Friday Talking Points -- Rampant Republican Hypocrisy On Syria

It turns out that Donald Trump is pretty good at predicting his own future behavior. You just have to change the names, that’s all. A while back, Trump tweeted out the following: “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin ― watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”

This week, Donald Trump’s poll numbers matched the lowest point Barack Obama ever hit (in his whole eight years) on the Real Clear Politics “daily average job approval” polling page: only 39.8 percent of Americans approved of the job Trump has been doing. Days later, Trump launched an airstrike on Syria. “Desperate” indeed.

But maybe Trump’s not all that great at predicting the future. After all, Syria wasn’t mentioned in Trump’s tweet. On Syria, Trump had plenty of other advice to give Obama on Twitter. He warned Obama not to follow through on his “red line” threat, and now that the airstrike has happened, other Trump tweets are being dug up, including: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.”

Also, in the same vein: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria ― big mistake if he does not!” Trump, of course, did not bother getting congressional approval before launching last night’s attack. Republicans in Congress ― who previously demanded such approval when Obama was in charge ― shrugged and cheered Trump on. No real surprise there.

For the first time, however, Trump opponents don’t really have much to fall back on. Asking Congress to approve anything is a good way to get nothing done (as Obama found out, when he did ask Congress to approve escalating the war in Syria ― and they ignored him). Trump’s action was decisive and fairly quick, which would simply not have been possible with Congress involved.

But the real reason (which, in all honesty, we have to point out) that Trump’s political opponents are stymied right now is that nothing would have been different under President Hillary Clinton. How can we state this in such bold fashion? Because she told us so yesterday, mere hours before Trump launched the missiles. Here is what Clinton said:

Assad has an air force, and that air force is the cause of most of these civilian deaths as we have seen over the years and as we saw again in the last few days. And I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop Sarin gas on them.

So, in this particular case, we would be in exactly the same situation now if Hillary had won the Electoral College. The missiles would have been launched, and Syrian airfields would have been attacked. That doesn’t leave much of any room for saying “things would be different if Trump weren’t in charge,” really.

It may be tough for Democrats to admit, but politically Trump just had his best week so far. Not only will he likely get a “rally ‘round the president in times of war” boost in his poll numbers, but he also scored his only real victory to date in Congress this week.

Democrats successfully filibustered the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but then Mitch McConnell went ahead and dropped the nuke, changing the Senate rules so that a majority vote is all that is needed for Supreme Court justice confirmations. While most Americans weren’t paying much attention to the “changing the Senate rules” story, the upshot is that Donald Trump has seated his first Supreme Court justice. That is a solid political victory ― the only one he’s really had so far from Congress.

Trump, of course, doesn’t see things quite this way. On Air Force One, he was quoted saying: “I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.” Um, no, not really. In the first place, he’s only actually been president for 11 weeks, and so far only one of them could even remotely be called “successful” in any way, when measured by actual accomplishments.

Oddly enough, Trump is taking a lot of heat from a very unexpected corner: the alt-right. Since they absolutely live for conspiracy theories, the lunatic righties are now convincing themselves that the Syrian nerve gas attack was either (1) a “false-flag” operation, not actually launched by Assad’s forces, or (2) completely faked, and didn’t actually happen. Either way, the thinking (if you can even call it that) goes that Trump was duped into attacking Syria, which goes against his entire “America First” campaign theme and all those “I won’t get involved in Syria” campaign promises.

Warped though this thinking may be, the conclusion is in some ways correct ― Trump castigated Clinton (and all his GOP opponents) for wanting to escalate the war in Syria, preferring to stay out of the mess and let them fight it out on their own. Now, he’s apparently changed his mind.

The most bizarre flip-flop, though, happened in the space of a single week. The Trump administration, last week, decided to change America’s official policy towards Assad, stating that it will be “up to the Syrian people” to decide whether Assad stays or goes. This is Assad’s own position, it bears pointing out, and a drastic shift from calling for regime change. One chemical attack later, Trump moved 180 degrees in the opposite direction, directly attacking Assad’s forces for the first time since the war began. That’s a pretty big shift in a pretty short period of time, and just adds to the perception that Trump is creating his foreign policy in a very day-to-day and reactionary manner.

