Thursday, October 12, 2017

When The Fog Rolls In

This kind of reporting would worry any family with a loved one who is being to lose contact with everyday reality.  But when it comes from the White House, it’s scary.

Gabriel Sherman in Vanity Fair:

At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”

The conversation among some of the president’s longtime confidantes, along with the character of some of the leaks emerging from the White House has shifted. There’s a new level of concern. NBC News published a report that Trump shocked his national security team when he called for a nearly tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal during a briefing this summer. One Trump adviser confirmed to me it was after this meeting disbanded that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”

In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”

According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” (A White House official denies this.) Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision. Today, speculation about Kelly’s future increased after Politico reported that Kelly’s deputy Kirstjen Nielsen is likely to be named Homeland Security Secretary—the theory among some Republicans is that Kelly wanted to give her a soft landing before his departure.

One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?” the person said. Even Trump’s most loyal backers are sowing public doubts. This morning, The Washington Post quoted longtime Trump friend Tom Barrack saying he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by Trump’s behavior.

While Kelly can’t control Trump’s tweets, he is doing his best to physically sequester the president—much to Trump’s frustration. One major G.O.P. donor told me access to Trump has been cut off, and his outside calls to the White House switchboard aren’t put through to the Oval Office. Earlier this week, I reported on Kelly’s plans to prevent Trump from mingling with guests at Mar-a-Lago later this month. And, according to two sources, Keith Schiller quit last month after Kelly told Schiller he needed permission to speak to the president and wanted written reports of their conversations.

The White House denies these accounts. “The President’s mood is good and his outlook on the agenda is very positive,” an official said.

There are only so many ways you can cover for someone’s behavior and still keep up appearances.  Trust me, I know this from personal experience, and the people who have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis are under tremendous strain, not just because someone they care about is suffering, they have to watch as it progresses.

I may despise everything that Trump stands for and does, but I do not take any satisfaction or schadenfreude in seeing this happen if the story is accurate.  It’s frightening on many levels.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Still Not There Yet

AT&T keeps coming up with new ways to avoid telling me when I’ll get phone and internet back.  Yesterday in an on-line chat, “Ashley” asked for a contact number so they could text me when service is restored.  I gave her my cell phone number noting that “It’s a Verizon number.  They never went down during the storm.  Ironic, huh?”  She was not amused.

One the good news front, Bob and The Old Professor finally got power yesterday, ten days after the lights went out.  They still don’t have cable TV, but they have the internet and clean clothes.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Canary In The Coal Mine

Josh Marshall looks at how Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is doing back home.

In a word, lousy.

A few moments ago I noticed a new PPP poll showing that Mitch McConnell seems to have been damaged significantly in his home state of Kentucky by the effort to repeal Obamacare. The number that caught my eye was that McConnell has an astonishing 74% disapproval rating with just 18% approving of his performance in office. A hypothetical Democrat beats him by 7 percentage points. But that only tells part of the story.

McConnell is down at 18% approval. But Trump has a 60% approval rating in the state. If voters are upset with McConnell’s dogged efforts to repeal Obamacare, why is Trump doing so well? Or is it that McConnell failed to repeal Obamacare? And Good Lord, how can Mitch McConnell have a 74% disapproval rating? Congressional leaders always have low approval. See Boehner, Pelosi, Gingrich, et al. But that’s nationally. They almost always maintain strong support in their own states or districts. After all, that’s how they keep getting reelected. This is just a snapshot long before McConnell will face reelection in 2020. But for now the poll shows McConnell trailing a Democratic opponent 37% to 44%.

The conclusion he comes to is that despite the fact that Kentucky is a very red state — Trump won in with 62% of the vote over Hillary Clinton — they love their version of Obamacare implemented by then-Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.  Of course they don’t call it “Obamacare” because well duh, but the majority of the people like what they get and they’re not in favor of those who would rip it out.  McConnell leading the attempt to end Obamacare probably doesn’t win him any support back in his old Kentucky home among the coal miners.

Is this an object lesson for other Republicans who have gone out on the limb with Trump and the folks who would not lose any sleep over 22 million people losing health care as long as they get to keep their own?  Yes, it is as long as the Democrats can do two things: keep reminding voters who it was that voted for health care and taking care of them and who didn’t, and running candidates who aren’t afraid to challenge the Republicans to defend their support of the most unpopular president in modern times.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Going After Their Own

Politico reports that Trumpists have formed a group to attack Republicans who don’t fall in line with the White House policies.

