This was supposed to be a good week for Donald Trump. He was going to give a big speech, and he was all set to roll out the 2.0 version of his Muslim ban. As usual in the Trump administration, though, things didn't quite work out as planned.
Trump gave his speech, and because he didn't froth at the mouth or scream at the media, it was deemed his first "presidential" moment. Of course, Trump had offered up a profile in cowardice the morning before his big speech, insisting that the buck not stop anywhere near the Oval Office desk on the botched Yemen raid. First he blamed the generals for "wanting to do" the raid, he tried to blame Barack Obama since the planning "was started before I got here," and then Trump laid all the blame for one soldier's death on "the generals, who are very respected," but who also "lost Ryan." Now just for one moment, imagine what Republicans would say if Hillary Clinton -- or any Democratic president, for that matter -- had said anything even remotely like that. Their indignation would be epic, but when Trump passed this buck, they uttered not a peep.
Later in the evening, Trump would exploit Ryan's widow during his speech, something that may wind up costing him later on, when the full details of the raid become public. Was the crying widow Trump's "Mission Accomplished" moment? We'll just have to wait and see.
As for Trump's speech, we reviewed it ourselves, but think the best headline for anyone's speech review has to go to Al Sharpton, who wrote "Donald Trump: Good Performance. Bad Policy." Or you can check out the baker's dozen of "fake facts" Trump cited during his speech.
After his big night, all Trump thought he was going to have to do was sit back and let the good press roll in. The White House even cleared the decks for this wave of media goodwill, by postponing their signing ceremony for the reworked Muslim ban -- even though a month ago, Trump told us all that any delay would mean putting America at serious risk of attack. We suppose "any delay except for a delay to bask in the good politics from earlier in the week" is what Trump really meant. But instead of good press, what we got was a bombshell story about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and how he had conveniently forgot (under oath, mind you) that he had any conversations with the Russian ambassador. Sessions was finally pressured into recusing himself from any investigation of Russian interference in the election (and collusion with the Trump campaign), even though he really should have recused himself about five minutes after being sworn into office. So those were the big storylines of the week, and Trump's speech was all but forgotten.
By week's end, things had gotten even worse. Not only did protesters chant "Lock him up!" outside of the Sessions press conference, but now it has been revealed by an Indiana paper that Mike Pence not only used a private email for homeland security subjects so sensitive they had to be blacked out, but that his account was hacked. The snarky reaction to this is just beginning, folks:
Well, fancy that. When Mike Pence was debating Tim Kaine and said, "it's important in this moment to remember that Hillary Clinton had a private server in her home that had classified information on it," adding that "her private server was subject to being hacked" and "we could put cybersecurity first if we just make sure the next secretary of state doesn't have a private server," did he consider adding that he knew what he was talking about since he used an AOL account to talk about sensitive security matters and had himself been hacked?
The parallels don't stop there. According to the article, "Pence's office said his campaign hired outside counsel as he was departing as governor to review his AOL emails and transfer any involving public business to the state." Which was exactly what Hillary Clinton did -- and what Pence and Trump so vehemently criticized her for. When Trump invited the Russian government to hack Clinton's email to recover what had been deleted, it was those personal emails he was talking about.
And Pence is not the only one: Scott Pruitt, President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator, not only used a private email account to conduct official business as attorney general of Oklahoma, he lied about it during his confirmation hearings.
Perhaps now that this has come out, Republicans will stop pretending that the email "issue" was anything more than a club to bludgeon Hillary Clinton with. The deep concern they expressed for cybersecurity was utterly insincere.
So we've got three candidates to "lock up" this week -- the head of the E.P.A., the attorney general, and the vice president. Because, you know, the Trump voters will demand the high standards they set for chanting "lock her up" be followed consistently, right? Well, we're not exactly holding our breath in anticipation, to put it mildly.
