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Fri Mar 9, 2018, 09:28 PM

Friday Talking Points (475) -- Stormy Weather

This week, porn star Stormy Daniels sued the president, to nullify the hush agreement between them which resulted in her getting paid $130,000 hush money mere weeks before the 2016 election.

We will now take a pause for everyone to consider exactly what would be happening right now in Washington if this story was exactly the same except for the name "President Barack Obama." Just imagine what the response would have been from congressional Republicans! Especially if the porn star were white.

Of course, since Trump nominally has an "R" after his name, the silence emanating from Republicans was deafening. Nothin' to see here, folks, move along...

The timeline of just the past few weeks is interesting, especially after it was essentially confirmed by Trump's official mouthpiece, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Apparently the hush agreement had a clause in it which stated that arbitration would be used to settle any disputes. So Team Trump moved into arbitration and got a restraining order barring Daniels from both speaking about the affair and filing a lawsuit challenging it. She promptly ignored this order and filed her case in court.

Her case rests on two legal points (although there are plenty of other fascinating tidbits in her court filing). The first is that since Trump's own lawyer publicly admitted the existence of the $130,000 payoff a few months ago, that Trump's side had violated the agreement and therefore Daniels was free to do the same, which would allow her to publicly tell her story. Her second legal argument was that Trump apparently didn't actually sign the agreement, meaning that legally it never existed in the first place. And now she's hinting that there may be photos, texts, or even video to back her story up. So there's that to look forward to.

Other than the porn star drama, there were many other big political stories this week, which is par for the Trump course. The most recent was Trump's surprise announcement that he's agreed -- without preconditions -- to talk to Kim Jong Un. This would be historic, since no North Korean leader has ever met with a U.S. president in such a face-to-face negotiation.

Way back in 2007, then-candidate Barack Obama got a whole lot of grief (much of it from Hillary Clinton), when he said during a debate that he would meet without preconditions with the leaders of Cuba, North Korea, or Iran. It was a very big deal in the Democratic primaries, meaning that there are probably lots of Republican quotes about what a horrible idea it would be, just waiting for some intrepid pundit to dig up. But, of course, Trump's move is being hailed as genius these days.

As usual, Trump's announcement came as a total surprise to most people in the White House and (more importantly) to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Here is Tillerson, mere hours before Trump's announcement:

In terms of direct talks with the United States -- and you asked {about} negotiations, and we're a long ways from negotiations. I don't know yet, until we are able to meet ourselves face to face with representatives of North Korea, whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations.

So, Rex, "a long ways from negotiations" meant "a couple hours"? The State Department has only itself to blame for remaining so far in the dark, however, since the Trump administration still has yet to nominate an ambassador to South Korea, and the department's most experienced North Korea analyst quit a few weeks ago. So the normal State Department channels of communication about what is happening in the region simply do not exist.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has since tried to walk back Trump's statement from last night. The initial White House statement:

President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.

Today, Sanders attempted to change this:

"The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea," Sanders said, specifically mentioning denuclearization. "Look, they've got to follow through on the promises they've made."

But the original agreement, as outlined by the South Koreans, was only that Kim would halt nuclear and missile tests while talks were underway. Until Friday, there was no indication it had to actually scale back its program beforehand. They said Kim was "committed to denuclearization," but they did not say he would denuclearize before the meeting as a precondition.

Just as nobody's now sure what the White House has agreed to (or not), nobody's sure what Kim Jong Un is up to, either. Perhaps his scientists told him they need some time to perfect placing an H-bomb on top of an I.C.B.M., and this is all merely intended as a big stall? Or maybe the sanctions are working, and he's feeling the pinch. Whatever his motivation, if Trump agrees to meet with him it will benefit Kim Jong Un by elevating him on the world stage to being seen as an equal to an American president.

In other "chaos at the White House news" (a category that seems to widen and deepen each and every week), Trump decided to sign his steel and aluminum tariffs mere hours before he put pen to paper. Perhaps Trump was trying to counteract all the bad press that appeared after his top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, quit in disgust over the new tariff plan. Cohn becomes just the most recent in the long line of people who have now exited the Trump administration -- a line that seems to grow by the week.

Trump had reportedly wanted to wait to sign the tariff order at a political rally over the weekend, but was persuaded that that would not be a good idea. Trump did back down from imposing the tariffs on Canada and Mexico, for now, but this undermined his official rationale that he had to impose across-the-board tariffs for "national security reasons." So this week marks the beginning of what will doubtlessly in the future be called the "Trump Trade War."

