Aug. 14

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Trump's Advisers Try to Stem Fallout from Trump's Remarks about Charlottesville

It has been reported that the "White House" has tried to clarify President Donald Trump's remarks about the white supremacist march and rally that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend. That is technically impossible. The White House is a building at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in D.C. Buildings cannot make statements. What actually happened is that an unsigned email was sent to reporters in the traveling press pool saying that the president's condemnation of the violence in Virginia also includes white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. Whether the President, the Vice President, or any government official wrote the email is unclear. For all the reporters know, it could have been written by a summer intern. When Trump wants to make something clear, he generally tweets it.

Furthermore, it was far from what most people, including many Republicans, wanted to hear from Trump. They didn't want to hear that white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis were also to blame for the violence. They expected to hear that they were the cause of the violence. That is not what the email said.

In addition to the email, three top administration officials appeared on the Sunday talk shows to try to contain the damage. NSA Herbert McMaster said on ABC: "The president's been very clear. We cannot tolerate this kind of bigotry, this kind of hatred." Actually the President wasn't clear at all. That's the problem. Saying that he was clear when he wasn't doesn't change it.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told CBS News: "When someone marches with a Nazi flag, that is unacceptable, but I think that's what the president's saying." He thinks that is what the President is saying? He doesn't know?

The third one, Tom Bossert, Trump's homeland security adviser, wasn't any better. He said: "The president not only condemned the violence and stood up at a time and a moment when calm was necessary and didn't dignify the names of these groups of people, but rather addressed the fundamental issue." Again, there is an implicit suggestion that all sides are equally to blame. There is no acceptance of responsibility. At least Richard Nixon was more elegant when he said "Mistakes were made." The email and the three administration officials aren't going to satisfy many people. (V)

Trump Has Other Defenders, Too

Vice President Mike Pence is in Colombia right now, and has generally held his boss at arm's length—close enough to remain connected to the base, far enough to avoid being tainted by association. It's a careful dance and, consistent with that, he might have been expected to remain silent about the Charlottesville fiasco. After all, it's not like "Meet the Press" has a Colombian bureau. However, Pence instead decided to jump in with both feet, suggesting that while the white supremacists may be bad guys, there may be someone even worse. To wit: "I will say I take issue with the fact that many in the national media spent more time criticizing the president's words than they did criticizing those that perpetrated the violence to begin with." Needless to say, this is pure nonsense. Every media outlet had stories yesterday in which the white supremacists were condemned for their behavior. Further, the criticism of Trump implies a condemnation of the racists, since he's been blasted for failing to agree that they are jerks (to use the technical term).

Pence was not the only one to suggest Trump was being treated unfairly. Republican Corey Stewart, who is running to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), has fashioned himself as a Donald Trump clone, though one who really, really loves the Confederacy. He simply cannot understand why Trump or any other Republicans needed to say anything. "They played right into the hands of the left wing," Stewart told the Washington Post on Sunday. "Those [Nazi] people have nothing to do with the Republican Party. There was no reason to apologize."

Now, the difference between Pence and Stewart on one hand, and the folks who went on the Sunday morning news shows on the other, is that Pence and Stewart are both running for office. The latter, as noted, is gunning for the Senate, while the former is preparing for a presidential run in 2020 or 2024, even if he won't admit it. Both are clearly running a version of Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, wherein white voters are rallied through a combination of dog whistles, claims that the media/the Left/the Communists/the PLO/the PTA/the Illuminati/angry clowns/whoever else are out to get them, and various other appeals to the fear that white racial identity is being threatened. It's a risky strategy, indeed. First, because the two men who used it most successfully, Nixon and Trump, benefited from a "whitelash"—against the Civil Rights movement, and against a liberal, black president, respectively. The current whitelash is not likely to retain its intensity through 2018, and is even less likely to do so through 2020 or 2024. The other problem is that as the citizenry gets more diverse, and as young people who grew up abhorring racism begin to dominate the electorate, the demographics needed to support the Southern strategy will no longer exist. So, if one is betting on political futures over at PredictIt, probably best not to invest too much in Mike Pence or Corey Stewart. (Z)

Tax Reform Will Probably Be Tougher than Health Care

When Congress returns, it will start to tackle changing the tax law. Good luck with that, since it will probably be harder to do than health care. All Republicans want tax cuts, but they differ on whose taxes to cut, by how much, and how to pay for the cuts, if at all. Here are some of the issues:

In addition, while most big companies had no skin in the game on health care, all of them have a lot of skin in the game on taxes. Furthermore, different sectors, regions, and companies have different interests, so putting together a package that can get majorities in both chambers of Congress will not be a piece of cake. (V)

Senate May End Blue-Slip Courtesy

For over 100 years, the Senate has had a tradition in the procedure for how a federal judge is confirmed: the senators from the state where the judge will work are given a blue slip on which to approve or reject the judge. This courtesy gives the senators an effective veto over judges who will work in their states.

