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Fri Jan 5, 2018, 10:03 PM

Friday Talking Points (466) -- The Wolff Who Cried "Boy!"

Welcome back to the weekly political roundup that is Friday Talking Points! We've been on hiatus for the past two weeks, for our annual two-part year-end awards columns (Part 1 and Part 2, in case anyone missed them). So... anything happen while we were away?

Of course it did! Donald Trump played golf for something like a week and a half straight, bringing his total for the year to 91 days spent at one of his own golf resorts. This prompted an amusing reaction from George W. Bush's former chief strategist, Matthew Dowd: "I have a question for the Trump fan club who applauded every time he said Obama played too much golf. if that was a problem, why is it ok that Trump in less than a year has played more golf than Obama did in eight years as President?" Why, indeed. Why was Barack Obama's golfing a serious media story when pretty much every single president has played golf going back to the real aficionados of the sport (Gerald Ford and Dwight Eisenhower, to name two)? Could there be just one thing different between Barack Obama and all other presidents who played golf before him, hmmm? I wonder what that difference could be -- especially now that Donald Trump, another white man, is getting a free pass on the insane amount of time he spends on the golf course.

What's that you say? Trump's golfing wasn't the big story this week? There was, in fact a Wolff at the door, and nobody's certain yet whether Trump lives in a house built of straw(men) or brick (as in: "thick as a..." )?

Michael Wolff's new book was a bombshell even bigger than the "bomb cyclone" storm which hit the East Coast this week. Speaking of which, who comes up with these inane new weather terms? And why do winter storms now get names like hurricanes and typhoons? Isn't the word "blizzard" cool enough on its own, for Pete's sake? Hmmph. Of course, getting back on subject, the last name "Wolff" certainly lends itself to all sorts of fun metaphors as well. Our favorite so far -- since the book portrays everyone around Donald Trump essentially having to treat him as a cranky infant, perhaps a good headline would be "The Wolff Who Cried 'Boy!'"? The possibilities for editorial amusement abound, that's for sure. In Wolff's own words:

Reigning over all of this was Trump, enigma, cipher and disruptor. How to get along with Trump -- who veered between a kind of blissed-out pleasure of being in the Oval Office and a deep, childish frustration that he couldn't have what he wanted? Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on "Fox & Friends" or an Oval Office photo opp. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, "like a child."


And that's when they were being nice, mind you. When they were being a tad more honest, they used words like "idiot" and "moron" to describe Trump. These are Trump's senior aides, mind you, and not his political opponents or anything. This has caused much amusement among Trump's actual political opponents, naturally. Joe Biden's former chief of staff tweeted out: "It turns out that Trump's aides have as many different words for 'moron' as the Eskimos do for snow. I wonder why?"

But of course, the juiciest plot in fallout over the book is the growing battle between Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. Now, people are missing a key point in this whole story, we feel. For the most part, the media is reacting as if Bannon was quoted on this stuff last week, or maybe a few weeks ago. This isn't the case, however. Bannon could have been saying this stuff a year ago, or last spring, or whenever. Books take a long time to write, edit, and publish, so it's most likely that these quotes were actually uttered at least six months ago, and yet everyone seems to be glossing over this, for some unfathomable reason.

Bannon's badmouthing Trump and the Trump White House, though, are indeed the main storyline emerging from the book. Trump immediately reacted, issuing a strongly-worded message that flat-out claimed that Steve Bannon "has lost his mind." This was in reaction to the worst of the quotes in the initial release of excerpts from Fire And Fury, about Donald Trump Junior's meeting with the Russians. Bannon's reaction to the meeting: "Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."

Trump then instructed his lawyers to fire off "cease and desist" letters to Bannon and the book's publisher, darkly warning of lawsuits to come. The publisher reacted by moving up the date of the book's release, just to rub it in. It hit the store shelves today, and so far seems to be flying off them in record numbers.

