FridayTalkingPoints.com

Friday Talking Points [458] -- Gold Star Lies

[ Posted Friday, October 20th, 2017 – 17:41 PDT ]

Call this the week when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly lost all remaining shreds of credibility. Kelly, as we all know, was supposed to bring the adult supervision to the White House that would magically transform Donald Trump into a serious president. A retired Marine Corps general was going to whip the White House into shape, and clear sailing ahead would thus quickly ensue.

That was the plan, at any rate. But this week Kelly was used as a political pawn by Trump, and it didn't exactly go well. By the end of the week, Kelly was just as guilty as his boss of making stuff up when talking to the press, or (to be less polite but more accurate) just flat-out lying. Kelly was supposed to elevate Trump up to his level of competence, but instead what has happened is Kelly got dragged down into the sewer with Trump.

Hey, he knew what he signed up for, right?

Donald Trump started this whole ugly mess when he was asked at an impromptu press conference on Monday why he hadn't said a single word about the deadliest military loss the United States has suffered since he became president in the intervening twelve days. Trump responded by insinuating that he did far more than all previous presidents when it came to contacting the Gold Star families of dead soldiers. He later also stated that he had called every family of every soldier who had died in combat since he had become president. Neither of these claims was true, as the media quickly uncovered.

This put the White House on the defensive, scrambling to correct all of Trump's many mistakes. Letters were hastily signed and sent out. Calls were hastily made to (some) Gold Star families. And a $25,000 check was finally sent to a dead soldier's father, a full four months after Trump had promised him the money (and mere hours after the story broke in the Washington Post). No word yet on whether all the Gold Star families have gotten phone calls from Trump yet, but as of midweek there were at least four or five who hadn't heard from him at all.

General Kelly was in the middle of this whirling disaster. Not only because he is Trump's chief of staff, but because he was apparently the source of the notion that Barack Obama hadn't contacted any Gold Star families. Kelly's 29-year-old son was killed in action and he hadn't been called by Obama (although he was invited to a Gold Star families meal at the White House later on and sat at Michelle Obama's table). So Kelly was trotted out in the White House press briefing room in an attempt to get beyond the issue.

Unfortunately for him, he decided to channel his boss, and attacked a congresswoman from the podium. His attack contained two huge lies, neither of which has been yet answered by the White House.

The congresswoman in question, Frederica Wilson, had been a lifelong friend of the Gold Star family. She had mentored the dead soldier and helped him get into the military through a youth outreach program she runs (the "5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project"). She had even been the principal of a school the soldier's father had attended, and had known the family for decades. These people are not just random constituents of a random congresswoman, in other words. This was obvious because she was present with the family when Trump's condolence call came in. She had been invited by them to listen in, in other words.

Since the call, she has been quite vocal over the content of the call, which she called "insensitive" and "horrible." According to her, the pregnant wife of the dead soldier was in tears by the end of the call, not through grief over her loss but rather from the disrespect the president had shown. "He didn't even remember his name," the widow told Representative Wilson.

This was John Kelly's first mistake. During his appearance in front of the press, Kelly stated: "It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. It stuns me. I thought at least that was sacred." For the record, on the other end of the phone line, John Kelly was sitting in the room with Trump, listening in to the call. So he's shocked that someone would listen in to a "sacred" call that he himself was listening in to. Got it.

But Kelly didn't stop there. Ignorant of her connections to the family, and apparently still too lazy to research the matter, Kelly has not since backed down from his position that the congresswoman had committed some sort of impropriety by listening to the phone call she had been invited to listen to by the dead soldier's pregnant widow. Even that wasn't enough, though. Kelly, in true Trumpian fashion, then attacked the messenger even further:

And a congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building [a Miramar, Fla., FBI building named after two slain FBI agents], and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down.

Wilson responded, on CNN:

I feel sorry for General Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can't just go on TV and lie on me. I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured, so that's a lie. How dare he!

