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Fri Jan 19, 2018, 10:53 PM

Friday Talking Points (468) -- Shutdown Showdown!

Where we find ourselves as a nation: this week, the not-at-all-liberal Wall Street Journal broke the story that Donald Trump paid off a porn star mere days before the 2016 election, to the tune of $130,000, to keep her silence about an affair they had right after he had married his third wife. It was later revealed by In Touch Weekly magazine that Trump had compared the porn star (stage name: Stormy Daniels) favorably with his daughter. And yet this news didn't even really break onto the front pages. After one year of President Trump, such a revelation is considered minor news, in other words. That's where we find ourselves as a nation, folks.

The beginning of the week was largely devoted to the fallout from Trump's "shithole" meeting last Thursday, with the head of the Department of Homeland Security committing perjury under oath to a Senate committee, claiming rather unbelievably that she just for the life of her could not recall "rough language" used days earlier by her commander in chief. This begs the question of whether someone with such a bad memory should really be in charge of the largest cabinet department in America, or else (as Occam's razor would have it) she was lying her face off to protect her boss from political fallout.

There was even a hilarious debate about the semantic difference between whether the president had said "shithole" or (somehow supposed to be less offensive) "shithouse" countries. Right-wing pundit Erick Erickson shot this down by tweeting out how Trump was actually proud of what he said:

It's weird that people in the room don't remember Trump using that word when Trump himself was calling friends to brag about it afterwards. I spoke to one of those friends. The President thought it would play well with the base.

In other racist news this week, the president was obviously playing to his base when he appointed Karl Higbie to be the public face of AmeriCorps. Higbie had to hastily step down this week after public revelation of vile and racist comments he made about African-Americans. Also, vile anti-Muslim comments, and vile anti-gay comments. He also stated that as far as he was concerned, "75 percent" of soldiers claiming to have P.T.S.D. were faking it. Here's what this charming Trump appointee had to say about how to solve the problem of Mexican immigrants:

What's so wrong with wanting to put up a fence and saying: "Hey, everybody with a gun, if you want to go shoot people coming across our border illegally, you can do it for free. And you can do it on your own, and you'll be under the command of the, you know, National Guard unit or a Border Patrol." I think, stick a fence six feet high with signs on it in both English and Spanish and it says: "If you cross this border, this is the American border, you cross it, we're going to shoot you." You cross my border, I will shoot you in the face. I will go down there. I'll volunteer to go down there and stand on that border for, I don't know, a week or so at a time and that'll be my civil duty. I'll volunteer to do it.

Because "what's so wrong" with wanting that? In possibly-related news, according to the Anti-Defamation League, American white supremacists killed "more than twice as many people" in 2017 as they did in 2016. They were responsible for "far more deaths" than Islamic extremists in this country. But none of that made any big headlines this week, of course.

Also not making the front pages this week, a Republican senator gave a long speech on the Senate floor this week comparing a president of his own party to Josef Stalin. Here is just some of what Jeff Flake had to say about Donald Trump:

It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase "enemy of the people," that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of "annihilating such individuals" who disagreed with the supreme leader.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward -- despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot's enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him "fake news," it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

But even such a denunciation (complete with Stalin comparison) didn't really crack the front pages this week, because the media was having such fun with the shutdown showdown in Congress. As we type this, we have no idea whether the government will shut down in a short number of hours or not. Our apologies if the outcome is certain by the time this is published, but that's the danger of writing about ongoing crises on Friday afternoons.

As things stand now, Chuck Schumer went up to the White House for a face-to-face meeting with President Trump, but this resulted in no breakthrough deal on DACA legislation or the budget. The Senate will be voting in a few hours on the House budget extension bill, but it does not appear to have the votes to pass. It doesn't even appear to have a simple majority of Republican votes, in fact, if reports are to be believed. So, one way or another, the one-month extension bill will likely fail tonight.

Oh, and there is no Plan B in sight. The only possible way to avoid a government shutdown if the House bill fails would be an extremely short-term bill which would extend the budget by only a few days, to allow a final DACA deal to be worked out. But so far, it doesn't really seem like this is even a possibility, since Trump and the Republicans show no sign of being willing to address DACA in a bipartisan manner.

During the week, the evangelical advisors to the president made a statement of their own on DACA, by meeting with Nancy Pelosi in support of the Dreamers. They're not alone. Depending on the poll, somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the public agrees that the Dreamers kids should be allowed to stay in America. Which is probably the biggest reason why the public is already blaming the Republicans and Trump for the shutdown showdown more than the Democrats. The blame game hasn't even officially begun, and yet Democrats already appear to be winning it, hands down. More on this in the talking points section, where we'll give our own rant on who is really to blame.

