Aug. 26

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Trump Settles Some Business

In the climactic scene of the movie The Godfather, mafia enforcers kill all of the rivals of Don Michael Corleone. Conveniently, the Don just so happens to be in church at the time, very publicly standing as godfather to his nephew, which gives him an ironclad alibi. "Today," says Don Corleone after the killing spree, "I settled all family business." Friday's events certainly brought to mind that famous sequence, as Donald Trump settled a lot of unpleasant business in just a few short hours. Doing a lot of dirty work at the same time may not afford The Donald an alibi, per se, but it make it hard for negative attention to focus on any one thing for long. Further, the President is almost certainly—and perversely—hoping that the havoc wrought by Hurricane Harvey pushes all of this news off the front pages by Sunday.

To start, Trump did as expected and pulled the trigger on the Joe Arpaio pardon on Friday. Trump's attorneys told him to wait and, in fact, the DoJ wasn't even given a chance to review the pardon. While not required, a president generally only foregoes the DoJ's opinion when he knows that he's not going to like what they have to say. The White House statement on the matter declared, in part, that "Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration." That's right—"scourges." Undoubtedly, if Arizona had been hit by a plague of locusts, or maybe water turning into blood, Arpaio would have been right there on the front lines.

Trump's pardon was met with a firestorm of criticism, but from people that the President doesn't care about. Like Latinos. And Hollywood elites. And Arizona's senator, John McCain (R):

.@POTUS's pardon of Joe Arpaio, who illegally profiled Latinos, undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law

— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) August 26, 2017

And Arizona's other senator, Jeff Flake (R):

Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.

— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 26, 2017

Again, none of these people are the base, and the base is all the matters to Trump these days. Still, any slight claim that The Donald still had on being a man who opposes racism and who respects the rule of law is now gone. Among all his other misdeeds, Arpaio discriminated openly against minorities—particularly Latinos—for decades. It was so bad that he was busted by a court, forced to answer to a court-appointed monitor, busted again, and eventually thrown out of office by the voters of deep-red Maricopa County. For Trump to handle Charlottesville as he did, and then to pardon Arpaio, all within the same month, leaves zero doubt as to where he stands when it comes to racism and to equal treatment before the law.

Of course, pardoning Arpaio was not the only thing Trump did Friday. It wasn't even the only thing he did that will antagonize the Latino community. ABC News is reporting that the President is leaning towards ending the DACA program next week. Depending on the implementation, up to 800,000 people who came to the U.S. illegally as children could be deported. Of course, rounding them all up and sending them home would be a logistical nightmare, so Trump might decide to let them stay and just not let any new people apply for the program. In effect, this would be tantamount to granting amnesty to the ones already in the program. This would break a major campaign promise. Trump has until Sept. 5 to decide, because if he takes no action 10 states are prepared to sue him then to force his hand.

Meanwhile, as long as Trump had his pen out anyhow, he also made the ban on transgender troops official. Now, Sec. of Defense James Mattis has six months to figure out exactly what to do. Or, whether he actually wants to do anything.

The President also did a little housecleaning on Friday. Once Steve Bannon was shown the door, there was little question that his acolyte Sebastian Gorka would soon follow. Now, the axe has fallen. As with Bannon, Gorka claimed that he resigned, while the White House says he was fired. Either way, the alt-right is not going to be happy that another of their champions has fallen. Breitbart—which, remember, is supposed to be going to WAR! for Trump—already has an article blasting the move, with the declaration that "Forces that do not support the MAGA promise are—for now—ascendant within the White House." This Breitbart-Trump thing is not going to end well, particularly once Stephen Miller also gets cashiered, a development that can't be far off.

Finally, if Arpaio and Gorka and DACA and a generous dollop of transphobia were not enough, North Korea fired off some more missiles on Friday. Presumably Trump had nothing to with that. In any event, it is the President's good fortune that a story that would otherwise be big news, and would lead to all kinds of discussion of his difficulties with Kim Jong-un, is going to be relegated to the fourth or fifth or six slot on the list on Saturday.

There is, of course, no way to be certain how many of these things were planned to happen on the same day, and how many were...fortuitous, let's say. However, the President has already openly acknowledged that the Arpaio pardon will be controversial, and he also knows that the hurricane in Texas will be the story of the weekend, regardless of how it turns out. So, it is simply impossible that those two things are not connected. With DACA and Gorka, it's less certain that there was a plan, but it's still probable. In any case, while Donald Trump may not have settled all of his business on Friday, he certainly settled a lot of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should probably consider himself lucky if there's no horse's head in the bed when he wakes up on Saturday. (Z & V)

Ted and John Meet Harvey

Texas' Republican Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn voted against providing aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in early 2013. They don't believe that helping hurricane victims is a federal responsibility. They also don't like spending federal money in general, especially not in chunks of $50 billion, which the Sandy bill appropriated. Besides, the brunt of Sandy was felt in New Jersey, a blue state in which neither senator is terribly interested.

