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Fri May 11, 2018, 10:36 PM

Friday Talking Points (484) -- House GOP Is Revolting!

Before we get to all the Trumpy news of the week, we had to headline what is going on in Paul Ryan's House, since it hasn't been getting enough attention yet. Because the House Republicans are revolting!

OK, we fully admit that we love to phrase such events using this pun, and we will even give proper credit here for where we first heard it. As a kid, we bought a book of "The Wizard Of Id" comics entitled The Peasants Are Revolting! (to which the king replies in an aside: "You can say that again!" ). Since then, we love to use it whenever applicable. This week, it's Paul Ryan's turn (and there's even royalty involved!).

As of this writing, seventeen Republicans in the House have now signed a "discharge petition" to force Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to hold a floor vote on legislation to deal with immigration reform. After the push to either extend DACA or even pass a new DREAM Act failed earlier this year, most considered the issue dead until after the next election. However, there are quite a few Republicans in districts with many DACA kids who are apparently worried about their re-election prospects if nothing gets done. So they've mounted an effort to force Ryan to hold some votes.

That's plural, because if the petition is successful it will mean a process known as "Queen of the Hill" (there's that royalty we promised), where multiple bills are voted upon and the one with the most votes over a majority is the one that passes. This would likely mean at least four bills would be voted on, from a new DREAM Act to a very conservative bill that would deny the DREAMers any future path to citizenship. Ryan could even introduce his own bill, if he chooses to.

Ryan's excuse for fighting back against this open revolt is downright laughable. Just last month, when asked about the possibility of passing immigration reform through the House, Ryan responded that he didn't want to "spend our time bringing something through that I know is going to get vetoed." He's also said, in a similar vein: "Going down a path and having some kind of a spectacle on the floor that just results in a veto doesn't solve the problem." This might have been even a tiny bit believable except for, you know, those 60 or 70 times that Ryan held votes to kill Obamacare, back when Barack Obama was president. He wasn't too concerned about vetoes back then, was he? "Sending a political message" was just fine with Ryan, at the time.

As things stand, the discharge petition needs at least another seven or eight Republicans to sign it before it has a chance of working. Assuming that every Democrat signs up after the crucial number of Republicans is hit, this would force Ryan to hold such a vote within the next few weeks. If a bipartisan bill made it out of the House, the Senate would likely rally around it as well (since the Senate is a lot more moderate on the issue). And if President Trump actually vetoed such a bill, it would plainly show -- right before the election -- who is on the side of fixing DACA, and who is the one responsible for it not happening. Which is precisely what Ryan really fears, when it comes down to it.

Other Republicans in the House are reportedly considering signing on to the effort, so this will be fascinating to watch for the next week or so. If it succeeds, then the revolt will have worked like a charm.

Moving along to the Trumpian news, the president buried his long-awaited announcement on prescription drug prices late on a Friday, in the hopes that his own voters wouldn't notice that it fell far short of what he had promised them on the campaign trail. Instead of freeing Medicare to use the massive leverage of being the largest drug customer in the country to bargain for better prices, Trump punted. He rolled out a wishy-washy list of possible policy ideas, all of which fell short of his previous promises. There was no deadline attached to any of these items, and most can be expected to be soon forgotten. None of his agenda items would have directly tackled the high price of drugs in any meaningful way.

Trump made more news this week on the international front, though. He announced the United States would begin violating the Iran nuclear deal (thanks to Fox News personality Shep Smith for pointing out that Trump is not "withdrawing" from the deal, but in fact "violating" it) and reinstituting sanctions. Europe, Russia, and China will not be following Trump's lead, to put it mildly, since the deal was working exactly as designed and Iran has never been found to be out of compliance with its provisions. The only countries that cheered the move were Israel and Saudi Arabia. Other than those two, Trump's move was pretty universally condemned. The State Department fully admitted that the Trump administration has no earthly idea what to do next. From a briefing this week to the media:

QUESTION: But you don't know at this point? You don't know? You didn't get to that in your discussions, what’s going to happen?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We did not talk about a Plan B in our discussions because we were focused on negotiating a supplemental agreement, so we did not -- we did not talk about Plan B.

