We've got a lot to cover today (including Obama's final press conference), so let's just dive right in and try to get through the rest of the week's news in lightning fashion.
On Monday, the Electoral College will meet to chose the nation's next president. Some have held out hope that there will be enough "faithless electors" (or, as they like to say, "Hamilton electors") to deny Donald Trump the presidency. Color us skeptical, because we don't think they're going to actually do so, personally.
Trump's transition team rolls merrily along in the meantime, as Trump announced that Rick Perry will be the new "Secretary of Oops." Until he can reliably remember the Department of Energy's name, that's what we'll be calling him.
Trump reportedly just wanted to "torture" Mitt Romney by dangling the Secretary of State job in front of him, in an effort to goad Mitt into a public apology for saying mean things about Trump in the past. Mitt reportedly refused, which is no real surprise since that book he wrote was actually titled No Apology. Then Trump twisted the knife not just by appointing Rex Tillerson but also handing the chairmanship of the R.N.C. to Mitt's niece, who had supported Trump's campaign. Oh, that's gotta hurt!
Speaking of relatives, Trump's offspring sat in on a meeting with all the tech giants (except for the Twitter head who had refused Trump's request for a "Crooked Hillary" emoji, of course). These are the same kids Trump is going to turn his business over to, mind you. At least, that's what we assume -- since Trump cancelled his press conference this week, which was supposed to address his conflict-of-interest problems.
Overall conclusion: the swamp's not getting drained, it's getting deeper and murkier all the time.
Republican senators are feeling a little feisty, and a few of them are standing up to Trump's picks. Rand Paul led this off last Sunday when he stated unequivocally that he would never vote to confirm John Bolton to any post, seeing as how Bolton still thinks the Iraq War was a dandy idea. Bob Corker also weighed in with his own "misgivings" on Bolton. Bolton's not the only one, either -- there may be a big battle over Tillerson's confirmation, as at least a few Republican senators remember that their party used to hate Russia with a passion, not so long ago. Marco Rubio said he was skeptical, and is reportedly getting the full-court press to change his mind, led by none other than Dick Cheney. Lindsey Graham also has his doubts about Tillerson. No word yet from John McCain, but Graham did win the "most amusing comment of the week" award for his reaction to Trump refusing to admit Russia hacked the election: "If it was a 400 pound guy, it was a 400 pound Russian guy."
In other Republican news, the guy who redesigned his House office to resemble Downton Abbey just got arraigned on corruption charges. [Please, insert your own joke here, in the most upper-crusty British accent you can manage.]
Down in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are so upset that a Democrat won the governor's race that they convened an emergency session to essentially strip the governor's office of as much power as they could. This is being called a "coup" by Democrats, and they certainly have a point. Here's what the Republicans are up to, point by point:
The bills Republicans are pushing through the legislature would, among other things, cut the number of appointments the governor can make by 80 percent; make his cabinet appointments subject to state senate confirmation; transfer authority for the state board of education from the governor to the superintendent (a Republican ousted a Democrat this year in the election for that seat); move the authority to appoint trustees of the University of North Carolina from the governor to the legislature; and dilute the governor’s control over the state board of elections and mandate that the board will be chaired by a Democrat in odd-numbered years (when there are no elections) and a Republican in even-numbered years (when there are elections).
Over on the Democratic side of things, President Obama gave his final press conference today, but we've more than covered that down in the talking points, so we merely mention it in passing. Obamacare signups are proceeding apace, it was also announced.
Some Democratic state attorneys general are already chomping at the bit to sue Trump's administration, it seems:
If the Trump administration withdraws from environmental, antitrust or financial regulations, the attorneys general say they will plug regulatory holes that may gape wide open, deploying state laws like New York's Martin Act, which allows the state attorney general to pursue wide-ranging investigations on Wall Street. They have pledged to defend undocumented immigrants, and to combat hate crimes.... And if Mr. Trump's policies veer toward the unconstitutional, several of the 10 current and incoming Democratic attorneys general interviewed recently said they would apply a remedy favored by Mr. Trump himself: a lawsuit.
