Jul. 02

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Trump Fires Back

Nobody puts baby in a corner. And nobody tells Donald Trump what to do. So, despite intense criticism from both sides of the aisle, he decided to continue his war of words with MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Saturday's salvo:

Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017

The tweet tells us very little about Scarborough or Brzezinski, since we can safely say that he is not crazy and she is not dumb. It does, however, reveal much about Trump. That he's thin-skinned, immature, and petulant, of course. That he holds most women in low esteem, and has no problem bullying them. And that he's shallow, since it would seem the only measure of a show's worth (or a president's worth, presumably) is ratings. Nobody better tell him that some of the greatest and most influential shows in television history—"Freaks and Geeks," "St. Elsewhere," "Star Trek," "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "30 Rock"—drew pedestrian ratings. Meanwhile, some of the highest-rated—"The Beverly Hillbillies," "Leave it to Beaver," "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Dallas," "The Dukes of Hazzard"—were, to be kind, not exactly great artistic achievements.

Now, just because Trump doesn't change his behavior due to criticism does not mean he is deaf to it. In characteristic fashion, he took to Twitter Saturday afternoon to explain how everyone else is wrong, and he is right:

The FAKE & FRAUDULENT NEWS MEDIA is working hard to convince Republicans and others I should not use social media - but remember, I won....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017

My use of social media is not Presidential - it's MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017

Again, all he is telling us is that he doesn't get it. The problem is not the use of Twitter, it's what he uses the platform to communicate. And whether it's through a broadside, or a pamphlet, or a newspaper, or a fireside chat, or a television commercial, petty personal attacks—particularly against private citizens—have never been regarded as appropriate presidential behavior. Hopefully, that standard will not change, no matter how many centuries the presidency lasts.

One wonders if anyone in Trump's inner circle has considered demanding that he tweet about "Morning Joe," and the "deep state," and his out-of-touch health-care proposals. It may be that reverse psychology is the only way to get him to put the phone down and to start acting presidentially. (Z)

Kasich Calls Trump Tweets "Unacceptable"

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is not running for president again. No sir, no way. Just ask him. However, he did write a book recently in which he outlines, "his concerns for America and his hopes for our future." And he has been lurking around New Hampshire. And he does tend to be the first Republican to talk to the media when Donald Trump does something untoward. On Saturday, for example, he spoke to ABC and blasted the President's use of social media as "unacceptable."

The point is that, barring a full Sherman, we should assume that Kasich is running in 2020, and is positioning himself as the "reasonable" GOP alternative to Trump. It's not a bad strategy, but also a bit of a long shot, if history is any guide. Here are all the presidents who were not renominated by their party (excepting those who stepped aside after two full terms, either due to tradition or to term limits):

It can be hard to distinguish which retirements are voluntary from which ones are not, given that presidents don't exactly like to announce openly that their parties have turned against them. However, the ones who most likely wanted another term, if it had been politically possible, are the two Johnsons, Tyler, Fillmore, and Pierce. That's five times, and in each case it was someone who got caught up in the political storm surrounding the Civil War, or a veep who had worn out his welcome, or both. So, there isn't much precedent for Trump to be denied re-nomination, particularly if a second term is what he wants (and, judging by all the rallies, it is). That said, so much of what Trump does is both unprecedented and unpresidented that who knows what 2020 will bring? Assuming, of course, that he even survives that long without being removed. (Z)

House Wants to Re-Assert Its War Powers

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed and George W. Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which grants the president broad authority to pursue military action against terrorists. Bush and Barack Obama used this power quite regularly, launching military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. However, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), one of the most liberal members of Congress, feels that her colleagues abrogated their constitutional responsibilities on the day they passed the AUMF. And so, on many occasions, she has proposed an amendment to military spending bills that would scrap the measure. And, on many occasions, she has been shot down (no pun intended). At least, until Thursday, when Lee's amendment was successfully added to a critical military spending bill, thanks to surprise GOP support.

By all accounts, there is no one reason for this change in perspective. Part of it is concern over seemingly endless engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places. Part of it is a sense that Congress needs to re-assert itself. And a big part of it, everyone agrees, is that both Democrats and Republicans are less comfortable trusting the president's judgment when that president is Donald Trump. When asked, several members who voted for the amendment pointed specifically to recent events in Syria as a tipping point.

