GONZO’S WORLD: THE “KING OF OBFUSCATION” “STONEWALLS” THE US SENATE! — “He Don’t Know Nothin’ ‘Bout Nothin’” — But He Can’t Tell You Why He Can’t Talk About Why He Doesn’t Know! — And, He Bristles With Righteous Indignation If Anyone Accuses Him Of Not Being Very Forthcoming!

What Jeff Sessions wouldn’t say was more revealing than what he did
How the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Jeff Sessions

THE BIG IDEA: Jeff Sessions was the personification of a hostile witness whenever a Democratic lawmaker questioned him during a contentious five-hour oversight hearing on Wednesday.

The attorney general set the tone early in his first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee since his January confirmation. “I can neither assert executive privilege nor can I disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president,” Sessions said in his opening statement.

There were several yes-or-no questions that should have been easy for Sessions to answer, but he refused. Sometimes what someone will not say is more interesting than what they do.

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL:

— Sessions said he has not been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But has his team requested an interview? “I don’t think so,” the attorney general told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), reflecting the cautiousness he showed all day. “I don’t know … I don’t want to come in here and be trapped. … I will check and let you know.” Later, Sessions announced: “My staff handed me a note that I have not been asked for an interview at this point.”

— The attorney general declined to express personal confidence in Mueller, a former FBI director: “I think he will produce the work in a way he thinks is correct and history will judge,” Sessions said.

— He also declined to say whether he would resign if President Trump tried to fire Mueller. Sessions said getting rid of Mueller would be up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because he has recused himself. (Rosenstein was interviewed by Mueller’s team this summer.)

Sessions says he can’t disclose ‘confidential conversations’ with Trump

“THE CLOUD”:

— Sessions declined to discuss anything the president told him before firing James Comey. He pointedly refused to answer multiple questions about whether Trump told him that getting rid of the FBI director would “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. “I do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication with the president,” Sessions replied. Yet he didn’t hesitate to defend the president’s dubious rationale for axing Comey, which was the former FBI director’s alleged mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

— If Trump hadn’t mentioned “the cloud,” why not just say so? In sworn testimony this June, Comey recounted a phone call he received from Trump at the FBI on March 30: “He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ … He finished by stressing ‘the cloud’ was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated.”

Trump called again on April 11 to ask for an update on when Comey was going to announce publicly that he was not personally under investigation. “I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back,” the former FBI director said. “He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. … That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.”

— Sessions also would not say whether he was aware of Trump’s draft letter detailing some of the real reasons that he wanted to remove Comey, which Mueller has been reviewing.

Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio campaign together in Iowa last year. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio campaign together in Iowa last year. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

PARDONS:

— Can the president pardon someone under investigation by Mueller before they’ve been charged? “Well, the pardon power is quite broad,” Sessions replied. “I have not studied it. I don’t know whether that would be appropriate or not, frankly.” Pressed further, he added later: “My understanding is a pardon can be issued before a conviction has occurred.” (He said that he’d like to reply with more detail in writing. That was one of his go-to lines throughout the day, though Democrats have complained for months that the Justice Department doesn’t respond to their letters.)

— Could the president pardon himself? Sessions again said he hadn’t studied the issue.

— Did Trump discuss pardoning Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio with Sessions before he announced it? “I cannot comment on the private conversations I’ve had with the president,” he replied.

— What was the process that led to Arpaio’s pardon? “I don’t know that I remember or I know it precisely,” Sessions dodged.

Sessions: ‘I don’t know that I can make a blanket commitment’ to not jail reporters

JAILING REPORTERS:

— Will he commit to not putting reporters in jail for doing their jobs? “Well, I don’t know that I can make a blanket commitment to that effect,” Sessions replied to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “But I would say this: We have not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point. But we have matters that involve the most serious national security issues, that put our country at risk, and we will utilize the authorities that we have, legally and constitutionally, if we have to.”

Durbin slams Sessions for wanting safer cities, withholding police grants

LGBT DISCRIMINATION:

— Two weeks ago, Sessions sent a memo to all federal agencies on “protections for religious liberty.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked about it: “Could a Social Security Administration employee refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse?

After four seconds of silence, Sessions replied: “That is something I have never thought would arise, but I would have to give you a written answer to that, if you don’t mind.”

Durbin followed up: Would the guidance Sessions released permit a federal contractor to “refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?”

“I’m not sure that is covered by it,” Sessions said, “but I will look.”

“The questions were hardly out of left field — or unfamiliar to the Justice Department,” BuzzFeed notes, adding that the Justice Department has been declining to answer them for weeks.

— The evasiveness played out on a host of other policy questions:

Did Sessions talk with the Texas attorney general about DACA before convincing Trump to end the program? He said such a conversation, if it happened, would be tantamount to “work product” and thus privileged.

Is there any evidence to support Trump’s claim on Monday that the Cuban government was behind the sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana? “I’m just not able to comment,” Sessions replied.

Democrats noted that Sessions, when he was a member of the committee, would never have tolerated one of Barack Obama’s appointees being so evasive.

— Republicans mostly rallied to Sessions’s defense. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Eric Holder refused to turn over documents relating to the Fast and Furious program by asserting executive privilege. Though, Grassley added, “The American people have a right to know why (Comey) was fired.”