Climate change scientists, meanwhile, are privately backing up their research data in fears the incoming administration will just purge any data it doesn't ideologically approve of. Although there was one positive bit of news on this front: the Trump transition team actually backed off on its witch-hunt questionnaire seeking to identify federal employees who support climate change research. The team disavowed the questionnaire and said it had disciplined whoever sent it out.
The Democratic National Committee chair race is heating up, with the entry of Tom Perez into the race (facing challenger Keith Ellison and two candidates from the state level). This has already been pitched as a "Bernie Sanders versus Hillary Clinton supporters" battle, but it might actually be more of a "Obama supporters versus Sanders supporters" type of thing. We'll see. Perez is pretty progressive, so ideologically the contest isn't as divided as some in the media are trying to make it sound.
Meanwhile, jockeying has already begun (if you believe these particular tea leaves) for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Traditionally, presidential candidates are expected to have some foreign policy experience (at least, among sane political parties), which is why the following Senate committee shifts may be notable: Cory Booker is moving from the Homeland Security Committee to the Foreign Relations Committee, while Elizabeth Warren has joined the Armed Services Committee. Make of it what you will.
In the 2016 election, two bits of rehash are currently in the news, both of which we would file under "too little, too late" or perhaps "securing the Hell out of the barn doors, after the livestock is already in the next freakin' county." First, Facebook announced it will now be filtering for fake news items. Gosh, think that might have influenced the election? Second was the Obama administration itself, who NBC reported failed to respond to the Russia election hack because of the following three reasons:
They didn't want to appear to be interfering in the election, they thought Clinton was going to win, and they thought a potential cyber war with Moscow was "not worth it." "They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road," said one U.S. official.
Hindsight is 20/20. Or, perhaps, 2020 (one hopes).
Since it's the end of the year, we're getting all the best-of lists in review. The Washington Post "Fact-Checker" column posted their list of the 12 biggest lies of the year, while Pamela Meyer at Huffington Post offered up her own list of 10.
In marijuana news, Colorado announced that weed sales had topped one billion dollars for the year, while weed became legal (to grow and possess, but not to sell openly for another year) in Massachusetts for the first time in over a century. The Boston Globe heralded the event's historical significance:
It was 1911. The New England Watch and Ward Society (née the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice) was battling against drugs and other "special evils." And in April of that year, the group's leaders successfully petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature to outlaw possession of several "hypnotic drugs," including cannabis.
One hundred five years, seven months, and 16 days later -- Thursday -- marijuana became legal again in Massachusetts.
Hey, at least they didn't dump a bunch of it in a harbor or anything. Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Agency reaffirmed the fact that they still essentially hold the same antediluvian viewpoint as was held in 1911, by posting a confirmation that oils and extracts are still treated the same as all other cannabis products -- which used the archaic spelling "marihuana" throughout. What century are these folks living in, really?
To end on an amusing note, no matter what you think of Donald Trump, at least he hasn't posed recently with a blow-up sex doll. As the article (yes, with photos) points out:
Chileans are in an uproar over a Cabinet minister being given an inflatable sex doll with a note saying "to stimulate the economy" taped over its mouth.
The furor erupted after photos of Economy Minister Luis Cespedes posing with the blow-up doll circulated on social media.
As Beavis and Butthead might have put it: "Heh heh... heh... he said stimulate... heh heh." Hey, at least one other country has their own misogynistic and juvenile leaders, for whatever comfort that is worth.
Barack Obama was pretty impressive during his final press conference, but we're covering that down in the talking points. Instead, we're going to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to John Podesta, who is fast becoming the leading voice denouncing not just the Russian hacking, but also the F.B.I.'s laxity in investigating it.
Podesta made his case in a scathing and extraordinary op-ed written for the Washington Post, and will reportedly appear on at least one Sunday morning show to make his case (NBC's Meet The Press).