This supplemental agreement never appeared. The Washington Post article this appeared in was rather extraordinary, for using a citation we have used in the past on a number of occasions (such as FTP (373) and FTP (420), to name just two). We have to admit we never thought we'd see this particular South Park reference in a mainstream media article, but Trump's action on Iran this week proved us wrong:

Here Plan B begins to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Underpants Gnomes Theory of Profit. Step 1 is terminating the Iran deal. Step 3 is Iran complying with all U.S. demands. Step 2? Step 2 is a wee bit hazy.

Trump is making more progress when it comes to North Korea, but not nearly as much as he thinks. Kim Jong Un, as a good-faith measure, released three American prisoners this week. Even before this had happened, Trump was already coveting a Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomacy. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Trump did finally announce the date and place of the upcoming summit between the two leaders, but they don't give out Nobels just for scheduling a meeting, to put it mildly. Trump, meeting the freed prisoners on the tarmac, bizarrely claimed that Kim Jong Un "really was excellent" to the prisoners he had been holding on bogus charges. Maybe Trump should have asked them if their treatment was in any way excellent before making such a strange claim?

There's one international story that hasn't gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves, and that is the strange tale of "aides to Donald Trump" who -- while he was president, mind you -- orchestrated a "dirty ops" campaign "against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal." The entire story is still somewhat vague (nobody knows if "aides" means official Trump administration personnel or just Trump friends, for instance), but it is more than just a little disconcerting. Let's hope some further details are revealed soon, because if true this is a blockbuster of a scandal.

Speaking of dirty ops, Gina Haspel was grilled by a Senate committee this week. She's been nominated to run the C.I.A., but has a rather dark past involving black site secret C.I.A. prisons, waterboarding and other torture, and covering up said torture by ordering the evidence (92 video tapes) destroyed even though Congress was interested in finding out what had gone on. She reportedly even offered to withdraw her nomination late last week rather than go through the nomination process, but Trump apparently talked her into continuing. She was right to be wary, as Code Pink protesters chanting "Bloody Gina!" and "Stop the torture" had to be removed from the hearing room. The hearing was indeed eye-opening (more on this later), as Haspel proved she has no moral compass whatsoever. So, assumably, she'll fit right in the Trump cabinet. Even if she won't be getting John McCain's vote.

Speaking of McCain, the Trump White House further showed its inherently classy nature this week when a communications staffer dismissed McCain's scathing takedown of Haspel by saying in a closed meeting: "It doesn't matter, he's dying anyway." Thankfully, this talking point wasn't repeated by anyone else, but it leaked out anyway.

In other cabinet follies, the head of the Department of Homeland Security reportedly almost quit this week (reports differ as to whether she actually penned a resignation letter or not) after being berated "for over 30 minutes" by Trump in a cabinet meeting. Trump's upset that she hasn't been able to wave a magic wand and close the southern border. Here's just one small part of Trump's tirade: "Why don't you have solutions? How is this still happening? We need to shut it down. We're closed."

OK, this is running way too long, so just a final few things. Michael Avenatti, lawyer to Stormy Daniels, released a bombshell this week with documents proving that Michael Cohen, lawyer/fixer to Donald Trump, used the same slush fund that paid the $130,000 to Daniels to cash in on his proximity to Trump. He nakedly sold his influence, and even though he could not deliver in the slightest, got corporations (AT&T being the most notable) to pay him millions of dollars for his false promises. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

A few more notes to close on. The "National Popular Vote" movement scored another victory this week, as Connecticut became the most recent state to legally pledge to direct all its Electoral College electors to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote. This scheme will not kick in until enough states pass the same pledge to equal the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win. With Connecticut, they've now got 172 votes and counting. Well done, N.P.V.!

Also in the "well done" category were the citizens of Ohio who passed a redistricting ballot initiative this week (four states held primaries on Tuesday) which partially takes the mapmaking process out of the hands of the legislature and attempts to inject some fairness into the whole process to defeat gerrymandering attempts.

And best of all, we'll close with the news that for the first time ever, there is now a fast food Union. So far, it's small -- it only applies to a chain called Burgerville -- but you've got to start somewhere. Their efforts were supported by the Industrial Workers of the World, or the "Wobblies." We have to admit, we weren't even aware the Wobblies were still around, but we do heartily congratulate them and the newly-unionized fast food workers in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe they'll start a trend... one can only hope!

