Category: Politics

Notes From Washington for Sunday, February 18, 2018

Top U.S. officials tell the world to ignore Trump’s tweets

Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

The Washington Post
By Michael Birnbaum and Griff Witte
Image courtesy of Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to global affairs, U.S. officials had a message to a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.

U.S. lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream: the United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn’t contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

But Trump himself engaged in a running counterpoint to the message, taking aim on social media at his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, because he “forgot” on Saturday to tell the Munich Security Conference that the results of the 2016 weren’t affected by Russian interference, a conclusion that is not supported by U.S. intelligence agencies. They say they will likely never be able to determine whether the Russian involvement swung the election toward Trump.

The determination to ignore Trump’s foreign-policy tweets has been bipartisan.

The question of whom they should believe — the president or his advisers — has befuddled European officials. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confessed Saturday that he didn’t know where to look to understand America.

“Is it deeds? Is it words? Is it tweets?” he asked. He said he was not sure whether he could recognize the United States.

 


Trump administration assault on bipartisan immigration plan ensured its demise

The Washington Post
By David Nakamura and Mike DeBonis

As much of the country was gripped Wednesday by horrific images from the mass shooting at a Florida high school, two dozen senior Trump administration officials worked frantically into the night to thwart what they considered a different national security threat.

The looming danger on the minds of the officials was a piece of legislation scheduled for a vote the next day in the Senate. It was designed to spare hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation — but to the men and women huddled in a makeshift war room in a Department of Homeland Security facility, the measure would blow open U.S. borders to lawless intruders.

“We’re going to bury it,” one senior administration official told a reporter about 10:30 that evening.

The assault was relentless — a flurry of attacks on the bill from DHS officials and the Justice Department, and a veto threat from the White House — and hours later, the measure died on the Senate floor.

“He ended the program,” the Democratic Senate aide said of Trump. “He’s the one who repeatedly said no to bipartisan efforts to fix it.”

 


America Is Under Attack and the President Doesn’t Care

Leah Millis / Reuters

The Atlantic
By David Frum
Image courtesy of Leah Millis / Reuters

As the rest of America mourns the victims of the Parkland, Florida, massacre, President Trump took to Twitter.

Not for him the rituals of grief. He is too consumed by rage and resentment. He interrupted his holidaying schedule at Mar-a-Lago only briefly, for a visit to a hospital where some of the shooting victims were treated. He posed afterward for a grinning thumbs-up photo op. Pain at another’s heartbreak—that emotion is for losers, apparently.

Having failed at one presidential duty, to speak for the nation at times of national tragedy, Trump resumed shirking an even more supreme task: defending the nation against foreign attack.

Trump continues to insist that he and his campaign team did not collude with Russia in the 2016 election. We know that they were ready and eager to collude—that’s on the public record. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”) The public does not yet know whether the collision actually occurred, and if so, in what form and to what extent. But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election. You might call it collusion in advance—a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.

 


Mr. Trump to the ‘dreamers’: Drop dead.

John Moore/Getty Images

The Washington Post
Opinion by the Editorial Board
Image courtesy of John Moore/Getty Images

President Trump has often spoken and tweeted of the soft spot in his “great heart” for “dreamers,” the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to this country as children. This supposed concern has now been revealed as a con.

Offered bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would have protected 1.8 million dreamers from deportation, in return for a down payment on the $25 billion wall Mr. Trump assured voters that Mexico would finance, the president showed his cards. The deal was a “total catastrophe,” the president said, punctuating a day in which the White House mustered all its political firepower in an effort to bury the last best chance to protect an absolutely blameless cohort of young people, raised and educated as Americans.

Despite the withering scorn heaped on the bipartisan plan by Mr. Trump, with a hearty second by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), eight Republican senators backed it, giving it a total of 54 votes — six shy of the 60 required for passage. Had Mr. Trump stayed silent, or suggested he could accept a modified version, the bill may very well have passed. But he turns out to be far less interested helping the dreamers — helping anyone, really — than in maintaining his anti-immigrant political base.