On another front, it's now Friday afternoon, and there still has been no Muslim ban signing ceremony. Perhaps this is because this time around they're really trying as hard as possible to create something that a federal judge won't laugh out of court, but this effort is reportedly running into some serious problems.
First, they had to significantly water down who was covered. The first leaked draft showed Trump was now going to let in people with green cards and valid visas, and that people who were actually in the air when the ban was signed would still be allowed in when they landed. Then another draft leaked, showing they had dropped Iraq from the list of seven banned countries. Oh, and that there would no longer be special provision given to Christians (over Muslims).
But the bigger news came from other leaks, from the Department of Homeland Security. D.H.S. was apparently tasked with creating a report that was intended to bolster Trump's case that the ban was necessary for national security reasons. The first draft of this document concluded the exact opposite, though: "country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity." Whoops! Back to the drawing board, we suppose. But then the final draft of this document was leaked to Rachel Maddow, and its conclusion was even worse for Trump: "We assess that most foreign-born, U.S-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns." Got that? The radicalization happens here, so no vetting process on the planet (no matter how "extreme") is going to predict such future behavior. The report was partially titled: "Most foreign-born U.S.-based violent extremists radicalized after entering Homeland," just to underscore the point. So not only is the entire rationale for the travel ban not true, but the entire rationale for "extreme vetting" is also nothing more than a Trump fantasy.
Trump has been promising quick action on his treasured Muslim ban, pretty much since those four federal judges ruled against him. For weeks now, the White House has been teasing the new ban, promising over and over again that it would be signed "in a few days." The Wednesday deadline they missed this week was just the latest in a line of such broken promises.
The levels of hypocrisy emanating from the Trump swamp have reached such a level that even one Republican (worried about his own re-election chances) is now calling for a special prosecutor to look into the Russian mess. He's not the only one a little worried, as several prominent Republicans joined the chorus demanding Jeff Sessions recuse himself, before he eventually did.
Being the Trump administration, though, means screwups both big and small. Trump tried to create a photo-op of him meeting with some actual black people (leaders of historically black colleges and universities, or "HCBUs"), but it also turned into a complete fiasco. One of the invitees wasn't impressed at being used as a political prop, and later wrote:
On Friday I learned that I was selected to give remarks today for the meeting at the White House with members of the Trump administration, most notably Secretary Betsy DeVos. We learned this weekend that there would be closing remarks by Vice President Pence, but the goal was for officials from a number of Federal agencies (about 5 were there including OMB) and Secretary DeVos to hear about HBCUs.
That all blew up when the decision was made to take the presidents to the Oval Office to see the President. I'm still processing that entire experience. But needless to say that threw the day off and there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today -- we were only given about 2 minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about 7 of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today.
This was after Betsy DeVos tried to dramatically rewrite history, claiming that the creation of HCBUs was all about "school choice" (one of her pet projects), and not about racism and being denied entry into any other colleges or universities, mind you. The whole meeting was damage control from the start, morphed into a photo-op so short nobody got to tell Trump any detailed information, and then was absolutely torpedoed by Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office (which is the photo op that will be remembered from the meeting). A fiasco from start to finish, folks.
Let's see, what else? The massive leaks springing from the White House have riled Trump, from all accounts, but what this has led to is a sort of infinite regression of even more leaks. First, there were just leaks. Then there were leaks about the anti-leak efforts team Trump is making to plug the leaks (such as Sean Spicer demanding to see everyone's phones to see who they've been talking to in a secret meeting that immediately leaked to the press). Now it's gotten to the point that there are even leaks about the process of trying to stop leaks -- whether Trump himself signed off on the phone examination or not. Watching all this is like seeing Homer Simpson attempt to do plumbing in his basement, at best, and at worst is like watching Mickey Mouse in his role as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Not unlike the Titanic, one wonders whether there will be adequate lifeboats for when the leaks actually drown the bottom floor of the White House.