Assuming the bill makes it through the Senate, which is likely, then Trump will have to decide whether or not to sign it. If he interprets the measure as a personal insult, he may balk at doing so. On the other hand, he and his staff don't seem to read things all that carefully (or at all), and he also would not like to be accused of not funding the military. Nor would he enjoy having a veto overridden, which would be a distinct possibility. So, it's anyone's guess what will happen. (Z)

Trump Wonders What States Are Trying to Hide

On Thursday and Friday, state officials received letters from Kris Kobach of the Electoral Integrity Commission ordering them to turn over their voter rolls. Just 48 hours later, a majority have either refused outright, or suggested they are likely to do so. Those states, which span the political spectrum, are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Some state leaders recognize the first step in voter suppression efforts when they see it. Others harbor an anti-federalist dislike of being told what to do by the central government. Still others are constrained by state laws that forbid the sharing of such data.

Donald Trump, who has little interest in such piddling details, and who rarely met a conspiracy theory did didn't like, is having none of it. He's in the midst of a Twitter frenzy right now, and so he took to the platform to declare:

Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017

Some might say that "distinguished" is a strong word to use for a panel led by Kris Kobach and Mike Pence, but different strokes for different folks. In any event, Trump's tweet fits nicely with the larger plan, which is to argue—without actual evidence—that there's a vast conspiracy to commit voter fraud. He and his "integrity" panel will simply keep repeating their charge until the base believes it's true (if they don't already). This is called proof by assertion. It's probably worth noting that this is also a key technique in brainwashing.

Of course, while Trump is focused on short-term gain (advancing his "voter fraud" narrative, lashing out at intransigent state officials), he once again has failed to consider the implication of his words. He's argued that those who refuse to share information, when asked to do so, must necessarily have something to hide. If so, Trump might want to take note of a person he's quite close to—so close that he sees him in the mirror every morning—who has repeatedly declined requests to share information that others in his position gave up voluntarily. So, what is the President hiding? (Z)

Tillerson Temper Tantrums Times Two

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is cranky. He's unhappy that many of the people he wanted to hire have been vetoed, despite the fact he was promised he would be able to hire his own staff when he agreed to take this job. He's irritated at the "assistants" that have been appointed to keep an eye on him. He doesn't like Donald Trump's behavior, particularly the tweets. He also believes, with good reason, that unfriendly White House insiders are leaking information about him.

All of this is, apparently, a bit much to bear for a corporate CEO who is used to ordering people to jump, and being asked "how high?" So, on Friday, he had a meltdown, laying into Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office. Reportedly, the verbal tirade was so blistering that Jared Kushner felt compelled to apologize to DeStefano afterwards. And in case there were any doubts about how the Secretary feels, he had a shouting match about immigration policy with Senior Adviser Stephen Miller not long thereafter.

Obviously, this is a situation that is untenable. Tillerson does not like the job or the salary, and didn't seek appointment in the first place. If he's aggravated to the point of screaming, particularly given that he's normally known for his even keel, then something's got to give. And since Donald Trump seems rather unlikely to change the way he does business, we must assume that Tillerson is not long for this administration. (Z)

GOP Senators Want to Skip Recess

Congress hasn't gotten much done since the new term started in January. Who knew how difficult it is to make progress when your party controls both houses of Congress and the White House? Now, the calendar year is half over, and the fiscal year is almost completely over (September 30). Taking note of these things, as well as the fact that the Senate is currently scheduled to be in session for only 33 days between now and the end of September, a group of GOP senators is pushing to shorten the summer recess, or cancel it outright.

The group of senators who made the request numbers around 10, and includes Joni Ernst (IA), James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee (UT), and Luther Strange (AL), among others. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hasn't commented yet because he knows that while added time would be useful, it will be a hard sell with much of his caucus. There are reasons that the Senate recesses like this, among them the miserable summer climate in Washington, the need to do constituent work back home, the desire to see family members (for those senators who do not relocate their families, which is most of them), and the need for a little rest. McConnell may also note, if he's being fatalistic, that if the Senate couldn't get anything done in their first 150 days together, another 10 or 15 may not help much. (Z)

Several States Are in Shutdown Mode

While the federal government's fiscal year ends on September 30, for many states it ends on June 30. And in three states for which that is true—Maine, Illinois, and New Jersey—there's no budget for FY 2017-18 and the state government has been completely or partially shut down. That means, among other things, no financial aid for students, no road repairs, no issuance of new license plates or driver's licenses, no access to state beaches, and—perhaps worst of all—no sales of Powerball lottery tickets.

It's hard to know exactly how this will affect voters, though in New Jersey we may learn if it's possible for a governor's approval rating to drop into the single digits. It's worth noting that all three states have Republican chief executives, and all three will have gubernatorial elections in 2017 (New Jersey) or 2018 (Illinois, Maine). If the current mess helps defeat Chris Christie's preferred successor in New Jersey (Kim Guadagno) and somehow sweeps Bruce Rauner (IL) and Paul LePage (ME) out of office, along with one GOP state senator in Maine, it would give the blue team three more state trifectas, to go with the six they already have. (Z)

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