It's looking more and more like the midterms of 2018 will usher in the "Year Of The Woman 2.0" (the first one was in 1992, for those who have forgotten). During this week's primary elections, Politico notes that: "There were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday night, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them." So Honorable Mentions all around for all Democratic women who were brave enough to toss their hat in the congressional ring! So far, they seem to be having an astounding rate of success.

One particular race caught our eye, in a primary for a state legislative seat in Ohio. Rachel Crooks won the Democratic nomination in what could be a winnable district outside Toledo. Crooks is "one of at least 19 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual assault." So she deserves an Honorable Mention just for that.

One male candidate did very well this week, as Richard Cordray beat out Dennis Kucinich for the Democratic nomination in the Ohio governor's race. This race was projected to be a lot closer than it turned out to be, so Cordray deserves his own Honorable Mention for his strong finish.

But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senator Kamala Harris of California, for asking the toughest questions in the Gina Haspel hearing. Time and time again, Harris pressed Haspel on whether the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (otherwise known as "torture" ) she was involved in were immoral. Haspel flat-out refused to answer. Here is just one of these exchanges, right after Haspel tried to move on with "Senator, I think I've answered."

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS: No, you have not. Do you believe the previous techniques, now armed with hindsight, do you believe they were immoral? Yes, or no?

GINA HASPEL: Senator, I believe that we should hold ourselves to the moral standard outlined in the Army Field Manual.

This, from a woman who claimed: "My moral compass is strong," and: "My parents raised me right -- I know the difference between right and wrong." Except, you know, when asked about it under oath.

While other Democrats (and even a few Republicans) tried to get Haspel to admit to any wrongdoing or second thoughts whatsoever, none exposed her absolute lack of an actual moral compass more than Kamala Harris.

As icing on the cake, this week Harris also became the fourth senator to cosponsor Cory Booker's "Marijuana Justice Act," which would be a giant leap forward in forever ending the federal War On Weed.

But it was really her performance in the hearing room this week that earned Senator Kamala Harris this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Her aggressive questioning style should really be a model for all Democrats in these contentious hearings. We admit that when we catch hearings from her committee, we always pay close attention when her turn at the microphone approaches. Because she's consistently the best questioner on the Democratic side.

{Congratulate Senator Kamala Harris on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

We have two (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week, before we get to the main award. The first goes to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for dropping the ball on a question she got this week at an event hosted by Politico.

When asked to respond to Republican talking points that she would push single-payer healthcare and "raise taxes" by "roll{ing} back the tax cuts they passed this year," Pelosi was much too abrupt in her response: "The second part there is accurate."

She could easily have qualified this a bit by saying something like: "We will be looking at rolling back the 83 percent of those tax cuts that went to Wall Street, corporations, and the wealthiest of the wealthy, you can be sure of that." But she didn't, which will just give ammo to all the Republican candidates who are already attacking her in their congressional campaign ads.

But that was fairly mild, since our other awards are much more visceral this week. The second (Dis-)Honorable Mention award goes to a former press secretary for Hillary Clinton in her last presidential run. Philippe Reines decided to heap shame on Donald Trump Jr. during his divorce from Vanessa Trump, but wound up only heaping shame upon himself. Here's what Reines tweeted, referring to a high school relationship Vanessa reportedly had with a former gang member:

Vanessa being with a Latin King must've driven you insanely jealous. The machismo, the passion. Tough act to follow. Did you wonder if she fantasized about Valentin Rivera when intimate with you? She did. Every time.

This prompted a terse response from Chelsea Clinton, which we find we cannot improve upon. Clinton responded to the tweet with: "It's vile." Can't argue with that.

But, obviously, there was an even worse choice this week. The Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week goes to the former attorney general of New York, Eric Schneiderman. Schneiderman was accused in an article published by The New Yorker of sexually assaulting (or just plain assaulting) at least four women, two of whom went on the record using their real names. Schneiderman "repeatedly hit them," choked them, and abused them in other ways without their consent.