Bannon, meanwhile, has been ostracized by the Trumpkins. Liberals needing a quick fix of the old schadenfreude have taken to going over to Breitbart News and reading the comments, where Bannon fans and Trump fans are going at each other tooth and nail. Candidates Bannon had been backing (for the Republican primaries) are backpedaling away from him as fast as they can, and one of the big donors behind Bannon, Rebekah Mercer, has seemingly cut off the money flow. Bannon, perhaps realizing the depth of his problem, attempted a little grovelling in an interview: "The president of the United States is a great man. You know I support him day in and day out." Good luck with that, Steve -- or, as Trump now calls him, "Sloppy Steve."

Of course, since the last time we wrote one of these columns was mid-December, all kinds of other things have been happening in the political world as well. The Trump White House seems to be acting frantically in all sorts of directions, probably because the speechwriters tasked with the upcoming State Of The Union speech realized that the list of Trump accomplishments isn't all that long ("1. Supreme Court confirmation, 2. tax bill passed," and that's about it). So there have been a flurry of actions in the past few weeks alone.

Two presidential advisory commissions were disbanded, on HIV/AIDS and the ridiculous voting integrity commission. The courts overturned Trump's transgendered military ban, and so far the White House seems to have thrown in the towel on this legal fight.

Regulations which keep Americans safe and healthy have been chucked out, including rules that protect nursing home residents. Because who needs regulations in a place like that? Profits are obviously the main concern for the public, right?

But the big antiregulatory push has been to the overwhelming benefit of the oil industry. Regulations on fracking developed under President Obama were scrapped, as were regulations on killing migratory birds (who often perish in drilling runoff wastewater). Regulations put in place to avoid deepwater drilling accidents were likewise scrapped, because accidents could never happen in offshore drilling. Speaking of offshore drilling, the Interior Department is proposing allowing oil rigs off of pretty much any American coast the oil companies wish, no matter what the states affected have to say about it. This is enraging even Republican governors, so expect this fight to heat up as the public comment period gets underway. Oh, and the cherry on top was allowing some mining leases right next to a federal natural preserve in Minnesota that just coincidentally (imagine that!) will benefit Ivanka and Jared's own landlord. Funny how coincidences like that happen, eh? Bet their rent won't be raised this year!

Congress returns to Washington with a full plate, as it must strike several deals in the next few weeks. This includes figuring out the federal budget, the debt ceiling, disaster relief funding, the children's health program (CHIP), the FISA spying law, Obamacare subsidies, and what to do about the DACA Dreamers. They're going to hash all that out in the next two weeks, apparently. So of course they won't rush any of it, or anything.

Speaking of Congress, there are some changes to announce. Al Franken is out of the Senate, and Doug Jones has been sworn in, leaving Republicans with only a 51-49 majority. Roy Moore, who lost to Jones, is now being sued for defamation by the former 14-year-old who accused him of child molestation. She doesn't want any money, just an apology. Orrin Hatch will not run for re-election, paving the way for Mitt Romney to grab his seat (metaphorically speaking, of course). And Sherrod Brown's path to re-election just got easier, as his most prominent Republican opponent just pulled out of the race to cope with an unspecified family emergency.

Bernie Sanders got in a funny line, while personally swearing in Bill de Blasio to his second term as New York City mayor, in what was described as a "frigid outdoor ceremony." Bernie scoffed at the weather, stating: "By Vermont standards, this is a warm and pleasant afternoon."

And finally, to end on another amusing note, some Oregon residents are apparently freaking out over the prospect of having to pump their own gasoline. Oregon had been one of two states (New Jersey is the other) which never abandoned full service at the pump -- and where self-service was actually banned. State law is changing to allow the option of self-serve pumps, and some Oregonians are clutching their pearls. The internet, of course, had an absolute field day in response.





Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement this week, mere days after California became the biggest legal recreational marijuana market in the country. Sessions is fulfilling his long-held dream of resuscitating the federal War On Weed, not unlike King Canute ordering the tides to turn back (which we wrote about yesterday).

By doing so, Sessions has proven both himself and Donald Trump, once again, to be nothing short of big fat liars. Sessions, while under oath during his confirmation hearing, said he would respect states' rights on the issue of marijuana. Trump, when asked in a campaign interview in Colorado whether he'd crack down on legal marijuana states, responded: "I wouldn't do that, no. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely."

Sessions has now placed the issue front and center, right at the start of an election year. It can no longer be ignored by politicians from either party. The time to stand up and be counted is nigh. The time for mealy "we should study it further" equivocations is over and done. Which side are you on, politicians; tell me, which side are you on?

So far, the reaction has been impressive -- from both sides of the aisle, to be fair. Republicans from states which have legalized adult use are strongly challenging Sessions, including Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, who is threatening to place a hold on any Senate confirmations to the Justice Department until Sessions changes his tune. Gardiner all but called Sessions a liar to his face: "This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states." Republican senators from Nevada and Alaska echoed Gardiner's displeasure, as well as Rand Paul (but just on general libertarian principles, in his case).

Over in the House, GOP Representative Dana Rohrabacher was even more forceful in his response:

The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels. By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself. He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens' property in order to finance its backward ambitions.


And that's just the Republican response, mind you.

On the other side of the aisle, the Washington Post noted that many Democrats who are considering a presidential run in 2020 have strongly come out against the new Sessions policy. Here's Senator Cory Booker:

History has shown that our deeply broken drug laws disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color and cost us billions annually in enforcement, incarceration, and wasted human potential, without making us any safer. This unjust, backwards decision is wrong for America, and will prove to be on the wrong side of history.


And Senator Elizabeth Warren:

States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations. This reckless action by the DOJ disrupts the ability of states to enforce their own drug policies and puts our public health and safety at risk. Congress needs to take immediate action to protect state marijuana laws and the patients that rely on them.


Senator Kamala Harris chimed in:

Instead of wasting money on failed policies like the "War on Drugs," the Department of Justice should be directing federal resources toward working with local law enforcement to clamp down on transnational criminal organizations and the trafficking of guns and human beings.


But we thought Kirsten Gillibrand put the best political spin into her reaction:

Parents should be able to give their sick kids the medicine they need without having to fear that they will be prosecuted. Veterans should be able to come home from combat and use the medicine they need without having to fear they will be prosecuted. This is about public health, and itís about reforming our broken criminal justice system that throws too many minorities in prison for completely nonviolent offenses.


The battle lines have been drawn, and finally (finally!) Democrats seem to have shaken off their fears of publicly supporting marijuana legalization and/or federal legal reform. This will be the first election cycle that this will be true, at least in such an across-the-board fashion. So Honorable Mention awards all around, for any Democrat that issued a pro-weed statement in response to Sessions this week!

But we won't have to wait for the midterms to see how the issue is already playing out. In the next few weeks, a federal budget deal will be debated. An amendment that few even knew existed is going to be a major part of this, now. This amendment has been federal law for a few years now, but must be renewed each year. It absolutely forbids -- using the congressional power of the purse -- the Justice Department from spending any money prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where it is legal. If this amendment survives the budget battles, it will put a big crimp on the ability of Sessions to change tactics. So we'll be watching what happens with interest.

But there may be big legalization news even before the budget deal is struck. Two states -- New Jersey and Vermont -- are in a race to see which one will go down in history as "the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in their state legislature." Not every state has direct-democracy ballot initiatives, so in the others this is the only way to change the laws.

In Vermont, they've already set the record for the "first state legislature to pass a legalization bill," which they did last year. The governor vetoed it, but said at the time that he just wanted a few changes. This week, a revised bill passed the Vermont house. Details remain to be worked out with the state senate, but the chances for the bill's passage within the next week or two are incredibly good, and this time the governor seems to be on board with the effort.

