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Fri Apr 13, 2018, 08:49 PM

Friday Talking Points (480) -- Unnecessary Immature Potshots

James Comey's long-awaited tell-all book is out (to reviewers) and Republicans from the Oval Office on down are already freaking out. So far, the winner of the "most hilariously ironic attempt at spin" award is unquestionably Kellyanne Conway. Conway, of course, absolutely personifies one of the lyrics from Trump's favorite Rolling Stones song ("You Can't Always Get What You Want" ), as she easily could have been the inspiration for the line: "She was practiced at the art of deception." In an article about the White House's reaction to the book, Conway was quoted dismissing the book as "a revisionist view of history" and (even more hilariously) accused Comey of taking "unnecessary immature potshots." The ironic part? The very same article begins with: "President Trump lashed out Friday at former F.B.I. director James B. Comey on Twitter, calling him a 'weak and untruthful slime ball' who deserved to be fired 'for the terrible job he did.' " So Comey's book was full of "unnecessary immature potshots," but calling a former F.B.I. director a "weak and untruthful slime ball" is downright presidential. Got it, Kellyanne. Oh, and there's a bridge in New York City we'd like to sell you, too.

Before we get to Comey's book and the rest of the political rollercoaster this week has been, though, we have to begin with Trump's downright incoherence on Syria, because in the midst of all the idiocies of the week, it stands out as perhaps the most serious indication that Trump has become both completely unhinged (read as: "even more than usual" ) and untethered to any of the remaining "adults in the room" who are supposed to be manning the Oval Office Day Care Center.

Here's the timeline for the past few weeks:

Trump -- completely out of the blue, in a speech at a political rally -- announces to the world: "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now!" None of his advisors had been consulted, and nobody had any idea what he was talking about. So Trump explained:

Trump initially told aides that he wanted U.S. soldiers and Marines to leave in 48 hours -- an impossible timeline that alarmed the Pentagon and sent officials racing to dissuade him, two U.S. officials said.

Eventually, {Secretary of Defense James} Mattis and others persuaded Trump to give the military another six months to wipe out the remnants of the Islamic State. The timeline was far from ideal but was viewed as a major victory compared with Trump's original timeline, officials said.


Let's let John McCain tell us what happened next:

Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria. Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack.


Trump calls a meeting of his top military advisors to discuss the Syrian attack. Before the reporters leave the room, however, he rants and raves about the F.B.I. raid on his lawyer's office (more on this in a bit). He also announces that "within 48 hours" America would respond to Syria, or that he would make the decision, or something. He tweets the following warning:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and "smart!" You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!


The 48 hours pass. Nothing happens. Behind the scenes during this period:

White House advisers were surprised by the missive and found it "alarming" and "distracting," in the words of one senior official. They quickly regrouped and, together with Pentagon brass, continued readying Syria options for Trump as if nothing had happened.


As if nothing had happened! Wow....

Meanwhile, the White House tried to walk back Trump's threat, and Trump tweets: "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

And, please remember, a major campaign promise from Trump was that he would never, ever tell the world what he was going to do militarily, because that just "warns the enemy."

So to recap: Trump warned the enemy that America was pulling out, Assad gassed his own people, Trump warned that a missile strike was coming within 48 hours, then tried to take it all back after not launching it.

Here's what others are saying about what is going on at the White House. Let's check in with Congress, first:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday afternoon that he had yet to hear from Trump or other administration officials about impending action in Syria.

"I have no idea. So far, it appears to me to be bluster," Corker said. "Then I saw a tweet come out about us working with Russia right after we're getting ready to bomb them, so I mean, who knows? Unfortunately, there are a lot of things announced by the administration that never come to pass or evolve."


The situation within the White House itself was even more clueless:

"It's just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them," said one West Wing aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. "Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen's office. Oh, my God, we're going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking."

. . .

