Friday Talking Points -- Stop All The Madness

We're going to open this week's column by quoting a Southern rock band from a while back. We have to admit that we never thought we'd ever quote this band, because Molly Hatchet wasn't generally known for deep and insightful lyrics (indeed, they were mostly known for the bandleader's propensity for whistling during their songs). But after their big blockbuster album, the band put out a followup which had one song on it with both a haunting melody and the saddest of lyrics, written after John Lennon's death. Today, they seemed the most appropriate response to all the carnage we've seen this week. So, from "Fall Of The Peacemakers," here are the thoughts of Molly Hatchet:

If ashes are ashes and dust is dust

At our journey's end then return we must

To the sands of the shore

White doves in flight

Peace to all

But tell me why the peacemakers fall

Must we bury anymore?

The hush of the crowd as the horse rode by

A black lace veil hid the tears from her eyes

And we all wept in silence

How many times must good men die?

How many times will the children cry?

'Til they suffer no more sadness

Oh, stop the madness

Oh, stop all the madness.

Amen. Stop all the madness... please. We simply have no other words to even attempt to explain or comment on all the shootings this week -- the two black men killed by cops, and the five cops killed by a racist and murderous sniper in Dallas. It is madness, and it must stop. How? We have no idea, we sadly admit.

Instead, we're just going to do what we normally do on Fridays, which is to take a look at the political news of the week, unrelated to the tragedies.

Donald Trump tweeted out an image originally circulated by a white supremacist this week, and then (as usual) refused to admit any sort of error and blamed all the fuss on the media. Because why would anyone think a Star of David with $100 bills behind it would be in any way anti-Semitic? Perish the thought! One Jewish Republican (and, assumably, some others who didn't make the news) decided he'd had enough of his own party's presidential nominee, and immediately quit the Republican Party. Look for this sort of thing to be a growing trend, as Donald finds creative new ways to insult large groups of voters.

Two people prominently mentioned as possible Trump running mates also distanced themselves from Trump this week, by turning down the veep offer before it had even been made. Also, more Republican officeholders are making the decision to just skip their party's national convention as well, but we'll get to all of that in more detail in the talking points part of the program.

Trump met in Washington with both House and Senate GOP members this week, but all did not go as swimmingly as planned. Trump lit into three senators who won't support him, and told the House meeting:

It would great if you could say we had an unbelievable meeting. "Trump loves us. We love Trump." It's going to be so good. Okay? Honestly, if we could say it is great, we have a unified party, I'll tell you what, you are going to see a difference immediately. That's what I'm going to say.

Towards the end, Trump returned to this theme:

If when we leave we could just go out and say, "We love Trump, he's going to be great." I love you, we're doing great. As a team, we can't be beaten. Say great things, because anything you say that's even a little -- well you know, they magnify it. Just say it's great. You gotta say great things. Any little negativity that you have, they are going to blow it up twentyfold. You've got to be positive.

Over on the other side of the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton had a rather rough week, even with the news that she wouldn't be indicted. F.B.I. director James Comey didn't have a whole lot of positive things to say about Clinton's actions, even if he did come to the conclusion that an indictment wasn't justified. The House of Representatives wasted no time, immediately calling him in for a hearing, so that all sorts of political posturing could happen, on camera.

The most likely outcome of the election is that Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Democrats probably take control of the Senate, but that the House remains in Republican hands. If this does come to pass, we can look forward to endless investigations of Hillary Clinton, beginning on her first day in office. The question may sadly become not "Will they impeach her?" but instead "How many times will they impeach her?" This may sound cynical now, but who among us really believes that a Republican House won't devote pretty much every waking moment to finding some way of taking Clinton down? It's happened before, after all.

Speaking of the House Republicans, Paul Ryan seems to be having exactly the same "herding cats" problem that so frustrated John Boehner. Ryan can't get his own caucus to agree on anything these days, which led to an amusing bit of irony. Darrell Issa reacted to Comey's announcement that Clinton wouldn't be indicted in truly petulant fashion -- he threatened to shut down the House entirely, and refuse to do any of the people's business. Which is where the irony comes in, because how would anyone tell the difference, really? It's not like they're doing much now, and they're about to scarper off onto the campaign trail for most of the rest of the summer and fall. So what, exactly, would be the difference, Darrell?

Speaker Ryan is also considering a monumentally silly political action -- he's exploring just how to punish those Democrats who took part in the sit-in protest a few weeks back. Nancy Pelosi had a beautiful reaction, upon hearing this: "Make my day. Make my day."

And let's end on one purely positive note, in an otherwise brutal week. The folks at NASA successfully put their Juno satellite into a polar orbit of Jupiter. Space flight is a risky business, and you never know if things are going to work out as planned, but from all accounts Juno's final maneuver ended its years-long journey exactly where it was supposed to wind up. That is a success everyone can applaud. Well done!


