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Fri Feb 16, 2018, 10:27 PM

Friday Talking Points (472) -- Infrastructure Week!

Before we get to all the rest of the news, here's an interesting anniversary: it has been exactly one year since Trump's last solo press conference. In all the time he's been president, he has held a grand total of precisely one press conference, a month after he was sworn in. So what is he afraid of?

Of course, Trump has hijacked joint press appearances on two other occasions, turning them into de facto solo pressers. The most memorable was when Trump appeared at Trump Tower to introduce "Infrastructure Week," and instead wound up offering praise for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Infrastructure Week he tried to have before that one was buried by the news of James Comey testifying on Capitol Hill. So perhaps in the future even the phrase "Infrastructure Week" will become an inside-politics joke, meaning: "a screwed-up, scandal-packed week that was originally supposed to be about something else," who knows? Or maybe it'll just become a new swear word in politics: "Oh yeah? Well infrastructure you, Buddy!"

Here's how HuffPost reported on the week that was:

The rollout of Trump's long-awaited infrastructure plan on Monday was quickly overshadowed by furor over spousal abuse allegations that forced the resignation of a senior White House aide, the president's days-long silence on the issue of domestic violence, an admission by Trump's longtime lawyer to paying $130,000 to a porn star, and another horrific mass shooting at a high school in Florida -- the 18th school shooting since the start of the year.

And today, we've also got another indictment from Bob Mueller thrown into the mix. So, in the future, when the White House announces yet another Infrastructure Week, all we can say is: "Buckle up -- it's going to be a wild ride!" Keep your hands inside the car at all times, or else they may get badly infrastructured, kiddies.

Where to begin? White House Chief of Staff John Kelly survived the week, when it was rather doubtful if he would, earlier on. Before we rehash the earlier stuff, though, a remarkable memo from Kelly just leaked, on changes he wants implemented to the whole security clearance process. It had one rather extraordinary item that so far has failed to get the attention it might soon deserve:

Effective one week today {sic}, discontinue any Top Secret or SCI-level interim clearances for individuals whose investigations or adjudications have been pending since June 1, 2017 or before.

Assuming there should have been a "from" as the fourth word in that sentence, does this really mean what it says? Because that might affect an awful lot of people. From earlier in the week:

As of November of last year, over 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances, and 47 of them report directly to President Donald Trump, internal White House documents obtained by NBC News have revealed.

Those in the White House without a permanent security clearance as recently as November include Trump's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, social media director Dan Scavino and Christopher Liddell, a strategic initiatives assistant. The four have interim clearances for information classified as "top secret" or "TS/SCI" known as top secret compartmentalized information, NBC reported.

Kushner and Trump were kept on interim clearances, despite the fact that others had been granted full security access. It's not currently known if some staffers' clearances have changed since November or if "the delay is the result of a bureaucratic backlog or potential complications in the background of these aides," CNN reported.

As recently as November, 34 government officials who began working on Jan. 20, 2017, Trump's first day in office, still only had interim clearances. Among those included are top staffers like White House Counsel Don McGahn, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, NBC reported.

Now, that list was from last November, so it's possible some of them have since received permanent security clearances. Still, if nothing's changed, it means that within one week we could see any of the following forced out of the White House: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Don McGahn, and/or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Plus 30 others. That's quite a list, so it'll be interesting to see if there really will be an exodus in the next week or not. Kushner, in particular, seems almost as eminently blackmailable as Donald Trump. Maybe President Trump will just ignore the red flags and grant them all permanent clearances anyway (as he is fully allowed to do, to be clear).

While it was little noticed in the flurry of other news this week, one senior Trump advisor already had to quit this week because his security clearance was denied (over past marijuana use). If others will soon be heading for the White House door, it will only add to the incredible amount of employee turnover in Trump's White House so far. We wrote about this earlier in the week, after learning that Trump's rate of churn (34 percent of top staff left in his first year) is far above most recent presidents, and is indeed actually twice the second-highest administration (Ronald Reagan's, 17 percent).

But back to Kelly and the onslaught of revelations from congressional hearings. The head of the F.B.I. testified that their investigation wrapped up a lot earlier than the White House was admitting, putting the lie to pretty much everything Kelly and others had said about Rob Porter's firing. The White House has been writing complete fiction for two weeks, in other words. One might even call it "bull-infrastructure." Things got so bad that Trey Gowdy even announced his committee would be investigating the Porter departure.