Senior U.S. officials describe a president who is operating largely on impulse, with little patience for the advice of his top aides. "A decision or statement is made by the president, and then the principals -- {James} Mattis or {Mike} Pompeo or {John} Kelly -- come in and tell him we can't do it," said one senior administration official. "When that fails, we reverse-engineer a policy process to match whatever the president said."

. . .

"Trump is truly serving as his own chief of staff, communications director, and policy maven," said a Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House. "He's singing the Frank Sinatra song, 'I'll do it my way.' "


Or, just maybe, the Sex Pistols version of the song?

In other "Trump being Trump, even if he's contradicting yesterday's Trump" news, after loudly and proudly pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership within days of taking office, the president is now apparently having second thoughts. Perhaps someone pinned him down long enough to explain how being part of the trade agreement would have helped enormously in convincing China to change its trade practices? Whatever the reason, now Trump has completely reversed course and is reportedly exploring joining up with the agreement. Or maybe not. From the article: "His comments were so unexpected that White House officials, lawmakers, business groups and others weren't sure whether Trump had made a calculated overture or if it was another whimsical idea that he would cool on soon."

Anybody out there tired of all this winning yet? Thought not....

In somewhat-related "Trump demanding experts prove that one of his fantasies is actual reality" news, Trump now wants the U.S. Post Office to report to him on their profitability. This move is designed to prove to the world that Trump is right in his false claim that Amazon is costing the Post Office lots of lost revenue. Of course, the reality is that package delivery is one area where the Post Office actually has been increasing their profits, so the effort is bound to fail just as spectacularly as Trump's embarrassing "voter fraud commission" did. Because, once again, experts just cannot make reality agree with the incorrect ideas Trump believes in his own head.

In a completely unrelated story, there was a fire at Trump Tower in New York. The fire killed a man, which Trump still has yet to acknowledge. Maybe because Trump fought against installing sprinklers in the residences on the top floors? So Trump Tower caught fire this week, and there was no system in place to put it out. Create your own metaphor out of that....

Speaking of raging conflagrations, John Bolton started at the White House this week, and as a direct result four top staffers in national security have either quit or otherwise left their jobs. If there is one thing that is consistent within the Trump White House, it is the high turnover among the staff. From when he took office until now, the turnover of aides, staffers, top advisors, and cabinet members continues apace. One wonders just how much the West Wing walls resoundingly echo when Trump breaks into a chorus of "My Way," because the building is so empty.

One more "My Way" note comes from late-breaking news that Trump will be pardoning (if he hasn't already) Scooter Libby. Libby, you'll remember, was convicted of lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice. Even George W. Bush couldn't bring himself to grant Libby a full pardon (although he did commute Libby's prison sentence), but Trump wanted to send a signal to all others facing similar crimes (from his own campaign and administration, of course). As George W. Bush's chief ethics lawyer pointed out, after hearing the news of the pardon: "So what’s the message here? Lie to a grand jury to protect political superiors and you will get a full pardon?" Sadly, that is exactly the message Trump is sending.

Speaking of facing similar crimes, Robert Mueller set into action a chain of events which ended with the F.B.I. raiding Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. That's a pretty extraordinary thing to happen, especially since Cohen is regularly referred to as "Trump's fixer." He knows where the bodies are buried, in other words, or (more literally) which bodies got large payoffs in hush money to keep quiet. Nobody knows the extent of what was seized in this raid, although word leaked that Cohen is on the hot seat for multiple questionable actions, including possible bank fraud, for the payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels. Again, the president's personal "fixer" lawyer's office and homes got raided... oh, and there might be tapes. Cohen is reported to be a fan of taping telephone conversations, even when the other person doesn't know he is doing so (which is actually legal in New York). Trump, of course, is freaking out about this ominous development, as he probably should be.

The biggest non-Trump news this week was that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will not be running for re-election. This is historically quite rare, as in more normal times the speaker's chair is one of the most sought-after positions in Washington. But Ryan's exit means that Republicans are now have a 2-for-2 streak going for "speakers who get so tired of not being able to get anything done that they flee Washington in disgrace." We flexed our French-royalty-quoting muscles earlier in the week in our column examining the likely fallout from Ryan's announcement: "Après Ryan, Le Déluge," if anyone's interested.