That's where things stand, today. Trump lies about Gold Star families, lies about all past presidents (but most especially Barack Obama), and was caught in a lie he told to a Gold Star father's face to the tune of $25,000. Kelly was then sent out in the teeth of all these lies and made things worse by telling a few whoppers of his own. And, astonishingly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now suggesting that it is "highly inappropriate" to "get into a debate with a four-star Marine general" over whether he had flat-out lied to the press and inaccurately smeared a member of Congress.

The moral of this story is: When you lie down with dogs, don't be surprised when you wake up with fleas. John Kelly has become more than just another enabler of Trump's lies, he is now making up his own lies to supplement them. That sound you just heard was the last shred of Kelly's respectability and trustworthiness flying out the window, in other words.

Trump, during the 12 days between when the soldiers were killed and when he uttered a single word about them, was busy playing lots of golf and amping up the fight over professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem. So perhaps it was appropriate that the best takedown of Trump all week came from the coach of the San Antonio Spurs:

This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner -- and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers -- is as low as it gets.

The Gold Star story dominated the political news this week, but there were plenty of other things happening as well. Republican Senator Bob Corker led the week off with a rather extraordinary quote: "You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state." This led to an even-more-extraordinary quote, when Rex Tillerson responded after being asked about the castration charge: "I checked. I'm fully intact." Just another day in the Trump cabinet, folks!

Last Sunday, CBS (in a joint effort with the Washington Post) aired a story on 60 Minutes about how Congress kneecapped the D.E.A.'s efforts to rein in the flood of opioids, and this quickly resulted in the withdrawal of the nomination of Tom Marino to be the nation's new "drug czar." Marino was the one who came up with this odious piece of legislation in the first place, so it's good to know a Big Pharma shill won't be watching the henhouse.

Donald Trump's "Muslim Ban 3.0" was shot down by two federal judges this week, meaning his record of losing in court over the issue remains unbroken. Please remember, this was supposed to be a temporary 90-day ban, and Trump's been pushing it for over 9 months now....

Puerto Rico is still in dire straights, as a full month after Hurricane Maria hit fewer than twenty percent of the people have electricity. Trump held a joint appearance with the governor of Puerto Rico, in which he gave himself a 10 for his efforts. The governor refused to agree that Trump was the best president of all time, and the public currently only gives the president a 4 out of 10 for his lackadaisical and ineffective recovery efforts.

Fox News blows it (part 1): Fox aired a story featuring a Navy SEAL with two Purple Hearts, but as it turns out none of that was true. They were forced -- belatedly, after over 10 days -- into issuing a retraction: "The fact is that he did not serve in Vietnam. He was never a U.S. Navy SEAL. Even though he showed us medals, [John] Garofalo was not awarded two Purple Hearts or any of the other nearly two dozen commendations he claimed to have received, except for the National Defense Service Medal." In other words, it was all fake news.

Fox News blows it (part deux): John McCain smacked down Peter Doocy on Fox this week, after Doocy asked him: "Has your relationship with the president frayed to the point that you are not going to support anything that he comes to you and asks for?" McCain shot back:

Why would you say something that stupid? Why would you ask something that dumb? Huh? My job as a United States senator, is a senator from Arizona, which I was just reelected to. You mean that I am somehow going to behave in a way that I'm going to block everything because of some personal disagreement? That's a dumb question.

What else? Steve Bannon announced he's conducting open warfare against the GOP establishment, and will be primarying every Republican in the Senate. Trump didn't seem too concerned about this, when asked. But then he said almost the exact opposite thing later in the day, so who really knows?

A budget bill made it through the Senate which will blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit. But then again, Republicans never seem to care about balancing the budget when a Republican is in the White House, do they?

And finally, we end on an amusing note about one Republican running to replace Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida. Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera has a colorful history, according to her. When she was a small child, she was kidnapped by tall, blond aliens, who "wore robes, spoke telepathically and were in a round spaceship." She saw them again as a teenager, too. As if this weren't enough:

She also claimed that the center of energy is in Africa; that 30,000 skulls different from human skulls are in a subterranean cave on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean; and that Coral Castle, a limestone structure in South Florida, is an ancient pyramid.