About that rally -- Republicans from Trump on down are pulling out the stops in their attempt to defend a House seat in a special election which will take place next Tuesday. In what has historically been steel country. Kind of coincidental that Trump decided out of the blue to impose steel tariffs, a week before this special election, eh?

There's a reason for all the Republican attention on this race (to the tune of over $10 million spent on ads), and that is their candidate may well be in trouble. In a district Trump won by 20 points, the Democratic candidate is now polling up by three points. No wonder Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway and the president are all making personal appearances in desperation! All eyes will be on Pennsylvania's 18th district next Tuesday, so stay tuned....

Speaking of Republican desperation, we witnessed the bizarre (and possibly drunken) meltdown on national television this week of Sam Nunberg, a former campaign aide to Donald Trump. Nunberg defiantly said he would refuse to comply with a subpoena from Bob Mueller's grand jury all afternoon, getting progressively weirder as the day wore on. He began by challenging Mueller to arrest him, and eventually said things like:

{Trump} may very well have done something during the election with the Russians.... The way they asked about his business dealings, the way they asked if you had heard anything even while I was fired... it just made me think that they suspected something about him.

He also insinuated that Trump knew about the meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians during the campaign, when they were promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton: "You know he knew about it. He was talking about it a week before.... I don't know why he went around trying to hide it."

Later in the day, he got even more unhinged:

If Sarah Huckabee wants to start debasing me, she's a joke. Okay, fine, yeah, she's unattractive. She's a fat slob. Fine. But that's not relevant. The person she works for has a 30 percent approval rating, okay?

By evening, after apparently talking with a lawyer or two, Nunberg had sobered up (either metaphorically or literally), and said he would indeed comply with the subpoena to turn over his emails. Perhaps someone explained to him that open defiance to both a grand jury and Bob Mueller was a monumentally stupid idea?

Speaking of going up against Mueller, it was announced this week that Paul Manafort's second trial will actually wind up being his first. The judge in Virginia handling the most recent indictments against Manafort has scheduled his trial for July 10, while the trial in D.C. over the initial charges won't take place until September 17. In other words, we could see Manafort trial news throughout the entire midterm campaign season!

In other wrongdoing-at-the-White-House news, Kellyanne Conway was found in violation of the Hatch Act (which prohibits using an official position to influence politics) on two separate occasions. Since Trump is in charge of what her punishment will be, nobody expects anything like accountability. From Trump? It is to laugh.

And finally, some good news to end on. While we cannot hand them one of our awards, since they are not a partisan organization or anything, we still have to heartily congratulate the teachers of West Virginia, who showed what standing shoulder to shoulder is all about. The teachers are some of the lowest-paid in the whole country, and they stuck together with remarkable backbone throughout a wildcat strike which lasted a week and a half. By standing united, the teachers shamed their own governor and statehouse into giving in to their demands for decent pay and assurances on health insurance coverage. Teachers in all 55 West Virginia counties struck simultaneously, and refused to back down when offered half a loaf.

Unions are in decline in general in the United States, and they are under siege from Republican attempts to destroy them altogether. So a successful statewide strike is powerful news indeed. In fact, it is inspiring other teachers across the country to consider standing firm for what they are bargaining for. Oklahoma teachers reportedly may walk out in the next few weeks, and that's not the only state where teachers paid close attention to West Virginia over the last two weeks.

As we said, the teachers were not a Democratic organization, so they are ineligible for our awards, but they certainly deserve praise and thanks from Democrats everywhere for showing that solidarity still works, at times. Way to go, West Virginia teachers! Well done, and congratulations on your victory!

Is Stormy Daniels a Democrat? Heh... just kidding.

We have two Honorable Mention awards to give out before the main one. Texas kicked off midterm season this week with its ridiculously-early primaries. And Democrat Robert "Beto" O'Rourke won his primary handily, meaning he will be taking on Rafael "Ted" Cruz in November, for Cruz's Senate seat. Cruz, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, immediately released an ad which took O'Rourke to task for running on his nickname, even though Cruz himself (as noted) uses a nickname to run on. Interestingly, Cruz picked his nickname to downplay his Latino heritage, while O'Rourke still uses his childhood nickname which he was given growing up in a Latino area (O'Rourke is not Latino). So that's an interesting crossover of demographics.