Other news from the testimony: President Trump has not once directed any of the heads of any of the federal security agencies to either focus on or disrupt Russia election meddling at all. Trump's not convinced any of it is real, so why should he ask anyone to try to do anything about it?

News from the Mueller investigation: beyond the indictment of Russian hackers and trolls, it is rumored that Rick Gates (who is already under indictment) is close to flipping and cutting a plea deal with Mueller. Also, Steve Bannon spent 20 hours being interviewed by Mueller's team this week.

John Kelly somehow survived the week, as we mentioned earlier, but he has clearly lost the respect of his own staff. The Trump White House reverted to form, which could charitably be described as the worst cliques you ever experienced in high school. Here are just two random quotes on Kelly from his own staff this week:

Kelly is "a big fat liar," said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. "To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty."

. . .

When asked if Kelly could have been more transparent or truthful, {another White House aide} wrote: "In this White House, it’s simply not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don't even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate."


The upshot of all of this was that Infrastructure Week once again crashed and burned. Trump's budget was pronounced dead on arrival in Congress (by both parties), and his infrastructure plan wasn't even close to what he had promised on the campaign trail. Democrats helpfully pointed out that Trump promised a trillion dollars of spending before getting elected, one-and-a-half trillion just last month in his State Of The Union speech, but only ponied up a paltry $200 billion in his big plan. Elsewhere in the budget, Trump actually cut $240 billion in infrastructure spending, meaning his giant infrastructure plan is actually net negative in infrastructure spending. In other words, he royally infrastructured it up.

In election news, Mitt Romney has officially thrown his hat in the ring for the race to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Senator Bob Corker is apparently rethinking his own announced retirement. Seems the prospect of having Marsha Blackburn be the Republican candidate to replace him might have made him change his mind about running. A Blackburn spokeswoman reacted rather strangely:

Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can't win a general election is just a plain sexist pig.... We aren't worried about these ego-driven, tired old men. Marsha has spent her whole life fighting people who told her she wasn't good enough, and she will do it again.

In Wisconsin, meanwhile, the parents of a Republican running for Senate have maxed out their donations -- to his Democratic opponent. Thanks, Mom-n-Dad!

Donald Trump is reported to have settled on his own strategy for the midterm election season: use "cultural flashpoints" (like kneeling N.F.L. players) to "stir up the base." Hey, it's what he does best, right?

Speaking of stirring up the Republican base, this week the Republicans officially let it be known that they are now the party that isn't just against illegal immigrants, but instead against all immigrants, legal or not. That's a big shift, but it seems to be getting little attention. The Senate voted on three DACA fixes this week, but all of them failed to get the 60 votes needed to proceed. The Trump plan only got a measly 39 votes, while the other two got more than 50 each.

Of course, the biggest story of the week was yet another school shooting massacre, this time in Florida. The best commentary we read pointed out that when data was collected worldwide on violent school deaths between 2000 and 2010, there were 57 such incidents in total. Half -- 28 -- were from the United States. The others came from:

Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, Scotland, South Africa, South Korea, Swaziland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and Yemen.

All of those countries combined equalled the United States. The United States has 310 million people. The other countries listed are home to 3.8 billion. More perspective: a reporter overheard the following in Beirut: "Things may be crazy over here, but at least we don't have kids walking into schools and shooting other kids." That's a pretty astonishing statement, when you think about it.

President Trump echoed some hollow words about "tackling" the problem of mental health, after which Politico pointed out that Trump's budget request cut over $400 million from school programs -- money used "to prevent bullying or provide mental health assistance." That pretty much sums up Trump's dedication to tackling mental health in any way.

It was somewhat of a quiet week for Democrats, but we've got three who deserved recognition this week. First up, an Honorable Mention goes to Senator Elizabeth Warren, for directly taking on her Native American ancestry issue. She gave a speech about Pocahontas, to a group of Native Americans. That's pretty direct, you've got to admit.

From the story (or if you prefer, you can read the full transcript of her speech):

"Now we have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing native history, native culture, native people to the butt of a joke," Warren said Wednesday. "The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me."

Warren added that she understood why "some people think there's hay to be made" with regards to her background, because she wasn't enrolled in a tribe -- a distinction she said she respected.

