stands, and they did not weasel out on them when it came time to vote. No other Republican can make the same claim, John McCain included. So if the press wants to lionize the profiles in courage from this whole trainwreck, they should be inviting Collins and Murkowski on the Sunday shows. Because they're the real reason repeal-and-replace failed."

Spineless creatures in DC swamp

A reader suggested this article's title a few weeks ago, and we've been holding it back for just the right moment.

"I hope everyone noticed how many Republicans spoke out against the Senate bills but then went ahead and voted for them anyway. In a related item, Science Daily recently ran an article titled: 'Spineless Creature Studied In D.C. Swamp.' The summary to this article begins, quote: Its name is Stygobromus hayi, the Hay's Spring amphipod. It is spineless. It lacks vision. It is an opportunistic feeder, consuming whatever resources are available -- perhaps including the remains of its own kind. That is where its similarities to some of Washington, D.C.'s more notorious megafauna end. Unquote. This study should now include Republican megafauna such as Dean Heller, who bravely took a stand against the bills... until he caved and voted yes. Spineless creatures such as Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito, who both took a stand against gutting funding for the opioid crisis... until they shrugged their shoulders and voted for a bill without such extra funding. When you start turning over rocks in the D.C. swamp, it's amazing how many spineless creatures scurry out, isn't it?"

A real profile in cowardice

Speaking of Republicans who talked the talk but didn't walk the walk, there was one prominent standout.

"The worst by far was Lindsey Graham, though. Graham, with three other Republican senators at his side, held one of the most bizarre press conferences ever this week, to explain why he was a 'no' vote on skinny repeal. Here are just a few quotes from Graham, describing the skinny repeal bill:

  • The skinny bill doesn't work for any [U.S.] state.
  • I'm not going to vote for a bill that is terrible policy and horrible politics just because we have to get something done.
  • I'm a no because I'm not going to vote for a pig in a poke.
  • The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud.
  • I'd rather get out of the way and let [Obamacare] collapse than have a half-assed approach where it is now our [i.e., the GOP's] problem. So we're not going to do that with our vote.
  • I am not going to vote for a piece of legislation that I believe is not a replacement, that politically would be the dumbest thing in history.

Strong words, eh? Especially that 'politically would be the dumbest thing in history' line. But then, in the end, Graham voted for the bill anyway -- the same bill he called 'terrible policy and horrible politics' only hours earlier. So if you're looking for a real profile in cowardice, Graham easily won that title, hands down."

Mitch is so sad

Poor Mitch. Let's all have a pity party for Mitch....

"Mitch McConnell tried to jam through a piece of legislation that he was busily assuring his membership would never actually become law, which he introduced a bare two hours before the scheduled vote. Remember when McConnell (and a whole lot of other Republicans) would regularly work themselves into a frenzy if Democrats voted on a bill that hadn't been publicly released 72 hours before the vote? Remember when McConnell used to use the line 'read the bill' to taunt Democrats? Yeah, those were the days. So it's pretty hard to feel sorry for Mitch while watching his concession speech after the final vote. He tried to lay all the blame on Democrats, even when he couldn't corral his own caucus into voting for his Dumpster fire of a bill. So sad, Mitch! Cry me a river!"

More popular than ever!

The most ironic thing to come of this entire farce.

"John McCain did get one thing right -- Republicans have achieved something that has eluded Democrats (most notably Barack Obama) for seven years now. Since the GOP began their march towards repeal-and-replace at the start of this year, Obamacare has gotten more and more popular as people have been educated about just exactly what taking it away would mean. In fact, Obamacare is now more popular than ever. The changes in public opinion have been dramatic, ever since the Republican Congress started trying to repeal it in earnest this January. So I guess that's the silver lining to this entire circular firing squad. It's not clear whether Republicans have realized that the only thing they accomplished was to boost the popularity of the law they were trying to dismantle, but I'm hopeful enough of them will come to this realization to allow some bipartisan fixes to the law to pass Congress soon."

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