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Fri Feb 9, 2018, 10:00 PM

Friday Talking Points (471) -- Trump's Kim Jong Un Envy

There's an old joke in Washington that the press knows how to ask politicians questions that can't be answered in any acceptable way. The classic example, of course, is: "So, Senator, have you stopped beating your wife?" This week, however, the Trump White House has been getting a variant: "So, how long was a wife-beater who couldn't get a security clearance allowed to work for the president, and why?"

Each week, optimists think to themselves: "Surely the Trump administration has hit rock bottom and they just can't go any lower," and then each and every week (or so it seems), they prove to go not just lower, but way lower. Remember the porn star who got hush money for an affair with Donald Trump just after his current wife gave birth? No? Seems almost quaint by now, but that was just a few weeks ago. Having dealt with a previous scandal supporting an accused child molester (Roy Moore), the White House is now down to dealing with wife-beaters. It just can't go any lower than this, right? Well, we'll all have to see what they can come up with next week... (sigh).

The scandal which finally came to light this week involved Rob Porter, a high-ranking White House staffer who controlled the paper flow and information flow to the Oval Office, despite not having obtained a permanent security clearance for handling classified information. Turns out there are actually a lot of folks in the White House (including Jared Kushner) who haven't gotten their security clearances yet. Who knew?

In any case, both White House Counsel Donald McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about the abuse allegations made against Porter by his ex-wives for months now, but saw no reason to let him go. Earlier this week, Kelly was still staunchly defending Porter. Then a "worth 1,000 words" photo came out in the media, showing one of Porter's ex-wives sporting a rather ugly black eye, and the White House realized things were spiraling out of control. Soon thereafter, Porter resigned.

The Washington Post is now even reporting that Kelly tried to get his staff to lie about how Porter's exit happened, and openly speculating whether Kelly may be on the brink of leaving himself:

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly's week has gone from bad to worse, after word leaked from White House staff Friday morning that he urged them to spread a version of events on the Rob Porter debacle that contradicts previous accounts.

At this point, it is looking more and more difficult to see how he will survive.

According to The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey, Kelly told staff Friday to say he had decided to fire Porter within 40 minutes of learning allegations Porter abused two ex-wives were credible. Some staffers who were at the meeting left feeling that Kelly had effectively asked them to lie on his behalf.

It is extremely difficult to square that statement with everything we know. Kelly issued an initial statement Tuesday featuring effusive praise for Porter, and reports indicated that even as Porter was resigning, Kelly had urged him to stay on and fight. Even in issuing a second statement Wednesday night that said the allegations against Porter were "shocking," Kelly stood by his earlier statement that Porter was "a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him."

More important, though, that this leaked out so quickly suggests Kelly has lost the confidence of his staff. When you combine this with that letter he sent to them Thursday night assuring them he takes domestic violence seriously, it suggests serious unrest in the West Wing and a chief of staff who is treading water with the staff he leads.

But then again, Kelly has survived other scandals during his tenure (such as lying about a Democratic congresswoman's speech and then refusing to apologize after video of the speech proved him wrong), so who's to say whether he'll ride this one out, too?

The Post also published a handy cheat sheet to help keep track of the 37 Trump administration officials who have either resigned or been fired, so far. With the sheer volume, it's admittedly hard to keep up, at times.

Outside of the wife-beater scandal, in celebration of the Olympics (or something), Donald Trump seems to be exhibiting signs of what might be called "Kim Jong Un envy." In the same week, Trump called Democrats who didn't leap to their feet and wildly cheer his State Of The Union speech "treasonous," and it was revealed that Trump's been forcing the Pentagon to come up with a plan for a full-on military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, just because he thought the one he saw in France was so cool. Remind you of anyone? Little Rocket Man, perhaps?

It was a big week in the world of economics, but Trump wasn't bragging about any of the news, that's for sure. The stock markets have gotten incredibly volatile and have lost over 10 percent of their value in a single week -- one that included both the biggest-ever point drop in the Dow and the second-biggest to boot. This also means that the markets just lost over 40 percent of the gains since Trump took office -- which Trump loves to brag about. Not so much bragging this week, though.

In the same week, figures were released showing that America's trade deficit went way up last year, even though Trump campaigned so heavily on what big beautiful trade deals he'd make as president, and how he'd personally fix that nasty old trade deficit. The trade deficit actually went up to levels not seen since 2008, meaning that for all his bluster Trump ran a higher trade deficit than every single year under Barack Obama. Our trade deficit last year even went up with China and Mexico, the two countries Trump usually singled out when promising he'd personally fix everything.