"I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes -- and only by tribes," Warren said. "I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career."

. . .

She said her paternal grandparents had been "bitterly opposed" to her parents' relationship because her mother's family was part Native American, though Warren did not provide further details about their background. She said her parents eloped in 1932 and remained married for 63 years.

"They're gone, but the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built and the story they lived will always be a part of me," Warren said. "And no one -- not even the president of the United States -- will ever take that part of me away."

If Warren does decide to run for president, this speech will be remembered for taking the issue on directly. Contrary to right-wing belief, there is absolutely no proof that Warren did in any way use her ancestry to better her career in any way. But with Trump making jokes about it, she had to address it. She did so, in powerful fashion.

We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, the first to yet another success story at the state legislative level. There was a special election for a statehouse seat in Florida this week, and Margaret Good impressively beat her Republican opponent by over seven points -- in yet another district that had voted for Donald Trump. This continues a rather notable streak for Democrats in state-level elections across the country. So far, the scoreboard shows 36 such seats that Democrats have flipped from Republican control, to only 4 seats flipped by the GOP. That's a net 32-seat pickup, and it's not over yet. This continues to bode well for Democrats up and down the ticket in the upcoming midterms. Congratulations to Margaret Good, and we hope there will be many more like her later in the year.

Our second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce, the Democrat running to take on Paul Ryan in his home House district. Bryce is a great guy and a powerful speaker, and his backstory is about as solid as you can get for a Midwestern Democrat. He used to be an ironworker, then a labor leader for the ironworkers (he also sports a mustache, hence the nickname).

We have no idea what Bryce's chances are of defeating Ryan, but we've always been impressed by him (since seeing him speak at last year's Netroots Nation conference). This week, however, Bryce proved he can not only talk the talk but also walk the walk on unionizing:

Several Democratic congressional campaigns have agreed to bargain collectively with the Campaign Workers Guild, a new union trying to organize election campaign staff in what may be a first for national politics.

The CWG announced Monday that it had secured a union contract with the campaign of Wisconsin activist Randy Bryce, the leading Democratic challenger to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in this year's midterm elections.

Unionized campaign workers should be championed by all Democrats, so it's refreshing to see a labor candidate lead the way in doing so. Which is why in addition to Margaret Good, Randy Bryce is also a winner of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

{Neither of these candidates is actually in office yet (with a public contact page), and as a rule we do not link to campaign websites, so you'll have to search for contact information for Margaret Good and Randy Bryce on your own, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.}

We did consider giving the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to the three Democrats who voted against the centrist Senate bill on DACA and immigration. The bill got 54 votes, so it wouldn't have mattered if Kamala Harris, Martin Heinrich, and Tom Udall had voted for it (since it still would have failed to get 60).

They voted rather cynically and politically, waiting until the last minute (to see if the bill was going to get 57 other votes) before voting against it. This suggests that they might have voted for it if theirs had been the crucial votes.

All three portrayed it as a brave stance, but it really wasn't. How brave is it to decide at the last minute, when you obviously could have gone either way? In other words, rather than taking a stand on an issue, they waited to see which way the wind was blowing before doing so -- hardly a profile in courage. If the votes had been there, they would likely have voted for the bill, so their professed principled stand was negotiable up to the last minute, in other words.

But we decided (at the last minute) that this didn't really rise to the level of a MDDOTW award. Since it didn't affect the outcome, it was a meaningless (and rather craven) political stand, but in the grand scheme of things can just be chalked up to playing politics.

This leaves us without a candidate for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, so (as always in this case), feel free to nominate anyone who disappointed you this week, in the comments section.

Volume 472 (2/16/18)

Another mixed bag of talking points this week. There are so many scandals flying around it's really hard to even whittle the list down to seven, if truth be told. Three come from the pages of the Washington Post (two excellent talking points, and one that's rather funny), and the rest are homegrown.

The fish rots from the head

It's always fun when you get to use this old cliché in politics....

"It should come as no surprise to anyone that Donald Trump's White House seems to be full of people who can't get the highest security clearances. After all, they're just following Trump's lead. If Trump hadn't been elected president, there's no way he would ever get a White House job because Trump himself couldn't get a security clearance. There are so many wide-ranging issues he could easily be blackmailed for it's almost impossible to keep track of them. How many women has he paid hush money to, after all? That's just to state the most obvious question this particular week. So why should it be surprising that Ivanka and Jared may still only have temporary clearances? After all, they're just following Donald Trump's example. There's an old saying that seems rather appropriate: the fish rots from the head."

