Old habits die hard.
WHITE HOUSE GOES BACK TO BAD OLD HABITS
Being president may be the hardest job in the world, but it’s even worse when you can’t get out of your own way.
The profligate mishandling of the revelation of serious domestic violence allegations against a senior White House staffer is one for the record books. In one sweep, President Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly and the rest of the administration have found a way to turn what was necessarily a bad point for them and turn it into a complete mess.
Speaking to reporters today, the president heaped praised on former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter and sympathized for the “tough time” he is going through.
For context here, Porter stands accused by both of his ex-wives for violence. Everyone has seen the pictures and now everyone has heard the accounts of the women involved. If you’re having a Roy Moore flashback, you’re not alone.
Critics of the administration right and left are drawing some fairly lavish conclusions about what the knowledge and tolerance of the charges against Porter mean about the ethics and general conduct of this administration.
We leave it to you to draw your own conclusions in the knowledge that everyone, from Kelly down, is now acutely aware of their error.
The useful consideration for us, though, is what this reveals about how bad the factionalism inside the West Wing remains.
Having former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowksi, hardly a stranger to damaging accusations, out in public briefings against Kelly and the current regime would be pretty breathtaking stuff on its own, but given the fact that it exists in the context of people inside the administration trying to use this disgrace to force Kelly out of his job says it all.
Every administration has personnel scandals. Politics is a nasty business, and even the best, most virtuous executives end up with some damaged goods in their personnel basket. That’s life.
But in seeing the way not only the administration dealt with the situation to begin with but also the degree to which these bitter factions will exploit anything to advance their short term selfish objectives raises serious questions about whether the coming turmoil on a variety of fronts will subsume this presidency.
As Trump has demonstrated in his first year, there are plenty of opportunities for success. The tax cut legislation is a microcosm of what Republicans hope this administration would be.
But if chaos is back, and we have returned to the phase of the opening months of this presidency then all bets are off. Maybe the hardest thing for people to accept when they work in presidential administrations is that they are held to unfair, impossible standards. It comes with the territory. Good administrations learn from their mistakes and get better at confronting the cold hard truth that their errors matter more than perhaps anyone else’s in the world.
When presidential administrations screw up markets crash, people go broke and, God help us, sometimes you end up with men and women heading off to war.
Now, we are always telling you that it is important in a period of political upheaval to keep your wits about you. To take the coverage of American politics at face value would have anybody looking for a high window to jump out of. So we are not saying these things lightly.
But, whether we like it or not, we are seeing numerous indicators now that the bad old days may be coming back for an administration that only recently seemed to learn discipline and order.
THE RULEBOOK: WANTS & NEEDS
“…Thus far the ends of public happiness will be promoted by supplying the wants of government, and all beyond this is unworthy of our care or anxiety.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 30
TIME OUT: THE WHITE DARKNESS
New Yorker: “The man felt like a speck in the frozen nothingness. Every direction he turned, he could see ice stretching to the edge of the Earth: white ice and blue ice, glacial-ice tongues and ice wedges. There were no living creatures in sight. Not a bear or even a bird. Nothing but him. … The man, whose name was Henry Worsley, consulted a G.P.S. device to determine precisely where he was. … Sixty-two days earlier, on November 13, 2015, he’d set out from the coast of Antarctica, hoping to achieve what his hero, Ernest Shackleton, had failed to do a century earlier: to trek on foot from one side of the continent to the other. The journey, which would pass through the South Pole, was more than a thousand miles, and would traverse what is arguably the most brutal environment in the world.”
Trump job performance
Average approval: 39.6 percent
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent
Net Score: -15.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.4 points
[Average includes: Marist College: 39% approve – 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve – 55% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve – 57% disapprove; IBD: 35% – 58%; Monmouth University: 44% approve – 48% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 40.4 percent
Democratic average: 47 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 1 point
[Average includes: Marist College: 49% Dems – 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems – 40% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems – 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems – 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems – 38% GOP.]