Jeff Sessions testifies. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jeff Sessions testifies. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sessions stumbles through questions about communicating with Russia

RUSSIA CONTACTS:

— The main headline out of the hearing is that the nation’s chief law enforcement officer is still getting his story straight on his interactions with the Russians: “Sessions offered a slightly new wrinkle Wednesday, asserting that he may have discussed Trump campaign policy positions in his 2016 conversations with (Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak,” Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett report. “The attorney general said it was ‘possible’ that ‘some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were,’ though he also said, ‘I don’t think there was any discussion about the details of the campaign.’The Post reported in July that Kislyak reported back to his superiors in the Kremlin that the two had discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow. Sessions has previously said he did not ‘recall any specific political discussions’ …”

— Another significant admission: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) asked whether the U.S. government is doing enough to prevent Russian interference in future elections. “We’re not,” Sessions responded.

— In the testiest exchange of the day, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sparred with Sessions over whether he told the truth during his confirmation hearing:

Al Franken Cross-Examines Jeff Sessions On Lying About Russian Meeting

HOW IT’S PLAYING:

— On the left:

  • Slate: “Jeff Sessions Is Using Phony Executive Privilege to Shield Trump, and GOP Senators Are Letting Him.”
  • Esquire: “Jeff Sessions Is Not Donald Trump’s Lawyer. And that suggestion could be a license for corruption.”
  • Mother Jones: “Justice Department Has Communicated With Controversial Election Commission, Sessions Confirms. The revelation fuels concerns over voter suppression efforts and could raise legal questions.”
  • The Nation: “Jeff Sessions Keeps Lying to the Senate. Sessions once claimed he never met with the Russians. Well, sorta, kinda, maybe. It depends…”
  • Los Angeles Times editorial page: “Trump and Sessions are still telling different stories about Comey.”

— On the right:

  • Daily Caller: “Sessions Admits The Wall Won’t Run Full Length Of The Border.”
  • Breitbart: “Sessions: ‘We’re Not’ Doing Enough to Prepare for Future Info Interference By Russia and Other Countries.”
  • Fox News: “Sessions tangles with Durbin over Chicago violence.”
  • Washington Examiner: “Sessions is confident Trump’s travel ban will win in Supreme Court.”
  • Washington Free Beacon: “Franken, Sessions Spar Over Time Restrictions During Russia Hearing: ‘No, No, No.’”

— All politics is local:

Here’s a link to Hohmann’s complete rundown, which contains lots of other news beyond today’s “Gonzo Report:”

https://s2.washingtonpost.com/camp-rw/?e=amVubmluZ3MxMkBhb2wuY29t&s=59e886a9fe1ff6159ed350e0

*****************************************

Gonzo would have been a “perfect fit” in the Nixon Administration which gave birth to the term, “stonewalling!”

Let’s see, Gonzo’s “progressed” from saying under oath that he had no contact whatsoever with any Russians during the campaign, to later “clarifying” that he met with none other than the Russian Ambassador during the campaign (while at least implying that these meetings were in his capacity as a Senator, not a campaign official), to saying that he “may have discussed Trump campaign policy positions in his 2016 conversations with (Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak.” Gosh, that sounds to me like enough to sustain an “adverse credibility finding” in U.S. Immigration Court if said by an immigrant!

But, Gonzo says it’s all the fault of bullies like Sen. Al Franken for springing “trick” questions on him. After all, who would have thought that a major figure in the Trump Campaign (one of his earliest, most vocal, and proudest supporters) would be asked nasty questions about the Russia probe?

Gonzo basically refused to discuss the dark implications of his war on LGBTQ Americans, while allowing as how he might target reporters in the future (this Dude recently made speeches on the First Amendment?) if necessary to stop national security leaks.

And, on DACA, Tal Kopan reports for CNN:

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions told senators they have an “opportunity to do something historic” on immigration on Wednesday as he was pressed repeatedly on the administration’s move to terminate a popular protection for young undocumented immigrants.

“We have got to have more than just an amnesty,” Sessions said in his opening remarks. “We need a good improvement in the illegality that’s going on, and there is an opportunity right now, I’m telling you, an opportunity to do something historic.”

Despite multiple follow-ups, Sessions did not diverge much from the remarks, repeatedly telling lawmakers the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was in their hands.

Testifying before the Senate judiciary committee, the longtime immigration hardliner was asked by senators from both parties about the administration’s plans for DACA, which President Donald Trump has opted to end, citing Sessions’ recommendation.

. . . .

Sessions did not lay out details of what the administration may want to do for the Obama-era program, which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation. Sessions has long railed against the program and once again expressed his belief that the executive action was unconstitutional.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, though, who has pursued legislation that would offer DACA-like protections for nearly two decades, pressed Sessions on how he could recommend to Trump that the program is unconstitutional and would be found the same in the courts when the Justice Department still maintains a 2014 Office of Legal Counsel memo on its website that found DACA would be constitutional.

“I believe this is accurate, that the so-called approval of DACA by OLC, Office of Legal Counsel, was based on the caveat or the requirement that any action that’s taken be done on an individual basis,” Sessions said, then appeared to mix up court precedent on the issue.

Sessions said a court had struck down the program because individual decisions were not made, but was seemingly referring to a decision made about an expansion of the program to parents. Courts have not found DACA to be unconstitutional to date. 

Durbin noted that each DACA applicant is evaluated individually. All go through background checks before receiving the two-year permits.

Growing frustrated at Session’s answers, Durbin referenced his former colleague’s past on the other side of the dais. “I believe this is just about the moment that Sen. Sessions would have blown up,” Durbin said. 

