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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Will Start This Week
      •  Do As I Say, Not As I Do
      •  Unpaid Trump Advisors May Also Have Conflicts of Interest
      •  McConnell: Repeal of the ACA Will Begin This Week
      •  Toll Roads Are Coming
      •  Golden Globes Turns into the Anti-Trump Show
      •  Trump to Inaugural Announcer: You're Fired

Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Will Start This Week

Despite the fact that many of the cabinet nominees have not completed their background checks and ethics clearances, their confirmation hearings will begin this week. Democrats have complained that they can hardly be expected to pass judgment on nominees when their paperwork hasn't been filed and the Government Ethics Office hasn't signed off on them. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving forward with them. Here is the schedule of hearings:

  • Jeff Sessions: Attorney general (Tuesday)
  • John Kelly: Secretary of homeland security (Tuesday)
  • Rex Tillerson: Secretary of state (Wednesday)
  • Betsy DeVos: Secretary of education (Wednesday)
  • Mike Pompeo: Director of the CIA (Wednesday)
  • Wilbur Ross: Secretary of commerce (Wednesday)
  • Andrew Puzder: Secretary of labor (Wednesday)

Notice that none of the easy confirmations (e. g., Elaine Chao) are on the schedule; it's almost like McConnell is worried about what the background checks might turn up on these individuals. Democrats are going to fiercely resist Sessions, Tillerson, and DeVos, and maybe Puzder. However, when Democrats abolished the filibuster for cabinet nominees in 2013, they sealed their fate. Most likely all the nominees will get confirmed; it will take three Republicans to vote "no" if any is to be rejected. (V)

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Paul Waldman has written a provocative op-ed for the Washington Post headlined "Republicans reach staggering new heights of hypocrisy." He observes, quite correctly, that political parties often say one thing and then do another. However, he also argues that the GOP is currently taking that tendency to unusual extremes. Waldman's specific example is the deficit; that the Republicans have spent eight years posturing as budget hawks, but are now willing to accept an annual deficit of $1 trillion in order to kill Obamacare.

This is far from the only example, however. As noted above, Mitch McConnell is shrugging off the relevance of background checks and ethics clearances for cabinet appointees. This reminded the editors of the Huffington Post to go back to 2008, when Barack Obama was trying to get his cabinet approved. In January of that year, McConnell sent a letter to then-Majority Leader Harry Reid advising him that background checks and ethics clearances were absolutely essential, and that no nominee would be allowed to go forward without them.

Another case, which we noted recently, centers on federalism. For many decades, the GOP has advocated for local power over federal power. Now, we find ourselves in a world where the Republicans control the federal government, while Democrats control most of the big cities. Consequently, the red team has recently discovered a significant interest in reining in local power.

Still another example is Benghazi. After that disaster, two of the loudest voices condemning Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the lack of adequate security were Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz, for example, wondered, "why our facilities in Benghazi were not secure, why we didn't respond to the reports of terrorist activities, why we didn't have military assets in place to protect our brave men who were serving there." Now, Cruz and Rubio are among the main backers of a plan to force President-elect Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The penalty, if he does not comply? Funding for security at all other U.S. embassies will be cut in half. It would seem that keeping America's ambassadors safe is very, very important until it isn't.

So, what does it all mean? Here's Waldman's conclusion:

The lesson of all this is that when you're in the opposition you can say all kinds of things you don't actually believe, but it's when you have power that you reveal your true self. Republicans haven't even taken power yet, and they're already showing who they really are.

He might have added, however, that such inconsistency doesn't matter one bit unless voters hold their leaders responsible. And neither Republican nor Democratic voters tend to be very good at doing so. (Z)

Unpaid Trump Advisors May Also Have Conflicts of Interest

Donald Trump is definitely pushing the envelope on ethics issues. He is planning to have a number of unofficial, unpaid advisers, possibly including his daughter Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner, and corporate raider Carl Icahn, most likely without pay or titles. However, all of them come with lots of conflicts of interest, since they will be advising the president about decisions that affect companies they may own or do business with. The law is quite clear that presidents can't hire their relatives, but does giving them offices in the White House for them to hang out in constitute "hiring," in some sense? Norman Eisen, who served as President Obama's ethics lawyer, said it is "very murky territory." Richard Painter, who held the same job in George W. Bush's administration said: "It poses an enormous risk to have a shadow cabinet."