Of course, Trump hasn't been very successful with the public all year long. He ends his first term in office with the lowest job approval polling numbers that pollsters have ever seen (back to the advent of public polling in F.D.R.'s time). Trump continues to play to his rabid base, ignoring all others, to his detriment. The Resistance to Trump continues to build among the public, as fewer and fewer people respond that they "strongly approve" of the president, while more and more people answer that they "strongly disapprove" -- by a factor of roughly 2-to-1.

This bodes well for Democrats in the midterms, of course. Trump had to travel to a district in Pennsylvania he won by 19 points this week, in fear of losing a House special election to a Democrat. The wave is building.

And finally, a comforting bit of trivia to end on, as we move along to the weekly awards: if the government does shut down tonight, Bob Mueller's office will keep working. Talk about your "essential governmental personnel," eh?

We've got a few Honorable Mention awards to give out before we move on to the main Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. First up is Dr. Maurice Watson, a pastor in Prince George's County, Maryland, who gave a fiery sermon condemning Trump's vulgar comments about immigrants. What was notable wasn't that he called Trump's remarks "hurtful" and "dehumanizing," but that Mike Pence was sitting in the audience, becoming "visibly red-faced" at times during the sermon. Now that's speaking truth to power!

Even more amusingly, the projection artist in D.C. struck again, beaming the giant word "SHITHOLE" over the entrance to the Trump Hotel in Washington. Also projected were the phrase "This place is a shithole" and smiley-faced poop emojis. So Robin Bell (of Bell Visuals) deserves mention for his neverending efforts to move the concept of graffiti into the twenty-first century.

Chris Christie is no longer governor of New Jersey, for which we can all be thankful. Democrat Phil Murphy was sworn in this week, and seems to want to hit the ground running:

Murphy is ready to end his obscurity. On Tuesday, when he is sworn in, New Jersey will become one of just eight states where Democrats run every branch of government. If Murphy has his way, New Jersey will become a proving ground for every liberal policy idea coming into fashion, from legalized marijuana to a $15 minimum wage, from a "millionaire's tax" to a virtual bill of rights for undocumented immigrants.

But this week we have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out. The first goes to Senator Cory Booker, whose statement to the head of the Department of Homeland Security has gone viral. Kirstjen Nielsen was present in the room for the "shithole" meeting, but somehow conveniently forgot everything the president said in the meeting, if her sworn testimony was to be believed. She also stated under oath that she had no idea that Norway was a country that could be described as overwhelmingly white (this led to a late-night comic's joke that Nielsen "should ask her own name" about the whiteness of Scandinavia). But it was her convenient forgetfulness that Booker slammed during his statement, which is well worth watching in full:

Your silence and your amnesia is complicity. I've got a president of the United States whose office I respect, who talks about the country's origins of my fellow citizens in the most despicable manner. You don't remember?! You can't remember the words of your commander in chief?! ... I find that unacceptable.

For (if you'll excuse the language) calling "bullshit" on Nielsen 's "shithole" memory lapses, Cory Booker well deserves a MIDOTW.

Also deserving of the MIDOTW award this week was Patty Schachtner, who won a special election for a state senate seat in Wisconsin this week. Her 11-point victory was pretty astounding when you consider that Donald Trump won the same district by 17 points. This has sent shockwaves through the Republican Party, from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (who is up for re-election this year, and is already trailing a generic Democrat by 5 points in the polls) on down. Walker tweeted numerous times to warn his fellow Republicans that this was a "wake-up call." One other prominent Wisconsin Republican reportedly reacted by lamenting: "We are losing independent and educated women in droves."

Schachtner's win was the 34th such state legislative seat to be flipped since the 2016 election. In the same period, Republicans have managed to flip just four such seats, for a net gain of 30 to the Democrats.

In reaction, Donald Trump traveled to Pennsylvania this week to support a candidate in a special House election, in a district that Trump won by 19 points. This shows the depth of Republican fears over what could happen to them in the 2018 midterms. Normally, a seat like PA-18 would be considered so safe that no attention would be necessary from party bigwigs, but before the special election is held in March, Mike Pence is slated to visit the district twice, as well as half a dozen cabinet secretaries. In a district that Trump won by almost 20 points, mind you.

That big blue swell on the horizon is looking more and more like a Democratic tsunami, in other words. This week, credit for continuing the big blue wave has to go to state senator-elect Patty Schachtner of Wisconsin. Congratulations on your victory, and here's hoping Democrats see many more such victories in November!

{Congratulate Senator Cory Booker on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Wisconsin state Senator-Elect Patty Schachtner has not been sworn in yet, so she has no official political page (we do not, as a rule, link to campaign websites, sorry), so you'll have to either look her contact info up yourselves or wait until her official Wisconsin senate page appears.}

We're just going to have to give this award out generically, since as we write this no vote has yet been held in the Senate on the budget bill.