Our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Hillary Clinton. This may come as somewhat of a surprise, since Clinton has generally had a pretty bad week all around. She started it off by being interrogated by the F.B.I., then she got raked over the coals by James Comey for her "extremely careless" handling of classified documents, and even though she escaped indictment her credibility and trustworthiness took a big hit. On all of those counts, Clinton had a pretty disappointing week.

But there was one silver lining for Clinton, and it was important enough that we have decided it rises to the level of the MIDOTW. Clinton took a big step towards getting Bernie Sanders (and his youthful followers) on board her campaign this week, by announcing her new plan for tuition-free college. It's not quite as expansive as Bernie's "tuition-free state college for all" idea, but it's pretty close. Clinton's plan will be means-tested, and only available to families making less than $85,000 a year (which will move up to $125,000 a year, eventually). Bernie's policy would have been all-inclusive rather than means-tested. But other than that, Clinton has essentially adopted Bernie's idea, rather than the more incremental tinkering around the edges she had suggested previously.

This is a big step towards truly unifying the Democratic Party, and the rumor now is that Bernie Sanders will appear with Hillary Clinton next week in New Hampshire to offer his full endorsement of her candidacy. This is an important step which hasn't happened yet, and which many didn't expect to happen before the convention. Bernie has been saying that Hillary had to move closer to his agenda before he could enthusiastically support her, and her move on tuition-free college was a big step in his direction.

We wrote about all this in more detail earlier this week, but we have to say we were indeed encouraged by Clinton's movement towards Sanders -- and (if true) Sanders deciding not to wait until Philadelphia to endorse Clinton. As we wrote earlier, we have no idea how many Sanders supporters this will convince, but it does give them a big reason to vote for Hillary Clinton (instead of just against Donald Trump).

For making this big step towards truly unifying her party -- even in the midst of all the email investigation fallout -- Hillary Clinton is indeed our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Hillary Clinton is a private citizen, and as a rule we don't provide contact information for such people, nor do we link to campaign websites, so you'll have to search Clinton's contact info out yourself, if you'd like to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


Up until this morning, we had intended to also hand Hillary Clinton the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, since while the F.B.I. didn't recommend indicting her, James Comey certainly didn't "exonerate" her in any way. In his scathing press announcement (and then later, in front of the House committee hearing), Comey may not have provided enough information for a prosecutor to make a case, but he definitely proved that Clinton has lied about her email server out on the campaign trail.

Even though she heavily parsed her statements about the server -- knowing full well the level of scrutiny they would receive -- Clinton's assertions simply were not true. This isn't going to help her on the "trustworthiness" front, that's for sure. We fully expect lots of GOP ads during election season contrasting her statements with Comey's (especially that "extremely careless" line).

In addition to all this, the Washington Post has now created a page with a clock showing how long (over 200 days) it has been since Clinton held a press conference. That's not exactly the coverage her campaign needs right now, to state the obvious.

So, like we said, we fully expected to hand Clinton the MDDOTW award. Until we read this morning's news, that is. Now, we're going to let Clinton off the hook with just a (Dis-)Honorable Mention instead.

The reason for this late turnaround was the news that Representative Corrine Brown of Florida was indicted this morning. Here's the whole story:

The indictment alleges that [Corrine Brown] and her chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmons, set up a college scholarship fund in Virginia, raised more than $800,000 for it, and proceeded to spend a vast majority of the money on themselves "for personal and professional benefit."

Federal authorities allege they bought luxury boxes at concerts and football games in the D.C. area and that the nonprofit, One Door for Education, only handed out two scholarships worth $1,200. Federal authorities also say One Door was not properly registered as a nonprofit. The head of the nonprofit pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell with the Justice Department said in a statement that Brown and her top aide used the nonprofit "as a personal slush fund."

The congresswoman and her chief of staff are officially charged on 24 different counts, including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction and filing false tax returns.

Now, normally, we'd be willing to attach a caveat about "innocent until proven guilty" when giving MDDOTW awards for people who have merely been indicted. But if the head of the nonprofit has already struck a plea deal, it's a pretty sure bet that they'll be testifying against Brown in court. Which means there is little chance Brown is going to walk away unscathed from this indictment.

About the only good thing is the timing of the indictment, because Florida has yet to hold primaries for non-presidential races, meaning another Democratic candidate could win the nomination and salvage a chance of holding onto her House seat this November.

But, as you can see, running a "personal slush fund" trumps anything Hillary Clinton has done or said, so this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is none other than Corrine Brown.

[Contact Representative Corrine Brown on her House contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Volume 399 (7/8/16)

One program note before we get to the talking points. As you can see above, our odometer is about to turn over once again. We never thought we'd still be doing this when we started this column, almost nine years ago. But here we are! So next week we'll likely mark the occasion with a look back, and then for the following two weeks it'll be convention season, so we cannot guarantee we'll have the time to put together FTP columns (we'll be traveling to and from the Democratic National Convention, which will interfere with our normal Friday schedules). So this may be the last batch of new talking points we'll have for almost a month, just to warn everyone in advance.