If all this seems pretty mind-blowing, well, that's because it all is. But the most mind-blowing news of the week was that former speaker of the House John Boehner (the guy who quit the job before Ryan did -- remember him?) has now taken a job on the board of a marijuana producing corporation. No -- really! Boehner is now launching a career as a pro-legalization spokesman, as hard as that is to wrap your mind around (although it is somewhat easier in the states which already have legalized recreational weed, for obvious reasons). We wrote about this at length yesterday, but let's close this weekly wrapup with our initial reaction to the Boehner pro-weed news (with apologies to every hippie who has ever uttered the line): "Far out, man."





Before we get to the main award, we have a few Honorable Mentions to hand out. The first goes to Senator Cory Booker, who grilled Mike Pompeo in a Senate confirmation hearing this week, over his past disparagement of gay people in general and gay marriage in particular. People who have not evolved one inch on this matter need to be identified when they are being considered for cabinet posts, and Booker did an admirable job of pressing the point.

In happier news, Senator Tammy Duckworth deserves an Honorable Mention for going down in history as the first sitting United States senator to give birth while in office. She's only the tenth congresswoman to do so, as well. Congratulations to the new mother and her family!

The other Honorable Mention award goes to Senators Chris Coons and Cory Booker, who have succeeded in reaching a bipartisan compromise over a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's independence. There were two bills that had to be merged, but this week this was successfully achieved, and the Republican chair of the relevant committee has promised to hold a committee vote on the bill next week. That's pretty impressive, because this really needs to happen before Trump decides to fire Mueller. Of course, even if the bill makes it out of committee, it'll need both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to schedule it for a vote, so it's nowhere near a done deal yet. But for taking a big step forward, Booker and Coons deserve recognition. And it's worth noting: we think this is the first time in the history of these awards that a politician has won two Honorable Mentions in the same week, so congratulations to Senator Cory Booker for setting this mark.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce, the very impressive Democratic candidate who up until this week was running for the chance to challenge Paul Ryan this November.

Of course, Ryan insisted that his decision to step down as both speaker and House member at the end of this term had nothing whatsoever to do with either politics or the impending doom of the 2018 midterms, but that obviously can be taken with a rather large grain of salt.

One way or another, Bryce's impressive campaign had to figure in Ryan's calculus in making his decision. If Ryan had only weak Democrats running against him, he might have been inclined to stick around for one more term. Then again, he may not have -- it's impossible to really say. But we are choosing to believe that it did indeed have an impact on Ryan's decision to tuck his tail between his legs and go whimpering back to Janesville.

On Twitter, Bryce made good on a previous suggestion that he and Ryan just trade places, with him going to Washington and Ryan becoming an ironworker: "Hey @SpeakerRyan, I'm a man of my word. Here's an application for Ironworkers Local 8." Heh.

Taunting aside, though, Randy Bryce still faces a tough fight. The district is pretty red, after all. There's no guarantee he'll even get the Democratic nomination. But even having said all of that, there is now a much better chance for Democrats to pick this seat up than there has been in a long time. Ryan stepping down makes those chances go way up, obviously. But Ryan stepped down partially because he would likely have been facing an incredibly strong challenger this time around.

For that alone -- just for the creating the threat that Ryan could lose his home district in the Democratic wave -- Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce easily deserves this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Figuratively nailing Ryan's political scalp to the wall in November would have been a lot more satisfying, but seeing him voluntarily head for the exits is almost as good. Well done, Iron 'Stache, well done!

{Our policy is to not provide links to candidate websites, so you'll have to look up Randy Bryce yourself, if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Or, for that matter, to find out where his nickname came from, if you haven't already heard.}





California Governor Jerry Brown disappointed a lot of Democrats this week, for agreeing to Trump's request for National Guard troops at America's southern border. Brown didn't send as many troops as Trump wanted, and he issued a statement which limited their mission as narrowly as he could, but the optics of it still weren't very good for Brown.