And finally, speaking of Spicer, how did the story of him wearing the Easter Bunny costume (twice!) for George W. Bush (for the traditional White House Easter egg roll) take so long to be discovered? The photos are priceless, and so is the headline of the original puff-piece story (which we're always going to say in our heads whenever we hear Spicer talk, from now on): "The Easter Bunny Speaks." Hippity-hoppity!
Barack and Michelle Obama deserve some sort of mention here, for reportedly inking a book deal worth a jaw-dropping $65 million. That's pretty impressive, and is multiples higher than any previous ex-president ever got as an advance.
But we're going to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to a group with their collective noses to the grindstone. State Innovation Exchange Action (or "SiX Action") is trying to counteract the playbook of groups like ALEC on the right, by helping Democrats at the state level introduce legislation to show voters whose side they stand on. USA Today had the story:
Democratic lawmakers in at least 30 U.S. states are either unveiling or highlighting legislation this week aimed at President Trump's working-class voters, in a nationwide coordinated rebuttal to the agenda the president will outline in his first joint address to Congress on Feb. 28.
It's an attempt to form the legislative spine of a state-level resistance to Trump's policies, Nick Rathod, executive director of State Innovation Exchange Action, which is overseeing the initiative, told USA Today.
The timing creates a juxtaposition between Democratic economic security prescriptions for workers, such as raising the minimum wage and paid family leave, and Trump tax reform and federal budget policies that, Democrats say, are at odds with his populist campaign oath to prioritize "forgotten" Americans from the factory floors of the Rust Belt to the sawmills of the Mountain West.
"If you work hard and play by the rules in this country, you should be paid enough to live on, to care for your family, and to retire securely," Rathod said in an interview previewing the legislative "Week of Action" that will spotlight more than 130 bills in states from Oklahoma to Alaska.
Trump's campaign promises stand "in stark contrast to the corporate, billionaire-driven agenda" now emerging, he said. SiX Action, a nonprofit trying to help Democrats regain power at the state level, marshaled 40 different left-leaning organizations to help coordinate the effort. It includes bill introduction ceremonies to draw media attention even in states where the legislative packages face an uphill battle because Republicans control both chambers.
State lawmakers are offering provisions that, according to polls, enjoy broad public support to also include overtime pay, paid family leave requirements and equal pay for women.
This certainly sounds like a worthwhile effort. Republicans have been running circles around Democrats in this respect for years now, with an organized effort to change state laws to advance their conservative agenda. It's about time someone tried doing a similar thing on the Democratic side -- especially such a coordinated effort, which will hopefully avoid like-minded groups squabbling with each other.
It's a noble goal, and we sincerely hope it achieves some measure of success. For making the effort to show voters exactly why they should vote for Democrats in such a positive and forward-thinking way, SiX Action is collectively awarded this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate State Innovation Exchange Action on their web page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
We've got two candidates for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, but upon reflection we have to disqualify one of them, for not being an actual Democratic officeholder or politician. However, both of these men deserve all the blowback they've been getting, for not realizing what decade we all now live in.
The first was Warren Buffet, who (as mentioned) is not actually a Democratic officeholder. He was trying to crack a joke, but apparently didn't realize that while the punchline may have been considered funny (and non-controversial) in, say, the 1950s, this is no longer the case. Far from it. Here's what he said:
Well, if a diplomat says yes, he means maybe. If he says maybe, he means no. And if he says no, he's no diplomat. And if a lady says no, she means maybe. And if she says maybe, she means yes. And if she says yes, she's no lady.
Um, no. No no no no no.
In fact, there was a whole movement launched roughly 30 years ago to address this misogynistic idiocy, called (appropriately) "No Means No." When a woman says no, SHE MEANS NO. Period. End of sentence. It's no longer a joking matter, Warren.
But, as we said, he escapes getting an award because while a public figure, he's not actually a political public figure.
