Before we launch in to this week's screed, we're going to shamelessly begin with a plug. Yesterday, we published a first-person account of what it was like to protest during Donald Trump's Inauguration weekend. There are some excellent photos of the demonstrations and an inspiring narrative by University of Maryland student Teresa Johnson. We urge everyone to check it out!
Moving right along, we're going to ignore (for a moment) all the shiny distractions that have vomited forth from the White House this week, and instead attempt to draw attention to an aspect of Donald Trump's Muslim ban that few in the media seem to be noticing. [We should add an editorial aside here: Yes, our editorial policy from now on will be to use Donald Trump's own language in the term "Muslim ban." Sean Spicer can insist until he's blue in the face that it's not a Muslim ban, but Trump promised to ban Muslims on the campaign trail, so who are we to argue with the term? Also, to do so would be to succumb to political correctness, something Trump loathes. So the Muslim ban will forever (in these pages) be the Muslim ban.]
But we digress. Donald Trump's Muslim ban, signed into existence as we were writing last week's column, was certainly the biggest story of the week. Spontaneous protests sprang up at international airports across the country as the chaotic implementation made it plain that this executive order just wasn't thought through all that much. Nobody knew what the order did cover and didn't cover, all the way from White House officials down to the border guards who were expected to somehow implement this vague and badly-defined policy. Clarifications had to be issued on a daily basis. The draft of the order simply did not go through any of the normal vetting channels, with some cabinet-level officials only seeing it hours before it was signed. The Trump administration is now starting to resemble (take your pick) either the gang who couldn't shoot straight or the Keystone Kops.
At first, green card holders were stopped at the border, turned around, and sent back. Then there was confusion within the White House whether the order applied to green card holders. Green card holders could individually apply for "waivers" from the order, it was decided upon. In the midst of all this came an order from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Edward Ramotowski, which claimed: "I hereby provisionally revoke all valid nonimmigrant and immigrant visas of nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen."
Later in the week, it was announced that the order didn't actually apply to green card holders, therefore waivers weren't even necessary, and also added a few other exceptions as well:
The Department of Homeland Security announced additional exceptions to the ban on Tuesday, including Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government in positions such as translators. Officials also said the ban does not apply to dual nationals of the seven countries. For example, someone with Syrian and French nationality can enter the U.S. using their French passport.
This was clearly in response to all those media reports of translators who had been in the vetting process for years -- and who finally got an immigrant visa -- only to get the door slammed in their face at the airports. That's fairly bad optics for the White House, considering these people not only risked their own lives to help the United States military out in Iraq, but also risked the lives of their entire families. America promised them sanctuary, and Trump broke that promise.
Now, the Trump administration seems to be furiously backpedaling. Part of the reason is that federal judges are now involved, meaning honest answers must be given under oath. One of these cases was brought by two Yemeni brothers who were not only turned away last Saturday and sent back to Ethiopia, but actually coerced into signing away their green cards before being unceremoniously booted out. Thankfully, we have a system of federal courts to address such governmental actions:
During the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said she was heartened to see the government was working to return the brothers, Tareq and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz, to the United States and reinstate their visas in exchange for dropping their case. The government appears to be attempting a similar case-by-case reprieve across the nation.
Translation: the government knows it screwed up, and is attempt to sweep it all under the rug by promising that the people -- with valid visas -- would now be welcome back in and the visas reinstated, in return for making the Trump administration's federal court embarrassments go away.
The judge also rebuked the government: "This order was issued quite quickly. It's quite clear that not all the thought went into it that should have gone into it. It was chaos." But the most interesting thing to come out of the courthouse was how vast the number of people affected actually is. Contrary to what Donald Trump and all his spokesfolk have been insisting, "109 people" were not the only ones affected -- that was merely the number detained at airports on the first day of implementation. The real number?
Over 100,000 visas have been revoked as a result of President Trump's ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an attorney for the government asserted in Alexandria, Va. federal court Friday.