For example, there is a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th circuit, which is located in Minneapolis. Donald Trump has nominated a conservative judge, David Stras, for the vacancy, but both Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) oppose him. Under the tradition, they would be able to stop the appointment, and they are almost certain to do so if they are able.

However, the Senate is now considering abolishing the blue-slip rule. This would give Trump unfettered power to name very conservative judges to the large number of vacancies in the federal courts, many of which exist because Republican senators used the blue-slip rule to block Barack Obama's nominees. The danger for the Republicans, of course, is that some day the shoe may be on the other foot, with a Democratic president nominating judges over the objections of Republican senators. But the appeal of packing the judiciary now with conservatives may be so overwhelming that the Senate can't resist, future consequences be damned. The result of eliminating the blue-slip tradition will undoubtedly be more ideological judges, since presidents will have one fewer obstacle to overcome in getting nominees confirmed, so why not shoot for the moon? (V)

CNN's "Jeffrey Lord Problem"

Fox News tries a little bit to provide "balance" in their coverage. MSNBC tries a little bit more and, of the major cable news networks, CNN tries the hardest. CNN's efforts in this direction took a bit of a hit this week, however, with the departure of Kayleigh McEnany (voluntarily, for a job with the RNC) and Jeffrey Lord (not voluntarily, for his decision to attack an opponent on Twitter with a Nazi salute). This has occasioned an interesting piece by Slate's Justin Peters, with the headline "Firing Jeffrey Lord Doesn't Fix CNN's Jeffrey Lord Problem."

The major argument of the piece is that CNN's version of "balance" very much belongs in quotations, because it's not really balance at all. Anyone who has watched CNN's political coverage knows that McEnany and Lord (not to mention Corey Lewandowski, Ben Ferguson, and a few others) don't provide analysis from a conservative perspective, they provide cheerleading for Donald Trump. Their utter unwillingness to be critical of The Donald was so overt that it once prompted Anderson Cooper to tell Lord that, "If Trump took a dump on his desk, you'd defend it." And particularly concerning, in the case of Lord, is that he was recommended to CNN by...Donald Trump, who was asked to suggest an individual who would go on television and defend the then-candidate when nobody else would.

And therein lies the rub. Despite CNN's commitment to "balance," not all opinions are equally valid, and not all sides of a debate are equally worthy of attention. The network already has a number of thoughtful, conservative voices, among them Ana Navarro, David Gergen, and Ari Fleischer. If CNN could not get them to go on the air and say positive things about Trump, that communicates something very important. Vastly more important than hearing a Trump acolyte bloviate endlessly about how The Donald is going to "Make America Great Again." (Z)

Donald Trump Is Making People Sick

No, not with his efforts to kill Obamacare, since he hasn't had a lot of impact there yet (though see below). It's the generally anti-science tone and tenor of his administration. While the impact of the global warming denialists has gotten the most attention, the anti-vaccine movement has also gotten a shot in the arm, as it were, as a result of Trump's rise to power. That includes a higher profile for RFK, Jr., whom Trump has courted, an anti-vaccine March on Washington, and renewed efforts in various states to make it easier for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children, or to encourage them to exercise an already-existing right to do so.

While the ruination of the Earth's climate would presumably have the more serious impact in the long term, non-vaccination could have a very profound impact in the immediate future. As most people with a basic scientific education know, the whole theory behind vaccines rests on the notion of "herd immunity," that if most members of a population cannot serve as carriers for a virus, it will not be able to thrive (or even survive), thus affording coverage to the handful of individuals who cannot be vaccinated for whatever reason (allergies, compromised immune system, etc.). However, even a small decline in the number of vaccinated individuals—perhaps as little as five percent—could sow the seeds of an epidemic. And, of course, once a person has failed to be vaccinated in childhood, they don't generally correct the deficiency in adulthood. So, this is one way (among many) that Trump's impact could be felt long after he's left the White House. (Z)

Trump To Roll Back Obamacare Protections for Transgender Individuals

Presumably taking note of the heated debates over bathroom bills in Texas, North Carolina, and other places, Donald Trump seems to have found a target that he thinks is a winner with the base: transgender Americans. Having already announced his intention to ban them from joining the military (and, presumably, to eject those who are already enlisted), the President is now preparing to eliminate Obamacare's provision that transgender individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity.

There is no question that this is a purely political maneuver, designed to please the "Christian" evangelicals who have yet to notice that Trump isn't actually religious. It's unclear that the Obamacare rules require special considerations for transgender individuals (i.e., reassignment procedures), and even if it is decided that they do, the cost of a few thousand reassignment surgeries per year is a relative drop in the bucket of American health care costs. The President's willingness to use LGBT citizens as a sop to his base certainly puts the lie to his repeated assertions, including one in his acceptance speech, that he would be a friend to the community. That promise thus joins the talk of Mexican walls, the "terrific" replacement for Obamacare, the secret plan to defeat ISIS, and the commitment to release the tax returns on the scrap heap. (Z)

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