FridayTalkingPoints.com

Friday Talking Points -- Only Halfway Through Our National Nightmare

[ Posted Friday, January 18th, 2019 – 19:24 PST ]

The government shutdown hits the one-month milestone this weekend, but there's an even more significant calendar event which will happen as well: Donald Trump hits the halfway point of his term in office. Or, to take into account all the possibilities, we'd have to say "at least the halfway point," since if he doesn't serve his whole term for one reason or another (for, you know, whatever reason...) then he'd have hit his halfway point already, at some point in the past. So please read that headline as a worst-case scenario. We're only halfway through this rollercoaster ride, folks.

As for the shutdown, well, the longer it goes on the more the Republicans and Donald Trump bleed public approval. Nancy Pelosi's public approval is going up while Trump's is going down (one recent poll showed only 30 percent of registered voters said they will definitely vote for Trump in 2020, while a whopping 57 percent said they'd definitely vote against him). More to the point: every single poll shows a clear majority of the public thinks the shutdown is Trump and the Republicans' fault. The economy is already being negatively affected, which could really tank the numbers for the first quarter. Another paycheck was missed today by hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom have been forced back to work even though they're not currently being paid for it. Pelosi has put Trump on notice that the State Of The Union speech will not happen until the government is open once again. And the news from Bob Mueller and Michael Cohen just keeps getting worse for Trump. So at this point the only question left is how much political damage will Trump do to himself before he ends this stalemate? The president, however, seems oblivious to all of this. He -- as always -- thinks he's "winning." But sooner or later all the bad press and the sinking poll numbers are going to get to him, one would assume.

Or maybe not. Perhaps it will take outside pressure to change the current dynamic in Washington. The best idea we've heard yet would be for the T.S.A. workers to mount a coordinated planned sick-out day. So far, T.S.A. workers have been doing this on a smaller scale (less than 10 percent of them, reportedly, on any given day), but if a whole bunch of them decided to target one single day, it would absolutely dominate the headlines. The American public (those that had flights that day) would be a lot more personally affected by this than anything so far, that's for sure. An alternative would be for the air traffic controllers to stage a similar work slowdown, although they may still be leery of such tactics (after Reagan crushed their union, way back when). But it may take something of this magnitude -- thousands of flights either delayed or cancelled, massive chaos at the airports -- for the Republicans in the Senate to get worried enough to act. Ideally, all the T.S.A. agents who work in the Washington area (at Baltimore-Washington, National, and Dulles airports) could cause the biggest stir if they staged such a sick-out on a day when all the members of Congress were scheduled to fly home for the weekend. That would surely prompt a reaction.

But instead of beginning with nothing but doom and gloom, let's take a quick look instead at the Democratic presidential race, because it has started heating up. More and more Democrats are jumping in the 2020 race, although most of them are doing so at this early date because they know they've got a big name-recognition problem to overcome. Now, wonky pundits (and readers of wonky punditry) already know all these players, but the average Jane or Joe voter hasn't been paying that close attention. A new poll from NBC/PBS/Marist showed exactly how far some of the candidates (or possible candidates) still need to go. While Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and (to a lesser point) Elizabeth Warren all have fairly high name recognition, most of the others are still struggling:

For example, 22 percent of those surveyed have a positive view of [Kirsten] Gillibrand, 14 percent have a negative view, and 65 percent either have never heard of her or don't know enough to offer an opinion. The never-heard-of, or unsure, number was 49 percent for Cory Booker, 52 percent for Beto O'Rourke, 54 percent for [Kamala] Harris, 71 percent for Amy Klobuchar and 72 percent for Julián Castro. The pollsters didn't event test [Tulsi] Gabbard.

This is not the only hurdle for some of the candidates, either. The 2020 Democratic race is going to be the most progressive primary contest since the 1970s, plain and simple. However, some Democratic candidates have rather non-progressive pasts they have to now explain and ask voters to excuse. After Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced her run on Stephen Colbert's late-night show, she was interviewed by Rachel Maddow, who introduced Gillibrand to her viewers with: "She had an 'A' rating from the N.R.A. She said she wanted to make English the official language of the United States. She opposed 'amnesty' for undocumented immigrants, but she used the phrase 'illegal aliens' when she talked about that issue.... She was a card-carrying member of the Blue Dog Democrats." This leaves out one other potent issue for many Democratic voters (and donors), too -- Gillibrand taking the point in the calls for Senator Al Franken to step down, which many have still not forgiven her for.

