Sep. 08

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Trump Raves about the News Coverage of His Deal with the Democrats

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump made a budget deal with the Democratic leaders in Congress. The Republicans in Congress despise the deal (more below). No one seemed to understand why Trump undercut his own party to cut a deal with the other party. Now it is starting to become clearer what the method was to his madness: Yesterday, he bragged about the terrific news coverage he got. He even said explicitly: "The press has been incredible."

Apparently for Trump, the news coverage he gets about a decision is far more important than the content of the decision. Of course, this opens him up to manipulation by many people: "If you do xyz, then USA Today promised to write a terrific story about you." But it is hardly a way to run the country. Besides, not all the coverage was positive. For example RedState's headline was "Trump's Upbeat Phone Calls To Schumer And Pelosi Signal Further Betrayals To Come."

Trump later said that this might be a start to more bipartisanship, something that pundits and editorial writers swoon about. Of course, just doing whatever the Democrats ask him to do may get him good press in some quarters, but it is not going to make the Republican leadership in Congress very happy, and the Democrats don't have enough votes to go it alone. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are probably pulling their hair out now trying to figure out how to manage Trump. At this rate, very soon all three of them will need comb-overs. Probably their best course of action is to do nothing for 24 hours and see if he completely reverses himself. It often happens. (V)

Conservatives Don't Care about the Coverage, Hate the Deal

Not everyone in Congress was pleased with the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi deal, to put it mildly. In particular, the leaders of the 150-member House Republican Study Committee condemned it, and the majority of them will vote against it. If all the Democrats in the House plus two dozen Republicans vote for it, the bill will pass, but like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it will leave a lot of damage in its wake. Specifically, it will put Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell between a rock and a hard place. If they do what Trump wants and pass the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi plan, conservatives will be furious with them. If they decide not to bring it up—lest it pass against their wishes—they will be targeted with a category 5 tweet storm. And they will get blamed if and when the government gets shut down. There is no easy way out when their own president is out making deals they detest with the opposition they despise.

McConnell, who is probably in an easier position than Ryan because senators represent entire states rather than very carefully constructed conservative strongholds, decided to bite the bullet. He brought the bill up yesterday and it passed 80 to 17, with every Democrat and a majority of the Republicans voting for it. Still, 17 Republicans voted against it. And all the bill really does is kick the can down the road until December. (V)

Hillary Clinton Wants to Continue the 2016 Democratic Primary

Just when the Democrats seem to be unified and are developing a coherent platform for 2018, Hillary Clinton is about to restart the divisive 2016 Democratic primary and tear the party apart. Her about-to-be-released memoir, "What Happened," tries to explain why she lost. She certainly blames Vladimir Putin, James Comey, and herself, but the real bogeyman is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The book's message is unmistakable: "Don't give Bernie the keys to the party." Sanders' supporters, some of whom have probably gotten over the primary and are willing to go forward, are guaranteed to be enraged.

Sanders is definitely on the ascendancy now. While he may or may not run in 2020, the emerging Democratic platform for 2018 and beyond has his fingerprints all over it. The party is now in favor of single-payer health insurance, a $15 minimum wage, breaking up monopolies, and more of the ideas he advanced. Having Clinton come out now and say that this is all wrong is going to cause a firestorm and could tear the party apart. Sanders says that Democrats must choose whom they support: corporations or the people. Clinton counters with: Sanders must decide whether or not he is even a Democrat. It is not just a label. The Democrats are a national party and have to consider the interests of people like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), not just the those of senators from deep blue states.

Clinton is about to embark on a 4-month book tour, and every day is going to be a continuation of the primary, with her bad-mouthing Sanders and him likely responding. Party unity? It was nice while it lasted. (V)

Steve Bannon Behaving like Steve Bannon

When Steve Bannon left the White House and returned to Breitbart, there were a lot of kumbaya statements about how everyone involved still loves one another, and how Bannon would still be fighting for the Trump agenda, just from the outside rather than the inside. This was not remotely believable or plausible. First of all, Bannon is not the type of man to forgive or forget. Further, Breitbart's entire modus operandi is throwing bombs. If the readership perceives that Bannon is pulling his punches, they will be furious, and will jump ship to InfoWars. And so, while Bannon may beat the drum on issues where he and Trump see eye-to-eye, he and his staff are not going to turn the other cheek on issues where they don't.

One such issue is DACA. The Breitbart readership hates the fact that it's going to continue for even one more day, and they positively loathe the thought that it might be saved during Trump's six-month "grace period." Bannon is happy to put this anger into words, announcing in an interview with "60 Minutes" that conservatives "are not happy with this." Bombastic as always, he also pooh-poohed religious leaders' support for keeping DACA. Though a Catholic himself, he blasted "the bishops" and said, "They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It's obvious on the face of it... They have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration." One can only imagine what he might have said if a bunch of rabbis had come out in support of DACA.