A new campaign by top White House allies targeting the GOP’s most vulnerable senator over health care sends a loud message to those resistant to the Trump agenda: We’re coming after you.

America First Policies, a White House-backed outside group led by the president’s top campaign advisers, has launched a $1 million attack against Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who on Friday announced that he opposed the Senate’s recently unveiled Obamacare repeal plan.

That included a Twitter and digital ad campaign targeting the senator, including a video that accuses him of “standing with” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a reviled figure in conservative circles.

“Unacceptable,” the video says. “If you’re opposed to this bill, we’re opposed to you.”

America First Policies is set to expand its campaign early this week with TV ads that will go after the Nevada senator.

Oh, goodie.  In-fighting among factions in a political party always works well.  Just ask the Democrats.  Or Leon Trotsky.

The problem is that so far Sen. Heller is disinclined to punch back, which indicates that he’s either afraid of further alienating the White House or he somehow thinks there are more like him who will oppose stupid and evil bills because they’re stupid and evil instead of supporting them so his party can win.  That indicates evidence of conscience, and that’s not allowed in the GOP.

For what it’s worth, my guess is the former rather than the latter.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Acting On Impulse

The Washington Post has an in-depth look into the background of the Comey firing.

Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia.

Trump had long questioned Comey’s loyalty and judgment, and was infuriated by what he viewed as the director’s lack of action in recent weeks on leaks from within the federal government. By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go.

At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was “strange,” and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr.

Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides — Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others — that he was ready to move on Comey. First, though, he wanted to talk with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his trusted confidant, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, to whom Comey reported directly. Trump summoned the two of them to the White House for a meeting, according to a person close to the White House.

The president already had decided to fire Comey, according to this person. But in the meeting, several White House officials said Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive: to explain in writing the case against Comey.

The pair quickly fulfilled the boss’s orders, and the next day Trump fired Comey — a breathtaking move that thrust a White House already accustomed to chaos into a new level of tumult, one that has legal as well as political consequences.

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Justice Department officials declined to comment.

When asked during a photo op why he fired Comey, Trump said he wasn’t “doing a good job.”  That means — to Trump — Comey wasn’t toeing the White House line that President Obama had secretly wiretapped Trump Tower, he wasn’t investigating the leaks from the White House and, worst of all, he was hogging too much screen time on TV talking about Russia.

The president can fire anyone in the executive branch; they all serve, as the saying goes, at the pleasure of the president.  But there has to be some sort of impulse control; everyone loses their temper over something with someone, but that doesn’t mean you act out on it with deep political and even legal consequences.

It’s no great revelation to find out that Trump is not someone who thinks things through; he was genuinely surprised at the shitstorm that fell on him Tuesday night and all day yesterday.  He thought the Democrats would be happy he did what some of them clamored for last fall and for the reason they wanted: he screwed up the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.  He didn’t see the glaring truth that nobody would buy that from him now, and then when he goes and gratuitously throws in “you’re not investigating me,” he sounds like a kid who says “Don’t look in my room, Mom!”

He also had no clue — or if he did, he didn’t care — that this move will make it basically impossible to get anything through Congress without a Sisyphean struggle.  The Democrats, well-taught by the Republicans during the Obama administration, will use every lever and device they can to throw sand in the gears of confirmation hearings and legislation until they get answers.

If Trump is counting on loyalists in the party to hold up his story, he’s either forgetting — or doesn’t care — that Congress is up for re-election in less than two years and the longer the Republicans are tied to this juggernaut of a clusterfuck, they’re going to be the ones who get the blowback from the voters.  Yes, November 2018 is an eternity in politics, but Google lasts forever and you can be sure that there are plenty of political ads already being crafted with vulnerable GOP representatives with bulls-eyes painted on their backs.  When it comes down to standing with Trump or saving their own skin, it’s not hard to guess which choice they’ll make.

None of this is going to force Trump out of office ahead of schedule.  Talk of impeachment or resignation is just so much delusional click-bait.  But if he keeps acting on impulse like this — and dog forbid he should lash out at a foreign power or adversary in this manner — the more he will lose credibility and leverage with anyone other than his rabid base and basically become an attention-seeking noisemaker with access to the nuclear codes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Zombie Repeal

The Republicans are trying to keep hope alive.

Republicans have had the weekend to think about what it means that they failed in their years-long process to repeal the Affordable Care Act, after they were forced to pull their replacement bill Friday. And they have decided that they want to another shot at it, though they wouldn’t elaborate on the timeline of such an effort or what priority it would take.

