Playing The Shutdown Game

[ Posted Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 – 18:09 PST ]

As Congress returns to Washington, the question on everyone's mind is whether the federal government will shut down Friday night or whether some sort of deal (whether long or short term) can be agreed to at the last minute. As of this writing, it's impossible to tell what the outcome will be, but then that is the very nature of such games of brinksmanship. If there wasn't an edge to be close to, then there wouldn't be any threat, to put it another way.

While the Republicans control the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House, they do not have big enough majorities to just pass whatever they want without Democratic input. They will need at least nine Senate Democrats to agree with any plan for it to successfully pass. This gives Democrats some major leverage in the negotiations.

Will the Democrats play hardball and demand that a DACA fix pass before any budget extension can be voted on? If so, it could indeed lead to a shutdown. So far, the Democratic leadership has shied away from making this demand explicit, although many rank-and-file Democrats in both the House and Senate have already sworn they will not vote on a budget bill until DACA is fixed. But no accurate whip count seems to exist as to how many of them feel that strongly. I did hear one Democrat proclaim that "a majority of the Democratic caucus" had taken this stand, but that may not be enough to block a last-minute deal.

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

[ Posted Monday, January 15th, 2018 – 18:26 PST ]

[After last week, it seems we've got a long way still to go to get to the point where "all men are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin," to put it mildly. But I've always felt that the best way to observe Martin Luther King Junior Day is to listen to his words -- and not just the words from his most famous speech. King had a lot to say on a lot of subjects -- war and peace, nonviolence, injustice of all kinds, institutionalized racism, and economic inequality. Limiting him to one soaring "I have a dream" speech ignores a huge part of his true legacy. So instead, I offer up one of my favorite King transcripts, his acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Giving King the prize was incredibly controversial at the time (as hard as it is to realize this today), and even led J. Edgar Hoover to try to blackmail King into committing suicide before he could accept the award (this is historical fact, and a lot of American tax dollars were spent in service to Hoover's hatred of King). Times have changed, but racism still rears its ugly head in the highest reaches of our government, so we obviously still have a long way to go in this regard. Hope everyone had a thoughtful Martin Luther King Junior Day this year.]

-- Chris Weigant


December 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when twenty-two million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award in behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

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Friday Talking Points [467] -- Our Racist President

[ Posted Friday, January 12th, 2018 – 18:17 PST ]

The mainstream media crossed two cultural lines this week, in reaction to one of the most offensive things any American president has ever been caught saying. The first line crossed was to overrule the censors. Standards and practices can't complain when a word used on the news is a direct quote from the president, after all. That would be censorship of a different (and darker) type. Still, last night we were rather surprised to here a reporter on the evening NBC news broadcast actually use the word "shithole." No bleeping, no asterisks, just: here is what the president called some African countries. On broadcast (i.e., non-cable) television, at 5:30 P.M. (not some late-night broadcast, in other words). That is a first in America, to be sure. The Washington Post used Trump's unexpurgated, unbowdlerized quote in so many headlines today it was tough to keep an accurate count.

The second line crossed in the media is that it is now absolutely impossible for honest reporters to deny a basic fact about Donald Trump. He might have gotten away with some lame explanation of "what he really meant" if he hadn't brought up Norway, which made such revisionism all but impossible. Here is how CNN anchor Don Lemon began his show last night:

This is CNN Tonight, I'm Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist. A lot of us already knew that.

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Democrats Looking Good For House Midterms

[ Posted Thursday, January 11th, 2018 – 17:44 PST ]

Republican Representatives Darrell Issa and Ed Royce both announced this week that they will not be running for re-election in their California House districts. This brings the number of such announced GOP retirements nationwide to 32 for this midterm election cycle. As CNN has been tracking, this is an extraordinarily high number of retirements for so early in the campaign season. As filing deadlines approach, that number will doubtlessly go even higher. Comparatively, only 16 House Democrats have announced their retirement. This is just one indicator, but it shows Democrats well-positioned to make gains in the House races this November.

Of course, none of these races is guaranteed to go Democrats' way. But it remains a fact that it is a lot easier to flip a seat in an open race than it is to unseat an incumbent running for re-election. And so far, Democrats have twice the opportunities for doing so than Republicans.

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Media Giving Trump A Pass On Lack Of Press Conferences

[ Posted Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 – 18:02 PST ]

Why is the White House press corps giving such a giant pass to Donald Trump for his lack of solo press conferences? We are days away from marking his first year in office and in all of that time, Trump has only held one formal solo press conference -- a whopping 328 days ago, on February 16. And yet there is nary a peep from the press corps about this remarkable lack. Previously, when presidents have stiff-armed the press for months on end, news organizations begin running countdown clocks (technically, they're actually count-up clocks) showing how many days and months it has been since the last presidential presser. Haven't seen anything like that this time, though.