But Gillibrand's not the only one trying to "evolve" from a not-so-progressive past. Representative Tulsi Gabbard had to issue a four-minute video explaining that she had indeed started her political career in Hawai'i being virulently anti-gay (refusing to give in to "homosexual extremists" on gay marriage, for instance), but has now seen the light and champions L.G.B.T. issues. This may be surmountable for her if only for the fact that so many other Democrats have had to (as Barack Obama originally put it) evolve on gay marriage. But she's got other baggage to deal with as well, such as her trip to Syria to meet with Bashar Al Assad.

Then there's Senator Kamala Harris, who many now only know as a progressive firebrand. But Harris has a legal career in California (she wound up as the state's attorney general before she won her Senate seat) that isn't exactly pure as the driven snow. Harris now styles her own history as having been "a progressive prosecutor," but that does not exactly square with the facts. Sooner or later she'll have to explain this disconnect in the same way Gillibrand and Gabbard are now having to do.

We should say that we don't mean to focus exclusively on Democratic women candidates, but more of them made campaign news in the past week than men, that's all. We promise we'll apply the same scrutiny to all candidates' pasts (whatever their gender) when they warrant it. The only male candidates recently in the news were Julián Castro -- whom we haven't heard anything particularly non-progressive about so far -- and Beto O'Rourke. But O'Rourke hasn't even announced yet, instead he's merely out on a road trip to get his head together and decide whether he should run or not. He isn't exactly staking out bold policy positions yet, so he can't even be correctly labelled a "progressive candidate" at this point. Maybe he'll become one, but maybe he won't -- it's hard to tell because of his overabundance of caution in saying what he stands for so far.

But back to the current Washington swamp. There were plenty of big stories during the week (and, as usual, more than a few inane ones), but the biggest bombshell of all came from Buzzfeed, who reported that Michael Cohen was directed by President Trump to lie (hence committing perjury) during his testimony to a congressional committee. The scoop reportedly came from two federal law enforcement officials, but apparently there's more to back it up than just their word (or Cohen's, for that matter). Here's the key passage:

The special counsel's office learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.... It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

Got all of that? Multiple witnesses. Internal company emails and text messages. Plus "a cache of other documents." All pointing to the President of the United States committing the felony of suborning sworn testimony. This could be a game-changer, in other words.

What astonishes us more than anything about this story is that it appears to be the very first leak to come from the Mueller investigation. Our first thought was that perhaps Cohen or his lawyers planted the story to build up expectations for his upcoming testimony (Feb. 7) to a House committee, since Cohen is fully capable of doing such a thing. But if Buzzfeed is correct then the leak actually came from (or was confirmed by) either two F.B.I. agents or two members of Mueller's team of investigators. That would be astounding, since it so far has never happened (to the best of our memory). So why did it leak, now?

There are all sorts of possible answers to that question, so allow us to freely speculate. Could it be because F.B.I. agents are currently working for no pay? This would certainly be a goad in Trump's side for having to live without a paycheck, wouldn't it? Could it be because Mueller's team is almost ready to issue his report? That's more doubtful, given their track record so far. Or could it be because the nominee for attorney general is currently under consideration for confirmation by the Senate? Senator Amy Klobuchar directly asked William Barr about whether the president suborning testimony or otherwise tampering with witnesses would be an indictable felony, to which Barr unequivocally answered in the affirmative. The leak happened within days of Barr agreeing to the idea. Of course, this is all pure speculation, but the timing of this leak certainly suggests it was meant for an intended effect, that's for sure. It's just unclear what that intended effect actually was.

For whatever reason, the Cohen revelation capped a particularly bad week for Trump on the Russia front. Before the Cohen news broke, the big story was Rudy Giuliani frantically moving the goalposts once again by stating that he had never said that the Trump campaign hadn't colluded with Russia, just that Trump himself hadn't done so. Hoo boy. That's a rather large admission, even by omission. Fact-checkers quickly dug out hundreds of instances of Trump claiming "no collusion" by him and his entire campaign, just to rub Rudy's face in it. An amusing time was had by all. Except for Rudy and Trump, of course.

Chris Christie's got a new book out which summed up this week's performance by Team Trump perfectly. In it, Christie calls those around Trump a "revolving door of deeply flawed individuals -- amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons -- who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia."

OK, we've got a lot else to get to this week, so we're just going to have to wrap all the other news up in lightning fashion.