Our second Honorable Mention goes to Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate in the closely-watched Pennsylvania special House election which will take place next week. Not only has Lamb run an impressive campaign (while his Republican counterpart has not), but for the first time a recent poll put Lamb up by three points. In a deep-red district that Trump won by 20 points. If this represents late movement towards Lamb, then next Tuesday could be a fun election night for Democrats everywhere.

Icing on this particular cake: well-respected elections-watcher Larry Sabato just moved 26 districts in the Democrats' direction for the midterms. Zero districts moved towards the Republicans. Sabato explains why this is so notable:

No Democratic incumbent is now rated worse than Likely Democratic, a nod to the reality that in a Democratic-leaning environment it will be difficult for Republicans to dislodge many or perhaps even any Democratic incumbents, though there are a handful of Democratic open seats that are more viable Republican targets.

After these ratings changes, for the first time this cycle we have fewer than 218 seats (the number needed for a majority) at least leaning to the Republicans.

So there's that to look forward to.

But the winner of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is Laura Moser. You may recognize her name from our previous two weekly columns, since we have given the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award for two weeks running now, for their recent missteps.

The first of those was to attempt a scorched-earth campaign against Moser. The D.C.C.C. released opposition research on Moser in an attempt to prevent her from moving on to the runoff election. At the time, Moser was far back in the pack of candidates, and probably had no chance of winning first or second place in the primary. However, the blowback from the D.C.C.C.'s ham-handed interference actually propelled her to a second-place finish Tuesday night -- exactly what the D.C.C.C. was trying to prevent.

There's a moral to this story, and it is: "Keep your paws off the Democratic primary process!" For beating expectations, and for fighting back against the slings and arrows launched at her from her own party, Laura Moser is definitely our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

{It is our standing policy not to provide links to candidate websites, so you'll have to look up Laura Moser's contact info on your own, should you want to let her know you appreciate her efforts (or to make a donation to her campaign). However, if you'd like to express your displeasure with the D.C.C.C., there is a new coalition between Justice Democrats, Credo, and Our Revolution which is circulating a petition to the D.C.C.C. calling on them to "stop attacking progressives."}

We have to reach down to the state and local level this week, because the transgressions were so notable. We have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, to a former member of the Colorado statehouse and to the former mayor of Nashville, Tennessee. The "former" in both cases is a recent development, and the reason for their awards.

First, the Colorado story:

The Colorado House expelled one of its members over sexual harassment accusations on Friday in a vote so fraught that two representatives said they wore bulletproof vests.

It was the first time in over a century that the state's House of Representatives has expelled a member.

Former Democratic state Rep. Steve Lebsock, who switched to the Republican Party an hour before the decision, was expelled in a 52-9 vote, the Denver Post reported. Three women, including a member of the state House, have accused Lebsock of sexual harassment and filed formal complaints against him, but he also faces anonymous allegations.

Before the vote, two state lawmakers revealed that they were wearing bulletproof vests to protect themselves from Lebsock.

Lebsock "threatened to 'take me down,'" said state Rep. Alec Garnett (D), assistant state House majority leader.

"I fear for retaliation. I am in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and I'm wearing a bulletproof vest because I fear retaliation for telling the truth and standing up for victims of sexual harassment," Garnett added. "I've been wearing it for three weeks."

State Rep. Matt Gray (D) also said he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

There is so much wrong with that, we hardly know where to begin.

Then there was the case -- which was much less scary, but no less disappointing -- of the Nashville mayor:

Megan Barry resigned as Nashville's mayor Tuesday morning, weeks after admitting an affair with the police officer who ran her security detail.

Barry announced her resignation at a news conference, shortly after she pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge related to the affair, the Tennessean reported.

She kept her remarks brief and smiled throughout the announcement.

. . .

On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to theft of property over $10,000; Barry agreed to reimburse the city $11,000 and serve three years' probation, according to the newspaper.

So while we normally focus on national politicians, this week we felt entirely justified to look to the state and local levels to hand out our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards. Both cases really speak for themselves, no additional commentary is even necessary. Except maybe to say "For shame!" to both Megan Barry and Steve Lebsock, on their way out their respective doors.

{Both ex-representative Steve Lebsock and ex-mayor Megan Barry are now private citizens, and our policy is not to provide contact information for such persons, sorry.}

Volume 475 (3/9/18)

We start off this week's talking points with a "Stormy Weather" reference, and end up coining a new political term, so there's no obvious theme this week. Late-night comedians have already been having a field day with the Stormy Daniels story, which shows no signs of abating any time soon. Can't wait to see what Alec Baldwin will do with this on tomorrow's Saturday Night Live....