Which means we have to give the award to Representative Cedric Richmond instead. Richmond hails from Louisiana, and was also trying to crack a joke, in the wake of the photos of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on the Oval Office sofa, at the Washington Press Club's annual dinner. Here's what he had to say:
You even mentioned Kellyanne and the picture on the sofa. But I really just want to know what was going on there, because, I won't tell anybody. And you can just explain to me that -- that circumstance, because she really looked kind of familiar there in that position there. But don't answer. And I don't want you to refer back to the '90s.
Kellyanne Conway is not our favorite person, by a long shot. Even so, she doesn't deserve that. Leave the sex jokes to the late-night comedians next time, OK? They may be able to get away with such quips, but Democratic officeholders just don't get the same leeway, even when they're at an event where jokes are being cracked.
Which is why Cedric Richmond is the winner of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Once he returns from washing his mouth out with soap, we'll be presenting his award to him.
[Contact Representative Cedric Richmond on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 427 (3/3/17)
Today's talking points section is a bit of a departure from our normal format, since it is just a collection of quotes uttered in the past week by politicians. Normally, we try to provide the most serious talking points up front and then end with a whimsical bit, but this week all the clowning is going to happen first, to be followed by some serious facts at the very end.
The subject is the Republicans' mad dash to repeal and replace Obamacare. They're nowhere near any agreement on how to go about doing this, which isn't too surprising because they've never been able to agree on any of it in the seven years since Obamacare passed into law. But now the clock is ticking, and they've set the goal of putting the whole thing together in just a few weeks. To avoid intra-party squabbling, Paul Ryan and the other Republicans in charge of writing the bill's draft are keeping it secret from the rest of their fellow Republicans, because they are afraid that no matter what the bill says, one GOP faction or another is going to go apoplectic. They're probably right, but the hypocrisy they're exhibiting is so breathtaking that we just had to devote the entire talking points section to watching this circus. So our advice for now is to get some peanuts, sit back, and enjoy the show.
It is to laugh, no?
Trump, once again, revealed his own vast ignorance on a subject he's been telling everyone he has the answer to for a long time now. Speaking of his efforts to replace Obamacare, Trump told Fox News: "You know, health care is a very complex subject. If you do this, it affects nine different things. If you do that, it affects 15 different things. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated." Nobody? Really? Bernie Sanders (after he stopped laughing so hard), begged to differ:
Well, some of us who were sitting on the health education committee, who went to meeting after meeting after meeting, who heard from dozens of people, who stayed up night after night trying to figure out this thing -- yeah, we got a clue. When you provide health care in a nation of 320 million people, yeah, it is very, very complicated.
Maybe now, maybe the president and some of the Republicans understand you can't go beyond the rhetoric: "We're going to repeal the Affordable Care Act, we're going to repeal Obamacare, and everything will be wonderful!" A little more complicated than that.
I mean, this is the president of the United States. We have been debating health care in this country for 30 years, and he says, "Gee, who knew how complicated it was?" He's maybe the only person in this country who doesn't know how complicated it is to provide health care for the American people.
Plopping seems like the right verb, Paul
The Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare seems to be a big, honkin' secret on Capitol Hill. To properly appreciate this circus, we must first hear what the ringleader had to say about the process. Here's Paul Ryan, promising recently not to do what Republicans have always (wrongly) accused Nancy Pelosi of doing with the original Obamacare bill:
We're not hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it on the American people's front door.
However, the bill is being drawn up in such secrecy that nobody else is allowed in the room, no copies are allowed to be taken out of the room, and -- most importantly -- they'll be moving on the legislation before the Congressional Budget Office "scores" the bill, which would let the American public see how much it'll cost and how many millions of people will be losing their health insurance. This was openly admitted by Representative Chris Collins in an interview: "It looks like, unfortunately, based on the delays, we may be marking it up and voting on it before we have a score." This prompted a stern rebuke from Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican described as an ally of Rand Paul (more on him in a moment):
We asked for the score and all that. We were told we'll have that by the time it gets to the floor. We need to have that now! You can't have a discussion about this proposal independent from costs. It's ridiculous. That's kind of like, just: "vote for it to see what's in it."