If anyone still needed evidence that Trump himself composes his own tweets (without even the help of the spellchecker), this week certainly provided it. Trump began the week with a cheerful tweet about how he was going to meet with some farmers "in Nashville" and how great a state Tennessee was... until someone told him he was actually scheduled to address them in New Orleans. Trump hosted the Clemson Tigers at the White House, and later bragged about the "1000 hamberders" he served to them (more on this one later, in the talking points). Then to wrap the week up, he used the word "countrty" in a tweet. Sounds like he could use another cup of covfefe or something.

P.R. problems (type 1) -- the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services just admitted that the Trump administration had separated thousands more children from their families at the border than they previously admitted to. They could not come up with an accurate number, because such separations simply weren't tracked in any way. Meanwhile, the Trump Organization filed for more foreign-worker visas than they have in the past decade (or possibly "ever"), just to show some rampant hypocrisy on hiring immigrants.

P.R. problems (type 2) -- the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development resigned because the Trump administration wanted to redirect all the hurricane relief money that had been earmarked for Puerto Rico and spend it instead either on (1) Texas and North Carolina, or (2) Trump's wall. The governor of Puerto Rico famously said all kinds of nice things about Trump after the disaster, but even this was too much for him, and he denounced the idea in no uncertain terms.

P.R. problems (types 1 and 2 combined) -- a Republican lawmaker actually shouted on the House floor "Go back to Puerto Rico" at a Latino House member (a Democrat), who was not actually Puerto Rican.

Meanwhile, one Republican in the House has already -- not even a month in to the new Congress -- decided he's had enough. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, who entered Congress with the Tea Party class of 2010, announced he's decided that taking a job in the private sector is a better move than being a member of the House minority. He likely won't be the last Republican to quit, but he has earned the distinction of being the first to do so.

And finally, Republicans seem to have an awfully selective way of denouncing the racism within their own ranks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stripped Steve King of all his committee assignments for his unbelievable defense of white supremacism in a recent media interview, which was all to the good. He joins two other Republican House members without any committee assignments, both of whom are currently under indictment for serious crimes.

However, Republicans (once again) didn't utter a peep of protest when Donald Trump used language that really should have gotten him banned from Twitter (since it so obviously breaks their code of conduct, which we wrote about earlier in the week), while attacking Senator Elizabeth Warren: "If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash." Wounded Knee was the site of a massacre of Native American women and children by United States armed forces, of course. Native Americans, unlike Republicans, were quick to denounce Trump's hateful language.

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

Once again, this one is pretty obvious.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was, hands-down, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Are there any Democrats out there still harboring doubts about her ability to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump? If there are, they just haven't been paying attention.

Pelosi decided this week to up the stakes in the game her and Chuck Schumer are playing against Trump. She reportedly conferred with Schumer before doing so, but then sprang it on her own House caucus as a welcome surprise. She sent Donald Trump a letter which didn't explicitly threaten to cancel the State Of The Union address, but instead merely suggested it would be unseemly to hold it while the government was still shut down. After all, she's going to have to sit behind him while he gives such a speech, and she has the power to deny him the official invitation to give such a speech, so she's entirely within her rights. Here's the key phrase from her letter:

Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th.

In other words, no televised speech until the government reopens. She even magnanimously suggested later that he could "give the speech from the Oval Office," which would (of course) deny Trump the live audience he so obviously craves, while still allowing him to give the speech on television.

Astonishingly, Trump still hasn't whined about this on Twitter, or called Pelosi nasty names. This may be due to an interesting dynamic which we read about buried in one article on the spat:

Trump is a proud counterpuncher, but when it comes to Pelosi, he has pulled back on his jabs. That is deliberate, aides and advisers said, because the president believes she would help protect him from impeachment and because he considers her more reasonable than other Democrats.

Privately, one adviser said, Trump has complained about the quotes he reads from Pelosi about him in newspapers but has said he is impressed by her political savvy.

"He says Cryin' Chuck and Nancy, not Cryin' Chuck and Nasty Nancy or whatever," said this adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president's views, referring to Trump's Twitter mentions of Pelosi and Schumer.

Got that? Trump actually believes that Pelosi is going to help protect him from impeachment. This is such a monumental misread of what is going on that it is absolutely stunning. Pelosi, all along, has refused to put the cart before the horse, and has steadfastly insisted that the investigations all be complete before even considering impeachment. But, crucially, this does not mean that she won't do so if the evidence demands it. Trump is, quite obviously, taking false comfort in his misread of Pelosi's signals. But back to the spat.

