Friday Talking Points -- Pardon Me?

We awoke to the breaking news that spinmeister Sean Spicer is out, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in as White House press secretary. Trump finally found a communications director as well, Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci, whose main qualification for the job seems to be his world-class standing in the Olympic event entitled “kissing Trump’s ass.” We personally lost count, during his debut press conference, of how many times he used the phrase “I love Donald Trump” or some variation thereof. Trump, according to Mooch, is a demigod who strides the Earth and can do no wrong, ever, on anything.

Of course, our first reaction to hearing all this news was the same as millions of Americans: “What?!? We’re not going to get Melissa McCarthy as Spicey anymore on Saturday Night Live? Who will play Mooch? Who could possibly play such a shameless brown-noser? Maybe... oh, I dunno... Jimmy Fallon?”


But of course, there was bigger news from Trump, even during a day with so many other distractions. It has been reported that Trump is considering (or at least getting legal advice on) the possibility of using presidential power to pardon not only his staff and his family members, but also himself. This was apparently prompted when Trump “told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.” Because Robert Mueller doesn’t even have to ask Trump for his returns, all he has to do is subpoena them from the I.R.S. Or perhaps Trump got worried when he heard that all three of his people in the now-infamous meeting ― Donald Trump Junior, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort ― have been invited to testify before Congress next week. Maybe that’s what prompted Trump to start exploring his pardon powers. All in all, we have to sum it up as: another week in Trumpland, another impending constitutional crisis.

Could Trump get away with such a breathtakingly brazen move as handing pardons out like candy? Well, as to everyone else, the answer is “probably.” He could indeed proactively issue pardons to everyone on his team, and there is absolutely nothing anyone could do about it. Doing so might even achieve one of Trump’s biggest goals, because it might just shut down large portions of Bob Mueller’s investigation. Why assemble the facts when the target already has a pardon? But Trump may not be able to pardon himself ― it’s never been done before, and there is a limitation on the pardon power that says it cannot be used in cases of impeachment. But for everyone else, if Trump did take this route, it would effectively end a lot of legal problems in the White House.

Speaking of legal problems in the White House, Trump didn’t just shake up his communications office, he also shook up his legal team in a big way this week, with his personal New York lawyer departing and a guy named Ty Cobb coming in to help (you just can’t make this stuff up). Oh, and part of the Trump White House is now essentially suing another part of the Trump White House. In any normal time, this would be huge news, but these days, such a bizarre story is no more than a footnote, really.

Just a quick reminder ― we’re only six months in, as of this week. Within six months, the president is not only mired down in a growing scandal, but he’s considering pardoning himself. It’s been a pretty stunning six months, and we’re only one-eighth of the way through his term. If he completes it, that is.

CNN took the opportunity to tally Trump’s score, tweeting: “In 6 months, Pres. Trump has tweeted 991 times, spent 40 days at Trump golf properties and passed 0 pieces of major legislation.” The Washington Post used a different scale, to tally Trump’s 830 lies (so far) since he took office ― roughly five per day.

Meanwhile, Time magazine ran a cover with Donald Trump Junior, with the caption: “Red Handed.” A couple of Democrats amusingly made some good use of this, on the House floor. People went with a cover which proclaimed: “The Trump Family: Secrets And Lies.”

The Trump White House keeps chugging along in its attempts to seize control of the messaging, with (once again) a spectacular failure to follow through. They announced this would be “Made In America” week, but then committed two acts of gross political malpractice during the same week. First, they announced ― at the start of Made In America week, mind you ― that Trump was approving an extra 15,000 visas for immigrant workers. This jaw-dropping act of political suicide was then followed up, later in the week, with the news that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort had applied for 70 visas to hire foreign workers. This is in addition to the 23 foreign workers the Trump winery applied for, earlier. By one count, Trump organizations have applied for 370 of these visas since Trump entered politics in 2015. So, to Trump supporters, the message is: “Trump, Inc. doesn’t have to move your job to another country, we can bring foreigners right here in America to take those jobs away!”

Seriously, you just cannot make this stuff up, folks. Trump already was teed up to get some heat on Made In America week, since it is almost impossible to find anything sold under the Trump brand that isn’t made in a sweatshop in China or some other low-wage country. Photos circulated showing all the “Made in China” labels on Trump products early in the week, to prove this. So it was always “do as I say, not as I do” for Made In America week, but then Trump had to rub everyone’s noses in the fact that his businesses don’t care about American jobs in the least, by announcing 15,000 new “guest worker” visas and then applying for 70 of those visas during the same week. It’s almost like they’re testing the gullibility of core Trump supporters, or something.