However, New Jersey might just beat them to it. Which is where we (finally, sorry for all the digressions) get to the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Because there's one big reason New Jersey might just act incredibly quickly on their own legalization bill:

New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy has pledged to signed {sic} adult use regulation legislation within his first 100 days in office. Murphy, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in part by championing a recreational marijuana law opposed by then-Governor Chris Christie and his administration.

That promise depends on a Democrat-led Legislature agreeing to send Murphy a bill to sign.


Got that? Murphy isn't just a supporter of legalization, and he didn't just passively support it, he actually campaigned on a promise to get it done within his first 100 days. And he won the election (at least partially) on this promise.

There's a big lesson in there for Democrats everywhere: this is now a winning political issue for you and for your party. Gallup reports that national public support for outright recreational legalization has hit an astounding 64 percent. A majority of Republicans even now supports legalization. The time for wishy-washiness is long gone, folks.

Legalizing marijuana for all adults to use is now the mainstream political position. Democratic candidates everywhere would do well to realize this, and follow the brave path blazed by Phil Murphy. No matter if he becomes the first governor to sign such a bill or the second, he has shown Democrats everywhere what a winning issue this can be for them.

And for that, he is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

{Since he is not yet New Jersey's governor, Phil Murphy does not yet have an official gubernatorial webpage where you can let him know you appreciate his efforts. But Chris Christie's time in office is now measured in days, so it won't be long before this official page appears.}





OK, this whole column is getting monstrously long (longer than usual, even), so we're going to do this one quickly and move on to the talking points.

Purely by chance, Shelly Simonds in Virginia has to be seen as the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Simonds, after a recount of a very close Virginia House of Delegates race, wound up tied with her Republican opponent. A random drawing of names from a bowl determined the winner, and Simonds lost.

So, through absolutely no fault of her own, Simonds has to be seen as the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. If she had won the draw, it would have created a perfect 50-50 split in the chamber, which then would have led to a power-sharing agreement between the two parties in order to function. Her loss left the Republicans with a razor-thin 51-49 majority, which was indeed pretty disappointing to Democrats.

{Since Shelly Simonds lost the draw, she is now a private citizen, and our standing policy is not to provide contact information in these cases. Besides, as we stated, losing the random draw was through no fault of her own.}




Volume 466 (1/5/18)

Call us biased, but we've been focusing for the past few days on marijuana. The politics of marijuana, of course (ahem). This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that we reside in California, of course. Nothing at all. I mean, have you ever thought about just... nothing?

Heh. Sorry, we kind of spaced out there for a moment. So to speak.

Seriously, though, we've been an advocate for marijuana legal reform for so long in these pages that nobody should really be all that surprised that we devoted not only two columns to the subject this week (one triumphant over the liberation of California, and one in reaction to Jeff Sessions), but also the entire Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award as well.

For our talking points, we had to take two shots at Trump (just because), but also have largely focused on marijuana politics. Finally Democrats (and even some Republicans) are realizing what a winning issue this can be in politics, due to the massive shift in public opinion in a very short time period. When Barack Obama took office, only 40 percent of the public favored legalization, and zero states had done so for recreational weed. One year into Trump's term, eight states (representing 21 percent of America's population) have fully legalized adult use, and 64 percent of the public approves of the idea. That is a tectonic shift, and the speed with which it happened is breathtaking. So when Jeff Sessions decides he wants to turn back the clock, we feel it is inherent upon Democrats to stand up and be counted. Hence all the talking points suggesting how to do so.



I told the sun to do that!

Even for Trump, this one's just laughable.

"Donald Trump just tweeted: 'Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!' The only problem with him taking credit for this is that the last commercial aviation death actually happened in 2009. What will Trump's megalomania cause him to tweet next? 'Because I was brave enough to look directly at the eclipse, Mr. Sun has risen every single day last year in the East!' Wouldn't surprise me in the least, at this point."



