Friday Talking Points -- Riders On The Storm

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Donald Trump began last week (as we measure time here, from Friday deadline to Friday deadline) by pardoning a racist sheriff who had been convicted (but not even sentenced yet) of ignoring the Constitution and defying the federal courts. Trump announced this just as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, in the hopes that nobody but his base would notice. He also sent formal instructions to the Pentagon to begin turning away transgendered Americans who want to serve their country, also in the hopes that few would notice. In the midst of all this ”news dump” frenzy, Steve Bannon’s acolyte Sebastian Gorka was unceremoniously shown the door at the White House. That all happened late in the day last Friday, so for us it was a fairly jaw-dropping start to the week.

Also on Friday came an interview with Trump’s National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who ripped into Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville and apparently thought deeply about resigning the White House in disgust. But then he thought better of it, because he reportedly really, really wants Janet Yellen’s job (and resigning would guarantee he never gets it from Trump). So not exactly a profile in courage, but by all accounts Trump was not exactly happy when he heard about it.

Later in the week, a poll was released ― from Fox News, no less ― showing that 56 percent of Americans think Trump is “tearing the country apart,” so Cohn’s not the only one condemning Trump’s attitude towards the alt-right.

Speaking of the alt-right, this weekend was an example of “What if they gave an alt-right rally and nobody came?” once again. Planned rallies in San Francisco and Berkeley were cancelled or overwhelmed by counterprotesters, in a similar fashion to what happened the weekend before in Boston. Monday saw the ”1,000 Ministers’ March For Justice” in Washington, organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton to decry Trump’s lack of morality.

Most of this news was completely overshadowed by Hurricane Harvey, however, which has broken U.S. single-storm rainfall records. The slow-moving storm hit the Texas coast a week ago, dumped an incredible 50-plus-inches on Houston, moved back out to sea, and then took a whack at Louisiana before heading further inland.

Trump’s initial reaction to the hurricane was somewhat odd and tone-deaf, it has to be said. He traveled down to Texas, but avoided the actual area of destruction. Later, he claimed to have seen “first hand” the devastation, even though he hadn’t. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to defend this statement by redefining some terms:

[President Trump] met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster. He talked extensively with the governor, who certainly is right in the midst of every bit of this, as well as the mayors from several of the local towns that were hit hardest. And detailed briefing information throughout the day yesterday talking to a lot of the people on the ground. That certainly is a firsthand account.

Which led the Washington Post to waggishly respond:

No, it’s not. That’s a *second*hand account ― the very definition of one, in fact.

Merriam-Webster defines firsthand as “obtained by, coming from, or being direct personal observation or experience.” Secondhand is defined as “received from or through an intermediary.” Those intermediaries in this case were the state and local officials, the governor, the mayors and the people on the ground. Those people may have been witnessing the devastation firsthand, but passing along that information doesn’t make Trump’s account firsthand.

Trump’s visit didn’t exactly gain him much good press. The print media largely ignored the visit (on their front pages, at least). When Trump’s visit was covered, many pointed out that Trump praised the crowd size (“What a turnout!”) and seemed most concerned with keeping the attention on himself:

He has talked favorably about the higher television ratings that come with hurricane coverage, predicted that he will soon be congratulating himself and used 16 exclamation points in 22 often breathless tweets about the storm. But as of late Tuesday afternoon, the president had yet to mention those killed, call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organizations.

Trump also predicted that his hurricane response would be the best in all history, and people would study it later to see how to properly respond to a natural disaster. But it didn’t take long for people to notice a glaring problem with this boast. Trump’s budget proposal for next year would have slashed almost a billion dollars from disaster preparedness funds (most of it directly from FEMA’s budget). This would be roughly half the money Trump wants to build his wall on the southern border (the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for). Trump recently threatened to shut the government down in September if he doesn’t get this money ― money that he’s taking away (at least in part) from FEMA.

Congress likely won’t go along with such a “penny wise and pound foolish” idea, one would like to hope. But then again, you never know. Trump is doing all he can to advance such short-sighted idiocy on his own, after all:

Trump officials recently struck down an Obama administration rule requiring building projects in line for federal funding to strongly consider climate change risks ― for example, by elevating structures in flood zones away from the reach of rising water.

The goal of the Obama rule was to mitigate the costs to taxpayers of damage claims under the federal flood insurance program.

Climate scientists have warned that coming decades will bring rising sea levels, along with more frequent and serious flood risks to housing, offices and infrastructure. But Trump officials say that removing the rule streamlines the approval process.