Other figures released this week showed that the annual budget deficit is now projected to be almost a trillion dollars in 2018. After Barack Obama carefully got the deficit down from the trillion-dollar-plus deficits left to him by George Bush, Trump is going to wind up doubling the deficit. All as a result of the Republican tax cuts, which (once again) are not paying for themselves. And that trillion-dollar deficit estimate was made before this week's budget deal was reached in Congress -- which is going to push those estimates hundreds of billions of dollars higher. Yet another unfulfilled promise for Trump not to be bragging about this week, eh?

A rather sweeping budget deal did make it through Congress this week, but only after Rand Paul singlehandedly caused a very brief government shutdown (perhaps he was just reacting to Trump's "I'd love to see a shutdown" statement earlier in the week?). We'll have more on the budget deal in the awards section, though, so let's just move along.

Let's see, what else is going on? Here's some good news for Democrats fighting Republican gerrymandering: "The Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to delay redrawing congressional lines, meaning the 2018 elections in the state will most likely be held in districts far more favorable to Democrats." This could mean a pickup of four or five seats in November, so it's welcome news indeed.

Some ballot initiative notes worth pointing out: marijuana legalization looks like it'll be on the ballot in three states: Michigan, New Mexico, and Ohio. Medical marijuana legalization might also be on the ballot in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah. In Ohio, the threat of a ballot measure which would have taken redistricting out of the hands of politicians forced them to pass a rather convoluted measure -- one which doesn't go nearly as far, but still may help getting some better non-gerrymandered House districts drawn soon.

Want to feel old? Here's a fun fact: it's now been longer since the Berlin Wall came down than the time it was actually up. We can personally remember chipping pieces off the Wall (one year after its fall), so this one hit us pretty close to home. Has it really been that long?

And two rather silly notes to end on. In Kansas, apparently there is no age requirement for who can run for governor. So a whopping six teenagers who can't even vote are now running for the office. Lawmakers are scrambling to pass a law to institute an age requirement, but it won't go into effect until after the election. And heads up, teens in Massachusetts and Vermont -- you guys have no gubernatorial age requirement either! Just think of what an awesome "Here's what I did last summer" essay that'll make for!

And finally, billionaire Elon Musk test-fired the biggest rocket around, which was a glorious success. Normally in these test launches, the "payload" is nothing more than a big chuck of metal or concrete (that way, if it explodes upon launch, nobody's out a multimillion-dollar satellite or anything). Musk instead launched a Tesla convertible into space. While we found it amusing that he stuck in the glove box both a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe and a towel, the David Bowie song is not actually playing from the car's radio, sorry. I mean, the speakers might even be moving to the tune and all, but there is no sound in space, period. Still, it is fun to imagine an alien spaceship arriving millions of years in the future and (while discovering the remains of human civilization) scratching whatever passes for their heads while wondering: "What the fizzbin is a ground vehicle doing in orbit?!?" Heh.

We had a whole slew of nominees this week for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. So we've got a bunch of Honorable Mention awards to give out first.

Senator Tammy Duckworth deserves recognition for fiercely pushing back at Trump's "treason" comments, which we wrote about earlier this week in more detail. She quoted another Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who took exactly the opposite stance as Trump did:

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

Well done, Senator Duckworth (who incidentally lost both her legs while serving her country in battle). Well done.

Others responded more humorously, such as Senator Tim Kaine (obviously a big fan of Monty Python And The Holy Grail), who tweeted: "I clapped in his general direction." Heh.

We also have Honorable Mention awards for two state-level Democratic candidates, one for running and one for winning. In Ohio, Rachel Crooks is running for a seat in the state house. She is one of the many women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct.

And in Missouri, Mike Revis won a special election for a state house seat, beating a Republican in a district that went for Trump by 28 points. This is the 35th such state-level seat that Democrats have flipped since Trump got elected. In the same period, the Republicans have only flipped four seats, for a net gain of 31.

Two cautious notes: there were four such special elections held this week, and Democrats only flipped one (although they came close in others). Also, special elections have notoriously low turnouts, and may not translate into what is going to happen in the upcoming midterms. Even so, wins are always better than losses, and being up 31 is nothing to sneeze at.

Our final Honorable Mention goes to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who hammered out a budget deal that isn't great, but also doesn't totally suck. On the key subject of boosting spending past the sequester caps, Republicans were offering huge boosts in military spending with zero extra spent on domestic priorities. Democrats demanded a one-for-one ratio of dollars spent. What Schumer got was about 60-40, with the lean going to the military. Not the 50-50 that Democrats wanted, but a lot better than the 100-0 Republicans were offering.

The increase in spending will fund several programs Democrats have been pushing (including a number from the "Better Deal" outline), such as: funding for federal health programs, rural broadband, child care, and college tuition assistance, more help for Puerto Rico, money to fight the opioid crisis, and expanding CHIP funding years into the future. The bill will also raise the debt ceiling into next year, which pushes the issue off the table for the election cycle. For hammering out such a sweeping compromise with another shutdown deadline staring everyone in the face, Chuck Schumer deserves at least an Honorable Mention.