The Most Disappointing Democrats Of The Week are all those in both the House and Senate who wind up voting for the Republican can-kicking budget extension bill rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Dreamer children. When the bill passed the House, six Democrats crossed the aisle and voted for it. There are rumors about how many Democrats in the Senate will do likewise, but whatever number it turns out to be, we'd like to award in advance a MDDOTW to each and every one of them.

The only way to force Republicans to the table is to stand united. This is only possible, of course, because Republicans cannot manage to unite on their side of the aisle. So a strong showing on the Democratic side is absolutely essential.

Now, we do understand that senators from red states that voted for Trump are a wee bit nervous about the vote, but they're not even the only ones on the list of those rumored to be voting with the Republicans. Even Dianne Feinstein, senator from the state with the most Dreamers of any in the Union, is being very equivocal about her own vote. That's inexplicable, especially considering she's already facing a primary opponent this year. If DiFi votes with the Republicans, that may be the final straw for a lot of California voters, to put this another way. Almost ninety percent of the public favors letting the Dreamers stay, and that number's got to be even higher in blue-state California.

But we shouldn't single DiFi out, since we will have individual Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards for each and every Democrat who votes with the Republicans and against the Dreamers' future.

{If you'd like to let your representative or senator know what you think of his or her actions, you'll have to look them up after the vote on either the official House contact page or the official Senate contact page.}

Volume 468 (1/19/18)

This is one of those weeks where we just decided to go off on an extended rant rather than offer up individual talking points. Because the spin for next week is obvious for Democrats -- explaining why the government shutting down is, once again, the Republicans' fault. They may even be helped in this effort by the fact that pretty much all the other government shutdowns going back to Bill Clinton's time were also seen by majorities of the public as the Republicans' fault. So the public may have a built-in response by now.

This blame game happens every time, of course. This time, Democrats are already winning the P.R. battle. Polling in the last few days has shown that while around a third of the public blames Democrats for the shutdown drama, over half blame either Donald Trump or the Republicans in general. So this is all a pretty easy sell, but we still felt the need to put it all down in a rant.

How to play the shutdown blame game

President Donald Trump is getting worried that his one-year anniversary party might get spoiled. He's holding the shindig at his own Florida golf resort, and charging couples a mere $100,000 to attend, but right now it's looking like he might have to stay in Washington to cope with a government shutdown instead. Wouldn't be seemly to be shown partying to celebrate all your successes when Washington has hit a brick wall, now, would it?

Perhaps the fear of missing his big party will actually cause Trump to chart some sort of rational course in the next few hours. Hey, it's always a possibility, right? He did meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this afternoon, so maybe a last-minute deal can be struck after all. But even if this turns out to be true, there really is only one man responsible for the shutdown drama, and that is Trump himself.

Trump is beyond erratic on DACA (as indeed he is on many issues). Nobody has any real clue what Trump wants, other than "whatever the last guy he talked to believes." This has frustrated not just Democrats, but his own Republicans in Congress, who often wake up the morning of a day they are supposed to vote on an important bill (that the White House is supposed to be supporting), only to find a Trump tweet ripping into that very bill. This has happened twice now in the past two weeks alone, making Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell's jobs that much harder. Nobody -- not even Republican leaders in Congress -- really has any idea what Trump will say next on any particular issue.

As for the impending shutdown, it is important to take a moment to review how we got where we are today. The federal budget is supposed to be passed by Congress and signed into law before the first of October. Republicans ignored the budget for the last four months of 2017 in order to pass a massive tax giveaway to the ultra-wealthy and Wall Street. All of the months they really should have been working on the budget were completely consumed by this effort, even though it had no deadline. This is also when Republicans shamefully let the CHIP funding lapse, in order to play politics with the issue later on. Don't believe for a second all their crocodile tears over children's health insurance, because they are the ones who have been totally ignoring those kids for months and months.

The last time Congress had to punt the budget down the road, at the end of December, Democrats laid down a marker and let it be known that this would be the last continuing resolution they would support if the DACA problem that Trump had created was not permanently fixed. That was almost a month ago.

A bipartisan group of senators worked on a deal that not only provided eventual citizenship for the Dreamer kids, but also addressed three other immigration issues that the Trump White House was insisting upon. Last Tuesday, Trump held a meeting at the White House where he allowed television cameras to film the first hour. Trump seemed to agree with everyone in the room, meaning it was impossible to figure out what he supported and what he couldn't accept. In this meeting, he even fully admitted that he would agree with any bipartisan agreement that was presented to him:

I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room. I know most of the people on both sides, I have a lot of respect for the people on both sides, and what I approve is going to be very much reliant on what the people in this room come to me with. I have great confidence. If they come to me with things that I'm not in love with, I'm going to do it, because I respect them.

That was Tuesday. By last Thursday, a bipartisan deal had been hammered out. It addressed (to varying degrees) all four points agreed to in the Tuesday meeting. The authors of the deal were optimistic that Trump would agree to their plan and back it in Congress, which would have given McConnell and Ryan a green light to put it on the floor and hold a vote.