Podesta was, of course, the person most personally affected by the hack, and had to see all his emails exposed by WikiLeaks during the campaign. But, as he points out, the difference between the F.B.I.'s handling of Hillary Clinton's email server and the Russian case was rather notable:
What takes this from baffling to downright infuriating is that at nearly the exact same time that no one at the F.B.I. could be bothered to drive 10 minutes to raise the alarm at D.N.C. headquarters, two agents accompanied by attorneys from the Justice Department were in Denver visiting a tech firm that had helped maintain [Hillary] Clinton's email server.
This trip was part of what F.B.I. Director James B. Comey described as a "painstaking" investigation of Clinton's emails, "requiring thousands of hours of effort" from dozens of agents who conducted at least 80 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Of course, as Comey himself concluded, in the end, there was no case; it was not even a close call.
Comparing the F.B.I.'s massive response to the overblown email scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the F.B.I.
Comey justified his handling of the email case by citing "intense public interest." He felt so strongly that he broke long-established precedent and disregarded strong guidance from the Justice Department with his infamous letter just 11 days before the election. Yet he refused to join the rest of the intelligence community in a statement about the Russian cyberattack because he reportedly didn't want to appear "political." And both before and after the election, the F.B.I. has refused to say whether it is investigating Trump's ties to Russia.
The entire article is in this vein, and is well worth reading. Podesta really has nothing to lose at this point by making the case that Comey is way too political and put a rather hefty thumb on the scale of the election, so you can bet we'll be watching him this Sunday morning.
For standing up for himself and making his case in such a clear and convincing fashion, John Podesta is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[John Podesta is a private citizen, and our blanket policy is not to provide contact information for such people. You can always tune in to Meet The Press this Sunday to see him, though.]
Former House member Chaka Fattah this week was sentenced to 10 years of federal prison on corruption and bribery charges this week. If the Washington Post is right, this represents the second-longest sentence ever handed down to a member of Congress (the longest was the 13-year sentence given to Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson).
That, sadly, is really all that needs to be said to qualify Fattah for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Chaka Fattah is no longer a member of Congress, and it is our policy not to provide contact info for private citizens (even if they are in jail).]
Volume 419 (12/16/16)
Before we get started with the talking points, we have a program announcement to take care of first. This will be the final FTP column of the year. This is due to the next two Fridays being pre-empted by our year-end awards columns, where we hand out awards left and right, as always. Yesterday's column opened the field to nominations, so if you've got someone in mind for one of the awards, head over and suggest it in the comments. Regular FTP columns (starting off with Volume 420, which should be interesting...) will resume on the first Friday in January.
Our talking points for this final 2016 column all come from President Barack Obama's press conference today -- the last one he will give as president. Because it is the last time he'll face the press is such a situation, he took the opportunity to make the case for his own legacy. Our first five talking points come from this preamble, to remind people where we were eight years ago versus where we are today (all of these were taken from the presser's transcript, if you'd like to read the whole thing).
Obama joked about this, later on in the press conference, when a reporter began with "Two questions on where all this leaves us." Obama quipped: "Where my presidency leaves us? It leaves us in a really good spot!"
The last two talking points are longer and more focused on two specific political issues, and are presented out of order (Obama actually answered the Russia one last). Obama, when asked about Russian hacking, took the opportunity to marvel at the shift in Republican thinking towards Russia in the past few months. We included this because we've been using that line about Reagan spinning in his grave for about a week now ourselves, and Obama certainly put it better than we could hope to.
And the final talking point came when Obama was asked where the Democratic Party goes from here. While Obama had warm words for the bid launched by Tom Perez to chair the D.N.C., he didn't openly back any candidate, but he did have some thoughts on where the party should focus its efforts, where he actually sounded a lot like Howard Dean, even though Dean has taken himself out of the running for the job. It's a valuable quote to close on, and we sincerely hope Democrats take it to heart next year and beyond.
And finally, we'll close as Obama did, by wishing everyone Mele Kalikimaka! (and see you next year!)
Then and now
Obama began extolling his legacy by pointing out some rather impressive economic numbers.
As I was preparing to take office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 percent. Today it is at 4.6 percent, the lowest in nearly a decade. We've seen the longest streak of job growth on record, and wages have grown faster over the past few years than at any time in the past 40.
