Trump Blinks

[ Posted Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 – 17:42 PDT ]

Today, Donald Trump signed an executive order to end his own policy of forcing the separation of children from families seeking asylum in America, because his initial position had become so untenable (indeed, downright unbelievable) that his political allies were fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. By this afternoon, there were plenty of other metaphors flying fast and thick: Trump blinked; he waved the white flag; he surrendered; he caved; he backed down; he threw in the towel; he bent to reality. Whichever you choose, the underlying reality is the same: President Donald Trump, in a rare occurrence, was forced today to take an action that proves both he and his aides have been flat-out lying to the American public for days on end. There's just no other way to look at it, and in fact it may be unprecedented for Trump. He's been telling anyone who would listen that he alone could not do anything, and that his hands were tied -- Congress would need to act. Now he has proved himself wrong on that front. He acted, which means he could have done so at any point if he truly had cared about the issue at all. What forced him to act was the overwhelmingly negative and relentless coverage he was receiving in the media, and the flight of his allies in the Republican Party. Today, this all became too much for Trump, so he did what he could have done all along, thus putting the lie to his voluminous statements to the contrary.

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Can House Republicans Explain Political Reality To Trump?

[ Posted Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 – 15:58 PDT ]

I would sincerely love to be a fly on the wall at tonight's summit meeting between President Donald Trump and the House Republicans. By the time you read this, the meeting will likely either be underway or already over, so it remains to be seen how much of what goes on will leak out. Indeed, one hopes for a surreptitious recording to be made public, but one doesn't always get what one hopes for (alas!). But no matter how many of the details leak, I'd be willing to bet that the meeting will be described as "a spirited discussion" by someone in attendance. The phrase will likely become unavoidable, really.

Trump is, once again, living in his own fantasy world. The Republicans are about to explain political reality to him. This likely won't go over very well, since Trump trusts his own instincts above all, and his instincts so far are to continue to redouble his efforts rather than change course in any way. But then again he doesn't have to worry about getting re-elected in four and a half months -- while everyone else in the meeting does.

The "zero tolerance" policy that Jeff Sessions announced -- and that Trump could change at any time he chooses -- is not playing too well in Peoria, to put it mildly. The firestorm surrounding the policy of separating children (down to toddler age) from their parents is raging, and it shows no signs of abating any time soon. It's a wonder that I haven't yet heard a right-wing conspiracy about how Donald Trump is secretly a Democrat, since he really would have had to try pretty hard to come up with an issue that would be more likely to motivate Democratic voters in the midterms. Trump is making life very hard for Republican candidates right now, and the House members (who all have to get elected every two years) are about to explain this fact to him. Or try to, at any rate.

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Dianne Feinstein Leads The Way With "Keep Families Together Act"

[ Posted Monday, June 18th, 2018 – 15:56 PDT ]

Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill in the Senate which would end Donald Trump's cruel policy of separating children from their parents at the border. You might not have heard of this bill, which is in itself a messaging failure of both Feinstein and the rest of the Democrats. Feinstein did not appear on any of the Sunday political shows (at least, that I am aware of), and neither most of the media nor her fellow Democrats who did appear yesterday seem to have been aware of Feinstein's bill. The bill is S.3036, or the "Keep Families Together Act." As of this writing, all the Democrats in the Senate have signed on as cosponsors, but not a single Republican has yet done so.

On Friday, during Trump's impromptu news conference on the front lawn of the White House (which began with a Fox News exclusive interview, naturally), Trump repeated the lie he's been telling frequently: that somehow the Democrats are responsible for his own policy. This is a policy which Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to brag about not so long ago (before all those heartbreaking photos were splashed across the media), but now rather than taking ownership of Trump's own policy, Trump is trying to lay it all at the Democrats' feet. In doing so, he threw down a gauntlet of sorts, saying if Congress did pass a bill specifically banning the child removal policy (Trump's own policy, once again, that he could overturn with one phone call to Sessions), that Trump was ready to sign it on the spot.