. . .
That figure was immediately disputed by the State Department, which said the number of visas revoked was roughly 60,000. A spokeswoman said the revocation has no impact on the legal status of people already in the United States. If those people leave the United States, though, their visas would no longer be valid.
Initial estimates were that 90,000 people were affected, comfortably in the middle of those two figures.
But here's where we get to the big story everyone in the media seems to be missing. When Republicans used to speak of immigration, they would swear up and down that they were only against illegal immigration. They fully supported people who had "followed the rules and immigrated legally." Fully!
What's getting lost in the coverage of Trump's Muslim ban, however, is that his first action against immigration was targeted solely towards legal immigrants. Fully legal. One hundred percent. Green card holders. People with refugee visas -- fully vetted in a process that can take years. People with tourist visas -- also fully vetted (although not technically "immigrants").
Trump himself is a little unclear on the concept, as evidenced by his confusion after speaking with the head of the Australian government. Trump was pressed on whether he would honor an agreement President Obama had reached with the Aussies, to take in -- legally, as refugees -- half of the 2,500 people Australia was currently holding, or 1,250 refugees. Trump referenced these people (in a tweet, naturally) as "thousands" of "illegal immigrants." This is just flat-out incorrect. Refugees -- who aren't even here yet -- are not "illegal immigrants" in any way, shape, or form.
Another possible dot to connect was leaked this week as well. Trump's next possible executive action on immigration would deal, again, only with legal immigrants. Trump is contemplating whether to order that any fully legal immigrant who was receiving public assistance of any type to be targeted for deportation. Illegal immigrants are already barred from getting any aid, so this would be targeted only at legal immigrants. Also, the order would instruct immigration officials to try to determine which prospective legal immigrant might wind up on public assistance, and deny them papers. Trump is also reportedly considering what to do about the H1-B visa program, which allows skilled workers (such as computer programmers) to legally work in America.
In contrast to all this fevered activity on restricting legal immigration, Trump has so far been completely silent on undocumented immigrants. He made some rather breathtaking promises on the campaign trail, about how he'd send all 11 million of them home (later watered down to immediately sending all the "bad hombres" home). He also promised to end the DACA program, which affects "DREAMers" -- people who were brought to this country as children. But, so far, not a peep on what Trump is going to do about DACA. Or his promised "deportation force" for the 11 million.
Why isn't the media noticing this rather large disconnect? We have no idea. Trump forcefully promised to deal with all those millions of undocumented people in this country, over and over again while running for president. Now that he's taken office, it is becoming obvious that what is much more important to the Trump administration is to severely restrict legal immigration. Every Republican officeholder who has ever been quoted strongly denying they were "anti-immigrant" and loudly proclaiming their support for those who "followed the law and stood in line" -- and that means just about every prominent Republican politician, we should point out -- should now be asked about the Trump administration's disconnect with their stated position. Why are legal immigrants the first ones to be targeted? Why has Trump not followed through on any of his promises about undocumented immigrants, while focusing solely on those who did follow the rules?
Important questions we are waiting for someone to ask. Inquiring minds want to know.
As is becoming usual, so much else was happening in politics this week that we're going to have to deal with it all in whirlwind fashion. So hold onto your hats, here we go.
Donald Trump is also on the attack against Dodd-Frank, because as we all know, he promised over and over again on the campaign trail to be Wall Street's best friend and give the little guy less and less control over how the big banks screw them over. Yeah, sure... everyone remembers that Trump promise, right?
Trump also signaled his approval for Congress to get rid of an Obama rule which would have taken into account whether a person had been formally classified as too mentally incompetent to handle their own finances when they want to purchase a gun. Because, you know, what could possibly go wrong with allowing such people as many guns as they desire?
Also in the "what could possibly go wrong" file, Trump just tapped a woman for the post of Deputy C.I.A. Director who had previously run one of the C.I.A.'s "black site" prisons. No red flags there, folks!