Speaking of testing the gullibility of Trump supporters, the Republican “repeal and replace Obamacare” efforts crashed and burned this week as well. The week began with Trump inviting seven GOP senators to dinner, even though most of them were solid “yes” votes who needed no convincing or arm-twisting. Right as the dinner ended, two more GOP senators announced they would be voting “no,” bringing the total to four, or enough to sink the bill.

Trump then went on a tweetstorm, endorsing three separate positions (keep working on repeal/replace, just do repeal, or just stand back and let Obamacare fail) within a single day. Mitch McConnell reacted by announcing the Senate would vote on a clean repeal bill, but within hours three GOP women senators announced they would vote “no” on this measure, because (as one of them put it): “I didn’t come to Washington to hurt people.”

By the end of the week, confusion reigned, and nobody had any idea of even what they’d be voting on next week. This led to a quote which Democrats will certainly take note of:

John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, on whether senators should know what the plan is on health care before voting to bring it to the floor next week: “That’s a luxury we don’t have.” (The comment struck some observers as reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s 2010 comment on Obamacare, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it,” for which she was pilloried on the right.)

In the midst of all this, Republican vote-counting was derailed by John McCain’s emergency surgery and subsequent announcement he has brain cancer. Nobody knows how long McCain will be out to deal with his medical problems. Now, perhaps out of politeness or a sense of “it’s too soon,” few have bothered to point out what this means right now for Mitch McConnell. Because if McCain’s absence is extended for even the next few weeks, it means that McConnell can now only afford to lose one vote rather than two. With McCain sidelined, McConnell only has 51 active votes in his caucus, meaning the loss of two would put him at only 49 ― which is not enough to win. As we said, perhaps this is not being pointed out for politeness’ sake, but sooner or later people are going to have to cope with this math.

Speaking of math, the C.B.O. dropped some new numbers, which were as bad as and much worse than the previous numbers. The 2.0 version of McConnell’s bill will mean exactly the same amount of people ― 22 million ― will lose health insurance as the 1.0 version. And the clean repeal would leave an even-more-breathtaking 32 million without insurance. So the Senate gets to choose next week on dumping 22 million or 32 million off their health insurance. So much winning!

Paul Ryan, meanwhile, while everyone’s been distracted, has been trying to hustle through his own Scrooge-like budget bills which would slash spending on just about everything in sight except the Pentagon. But his full-court press is already running into trouble:

Republican leaders announced Tuesday that they plan to bring a package of 2018 spending bills to a vote next week. It would probably be the last item passed in the chamber before members depart for a five-week summer recess. But in the latest instance in which the House GOP has flinched from the basic responsibilities of governing, that package is set to include only four of the 12 yearly appropriations bills.

Linda T. Sánchez, from the House Democratic Caucus leadership, taunted her GOP colleagues: “They hold the majority; they insist on this go-it-alone approach, and when they go it alone, they can’t produce anything. They’re incapable of governing, doing basic things to keep the lights on for the country, and it shows that they’re very fractured.”

Finally, a few “strange things Trump said this week” notes. We’ll try to keep it short, although that Trump New York Times interview certainly provided a target-rich environment. While most of the news focused on how Trump attacked his own attorney general, assistant attorney general, acting F.B.I. director, former F.B.I. director and (of course) the special counsel, what caught our eye was Trump’s several bizarre offhand comments during this interview. These ranged from bragging that while in Paris, “the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower” to his wish that the U.S. would hold big military parades right down Pennsylvania Avenue in his honor. That’s pretty much par for Trump’s course, though.

Trump uttered stranger things as well, asserting that Hillary Clinton was “strongly opposed to sanctions on Russia” (which is just flat-out not true), and that for some reason everyone in Baltimore is to be considered suspect because “there are very few Republicans in Baltimore.”

But Trump truly veered off into the incomprehensible on two separate occasions during the interview. The first was on the history of Napoleon and Russia. After muffing a basic fact (Napoleon III designed Paris, not Napoleon himself), Trump seemed to show a three-year-old’s understanding of the phrase “Cold War.” Or something. It’s kind of hard to tell, really:

[Napoleon’s] one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled] [crosstalk/unintelligible] Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army. But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death.