Um... Oooo-kay. Can't wait to see what her opponents have to say about all of this!

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We've got a whole slew of Honorable Mention awards to hand out before we get to the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, so let's just get right to it, shall we?

Barack Obama was back on the campaign trail this week, pleading with Virginia voters: "We need you to take this seriously. Our democracy is at stake... Elections matter. Voting matters. You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t sit this one out." But the real reason he gets an Honorable Mention is that he got a school named after him -- the Barack Obama Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary School, in (of all places) Mississippi. The reason this is so impressive? It used to be named for Jefferson Davis.

Bernie Sanders sat down for a debate with Ted Cruz on taxes and the budget this week, where he also sounded like he was on the campaign trail. We'll have excerpts from this later, in the talking points.

Al Franken was part of a Senate committee questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, and Franken pointed out how Sessions had changed his answer on his contacts with Russians during the campaign several times, calling this "moving the goal posts... We're starting off with an extra point, and by the end we're going to a 75-yard field goal." Here was the best question Franken asked Sessions:

First it was, "I did not have communications with Russians," which was not true. Then it was, "I never met with any Russians to discuss any political campaign," which may or may not be true. Now it's, "I did not discuss interference in the campaign," which further narrows your initial blanket denial about meeting with the Russians. Since you have qualified your denial to say that since you did not, quote, "discuss issues of the campaign" with Russians, what in your view constitutes "issues of the campaign?"

Franken also later snarkily pointed out to Sessions: "The ambassador to Russia is Russian." Hoo boy.

Larry Flynt deserves mention, for running an ad in the Washington Post last Sunday promising up to $10 million for anyone who brings him solid proof that leads to the impeachment and removal of Donald Trump. As we noted earlier in the week, Flynt has already successfully used this tactic previously (see: Bob Livingston, David Vitter).

We have one final Honorable Mention award, for a legislative accomplishment. It goes to Senator Tom Udall and Representative David E. Price, for introducing the "We The People" Democracy Reform Act of 2017 [PDF download]. This bill is targeted at multiple problems with American elections:

As a summary of the House version of the bill notes, "Corporations, labor unions, Super PACs and other groups would be required to have their top official appear in and take responsibility for the ads, and the top five donors to a group would have to be listed in the ads." Voters should know who is trying to influence them.

The bill also takes on gerrymandering by requiring states to establish independent citizen redistricting commissions to draw congressional district boundaries. It fights voter suppression by establishing automatic and same-day voter registration nationwide. And it addresses some of President Trump’s specific abuses. It requires all presidential nominees to release their income-tax returns. Both the president and vice president would have to divest themselves from any financial interest posing a potential conflict. Presidential visitor logs would also be made public.

This bill probably has no chance of passing in the current Congress, but when Democrats are back in control, it'll still be waiting patiently for a vote.

We have three Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards this week (as you can tell, Democrats have been pretty impressive this week). The first two go to Senators Michael Bennet and Tim Kaine, for looking beyond the short-term fight over healthcare reform and introducing a bill to create a real "public option," or (as they call it) "Medicare-X." What would this plan do?

It would allow anyone to buy into a publicly provided plan using the network of Medicare providers and physicians, at similar rates, with lower-income workers receiving tax credits for the plan. In its first years of operation, this new Medicare option would be available only in counties that have one or no providers offering insurance on the ACA's private exchanges.

It would eventually phase in to all counties and would effectively serve as what Democrats called the "public option" in 2009 and 2010, when they debated and passed the health law under President Barack Obama. The public option, passed in the original draft by the House, could not clear a filibuster in the Senate and was dropped from the final bill. That came even though Democrats had 60 members in their caucus, enough to clear a filibuster, because several opposed a public option.

Bennet and Kaine are offering a proposal that they believe is both realistic and politically viable. The original targets for Medicare-X would be in rural areas that have been hardest hit by insurance providers fleeing ACA exchanges.