When Congress returns, they will not only have to fund all the regular disaster-preparedness functions of the federal government, they’ll also have to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program as well. Many are pointing out that when New Jersey and the East Coast needed emergency funding after Hurricane Sandy, Republicans balked and voted against it. Slate had some amusing snark to sum up the situation:

Which means it’s time to turn to another round of Southern Republicans Who Voted Against the Hurricane Sandy Relief Package but Will Soon Want Federal Disaster Money for Their Flooded Homes. (Previous contestants included the congressional delegations of Florida and Louisiana.)

This time the spotlight is on Texas, where 20 sitting Republican congressmen and both of the state’s senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted against the 2013 Sandy Relief Act.

Republican Representative Peter King has not forgotten, tweeting out: “I won’t abandon Texas the way Ted Cruz did New York.” When Cruz lied about what was in the Sandy bill (he claimed two-thirds of it was unrelated to Sandy recovery), Chris Christie shot back: “That is an absolute falsehood that two-thirds of the $50 billion did not go to Sandy aid.... Let’s remember what Senator Cruz was trying to do at the time. He was trying to be the most conservative, the most fiscally conservative, person in the world. And what I said at the time... is that someday it’s going to come to Texas... a disaster is going to come to you. And when it does, I’m going to promise him that New Jersey congresspeople will stand up and do the right thing.”

So there’s that fight to look forward to, in the coming weeks.

What else? Trump gave a speech this week in Missouri on how cutting wealthy people’s taxes was actually good for the middle class (warmed-over “trickle-down surprise cake” with a faux-populist frosting), but his timing wasn’t exactly well-thought-out. Trump had been criticized by Republicans for not even attempting to sell the “repeal and replace Obamacare” idea to the public, so he seems to want to get out in front of the upcoming tax-cutting fight in Congress. But, as Digby put it in Salon, this led to a jarring split-screen image on cable television:

But for all Trump’s inability to deal with real human tragedy, I must admit that his decision to go ahead with his scheduled rally for tax reform in Missouri on Tuesday really surprised me. He and his political team aren’t the best, but they usually aren’t quite this tin-eared. On TVs all over America yesterday, we saw the president talking about tax cuts before a cheering crowd on one side of the screen, while footage of harrowing rescues and maps with swirling storm animations showed on the other. It appeared that Trump was in campaign mode while America’s fourth-largest city, and towns for hundred miles around it, were drowning before our eyes.

However, as usual, the “most insensitive” award during the hurricane went to the media, who (as always) are eager and willing to exploit people’s grief and misery for ratings. There were plenty of examples of what is called “disaster porn” to be seen during the week, but one woman pushed back hard when a CNN reporter tried to ask inane questions to her after a harrowing ordeal:

But y’all sitting here, y’all trying to interview people during their worst times. Like, that’s not the smartest thing to do. Like, people are really breaking down, and y’all sitting here with cameras and microphones trying to ask us, “What the fuck is wrong with us?” And you’re really trying to understand with the microphone still in my face. When she’s shivering cold and my kid’s wet and you still putting a microphone in my face!

Will the media learn any lessons from this incident? If the past is any prologue, the answer is: “No. Absolutely not.”

That’s about it for the week that was. Next week Donald Trump will have to make a momentous decision on the “dreamers,” or the young people covered by Barack Obama under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Trump faces a Tuesday deadline to decide whether to continue the program or halt it, and already many are begging him not to end it. These include hundreds of major CEOs from the business world, just about every Democrat around, and members of Trump’s own party. Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake have called on Trump to continue the DACA program, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also urged Trump not to pull the plug.

At this point, nobody knows what Trump will do (rumors are flying, but we’ll have to wait and see which ones are correct), but the issue is guaranteed to start off next week with a bang no matter what Trump ultimately decides. But that’s a subject for next week, so let’s continue to review the past week by handing out our regular awards.



Before we get to the main award, we have to give an anonymous Honorable Mention out first. Because a group of pranksters went to Trump Tower last week and slipped in some “merchandise” of their own amongst all the tacky crap on the shelves.

A person claiming to speak for the pranksters gave the following reasoning for the prank: “We thought the tourists coming in to buy some stuff, especially people from other countries, should get the whole story of who the president is, because the items in the Trump store don’t accurately reflect the person.”

Social media images showed two of the items. Here are the labels from these items:

“The piss tape is totally real!”
―Donald J. Trump

Avoid stains!
No messy clean up!
The same sheets Trump watches!


“The same brand my father used!”
―Donald J. Trump

For fine people
Show your pride!
One size fits all!

Snarkiness aside, though, there was one notable essay last week, from none other than Joe Biden. Writing in The Atlantic, Biden shows Democrats how to take on Trump with style:

If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.

The giant forward steps we have taken in recent years on civil liberties and civil rights and human rights are being met by a ferocious pushback from the oldest and darkest forces in America. Are we really surprised they rose up? Are we really surprised they lashed back? Did we really think they would be extinguished with a whimper rather than a fight?