In their own words

The stories from the White House over the firing/resignation of Rob Porter were so contradictory that Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank put them all together to show how laughable the chaos had become. His entire article is worth a read (it's a hoot!) but here are his best two paragraphs, all taken from White House officials' statements over the past two weeks:

{Rob} Porter "is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character" and is the victim of "a coordinated smear campaign." As a result, there is "no reason not to believe the women" who accused him, and his "resignation was appropriate."

Resignation "was a personal decision that Rob made and one that he was not pressured to do, but one that he made on his own." Furthermore, "we dismissed that person immediately."

As the Travelgate turns

There's a label all ready to go for this widening scandal, but so far few media outlets have noticed. Technically, you'd have to call it "Travelgate 2.0" or something similar to differentiate it from Bill Clinton's mini-scandal back in the 1990s.

"It seems every time you turn around there's another Trump cabinet member or high-ranking official who has a vastly overrated sense of their own importance. When traveling around, these primadonnas insist on first-class tickets, private charter jets, or even military transport because they deem themselves so important and so threatened that flying coach is simply out of the question. This week, it was the head of the Veterans Administration and Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency who were exposed for racking up luxury travel on the public dime, for no real reason. These revelations follow a long list of other Trump officials who felt exactly the same. It's like every week brings a new episode of As The Travelgate Turns or something."

Bimbo eruptions!

Another throwback to a different Clinton term also seems appropriate this week.

"Donald Trump seems to be going through a long-delayed scandal over hush money he paid to his various mistresses so they wouldn't talk during the election season. This week it was revealed by a Trump lawyer that porn star Stormy Daniels was indeed paid $130,000 in hush money. The statement was very closely parsed, and seemed to say that Trump didn't foot the bill. However, upon close examination, the lawyer only said that the Trump campaign and the Trump organization never reimbursed him -- notably leaving out 'Donald Trump himself' from the list. Now Daniels has stated that since Trump's lawyer has talked, she is no longer bound by any agreement, so we should be hearing her side of the story any day now. And today it was revealed that there was a Playboy playmate from the same period in Trump's life who was also paid off -- this time by the National Enquirer, so they could effectively bury her story of an affair with Trump. So there's obviously more to come, one way or another. Remember Bill Clinton's 'bimbo eruptions'? That's where Trump now finds himself, it seems."

Democrats on immigration

These next two are also from the Post, both from the "Plum Line" blog written by Greg Sargent. He perfectly summed up what Democrats should be saying about the two parties' stances on immigration so well we decided to just run them without changing a word. Any Democrat running for office just about anywhere could use these talking points to good effect in a stump speech. First, the Democratic position:

Democrats believe the Dreamers have a claim to a place in American life, along with millions of other undocumented immigrants who have not otherwise broken the law and have longtime ties to communities. Democrats want to facilitate their humane integration, rather than ramping up their removal; they favor allowing current legal immigration levels to continue.

Republicans on immigration

Compare that to what Republicans now stand for:

{Donald} Trump and most Republicans don't believe the Dreamers have a claim to a place in American life. They believe that as many undocumented immigrants should be removed from the United States as possible, even if they have otherwise broken no other laws and have longtime ties to communities. They want far fewer legal immigrants to settle here in the future.

Why doesn't Trump pay?

Seriously, he's supposed to be a multibillionaire, right?

"This week, Trump's budget director testified that the military parade that Trump wants to throw for himself would cost the taxpayers between 10 million and 30 million dollars. Of course, sane people would spend that money on actually helping out America's veterans in some way rather than stage a display straight out of North Korea. If Donald Trump is so personally insecure about America's military might that he needs to roll tanks down Pennsylvania Avenue, why doesn't he pony up the money himself? I would have less of a problem with a parade of tanks and missiles if I knew Trump was personally footing the bill. After all, to a billionaire that's not all that much money, right? Maybe Trump could even spend a few extra bucks and hire the North Korean cheerleading squad from the Olympics? That certainly seems like something he'd enjoy, too. After all, if it's good enough for Kim Jong Un, then it's good enough for Donald Trump!"

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Fri Feb 16, 2018, 11:04 PM

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