Later in the hearing, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, also a lawyer, asked Sessions if he considered any due process or “bait and switch” issues in recommending the program be ended, since DACA recipients willingly gave the Department of Homeland Security their information in exchange for protection when the program was created. Sessions said he didn’t believe it was discussed.

“It’s a valid issue,” Sessions said. “You’re right to raise it.”

But when Hirono pressed Sessions on what might happen to the individuals covered under the program if it ends in six months, Sessions deflected.

“The answer to that is in your hands,” he said. “Congress has the ability to deal with this problem in any number of ways.” He reiterated he did not support “simply an amnesty” without additional anti-illegal immigration measures, but said “if we work together, something can be done on that.”

Here’s the link to Tal’s report:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/18/politics/jeff-sessions-hearing-daca-remarks/index.html

In other words, Sessions continued to assert his conclusory, essentially “law free” position that DACA is unconstitutional. He didn’t even know which case he was wtalking about (and it’s not that he didn’t have any idea that Durbin and others were going to quiz him on DACA). At the same time, he can’t bring himself to acknowledge that the DACA young people have been a great boon to the US and to our economy and that they deserve a path to citizenship. Indeed, if Gonzo had his way and the “Dreamers” were actually removed from the US, it would actually “TANK” our economy by reducing our GNP by nearly one-half trillion dollars! See CNBC, John W. Schoen, “DACA deportations could cost US economy more than $400 billion,” available at this link:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/05/daca-deportations-could-cost-us-economy-more-than-400-billion.html

And, Gonzo goes on to press his absurd demand that any relief from “Dreamers” be “offset” by  Trump’s “off the wall” immigration restrictionist program. Dreamers are contributing over $400 billion to our GNP, so what’s there to “offset?” We should be happy to have them as permanent members of our society.

No, the real problem here is that the Dreamers and their families (who also are contributing to our society and economy) should have been screened and admitted through our legal immigration system. The solution isn’t to extract a “penalty” from the Dreamers, but rather to expand our legal immigration system so that future Dreamers and their hard-working productive families can be properly screened and legally admitted into the United States in the first place!

That Gonzo, others in the Administration, and the “restrictionist wing” of the GOP keep pushing in exactly the opposite direction is truly reprehensible. The real  “national debate” that we should be having on immigration is how to get Dreamers and other law-abiding undocumented residents on a track to full integration into our society, how many MORE legal immigrants we should admit each year, and how we should select them to achieve the most both for our country’s future and for those vibrant, hard-working, and much-needed future immigrants that we should be attracting! Legal immigration is a good thing, to be valued and welcomed! It’s NOT something to be feared and restricted as Gonzo and his cronies would have us believe! And, by converting most of the flow of “undocumented migrants” into “legal immigrants” we would reduce the need for DHS enforcement directed at the immigrant community. Those resources could be redirected at removing the “real bad guys.”

 

PWS

10-19-17

WHAT DO YOU CALL SOMEONE WHO ENJOYS INFLICTING GRATUITOUS PAIN AND SUFFERING ON VULNERABLE PEOPLE? — Jeff Sessions

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/category/the-daily-202/?utm_term=.c4e82aca4268&wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1

James Hohmann writes in then”Daily 202″ in the Washington Post:

“THE BIG IDEA: Photographers caught a giddy Jeff Sessions cracking a satisfied smile last week as he prepared to announce that 690,000 undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the United States as minors would no longer be shielded from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “is being rescinded,” the attorney general declared in the first line of his statement. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. … Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. … The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.” Fact checkers called these and other claims Sessions made about the immigrants known as “dreamers” dubious or outright false. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t take questions afterward. Regardless, the speech was widely covered as a triumph for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and a sign that he was out of President Trump’s doghouse. Not only did Sessions get the outcome he wanted; he also got to deliver the news from the Justice Department briefing room. Trump’s DACA decision last week seemed to validate Sessions’s decision to slog on through the summer even after being frozen out of the inner circle. From interviews to tweets, Trump repeatedly attacked his attorney general throughout July as “weak” and “beleaguered.” The main reason Sessions chose to put up with indignities that might cause most people to quit was because he believed he could make a difference on immigration policy. That has always been his signature issue and animated his two decades in the Senate.

— But it took less than 10 days for Trump to once again undercut Sessions. The president on Thursday signaled his embrace of granting permanent legal status to these “dreamers” as part of a deal with Democrats that he said is close to being finalized. He also acknowledged that he’s not going to make a deal to save DACA contingent on getting funding for the wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Discussing the exact same group of people that Sessions painted with such a sinister brush one week earlier, Trump tweeted yesterday: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” Trump tweeted yesterday. “They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own — brought in by parents at young age.”

**************************************

Read the rest of Hohmann’s always-entertaining column at the above link.

Quite simply, Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions is a poor excuse for a human being and a disgrace to the U.S. Department of Justice. What kind of person is motivated by a desire to destroy our society by hurting fine American young people and smearing them with lies and innuendo?

But, let’s not forget who empowered his message of hate and fear by appointing him, and who “blew by” his long record of racial problems while silencing the opposition that told truth. And, a special “shout out” should go to those who voted to put this intentionally divisive Administration in office and to the unapologetically racially challenged white GOP voters of Alabama who elected this leftover of the Jim Crow era time and time again.

Jeff Sessions does not represent the values of the majority of Americans. We must get it together at the ballot box to insure that he (and those like him) never again happen to us and to our country!