If the administration is successful, as many legal experts expect, the lives, hopes and futures of nearly 2 million young immigrants will be upended. They will lose jobs and, in many cases, driver’s licenses, tuition subsidies and health insurance. They will slip into the shadows in the only country they know. This will be Mr. Trump’s legacy and the true reflection of his “great heart.”

 


After the Parkland shooting, pro-Russian bots are pushing false-flag allegations again

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Washington Post
By Anne Applebaum
Image courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For most Americans, the Parkland shooting was a terrible tragedy. But for social media accounts that promote the interests of Russia in the United States, it was a fantastic opportunity.

On the morning after the tragedy, the Russia-linked accounts were commenting fiercely, pushing the “crazy lone killer” explanation for the shooting and mocking advocates of gun control. According to Hamilton 68, a tracker website created by the German Marshall Fund, a lot of them linked to photos of guns and ammunition on the Instagram account of the suspected killer, plus a screenshot of a Google search for “Allahu akbar.” Others linked to a fact-checking website that debunked some statistics about gun crime. By Friday morning, some of the same accounts were also pushing something slightly different: the hashtag #falseflag. That’s a reference to the conspiracy theory, already widespread 48 hours later, that the shooting never happened, that the attack is a “false flag” operation staged by the U.S. government as a prelude to the seizure of guns.

Despite what is now overwhelming evidence of Russian involvement in the last U.S. presidential election, no one at the highest level of the U.S. government has made a significant commitment to prevent Russian involvement in the next election, or the next debate, or the next national argument, either.

 


Trump’s Furious Tweetstorm Backfires

Eric Thayer / Reuters

The Atlantic
By David A. Graham
Image courtesy of Eric Thayer / Reuters

Donald Trump didn’t have any control over the decision by Russia’s Internet Research Agency  to mount self-proclaimed “information warfare against the United States of America.” As the indictment released on Friday stated, the effort began in 2014, long before he was a declared candidate—much less a serious one—for office.

But by refusing to take information warfare seriously — in an attempt to distance himself from it and any questions it might raise about the legitimacy of his election — the president has paradoxically made the story about himself again and again.

Republicans Are Using the Russian Playbook on the FBI

Republicans Are Using the Russian Playbook on the FBI

New York Magazine
By Jonathan Chait

Odds are, you don’t remember any of the particular revelations contained in the stolen emails from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. But when WikiLeaks published them two years ago, they created a furor. The snippets of conversation, wrenched out of context, seemed to supply hidden evidence of what Hillary Clinton’s critics on both the left and the right already suspected.

One of the reasons Clinton’s left-wing critics dismissed charges of Russian hacking was that they feared the crime would overshadow the apparently revelatory emails.

The email hacks did not actually reveal anything nearly so incriminating. What the episode showed was that, if hostile actors are allowed to peek into a vast trove of their target’s private thoughts, they can usually find something that sounds shady. This is exactly the method Republicans are now using to discredit the FBI.

Republicans didn’t steal messages from the FBI. They happened upon them because two FBI agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, happened to be having an affair, and since they used their phones to communicate (to avoid detection by their spouses), the messages they sent fell into the laps of Congress. For weeks, Republicans have followed the WikiLeaks formula with these texts, selectively leaking snippets of conversation to feed a distorted story line to the media.

Republican senator Ron Johnson highlights a text of Strzok expressing reluctance to join Robert Mueller’s team, because “my gut sense and concern is there’s no big there there.” Johnson told a conservative talk-show host that this “jaw-dropping” comment amounted to a confession that Strzok knew that Trump was innocent and joined Mueller’s investigation to smear him. But maybe Strzok simply had an open mind and thought Mueller’s probe stood a strong chance of clearing Trump. Another Strzok “scandal” grew out of a text he sent expressing the opinion that Clinton would not be charged in the email investigation. The text “suggests they knew and, in turn, believed Loretta Lynch knew, that no charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton, even before the FBI had interviewed her over her unauthorized private email server,” reports Breitbart.

They knew! The fix was in! Or maybe they simply knew that the evidence of the private email server did not amount to a plausible federal case against Clinton.