Instead of insulting Pelosi, Trump tried to retaliate in another fashion. He cancelled a military flight that was set to take several Democratic members of Congress to Afghanistan and Brussels (where NATO is headquartered), writing his own letter which had quite a few errors in it. He began with "Madame" Speaker (it's properly "Madam"), he claimed they would be gone for seven days (the trip was scheduled for only five), and he mysteriously added Egypt to the itinerary (they weren't planning on stopping in Egypt at all). He then snidely suggested they fly commercial instead.

By doing so, Trump (once again) publicly gave out national security information he shouldn't have. The visit itself was secret (as are all visits by politicians to war zones), until Trump made the letter public. But that wasn't the only thing wrong with Trump's action. Trump himself visited Iraq during the shutdown, giving the lie to his stated reason that everyone should stay in Washington to hammer out a deal. And then, just to make matters worse (as she's known for doing), Melania Trump took a military flight down to Mar-A-Lago for the weekend, which didn't help Trump's optics at all.

Things then got even worse for Trump, as Pelosi's spokesman helpfully pointed out:

After President Trump revoked the use of military aircraft to travel to Afghanistan, the delegation was prepared to fly commercially to proceed with this vital trip to meet with our commanders and troops on the front lines. In the middle of the night, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the President announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip. This morning, we learned that the Administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well. In light of the grave threats caused by the President's action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights.

Even newfound Trump buddy Lindsey Graham didn't back Trump up, stating: "One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi's threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political. President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate." Graham himself got several facts wrong (Pelosi didn't threaten to cancel the speech, and they weren't going to Egypt), but he did rebuke Trump for denigrating the trip as a "photo op," saying he was "glad the Speaker wants to meet our troops and hear from our commanders and allies."

This was all pretty entertaining to watch unfold from the peanut gallery, we have to admit, but the theatrics do nothing more than reinforce the basic dynamic that exists between Trump and Pelosi right now. Pelosi is calling the shots, Trump is petulantly reacting, and the longer the shutdown continues the more Trump and the Republicans are going to pay a political price. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum summed it up best, in a tweet:

If Trump now reopens Govt, he visibly surrenders to Pelosi.

If Trump keeps Govt closed, he bleeds support faster. Workers miss next paycheck, air travel delays, govt services fail, and economy stalls.

Trump built the trap and walked into it. Pelosi just locked it behind him.

Which is all pretty downright impressive for the new speaker. She has -- as she promised to do -- hit the ground running. She needs no on-the-job training. She has the backbone to take on Trump and beat him on his own home field. Which is why she is the obvious winner (yet again) of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Well done, Madam Speaker, well done.

[Congratulate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

This probably isn't as serious as it sounds, due to the mitigating circumstances, but we still felt it was tone-deaf enough to rise to the level of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Plus, we had no other candidates for the award this week.

House member Ed Case of Hawai'i, speaking to a group celebrating Asian-American and Pacific Islander members of the new Congress reportedly told the crowd he was "an Asian trapped in a white body."

[We will pause here, so you can cringe.]

However, this isn't as cut-and-dried a case of white privilege or cultural appropriation as it might first seem. He immediately apologized for the insensitivity of the statement, but noted that as the congressman for Honolulu, his district is the only one in America with an Asian-majority constituency. He noted that his life in Hawai'i has meant absorbing many cultures, and then offered up his apology: "I regret if my specific remarks to the national A.P.I. community on my full absorption of their concerns caused any offense."

But the strongest mitigation was pointed out by his spokesman, who noted that Case was just repeating "what his Japanese-American wife sometimes says about him," and that Case is an executive committee member of the Asian/Pacific-American Caucus.

Even so, next time maybe think twice about what joke you use to warm up the crowd? Case's comment can so easily be taken out of context that we feel -- even though he fully apologized and explained -- he still deserves this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, for tone-deafness.

[Contact Representative Ed Case on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 514 (1/18/19)

We've got a mixed bag this week, and more than a usual amount of just quoting someone else's talking point verbatim, since there were so many great talking points already floating around.

So sit back and enjoy, and as always, use responsibly.

 

1
   Collusion? What collusion?

We cut and pasted this from a comment made at the Washington Post to an article on the Giuliani bombshell admission this week, but we failed to copy the link, so we regret we cannot properly give credit for it. It is, however, the best summary of the movement of the goalposts we've yet seen, so we had to share it with everyone.