GOVERNMENT IS BACK IN SESSION
Fox News: “President Trump signed a massive budget package Friday morning that lifts spending caps while funding the government through March 23, ending a brief shutdown after a tumultuous night on Capitol Hill. On Twitter, the president touted the bill’s billions in additional military spending. ‘Just signed Bill. Our Military will now be stronger than ever before. We love and need our Military and gave them everything — and more. First time this has happened in a long time. Also means JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!’ Trump tweeted. The House sent the $400 billion deal to his desk after approving it in the pre-dawn hours, on a 240-186 vote. This followed objections from Democrats over the absence of any immigration component and from fiscal conservatives over the sheer level of spending. Trump sought to address both camps on Twitter Friday, lamenting that the package contained ‘waste’ in order to win Democratic votes — while vowing to pursue talks on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.”
Pelosi makes record length speech with little results – Vice: “On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave an eight-hour speech on the House floor to protest the bipartisan deal that funded the government without providing any protections for DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. … Pelosi’s speech on one hand seemed to be a signal that she’s sympathetic to concerns about DACA, and she personally voted against the budget deal on Thursday. But at the same time the notoriously savvy political operator didn’t whip other Democrats to vote no, a move that might have led to an extended shutdown. … Overall, it seemed like Pelosi’s speech, however stirring, didn’t convince anyone who wanted her out of leadership that she should remain beyond 2018.”
Seems like Congress was over the shutdown before it even ended – WaPo: “The last time that Congress tumbled into a government shutdown — all of three weeks ago — the Capitol was abuzz. … The mood during Friday morning’s shutdown was funereal, if not bored. Many of the undocumented immigrants who had rallied across the Capitol and its office buildings had left for the day, leaving the hallways and the parks outside dark and quiet. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), the retiring Democrat who has been one of the immigrants’ most active supporters, ate dinner with a few activists, saying in earshot of reporters that there were perhaps 60 Democratic votes in the House to pass a spending deal without a carve-out for them. ‘I think the young people are pretty dejected right now,’ said Winnie Wong, an organizer who had participated in their protests.”
Republicans place blame on Paul – The Hill: “Frustrated Senate Republicans lashed out at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) early Friday for refusing to speed up a budget deal and forcing a temporary government shutdown. GOP senators, from leadership to rank and file, accused the libertarian-leaning lawmaker of wasting the chamber’s time by delaying an agreement that ultimately passed in the early hours of Friday morning. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, warned Paul during a heated back-and-forth on the Senate floor that he would be to blame for shutting down the government. ‘I don’t know why we are basically burning time here while the senator from Kentucky and others are sitting in the cloakroom wasting everybody’s time and inconveniencing the staff,’ he said. Cornyn added that Paul, who rejected several attempts by Republicans to move up the budget debate, ‘will effectively shut down the federal government for no real reason.’”
How budget deal affects health care debate – NYT: “The budget deal in Congress is billed as a measure to grant stability to a government funding process that has lurched from crisis to crisis — but it is also stuffed with provisions that will broadly affect the nation’s health care system, like repealing an advisory board to curb Medicare spending and funding community health centers. Many of the provisions have been in gestation for months, even years in some cases. Some will save money. Many will cost money — potentially a lot of money. Among the more significant provisions is one that would eliminate a powerful 15-member panel, known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board, created by the Affordable Care Act to control the rising costs of Medicare.”
McConnell has already moved on to immigration talks – The Hill: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is turning attention in the Senate toward a fight over immigration. The GOP leader early Friday morning teed up a House-passed shell bill being used as the vehicle for the Senate’s debate. A procedural vote on taking up the House legislation is expected on Monday at 5:30 p.m. McConnell said earlier this week that he would use a non-immigration bill as the base for the debate, essentially letting the Senate start from scratch. ‘The bill I move to, which will not have underlying immigration text, will have an amendment process that will ensure a level playing field at the outset,’ McConnell said from the Senate floor, announcing his plans.”
SENATE INTEL READIES ELECTION VULNERABILITIES REPORT
WSJ: “The Senate Intelligence Committee is drafting a report on vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system that is expected to be released in the coming weeks, according to lawmakers and aides, in what will be the first product of a yearlong investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they hope to have it completed by March. The report still needs to be vetted and approved by multiple federal agencies to ensure the protection of classified information, lawmakers and aides said. The report is aimed at making recommendations to state, county and local governments about how best to protect their election infrastructures in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. Texas and Illinois will both hold primary elections in March, while eight more states will hold elections in May. … [Sen. Mark Warner’s] Republican counterpart, committee chairman Richard Burr (R, N.C.), said the report would ‘hopefully’ be released before the beginning of primary season.”