OK... got it. Napoleon could have beaten Russia, but “that night” he instead went to... um... soccer practice? What the heck are Napoleon’s “extracurricular activities”? So “they froze to death.” End of story. They could have just replaced the whole paragraph in the transcript with that ”[garbled] [crosstalk/unintelligible],” really.

Trump displayed a similar degree of sophistication when explaining how a young person gets health insurance in America (or something... again, it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s trying to say here):

So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.

Right. Sure. There are 21-year-olds out there who are “paying $12 a year” for health insurance. Maybe on Planet Trump, which only exists between his ears. Or something. Again, it’s really hard to tell.

The last item from the Trump interview worth noting wasn’t some bizarre assertion, though, it was more in the manner of blurting out, when the cop asks you for your license and registration: “You really don’t have to look in my trunk, officer.” Trump, when asked if Mueller “was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia ― is that a red line?” answered back:

I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t ― I don’t ― I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia.

Nope, Officer Mueller, nothing to see in that trunk, so there’s really no reason at all to open it up and look.

We have two Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week, both of whom addressed the Democratic position on the healthcare issue.

Joe Biden penned a rather good defense of Obamacare, as he also took the Republicans to task for the meanness of their efforts to kick tens of millions of Americans off their health insurance. His article is well worth a read.

And Bernie Sanders did exactly what we’ve been prodding Democrats to do this week, which is to leap into the breach right after the spectacular failure of the Republican efforts to destroy Obamacare. Bernie appeared on the PBS NewsHour and not only decried the GOP plans, but immediately pivoted to what Democrats should do next. He began by inviting Trump to live up to his campaign promise and work with Democrats to lower prescription drug prices by allowing the federal government to bargain for bulk discounts. Trump indeed used to be for this, so perhaps Bernie’s reaching out could bear fruit, who knows? Sanders then went on to list exactly what could fix the problems with Obamacare, such as creating a stronger reinsurance program to get insurers back into the marketplaces and stabilize things, as well as (our personal favorite) bringing back the public option, so that everyone would have a choice, no matter what county they lived in. Sanders even realistically finished by admitting that his own single-payer Medicare-For-All bill “will not be passed” by the current Republican Congress.

Bernie is exactly right, and we heartily encourage everyone to watch the whole segment. We would also heartily encourage all Democrats in Congress to start using Bernie’s talking points immediately to position the Democratic Party as the one with answers to the problems, even while avoiding partisan poison pills that Republicans could not accept. It’s understandable that Democrats have not offered up their ideas until now (since they didn’t want to muddy the waters while the Republicans were failing so spectacularly on their own), but that time should now be over. Democrats need to step up to the plate and offer bipartisan solutions that could pass ― and Bernie not only just did so, he absolutely knocked it out of the park.

Coincidentally, we saw a poll this week with possible Democratic challengers to Donald Trump in 2020, and the Democrat with the best chance of beating Trump like a drum was Joe Biden. Second was Bernie Sanders.

But we have to take a longer view, and instead give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to California Governor Jerry Brown. This week, Brown got a landmark bill passed through his statehouse which will extend California’s “cap and trade” program for another decade, all the way to 2030. In the absolute absence of leadership on the national level on climate change, Brown has elevated California to a leadership position not only in the rest of the country but also on the world stage.

Some are complaining that Brown had to make too many concessions on the bill, to entice a few Republicans to vote for it (to get a supermajority in the statehouse, for complicated reasons). But such things can always be revised and refined later. Brown got the bill across the finish line, and by doing so sent a strong message that California is taking climate change seriously.

For showing such strong leadership on the issue, and for stepping up while the federal government abandons the field, Jerry Brown is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. He’s nearing the end of his historic fourth term in office, and if term limits didn’t exist, he would easily win a fifth term. That’s real leadership.

[Congratulate California Governor Jerry Brown on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

In the spirit of the Democratic response to John McCain’s medical news, we are not going to award anyone the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Democrats are doing a fantastic job of sticking together in both the Senate and the House, and it was really hard for any Democrat to even break through the absolute deluge of bad news from Trump and the Republicans this week. The only time they really did so was in reaction to McCain, when all Democrats had nothing but respectful and encouraging words for McCain and his fight with cancer.

We’re always open to suggestions in the comments, but we didn’t notice any disappointing Democrats in the political world this week, so we’re officially putting the MDDOTW back on the shelf until next week.