As for this week's talking points, once again we find a wealth of riches to mine in the "dump on Trump" category, and -- also once again -- there is so much to choose from that we can fill our talking points almost completely (with one amusing tangent at the end) with just the snide things Republicans are saying about Trump. This trend shows no signs of abating, in other words. As Cleveland looms, we have to ponder the existential question: "What if they held a party and no one came?"

OK, that's slightly snarkier than the reality, but not by a whole lot. We've never seen such a flood of prominent party members refuse to even associate themselves with their party's nominee before, in fact. This is something new, folks. Eventually, we assume we'll have to report on what Democrats are saying about Trump, but so far the scathing rhetoric coming from his fellow Republicans is far worse than anything any Democrat has yet said.


   Number 9...

That's an obscure Beatles reference about a completely incoherent song, for those too young to remember.

"Donald Trump met with Republicans in Congress this week, and one House member asked him what his understanding of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution was. His response was, and I quote: 'I am going to abide by the Constitution whether it's number 1, number 2, number 12, number 9.' Hopefully someone took him aside later and explained that Article 9 and Article 12 don't actually exist. The Constitution only has seven articles. But then again, who knows -- maybe Trump is planning on adding five or ten more? At this point, it wouldn't surprise me a bit."


   Another one bites the dust

These next two have titles from a Queen song. We do seem to be in "rock nostalgia mode" this week, for no particular reason.

"It's been pretty funny to see Republicans scamper away from the possibility of being named Trump's running mate. In any normal election, most politicians would jump at the opportunity to run for vice president, but this is obviously not a normal election year. Senator Bob Corker actually campaigned together with Trump this week, but then immediately took himself out of contention for Trump's veep pick. That's pretty astonishing. The turnaround was so abrupt as to induce whiplash in politics-watchers. Maybe Trump insulted Corker backstage or something? That could explain the reversal, I suppose."


   And another one down

Will the last to leave please turn out the lights? Thanks.

"Corker's not the only one this week to decline Trump's veep slot. Freshman Senator Joni Ernst also backed out of the running, saying she had more important work to do in the Senate instead. At this point, it's kind of like listening to your friends' excuses why they can't drive you to the airport, isn't it? What's that? Veep? Oh, no... sorry... I've got... um... a bunch of other big, important things to do, but thanks for asking!"


   Him, you know, that guy over there

Hoo boy.

"Even when Trump does manage to pick up endorsements, it seems the people endorsing him just can't bring themselves to even say his name. Here's Scott Walker -- who signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee, never expecting it would be Donald Trump -- through gritted teeth: 'Last August, I said I'd support the GOP nominee. It's now clear who the RNC delegates will vote to nominate. And he is better than she is.' Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the ages, is it? C'mon, Scott, you can say it: Trrrrruuuummmp! There! That wasn't so hard, was it?"


   I gotta stay in and wash my hair

These just get funnier and funnier, folks!

"When The Hill asked all Senate Republicans whether they'd be attending their party's national convention, only 36 of them definitely said they'd be going to Cleveland. The reasons for not going were even more hilarious than those given by Republicans declining Trump's veep slot. Don't believe me? Senator Jeff Flake (who in a meeting Trump had with Senate Republicans this week introduced himself to Trump as 'the other senator from Arizona -- the one who didn't get captured') responded, when asked why he wouldn't be attending the Republican National Convention: 'I've got to mow my lawn.' Ouch!"


   But the award goes to...

Now this right here is a what a political quote for the ages should sound like.

"Republican Senator Ben Sasse, when asked the same question about why he wouldn't be in Cleveland, had the best response yet. He deserves some sort of political metaphor prize for this one, really. Sasse said he, quote, will not be attending the convention and will instead take his kids to watch some Dumpster fires across the state, all of which enjoy more popularity than the current front-runners, unquote. Wow, Ben. I mean, tell us what you really think of your party's nominee!"


   Make Inishturk great again!

OK, this one's just funny. Nothing like a little Blarney to end on. We should add that the video manages to be both amusing and insightful, and is well worth watching. One last note: the island looks exactly like Craggy Island from Father Ted, for those who are fortunate enough to understand that reference.

"The Irish island of Inishturk (population 58) is opening its arms to Americans who might consider fleeing their country, should Donald Trump somehow be elected president. They've even got a slogan -- 'Make Inishturk great again!' -- and a nine-minute video which explains the concept. The video ends on a rather jaw-dropping statistic: 28 percent of Americans would consider leaving the country if Donald Trump becomes president. I sincerely hope Inishturk has room for them all!"


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