Senate Dems have currently outraised Republicans – Bloomberg: “Senate Democrats in this year’s toughest re-election races have raised millions more than their Republican opponents as the party looks to turn donor anger at President Donald Trump into success at the polls in November. The 10 incumbents facing re-election in states won by Trump raised $19.9 million during the last three months of 2017, while 24 Republicans competing in primaries to select their challengers raised $6.6 million, a Bloomberg analysis of filings this week with the Senate Office of Public Records shows. The Democrats had a combined $71.3 million in their campaign accounts as of the end of the year, nearly four times more than the Republican candidates, who had about $20 million and must still finance primary campaigns.”
DCCC sets wide target for 2018 – Roll Call: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee now has more than 100 targets in this year’s midterms, the committee announced Thursday. It has added seven more GOP-held districts to its target list. A DCCC memo released Thursday detailing the new targets said the expanded target list is the committee’s most expansive one in at least a decade. Democrats are now targeting 98 Republican seats, and three open Democratic seats, bringing the total to 101. Democrats are working to flip 24 seats to win back the majority in the House. They are optimistic that a surge in Democratic energy, strong fundraising by challengers, and historic midterm trends will help them take back the House.”
Rep. Rick Nolan will not seek re-election – Minneapolis Star Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Rick Nolansaid Friday that he will not run for re-election this year, an unexpected decision that elevates the stakes in what was already going to be an expensive, all-out battle between the DFL and Republicans for his northeastern Minnesota congressional seat. ‘Now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation,’ Nolan, a DFLer, said in a statement announcing his retirement. Nolan, 74, won two tough re-election battles in his northeastern Minnesota district since his election in 2012. Nolan publicly entertained a run for governor last year, only to announce last summer that he would run for re-election in the Eighth Congressional District.”
Former Dem representative to run as Republican in Alabama – WSFA: “Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright will run as a Republican for Alabama’s 2nd congressional district seat. Bright made the announcement at the Alabama Republican Party Headquarters in Birmingham Thursday morning saying he has always been a conservative and will be more effective in Washington as a Republican. ‘I tried to be a Democrat, and I didn’t do the job as a Democrat that I wanted to do,’ Bright said, ‘mainly because my beliefs are conservative and that kind of held me back.’ Bright said he’s now ‘aligning my political philosophy in line with the party,’ and cited other Alabama political leaders who have switched from the Democrat to the Republican party over the years.”
From football field to the political arena, former Jets player considers candidacy –Politico: “Former New York Jets center Nick Mangold is considering running in the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, according to a Republican county chairman in the district. ‘I had a conversation with him. He’s intrigued by the idea. He has to think it over and talk with his wife,’ Essex County Republican Chairman Al Barlas said in a phone interview. ‘After an 11-year playing career and a college career, he’s enjoying being at home with his wife and kids.’ Barlas said he’s recruiting Mangold, 34, whose entrance would shake up what could be a crowded GOP primary. So far, Assemblyman Jay Webberis the only major Republican to declare his candidacy.”
Grassley says it will take weeks to release Trump Jr. interview transcript – Politico
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Please explain how our intelligent goofs in Congress expect the deficit to go down this year while the administration is still trying to repair the damage from the previous administration. It seems that the administration needs some breathing room to implement their plan to get the deficit under control rather than deal with a budget crisis every couple months. Our country is in a mess when it comes to the deficit, and it would be really great to see some of the ‘goofs’ make a plan rather than get in the way of progress by voting no to give us room to begin turning the ship. Rest assured, I am against the deficits; however, we will not correct a problem that is has been festering for 20 years until we have a plan to begin lowering it and actually implement the plan. It will not happen before the next election.” – Gary Sullivan, Savannah, Ga.