Stormy weather

Our "you just can't make this stuff up" folder is bursting at the seams. Still, there's always room for one more, with Trump.

"So, we've now got a porn star suing the president. Is anyone, by this point, really surprised? When Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief and saying amongst themselves 'at least her initials on the hush agreement were just P. P., and there wasn't an actual peepee tape released...' you know we're in uncharted territory in the political world. I mean, the hush money pretty much speaks for itself, doesn't it? What lawyer would pay out 130 grand to anyone who wasn't telling the truth about a sexual affair with a politician? I certainly look forward to hearing Trump's deposition in this case, that's for sure. Let's see what he has to say about it under oath, shall we? And since the Republicans set the precedent during Clinton's time in office, they should have no problem with a salacious civil suit proceeding against a sitting president, right? Looks like some Stormy weather ahead for Trump, that's for sure."

Please turn out the lights as you go...

An old joke, but a fun one.

"Let's see, in the past few months alone, we've seen the resignations of Jeremy Katz, a deputy on the National Economic Council, as well as Dina Powell, a deputy national security advisor. Then last month, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter was forced out for being a wife-beater. Last week, communications director Hope Hicks resigned after putting in an impressive 19.6 Scaramuccis on the job. This week saw the exodus of the director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, who was the top-ranking economics advisor to President Trump and who resigned in disgust over the Trump tariffs. It's getting to the point where they're going to have to put up a sign which says: 'Will the last White House staffer to leave the building please turn out the lights'."

Wasting his time?

What a difference a few months makes!

"Back in November, Donald Trump tweeted out the following: 'I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man....' This week, Trump announced abruptly that he'd agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un face to face, without any preconditions. This meeting will be historic for many reasons, not least how people will be wondering which of the two may cause an international incident by flying off the handle -- as both men have been known to do. Richard Nixon coined the term 'madman theory,' but nobody's ever considered what a 'double madman theory' would mean. It's no wonder Rex Tillerson has no clue what Trump is going to say or do at any given moment!"

Some real collusion

There was a New Yorker article on Christopher Steele last week which had a jaw-dropping allegation, taken from a memo Steele prepared outside the "Steele dossier." If true, this is downright explosive, since it would mean the Kremlin holding veto power over who gets to be America's secretary of state. Here it is, from the original story (complete with a grammatical side note: you've just got to love the New Yorker's editorial insistence on a proper umlaut for words with double vowels and split syllables):

People were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump's initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney's run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would co÷perate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy -- and an incoming President.

Trump Trade War

This needs to be repeated ad nauseam by Democrats, starting now.

"This week saw the opening shot in the Trump Trade War. Donald Trump has said that trade wars are, quote, 'easy to win,' and we're all about to find out what the reality is. While free-trade Republicans managed to talk Trump out of levying the new steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, the countries hardest hit by these tariffs are other allies such as Australia and Japan. China will barely notice the tariffs, since they only import something like two percent of the steel used in America. So the Trump Trade War has begun with an opening salvo which totally missed the intended target. It's like George W. Bush waging war on Iraq while letting Osama Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora. Europe is already lining up tariffs in retaliation, and Trump's top economic advisor just quit. If Trump is challenged by other countries retaliating, it's easy to see him overreacting in a downward spiral of increased taxes on all kinds of things. Trump owns this one, plain and simple. So buckle up, because the Trump Trade War has officially begun."

Taking a crowbar to Trump's name

But... but... the president is a genius businessman whose name everyone wants on their products, right? Well...

"A situation in Panama has now been resolved, which allowed the majority owner of a hotel building in Panama City to kick out the Trump organization because his name was bringing property values down. In the same week Trump began his trade war, we also saw the spectacle of the Trump name being forcefully removed from a building with a crowbar. Just like Trump steaks and the Trump University before it, the Trump name is proving once again to be toxic in the marketplace."

Pulling a Nunberg

And finally, an amusing proposal.

"Just like the feat of appearing on every Sunday morning political show was dubbed 'the full Ginsberg,' we now have to coin a term for drunkenly melting down on every cable television show in sight. Henceforth, such a spectacular self-immolation shall be known as 'pulling a Nunberg,' to commemorate Sam Nunberg's remarkable one-day meltdown on national television. In the future, people will say things like: 'Wow, did you see the full-on Nunberg that that disgraced Trump aide just pulled on this afternoon's cable TV?'"

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