The fallout from the Syrian strike is yet to be determined. We didn’t kill any Russian soldiers, which is good news indeed. Trump seems to have forewarned the Russians that the strike was coming, which may have helped avoid such an awkward situation. But now Russia has backed out of the agreement with the U.S. to work together to avoid belligerence between the two countries’ military flights over Syria, which could have serious consequences in the weeks to come.

Trump’s attack so far seems to be seen by most of the world as an appropriate level of retaliation for the chemical weapons attack earlier in the week. If Trump does not escalate further, then the prevailing view of this being a measured response will likely prevail. After all, even Hillary Clinton probably would have done pretty much the same thing.

Of course, the media absolutely loved the attack, because they know that war means people watch more news. Nowhere was this more evident than watching Brian Williams literally rhapsodizing over the “beautiful” missile launches on air, complete with Leonard Cohen quotes. But then does anyone really expect anything different, at this point, from BriWi?

As usual in the age of Trump, there was so much going on this week that we’re going to have to just whip through the rest of the news in lightning fashion. Even the story of the Senate going nuclear on Supreme Court confirmations ― a story which normally would have dominated news coverage all week ― was pushed to the side and treated almost as a footnote.

Early in the week, Trump made another of his accusations of criminal behavior by the Obama administration, and as usual he had absolutely no evidence to back his claim up. Trump seems to think Susan Rice broke the law, but didn’t give any details. We’re also still waiting on any proof whatsoever that Obama wiretapped Trump Towers, if you’ll remember.

Trump seems to want to pin the blame for leaks on Rice (again, with zero evidence), but perhaps this was mere deflection from the fact that the Republican chair of the committee supposedly investigating such leaks (and Russian interference in our election) himself had to step down from the committee over charges that he leaked classified information. There’s some irony for you.

Remember that time when Michael Flynn had to resign as a top Trump aide over conversations with Russian officials? Remember when Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself over the investigation because of his own conversations with Russian officials? Well, we’re betting that Jared Kushner won’t face anywhere near the same consequences for conveniently “forgetting” to list a bunch of contacts with Russian officials on his security disclosure forms. What’s he going to do, after all ― step down from being Trump’s son-in-law?

Speaking of stepping down, Steve Bannon was booted out of his principals seat on the National Security Council. Seems Bannon ― and possibly Reince Priebus ― are on thin ice because Jared doesn’t much approve of them. The palace intrigue just never stops in the Trump White House. Will Bannon and Priebus be around next week? Stay tuned!

Vice President Mike Pence tried once again to revive the Republican “repeal and replace Obamacare” effort, without any noticeable success. He tried making the GOP plan even more awful ― by removing protections for people with pre-existing conditions, no less ― in an attempt to sway the Tea Partiers. Moderate Republicans recoiled in horror, and the goal of having some sort of bill together before the Easter congressional break utterly failed to materialize. Paul Ryan smartly kept out of the entire process this time, so we can’t even call this “Ryancare 2.0.” Now Republicans head back to their districts, where assumably some of them are going to get an earful from their constituents ― unless they all chicken out of even holding any town halls at all.

And finally, Trump just got a fairly disappointing jobs report, with fewer than 100,000 jobs created last month. Wait for it... wait for it... it’s “all Obama’s fault,” right? We haven’t actually heard any White House excuses on this yet, but we’re betting we already know what they’re going to say.

We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, for very different reasons.

It mostly happened in the middle of the night and into the wee hours of the morning, but Senator Jeff Merkley made some history of his own in the Senate this week by mounting a “talking filibuster” against the Gorsuch confirmation. He spoke for 15 hours and 28 minutes, which puts him eighth on the list of the longest filibusters in history ― only two minutes behind Huey Long’s 1935 talkathon.

Merkley knew this wasn’t going to make any difference. He even politely scheduled it for the middle of the night, when few would even notice it. But he stood and talked for 15-and-a-half hours, which is a feat of stamina that is well worth noting. For making this effort and for mounting the eighth-longest filibuster ever, we feel Merkley deserves a MIDOTW award, at the very least.