[Ed. note: Not only do they not expect the deficit to go down, but they are banking on the fact that dumping an extra one trillion dollars into the economy will provide the kind of robust growth Republicans need to save their bacon this fall. Deficits are popular. So popular, in fact, that our system is arranged around the idea of the power of debt. Our government looks the way that it does in substantial part because our first treasury secretary understood the power of debt. Alexander Hamilton knew he could bind the nation together behind our obligations. He also knew that the power to borrow would be one of the preeminent privileges of a strong, central, federal government. But just as the power to tax is the power to destroy, the power to incur debts on behalf of posterity is a destructive force that does not reveal itself until it is far too late to do anything about it. My children and grandchildren (God willing) are the epitome of taxation without representation. Our government is heaping debt on subsequent generations in reckless, selfish fashion. Both parties do it, but refuse to conduct themselves decently because they refuse to acknowledge that you can’t give everybody everything they want all of the time. We will see how these midterms work out for Republicans, but one thing we already know is that neither party cares about deficits anymore.]
“To quote the old TV ad for prunes: Is one enough, are three too many? Maybe it’s time to asking the same questions about political parties. As a Californian, I can assure you that one (Democrat right now) is not enough to insure good government at the State level. And at the national level, are two enough? The current partisan divide is unlike any in American history. Past rifts have always ended up with a reasonable level of accommodation. While not perfect, good enough to keep things going. Way back when in Political Science 101, we learned that political parties are not addressed at all in the Constitution, and that multi-party systems, such as those in France and other European nations, were unstable. Fast forward to the 21st Century. Has the time come to consider seriously a responsible 3rd party? Not some nut job run out of an off-the-wall web site or a harboring a single-purpose obsession (Green Party, Prohibition, Pot-Heads United or that ilk)? A real 3rd party for the 40% of citizens desperate to find a constructive home (and, perhaps, accompanying media outlets) where they can elbow their way back into the national conversation.” – Dave Wiltsee, Applegate, Calif.
[Ed. note: Except for this, Mr. Wiltsee: the only thing that the 40 percent agree on is their disdain for the parties. That’s enough to be out of something, but not enough to be into something. We despair of our politics rightly, but the question for us in this moment of transition is whether we are going to restore some virtues of the past that we have lost or boldly go where no republic has gone before and survived. As we discussed earlier this week, I don’t know whether the parties will reform or if one of them will be replaced or if, as you elude, we end up with not three parties but 30.]
“I have a comment on the POTUS’s want for a military parade. The organizers should frame the parade around the history of our conflicts around the world. Start with the Revolutionary War, and include parade segments from the ensuing conflicts through today. They should also include all weapons used in each conflict. What do you think? P.S. Love your column.” – Rod Byrd, Frazier Park, Calif.
[Ed. note: Everyone knows that Jevon Carter is the most valuable player in all of college basketball. The Mountaineer’s defensive strategy is brazen and, if you have a player as good and as intense as Carter, you can make it work. My vote for most valuable player in the Senate in 2018 so far is John Kennedy from Louisiana. He started his political life as a Democrat, served in state office in Louisiana before quite unexpectedly becoming a U.S. senator. We enjoy him because he is funny. Lord, he is funny. He is, after all, the man who said, “”This is Washington, D.C. Politics is in everybody’s blood, kinda like herpes.” We would refer you to Senator Kennedy on the question of military parades in the nation’s capital. “I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” Kennedy told reporters. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.” I don’t doubt the Pentagon can find a way to accommodate the president’s wishes on this matter, but to do so in a way that respect our republican traditions, which are very much in disrepair these days to begin with.]
Reuters: “After the German shepherd Rumor won the top prize at last year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, she had her first litter of puppies and retired from competition, like many female show dogs. By contrast, most top male show dogs can keep competing for years, and it is no coincidence that they also win “Best in Show” in the prestigious annual competition far more often than females, breeders and handlers said as they prepared for this year’s show, which opens Monday, Feb. 12 in New York. ‘Now she won’t show again, she’s done,’ said Gail Miller Bisher, a spokeswoman for the Westminster Kennel Club, referring to Rumor. ‘But males can keep going. They can be used as stud and continue showing and keep their coat and keep their shape of body and all that. ‘Female dogs, known in pure-bred circles as ‘bitches,’ have snared Best in Show at Westminster 39 times since the award was first given in 1907. Males, known simply as ‘dogs,’ have been victorious 71 times, almost twice as often.”
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