Watchdog groups have already raised concerns about Icahn especially, since he has a clear interest in rolling back regulations that affect companies he owns. Also an issue with Icahn is that if he is not a federal employee, but simply a private citizen who happens to talk to the president a lot, he might be subject to insider trading rules if he got wind of some plan of Trump's and bought or sold stock based on this knowledge. For example, when Trump criticized Ford last week for building cars in Mexico and shipping them to the U.S.—which Ford hardly does—if Icahn had known about that tweet even 5 minutes before it was sent out, he could have quickly called his stockbroker and shorted Ford stock just before the tweet sent the stock plunging. In short, we are definitely moving into uncharted territory here. (V)

McConnell: Repeal of the ACA Will Begin This Week

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the initial steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act will take place this week. He also said that a replacement would be passed "rapidly." However, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said that it could take 2 years to pass a replacement. There are two problems with passing a replacement. First, Republicans cannot agree on what they want to replace it with. Second, Democrats are likely to filibuster whatever they come up with. Thus "repeal and replace" could easily become "repeal and leave it at that." (V)

Toll Roads Are Coming

Donald Trump wants to improve America's infrastructure, and he largely doesn't want the government to pay for it. Private contractors are in the business of making money, rather than giving it away. Assuming that neither side changes its point of view, then it leads to one obvious conclusion: toll roads.

The good news here is that new roads of any sort represent a step forward, since America's infrastructure is in sorry shape. Also, toll roads are something of a progressive tax, since they are paid for by those who can afford the fee. On the other hand, they are only sort of progressive, since Joe the Plumber pays the exact same amount on the way to work that Thad and Muffy pay on the way to the country club. Further, because roads are expensive, the model works only for high-traffic areas in and around cities. So, relying solely on toll roads as a solution will leave rural areas behind. Similarly, people might pay a daily fee for roadways, but not necessarily for overpasses or ports or aging pipes or electrical wiring or levees, and contractors aren't going to build those things for free. The upshot, as Trump will soon learn, is that his current plans are—at best—only a partial solution. Of course, as a wealthy resident of a large city, he may not care. (Z)

Golden Globes Turns into the Anti-Trump Show

In case you hadn't noticed, the entertainment industry is not enamored of Donald Trump. And in case their collective unwillingness to perform at the inauguration was not enough to communicate that message, Hollywood's elite used Sunday's Golden Globes ceremony to deliver a few reminders. Host Jimmy Fallon's opening monologue, for example, was peppered with bon mots at Trump's expense, like, "[The show "Game of Thrones"] has so many plot twists and shocking moments, a lot of people are wondering what it would be like if [villainous] King Joffery had lived. Well, in 12 days we're gonna find out." Meryl Streep received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, and used her acceptance speech to rebuke Trump:

[A]ll of us in this room belong to the most vilified segments of America right now: Hollywood, foreigners, press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. We're going to need them going forward, and they're going to need us to safeguard the truth.

Undoubtedly, this is just a preview of what's to come in the next four years. Donald Trump isn't the first president to be unpopular in Hollywood, but generally the respect afforded the office tends to keep a lid on much of the political commentary. When Kanye West used a Hurricane Katrina benefit to criticize George W. Bush, and Michael Moore did the same at the Academy Awards, controversy ensued, and the reaction was mixed even among liberals. But Donald Trump gets down in the trenches on literally a daily basis, courtesy of Twitter and other platforms. With his personality, his behavior, and his pronouncements, he has effectively waived the pedestal (for lack of a better word) that is supposed to come with his office. On Sunday, there were no boos for Meryl Streep, no vacant stares, no stony silence—just a lengthy standing ovation. Put another way, if Donald Trump is going to make full use of the tools at his disposal, then America's cultural elites are going to make full use of the tools at theirs. (Z)