“Obamacare is a collapsing law. Obamacare is doing too much damage to families,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told reporters after a conference meeting Tuesday morning. “And so, we’re going to get this right. And in the meantime, we’re going to do all of our other work that we came here to do.”

This is the kind of talk you’d expect after a humiliating defeat, not unlike the losing team chants “wait ’til next year!” after they finish twenty games behind.  It’s all bluff, bluster, and yet another round of shaking down the gullible with fund-raising pleas.  As long as they can keep grifting, they’ll be saying they’re trying to repeal Obamacare.

My guess is that they will repeal it right after Trump releases his taxes.  They’ve been promising that, too, y’know.  Any day now.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Go For It

Via the New York Times, Democrats are really fired up now.

Reduced to their weakest state in a generation, Democratic Party leaders will gather in two cities this weekend to plot strategy and select a new national chairman with the daunting task of rebuilding the party’s depleted organization. But senior Democratic officials concede that the blueprint has already been chosen for them — by an incensed army of liberals demanding no less than total war against President Trump.

Immediately after the November election, Democrats were divided over how to handle Mr. Trump, with one camp favoring all-out confrontation and another backing a seemingly less risky approach of coaxing him to the center with offers of compromise.

Now, spurred by explosive protests and a torrent of angry phone calls and emails from constituents — and outraged themselves by Mr. Trump’s swift moves to enact a hard-line agenda — Democrats have all but cast aside any notion of conciliation with the White House. Instead, they are mimicking the Republican approach of the last eight years — the “party of no” — and wagering that brash obstruction will pay similar dividends.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said there had been a “tornado of support” for wall-to-wall resistance to Mr. Trump. Mr. Inslee, who backed a lawsuit against the president’s executive order banning refugee admissions and travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, said Democrats intended to send a stern message to Mr. Trump during a conference of governors in the nation’s capital.

“My belief is, we have to resist every way and everywhere, every time we can,” when Mr. Trump offends core American values, Mr. Inslee said. By undermining Mr. Trump across the board, he said, Democrats hope to split Republicans away from a president of their own party.

“Ultimately, we’d like to have a few Republicans stand up to rein him in,” Mr. Inslee said. “The more air goes out of his balloon, the earlier and likelier that is to happen.”

Yet Democrats acknowledge there is a wide gulf between the party’s desire to fight Mr. Trump and its power to thwart him, quietly worrying that the expectations of the party’s activist base may outpace what Democratic lawmakers can achieve.

“They want us to impeach him immediately,” said Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky. “And of course we can’t do that by ourselves.”

Some in the party also fret that a posture of unremitting hostility to the president could imperil lawmakers in red states that Mr. Trump won last year, or compromise efforts for Democrats to present themselves to moderate voters as an inoffensive alternative to the polarizing president.

Not to be churlish, but it’s about damn time; where was this six months ago?  A year ago?  It doesn’t matter that no one took Trump seriously and a lot of Democrats were out shopping at Ikea for their West Wing furniture and Senate Majority office space.  If they had, maybe they wouldn’t be hollering up the stairs from the cellar.

What more do they have to lose?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Perfect Fit

Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions of Alabama is being considered for cabinet posts.  But the New York Times says he has a problem.

WASHINGTON — In 1981, a Justice Department prosecutor from Washington stopped by to see Jeff Sessions, the United States attorney in Mobile, Ala., at the time. The prosecutor, J. Gerald Hebert, said he had heard a shocking story: A federal judge had called a prominent white lawyer “a disgrace to his race” for representing black clients.

“Well,” Mr. Sessions replied, according to Mr. Hebert, “maybe he is.”

In testimony before Congress in 1986, Mr. Hebert and others painted an unflattering portrait of Mr. Sessions, who would go on to become a senator from Alabama and now, according to numerous sources close to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team, is a potential nominee for attorney general or secretary of defense. Mr. Hebert testified that Mr. Sessions had referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”

One African-American prosecutor testified that Mr. Sessions had called him “boy” and joked that he thought that the Ku Klux Klan “was O.K. until I found out they smoked pot.”

Mr. Sessions denied calling the lawyer “boy” but acknowledged or did not dispute the substance of the other remarks. The bitter testimony sank his nomination by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal district court judge and foreshadowed the questions that Mr. Sessions could face at another set of Senate confirmation hearings if Mr. Trump nominates him for a cabinet position.

He sounds like the right kind of fella for the Trump base: racist, Klan-fan, and steeped in good-ole-boy charm.  He and Steve Bannon would work well together and the Senate should whoop him through.