 

How the GOP Rigs Elections

How the GOP Rigs Elections

Rollingstone
By Ari Berman
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz

To say that Republicans are facing a toxic political environment heading into the 2018 midterm elections would be a massive understatement. Donald Trump is the most unpopular president at this stage of his term in modern American history. Just three in 10 Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and Democratic voters’ enthusiasm to vote in 2018 tops Republican voters’ by 17 points. But because of sophisticated gerrymandering, Republicans who should be vulnerable, like Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, have been seen as untouchable. “It’s more challenging than it should be because of the way the districts are drawn,” says Jenni Dye, who works for Democrats in Wisconsin’s state Senate. Wanggaard is among 11 Republican state senators up for re-election in 2018, but no one has stepped forward to challenge him yet.

The gerrymandering in Wisconsin, which experts call among the most extreme in U.S. history, is but one part of Republicans’ stealth plan to stay in office. Since Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature took power, they’ve also introduced some of the country’s harshest voting restrictions, passing laws that make it harder for Democratic-leaning constituencies to register to vote and cast ballots. At the same time, the state has become the “Wild West of dark money,” according to Lisa Graves, a senior fellow at the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, with Republican politicians like Walker raising unprecedented sums from billionaire donors to finance their campaigns.

“All three of these things have to be seen as part of a whole,” says Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s attorney general, who founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in 2016 to challenge Republican gerrymandering efforts. “Unregulated dark money combined with these voter-ID laws combined with gerrymandering is inconsistent with how our nation’s system is supposed to be set up. American citizens ought to be concerned about the state of our democracy. We could end up with a system where a well-financed minority that has views inconsistent with the vast majority of the American people runs this country.”

More immediately, a beleaguered Republican Party tainted by Trump could still retain majorities in 2018 and 2020. “It’s not a level playing field,” says Tom Perez, head of the Democratic National Committee. “There are millions of people whose votes effectively don’t count.” And as a measure of the GOP’s ability to maintain a political advantage, despite widespread public opposition to its policies, look no further than Wisconsin. “We’ve been under a counterrevolution here for the past six years,” says Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks the influence of money in politics. “Walker has urged other states to follow his model. Reactionary politics is a big Wisconsin export now.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, WH press secretary, threatens to bar reporter from asking questions

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, WH press secretary, threatens to bar reporter from asking questions

The Washington Post
By Erik Wemple
Image courtesy of Win McNamee/Getty Images

A chance to corner the president on this matter arose as the president participated in a signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, with a crew of reporters on the scene in what is known as a “pool spray.” CNN’s Jim Acosta was there to witness the moment. After Trump signed the document, he got up and began walking out of the Roosevelt Room. Acosta asked: “Mr. President, what did you mean when you said that Kirsten Gillibrand would do anything for a campaign contribution?”

Good question! The president turned his head with a glare and proceeded to exit. No answer.

Later on, Acosta told CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer about how desperately the White House wanted to sidestep that uncomfortable encounter. “In the moments before I asked the president the question in the Roosevelt Room as he was signing the National Defense Authorization bill, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, pulled me aside — this was prior to me asking that question of the president. And she warned me that if I asked the president a question at this pool spray, as we call them, that she could not promise that I would be allowed into a pool spray again,” said Acosta. “Wolf, this was a direct threat coming from the press secretary to me, warning me not to ask a question and, of course, I went ahead and asked the question anyway and the president did not respond. But Wolf, as you know, we don’t respond to threats, we’re not going to be intimidated.”

What if Mueller catches Trump — and it isn’t enough?

What if Mueller catches Trump — and it isn’t enough?

The Washington Post
By Eugene Robinson
Image courtesy of Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

We need to prepare for the eventuality that the Mueller probe catches President Trump, family members and associates red-handed — and Republicans in Congress refuse to do anything about it.

This is beginning to look like a possible or even probable outcome. With a cravenness matched only by its arrogance, the GOP is Trump’s party now. It no longer has any claim to be Lincoln’s.

