March, 2017

McCain Trying to Save the Filibuster

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Bloomberg that he’s trying to reach a “long-term” deal to allow confirmation while saving the minority party’s ability to block future high court nominations.

Said McCain: “There’s always hope, because maybe we’ll recognize the damage that’s been done to the institution and the American people.”

However, he added: “I’ll have conversations but I’m not optimistic.”

The Beclowning of the Executive Branch

Dan Drezner: “Less than a hundred days into the Trump administration, there are two, actually three, competing narratives about how the government is being run. The first narrative is the Trump administration’s claim that things are running so, so smoothly. A brief glance at the poll numbers suggests that not many people are buying this, so we can discard it quickly.”

“The second narrative, made by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board among many others, is that America’s system of checks and balances turns out to be working pretty well. President Trump’s more egregious moves have been checked by federal courts, and even by the court of public opinion at times. A historically unpopular and costly health-care bill did not pass the House of Representatives, which seems like the right outcome. Irresponsible foreign policy statements made by the president during the transition have been walked back. Efforts by the Trump White House to deny or scuttle investigations into foreign meddling into the election have resulted in congressional investigations, pushback by the intelligence community and recusals by Trump appointees. The administration successfully managed to pick a Supreme Court nominee who is not a laughingstock.”

“There’s a lot to this argument. But if I may, I’d like to proffer just a sampling of the news stories that have broken in the past 24 hours to suggest a third and more troubling narrative: the president and his acolytes are beclowning the American state.”

The GOP Is In Free Fall

Michael Gerson: “This is a pretty bad combination: empty, easily distracted, vindictive, shallow, impatient, incompetent and morally small. This is not the profile of a governing party…”

“It is now dawning on Republicans what they have done to themselves. They thought they could somehow get away with Trump. That he could be contained. That the adults could provide guidance. That the economy might come to the rescue. That the damage could be limited.”

“Instead, they are seeing a downward spiral of incompetence and public contempt — a collapse that is yet to reach a floor. A presidency is failing. A party unable to govern is becoming unfit to govern. And what, in the short term, can be done about it? Nothing. Nothing at all.”

Trump Teeters on the Brink

First Read: “Just 10 weeks on the job, President Trump’s approval rating is stuck in the 30s and 40s. His health-care effort failed. The travel ban is tied up in courts. Congress and the FBI are investigating his campaign’s possible links to Russia. He’s calling out fellow Republicans for failing to help him on health care. His White House tried to cover up (for a while at least) his aides providing information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. And now his ousted national security adviser says he’ll cooperate with the FBI and Congress in exchange for immunity.”

“Any one of these stories would ensnare a presidency in a crisis. But you add up these seven storylines above — we’re sure we’re leaving others out — and it’s unsustainable. Conservative commentators are already hitting the panic button… This is a presidency on the brink of a free-fall, and it has to start repairing the damage on all of these fronts — popularity, the agenda, congressional relations, Russia, Flynn.”

Quote of the Day

“I have a long experience in the intelligence committee – served with Republican and Democratic chairmen. I’ve been the top Democrat there myself. I’ve never seen behavior this bizarre on the part of the chairman.”

— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), quoted by The Hill, on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA).

‘He’s Already Rich’

McKay Coppins interviewed Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform:

“I asked Chaffetz if he was concerned about Trump reaping financial rewards from his presidency, but he just shrugged. ‘He’s already rich,’ Chaffetz said. ‘He’s very rich. I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don’t see it like that.’

“He promised that Trump won’t get an entirely free ride under his watch. ‘Somebody’ll do something stupid at some point, and we’ll be all over it.’ But, he added, ‘I think the people who voted for Donald Trump went into it with eyes wide open. Everybody knew he was rich, everybody knew he had lots of different entanglements… These other little intrigues about a wealthy family making money is a bit of a sideshow.'”

Jonathan Chait: House Republicans to Trump: Steal all you want.

Nunes Intentionally Misled the Public

Eli Lake: “This week, he told me that his source for that information was an intelligence official, not a White House staffer. It turns out, he misled me. The New York Times reported Thursday that Nunes had two sources, and both worked for the White House. This distinction is important because it raises questions about the independence of the congressional investigation Nunes is leading, which may lead to officials at the White House…”

“This is a body blow for Nunes, who presented his findings last week as if they were surprising to the White House. He briefed Trump, after holding a press conference on Capitol Hill. And as he was leaving the White House, he made sure to address the press again. But this was a show. The sources named by the Times work for the president. They are political appointees. It strains credulity to think that Trump would need Nunes to tell him about intelligence reports discovered by people who work in the White House.”