Feinstein, to her credit, is taking Trump up on his offer. Her standalone bill only deals with child removal, and not all the rest of the immigration debate. It merely overturns Trump's child removal policy, no more and no less. Some Democrats who did appear yesterday morning also spoke of an effort in the House to put forward a similar bill, specifically targeted at overturning this Draconian policy, so perhaps a companion bill will appear in the House in the next few days. But neither one of these bills is going to move unless people know about them. Democrats have to get the word out, and fast.

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Friday Talking Points [488] -- Suffer The Little Children

[ Posted Friday, June 15th, 2018 – 18:20 PDT ]

Fox News unwittingly (how else?) spoke a deep truth this week. Or perhaps a deep fantasy -- it's tough to tell, coming from Fox anchors. As President Trump descended the stairs from Air Force One in Singapore, Fox And Friends gushed: "This is history. Regardless of what happens in that meeting between the two dictators, what we are seeing right now -- this is history." Um... how many dictators was that, again? The host later tried to walk back her unintentional gaffe, but is it really all that far off the mark?

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Trump's Legal Woes Multiply

[ Posted Thursday, June 14th, 2018 – 18:00 PDT ]

President Donald Trump and the media he loves to hate are both consumed today with interpreting the Justice Department Inspector General's report on how the F.B.I. handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 presidential election. I am personally going to avoid this particular fray for now and let the report percolate a bit before commenting upon it, mostly because there is so much other breaking legal news surrounding Trump that I feel is far more relevant and interesting. Long story short, the I.G. report condemns James Comey's public handling of the investigation, and ironically slams Comey for using a private email account to conduct official government business -- the very thing Clinton was being investigated for. What the I.G. report does not do is change either the outcome or the conclusions of the investigation one bit -- in other words, Clinton is the one most vindicated by the report, not Trump. But again, everyone (and their brother) is already chiming in on this discussion, so I'm largely going to take a pass and just sit back and listen to the debate rage.

Instead, there have been developments in the multitude of legal problems the president is still facing which really should be getting more attention than they are (as the I.G. report sucks up all the media oxygen). The first of these was the birthday present the New York attorney general bestowed upon Trump today -- a lawsuit charging massive wrongdoing at the Donald J. Trump Foundation. This is the upshot of a series of newspaper stories that won the Washington Post the Pulitzer Prize, which detailed all sorts of shady doings at Trump's namesake foundation. Trump essentially used the foundation as his own slush fund, such as (in the most egregious violation) dispensing funds to pay off a lawsuit his Mar-A-Lago company had lost, which the foundation wasn't even a party to. Not only Trump himself, but members of his immediate family were also named in this lawsuit, since they all had cushy seats on the foundation's board.

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Three Californias? Don't Hold Your Breath...

[ Posted Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 – 17:25 PDT ]

Primary election season for the 2018 midterms continues apace. Last night, voters in Maine reaffirmed their commitment to their new "ranked-choice" voting system. Two Democrats in Wisconsin proved why Governor Scott Walker was so right to be scared of holding special elections, as two more state-level legislative seat flipped from Republican to Democratic (which makes 44, and counting...). A brothel owner in Nevada won his primary. In Virginia, a man who defended the white supremacists in Charlottesville won the GOP nomination and will take on Senator Tim Kaine. So there's plenty of election news to talk about today. But instead of addressing any of these, I simply have to chime in on the fact that in my home state of California a ballot measure has now qualified for the November ballot which will allow voters to decide whether to support the idea of splitting California into three states or not.

Now, proposals to split up California are nothing new. They've been around for decades, in fact. Geographically, California is huge, even among Western states. It contains the lion's share of the Pacific coast within the contiguous 48 states. It contains beaches, endless forests (including giant trees), spectacular mountains (including volcanoes), stunning National Parks, abundant farmland, enormous deserts, big cities, lakes, rivers, and even tectonic fault lines for extra excitement. There's a lot to California, meaning it's not ridiculous to consider whether it has enough land for three whole states.

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Trump's Second Presser

[ Posted Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 – 17:02 PDT ]

Very early this morning (American time), President Donald Trump did something he's only done once before as president: he held a formal solo press conference. It has been almost 500 days since his last one, which he gave during his first month in office. This is rather extraordinary, considering that if any other president had gone such a long time without formally speaking to them there would have been an enormous outcry from the press. It's always been somewhat of a mystery to me why this hasn't happened with Trump, personally. But now Trump has finally given his second solo press conference, so I guess we can expect the next one in another year and a half.

