Aug. 25

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Trump Lashes Out at Everyone

If you criticize President Donald Trump, you have to expect that he will attack you shortly thereafter in his tweets. And even if you don't criticize him, you can still be the target of nasty tweets. Yesterday he lashed out at former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who had called his speech in Phoenix Tuesday "downright scary and disturbing." Clapper also questioned Trump's fitness for office. Trump, for his part, said that Clapper had lied to Congress in 2013 about whether the intelligence organizations were intentionally collecting information about Americans.

Trump also went after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) again. He blamed McConnell for failing to repeal Obamacare, even though McConnell cannot order senators to vote for any bill he brings up. He went after Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on the debt ceiling, even though that legislation hasn't come up yet. Trump wants to have Ryan combine the debt ceiling increase into a popular bill to help veterans and then dare Democrats to vote "no." Ryan doesn't seem to want to play games with the debt ceiling and Trump's own secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin, wants a clean stand-alone debt ceiling bill. However, the House Freedom Caucus is against a clean bill, putting Ryan in a bind. Trump's tweet doesn't make his life any easier.

Of course, no Trump tirade would be complete without attacking the media over and over. He especially went after CNN, accusing it of broadcasting fake news.

All these attacks will probably play well with Trump's base, which is the intended audience. However, they are not going to go over well with Clapper, McConnell and Ryan. Clapper has no real power any more, although he might know things that could be embarrassing to Trump if leaked. In contrast, McConnell and Ryan very much have real power and probably are seething in private, even if they are calm on the surface. Trump doesn't realize that he needs them more than they need him. Suppose they pass a budget with no funding for his wall in it. If he signs it, he doesn't get a wall and if he vetoes it he doesn't get a wall. Trump's strategy his whole life has been to intimidate his opponents. He may well have met his match with those two. (V)

Best Eclipse Ever

Donald Trump has not (yet) taken credit for managing a successful solar eclipse, but he did something else eclipse related. He retweeted a sequence of images with him eclipsing Barack Obama:

Trump eclipsing Obama

While clever, there are a couple of things Trump didn't think about. This imagery implies than Obama is the sun and the center of the solar system and the brightest object in it. The moon, played by Trump here, is just a small piece of lifeless rock. Also, the eclipse lasted only 2 minutes. Then the sun came back in all its former glory. Be careful about your analogies. (V)

Mnuchin May Have Eclipse Trouble

One might think that it would be all but impossible for a solar eclipse to turn into a political scandal. And one would be wrong, it seems. Welcome to politics in the 21st century, where anything and everything could become the next -gate.

The person who may get burned by the eclipse is Steven Mnuchin, who was in Kentucky this weekend to speak at an event hosted by Mitch McConnell. He was traveling on the taxpayers' dime, and the timing and path of his airplane flight makes it look an awful lot like the Secretary's main objective was not to join the Majority Leader, but to have an excellent seat for the eclipse, 30,000 feet in the air. That is certainly what Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington suspects, and they have requested copies of the government records needed to put their theory to the test. If it's true, or even plausibly true, Mnuchin really blew it here. These days, the microscope is on politicians 24 hours a day, and it's essential to mind one's p's and q's, and then also to mind one's r's and s's and t's, just to be sure. Following a week in which the Secretary's wife already embarrassed the administration with her online behavior, making a blunder like this is inexcusable. (Z)

Trump May Get His "Katrina Moment" This Weekend

When Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, George W. Bush was out in sunny Arizona celebrating Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) birthday. Bush was roundly criticized for not dropping everything and flying immediately to the nearest air force base to take charge of helping the millions of people who were left homeless by the hurricane and the subsequent flooding. Tonight and this weekend, Donald Trump may get a chance to demonstrate how good he is in times of crisis, as Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on Texas and is expected to produce up to 4 feet of rainfall around Corpus Christi and almost as much around Houston.

Because the hurricane is going to hit a deep red state, Trump can't just shrug it off with a tweet saying God is punishing people for voting for Hillary Clinton. He's going to have to deal with it, and his performance is going to be judged against Bush's performance during Katrina and Barack Obama's performance during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

One thing Trump has going for him is FEMA Director Brock Long, who is considered an expert on extreme weather. He was formerly director of Alabama's emergency management agency and also a regional hurricane program manager at FEMA. Bush's FEMA director, Michael Brown, was widely criticized for doing a very poor relief job in the aftermath of Katrina. The fact that his previous job before FEMA was working for the International Arabian Horse Association may have had something to do with that. It's not too often that horse trainers have to worry about hurricane preparedness. (V)

Ryan Says the Tax Cut Must Be Permanent

Paul Ryan wants the upcoming tax-cut bill to be permanent. Yesterday in an interview with CNBC, he said: We very passionately believe that permanence is very, very important. So the big decision-making provisions in the tax code? That stuff's got to be permanent."

If Ryan really means it—and that is far from certain—he is playing double or nothing. Businesses are far more likely to make investments and other decisions if they know their taxes won't go up in 10 years. However, Democrats are never going to support any Republican tax-cut bill, so in the Senate, the bill must be passed using the budget reconciliation procedure. Among other things, this means that the tax bill must be revenue neutral over 10 years. By saying that he is going for a permanent tax cut, Ryan is now committed to either cutting spending or raising other taxes by enough to offset the tax cut for businesses and wealthy individuals that he wants to pass. This is going to make getting any bill through the House and Senate much harder. By opting for a revenue-neutral bill, he is potentially setting himself up for failure, because raising other taxes or eliminating major deductions is going to raise a storm of protest and may end up killing the entire effort. It's a big gamble. (V)

Trump Makes Transgender Ban Mattis' Problem

When Donald Trump announced his new "policy" on transgender soldiers a month ago, apparently without consulting anyone, he said that they would not be allowed "to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." That was somewhat impractical on a number of levels, particularly as regards the several thousand transgender soldiers already in uniform. Now, the White House is prepared to issue actual guidelines to the Pentagon, and they essentially amount to dumping the problem in Secretary of Defense James Mattis' lap. Mattis will have the authority (but not orders) to expel transgender soldiers, and will be expected to stop any additional transgender soldiers from enlisting. He's also going to have 6 months to figure things out.