PWS

09-15-17

WashPost: Trump Actually Has A Strategy — It’s Ugly!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/06/06/daily-202-trump-signals-to-his-base-that-he-is-a-man-of-action/5935fccce9b69b2fb981dc64/?utm_term=.90d201c44030

James Hohmann writes in the PowerPost:

“THE BIG IDEA: Some have called him crazy. He thinks he’s crazy like a fox.

Let’s dispense once and for all with the fiction that Donald Trump doesn’t have a strategy. It may be a deeply-flawed strategy for reasons the neophyte president is not yet savvy enough to appreciate, but make no mistake: there is a strategy.

The conventional wisdom around Washington is that Trump is being impulsive as he disregards the counsel of his lawyers, who are correctly warning him that the travel ban may not survive a Supreme Court review if he continues to talk about it the way he does.

Yet the president has now explicitly called for a “TRAVEL BAN” five separate times on Twitter over the past four days. Undercutting the spin that he was just reacting to a morning cable segment he saw on TV before coming downstairs to work, his social media team posted a video on Facebook (an account he doesn’t personally control) that featured the tweets set to dramatic music.

He posted this at 9:20 p.m. last night:

If Trump truly cared about the underlying ban and wanted it to be in place for the country’s security, as he claims, he would not be speaking so freely. The billionaire businessman has been mired in litigation off and on for decades and has demonstrated an ability – when his own money was at stake – to be self-disciplined.

The only explanation, then, is that he cares less about winning the case than reassuring his base. The number of posts reflects the degree to which Trump thinks the travel ban is a political winner. He is trying to signal for his 24 million Facebook fans and 31.7 million Twitter followers that he’s fighting for them, regardless of what the judges, the media and the Democrats say. As Trump put it this morning:

— Bigger picture, the president is trying to maintain his populist street cred and show his true believers that he’s not going wobbly on them after five months in Washington, despite back-tracking on more of his campaign promises than he’s kept.

Trump has always been a flashy show horse. Why would anyone think a septuagenarian is suddenly going to buckle down to become a work horse? As a developer, biographers and former associates say, he consistently cared more about the gold-plated façade than the foundation. This is why Trump could obsess about how the lobbies of his properties looked, even as his business ventures careened toward bankruptcy under the weight of bad loans and poor bookkeeping. (Marc Fisher explored this dynamic in February.)

— With his agenda imperiled, Trump increasingly seems determined to create an aura of effectiveness in the hopes that core supporters already inclined to support him won’t be able to tell the difference between optics and substance. Remember, this is the same candidate who once boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his voters would stick with him.

Consider this: “Trump employed all the trappings traditionally reserved for signing major bills into law as he kicked off ‘infrastructure week’ on Monday: the stately East Room full of dignitaries, a four-piece military band to serenade, celebratory handshakes and souvenir presidential pens for lawmakers, promises of ‘a great new era’ and a ‘revolution’ in technology. Yet the documents Trump signed amid all the pomp were not new laws or even an executive order. They were routine letters to Congress, relaying support for a minimally detailed plan in Trump’s budget to transfer control of the nation’s air traffic control system to a private nonprofit group,” the Los Angeles Times’s Noah Bierman reports.

But low-information voters may not be able to tell the difference when they see the b-roll of the ceremony on TV or an image in the paper.

It follows a pattern of Trump over-promising and under-delivering: “He touted the unveiling of his tax overhaul in April but released only a one-page set of bulleted talking points,” Noah writes. “Just last week, he tweeted that his tax bill is proceeding ‘ahead of schedule,’ though he has submitted no bill to Congress … Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony in May to celebrate House passage of a bill to repeal Obamacare … even as Republicans in the Senate served notice that the House bill was unacceptable. His promised ‘beautiful wall’ on the southern border is not yet on a drawing board. Likewise, many of the executive orders Trump has signed failed to live up to the president’s rhetoric.”

Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa noticed an amusing pattern and just posted a smart trend story about it: “From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on NAFTA and the Paris climate agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just ‘two weeks.’ It rarely does. … Trump’s habit of self-imposing — then missing — two-week deadlines for major announcements has become a staple of his administration … The president has used two-week timelines to sidestep questions from reporters or brag to CEOs at the White House. But his pronouncements have also flummoxed investors, Congress and occasionally even members of his staff.”

Is this strategy gimmicky and cynical? Absolutely. Does it work? For millions of people, yes.

Trump hands off a pen after signing a &quot;decision memo&quot; and a letter to members of Congress outlining broad principles of his plan to privatize the nation&#39;s air traffic control system. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)</p>

Trump hands off a pen after signing a “decision memo” and a letter to members of Congress outlining broad principles of his plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

— To be sure, Trump’s talent for showmanship has gotten him this far. He developed a valuable brand as a reality TV star and has leveraged his celebrity to get through rough patches before. He brought that skillset to the presidential race and assumes it will continue to work in Washington.

Indeed, White House officials defend Trump by arguing that he’s simply governing as he campaigned. “The president won an election by being somebody who is not a conformist candidate,” Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters during a conference call last night. “He won by being somebody who the American people were anxious to change the culture in D.C. They understand that they were asking for disruption to the way D.C. operates. And I think that they’re anxious, the American people are anxious to see progress in this town. So he may not have conventional style in doing that, but many of his efforts are extremely helpful to, I think, getting our legislation accomplished.”