Sean Spicer had a pointed message for anyone at the State Department who found themselves in disagreement with Donald Trump -- "get with the program or go." No authoritarian worries there, mate!
That last sentence was a blatant attempt at a segue into the story of Trump getting testy with the leader of Australia, which (astonishingly) was almost immediately leaked to the media. Later, Trump aides tried to brush off the embarrassing international incident as merely Trump being tired after a long day. So maybe he should be getting more sleep and not tweeting so much in the wee hours? Just a thought.
And a final Trump note, speaking to all the black people he knows (it was a small meeting), Trump tried to riff on what a great guy that Frederick Douglass is. Is? Trump seems to think ol' Fred's still alive and doing great work... at whatever it is that he does. Perhaps Ben Carson should have a little talk with Trump about Douglass? Just a thought....
We're going to end this already-too-long intro with two bits of good news, albeit with a sad note in between.
The "Grab Your Wallet" movement seems to be growing, as corporations learn how dangerous it is to their bottom line to pander to the Trump administration. Uber was the biggest casualty so far, although Disney and Harley Davidson are also apparently taking note. Oh, and Nordstrom just dropped all their Ivanka Trump merchandise, citing "poor sales" as their reason.
One sad note this week, to follow up on last week's sad note. Two days after Mary Tyler Moore died, the artist who cast the statue of her (as Mary Richards, flinging her hat in the air in a Minneapolis intersection) also died. When her statue was dedicated, sculptor Gwendolyn Gillen said, of the famous Mary Tyler Moore Show character: "She helped break the stereotype of womanhood that our generation grew up believing was our destiny. She was the light breeze that blew through our minds and left us with the feeling that we could do anything we wanted to."
And finally, a feel-good story in the tradition of local news shows everywhere -- an endearing animal story! This week in Washington, Ollie the bobcat decided to take a stroll outside his fenced-in area at the National Zoo. He went on the lam (but not, thankfully, on anybody's actual lamb) for almost three days, but then after the official search for him was ended, he showed up back at the zoo, near the bird enclosure (naturally!). So count us as glad Ollie's safe and sound once again, because Washington's a real jungle to survive in, these days.
This one's pretty easy to call, this week. We do have an Honorable Mention for Nancy Pelosi, for calling Steve Bannon a white supremacist this week (which was the old term, before "alt-right" was coined) -- nothing like speaking truth to power, Nancy!
But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is none other than former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, for speaking some truth to power herself.
Yates was a holdover from the Obama administration, warming the chair at the Justice Department while Jeff Sessions wends his way through the Senate confirmation process. But when she got wind of Trump's Muslim ban, she felt she had to do something drastic. She shot off a memo to all Justice Department lawyers, stating in no uncertain terms:
At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful. Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.
The responsibilities she was speaking of were that the Justice Department must determine whether such orders are "legally defensible" and "consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right."
Well put! All federal officials, of course, take an oath to uphold and support not the whims of the sitting president, but the U.S. Constitution.
President Trump, of course, didn't take this challenge sitting down. He not only immediately fired her, but had to go full Trump tantrum on her in his public announcement, which said she had "betrayed the Department of Justice," and called her "weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration."
Sally Yates thus becomes not only the first high-ranking official to be explicitly fired by Donald Trump, but also the first one to get personally smeared and attacked on the way out the door. We say "only the first" because we fully expect there to be a continuing stream of such firings, over the course of the Trump presidency.
For valiantly standing up for what she believed to be her constitutional duty, for speaking truth directly to Trump, for being, in short, a profile in courage, there was simply no other choice this week than Sally Yates for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
[Sally Yates is now a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for people who are no longer in office.]
While we can't be sure if they even identify as Democrats, we have to condemn the violence at University of California, Berkeley this week. A rabid right-winger was scheduled to speak and a non-violent protest against the event was hijacked by a small group who set fires, lit off fireworks (at police, reportedly), and smashed windows.
