• Trump Is Not Making Progress Finding an FBI Director
• Haley: Trump Believes in Climate Change
• White House Will No Longer Honor Requests for Information from Democrats
• Mueller Will Investigate Manafort
• Trump Will Not Link Tax Reform and Infrastructure
• Next Week Is Infrastructure Week
• Montana Attorney General Will Not Challenge Tester
On Saturday night (local time), a van plowed into a crowd of people on the London Bridge. Nearby, a knife-wielding attacker stabbed two patrons of a restaurant. In total, six victims are confirmed dead, along with three assailants. British authorities are still trying to piece together what happened; if they have identified the attackers, they are—understandably—not sharing that information with the United States. However, Prime Minister Theresa May has publicly characterized the violence as, "a potential act of terrorism."
That was enough to set President Donald Trump off, after he read about the news on Drudge Report (according to his first tweet of the evening). He responded to the news on Twitter thusly:
We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2017
Seven minutes later, it occurred to him to add:
Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there - WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2017
Even a cursory examination makes clear that Trump really stepped in it. How so? Let's count the ways.
First, it was a remarkably tone-deaf response. Using a tragedy, particularly another nation's tragedy, to promote one's own political agenda is in terribly poor taste. The situation is not improved when it takes seven minutes before you signal even cursory empathy for the victims. While seven minutes is not long in real time, it's an eternity in Twitter time. It's the gap between "Here's my instinctive response," and "Oops, I'm getting slammed, I better clean this up."
Second, the tweet reveals—or really, just confirms—much about the President's thought process. He presumably does not know much more than anyone else; by all evidences he's learning about the attacks from news reports (i.e., Drudge) just like everyone else. And yet, he's already concocted a narrative in his mind. He read the word "terrorism" (ignoring the word "potential") and has already filled in the religion and the ethnicity of the perpetrators and has implicitly connected their actions with the Paris attacks, and the Manchester bombing, and other such incidents.
Third, for a guy who has been involved in as many lawsuits as Trump has, he just does not know when to shut up. Already, his efforts to impose a Muslim travel ban have been undermined by his public pronouncements—as a result of the President's verbiage on the campaign trail, judges simply don't believe the administration when it insists that the ban is not targeting a specific religion. Now, he's given them even more such evidence. The odds are very high that, once Saturday's incident is sorted out, we will learn that the perpetrators are not from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iran, or Yemen. And even if they prove to be, Trump doesn't know that yet. Ergo, his response once again makes clear that those six nations are not the real issue.
Fourth, we have yet another case where the administration can't decide what it actually thinks. Over and over, as part of their efforts to assuage the courts' concerns, Trump's underlings have insisted that it is not a travel ban. White House Secretary Sean Spicer, for example, said, "It's not a Muslim ban. It's not a travel ban. It's a vetting system to keep America safe." Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly said much the same: "This is not a travel ban. This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system." Apparently, it is a travel ban, after all, since the President not only put the phrase into his tweet, he even capitalized it.
Fifth, and finally, one cannot help juxtaposing Trump's insta-response to London with his long-delayed response to Portland. In the latter case, the details became clear quite quickly: A white supremacist verbally assaulted two Muslims, and then attacked the three men who tried to come to their defense (killing two). It took the President four days to respond to that one, and when "he" did so, it was only after he received enormous pressure, and it was a milquetoast denunciation (calling the attacks "unacceptable") from the POTUS Twitter account, which means he almost certainly didn't write it. How can Trump justify the differing responses, especially since only one of them involved dead Americans?
There is no question that Twitter was Trump's friend on the campaign trail, but now that he is in the White House, it generally does him more harm than good. Barack Obama's policy was to let his staff handle things, and when he personally wanted a tweet posted, he would route it through them, and they would add "-bo" to note his authorship. Trump would be wise to adopt a similar approach, which would add a badly-needed layer of filtering. Of course, he's never actually going to do so. (Z)
Three weeks after firing James Comey, Donald Trump is having trouble finding a replacement. According to Reuters, the process has been chaotic. Trump has interviewed three possible candidates, but the interviews were very short: only 10 to 20 minutes. Furthermore, Trump did most of the talking himself and didn't ask the candidates their views on any of the issues facing the Bureau.
Among the candidates Trump is considering are former governor of Oklahoma Frank Keating, Acting Director Andrew McCabe, TSA Administrator John Pistole, former FBI official Richard McFeely, and former Justice Dept. official Chris Wray. Given the pace at which Trump fills appointments, there should be a new director sometime this decade. Probably. (V)
Former South Carolina governor and current U.S. Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley sat for an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper on Saturday. In that interview, which is scheduled to air today, she became the first member of the administration to say that the President believes in global warming. Specifically, she declared that, "President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation." When asked why Trump quit the Paris Accord, if that is his view, Haley said that the standards set in the agreement are "too onerous" and "not attainable." She also advised that, "Just because the US got out of a club doesn't mean we aren't going to care about the environment."