Short’s explanation offers a deeply revealing window into Trump’s theory of the case: All of the let-‘er-rip tweets in the wake of the attack on London Bridge have been focused on ginning up the GOP base. The president believes that, so long as grassroots activists back him, his adopted party’s lawmakers will have no choice but to follow. The fact that so many politicians have caved and capitulated over the past two years has taught him that he can get away with his unusual behavior. What the Republican governing class has never understood is that Trump doesn’t really respect people who kowtow to him; he sees it as a sign of their weakness. Seeing such timidity has only emboldened this president to pursue this bottom-up, outside-in approach. There is no evidence he will change until elected Republicans buck him en masse.

— Here’s the rub: There are some fresh signs that Trump’s act is wearing thin. While Trump’s floor of support has thus far stayed surprisingly high, the percentage of Americans who “strongly” approve of the president has continued to slip – from 30 percent earlier in the spring to about 20 percent now.

— More and more GOP lawmakers are also getting sick and tired of either defending the president or dodging questions about his latest provocative statement. “Trump’s refusal to disengage from the daily storm of news — coming ahead of former FBI director James B. Comey’s highly anticipated public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday — is both unsurprising and unsettling to many Republicans (on the Hill), who are already skittish about the questions they may confront in the aftermath of the hearing,” Robert Costa reports on the front page of today’s Post. “In particular, they foresee Democratic accusations that Trump’s exchanges with Comey about the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign were an effort to obstruct justice. Some Republicans fear that Trump’s reactions will only worsen the potential damage.”

  • “It’s a distraction, and he needs to focus,” said former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett. “Every day and moment he spends on anything other than a rising economy is a waste that disrupts everything.”
  • “Unfortunately, the president has, I think, created problems for himself by his Twitter habit,” John Cornyn, the second highest-ranking Senate Republican, said with characteristic understatement during a Sunday interview on the Dallas TV station WFAA.
  • “We live in a world today where unfortunately a lot of communication is taking place with 140 characters. Probably it’s best to refrain from communicating with 140 characters on topics that are so important,” Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said one day after golfing with the president.

— Efforts to create a “war room” stocked with former campaign officials and top-flight lawyers have stalled.“Three people briefed on the matter said the process has been bogged down by a lack of decision-making in the West Wing over how to proceed, as well as reluctance from some of those the White House hoped to recruit about serving a president who keeps getting in his own way,” the AP’s Julie Pace reports. “The White House has made a conscious decision to avoid answering questions about the Russia probes, referring inquiries to Marc Kasowitz, the president’s outside counsel. Kasowitz has so far had no comment on the investigations, leaving those questions unanswered.”

“Anybody with press chops looks at this and they’re fearful there’s not a path to succeed,” said Sara Fagen, former White House political director for George W. Bush.

— Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, Michael Isikoff reports for Yahoo News this morning. “Before Kasowitz was retained, however, some of the biggest law firms and their best known attorneys turned down overtures when they were sounded out by White House officials to see if they would be willing to represent the president.”

Jerry Moran leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol.&nbsp;(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)</p>

Jerry Moran leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

— Trump wants to blame Democrats for blocking his agenda, but the truth is that he cannot even get 50 Republican senators onboard for his biggest priorities. Consider these two other quotes from yesterday:

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a former NRSC chairman and one of the most reliable votes in the Republican conference, put out a stinging statement about Trump’s push to privatize the country’s air traffic control system: “Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans. All but our largest airports nationwide stand to be hurt by this proposal. Privatization eliminates the chance for Congress and the American people to provide oversight, creates uncertainty in the marketplace and is likely to raise costs for consumers.”

On health care: “I just don’t think we can put it together among ourselves,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told a gaggle of reporters, joining a growing chorus of Republicans who publicly and privately say that Obamacare repeal is unlikely to happen. (Last week, Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made a similar comment and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he doubted a bill could pass before the August recess.)

— “The most effective opponent of the Trump Presidency is Donald J. Trump,” the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board opines this morning. “If Mr. Trump’s action is legal on the merits, he seems to be angry that his lawyers are trying to vindicate the rule of law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be justified if he resigned. … If this pattern continues, Mr. Trump may find himself running an Administration with no one but his family and the Breitbart staff. People of talent and integrity won’t work for a boss who undermines them in public without thinking about the consequences. And whatever happened to the buck stops here?”

— “The man is out of control,” Eugene Robinson writes in his column today. “I know his unorthodox use of social media is thought by some, including the president himself, to be brilliant. But I don’t see political genius in the invective coming from Trump these days. I see an angry man lashing out at enemies real and imagined — a man dangerously overwhelmed.”

— “The president has gone rogue,” adds Dana Milbank.“Though Trump’s ineffectiveness comes as a relief, his isolation is no cause for celebration. Whenever his back is to the wall, he becomes even more aggressive. The further he falls, and the more alienated he grows, the greater the danger that he will do something desperate — and there is much that a desperate commander in chief can do.”

Dana flags that an unnamed Trump confidant told CNN’s Gloria Borger last week that the president is a lost man:“He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be. I see him emotionally withdrawing. He’s gained weight. He doesn’t have anybody whom he trusts.”

***************************************************

Pretty grim outlook for the President, for the country, and for the world. Elections have consequences. And, in this case they are as bad as it gets.