Violence definitely gets media attention at protests, but it also is just as counterproductive, since it rarely (if ever) convinces anyone of the righteousness of your cause -- no matter how noble that cause might be.
Aside from hotheaded small-time vandals, however, what was much more important this week was a more widespread approval of corporate ecological vandalism -- Congress voting to strip an Obama regulation aimed at insuring clean water where coal mining takes place (especially mountaintop removal mining, which is just as bad as it sounds). This is an enormous issue to millions of people who live near such mining operations, who see their creeks and streams and rivers turned into nothing short of toxic-waste heavy-metal-laden sewers. Obama tried to change this, and now Congress is voting to overturn such changes. It was to be expected that Republicans would all vote for coal profits over clean water, but, shamefully, the following also happened:
The four Democratic senators who voted to overturn the rule -- Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) -- face reelection in conservative-leaning states next year.
So we're sending out MDDOTW awards to all four. No profiles in courage to be found here, to be brutally honest.
[Contact Senator Joe Donnelly on his Senate contact page, Senator Heidi Heitkamp on her Senate contact page, Senator Joe Manchin on his Senate contact page, and Senator Claire McCaskill on her Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 423 (2/3/17)
Because we spent most of the introduction today ranting about the media's lack of focus on Trump's attack on legal immigration, we've got a lot of diverse subjects to cover in today's talking points. While most are self-explanatory (as usual), because we had an old chart lying around we're going to give the first one a bit of context. So here's the background:
When Barack Obama reached his first crossover point in public opinion polling -- where his job approval polling numbers fell "underwater" (more people disapproved of his job than approved) -- we compared his record to his predecessors, and ran the following chart showing Obama's approval and disapproval lines crossing, as well as the point where all previous presidents reached this gloomy milestone (apologies for the lack of labels; the y-axis is the percent approval/disapproval, and the x-axis is months in office):
[Click graph to see larger-scale version]
At the time, we provided data, broken down by how many months in office the first crossover happened, for every president back to Eisenhower:
Eisenhower -- (never)
Kennedy -- (never)
Nixon -- 53 months into his presidency, in June 1973
G.W. Bush -- 40 mo., May '04
Johnson -- 37 mo., Dec. '66 (or 45 mo., Aug. '67)
G.H.W. Bush -- 36 mo., Jan. '92
Obama -- 18 mo., Jul. '10
Carter -- 16 mo., May '78
Reagan -- 15 mo., Apr. '82
Ford -- 5 mo., Jan. '75
Clinton -- 4 mo., May '93
OK, that's enough context. Just wanted to point out our previous chart, to better show what a breathtaking record Donald Trump just set. It'd be hard to even accurately place Trump on that chart, since the scale is measured in months, not days.
Eight days a week
Trump just set a new presidential record. Big league!
"Did you see the Gallup polling data out this week? Donald Trump has become an unpopular president at a breathtaking rate, when measured historically. Bill Clinton enjoyed 573 days in office before his job approval rating measured lower than his job disapproval rating. Ronald Reagan spent almost a full two years in office -- 727 days -- before he reached this crossover point. Barack Obama got close to three years, at 936 days. Both Bushes set very impressive records -- George W. went 1,205 days before this happened, and his dad went a whopping 1,336 days before going underwater in the polls. But Donald Trump set a record that likely will never be broken by any future president -- it only took him eight days in office before the number of people who disapprove of the job he's doing rose above the number who approved. Eight days! It's the shortest presidential 'honeymoon' in history."
That was fast (part 2)
That wasn't the only bad news from the polls this week for Trump.
"A recent PPP poll showed just how deeply the public disapproves of Trump's presidency, so far. He's only been in office two weeks, remember. During his first week in office, over a third of the public -- 35 percent -- wanted to see him impeached. This number actually jumped upwards during his second week in office and now 40 percent of the public wants Trump removed from office. That's four out of every ten Americans, and climbing fast."