Our second winner this week hit a milestone of fundraising, instead of a milestone of speechifyin’. On April 18, Georgia is going to have a special House election. Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff reported a whopping $8.3 million raised in three months. To put that in some perspective, this is seventeen times the average raised in the 2016 campaign cycle. That’s a pretty stunning amount of money for a single House seat, in other words (check out the chart in that Washington Post article, which shows just how impressive this haul is).

Now, this is a Republican district, so no matter how much money Ossoff raises, he still might lose. But the district has a lot of affluent Atlanta suburbs, with many Republican voters who are not that thrilled with Donald Trump. The voting may go beyond the first round if no candidate achieves better than 50 percent of the vote, but Ossoff is currently polling at around 40 percent ― far better than any of the Republicans in the race.

This will be a very closely-watched election, for obvious reasons, but win or lose we have to say we are indeed impressed with the massive campaign chest that Jon Ossoff has put together so far. One final note: Ossoff raised most of his money online, proving once again that grassroots donations can be a very powerful force for Democrats. We wish Ossoff luck in his upcoming election, as we award him a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for his fundraising prowess.

[Congratulate Senator Jeff Merkley on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. As a standing policy, we do not link to candidate websites, so you’ll have to seek out Jon Ossoff’s site on your own, however.]

This one’s pretty obvious this week, so this is going to be a short segment.

We have three Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, for the three senators who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. All three are worried about their re-election chances (in purple or red states), so they crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP rather than backing up the Democratic caucus.

There’s really nothing much more that needs be said, really. Our MDDOTW winners this week are: Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Manchin.

[Contact Senator Joe Donnelly on his Senate contact page, Senator Heidi Heitkamp on her Senate contact page, and Senator Joe Manchin on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 431 (4/7/17)

It’s still pretty early to accurately gauge the political reaction and fallout over Trump’s Syrian airstrike, so we’ll probably have a lot clearer talking points on the subject next week. This week, for the most part, we’re more focused on pointing out the rampant hypocrisy emanating from the Republican side of the aisle. Oh, and we’ve got a belated April Fool’s Day joke at the end, just because.

Now we see why he didn’t show up

This makes a lot more sense, now.

“Donald Trump turned down the opportunity to throw out the traditional first pitch at the Washington Nationals season-opener this week. No reason was given, which led many to speculate that he was afraid he’d get resoundingly booed if he showed up. This sounds a lot more plausible now, with the news that a massive banner, ‘styled like a Russian flag,’ was unfurled at the game which read: ‘Impeach Trump #Resist.’ No wonder he didn’t show up, if that was the reception he was likely to get!”

Sheer GOP hypocrisy

Strange how stories change when the shoe’s on the other foot, isn’t it?

“There’s a long list of Republicans ― around 100 of them, in fact ― who signed a letter in 2013 warning President Obama that it would be unconstitutional for him to order airstrikes on Syria over the issue of chemical weapons. Obama dutifully asked Congress for an authorization for the use of military force, and Congress refused to grant it. These days, however, some of the same people who signed this letter are praising Trump’s recent airstrike on Syria. Here’s just one example, from Marco Rubio. After voting against giving Obama the authority to strike Syria, Rubio explained his vote by saying the president: ‘was proposing what they called pinprick strikes, basically a symbolic strike to send a message, but not backed up by a clear plan.’ That was then. Now that Trump has done exactly the same thing ― with no clear plan in sight ― Rubio has nothing but praise for him, saying: ‘Tonight’s actions show the days of being able to attack with impunity when it comes to Assad are over.’ Curious how his opinion on the desirability of airstrikes shifts so dramatically depending on who is in the White House, isn’t it? And Rubio’s certainly not the only Republican expressing such changes of heart this week.”

Beautiful babies who can’t come in

Speaking of hypocrisy...

