Aug. 30

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Trump Holds Rally in Texas

There is an old joke about a guy who goes to a boxing match, and a hockey game breaks out. Tuesday's events brought that old chestnut to mind, as Donald Trump went to Texas to view the hurricane damage, and yet ended up holding one of his rallies.

The rally-like behavior began with the President and First Lady's sartorial choices; she was in six-inch stilettos when departing for Texas, while throughout the day he was wearing his official USA 45th President cap, available for just $40 on his website. Trump also spent much time bragging about how effectively he and his administration are responding to the disaster, and predicted that it would go down as the best hurricane response ever. Marveling at the group of 1,000 or so people in Corpus Christi who gathered to hear him speak, the President simply could not help crowing, "What a crowd! What a turnout!"

In fairness to Trump, it is important for him to show strength in times of crisis, and he certainly did that. However, the other part of the equation is empathy, and that was wholly lacking. Bush-era press secretary Ari Fleischer noticed it, declaring that, "There was something missing from what President Trump said...the empathy for the people who suffer." So did The Atlantic, which ran a story on Tuesday under the headline, "Harvey Exposes Trump's Empathy Deficit."

This is not something that will change in future crises; there are many things the President can fake, but empathy is not one of them. Trump's still better off than George W. Bush, who was generally not too good at strength or empathy (post-9/11 activities excepted). But The Donald isn't going to be setting a new standard for brilliant disaster-handling, no matter what he might hope for or predict. It really takes someone like a Bill Clinton who, remember, can "feel your pain." (Z)

Trump May Soon Face Tough Choice Due to Hurricane Harvey

Donald Trump has said that he will shut down the government if he doesn't get funding for a wall with Mexico. The deadline is Oct. 1 for a spending bill. Given that Congress is likely to be forced to appropriate billions of dollars to allow Texas to recover from Hurricane Harvey, it is not likely to be in a mood to appropriate a lot of money for a wall that most of Texas' senators and representatives in Congress don't want. Even the House Freedom Caucus has said that it does not want to shut down the government, and will vote for a bill that does not fund the wall.

So come the end of September, Trump is going to face a tough choice:

Neither of these is acceptable to Trump, but most likely these two options will be all that are on the table. Trump's recent fighting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) makes it worse. McConnell never had any interest in the wall in the first place, but he is the one who gets to decide if there is any wall funding in the bill appropriating the money to run the government next year. He might just want to stick it to Trump, and show him who is really the boss by not including anything for the wall and saying the money that might have gone to build a wall has to go to hurricane recovery efforts. For Trump to say: "The wall is more important than recovery" will not play well with most of the country, certainly not in Texas. But if Trump accepts the fact that there is no funding for the wall this year, his next real shot will be September 2018, just before the midterms, when members of Congress tend to be very skittish and his leverage may be close to zero. (V)

Kim Jong-Un Isn't Going Away

Donald Trump thought he had solved his North Korea problem, by having outblustered Kim Jong-Un. At his Phoenix rally, the President bragged:

I can tell you, what I said, that's not strong enough. Some people said it's too strong, it's not strong enough. But Kim Jong Un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. Respect that fact.

Twice in the past four days, however, Kim resumed his missile-firing. That includes the most provocative move made by the North Koreans in years: a missile fired over Japan on Monday. Though the projectile splashed harmlessly into the sea, the message was clear: We can hit Tokyo, if we want to. Being able to reach the mainland U.S. is not far behind, if Kim is not there already.

As with the Mexican wall (see above), Trump has limited options (even though he says "all options are on the table"). None of them are going to make him happy. Clearly, bluster is not working. He could become even more aggressive, up to and including an actual strike on North Korea, but then he would bear the responsibility when and if Tokyo and/or Seoul gets hit, with the loss of life potentially numbering in the millions. Hopefully, that's a nonstarter. Trump could try to work with China, but they're not all that reliable on this front, and doing so would certainly mean dropping all talk of slapping them with tariffs. Alternatively, he could try to talk to Kim directly, but that would involve making concessions, which in turn would be "weakness." Trump hates weakness. Still, he's going to have to choose one of these unpleasant options, and probably sooner rather than later. (Z)

Trump's Tax Plan Doesn't Hold Water

In many ways, it has to be frustrating to be Donald Trump. Every time he puts forward a policy initiative, the experts conduct their analysis, and then conclude that it's a bad idea. A disastrous idea, in fact, with little to no upside and all kinds of downside. The latest proposal to get this treatment: Trump's plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, so as to stimulate job growth.