Trump to Inaugural Announcer: You're Fired

Charles Brotman has been serving as announcer of the presidential inaugural parades for a while. As in, since the second swearing-in for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957. That means he's been on the job for 11 straight chief executives. At 88, he was ready, willing, and able to make it 12, but he found out this week that he won't be asked back, having been kicked to the curb in favor of 58-year-old Washington-based freelance announcer Steve Ray. Hard to know what the reason was; nobody is going to vote for Donald Trump because he hired Steve Ray, but a few voters could be put off that he left an adorable 88-year-old man "heartbroken." No explanation was given for the decision; maybe this is what Trump meant when he said he was going to drain the swamp. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan08 Trump Insiders Dive into the Swamp
Jan08 Trump: Only Stupid People Oppose a Good Relationship with Russia
Jan08 Sessions Not a Civil Rights Activist, After All
Jan08 Cabinet Nominees May Be Confirmed Before Ethics Reviews Are Finished
Jan08 Kushner Has His Own Conflicts of Interest
Jan08 Monica Crowley Plagiarized Large Parts of Her Book
Jan08 A New Era of Muckraking is Upon Us
Jan08 Get Ready for More Bathroom Bills, Other Anti-LGBT Legislation
Jan05 Rand Paul Won't Vote for ACA Repeal and Delay
Jan05 Obama Strategizes with Democrats
Jan05 Barack Obama: Another John Quincy Adams?
Jan05 Trump's Tax Policies Would Be a Windfall for Him
Jan05 What Will Trump's Biggest Test Be in 2017?
Jan05 Trump Turns to Assange to Bolster His Case
Jan05 Wall Street Lawyer to Oversee Wall Street
Jan05 Tillerson's Retirement Package: $180,000,000
Jan04 Oops! House Reverses Ethics Decision
Jan04 Trump Blasts Intelligence Agencies
Jan04 Obama to Transfer Gitmo Detainees
Jan04 McConnell Is the Dog that Caught the Car
Jan04 House Adopts Anti-Sit-in Rule
Jan04 Trump Is Already Working on His Second Supreme Court Appointment
Jan04 Bushes, Clintons to Attend Inauguration
Jan04 Schumer Will Be Very Different from Reid as Senate Minority Leader
Jan04 Megyn Kelly Jumps to NBC
Jan03 Pence Will Meet with House Republicans Today
Jan03 House Votes to Gut Office of Congressional Ethics
Jan03 No Hacking Revelations, After All
Jan03 What to Watch about Trade
Jan03 Trump Reportedly Picks Trade Representative
Jan03 Battle Over Sessions Has Begun
Jan03 Obama Will Give His Farewell Address on Jan. 10 in Chicago.
Jan03 Another Secretary Position May Need to Be Filled
Jan02 Trump Says He Will Reveal New Information about the Russian Hacking This Week
Jan02 Trump Likes Schumer Best?
Jan02 Trump Will Keep Tweeting
Jan02 Democrats Will Target Eight Cabinet Nominees
Jan02 Congress Will Start Repealing the Affordable Care Act Tomorrow
Jan02 House, Senate Likely to Butt Heads on Medicare
Jan02 Coal Miners Expect Trump to Deliver
Jan02 Top Wall Street Journal Editor Is Leery of Saying that Trump Lies
Jan01 Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Get It
Jan01 Vermont Utility Hit By Same Hackers as DNC
Jan01 Trump Pooh-poohs Russian Hacking, Says Computers Can't Be Trusted
Jan01 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Jan01 The Larger Meaning of the Inaugural Snubs
Jan01 Which Senators Will Throw in the Towel in 2018?
Jan01 How Will Democrats Handle Supreme Court Vacancy?
Dec31 Obama's Final Moves to Stymie Trump
Dec31 Obama Meeting with Congressional Democrats to Strategize on Obamacare