A Weak President Is Dangerous

The Economist: “It is tempting to feel relief that the Trump presidency is a mess. For those who doubt much of his agenda and worry about his lack of respect for institutions, perhaps the best hope is that he accomplishes little. That logic is beguiling, but wrong. After years of gridlock, Washington has work to do. The forthcoming summit with Xi Jinping, China’s president, shows how America is still the indispensable nation. A weak president can be dangerous — picture a trade war, a crisis in the Baltics or conflict on the Korean peninsula.”

Trump Discovers ‘Chaos and Loyalty’ Doesn’t Work

Mike Allen: “President Trump brought his chaos-and-loyalty theory of management into the White House, relying on competing factions, balanced by trusted family members, with himself perched atop as the gut-instinct decider. He now realizes this approach has flopped, and feels baffled and paralyzed by how to fix it, numerous friends and advisers tell us.”

Said one: “Trump is thinking through his frustrations. The team didn’t put the windows in right.”

“The chaos dimension has created far more chaos than anticipated. Come nightfall, Trump is often on the phone with billionaire, decades-long friends, commiserating and critiquing his own staff. His most important advisers are often working the phone themselves, trashing colleagues and either spreading or beating down rumors of turmoil and imminent changes.”

“This has created a toxic culture of intense suspicion and insecurity. The drama is worse than what you read.”

Blaming the Freedom Caucus

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) writes in the New York Times:

As soon as the news broke, the finger-pointing began. Accusations against President Trump and Mr. Ryan flew around Capitol Hill, and headlines proclaimed that this was a major blow to the Republican agenda. My office phones began ringing off the hook. I received emails from supporters and friends dismayed that our most basic promise had already been broken.

From my perspective, however, claiming that the party was in disarray is untrue. A vast majority of us were ready to vote yes, but one faction of the party made it impossible: the House Freedom Caucus. Interesting name for a group of about three dozen members that refuses to let the will of the people advance on the House floor, a group that Mr. Trump himself scolded on Twitter on Thursday for undermining the Republican agenda, and our party as a whole. Perhaps I’m joining the finger-pointing here by blaming the caucus. But I’m fed up. Americans need to understand what happened.

An Invisible Secretary of State

Politico: “Tillerson takes a private elevator to his palatial office on the seventh floor of the State Department building, where sightings of him are rare on the floors below. On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as ‘reading time,’ when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings. Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact. On his first three foreign trips, Tillerson skipped visits with State Department employees and their families, embassy stops that were standard morale-boosters under other secretaries of state.”

“Eight weeks into his tenure as President Trump’s top diplomat, the former ExxonMobil chief executive is isolated, walled off from the State Department’s corps of bureaucrats in Washington and around the world. His distant management style has created growing bewilderment among foreign officials who are struggling to understand where the United States stands on key issues. It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue. And it threatens to undermine the power and reach of the State Department.”

GOP Will Continue Health Subsidies for Low Earners

New York Times: “The decision would be a curious twist for Republicans who have spent seven years battling President Barack Obama’s health law only to fail last week to repeal it. The Republican-led House won a lawsuit accusing the Obama administration of unconstitutionally paying the insurance-company subsidies, since no law formally provided the money.”

“Although that decision is on appeal, President Trump could accept the ruling and stop the subsidy payments, which reduce deductibles and co-payments for seven million low-income people. If the payments stopped, insurers — deprived of billions of dollars — would flee the marketplaces, they say. The implosion that Mr. Trump has repeatedly predicted could be hastened.”

“But senior Republicans appear unwilling to force that outcome.”

Democrats In Trump Districts Keep Their Distance

“The 12 Democrats who represent House districts won by Donald Trump were supposed to be easy marks for the deal-making new president. Instead, they’re giving him the stiff-arm,” Politico reports.

“After last week’s collapse of the GOP effort to scrap Obamacare — fueled partly by resistance from conservative House hard-liners — Trump and his allies have hinted that outreach to Democrats may soon be on the way. But Trump’s polarizing agenda and early stumbles have stiffened the resolve of moderate Democrats once spooked by his success in their districts.”

James Comey’s Secret Twitter Account Found

Gizmodo: “There is only one person currently following the account: Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare…  a personal friend of James Comey… ProjectExile7 follows 27 other accounts, the majority of which are either reporters, news outlets, or official government and law enforcement accounts.”

“And of the 39 total tweets the account has liked thus far, eight refer directly to the FBI or James Comey himself.”

Trump’s Approval Continues to Suffer

Politico: “Over the past week, six pollsters have released surveys conducted after the failure of the GOP health care bill. And while some show a decline in Trump’s approval rating and others show little change, one thing remains consistent across all of the surveys — more Americans disapprove than approve of Trump. None of the polls show any improvement in perceptions of the president.”

“Trump’s latest approval ratings range between 38 percent and 46 percent. Fifty percent or more of respondents in each of the polls disapprove of his performance.”

The FiveThirtyEight average shows Trump’s approval rate at a dismal 54% to 41%.