Did we think the charlatans and the con-men and the false prophets who have long dotted our history wouldn’t revisit us, once again prop up the immigrant as the source of all our troubles, and look to prey on the hopelessness and despair that has grown up in the hollowed-out cities and towns of Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and the long-forgotten rural stretches of West Virginia and Kentucky?

We have fought this battle before ― but today we have a special challenge.

Today we have an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate.

We have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support.

This is a moment for this nation to declare what the president can’t with any clarity, consistency, or conviction: There is no place for these hate groups in America. Hatred of blacks, Jews, immigrants ― all who are seen as “the other” ― won’t be accepted or tolerated or given safe harbor anywhere in this nation.

. . .

A week after Charlottesville, in Boston, we saw the truth of America: Those with the courage to oppose hate far outnumber those who promote it.

Then a week after Boston, we saw the truth of this president: He won’t stop. His contempt for the U.S. Constitution and willingness to divide this nation knows no bounds. Now he’s pardoned a law-enforcement official who terrorized the Latino community, violated its constitutional rights, defied a federal court order to stop, and ran a prison system so rife with torture and abuse he himself called it a “concentration camp.”

You, me, and the citizens of this country carry a special burden in 2017. We have to do what our president has not. We have to uphold America’s values. We have to do what he will not. We have to defend our Constitution. We have to remember our kids are watching. We have to show the world America is still a beacon of light.

Well done, Joe, well done. There are a lot of people still wistful that Biden didn’t make a presidential run in 2016, and this just serves to remind us why. Joe Biden is a class act, and he minces no words in calling out President Trump. For doing so, he is certainly deserving of this week’s Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Joe Biden is now a private citizen, so you’ll have to look up his contact info on your own if you’d like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]



And then there’s “how not to do it,” sadly.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has yet to announce whether she will be running for re-election next year. After Barbara Boxer retired in the last election cycle, many would dearly love to see Feinstein step down as well. But so far, she’s been cagey about the subject.

Also so far, prominent California Democrats haven’t announced they’ll take Feinstein on in a primary, preferring to wait for a much-more-winnable open race. That may be about to change, however, after Feinstein gave a disastrous response to a question at the Commonwealth Club recently. Asked about Trump, Feinstein reportedly said:

Look, this man is going to be president most likely for the rest of this term. I just hope he has the ability to learn and to change, and if he does, he can be a good president. And that’s my hope.

Feinstein followed this stunning statement up with apologies for Trump because he had only been in office eight months, and a plea for voters to have “some patience” with him. She then doubled down on her pipe dream that Trump will eventually pivot to being presidential: “We’ll have to see if he can forget himself and his feelings about himself enough to be able to have the empathy and direction that this country needs.” There were reportedly gasps and boos from the audience in response.

Compare that to Biden’s words, to see a few things Feinstein might have said instead. One day later, realizing what a political buzzsaw she had stepped into, Feinstein desperately tried to come up with what she should have said in the first place:

The duty of the American president is to bring people together, not cater to one segment of a political base; to solve problems, not campaign constantly. While I’m under no illusion that it’s likely to happen and will continue to oppose his policies, I want President Trump to change for the good of the country.

During this tumultuous time, I’m working to protect the progress we’ve made and find a way to get things done for Californians during a period of total Republican control of Washington. I’ve been strongly critical of President Trump when I disagree on policy and with his behavior. Most recently, I was appalled by his comments in response to Charlottesville and the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. President Trump said that there were “very fine people” in a crowd chanting “Jews will not replace us.” There’s nothing “fine” about white supremacists, Nazis or the KKK.

But Feinstein never should have needed such a do-over in the first place. Do us all a favor, DiFi, use the media attention you’ve created to gracefully announce your upcoming retirement from politics as you throw the 2018 Senate race wide open. In the meantime, enjoy your fifteenth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. And please, please realize that Donald Trump is not going to change, because everyone else has already reached that conclusion.

[Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]



Volume 451 (9/1/17)

Another grab-bag week for talking points. The first three come from conservatives not happy about Donald Trump. Joe Arpaio’s pardon sent shockwaves through Republicans, closely following the shockwaves still receding from Trump’s disastrous Charlottesville response.

The remaining talking points are kind of all over the map, but the last one should bring a bit of joyous schadenfreude to all Democrats. OK, that’s enough teasing, let’s get on with the show....


   Conservatives rip into Trump (Part 1)

Plenty of conservatives denounced Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio. The Washington Examiner ― a very conservative publication ― even broke ranks with the president in startling fashion.

President Trump described himself as “the law and order candidate” on the campaign trail, but he has consistently shown he really meant “the candidate of busting heads.”

Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ― a man who responded to overly-lax immigration enforcement with a lawless and overly-harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants and suspected illegal immigrants ― showed once again Trump really means “busting heads” when he says “law and order.”