Witness the cowardly about-face on the subject of Roy Moore’s candidacy for the Senate. The party initially took a position in line with its purported values: that a credibly accused child molester, who haunted the local mall seeking dates with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, is unworthy of the high office he seeks.

But then Trump endorsed Moore — given that more than a dozen women have accused the president of sexual misconduct, the phrase “birds of a feather” comes to mind — and Republicans changed their tune. The flow of money from national party coffers to Moore’s campaign, briefly interrupted, was resumed. Moore’s fitness became a matter that no longer troubled the GOP’s moral conscience, or what was left of it; only “the people of Alabama” could decide the difference between right and wrong.

Here is the distinction between our two major parties in 2017: Democratic leaders are forcing Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), both accused of harassing women, to resign. Republican leaders are trying to put Moore, accused of harassing teenagers and molesting a 14-year-old, in the Senate.

Given that context, it is naive to assume that anything special counsel Robert S. Mueller III uncovers will lead Republicans to choose principle over political advantage. Trump boasted during the campaign that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. As far as the GOP majorities in Congress are concerned, he may be right.

Mueller is doing his job. Ours is to elect Democrats and independents next year who will hold this appalling presidency to account.

Republicans are failing the Roy Moore test

Republicans are failing the Roy Moore test

The Washington Post
By Michael Gerson
Image courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The prospect of Sen. Roy Moore has been both horrifying and clarifying. It would be difficult to design a more controlled, precise test of the moral gag reflex in politics.

In this political lifeboat dilemma, Republicans are being asked what principles they are willing to throw overboard in the interest of power. A belief that character matters in politics? Splash. A commitment to religious and ethnic inclusion? Splash. Moral outrage at credible charges of sexual predation against teen girls? Splash.

Those remaining in this lightened boat display a kind of shocking clarity. They value certain political ends — tax cuts, a conservative judiciary — more than ethical considerations. When it comes to confirming judges who oppose Roe v. Wade, the vote of a statesman is no better than the vote of a sexual predator — or, presumably, of a drug dealer or a murderer. This type of calculation admits no limiting principle.

So, in this view, it does not really matter that there is (as Ivanka Trump put it) “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” in Moore’s case. It does not matter that Moore’s explanations have been shifting and slippery. It does not matter that Moore has said that homosexual behavior should be illegal, or that he compared resisting gay marriage to resisting the Holocaust, or that he referred to Asians as “yellows,” or that he doesn’t believe former president Barack Obama is a natural born citizen, or that he believes there are communities living under shariah law in Illinois and Indiana.

Those willing to swallow all this — all the ignorance, cruelty, creepiness and malice — have truly shown the strength of their partisan commitment. A purity indistinguishable from mania.

The hope for American politics is found in the reverse, the photographic negative, of all these trends. In leaders who affirm and exemplify the nobility of the political enterprise. In arguments that elevate principle above expediency. In institutions that shape character, confront corruption, take the side of the exploited and echo the newly pertinent question: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

VA cuts program for homeless vets after touting Trump’s commitment

VA cuts program for homeless vets after touting Trump’s commitment

Politico
By Arthur Allen and Lorraine Woellert

Four days after Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin held a big Washington event to tout the Trump administration’s promise to house all homeless vets, the agency did an about-face, telling advocates it was pulling resources from a major housing program.

The VA said it was essentially ending a special $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans. Instead, the money would go to local VA hospitals that can use it as they like, as long as they show evidence of dealing with homelessness.

Anger exploded on a Dec. 1 call that was arranged by Shulkin’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans to explain the move. Advocates for veterans, state officials and even officials from HUD, which co-sponsors the program, attacked the decision, according to five people who were on the call.

The agency’s move came as HUD on Wednesday released its annual survey showing a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness over 2016 — the first rise since 2010. Most of the jump occurred in Los Angeles, where housing costs are skyrocketing.

Advocates said cuts to the program were doubly foolish because the chronically homeless veterans it serves typically cost cities and the health care system hundreds of thousands of dollars for emergency room visits, ambulance runs and jailings that could be avoided if the veterans were reasonably sheltered.