Now the shoe—no, make that the hip boot—is on the other foot/leg. The FEMA disaster relief fund has only $3.8 billion in it but the damage from Hurricane Harvey, which is expected to devastate the Texas coast, is probably going to be many times that. Undoubtedly someone will introduce a bill in Congress to help the victims of Harvey and rebuild the coast. The big question here is will Cruz, who is up for reelection in 2018, stick to his principles and vote against the bill, or will he go for political opportunism and support it? Either way he is going to come in for lots of criticism. (V)

Trump May Back Away from Strange

During the first round of the Alabama Republican primary to fill the seat of former senator Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump backed Sessions' appointed replacement, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). The Washington Post is reporting that Trump is now considering turning away from Strange. The reason is clear: Two consecutive polls have shown Strange trailing former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore by nearly 20 points, and Trump likes winners, not losers. Backing a loser would tarnish his image and show other Republicans that having Trump endorse your opponent isn't a problem at all. That would reduce Trump's leverage over other senators to almost zero.

On the other hand, Mitch McConnell wants Strange to win in the worst way because Strange is a compliant backbencher and Moore would be a loose cannon. Moore is 70 years old and knows very well he will never have any power in the Senate, so why not wreak havoc while he can? If Trump ends up (tacitly) supporting Moore and McConnell goes all out for Strange, the already badly damaged relationship between Trump and McConnell will get even worse. They haven't spoken in weeks, and Trump has taken potshots at McConnell. Having a hostile relationship with the majority leader of the Senate doesn't generally help a president get his program through Congress. (V)

Trump Goes After Bob Corker

As if messing with the Alabama Senate race was not enough, Trump is also suggesting that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) not run for reelection in 2018. Of course, Corker started it by saying that Trump doesn't have the stability or competence to be president. Still, Trump is now in serious fights with at least six Republican senators. First we have the three who voted against repealing Obamacare: Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and John McCain. Next is Mitch McConnell, whom Trump blames for not repealing Obamacare. Then we have Jeff Flake, who is openly running on an anti-Trump platform. Now add Corker, who is a serious and dependable senator, not to mention a powerful one who runs the HELP Committee, which has jurisdiction over things like health care. As a general rule, antagonizing a substantial fraction of your own party's Senate caucus is not usually considered a wise move for a president who wants to get laws passed. Or, for that matter, one who wants to avoid being impeached and convicted, should it come to that. (V)

RNC Adopts Resolution Condemning White Supremacists

At its summer meeting, the RNC issued a statement condemning white supremacists, Nazis, and the KKK, saying they have no "fruitful place in the United States." This puts the RNC on a different page from the president, who is a Republican, at least in name. Trump has repeatedly blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville. RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel also addressed the "alt-right" Charlottesville marchers, saying: "We don't want your vote, we don't support you, we'll speak out against you." That is pretty clear language. Trump has said nothing of the kind. (V)

Cohn Almost Resigned

It's not the easiest time to be a Democrat, or to be Jewish. Even tougher is being a Jewish Democrat, and still tougher than that is being a Jewish Democrat who works for Donald Trump. So, it is not too much of a surprise to learn that Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, came close to quitting his job last week.

The issue, of course, was Donald Trump's handling of the Charlottesville mess. Reportedly, the President's wishy-washy condemnation of hate groups, like the Nazis, caused Cohn much "distress." Exactly how close he was to resigning is in some dispute, but eventually he decided to stay on board the SS Trump. Not out of any particular loyalty to the administration, however, nor out of love for his job. It would seem that Cohn's eye is on replacing Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve, and remaining in Trump's White House and in his good graces is the only way to do that. Cohn would hardly be the first politician to be in it only for himself, though that type of politician does seem to be unusually common in this administration. (Z)

Kasich-Hickenlooper 2020?

On Friday, the rumor began to circulate that Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) are thinking about running in 2020 as a fusion ticket. The plan is to have Kasich at the top of the ticket, to run as independents, and to focus their campaign on finding a bipartisan approach to health care.

It's an interesting idea that has some appeal in theory, and that has apparently gone well beyond the "just kicking ideas around" stage. However, it's also a silly pipe dream, as currently conceived. If one man or the other wants to win his party's nomination, then choose a VP candidate from the other party, then maybe. It worked for Lincoln, for example. But there is simply no way an independent ticket can attract enough votes to win an election. The (D) and the (R) matter a lot to most voters, and there aren't enough people who would favor a (R + D) when a (D + D) or an (R + R) is available. And that's before we talk about the difficulties of funding such a campaign without a built-in donor base or a party apparatus. In fact, the only possible impact that a Kasich-Hickenlooper independent bid could have would be to make it easier for Donald Trump to claim electoral votes with his current base of support. Presumably, the two governors will see the light, and will not move forward with the plan. Although, we now know—as we and everyone else suspected—that Kasich's claim that he was done running for office was nonsense. (Z)

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