This was all the more shocking since Schneiderman had been seen as being out front on the whole #MeToo movement -- he was the one who brought a case against Harvey Weinstein, for instance. He was seen as a champion of women's rights, but apparently that only applied to his public persona.

Schneiderman, to his credit, realized far faster than most politicians that his goose was cooked. He resigned mere hours after the story broke, while still insisting that he was innocent of all the allegations. By week's end, he was under criminal investigation himself.

Schneiderman is the clear pick for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, which is made even worse by his obvious hypocrisy. When an obvious misogynist is caught in a sexual scandal, that's one thing, but when such a scandal hits someone seen as a champion of women's rights, somehow it's even more painful.

{Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is now a private citizen, and we as a rule do not post contact information for such persons. However, if you've got a similar story to tell, the state cops in New York would appreciate it if you'd give them a call.}

Volume 484 (5/11/18)

OK, before we begin with the Democratic talking points, we have a rather rare occurrence, because we have to salute a Republican for his use of political humor. We love a good talking point (or just a good burn) as much as the next guy, so we do try to give credit where it is due, even across the aisle at times.

The really shocking thing is that we're talking about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose name usually doesn't come up in the same sentence as the word "humor." Even his biggest fans would easily admit he's not much of a comedian even on his best days. But this week he knocked it out of the park.

After wild card Senate candidate Don Blankenship was defeated in the Republican GOP primary this week, Mitch took a bit of a victory lap. After being accused of Blankenship of essentially being a cocaine dealer, McConnell began answering his phone (to his closest friends, reportedly) using the same term Blankenship dubbed him with in his campaign ads. So if you were a buddy of McConnell's and called him up this week, he would answer the phone with: "Cocaine Mitch."

If this weren't funny enough, he tweeted out a Photoshopped image of himself with the caption "Thanks for playing, Don." The image showed McConnell surrounded by cocaine flakes, and was borrowed from the Netflix series Narcos. The show's Twitter account tweeted back: "Low blow, Mitch."

Again, McConnell and humor don't usually go hand in hand, but we've got to hand it to Cocaine Mitch, he was pretty funny this week!

OK, enough of this silliness, let's get to the talking points for Democrats, shall we?

Rudy fading fast

In case you missed it, this interview from last Sunday is absolutely jaw-dropping.

"Did you see Rudy Giuliani on George Stephanopoulos's show last week? It was stunningly bad -- far worse than all the other interviews he's yet done. Trapped at the bottom of a very deep hole, every time Rudy opened his mouth he did nothing so much as dig himself in deeper. He admitted that Trump might take the Fifth Amendment, he speculated that there might be more women paid off by Michael Cohen's slush fund, and he did everything he could to further muddy the waters over the hush money Donald Trump paid to Stormy Daniels. Interviewed immediately afterwards, Stormy's lawyer Michael Avenatti responded: 'Did that interview just happen? I'm not being spoofed, right?' before going on to characterize Rudy's performance as: 'an absolute, unmitigated disaster for Rudy Giuliani and the president. I can't believe that that actually just happened. I mean, what we witnessed by Rudy Giuliani may be one of the worst TV appearances by any attorney on behalf of a client in modern times.' I'd have to agree with his characterization -- it truly was that bad. By week's end, Rudy's law firm had shown him the door, because they were so embarrassed to be associated with Giuliani. Last time I checked, he was still Trump's lawyer, but things might have changed since then. I'm not one to offer Trump legal advice, but in this case I'll make an exception -- Trump should immediately fire Rudy Giuliani, for his own good."

Avenatti races ahead

It's hard to believe this fact isn't more widely known, by now. I mean, he's been all over television, you'd think someone would bring it up in passing....

"Do you know what Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti does in his spare time? Competes as a professional race car driver on the Le Mans circuit. This is the guy that Trump and Michael Cohen think they can intimidate? So far, Avenatti seems to be exactly the lawyer needed to take on Trump -- he's out front, he's bold, he's selectively releasing bits and pieces of his legal strategy to great effect in the media, and he's always one step ahead. In fact, Avenatti, by so successfully trying his client's case in the media, is actually beating Trump at his own game. His record dump this week exposed Cohen's naked influence peddling, using the same slush fund he used to pay off Stormy. That's just sloppy, even for a corrupt lawyer. When it comes to manipulating the media and public opinion for your client, Avenatti is running rings around Team Trump. He's precisely the lawyer that was needed to take on Trump, in fact. Can't wait to see him cross the finish line!"