It is not entirely certain how Mattis will proceed, though the general consensus (no pun intended) is that he will be very conservative when it comes to expelling anyone from the military. How he will stop new transgender recruits—and whether or not he will even try—is anyone's guess. After all, transgender status is not something that can be tested for, like blood type or clarity of eyesight. As "don't ask, don't tell" taught us, people can keep LGBT status hidden, if it becomes necessary. There's a nonzero chance that Mattis drags his feet, recognizing that Trump already has the political "victory" he wants, and then tries to quietly forget any of this ever happened. (Z)

Who Cares About Miners' Health? Not the Trump Administration, Apparently

Mountaintop removal mining is used very widely in some parts of Appalachia. However, it is believed to produce toxic byproducts that affect both workers and the local groundwater supply. Groundwater that, in some cases, eventually becomes drinking water. The apparent result of all of this is lung cancer, heart disease, and a number of other chronic and/or fatal health complications. In order to be certain, the Obama administration had budgeted $1 million for a study of the matter. Now, the Trump administration has suspended that funding, "pending review," and ordered that the study be halted immediately.

The official reason given for the decision is that the administration wants to make sure that any and all researchers are "responsibly using taxpayer dollars." It is easy to think, however, that maybe the powers that be would prefer to remain ignorant, since confirmation that mountaintop removal mining is dangerous would likely kill the practice, along with many jobs and many millions in profits for mining companies. Whatever the administration's motive is, the optics are certainly very poor. Trump was supposed to be a champion of miners, who voted for him by large margins over Hillary Clinton. A Pennsylvania or West Virginia politician (Joe Manchin?) could get a lot of mileage out of the observation that Trump may be interested in saving miners' jobs, but he's apparently not too interested in saving their lives. (Z)

Plame Has Plan to Get Trump Kicked off of Twitter

Valerie Plame—yes, that Valerie Plame—apparently has a lot of spare time now that her CIA career has ended. And so, she's been at work on a plan to get Donald Trump off of Twitter. Plame has created a gofundme page in an effort to raise $1 billion in funds, so that she can buy a controlling interest in Twitter and kick Trump off the platform. As of this writing, she's collected $59,376.10. We may need to double-check this math, but she would appear to be just $999,940,623.90 short. At her current rate of fundraising, she will reach her target just in time to celebrate Trump's 116th birthday.

Unless George Soros has a spare billion laying around, then, it's not likely Plame will be successful. Her backup plan is to use whatever funds she does collect to buy stock in Twitter, so that she can make a proposal to ban Trump at the next shareholders' meeting. That's not much more realistic than coming up with the billion dollars, though. While Trump's tweets undoubtedly violate the letter of Twitter's policies against harassment, there are millions of users who go much further over the line than he does. If Twitter booted him, they'd have to boot all the others, too. Very impractical. Beyond that—and Twitter would not admit this publicly, of course—The Donald is good for business. He drives hundreds of thousands of people to the site and generates millions of page views. Not only would all that traffic be lost, but there is little doubt that his termination would result in Trumpeters deleting their accounts by the millions. So, we are left with the same conclusion that Ivanka Trump and Reince Priebus reluctantly reached six months ago: Nothing is going to get between the President and his Twitter. (Z)

CIA Staff, Director Don't Particularly Trust One Another

CIA Director Mike Pompeo is a career politician whose loyalties are to himself, Donald Trump, and the Republican Party, in that order. His staff is made up of career intelligence pros, whose loyalty is famously to the agency and to the government of the United States. This has set up something of a mini-Cold War in Langley, particularly as regards CIA efforts to help investigate Russian interference in the election.

At the moment, the two factions are, in effect, eyeing one another warily. Pompeo has required the Counterintelligence Mission Center, which is primarily responsible for the Trump investigation, to report directly to him. The Director hasn't interfered with their work thus far, but they also haven't turned up anything particularly damning yet. The concern, which is widely held, is that if they do come up with something bad for Trump, Pompeo will cause it to disappear. Needless to say, this is not the best situation when it comes to the functioning of the Agency. Normally, if a Director has so fully lost his staff's confidence (or if he never had it), it would probably be time for the president to ask for a resignation. But there is zero chance, of course, that Trump is going to send his bulldog to the showers. (Z)

Palin Endorses Heller's Challenger

Perennial losing candidate Danny Tarkanian is challenging Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) in what is likely to be a very nasty Republican primary. Tarkanian has picked up his first endorsement, and it is big one: Sarah Palin. Yesterday, Palin said: "Danny Tarkanian is a conservative outsider who will support the 'America First' policies our nation needs to survive and thrive, including building the border wall, ending sanctuary cities, and finally repealing Obamacare."

During the 2016 Republican primaries, Heller was a constant critic of Trump, and the two have not agreed on much since Trump took office. It's payback time now. However, a different Heller might point out the catch-22 here. If Palin gets her way and Tarkanian beats the senator in a bloody primary, he will almost certainly be felled by the Democrat, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), because he is far too conservative for this bluish state that Hillary Clinton won last year. (V)

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