But the winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week simply has to go to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for mounting the longest filibuster-style speech the House of Representatives has ever seen. While wearing four-inch heels, her staff pointed out (she was not allowed to sit down once, so this is actually an impressive -- and literal -- footnote).

OK, we apologize for that footnote joke, but we just couldn't help ourselves. Ahem.

Perhaps the funniest reaction to Pelosi's speech came from The Onion, who tweeted out the headline: "Woman Speaks For Record-Breaking 8 Hours Without Being Interrupted By Man."

Kidding aside, though, Pelosi had an important point to make. In the previous government shutdown, Democrats accomplished getting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make a promise to bring an immigration bill to the Senate floor and hold an open debate on how to fix DACA. But before Pelosi stood up to speak, there was no such bicameral promise from Speaker Paul Ryan to bring any DACA bill up in the House. This is important, since the last bipartisan immigration bill died in the House (after passing the Senate with a huge majority) when it was never even brought to the floor.

Pelosi pushed the issue as hard as she could, and for over eight hours read stories of Dreamers sent in by the Democratic caucus, as well as their favorite Bible verses. Paul's office finally issued a semi-promise, which passed the buck in a big way. Paul now says he will bring a DACA bill to the House floor, but only if it's a bill that Trump supports. So if Trump tweets even the slightest putdown of any bill that emerges from the Senate, Paul thinks he'll be off the hook. It may not work out this way for him, though, because if the Senate does pass a bill the pressure on Paul is going to get enormous, what with the deadline of early March staring him in the face.

In both cases, McConnell and Ryan have really only issued very weaselly promises to act on DACA, but Democrats have been doing an excellent job of holding their feet to the fire. This week, it was Nancy Pelosi who did so, by giving what the House Historian's office told CNN was "the longest on record on the House floor, according to their records."

For quite literally standing up for the Dreamers in such dramatic fashion (and in four-inch heels), for exploiting a parliamentary loophole that few even knew existed to give a "House filibuster," for using her time to focus on the stories of the Dreamers themselves, and for finally getting Paul Ryan to make even a halfhearted commitment, Nancy Pelosi is easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Sit down and take a load off your feet, Leader Pelosi, you've certainly earned it!

{Congratulate House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on her House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

This one is certainly depressing, but then turn-about is certainly fair play, right?

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has been "a high-profile champion of the #MeToo movement," is under investigation for two allegations of sexual misconduct. From the Los Angeles Times comes the story:

{Two men} said Garcia made improper advances toward them. One, a former legislative staffer, said Garcia groped his back and buttocks and attempted to grab his crotch during a legislative softball game in 2014. The former staffer, Daniel Fierro, told his former boss, Assemblyman Ian Calderon {D} about the incident several weeks ago, his office said. Calderon then reported the incident to the Assembly Rules Committee. Fierro told the Times he decided to speak out because he thought Garcia's behavior was at odds with the #MeToo movement, which could harm the cause she was so closely associated with. {The second accusation was made by a lobbyist, who said} Garcia attempted to grab his genitals and made an explicit sexual proposition at a 2017 event. Garcia denied wrongdoing and said she will participate "fully" in the investigation.

If you're pushing for a high standard when it comes to such accusations, then you have to live up to that high standard yourself, obviously. Garcia may have denied wrongdoing, but then again plenty of men who have been accused have also denied wrongdoing and still had their political careers ended. Live by the sword, die by the sword, in other words.

For allegedly not practicing what she's been preaching, Cristina Garcia is the easy choice for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance -- for men and women.

{Contact California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia on her official page, to let her know what you think of her actions.}

Volume 471 (2/9/18)

We've got a rather mixed bag of talking points this week, with a three-part series of "remember when Trump...?" stuck in the middle, and one that was divinely inspired at the end for everyone's amusement. Enjoy, and as always, use responsibly.

The Rand Paul shutdown

There isn't any reason to play the blame game over this one, obviously.

"For the second time in three weeks, the federal government shut down again. But this time it's pretty obvious who is responsible -- Senator Rand Paul. It's the Rand Paul shutdown, plain and simple. But whether you agree with his tactics or not, he did have a point. Republicans used to froth at the mouth at the trillion-dollar-plus budget deficits when Barack Obama was in charge, but now that one of their own is in the White House, they have giddily returned to the Dick Cheney worldview of 'deficits don't matter,' it seems. The stench of Republican hypocrisy was pretty hard to avoid, this week. However, even Rand Paul doesn't exactly have clean hands either, since he voted for the GOP tax cut plan which will cost a whopping $1.5 trillion. Partial hypocrite or not, though, it's pretty hard to call what happened this week anything other than the Rand Paul shutdown."