His move was condemned by many Democrats in California (and beyond), especially those currently running for statewide office (where the condemnation was universal). But Brown didn't really have a whole lot of options in the matter. If he had refused, Trump could have made some political hay by going ahead and nationalizing California's National Guard, and then ordering them to the border anyway.

Still, as noted, the optics weren't good for Brown. Trump celebrated Brown's actions in a tweet, of course, which isn't exactly what any Democrat wants to see happen these days. But Brown is term-limited out in November, so he's likely never going to run for California office again -- meaning the political hit he'll take will only be on "his legacy" and not on his own political future.

But the fact remains, Jerry Brown disappointed a whole lot of Democrats by appearing to cave in to Trump's irrational demand. Which made him this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

{Contact California Governor Jerry Brown on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}




Volume 480 (3/13/18)

We forgot to mention it in the intro, but here's wishing a happy Friday the 13th to all the friggatriskaidekaphiliacs out there!

OK, we've got a rather intense group of talking points this week, which ends up with an anonymous rant from a Republican House member that comes with a warning that small children and prudish adults might wish to heed, if they want to avoid an absolute avalanche of profanity.

That seems like enough of an introduction, so let's just dig in to the week that was.



Listening to the generals?

Our commander-in-chief didn't exactly inspire confidence over the Syrian situation this week, to put it mildly.

"Donald Trump make a lot of political hay over Barack Obama implementing a pullout in Iraq that George W. Bush had actually agreed to. Trump railed against the whole concept of telling your enemies what your withdrawal timeline is, and swore he'd never make such a boneheaded mistake. It seems he forgot all of that a few weeks ago, when he announced to a crowd at a political rally that he was going to pull all our troops out of Syria. He wanted to get them all out in a jaw-dropping 48 hours, in fact. Possibly in response, Syria then dropped some more chemical weapons on its own people. Trump then had a Twitter tantrum and started threatening the Russian military with a missile attack. Russia was not amused, and announced it would counterattack not only against the missiles, but also against their launch sites. Trump -- again, ignoring his own promise never to telegraph his military actions to his enemies -- announced the attack would be signed off on within 48 hours. Two days passed, and no attack was launched. Now Trump appears to be conferring with the leaders of France and Britain about what to do next. Maybe next time Trump might consider actually listening to his own generals -- which was another of his campaign promises -- before he goes off on a tweetstorm to the world? Just a suggestion, Mister President."



Deficit chickenhawk poppycock

Go ahead -- try to say that three times fast! Ahem. The C.B.O. provided the ironic icing on the Ryan exit cake, one day early.

"What I find most ironic about Paul Ryan deciding he wanted to 'spend more time with his family' was that one day before this paragon of budget wonkery -- this alpha male of the deficit hawks -- decided to head for the door, the Congressional Budget Office put out a report on the impact of Ryan's single legislative achievement. The giant tax giveaway to the rich is going to explode the deficit even more than previously thought, it appears -- we'll reach trillion-dollar deficits once again in the year 2020 -- years earlier than if Ryan had done nothing. This is Ryan's legacy, make no mistake about it. The balanced-budget wonk has created an ocean of red ink. The deficit hawk has proven to be nothing more than a deficit chickenhawk. All the while, Ryan insists that politics played no part in his decision to step down 'whatsoever,' which certainly provided a bit of comic relief to his announcement. Respected political observer Larry Sabato had an even funnier reaction to Ryan's spin:"

I'm sure when he gets his opportunity he will declare this to be a victory lap and claim that it has no effect at all on the November elections and there are so many good people to replace him and Republicans will hold the majority. And of course that's all poppycock.




Throwing in the House towel?

Part two of that Sabato quote.