Needless to say, none of this is helping Trump. DACA is already an issue that divides his party, and even his base (at least a little). Having Bannon heighten those divisions is not going to make things any easier, particularly since the president is clearly trying to walk a fine line between "I took action against illegal immigrants" and "In the end, I didn't actually throw a bunch of people who came here as children out of the country." Trump may now be wishing that Bannon was still inside the tent, pissing out. (Z)

Cohn on Thin Ice

When Donald Trump decided not to condemn Nazis after Charlottesville, economic adviser Gary Cohn was not pleased, and he made that publicly known. Donald Trump does not like to be criticized by anyone, particularly his underlings, and he made that publicly known. The result is that the relationship between the two men has grown downright frosty. In fact, one White House insider, speaking of Cohn, said that Trump "hates him." To make things worse, Steve Bannon is stirring the already boiling pot, and this week has repeatedly proclaimed his belief that Cohn should resign.

The tenuousness of the relationship between Cohn and Trump becomes even clearer when considering the reasons the two men are still working together. In Cohn's case, according to a piece in the Washington Post, he says that he's staying in his job because:

[T]ax cuts are really important to me. I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We haven't done tax cuts in 31 years. So to be a part of an administration that gets something done that hasn't been done for 31 years is enormously challenging, enormously interesting to me.

Cohn neglected to offer so much as a nod towards how much he enjoys working for Trump, or how much he respects the President, even though he was prompted.

For Trump, the odds are good that Cohn survives for two main reasons. First, the President doesn't actually like to fire people, he prefers that they "resign." Second, there have been so many departures from the Trump White House, he's leery of any more, for fear of making his black eye all the worse. That said, Friday is "firing day" at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. these days, with at least one prominent head having rolled for each of the last seven Fridays. So, if Cohn gets a phone call from (202) 456-1111 around noon today, he might be wise not to take it. (Z)

Donald Trump Jr. Interviewed by Senate Staffers

Donald Trump Jr. was interviewed behind closed doors for 5 hours yesterday by Senate Judiciary staffers. In his opening statement, he said he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last summer because he wanted to assess Hillary Clinton's fitness for office, a subject about which Russian lawyers are known to be experts. He also said that before he spread any of the dirt he was hoping to get, he would speak with his lawyers. This means that he knew that what he was doing was legally iffy at best.

Democrats on the committee want the unclassified parts of the transcript to be released. They also want Junior to testify before the full committee in public and under oath. Thursday's session was not under oath, but lying to Congress is a crime, even when it is not under oath.

Senators wandered in and out during the session, including Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). None stayed very long, though. They were not permitted to ask questions.

Holding a closed-door hearing in the Senate and expecting it to remain secret is like pouring water into a strainer and expecting it to stay in the strainer. The leaks have already started. Junior was asked about many Russia-related items, including Russian meddling on social media and the Trump Organization's plans to build a luxury skyscraper in Moscow. But most of the questions related to Junior's meeting with Veselnitskaya and especially the details of his response to the media storm when the news of the meeting broke. In particular, they wanted to know who was involved in drafting that response, since the initial response was that the meeting concerned the adoption of Russian orphans. Putting out such a misleading statement might be considered obstruction of justice.

What happens next is up to the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley. (V)

Mueller Leaving No Stone Unturned

When Robert Mueller was hired as special counsel, everyone expected the former FBI director to be very thorough. And he has not disappointed; he and his team appear to be following up on every possible lead. On Thursday, two bits of news broke on that front. The first is that he's been in contact with Facebook, and has gotten copies of records showing that the Russians opened up 500 advertiser accounts, investing $100,000 (or 5,700,000 rubles) on about 3,000 ads. The second is that he's told White House staffers he wants to interview them about the days immediately after the Donald Trump Jr.-Natalia Veselnitskaya story broke. In particular, he wants to talk about what happened on Air Force One, when Team Trump put together a deliberately misleading statement about the meeting, so as to figure out exactly who participated in the deception.

Mueller's game is clear, on both fronts. The Facebook information has nothing to do with Trump directly, but is clearly going to be used to paint a larger picture of systematic Russian interference in the election. The interviews about the false statement are undoubtedly part of putting together an obstruction of justice case. That particular charge is a tough one to prove, as it requires a judge, jury, or group of congressmen to make inferences about the accused's state of mind and their intent. One way to strengthen an obstruction case is to show a pattern of behavior. If the President, or other members of his administration, tried to mislead us about the Trump Tower meeting and about the firing of James Comey and about the Attorney General's meetings with Sergey Kislyak, and about Michael Flynn's activities, etc., then it's much easier to reach conclusions about intent. (Z)

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