PWS

06-08-17

 

The “Human Rights Free” Presidency — Trump Surrenders U.S. Leadership On Humanitarian Concerns — Embraces Some Of World’s Major Human Rights Violators!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/05/24/daily-202-trump-s-praise-for-duterte-s-drug-war-underscores-his-contempt-for-human-rights/5924d3dee9b69b2fb981db83/?utm_term=.7945757980b7

James Hohmann reports in the Washington Post:

“THE BIG IDEA: It’s one thing to not “lecture” foreign governments who abuse human rights. It’s something else entirely to praise them for it. And that’s exactly what Donald Trump did last month when he called Rodrigo Duterte.

The Post’s David Nakamura and Barton Gellman yesterday obtained a transcript of his April 29th phone call with the president of the Philippines.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job (you’re doing) on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the start of their conversation, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

“Thank you Mr. President,” replied Duterte. “This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”

Trump, who affectionately referred to Duterte as “Rodrigo” during their chat, then took an unsolicited dig at Barack Obama. “I … fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that,” the U.S. president said. “You are a good man … Keep up the good work. … You are doing an amazing job.”

With Breanne Deppisch

Duterte called Obama the “son of a whore” during a press conference last September. When he promised to curse out the then-president if he brought up his death squads, the White House canceled a bilateral sit-down that had been scheduled. When Obama later raised concerns about his human rights record, Duterte replied that he could “go to hell.” (He often uses unprintable profanity.)

— The context of Trump’s comments matters: Duterte is an authoritarian thug. He has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers. His abuses are well documented, including in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch.

Duterte has publicly compared his campaign to crack down on drugs to the Holocaust, saying he would like to “slaughter” millions of drug addicts just like Adolf Hitler “massacred” millions of Jewish people. “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. … I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he told reporters last September. While Hitler (who actually killed closer to six million Jews) spoke of a “final solution,” Duterte says his campaign of mass killings is the only way to “finish the problem.”
He has said he would kill his own children if they ever took drugs.

One victim of Duterte’s crackdown was a 5-year-old girl, who was shot in the head last summer when armed men came to her house in search of her grandfather.

Eleven days before Trump phoned him, Duterte told a group of Filipino workers in the Middle East that if they lose their jobs because of the falling price of oil they can always come home to work for him. “If you lose your job, I’ll give you one: Kill all the drug addicts,” he said, according to the Philippine Star. “Help me kill addicts … Let’s kill addicts every day.”

The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize this year for a series of powerful photographs “showing the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about” by Duterte’s policies.

A witness has testified that before Duterte became president, when he was a mayor of Davao City, he paid a squad of hit men to carry out summary executions that involved feeding a body to a crocodile, chopping up corpses and dumping slashed bodies into the sea.

Duterte has boasted to a group of Manila businessmen, on camera, about killing criminals in cold blood when he was mayor: “In Davao I used to do it personally, just to show the (cops) that if I can do it, why can’t you?”

He joked last year that the victim of a gang rape was “so beautiful” that he wishes he had “been first.”

Yesterday he declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, as his security forces battled heavily armed militants linked to the Islamic State.
— Trump caught his own aides off guard during his phone call to Duterte by extending an open invitation for him to come visit the White House at any time, with no preconditions. “I will love to have you in the Oval Office,” Trump said, per the transcript. “Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know.”

— A senior administration official, who confirmed that the quotes in the transcript produced by the Philippines government are accurate, said that the president was not condoning Duterte’s “individual tactics.” Rather, the official said, this was Trump’s “way of expressing solidarity over a common scourge.” But that’s not at all clear from the transcript, and it’s certainly not the impression any reasonable person on the other end of the line would have been left with.
— Trying to advance our national interest, previous presidents of both parties have certainly looked the other way instead of confronting human rights abuses. But they felt they had no choice, especially during the Cold War, and none seemed to relish this dark side of realpolitik.

— As part of his so-called “America First” agenda, Trump seems not just content but determined to have America abdicate its moral leadership in the world. It’s hard to claim American Exceptionalism when Trump praises Duterte this way. It’s hard to say we’re a shining city upon a hill when the American president consistently treats despotic strongmen with greater respect than democratically-elected allies.

— The president’s sometimes over-the-top praise for totalitarian leaders has been covered extensively, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
— Coincidentally, Duterte was meeting with Putin at the Kremlin yesterday around the time that the Post’s story about the transcript broke. He’s referred to the Russian president as his “favorite hero.” This is from the write-up by RT, the government-financed propaganda network: “Duterte, who called Russia a ‘reliable partner,’ also emphasized that Manila is ready to develop relations with Moscow and is looking forward to purchase Russian arms.” Putin also lavished him with praise.

— Words matter: Autocrats have heard Trump loud and clear, and they’re emboldened. Abby Phillip and David Nakamura note that almost no attention was paid to the concerns that have made Saudi Arabia rank among the most repressive nations on Earth during the president’s visit this weekend. “Political protests in Saudi Arabia can be punishable by a death sentence and freedom of expression is severely limited. But Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross highlighted the absence of dissenters as a sign of the ‘genuinely good mood’ during Trump’s visit. … And Sunday, a lone event on Trump’s schedule aimed at bolstering civil society in Saudi Arabia was scrapped.”
“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said during his Sunday speech in Riyadh, speaking to about 50 political leaders of Muslim nations, many of which are led by strongmen. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values.”

— The foreign policy establishment was collectively horrified by the transcript of the Trump-Duterte call.

*************************************************

Read the complete story at the link.