Like a broken sieve
This new reality has been astonishing journalists for the past two weeks, and it doesn't seem like it'll be changing any time soon.
"What's extraordinary to me is how much the new Trump administration is already leaking. So many leaks appear in the media on a daily basis that it's hard to keep track. Transcripts of private phone calls with world leaders are made available hours later. Infighting among top administration officials makes it into the newspapers right after it happens. The most astonishing thing is the negative nature of most of these leaks. These aren't officially sanctioned 'run it up the flagpole' types of leaks, these are nothing short of embarrassing evidence that the Trump White House operates in a state of constant chaos. Maybe top Trump advisors are just following Kellyanne Conway's lead, since sometimes the easiest way to get Trump to pay attention to something is to talk about it on Fox News, but I have to say this is the leakiest ship I've seen since the U.S.S. Minnow set sail on its fateful trip."
Bowling Green massacre!
Speaking of Kellyanne, she fell flat on her face this week with one of those "alternative facts."
"One thing I can admit about the Trump administration is that they are proving to be comedy gold. Comedians everywhere had a field day on Twitter after Kellyanne Conway chided the media for not reporting on the entirely-fictional 'Bowling Green massacre,' saying: 'Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered.' Well, um, that's because it didn't happen, Kellyanne. Comedians quickly responded, from: 'Brian Williams won a Purple Heart for his service at the Bowling Green Massacre,' to: 'One still shudders to think how bad the Bowling Green massacre would've been if not for the heroic intervention of Fred Douglass.' In other words, Twitter had a big laugh at Conway's expense. My favorite? 'Finding these Bowling Green Massacre jokes to be a little too soon. Out of respect, we should wait until it takes place.' So the Trump administration is indeed providing job security for one segment of the economy, because comedians will have easy pickings for the next four years."
Repair is the new GOP talking point
"I notice that after Republicans held their retreat and heard from spinmeister Frank Luntz, they're rolling out a new way of talking about the mess they've gotten into over Obamacare. Turns out 'repeal and replace' is a dandy political slogan, but not so operative in real life. Obamacare -- much to Republicans' astonishment -- not only has beneficial parts to it, but coming up with a Republican replacement plan is necessarily going to mean keeping large portions of Obamacare itself, or else throwing millions off their health insurance. So the new talking point is to, quote, repair, unquote, Obamacare. Seems 'repair' poll-tests better with the public than 'repeal' or 'replace' -- especially when it's becoming more and more obvious that the GOP has absolutely nothing to replace it with. So look for the new 'repair' weasel-word coming from a GOP politician near you, folks!"
The people have spoken
The stench of hypocrisy hangs over Senate Republicans like a miasmic swamp-gas fogbank. So point it out!
"For ten months, Senate Republicans held up the nomination of an eminent jurist to serve on the Supreme Court -- an unprecedented bout of obstructionism. Even Robert Bork got an up-or-down vote, but Merrick Garland didn't. 'We have to let the people decide,' Republican senators piously pronounced, in direct contradiction with what the U.S. Constitution lays out as their duty. Now, these senators seem astonished that Democrats are equally as adamant about not confirming Trump's pick. They're the ones who wrote this playbook, so their hypocrisy is notable. You know what? The people did speak. They said they wanted Hillary Clinton to pick the next Supreme Court nominee. So to be true to their own stated high-minded standards, Republican senators should really be demanding that President Trump nominate a justice that Clinton chooses. After all, the people have spoken, right?"
Pray for us all, instead
Arnold Schwarzenegger was not our favorite California governor, by a long shot, but he certainly deserves credit where credit is due this week. When Trump used the national prayer breakfast meeting (!) to make a joke that everyone should pray for Schwarzenegger's ratings as the successor to Trump on The Apprentice, Arnie shot back within hours with a videotaped message that is absolutely priceless:
Hey Donald, I have a great idea. Why don't we switch jobs? You take over TV, because you're such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job -- and then people can finally sleep comfortably again.
-- Chris Weigant