Obamacare is a success
Obama (of course) defended the record of his namesake legislation.
When I came into office, 44 million people were uninsured. Today we have covered more than 20 million of them. For the first time in our history, more than 90 percent of Americans are insured.
In fact, yesterday was the biggest day ever for healthcare.gov, more than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day.
. . .
Since I signed Obamacare into law, our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs, and the economy undoubtedly more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money.
Things are better all over
Obama really does have a historically impressive track record, on all sorts of issues.
We've cut our dependence on foreign oil by more than half, doubled production of renewable energy, enacted the most sweeping reforms since F.D.R. to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from punishing main street ever again.
Nuts to the naysayers!
We have no idea why Obama (and Democrats in general) has never made the impressive scale of the recovery a major issue. Every single thing he tried was derided by Republicans with apocalyptic doom-and-gloom scenarios. None of them came true.
None of these actions stifled growth as critics are predicted. Instead, the stock market has nearly tripled.
Oh, and we cut the deficit by two-thirds
Again, an issue that neither Obama nor the Democrats have touted loudly enough.
Add it all up, and last year the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost 50 years, while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. In fact, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top.
And we have done all this while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds, and protecting vital investments that grow the middle class.
Reagan would roll over in his grave
We're glad it's not just us who are a little baffled at Republicans' new-found love of Russia. Remember the Cold War? And the party that made mountains of political hay over red-baiting? We do.
So, this is one of those situations where, unless the American people genuinely think that the professionals in the C.I.A., the F.B.I., our entire intelligence infrastructure, many of whom -- by the way, served in previous administrations and who are Republicans -- are less trustworthy than the Russians. Then people should pay attention to what our intelligence agencies say.
. . .
And what I worry about -- more than anything -- is the degree to which because of the fierceness because of the partisan battle, you start to see certain folks in the Republican Party and Republican voters suddenly finding a government and individuals who stand contrary to everything that we stand for as being OK, because that's how much we dislike Democrats.
I mean, think about it. Some of the people who historically have been very critical of me for engaging with the Russians and having conversations with them, also endorsed the president-elect, even as he was saying that we should stop sanctioning Russia and being tough on them and work together with them against our common enemies.
It was very complimentary of Mr. Putin personally. Now that -- that wasn't news. The president-elect during the campaign said so. And some folks who had made a career out of being anti-Russian didn't say anything about it. And then after the election, suddenly they're asking: "Oh, why didn't you tell us that maybe the Russians were trying to help our candidate?" Well, come on.
There was a survey some of you saw where -- not just this one poll, but pretty credible source, 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the K.G.B. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave. And how did that happen? It happened in part because for too long, everything that happens in this town, everything that's said is seen through the lens of does this help or hurt us relative to Democrats or relative to President Obama. And unless that changes, we're going to continue to be vulnerable to foreign influence because we've lost track of what it is that we're about and what we stand for.
Where Democrats should go from here
And finally, Obama had some sage advice for the party as a whole, echoing Howard Dean's "50-state strategy."
And where Democrats are characterized as coastal, liberal, latte-sipping, you know, politically correct, out-of-touch folks, we have to be in those communities. And I've seen that, when we are in those communities, it makes a difference. That's how I became president. I became a U.S. Senator not just because I had a strong base in Chicago, but because I was driving downstate Illinois and going to fish fries and sitting in V.F.W. Halls and talking to farmers.
And I didn't win every one of their votes, but they got a sense of what I was talking about, what I cared about, that I was for working people, that I was for the middle class, that the reason I was interested in strengthening unions and raising the minimum wage and rebuilding our infrastructure and making sure that parents had decent childcare and family leave, was because my own family's history wasn't that different from theirs even if I looked a little bit different. Same thing in Iowa.
And so the question is, how do we rebuild that party as a whole, so that there's not a county in any state -- I don't care how red -- where we don't have a presence and we're not making the argument, because I think we have a better argument. But that requires a lot of work. You know, it's been something that I've been able to do successfully in my own campaigns.
-- Chris Weigant