"With Paul Ryan getting out of Dodge while the getting's good, there's a real question whether Republicans are giving up entirely on the prospects of holding on to control of the House this year. Word is that Republican donors are thinking about bailing entirely on the House effort and instead hunkering down and playing defense in the Senate, to avoid a total blowout in November's midterms. As Larry Sabato commented on the impact of Ryan's announcement:"

This will be interpreted as almost a concession that the Republicans will lose the House. And ask yourself what you would do if you were a vulnerable Republican seeking reelection in the House. Might you not consider not running for reelection? Of course you would! Now most of them will run anyway, but some of them will retire. This is the little additional kick they need to go out the door. And it's bound to demoralize some of the House Republicans.


"I'd have to agree with Larry, personally. There are still many states with open filing periods for House races, so we'll just have to see how many Republicans decide to follow Ryan's leadership down the big exit ramp."



What a joke

The House Republicans held a vote on a constitutional amendment to force themselves to pass balanced budgets. This is absolutely laughable, since the same body just blew two trillion-dollar holes in the deficit, with their tax giveaway to Wall Street and the one percent, and with the budget they just passed. Republican Senate Bob Corker had the best reaction, which we find we cannot improve upon:

What a joke. What a joke. It is the biggest joke in the world. It's a way for people to hide behind making tough decisions.... We've got the House, the Senate and the presidency. If we wanted to figure out a way to balance the budget we could do it.




Let there be tapes... pretty please?

This one ties a couple interrelated stories together in a nice bow.

"Rumors are circulating in Washington that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had the habit of recording telephone conversations with everyone important he talked to. This is the same Cohen who just had his office and home raided by the F.B.I., who now have all his computer records. Maybe this was why they needed a no-knock warrant? So he couldn't erase the files, perhaps? Forgive me if I borrow a line from James Comey, who responded after Donald Trump threatened to release tapes of their Oval Office conversations: 'Lordy, I hope there are tapes!' "



Don't show this to Kellyanne!

Let's hope Kellyanne Conway doesn't see this front-page headline....

"In response to James Comey's book, and the revelation that Donald Trump was obsessed with the suggestion that he had been caught on tape in Moscow watching hookers urinate on each other, the New York Daily News cleverly ran the headline: 'PEE BRAIN!' Even funnier was the text of the tweet they sent out with the front page's image: 'Urine trouble now.' "



ITMFA!

This one comes with a warning: "Strong Republican language is used in this final excerpt. All bowdlerizations of letters from original." Conservative commentator Erick Erickson spent some time in a Safeway recently with an unnamed Republican congressman, who obviously needed to vent his feelings towards the leader of his party, Donald Trump. The whole incredible rant will scorch your eyebrows off. Here are a few choice bits from it, which you can file under "What Republicans really think of Trump." Or maybe, in a nod to Kellyanne Conway, it should be filed under "unnecessary immature potshots." Heh.

It's like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really f*cking stupid Forrest Gump. He can't help himself. He's just a f**king idiot who thinks he's winning when people are b*tching about him. He really does see the world as ratings and attention. I hate Forrest Gump. I listen to your podcast and heard you hate it too. What an overrated piece of sh*t movie.

. . .

But if we get to summer and most of the primaries are over, they just might pull the trigger if the President fires Mueller. The sh*t will hit the fan if that happens and I'd vote to impeach him myself. Most of us would, I think. Hell, all the Democrats would and you only need a majority in the House. If we're going to lose because of him, we might as well impeach the motherf**ker.

. . .

I say a lot of shit on TV defending him, even over this. But honestly, I wish the motherf*cker would just go away. We're going to lose the House, lose the Senate, and lose a bunch of states because of him. All his supporters will blame us for what we have or have not done, but he hasn't led. He wakes up in the morning, sh*ts all over Twitter, sh*ts all over us, sh*ts all over his staff, then hits golf balls. F*ck him. Of course, I can't say that in public or I'd get run out of town.





Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Fri Apr 13, 2018, 10:28 PM

1. K&R nt

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