This would create, Bennet said in a statement given to The Washington Post, "a plan that begins to fix this problem by giving families and individuals a meaningful and affordable alternative."

"Consumers can compare it with available private options and make the choice best for their health," Kaine said.

Since we have long been calling on Democrats to do exactly this, we had to award (and applaud) the efforts of two senators who drafted actual public option legislation.

But the public option plan is another one that will likely sit on the shelf until Democrats retake Congress. Our final MIDOTW goes to Senator Patty Murray, for coming up with a short-term compromise with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander to stabilize the Obamacare markets and restore the cost-sharing payments Trump just unilaterally ended.

Alexander and Murray have been working on this effort since the summer, when it became obvious that the Republican-only "repeal and replace Obamacare" was going to fail. There is no guarantee this short-term plan will pass both houses of Congress, especially since Donald Trump has been all over the map on the issue within the space of a few short hours. First he was for it, then against it, then maybe for it again or maybe it'll get done by the end of the year somehow. This led Chuck Schumer to make a rather extraordinary statement on the Senate floor: "This president keeps zigging and zagging. Our only hope is maybe tomorrow, he'll be for this bill."

But no matter the chances Trump will support it and no matter the chances of passage, Patty Murray deserves to be applauded for the effort it took to hammer out a compromise over such a contentious issue. It isn't perfect, but it's a whole lot better than what Trump is about to cause. For this rare bipartisan achievement, Murray certainly deserves a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Senator Michael Bennet on his Senate contact page, Senator Tim Kaine on his Senate contact page, and Senator Patty Murray on her Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. While the D.N.C. met for their annual meeting this week, Perez pushed out a whole bunch of progressives from key committee positions, in favor of giving these jobs to people like Donna Brazile:

The latest argument began after DNC Chairman Tom Perez nominated a new slate of members for little-known but influential party committees. That slate, slightly younger and more diverse than the last one, did not include some of the highest-profile supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential bid and Rep. Keith Ellison's failed bid to run the DNC, which had been backed by Sanders (I-Vt.).

"It's a lot of really good people who deserved better," said James Zogby, a longtime DNC member who is being replaced on the executive committee. "I'd say they're making way for new blood, but it's not that at all. We were Keith Ellison supporters. The optics of it are bad."

Ellison (D-Minn.), who was made deputy chair of the party after his defeat, was among the new nominees to replace Zogby, and through a spokesman he noted that he'd given Perez a list of contenders for the jobs. One of the highest-profile Democrats removed from the new list was Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the first transgender member of the DNC. The new list -- which, according to DNC spokesman Michael Tyler, was based on recommendations from state parties -- included a different transgender member, Marisa Richmond.

Nonetheless, a meeting that Democrats hoped would close the door on the bitter 2016 primary produced yet another activists-vs.-establishment fight. What was reported as a "shake-up" by NBC News became, in Vanity Fair, "DNC chair purges dissenters." At Splinter, it became "The DNC Cuts High-Profile Trans, POC Members From Party's Left Wing in the Name of 'Diversity.'"

Some Sanders supporters attacked the DNC for making former chair Donna Brazile an at-large member, pointing to a 2016 scandal in which Brazile passed the Clinton campaign rough drafts of two questions at CNN candidate events. Brazile, then a CNN contributor, left the network after WikiLeaks published her emails to the campaign.

Just what we need to put a new face on the Democratic Party! Now, this is pretty esoteric stuff, but one of the committees in question will deal with changes to the superdelegate system. As the article later points out: "Five of the Clinton-appointed members of the Unity Commission are on that committee; none of the Sanders-appointed members are."

Tom Perez had the Herculean job of bringing the party back together, but this really isn't the way to go about doing that. Which is why he gets this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez on his contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 458 (10/20/17)

We're going to start this week's talking points with Bernie Sanders quotes, and end it with quotes from John McCain and George W. Bush. That's a pretty rollicking ride, so we'd advise you to buckle up!