. . .

But “law and order,” if the words have any meaning, has to apply to government actors as well. Lawless sheriffs promote disorder, and that’s what Arpaio did to get himself convicted.

Arpaio’s defiance of a judge’s order to stop detaining people simply based on the suspicion that they were illegal immigrants was worthy of punishment. His career as a veteran and a long-time public servant does not change that. As sheriff, Arpaio’s office would routinely detain Latinos solely on the suspicion they had broken immigration law, without any evidence whatsoever that a crime had been committed. It was government overreach that was backed up by Arpaio’s authority, all while it was supposed to be Arpaio’s job to protect the people of Maricopa County from injustice.


   Conservatives rip into Trump (Part 2)

These next two are from Senator John McCain, who has always been a thorn in Trump’s side, especially when it comes to questions of morality. Speaking of the Arpaio pardon, McCain said:

No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sworn law officers should always seek to be beyond reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold.... The president has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.


   Conservatives rip into Trump (Part 3)

But McCain was only getting warmed up. He wrote a much more wide-ranging opinion piece for the Washington Post, where he continued to let everyone know precisely what he thinks of a president from his own political party.

Americans recoiled from the repugnant spectacle of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville to promote their un-American “blood and soil” ideology. There is nothing in their hate-driven racism that can match the strength of a nation conceived in liberty and comprising 323 million souls of different origins and opinions who are equal under the law.

. . .

Our entire system of government ― with its checks and balances, its bicameral Congress, its protections of the rights of the minority ― was designed for compromise. It seldom works smoothly or speedily. It was never expected to.

It requires pragmatic problem-solving from even the most passionate partisans. It relies on compromise between opposing sides to protect the interests we share. We can fight like hell for our ideas to prevail. But we have to respect each other or at least respect the fact that we need each other.

That has never been truer than today, when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.

We must respect his authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.


   Pardon me?

Checks and balances could stymie Trump.

“In an interesting development after the pardon of Joe Arpaio, Special Counsel Bob Mueller has joined his investigation into all things Trump with the New York state attorneys. This could become important if Trump were ever to defy all norms and try to pardon anyone being investigated. In our federal system of government, the president can indeed pardon anyone he wants ― but only for federal crimes. State crimes are an entirely different matter, and no president can pardon state crimes (the state’s governor has this power instead). So this could be a move by Mueller to negate the possibility of Trump deciding to pardon everyone in his campaign for any crimes committed during the campaign or transition, because they would all still be on the hook for state crimes even with a federal pardon in hand. Trump may be contemplating an end-run around Mueller, but it appears that Mueller is ready for such a move and has already countered it.”


   Please ignore our president

This is becoming somewhat of a regular thing.

“Have you noticed that the few adults surrounding Donald Trump are repeatedly telling the rest of the world to just flat-out ignore everything the president says on both foreign and domestic policy? Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly made the case that the State Department expresses values to the rest of the world, such as ‘our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment of people the world over.’ When the interviewer pointed out this didn’t square with Trump’s actions after Charlottesville, Tillerson weakly admitted: ‘The president speaks for himself.’ Later in the week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis directly contradicted Trump’s tweet that ‘talking is not the answer’ with North Korea, flatly stating: ‘No, we’re never out of diplomatic solutions.’ This seems to be a recurring cycle now ― Trump says something outrageous in contradiction with American policy fundamentals, and then his spokespeople have to reassure the world that Trump didn’t really mean what he just said. Sooner or later Trump seems destined to be reduced to ‘the president who cried wolf’ ― since what he says simply cannot or should not be believed.”


   A resignation few noticed

Maybe if enough time goes by, they’ll all leave?

“A Trump appointee in the Energy Department just quit this week, which led to one of the more astonishing lead sentences ever seen in a news story: ‘William Bradford, a Trump appointee who sent racist and anti-Semitic tweets before being chosen to lead the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy, resigned from his position on Thursday.’ His history includes supporting the detainment of Japanese-Americans in World War II (‘It was necessary’), and calling President Obama a ‘Kenyan creampuff’ and ‘the son of a fourth-rate p&*n actress.’ And yet, he was appointed to a job in the Trump administration in the first place and was allowed to stay until now. Maybe if enough time goes by, all the people with racism in their past will eventually leave the Trump administration, but I’m not exactly holding my breath or anything.”


   Lights out...

And finally, we saved the best for last.

“People in Great Britain will no longer be able to watch Fox News, as the channel was just dropped in the United Kingdom by 21st Century Fox, its parent company. They explained in a statement: ‘We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the U.K.’ But they also admitted the real reason ― nobody seems to be watching it. As they explained: ‘It averages only a few thousand viewers across the day.’ This is in a nation of 65 million people, I would hasten to point out.”


Chris Weigant blogs at:


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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