Let’s see, dissing US civil servants, promoting xenophobia and racism, shafting the poor and vulnerable, abandoning the sick and chronically ill, enriching his family and cronies, and emboldening anti-democratic autocrats throughout the world. Trump is the antithesis of almost all of the values many of us thought America stood for. Yet, he was elected to lead us. Go figure!

PWS

05-24-17

POLITICS: Dear DT, You’re Not On Reality TV Any More — You Can’t “Fire” The Freedom Caucus — Only Their Constituents Can Do That — And GOP Gerrymandering Insures That’s Not Going To Happen!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/03/31/daily-202-how-trump-s-threats-against-the-freedom-caucus-may-backfire/58de0ed5e9b69b72b2551089/

James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

“– Trump tried carrots, offering pizza parties and invitations to the White House bowling alley. Since that hasn’t worked, he’s using the stick. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that one should try to be loved and feared. “But, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved,” the Italian diplomat explained in “The Prince.”

This approach makes much less sense in America circa 2017 than it did in the Italy of 1532.

In practice, throughout the history of our republic, this has almost never been an effective way to govern. Franklin Roosevelt, vastly more popular than the current occupant of the Oval Office, went all-in during the 1938 midterms against Southern Democrats who weren’t consistently voting for New Deal programs. The ensuing debacle, in which all but one primary challenger FDR supported lost, is a cautionary tale that Trump may want to consider before he follows through on his threats to knock off members of the House Freedom Caucus if they don’t quickly fall in line.
The defiance we saw from several members of the Freedom Caucus yesterday, including Sanford, strongly suggests that Trump’s gambit will fail. Rather than cower, principled movement conservatives wore the attacks as badges of honor. They saw the threats as testaments to their courage. And they pledged to never back down. The fact that Sanford went to the Charleston paper to say Trump had threatened him reflects the degree to which these guys are not scared.

“I have zero worries about it,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told the Heritage Foundation-backed Daily Signal. “Trump’s tweets reaffirm that the Freedom Caucus is having a major impact on public policy in Congress — that the Freedom Caucus is not a force to be ignored. … If you want me to vote for a piece of legislation, either persuade me it is good for America or change it so that it is good for America.”

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), one of Trump’s earliest endorsers, said the Freedom Caucus won’t change no matter what the president does. “We’re elected as Republicans to put forth good conservative policy, and I’m on board as soon as we start doing that,” he told Roll Call. “In my district, we’re very conservative, so if he gets me out office, he’s going to get someone more conservative than me.”

“If somebody can get to the right of me in the primary, God bless him,” added Freedom Caucus member Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).”

*************************************

Vladimir Lenin (an earlier generation Russian strongman) could have told President Trump that while Bakuninists (like the Freedom Caucus) can be useful in taking power, when you go to consolidate and exercise the power of government, well, not so much.

Lenin had a straightforward solution. He simply had Trotsky and the Red Army exterminate the Bakuninists, along with others who opposed his one-man rule. (Yes, long before he became the grandfatherly figure of the Frida Kahlo movies and stories, LT was a cold-blooded mass-murderer who had the misfortune to lose a power struggle to an even greater and more ruthless mass murderer, Joe Stalin) The survivors scattered and went into exile. Presto, problem solved.

But, our system doesn’t work like that, at least not at present. Most members of the Freedom Caucus were in office before Trump came along, and they fully expect to be there after he’s gone. And, giving in to the demands of the Freedom Caucus eventually would force some of the small number of less conservative Republicans (true moderates no longer exist in the GOP) to pal up with the Dems to block the most disastrous parts of the Freedom Caucus agenda.

Running for the Presidency is harder than being on reality TV. And, governing is much more difficult than running. So far, the message doesn’t seem to have gotten to DT. Will it?

PWS

04-02-17

James Hohmann In WashPost: How Trump Is Winning The War Even While Losing Some Key Battles — “Deconstruction Of The Administrative State” Moving At Full Throttle With No End In Sight! PLUS EXTRA BONUS: My Mini-Essay “On Gorsuch, Deference, & The Administrative State!”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/03/27/daily-202-how-trump-s-presidency-is-succeeding/58d88409e9b69b72b2551039/?utm_term=.dbeab923d833

Hohmann writes:

“– Liberals mock Trump as ineffective at their own peril. Yes, it’s easy to joke about how Trump said during the campaign that he’d win so much people would get tired of winning. Both of his travel bans have been blocked – for now. An active FBI investigation into his associates is a big gray cloud over the White House. The president himself falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping him. His first national security adviser registered as a foreign agent after being fired for not being honest about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. His attorney general, at best, misled Congress under oath.
— Despite the chaos and the growing credibility gap, Trump is systematically succeeding in his quest to “deconstruct the administrative state,” as his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon puts it. He’s pursued the most aggressive regulatory rollback since Ronald Reagan, especially on environmental issues, with a series of bills and executive orders. He’s placed devoted ideologues into perches from which they can stop aggressively enforcing laws that conservatives don’t like. By not filling certain posts, he’s ensuring that certain government functions will simply not be performed. His budget proposal spotlighted his desire to make as much of the federal bureaucracy as possible wither on the vine.

— Trump has been using executive orders to tie the hands of rule makers. He put in place a regulatory freeze during his first hours, mandated that two regulations be repealed for every new one that goes on the books and ordered a top-to-bottom review of the government with an eye toward shrinking it.
Any day now, Trump is expected to sign an executive order aimed at undoing Obama’s Clean Power Plan and end a moratorium on federal-land coal mining. This would ensure that the U.S. does not meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

The administration is also preparing new executive orders to re-examine all 14 U.S. free trade agreements, including NAFTA, and the president could start to sign some of them this week.