Instead, what happened was someone in the White House (quite probably John Kelly) brought in the hardest of the hardliners on immigration from the House to meet with Trump before his noon meeting with the bipartisan group which had hammered out a deal. These hardliners whipped Trump into a frenzy, so much so that when the meeting happened, the president began spewing out profanity to describe black and brown immigrants, while expressing the wish that more people from Norway come to America instead.

The "shithole" meeting stunned Washington, and completely obliterated all that goodwill shown in the Tuesday meeting. The bipartisan group returned to the Capitol, and since that point have been unable to even get a counteroffer from the White House on fixing DACA. If Trump's position had changed, they inquired, what would be necessary to create a bill he would sign? The White House reportedly had no answer. If Trump had one burning issue or even a short list of sticking points, something may have been worked out, but this never happened because nobody -- including Trump, it seems -- really has any idea of what Trump actually wants.

In fact, the biggest thing Trump was asking for in the DACA deal was a complete contradiction of his numerous campaign promises that "Mexico will pay for the wall." Trump now wants $20 billion up front to build the wall, which is to come out of the pockets of U.S. taxpayers, not Mexico. That's what he was bargaining hard for, Trump fans -- to break his big promise to you that Mexico would pay for the wall. Trump is supposed to be some sort of great dealmaker, but he can't get this deal with Mexico and all he can do when Congress reaches a DACA deal is to blow it up. Some dealmaker.

Even today, nobody has any clue what Trump would accept in order to avoid a shutdown (and allow him to go to his high-priced party this weekend). The entire blame for the shutdown belongs on his shoulders and his shoulders alone. He created this problem in the first place by announcing he was ending the DACA program, he bargained in bad faith over what a DACA fix would have to have in it, and then when he blew up a deal he swore he could sign two days earlier, he had no idea what to do next. One day he says one thing, the next he has completely changed direction. Out of all the players in this drama, Trump is the only one who has ever spoken favorably about a government shutdown (when he tweeted that the country could use "a good shutdown" ). This entire episode is nothing more than his first year in office in a nutshell, really.

If you need to look further than Trump in assigning blame for the shutdown showdown, the Republican Congress certainly has been proving that they can't govern to save their lives. What should the public really expect when they run so many elections on the slogan: "Government doesn't work -- put us in charge and we'll prove it!"?

Consider this -- the fight in Washington today is not over a budget that would cover the entire rest of the year. Far from it. If the Republicans get their way, they will only be passing a budget that kicks the can down the road for the fourth time in four months so that we can have all this drama all over again in February. That's the GOP's idea of responsible governing, folks. This time around, Democrats made it be known that they had drawn a line in the sand over DACA. Republicans had plenty of time to deal with this, so their complaints that it took them by surprise should not be believed in the slightest. After drawing this line in the sand in late December, Congress has had a month to work it out. They have not. So who really thinks taking another month would bring any different result? We would just return to where we are today, in one month's time.

The most extraordinary thing about the drama playing out in the Senate is that Republicans cannot even get a simple majority from their own caucus to pass a short-term budget extension. John McCain is absent, but an additional 3-to-5 Republicans are indicating they may just vote "no" on the House bill. If true, that means the Republican budget extension could only get between 45 and 47 GOP votes in the Senate. Even if Democrats didn't require 60 votes the bill could not pass with just Republican support. Even if just a simple majority were necessary, they'd need the same 3-5 votes (plus Mike Pence) to even pass this bill.

So please explain to me how Democrats are at fault over this shutdown showdown. Republicans, despite holding the House, the Senate, and the White House cannot pass a bill -- even with just majority support in the Senate -- on their own. They knew they'd need Democratic votes, but they have done absolutely nothing to woo Democrats with the exception of finally agreeing to stop holding children's health insurance hostage politically. This is what Nancy Pelosi called "a cherry on top of a bowl of doggie doo." Democrats let it be known a month ago what it would require for them to vote on another budget extension, a bipartisan bill was worked out, and then this effort was torpedoed by Donald Trump and the hardliners in the Republican Party.

Consider also the fact that a government shutdown has never happened when the same party has controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress. Never. It's always been a power struggle of some kind between competing majorities, but this time around -- for the first time -- it is happening when one party controls everything. That's pretty astonishing.

When you consider how we got here, it's actually pretty easy to lay the blame where it belongs. Which is why the public already overwhelmingly puts the blame on the Republicans in Congress and on President Trump. If the shutdown actually happens, my guess is those numbers are only going to get worse for them. After all, something like 9 out of 10 members of the public also overwhelmingly support the goal Democrats are working for -- allowing the Dreamers to stay. Republicans may not have realized it quite yet, but the blame game is already largely over, and they have already lost it.

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