Maybe that's being too snarky. Trump actually did much better in his second presser than he did in his first. Part of the reason for this is that almost the entire press conference dealt with a single subject, which was pretty much as designed. Whenever a U.S. president meets with a foreign power, they normally hold a joint press conference at the end of it, but obviously a dictator like Kim Jong Un cares nothing for the free press, so Trump was left to hold the presser on his own.

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Blame Canada!

[ Posted Monday, June 11th, 2018 – 16:29 PDT ]

Donald Trump has apparently decided to take the advice of that impressive fount of political wisdom, South Park. It's hard to come to any other conclusion, really, when you recall that one of the songs from their first big movie (a song nominated for an Academy Award, no less) was titled: "Blame Canada." President Trump was obviously inspired by the lyrics: "With all their beady little eyes / And flapping heads so full of lies," when he began his tweetstorm against Justin Trudeau after Trump left the G-7 meeting early.

Satire-becoming-reality aside, though, it's worth pondering exactly what led to this episode in how not to conduct international relations with longtime allies. Because I have a sneaking suspicion that what lies at its heart is a false worldview crashing into the brick wall of reality. And that can be a very dangerous thing.

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Friday Talking Points [487] -- Trump Hands Democrats Enormous Midterm Gift

[ Posted Friday, June 8th, 2018 – 18:08 PDT ]

As usual, there was a whole lot of political news this week, as President Trump continues to flail his way around the world in multiple unhinged ways. But this week, our eye was caught by the story that the Trump Justice Department has announced it is now conspiring to hand Democrats the midterm elections. Maybe Trump should appoint a special prosecutor to look into or something?

Snark aside, here's what is going on. Traditionally, the Justice Department is charged with defending federal laws in court. Whether the current administration agrees with the laws on the books or not, it's a rule of thumb that they defend them to the hilt in court. Otherwise they'd just be cherry-picking which laws should be followed and which should not.

Which is exactly what the Trump administration is now trying to do. They are refusing to defend specific provisions of Obamacare in court, because they hate it so very, very much. The problem for Republicans is that the two provisions that will now no longer be legally defended are that insurance companies have to offer health insurance to everyone without regard to pre-existing conditions, and that they cannot take pre-existing conditions into account when setting their prices for any individual.

In other words, two of the most popular parts of Obamacare. Even during the whole "repeal and replace" fiasco in Congress last year, Republicans would desperately claim (from the president on down) that the part of Obamacare that dealt with pre-existing conditions would remain for everyone (even when they knew they were flat-out lying). This was because they all knew first-hand that these provisions were wildly popular with the public. And now, five months before the midterm elections, the Trump administration is trying to destroy the pre-existing condition guarantees.

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Trump Decides To Wing It -- What Could Go Wrong With That?

[ Posted Thursday, June 7th, 2018 – 17:04 PDT ]

President Trump is the ultimate off-the-cuff guy. He has no problem just winging it, on just about any subject under the sun. This week alone, Trump falsely accused Canadians of burning down the White House (they didn't, the British did, over 200 years ago) and reportedly flirted with the idea of just pardoning himself to get rid of all the pesky investigations. He's also decided there will be no formal process for any presidential pardons, other than "a celebrity asks me for one for somebody." Hey, it worked for both Sly Stallone and Kim Kardashian, so why not others? Today, two stories appeared which aren't exactly surprising, but still raised a few eyebrows. The first is that Trump has apparently decided that he doesn't really need a whole lot of briefing for his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, and that all he really needs is the right "attitude." What could possibly go wrong with that plan? We'll see, next Tuesday, one assumes. But the second report was much more detailed, about a briefing supposedly on disaster preparedness that Trump just got from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, because hurricane season has just begun. Someone present recorded the meeting and leaked the recording to the Washington Post and CNN. So far, only excerpts have been released, but it is sincerely to be hoped that a full transcript will eventually become available, so we can all bask in the splendor of a president unchained.

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