— Trump plans to unveil a new White House office today with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and, potentially, privatize some government functions. “The Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report. “Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to … create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. … Kushner’s team is being formalized just as the Trump administration is proposing sweeping budget cuts across many departments, and members said they would help find efficiencies.”

Kushner’s ambitions are grand: “At least to start, the team plans to focus its attention on re-imagining Veterans Affairs; modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing ‘transformative projects’ under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband Internet service to every American. In some cases, the office could direct that government functions be privatized, or that existing contracts be awarded to new bidders.”

********************************

On Gorsuch, Deference, & The Administrative State

by Paul Wickham Schmidt

Hohmann’s points make quite a bit of sense to me — until he gets down to his rather remarkable conclusion that progressives should have invested more in a fight against Gorsuch. What? Just how would they have done that?  The GOP has the votes to confirm, as they will do, and there is nothing the Dems can do to stop it, except to look feeble, petty, and out of touch in the attempt.

The confirmation hearings revealed nothing that was not already known. Gorsuch should be a reliable conservative vote on the Court, perhaps, but not necessarily, even more than Justice Scalia. Surprise!

We just had an election during which McConnell’s scheme to block the nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supremes, the control of the Senate, and the ability of the next President to appoint a liberal (Hillary) or a conservative (Trump) as Scalia’s replacement were big issues. And, guess what? Whether Dems like it or not, the GOP won both the Presidency and the Senate and thereby the ability to appoint their man (in this case) as the next Justice.

What’s remarkable about that? It would have only been remarkable if President Trump had nominated someone less conservative than Judge Gorsuch. And, certainly, if Hillary had won and the Democrats won the Senate she could legitimately have chosen to resubmit Judge Garland or chosen an even more liberal candidate who would have duly been confirmed by the Democrats over the GOP’s objections. Elections have consequences, particularly when your party loses control of both of the political branches of Government.

I continue to suspect that while Justice Gorsuch will be very conservative, at some point in the future he will be persuaded to side with the so-called “liberal Justices” against some position that is key to the GOP — perhaps, the scope of Executive authority. At that point, the same GOP Senators who gushed on about his “judicial independence” will be screaming “betrayal,” while the Democrats will be congratulating him on “conscientiously following the law.”

Look at how Chief Justice Roberts went from poster boy for judicial conservatism to “dupe of the left” just by failing to veto Obamacare as the GOP had been counting on. All politicians want judges who exercise their “judicial independence” in a predictable way consistent with the political philosophy of the party that appointed them. Once on the bench, however, with lifetime tenure and only their judicial colleagues to answer to, few actually live up to all of the exceptions of their political appointers.

Moreover, I don’t agree with the supposedly “liberal” position that Executive Branch administrative judges (like I was) and bureaucrats (which I also was) should have the power to impose their views on legal issues, even if not particularly sound ones, on the Article III Judiciary. Chief Justice John Marshall must be turning over in his grave, while Thomas Jefferson dances on top of it, at this bizarre voluntary surrender of judicial authority known as “Chevron.”

There is always pressure on Executive Branch officials, be they administrative judges or just “regular agency bureaucrats,” to construe the law in ways that favor Executive policies and Executive power over the power and prerogatives of the other two branches of Government and often over the rights of individuals in the U.S.

Deciding difficult questions of law, where the answers are not clear, is what Article III Judges are paid to do, and what they are supposed to do under the Constitution! At one time, this is what they actually did! The pre-ChevronSkidmore doctrine” already gave the Article III Judiciary adequate latitude to recognize the expertise of certain Executive Branch officials and to defer to their interpretation when it appeared to be the best one, or at least as good as any of the alternatives.

But, Chevron basically substituted the concept of “any plausible interpretation” for the “best interpretation.”  That’s simply not the way an independent judiciary should function under the separation of powers established in our Constitution.

I say all of this as someone who spent the bulk of my professional career as a public servant within the “administrative state” and who, unlike the Bannons of the world, believes in the power of the Federal Government to do good things for the general population. But, I have also seen first-hand the weaknesses and biases of the Executive when it comes to interpreting the law.

Meaningful independent judicial oversight over the “administrative state,” which includes “de novo” (basically unrestricted) review of Executive legal decisions by the Article III Judiciary, is a requirement  for fairness and due process under our Constitution.

Finally, the Dems should abandon Schumer’s ill-conceived idea of a “Gorsuch filibuster.”  Of the minority of Americans who actually care about the Gorsuch confirmation, only a minority of those are opposed. In other words, the Dems are about to proceed on a futile parliamentary maneuver that really only speaks to a small number of voting Americans, who are already in their “base.” Absolutely no need to do that.

What is needed if the Dems don’t want another Gorsuch appointment is to start winning more elections, particularly in the U.S. Senate and for the Presidency the next time around. That will require more than feeble posturing, tilting at windmills, and some additional “Trump fails.”

The Democrats need some dynamic leadership (which currently is conspicuously absent) and some real, down to earth programs and proposals to solve America’s problems (something which I haven’t heard to date). What can the Dems do that the GOP can’t, and why should folks care?

Otherwise, the next nominee for the Supremes could be along the lines of Judge Jeannie or Judge Napolitano. And, the Dems will continue to be powerless to stop it.

PWS

03/27/17