 

1
   Bernie v. Ted Cruz (part 1)

These first two come from the epic debate between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Salon has a list of the eight best moments of the debate, if you want more. Nobody explains budgetary stuff in clearer language than Bernie, that's for sure.

In two minutes, Senator Cruz is going to tell you that if we give tax breaks to the billionaires like George W. Bush did, like Ronald Reagan did, we're going to create zillions of jobs and you're all going to become very, very rich, that we have a trickle-down economic theory, tax breaks for the wealthiest people, the largest corporations, and, whoa, everything is good. That is a totally fraudulent theory.

 

2
   Bernie v. Ted Cruz (part 2)

Bernie gets a little more specific in this one, and every Democrats should also memorize these facts because they make great talking points.

Let's examine what Senator Cruz really wants to do. He wants to see legislation passed that would give $1.9 trillion in tax breaks to the top 1 percent, significantly increase the national debt being passed on to our kids and our grandchildren. And in order to pay for these tax breaks for billionaires, he wants to throw 15 million people off of Medicaid, cut Medicare by over $450 billion, cut Pell Grants, cut programs like the WIC program -- women, infant and children program -- designed for low-income pregnant women and their little babies.

 

3
   Deficit hawks actually chicken hawks

Hit Republicans where it hurts them the most -- in their hypocrisy.

"Whenever a Democrat is in the White House, we can't seem to hear enough from Republicans about the deficit and the national debt. 'Balance the budget!' they repeatedly scream. But the Republican Congress just passed a budget with a gigantic $1.5 trillion hole in it, so they can cut taxes on their billionaire friends some more. All the GOP deficit hawks have morphed into chicken hawks, it seems. Deficit spending is hunky-dory, as long as it all goes to Wall Street and the wealthiest of the wealthy. Or, I guess, whenever a Republican is in the White House. The hypocrisy is just staggering, folks."

 

4
   Legalize it and save lives

There's not much data yet, but if this turns out to be the case everywhere, then it creates a rather strong argument for legalization.

"President Trump promised he'd be officially declaring a national emergency on the opioid abuse problem which is killing so many Americans. But there's one thing that could immediately be done to reduce the number of deaths -- legalize marijuana. Numerous studies have already shown that states with medical marijuana available have reduced opioid deaths, but a new study in the American Journal of Public Health shows that recreational legalization also has a beneficial effect. Quoting from the study: 'After Colorado's legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6 percent in the following 2 years.' So the experts have proven that legalizing recreational marijuana saves lives. If the federal government were serious about reducing the death rate, it would wholeheartedly support state legalization efforts."

 

5
   Speaking of marijuana...

This was a pretty stunning story, that was almost completely ignored by the media.

"In the 'Kettle Falls Five' federal court case against five people who were growing marijuana in accordance with Washington state law, the federal government just admitted that they were the ones in the wrong. In a court filing, the Department of Justice admitted that they were, quote, 'not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December of 2014 because the defendants strictly complied with the Washington state medical marijuana laws,' unquote. As the spokesperson for the accused put it: 'This case has turned the justice system completely on its head. Here we have prosecutors admitting that it's the D.O.J. who is breaking federal law, not the other way around.' This case should have been closed long ago, in other words, because not closing it was actually illegal."

 

6
   Republicans criticize Trump (part 1)

Two prominent Republicans both took the opportunity to slam not only Donald Trump, but pretty much everything he stands for this week. The first to do so was John McCain, speaking while accepting a freedom award. McCain minces no words, essentially calling Trumpism unpatriotic.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain "the last best hope of Earth" for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history. We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don't.

 

7
   Republicans criticize Trump (part 2)

The second Republican to berate Trump (without ever mentioning him by name) was none other than George W. Bush. His speech is worth reading in full, in fact. Here are the highlights:

We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions -- forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism -- forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade -- forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments....

In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values....

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.

And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.

-- Chris Weigant

 

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post