Lie-o-meter about to roll over

Thanks to some tireless work, we can put a number on Trump's delusions.

"The Washington Post has updated their page which chronicles all the times Donald Trump has lied during his first 347 days in office. The new total? 1,950 lies, which averages out to 5.6 lies per day. They've even got a graphical presentation of their data, since we all know Trump doesn't like to read stuff. At this rate, it is virtually assured that Trump will top 2,000 lies in his first year in office alone. If he were Pinocchio, and if he were to face west in the White House, his nose would now already be across the Mississippi River."



Don't let the door hit you...

Seems more and more House Republicans are reading the tea leaves these days, and not liking what they see.

"House Republicans are falling all over themselves to announce they will not be running for re-election this year. So far, 29 of them have already bowed out -- at a rate that is significantly faster than any other recent Congress. Even GOP committee chairmen are heading for the exits. They obviously foresee a Democratic wave election swamping their chances to hold onto their office, and if the past week is any indication, the number of them deciding to hang up their spurs is only likely to grow in the next month or so, as filing deadlines approach. It's like they need a sign in the House Republican caucus room which says: 'Will the last Republican to leave the House please turn out the lights?'"



Legalize it!

Don't criticize it....

"Already this year there are twelve states that may reform their state marijuana laws in defiance of federal law and Jeff Sessions. Michigan and Ohio voters will have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana by ballot initiative. Voters in Missouri, South Dakota, Oklahoma (!), and Utah (!!!) will be able to weigh in on legalizing medicinal marijuana. The Kentucky legislature is considering medical legalization, as well. And at least five states -- Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware may legalize recreational use through their legislatures. It's pretty easy to see where the trend is headed. Ironically, you could now say that anyone who denies that the public is overwhelmingly for radical reform of federal marijuana laws must be smoking some powerful stuff indeed."



Weed wins!

This needs to be driven home to the party at large, in a big way.

"Some Democratic politicians have been around since the 1980s, when Nancy Reagan and the Republicans used 'soft on crime' to frighten Democrats away from any sane consideration of reforming marijuana laws. They were very successful at using this as a wedge issue, and Democrats who remember those days have always taken a 'once bitten, twice shy' approach ever afterwards. But back then, public support for outright legalization was below 30 percent. Today, it's almost at two-thirds of the public who wants to see marijuana legalized. The ground has shifted, and any Democrat who doesn't realize it is now going to pay a price at the voting booth. It's very simple to put into two words: weed wins. Weed wins at the ballot box, both on referenda and for politicians who support it. Weed wins, and Democrats who also want to win need to realize it and get on board."



Deschedule!

This needs to become the rallying cry at the federal level.

"Ironically, Jeff Sessions might be the one person who does the most for the legalization movement. Because Sessions is so obviously stuck in the past, it makes it painfully clear that any rogue attorney general is still able to wage the War On Weed on his own personal whim, due to federal laws being so laughably outdated. According to federal law, marijuana has 'no accepted medical use.' According to reality, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, and counting. According to federal law, marijuana is as dangerous as heroin. In reality, this is patently absurd. The only way Jeff Sessions can be stopped from his misguided and outdated crusade is to change the underlying federal law. This is no longer just a theoretical thing -- if Congress doesn't act, then it becomes complicit with any overreach from Sessions and the Justice Department. So take the power away from Sessions entirely! Deschedule marijuana -- move it legally from the list of dangerous drugs, and instead give it to the bureau which currently regulates alcohol and tobacco, where it rightly belongs. If Congress acts, Sessions won't be able to. Period."



Wow, like, have you ever really looked?

Like, wow, man. This absolutely takes the prize for most amusing response to the Sessions announcement. From the Twitter feed of the Colorado Senate Dems came the following gem:

We'll give Jeff Sessions our legal pot when he pries it from our warm, extremely interesting to look at hands.




Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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