Trump screws his voters over, once again

The president gave a much-ballyhooed speech today, but fell far short of what he had promised.

"Donald Trump promised over and over again on the campaign trail that he'd take on the pharmaceutical industry. He swore up and down he'd allow Medicare to bargain for better prices with the drug companies, which would have reduced the cost of drugs almost across the board. Today, he finally delivered his long-awaited plan. Missing was any mention of allowing Medicare to bargain for better drug prices. Nancy Pelosi reacted with a statement: 'This weak plan abandons the millions of hard-working families struggling with the crisis of surging drug prices. The President's proposals are yet another giveaway to Big Pharma, and do nothing to hold wealthy drug companies accountable for their unconscionable price gouging.' Yet another case of Trump making sweeping promises, but failing to deliver. Trump chickened out, plain and simple. By doing so, he screwed over the very people who voted for him. Sooner or later, you'd think they'd figure it out."

No moral compass

If it spins around when times get stressful, it is not a moral compass, period.

"Gina Haspel, nominated to be the next head of the C.I.A., stated that she has a firm moral code, while under oath: 'My moral compass is strong.... My parents raised me right. I know the difference between right and wrong.... I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal.' There's only one big thing wrong with that statement, and that is the fact that she already did allow the C.I.A. to do so, and then when proof of such immorality might have been made public, she ordered the evidence destroyed. Torture is torture, and it is morally wrong. Period. It is not 'sometimes right, when public opinion thinks so' -- it is always immoral. Haspel refused to state this simple fact, due to her own sordid history with secret interrogation sites and waterboarding. Senator John McCain -- a man who knows more about torture than anyone else in Washington -- put it best in his statement explaining why he would not vote for Haspel's confirmation: 'Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.' That is what real a moral compass looks like, folks."


Of course, Haspel wasn't the only Trump insider to show a lack of morality this week.

"White House chief of staff John Kelly had some rather odious things to say about immigrants this week. Here is the transcript of what he had to say:"

Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS-13.... But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English; obviously that's a big thing.... They don't integrate well; they don't have skills.

"This is rather extraordinary, because these arguments are precisely the same ones used over a century ago against Kelly's own ancestors. The Irish, we were told, would not assimilate (because they were Catholic). They were rural, uneducated, and didn't speak the language. They didn't have skills, and were undesirables. These arguments were previously made by the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, in the nineteenth century. Against the Irish. Kelly should really learn some history before making the exact same arguments that were made by bigots against his own people."

Be Best!

Seriously? That's the best you can come up with?

"First Lady Melania Trump unveiled her campaign against bullying this week, under the slogan 'Be Best.' Seriously? Be best? In the first place, that sound you heard when the slogan was unveiled was the collective cringing of English teachers across the land, since 'be best' is a long cry from correct English. It is, to be blunt, not the best way to be. 'Be The Best' or 'Be Your Best' or even 'Be The Best You Can Be' all would have worked fine, but 'Be Best' is just pathetic. Hope they didn't spend too many tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars coming up with that slogan. In the second place, Melania plagiarized a pamphlet for her pet project from the Obama era, and then refused to even admit it. And finally, this is already backfiring on the White House, as Chuck Schumer responded to yet another Twitter tirade from Melania's husband with a simple message: '#BeBest.' You've got to love that -- more people should respond to Trump tweets with exactly the same thing, and include Melania's Twitter account to boot, each and every time Trump uses Twitter to bully anyone he chooses. Maybe it'll wind up being a trending subject -- against Donald Trump. Not exactly what she had in mind, I'd guess."

The first, but not the last

A milestone was reached this week.

"This week, Alex van der Zwaan became the first person to go to prison as a direct result of the investigation run by Bob Mueller. He got off fairly light for lying to the F.B.I., as he'll only be serving a month in jail. But while he is the first to get locked up for what he did as a result of Mueller, he certainly won't be the last. And the others will probably not be doing just '30 days in the hole,' either."

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