These brief remarks raise all manner of questions. Among them:
- Why did Trump once claim that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese?
- What has happened since that tweet (dated November 6, 2012) to change the President's mind?
- Why did Trump make no mention of global warming in his withdrawal announcement on Thursday?
- Why did Trump make no mention of global warming in his weekly address on Saturday?
- Why did it take three days for someone—anyone—to clarify the President's position?
- Why are we hearing this from the U.N. Representative, and not the Press Secretary, or even Trump himself?
- Why is the EPA scrubbing global warming information from its website? Have they gone rogue?
- How can voluntary standards be "onerous," since there's no penalty for non-compliance?
- Why is it best to fight climate change alone, instead of in partnership with other nations?
- What steps are planned, and how come the American public has been told nothing about them?
- How long will the public have to wait to be advised as to what the President's plans are?
- Does Nikki Haley really buy what she's peddling?
Of course, these questions have no good answers. This is nothing more than an attempt—and not a very skillful one—at damage control. Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Accord was designed to please the "America First" folks, and now he's trying to make nice with all the voters who actually believe in global warming and are angered by the President's decision. The notion that he's somehow got a better way to address this problem is no more believable than the notion that he had a "secret" plan to defeat ISIS, or that he had a "terrific" replacement for Obamacare in mind.
Meanwhile, there was a time that Nikki Haley was a rising star in the GOP, and was talked about as a possible presidential candidate. That time is surely over. She might have accepted her appointment to the UN, and hung out in New York for four years burnishing her foreign policy credentials and remaining above the fray. But now that she's acting as an administration spokesperson, she's got blood on her hands. If she ever aspires to the presidency, she will be linked at the hip to The Donald, which will be poisonous if he maintains his current low level of popularity. And if he turns it around somehow, there will be others better positioned to claim his mantle—EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, for example, or Vice President Mike Pence. In short, Haley is now in GOP no man's land. At least she has Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as company there. (Z)
A new White House policy is to not honor any requests for information from members of Congress except for those from (sub)committee chairs, all of whom are Republicans and all of whom have subpoena power. It is part of a broader plan to make the executive branch less responsive to Congress and to make it harder generally for Democrats and the media to find out what the executive branch is up to.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, complained bitterly that this new policy makes it impossible for Congress to carry out its oversight responsibilities and serve the members' constituents. The new policy was drafted by Curtis Gannon, the acting assistant attorney general. Gannon argues that the executive branch has the discretion to determine how to respond to requests, so the new policy is perfectly legitimate. This certainly brings to mind (once again) Richard Nixon, who found many new and inventive ways to assert the longstanding but fairly rarely invoked doctrine of executive privilege while he was in the White House. It will be interesting to see what the Trump White House does if the Democrats take control of the House (and thus all the committee chairs) in 2018. (V)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's instructions stated that if he discovered things in the course of investigating Donald Trump's connection to Russia, he is permitted to follow the leads he uncovers. He is already doing that. The AP is reporting that Mueller has taken over a separate criminal investigation of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The Justice Dept. had been looking into Manafort's activities in Ukraine since before the 2016 election. That investigation is now on Mueller's plate. Manafort worked for Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych and was apparently paid over $10 million off the books.
Also in Mueller news, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that if Mueller expands his inquiry into the role he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions played in the firing of James Comey, Rosenstein would recuse himself from the investigation. Since Sessions has already recused himself, Rosenstein is now Mueller's boss. If Mueller starts investigating Rosenstein, that situation is untenable, so Rosenstein needs to get out of the loop and find Mueller a new boss. (V)
At one time Donald Trump suggested that he would put tax reform and infrastructure improvement in a single bill, in order to get some Democratic votes. Now, White House officials have assured conservatives that he won't do it. This makes conservatives—who don't want to spend a trillion dollars on improving the country's roads, bridges, airports, and harbors—happy. The downside is that a clean tax reform bill is going to have to pass with only Republican votes. Doing so won't be easy, because although all Republicans want to cut taxes, they don't agree on which taxes to cut. Some Republicans want to prioritize corporate taxes, others want to lower the top individual rate, and Trump himself probably sees the alternative minimize tax as the top priority since it costs him millions of dollars.
Another sticking point is a provision to allow corporations that have large amounts of untaxed cash overseas to bring it home at a reduced tax rate. Such a provision would generate a one-time windfall. Republicans disagree on what it should be used for. Some want it to pay for tax cuts; others want to use it for infrastructure projects. Who knew cutting taxes was so complicated? (V)
Donald Trump has a busy week planned, as the White House is making sure to let everyone know. On Monday, he'll be giving a speech about his infrastructure plans. Among other things, he will propose that air traffic controllers no longer work for the FAA, which will please the airline industry. On Wednesday, he will travel to Ohio for more infrastructure talk, specifically about improving inland waterways. No word yet on whether he will bring his mule named Sal. On Friday, the President will visit the Department of Transportation to talk about reducing the regulatory barriers to approving new roads and railways.