The group passing judgment on the plan is the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who tend to know their stuff. They project that the Trump tax plan would cost the government between 3 and 7 trillion dollars in lost revenue over the next decade. At the same time, it would do virtually nothing, in their estimation, to create jobs. The Committee reached this conclusion by examining nearly a hundred companies that managed to drop their tax rates below 20% utilizing existing exemptions and rebates, and found that lower taxes did not increase the number of people these companies employed. In fact, the reduced tax burden corresponded—on average—with a 1% reduction in the number of employees.

The observation that Trump's plans always seem to get pooh-poohed is not an argument that he's being treated unfairly. No, the point is that a president whose policies are all shoot from the hip, with little or no research beforehand, is going to come up snake eyes most of the time. (Z)

Ninth Circuit Court Seems Skeptical of Muslim Ban v2.0

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had a hearing on Donald Trump's Muslim Ban v2.0 and the judges didn't seem to be buying it. All three judges on the case seemed hostile to the ban. For example, Judge Ronald Gould asked: "How can the government take the position that a grandmother or a grandfather or aunt or uncle of a child in the U.S. does not have a close familial relationship? Like, what universe does that come from?" The Justice Department's lawyer, Hashim Mooppan, acknowledged that many people would consider grandparents as close relatives. But he said a legal definition could exclude them to make the ban easier to administer. No matter how the Ninth Circuit rules, the case is going to end up in the Supreme Court, which will have the final say on who is close family. (V)

Mueller Subpoenas Manafort's Former Lawyer

Special counsel Robert Mueller has issued a subpoena to Melissa Laurenza, Paul Manafort's former attorney. Manafort recently fired her and hired a new lawyer who specializes in defending people accused of money laundering. Mueller also subpoenaed Manafort's spokesman, Jason Maloni.

It is not clear what information Mueller expects these people to give him. Such subpoenas are unusual, even more so in the case of Laurenza, because it could raise the issue of attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors prefer to avoid raising this issue. The subpoenas are among dozens Mueller has issued so far. (V)

Donald Trump Jr. Will Talk to Senate Judiciary Committee

Last summer Donald Trump Jr. attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer and several other Russians close to Vladimir Putin. Junior was expecting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Conspiring with foreign nationals to get them to donate something of value (such as information) to a U.S. political campaign is a felony. Not surprisingly, some of the Senate committees investigating Russiagate are keen on talking to Junior about the meeting, and also about what his father knew and when he knew it. After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating, Junior has agreed to be interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in private session very soon. The date has not been revealed. He may or may not ever testify in public. Earlier this month Junior turned over 250 pages of documents to the committee. (V)

Mattis Forms Panel to Study Transgender Soldiers

Well, not the soldiers, exactly, but their ability to serve in the military. Sec. of Defense James Mattis' new panel, which was announced Tuesday, will be made up of staffers from the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security. They will "provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the President's direction." Maybe Mattis really thinks this is the best way to proceed, but in general, blue ribbon panels are used in order to avoid actually doing anything. At the moment, Mattis can claim he's "working on it" and Trump can claim he "took strong action," and maybe that's where it ends. In a month or six, as Mattis surely knows, Trump will be distracted by some other windmill to tilt at. When was the last time, for example, the President talked about the Muslim travel ban? (Z)

2020 Is Already Here

The 2020 New Hampshire presidential primary is 29 months away, yet candidates are already showing up in the Granite State to press the flesh. This is unprecedented. Potential candidates have always thought about the primary years in advance, but actually going to New Hampshire to campaign before the midterms is a huge break with past precedent. Yet on Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti showed up in Manchester to work the crowds. Nominally he was there to help a Democrat running for mayor, but since when does the mayor of Los Angeles get involved in local races in New Hampshire? Yesterday, the only officially declared Democrat in the 2020 race, Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), was there campaigning. On Labor Day, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Jason Kander, who narrowly lost a Senate bid in Missouri in 2016, will be there. (V)

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