“Donald Trump seemed to get quite emotional when talking about the youngest victims of the Assad chemical weapons attack, calling them ‘children of God’ and ‘beautiful babies’ in the past few days. He seemed downright empathetic to their plight, in fact. But apparently Trump is not so moved by the plight of the babies to go so far as to perhaps allow a few of them into the United States as refugees. When a national security spokesman was asked point-blank whether the Trump administration would consider changing their ‘no Syrian refugees’ position, though, the answer was: ‘No, that wasn’t discussed as any part of the deliberations.’ So forgive me if I’m not all that moved by Trump’s crocodile tears over the beautiful babies. Because apparently he still thinks they’re all terrorists in swaddling clothes, or something.”

Tell us what you really feel, John

John McCain won the quote of the week from the Republican side of the aisle, that’s for sure.

“Senator John McCain ― before the voting began ― had this to say about anyone who was supporting the nuclear option of changing the Senate rules for Supreme Court nominations, and I quote: Whoever says that is a stupid idiot, who has not been here and seen what I’ve been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions. And they are stupid and they’ve deceived their voters because they are so stupid. Unquote. Sounds like he felt pretty strongly about it, doesn’t it? But then when it came to vote, McCain went right ahead and voted with (in his words) all the other stupid idiots in his party. Looks like he is comfortable talking the ‘maverick’ talk, but not so much when it comes to walking the ‘maverick’ walk.”

Uncorking a few truths

Republican Senator Bob Corker admitted a few ugly truths in the debate over the Gorsuch nomination this week, for which he should be applauded. He not only admitted that Harry Reid had used the first nuclear option when Republicans were attempting to block Obama from three appeals court nominations (who were “actually pretty decent,” according to Corker), because Republicans “did not want the balance of the D.C. Circuit to change because it was at four to four” ― but he also admitted that the way Merrick Garland was treated by Republicans is what led to this point in history: “It was a pretty audacious move, let’s face it, and obviously it created some hard feelings on the other side.”

Corker went further, however, and predicted that the legislative filibuster is also not going to be around for much longer, despite all the statements to the contrary by his fellow Republicans, which was the truly amazing part of his speech. Democrats will quite likely dig this speech up in the future, when it actually happens, which is why we are including it today as a talking point:

Everybody says: “Oh, we are never going to do it on legislation.” Come on! ... If we continue on the path we are on right now, the very next time there is a legislative proposal that one side of the aisle feels is so important they cannot let their base down, the pressure builds, and then we are going to invoke the nuclear option on the legislative piece too. That is what will happen. Somebody will do it. . . . Let’s face it: If we do not have respect for the institution we serve and for ourselves, no one else will. For us to act like if we do it here, there is no way we would ever do it on a legislative piece ― let me tell you this: ... Two years ago, there would not have been a single Republican in our caucus who would have even considered voting for the nuclear option. As a matter of fact, we had discussions about changing it back. Then the election occurred, and we decided not to do that. ... To say that we will never get to the point at which we will not change a legislative piece ― give me a break! Somebody is not living in reality!

50 and counting...

Bill O’Reilly had a tough week all around, which he fully deserved.

“Why is everyone so surprised that Bill O’Reilly is a serial sexual predator? I mean, I’m old enough to remember when he confused a loofah with falafel in an obscene phone call, back in 2004. Does anyone really think that was enough embarrassment to make him stop? Now it turns out that Fox News has paid out over ten million dollars to other women Bill has harassed over the years. This time, at least, corporate America is not amused ― the number of advertisers who have pulled their ads from his show is now over 50 and climbing by the day. Looks like falafel-boy is finally getting his comeuppance. To which I say: it’s about time.”

From Russia, with humor

Russians aren’t generally known for their humor. In fact, this week it was announced that it is now illegal in Russia to portray Vladimir Putin as a gay clown. Which, of course, prompted many to do just that, but that’s really to be expected. But the Russian Foreign Ministry apparently had some fun on April Fool’s Day, which we have to admit is pretty hilarious. They posted on a Facebook page a spoof answering machine message from their office, which said the following (in both Russian and English):

You have reached the Russian Embassy. Your call is very important to us. To arrange a call from a Russian diplomat to your political opponents, press 1. To use the services of Russian hackers, press 2. To request election interference, press 3 and wait until the next election campaign. Please note that all calls are recorded for quality improvement and training purposes.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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