Volume 446 (7/21/17)

This week, we celebrate Trump’s first six months with an overview of how his term’s been going, so far. Three of these come from serious Republicans (well, now we’d have to amend that to “two Republicans and an Independent”), we should point out. Because we certainly won’t stand in the way of his own party savaging his record.

So, how was Trump’s first six months? Well, it depends on who you ask.

On the bright side...

The Daily Beast had to use a pretty serious curve to grade Trump with even a deluded sense of optimism. I mean, hey, he hasn’t blown up the entire planet yet, right?

He hasn’t passed any legislation ― and his first six months have been drama-filled and controversial. But despite the hand-wringing and worry his tenure has spawned among the chattering classes, the world hasn’t ended. That might sound like the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” But in this day and age, I’ll take it.

Shep channels Howard Beale

Over at Fox News (of all places), Shepard Smith has apparently reached his breaking point. On the Russia scandal and all the storylines coming out of the White House, Shep had the following to say to fellow Fox host Chris Wallace:

If there’s nothing there ― and that’s what they tell us, they tell us there’s nothing to this and nothing came of it, there’s a nothingburger, it wasn’t even memorable, didn’t write it down, didn’t tell you about it, because it wasn’t anything so I didn’t even remember it ― with a Russian interpreter in the room at Trump Tower? If all of that, why all these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie? If you clean, come on clean, you know? My grandmother used to say when first we practice to ― Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling. And there are still people who are out there who believe we’re making it up. And one day they’re gonna realize we’re not and look around and go: “Where are we, and why are we getting told all these lies?”

Scarborough leaves in disgust

Joe Scarborough has had enough of not just Donald Trump, but of the entire party. He announced on late-night television that he’s changing his voter registration to “Independent.” He explained why in an opinion piece that did not mince words:

I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses. The political movement that once stood athwart history resisting bloated government and military adventurism has been reduced to an amalgam of talk-radio resentments. President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.

A big, beautiful Russian Alaska?

Michael Gerson, former Dubya speechwriter, had some harsher words, after Trump announced the end of a C.I.A. program to aid rebels in Syria:

But once again, President Trump ― after extended personal contact with Vladimir Putin and the complete surrender to Russian interests in Syria ― acts precisely as though he has been bought and sold by a strategic rival. The ignoble cutoff of aid to American proxies means that “Putin won in Syria,” as an administration official was quoted by the Post. Concessions without reciprocation, made against the better judgment of foreign policy advisers, smack more of payoff than outreach. If this is what Trump’s version of “winning” looks like, what might further victory entail? The re-creation of the Warsaw Pact? The reversion of Alaska to Russian control?

Rabid base shrinks to one-fourth of America

Democrats should take the opportunity to point out how well Trump is doing in the polls, of course.

“An ABC/Washington Post poll this week showed Trump with only a dismal 36 percent job approval rating, and a whopping 58 percent disapproval. By contrast, George W. Bush and Barack Obama held the flipside of Trump’s numbers, as both rated a 59 percent approval rating six months in. The breakdowns of Trump’s numbers get even more brutal. While 58 percent disapprove of the job Trump’s doing, 48 percent strongly disapprove ― a number that neither Obama nor Bill Clinton ever saw during their terms. George W. Bush did reach this ignoble mark, but only in his second term in office. Of the 36 percent who approve of the president, only 25 percent strongly approve. This means Trump’s strong base of support has shrunk to only one-in-four Americans.”

Best ever!

We all know how Trump loves superlatives, especially in reference to himself.

“Donald Trump has set a new record in his first six months in office. While he keeps falsely claiming he’s gotten more done than any other president (he hasn’t), he has bested every other president in one particular regard, stretching all the way back to Harry Truman. As the website put it: ‘Barring a sudden turnaround this week, Trump will conclude his first six months in office as the most unpopular president, at that point in his first term, since modern polling began.’ So Trump can claim ‘lowest ratings ever!’ if he wants to brag about his presidency, compared to history.”

Trump brings us all together

Trump has achieved one notable thing. His most fervent supporters and his biggest detractors do agree on one idea. Kind of. From an article on Trump’s dismal polling comes this wry note:

The country may seem hopelessly divided, but the people who strongly approve and disapprove of Trump have something in common: When asked what they love or hate most about the president, 12 percent of strong approvers and 14 percent of strong disapprovers volunteered “everything.”

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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