Even giving Trump a slight break on the definition doesn't improve the situation much. On two occasions since that February press conference, Trump has essentially hijacked what were supposed to be short announcements with others and transmogrified them into solo press conferences. The first of these was in August, when Trump appeared in Trump Tower for what was supposed to be a boring announcement on infrastructure. Trump took over and answered questions himself for a long stretch of time, qualifying it as a press conference in all but formal name. The second time Trump did this was after a lunch with Mitch McConnell, where they were supposed to give a short "everything's hunky-dory" statement to the press. Again, Trump took the reins and turned it into a de facto solo presser. This was on October 16, which was 86 days ago.

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A Face-Saving Border Wall Compromise Everyone Could Live With

[ Posted Tuesday, January 9th, 2018 – 17:43 PST ]

President Trump sat down today with the Democratic and Republican congressional leadership, in an attempt to hash out a compromise on immigration (specifically, the DACA program that Trump suspended). The larger budget negotiations may hinge on getting such a deal, but at this point the two sides are pretty far apart. Where Trump stands on the issue is pretty clear, which is to say he just wants to sign something and doesn't really care what's in it. This was evidenced by him appearing to agree with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer about the need for a "clean DACA" bill in the negotiations, only to be yanked back by the Republicans in the room who want a whole lot more than a clean DACA bill. But it's obvious Trump just wants a bill to sign, no matter what it contains.

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President Oprah?

[ Posted Monday, January 8th, 2018 – 18:43 PST ]

We're officially through the looking glass, folks. I woke up this morning to find not one or two, but four articles on the Washington Post website speculating about the possibility of Oprah Winfrey running for president. Apparently she gave a zinger of a speech last night while accepting a lifetime Golden Globe award, which sparked all the buzz. So I am forced to consider the idea myself: President Oprah?

Would Oprah Winfrey run? That's a huge question right there, and one that so far has no definitive answer. She has said she isn't thinking about running, but then again that sort of decision can be made anytime before the campaign begins. Could she win the Democratic Party nomination? That also remains to be seen, and would depend a lot on who else was running. Could she win the general election? That would depend on whether Donald Trump was on the Republican ticket, in large part.

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Friday Talking Points [466] -- The Wolff Who Cried "Boy!"

[ Posted Friday, January 5th, 2018 – 18:46 PST ]

Welcome back to the weekly political roundup that is Friday Talking Points! We've been on hiatus for the past two weeks, for our annual two-part year-end awards columns (Part 1 and Part 2, in case anyone missed them). So... anything happen while we were away?

Of course it did! Donald Trump played golf for something like a week and a half straight, bringing his total for the year to 91 days spent at one of his own golf resorts. This prompted an amusing reaction from George W. Bush's former chief strategist, Matthew Dowd: "I have a question for the Trump fan club who applauded every time he said Obama played too much golf. if that was a problem, why is it ok that Trump in less than a year has played more golf than Obama did in eight years as President?" Why, indeed. Why was Barack Obama's golfing a serious media story when pretty much every single president has played golf going back to the real aficionados of the sport (Gerald Ford and Dwight Eisenhower, to name two)? Could there be just one thing different between Barack Obama and all other presidents who played golf before him, hmmm? I wonder what that difference could be -- especially now that Donald Trump, another white man, is getting a free pass on the insane amount of time he spends on the golf course.

What's that you say? Trump's golfing wasn't the big story this week? There was, in fact a Wolff at the door, and nobody's certain yet whether Trump lives in a house built of straw(men) or brick (as in: "thick as a...")?

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Sessions Orders Tide To Turn Back

[ Posted Thursday, January 4th, 2018 – 18:59 PST ]

While I do realize there are all kinds of things happening in the political world right now -- not least among them the juicy slugfest between Steve Bannon and Donald Trump -- all of that is going to have to wait for another day (which is to say, tomorrow's column). Instead, I feel compelled to again write about the same subject I wrote about yesterday. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to have cast himself into the role of King Canute, desperately ordering the incoming tide to halt and turn back. This didn't work out so well for Canute, and it is not going to work for Sessions, either.

I'm speaking, of course, of the news today that Sessions has overturned the Obama Justice Department's "live and let live" rules on prosecuting marijuana laws in states which have instituted their own laws, in protest of the irrationality of current federal law on the subject. To be blunt, Sessions is picking a fight he is going to lose. The only real question is how much political blowback he causes before he (and/or Donald Trump) realize what a mistake it is.

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A Day Of Liberation In The Golden State

[ Posted Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 – 19:21 PST ]

For the third day in a row, marijuana is legally available for both purchase and consumption in California, for purely recreational purposes, to any adult age 21 or older. Also, for the third day in a row: the sky did not fall, the sun still rose in the east, and people are not rioting in the streets. Astonishingly, it turned out to be only an acorn that beaned Chicken Little, and none of the dire hellscapes predicted -- for almost a century -- by the government, the Puritans, and the likes of Nancy Reagan has yet come to pass. It's just another day, in fact, little different from all the tens of thousands of days when marijuana was prohibited.

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