Rand Paul is not a happy camper (1)
Senator Rand Paul, upon hearing that the mystery bill was in a certain House office, arrived (with his own photocopier in tow!) to see if he could get a copy of the bill. After tweeting: "I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock and key, in a secure location, and not available for me or the public to view," he shared his outrage with the assembled reporters:
We're here today because I'd like to read the Obamacare bill. If you'd recall, when Obamacare was passed in 2009 and 2010, Nancy Pelosi said you'll know what's in it after you pass it. The Republican Party shouldn't act in the same way. In my state, in Kentucky, it's illegal to do this. This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this were a plot to invade another country.
Rand Paul is not a happy camper (2)
From a second report of the same event, Paul is letting everyone know exactly what he feels about the process.
It's the secret office of the secret bill. I think the reason they're keeping it in secret is it's Obamacare-light. And conservatives, I can tell you on both sides... of the House and Senate, are very unhappy that they're now making the Obamacare proposal classified. It's under lock and key, and we're not allowed to have a copy of it. I think that's crazy.
Fun for all
Democrats were quick to get in on the fun surrounding the hunt for the bill. One representative quipped: "It'd be good if maybe we had a sniffer dog" to put on the missing bill's trail. Another amusingly added: "I checked the men's room -- it's not there." Minority Whip Steny Hoyer joined in, after searching high and low: "We cannot find the bill." Hoyer had the best ad-lib line of the day, when he "led reporters into the hallway, where he had a conversation with a large bust of Abraham Lincoln":
Mr. Lincoln, you said public sentiment is everything. But if the public can't see the bill, they can't give us their sentiment. That's not regular order. That's not democracy.
All of this is pretty amusing, as it seems that Trump is not the only one who is fast discovering that health care reform is a lot harder than it looks. Republicans are trying to get their legislation on the floor of both houses in the next month. So it is important that the actual record of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is laid out in detail, to provide a stark contrast between the measured way Democrats tackled the issue and the current hair-on-fire antics of the Republicans. The following was written by Topher Spiro, who was part of the entire Obamacare drafting process. He lays out some facts which are definitely germane, now that Republicans are trying to move so recklessly fast.
Republicans accused Democrats eight years ago of drafting the health-care law in secret, despite dozens of public hearings and work sessions. But now it's their own process that is highly secretive, with U.S. Capitol Police guarding a basement room where the draft legislation is kept hidden from voters, the news media and even members of Congress.
The GOP tried to use one quote in particular to drive its message back then. In 2010, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy." What Pelosi meant was that people would realize the benefits of the law once they became tangible -- which is exactly what polling shows has happened. But Republicans spun and truncated the quote to suggest that Democrats were hiding something.
In fact, the process to enact the Affordable Care Act was thorough and transparent. I was there for the whole thing, as a Democratic staffer for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
In the House, Democrats held a series of public hearings before introducing a public discussion draft in June 2009. The House then held more public hearings before introducing new legislative text in July. All three relevant committees held "markups" -- committee work sessions to amend the legislation -- and the full House vote on the amended legislation did not take place until November.
In the Senate, the HELP Committee held 14 bipartisan roundtables and 13 public hearings in 2008 and 2009. During the committee's markup in June 2009, Democrats accepted more than 160 Republican amendments to the bill.
Beginning in May 2008 -- 20 months before the Senate vote and six months before Barack Obama, who would later sign the bill into law, was even elected president -- the Senate Finance Committee held 17 public roundtables, summits and hearings. In 2009, Democrats met and negotiated with three Republicans for several months before the tea party protests caused the GOP to back away from negotiations. The Finance Committee held its markup in September, and the full Senate vote did not take place until December.
In both the House and the Senate, "scores" by the independent Congressional Budget Office were available before each vote at each stage of the process. These scores are estimates of the effects of legislation on the budget and on the number of people who would be covered by health insurance.
-- Chris Weigant