Remember when Trump cared about deficits?

Part one of a three-part series.

"Donald Trump used to promise people, back when he was campaigning, that he was the, quote, 'king of debt,' unquote, so he and only he knew how to fix the budget deficit. At times, he promised to wipe out the deficit during his first term in office. Well, let's just check in with his record so far. Last fiscal year, the government ran a $666 billion deficit. This fiscal year, that number might just double. Already, the GOP tax cut bill has pushed estimates to almost one trillion dollars, and with the budget deal just struck we can expect trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see into the future. Remember when Trump used to care about budget deficits and promised everyone he'd wave a magic wand and make them disappear? Yeah, those were the days, eh?"

Remember when Trump cared about the trade deficit?

Part two...

"Speaking of Trump nostalgia, remember when he used to care about trade deficits? This was also a big deal for him out on the campaign trail, as Trump would regularly zero in on China and Mexico when he railed against trade deficits. He loudly promised that he'd be the dealmaker-in-chief and get far better deals than anyone had ever seen before on the face of the Earth. Remember all of that? Well, let's just check in and see how he's doing -- the Commerce Department just released figures for last year showing the trade deficit had climbed to $566 billion, a nine-year high. Got that? In his first year in office, Trump ran a trade deficit that was higher than any year Barack Obama was in office. The trade deficit with both China and Mexico rose sharply last year (Mexico's increased from $55.6 billion to $71.1 billion). Looks like just one more major issue that Trump conned all his supporters into believing he could fix -- when he really hadn't a clue what to do about it."

Remember when Trump used to talk about the stock market?

And the third of three...

"Remember when Trump used to constantly brag about how well the stock market was doing? Didn't hear much of that in the past week, did you? The Dow Jones average dropped over 1,000 points on Thursday, which was the second-biggest point drop of all time. The biggest point drop in history happened on Monday, when it dropped almost 1,200 points in a single day. This bear market correction has wiped out a full 40 percent of all the gains since Trump took office, in fact, and the instability in the market seems far from over, at this point. The stock market actually rose by a higher percentage during Barack Obama's first year in office, but you didn't hear him constantly bragging about it. Trump, on the other hand, used to love personally taking credit for the Dow's rise. So, of course, he'll be taking all the blame now, right? Well, no. In fact, he's gone almost completely silent on the issue. No surprise, really."

Where's the Dem memo?

By the time this is published, this may be a moot point.

"Two Mondays ago, the House Intelligence Committee voted on party lines to release the Republican memo on the F.B.I. and the FISA court, but not to release the Democratic response. They released the Nunes memo with much fanfare, and it turned out to be an absolute dud. Because it went over like a lead balloon, the very same committee this Monday voted unanimously to release Adam Schiff's memo. This started a five-day clock ticking for Trump, who gets to make the decision about whether to release the Democratic memo or not. Late on Friday, the White House still hadn't acted. So where's the Dem memo? Release the Dem memo!"

Treason is not a subject to joke about

Let's hear some reactions from Trump's fellow Republicans, shall we?

"This week President Trump called Democrats who wouldn't applaud him 'treasonous.' This didn't exactly go do well among his fellow Republicans. Bill Kristol tweeted: 'I really did feel I was seeing a once decent and principled political party crumble before my eyes,' after he couldn't get other Republicans to criticize Trump. David Frum, former speechwriter to George W. Bush tweeted: 'Useful guide: Not clapping = treason. Welcoming clandestine offer of stolen information from a hostile foreign government to your presidential campaign? "Thatís politics!"' Joe Scarborough accused Trump of 'acting like an autocrat.' Speaking of autocratic behavior, Trump's desire to hold a military parade for himself got this response from Navy SEAL Robert James O'Neill: 'A military parade is third world bullshit. We prepare. We deter. We fight. Stop this conversation.' You may not recognize his name, but he was the guy who killed Osama Bin Laden, so I'll take his advice on military decorum over Trump's, in a heartbeat."

The message gets through

Sometimes advertising dollars are well-spent, no matter where they come from.

"Michelle Bachmann was reportedly considering running for Al Franken's former Senate seat in Minnesota. She reportedly was praying for some sign of God's will before making her decision. Funny thing, though, this time 'God' responded. Someone paid for a billboard in St. Paul which consisted of only four gigantic words: 'Michelle Bachmann, NO. --God'. Sometimes these heavenly signs can be hard to see or hard to interpret, but this time God apparently didn't want to be misconstrued. The sign was literal, and unequivocal. Apparently, Bachmann received the message, and she's now announced she won't be running. So God doesn't always work in mysterious ways, it seems. Sometimes the signs are crystal clear!"

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