All of this will have limited impact. The issue is not that people are unaware of the need to invest in America's infrastructure, it's that there's no broad agreement about how to proceed. Even if Trump ignores the Democrats and works only with Republicans, some of them don't want to spend government money (the Tea Partiers) and others think that's the only way to make progress (the moderates). And all of this is before we consider that some Republicans would be happy to spend money on infrastructure, but only if there is something left after giving tax breaks.
The real purpose of this week's push is not to build bridges, but to try to distract attention from the one that's already been burned. Former FBI Director James Comey will be chatting with Congress this week, and given what he knows, along with the fact that he's steamed about his firing, bombshells aplenty are in the offing. The Trump administration is trying to create some positive headlines in a week when the news coverage is going to be decidedly grim. Outside of the occasional Breitbart, however, it won't work—the readers of the Times and the WaPo and CNN are far more interested in Trump-related dirt than they are in Ohio canals. But that's the administration's game nonetheless. Really, this news is mostly of interest because it implies that Team Trump has decided not to try to block Comey's testimony, presumably figuring that (1) silencing him would be more damaging than letting him spill his guts, and (2) he's going to find a way to get his story out, and it's better to have it be now, and all at once. We shall see what ol' Jimmy comes up with. (Z)
Republicans' hopes of unseating Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) took a hit when Montana Attorney General Tim Fox (R) announced that he was not going to run against Tester. Likely, Fox has his sights on the governorship, which will be vacant in 2020 due to Steve Bullock's (D) being term-limited. This is the third potential candidate who has dropped out. The first was then-representative Ryan Zinke, who accepted a position as secretary of the interior. The second was Greg "Bodyslam" Gianforte, who decided he liked his chances of winning a House seat better.
There are other Republicans who are potentially interested in a run, but they are all much lower profile than Zinke, Gianforte, and Fox, all of whom have won statewide elections. Troy Downing has already declared his candidacy. He made a fortune in the self-storage industry, and could fund his own campaign, but his opposition to Donald Trump will not play well in Big Sky Country. First-term State Senator Al Olszewski has also declared, but he has limited name recognition and even more limited funds. Probably the Republicans' best hope at this point is State Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is wealthy and could fund his own campaign. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun03 Winners and Losers
Jun03 Bloomberg Pledges $15 Million for Dealing with Climate Change
Jun03 Trump Pressed Obama State Dept. to Ease Russia Sanctions
Jun03 Did Sessions Meet with the Russians a Third Time?
Jun03 Keep an Eye on Al Franken
Jun03 Are Democrats Barking Up the Wrong Tree?
Jun02 U.S. to Withdraw from Paris Climate Accord
Jun02 Will Trump Try to Block Comey's Senate Testimony?
Jun02 Trump Will Appeal Travel Ban to the Supreme Court
Jun02 White House Grants Ethics Waivers to 17 Appointees
Jun02 Trump Breaks Promise and Will Keep U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv
Jun02 Why Kushner Is in Jeopardy
Jun02 Senate Races with an Incumbent Republican
Jun01 Trump's Window for Passing Laws Is Closing
Jun01 Trump Likely to Exit Paris Accord Today
Jun01 Trump Is Running a Bake-off for Chief of Staff
Jun01 Trump Is Having Trouble Hiring Senior Officials
Jun01 Trump's Approval Ratings Continue to Erode
Jun01 Why Russiagate Is Not Watergate
Jun01 Republicans Are Already Gunning for Elizabeth Warren
Jun01 CNN Cans Kathy Griffin
Jun01 More Senate Races
May31 Trump's Communications Director Leaves
May31 Trump's Communications Strategy Really Is a Mess
May31 Can Trump Stop the Leaks?
May31 Russians Discussed "Derogatory" Information about Trump and His Aides
May31 Dirty-Money Case Could Ensnare Trump
May31 Rundown of the Senate Races, Part I
May30 New Main Page Today
May30 Trump Is Consumed by the "Russia Thing"
May30 Trump Should Fire Kushner
May30 Trump Can't Decide How to Deal with the News
May30 Trump Staffer Says that the Portland Attacks are Unacceptable
May30 Can the President Be Indicted?
May30 The CBO Score and Election Year Pain
May30 The Sanders Revolution is Fizzling
May30 Georgia Republican Is Running with Trump and against Trump at the Same Time
May30 Wisconsin Democrats Like Their Chances of Knocking Off Scott Walker
May29 Merkel: United States Is Not a Reliable Partner
May29 Trump Calls Kushner Reports "Fake News"
May29 Intel Pros See No Legitimate Explanation for Kushner Plan
May29 Rosen: Trump No Media Master
May29 Mattis: ISIS Policy Now "Annihilation"
May29 Trump Pressed to Speak Out on Portland Attack
May29 Trump's Budget Got a Chillier Reception than Bush's
May29 Who Is Trump Most Like?
May28 Trump: I Think We Hit a Home Run
May28 Trump Plans to Back Out of Paris Accord
May28 Florida Republican Worked with the Russians