We never met Russians. We never colluded. "No collusion."

OK, we met one Russian, about adoptions.

OK, we met with multiple Russians to get Clinton dirt.

OK, Trump drafted a memo lying about the meeting.

OK, Kushner attempted to set up secret communications channel.

OK, Manafort gave campaign polling data to the Russians.

OK, at least 16 Trump associates met Russians.

OK, at least 14 have lied about the meetings.

OK, Trump sided with Putin in Helsinki.

OK, Trump keeps his conversations with Putin secret.

OK, Trump did not collude, but his staff or pals may have.

But, remember, collusion is not a crime.

 

2
   Anyone who's watched Law & Order

On the Cohen revelation, right-wing blogger for the Washington Post (her blog is even named "Right Turn") Jennifer Rubin made an excellent point:

No one has a real understanding of "collusion," because it is a non-legal, vague term. A conspiracy can be complicated, hard to prove. "Suborning perjury," a phrase known to anyone who's watched Law & Order, is specific and simple.

 

3
   Aiding and abetting

This one snuck under most people's radar, but it's worth pointing out.

"The Trump administration this week told Congress that it was going to lift sanctions on Russian companies with ties to Vladimir Putin. Both chambers held a vote in an effort to halt this and keep the sanctions intact. In the House, more than 130 Republicans voted with Democrats to maintain the sanctions. The vote was overwhelming, 362 to 53. In the Senate, while 11 Republicans also voted with Democrats, 42 GOP senators voted to allow Trump to lift sanctions on the Russian oligarch, which killed the bill. Still, a vote of 57 to 42 is awfully close to breaking the filibuster limit. But for now, Senate Republicans are mostly OK with Trump going easy on his pals in Russia."

 

4
   The ten-millionth dollar

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been getting plenty of attention for all sorts of ridiculous things (the conservative media is so obsessed with her that The Onion ran a headline that Fox News was introducing a new channel of 24-hour coverage of her -- which at this point doesn't seem all that far-fetched), but she did make one bold policy proposal (during her recent 60 Minutes interview) that got some attention as well. It is such a great talking point that we have to run it in full. We don't think we've ever heard the progressive income tax system so succinctly explained, especially that "ten-millionth dollar" phrase (to say nothing of "the tippy-tops"). Ocasio-Cortez was even subsequently attacked -- wrongly -- by Scott Walker for wanting to tax seven dollars out of the first ten anyone made, and she corrected his idiocy with style. But her original quote should have made this clear to everyone:

You look at our tax rates back in the '60s and when you have a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let's say from zero to $75,000, may be 10 percent or 15 percent, etc. But once you get to the tippy-tops -- on your 10 millionth dollar -- sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn't mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder, you should be contributing more.

 

5
   It's the media who can't walk and chew gum

Seriously, this really needs to be said by a prominent Democrat.

"The mainstream media spent the entire midterm election campaign wondering why Democrats weren't campaigning solely on impeaching the president. They got it wrong. Then they shifted to wondering whether Democrats in the House would solely focus on impeaching the president, to the exclusion of all legislative business. The implication was that Democrats couldn't possibly manage to split their focus between investigation and legislation. Now that Democrats are in power, they have already filed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as well as their first bill -- which is such a comprehensive elections and ethics reform effort that it has Mitch McConnell quaking in his boots. Have you heard of either bill from the media? No? Maybe the problem is that the media themselves are the ones who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. They're the ones with the monomania problem, not Democratic politicians."

 

6
   Parenting 101

Seldom have we seen such a pithy tweet, and we find we cannot improve upon it in any way. Columnist Connie Schultz, who happens to be Senator Sherrod Brown's wife, weighed in on Nancy Pelosi uninviting Trump to the State Of The Union by tweeting the best comment possible:

Throw a tantrum, lose your TV time. Parenting 101.

 

7
   A sad laughingstock

Too, too funny.

"Donald Trump bought the Clemson Tigers fast food which he served at the White House, even though he owns a hotel down the road which could easily have catered the event. Then our Cheapskate-in-Chief tweeted about it, where he bragged he had paid for 'over 1000 hamberders.' Burger King immediately got in on the fun with their response: 'Due to a large order placed yesterday, we're all out of hamberders. Just serving hamburgers today.' Which prompted the best response of all, from Kellyanne Conway's husband George: 'Think of how much of a laughingstock a president has to become to have *Burger King* make fun of him. Sad.'"

-- Chris Weigant

 

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground