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Fri Dec 14, 2018, 09:38 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Done Dirt Cheap!

Our title today comes, of course, from former Donald Trump lawyer (and jailbird-to-be) Michael Cohen, who during his sentencing hearing this week said of Donald Trump: "Time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."

To which we (and plenty of others) reply with the immortal words of AC/DC:

If you got a lady and you want her gone
But you ain't got the guts
She keeps naggin' at you night and day
Enough to drive ya nuts
Pick up the phone
Leave her alone
It's time you made a stand
For a fee
I'm happy to be
Your back door man

Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap
Dirty deeds and they're done dirt cheap
Dirty deeds and they're done dirt cheap

Trump's personal "fixer" was sentenced to three years in federal lockup, which was all the more ironic when a previous tweet from him was unearthed (from almost exactly three years ago): "@HillaryClinton when you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!" Now Cohen is the one who can look forward to that sweet deal.

Trump himself was named -- by prosecutors from his own Justice Department, in federal court -- as being an unindicted co-conspirator in the scheme to pay off women with hush money to influence the 2016 election (a federal crime). So the legal wolves are circling closer and closer to the Oval Office.

In other news from the White House, it seems President Trump is having a small problem convincing anyone to be his new chief of staff. {Editor's Note: This was written before Trump announced his choice, late Friday.} Trump had planned on hiring Nick Ayers, Mike Pence's current chief of staff, but then Ayers absolutely humiliated Trump by not only turning the job offer down, but handing in his resignation as well. This led to the funniest thing we've read all week, from a comment posted on ChrisWeigant.com: "There has been a last minute malfunction in filling the WH Chief O' Staff post. Don't get your Nick Ayers in a twist about it." Heh.

Also amusing: a Trump tweet from 2012 came to light, where Trump mocked President Obama's turnover rate: "3 chiefs of staff in less than 3 years of being President. Part of the reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda." For the record: Trump is looking for his third chief of staff in under two years. So he just broke the record he had earlier sneered at.

Of course, the looming departure of John Kelly is just the latest in a long list of people who have bailed on (or been fired by) Donald Trump, as MSNBC's Kyle Griffin helpfully pointed out, just in case anyone's forgotten:

Top Trump W.H. Departures:

Trump tried to make himself feel better this week by allowing the television cameras to keep rolling on the first meeting he has bothered to hold with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in over a year, but that didn't go any better than the rest of Trump's week, because Pelosi and Schumer absolutely ate Trump's lunch. They stone-cold drank his milkshake. They kicked his ass all over the room, and then they handed it to him on a platter. Choose your metaphor -- there's no shortage available to describe the smackdown Trump just got, on live television.

Trump apparently thought he'd look like the guy in charge of the meeting, which is why he let the cameras continue to roll for almost 20 minutes. But he must have realized at some point that his strategy had badly backfired. Here's how Los Angeles Times reporter Eli Stokols reported what happened next: "{President Trump} stormed out of the Oval, walked into an anteroom just off the Oval Office and had in his hand a folder of briefing papers. And he just scattered them out of frustration -- threw them across the room." In other words, right after the meeting ended Trump was actually aware how badly it had gone for him.

Later, in a bizarre twist, Trump claimed in a tweet that Mexico was already paying for the wall, begging the question of why he even needs money from Congress for it, and why he'd shut the government down if -- as he's regularly said -- the wall is (1) already being built, and (2) is already being paid for by Mexico.

But then consistency was never Trump's strong point (or logic, for that matter). As the Washington Post fact-checker pointed out (while explaining the new "bottomless Pinocchios" category for lies repeated more than 20 times):

There has been no serial exaggerator in recent American politics like the president. He not only consistently makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proved wrong. The explosion of false and misleading statements from him in 2018 is well documented in our database: In the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims -- an average of 30 a day.

And just to round out Trump's awful week, he got some friendly fire from an unexpected source, as HuffPost reported:

"There was one Christmas where he may or may not have given me the gift I had given him the year before, because I had monogrammed it," Don Jr. said of his father. "And I'm like, 'I know you didn't get this.' 'How do you know that?' 'Because I gave it to you last year.'"

We feel this is the perfect quote to end our last Friday Talking Points column of the year. Happy Holidays to all!

We're going to begin by handing out two Honorable Mention awards this week, to the Democratic National Committee and to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The D.N.C. had a lot of housecleaning to do after the 2016 fiasco, and they've been addressing many of the embarrassing problems as time goes on. This week they announced a new neutrality policy for the D.N.C., meaning that people who work there will not be allowed in any way to show even the slightest bit of favoritism during the 2020 presidential primary season. Last time around, it was painfully obvious (even before the hacked emails appeared) that the D.N.C. was wholly in the tank for Hillary Clinton. To avoid this in the future, nobody who works there will be allowed to endorse or even advocate for any one candidate, period. That is one more welcome change from the D.N.C.

Ocasio-Cortez deserves credit this week for exposing a rather tawdry tradition that had long flown under the media radar. It seems that Harvard University hosts incoming members of Congress so they can comfortably sit down and have lobbyists explain to them how government in Washington actually works. No -- really. The trip up to Boston is even provided free, because since the new members have not been sworn in yet, ethics rules don't apply to them. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that they had heard from corporate lobbyists, but not from a single other voice (like a Labor leader, maybe?) during the conference -- and even that fact was not made obvious to the participants. Because she brought this to the media's attention, Democrats are now questioning why ethics laws shouldn't apply to new members during the lame duck period (before they actually get sworn in). So Ocasio-Cortez, even before taking her oath of office, is already changing Congress for the better!

But our winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week are obvious: Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The two Democratic leaders in Congress met with President Trump this week and informed him in no uncertain terms that there was a new sheriff in town, and that the days of Trump living in his own fantasy world where all the "facts" he made up were never contradicted were at an end.

Pelosi tried, at several times, to gently suggest to Trump that he might want to send the cameras away, but Trump sneered at her that he was just being "transparent." When later asked why she wanted the meeting to continue in private, Pelosi helpfully explained:

Critics accused her of trying to hide from the public, but Pelosi later told reporters that she did not want to embarrass the president by contradicting him "when he was putting forth figures that had no reality to them, no basis in fact."

"I didn't want to, in front of those people, say, 'You don't know what you're talking about,' " Pelosi added.

Trump insisted, though, so Pelosi just went ahead and (again, gently) called the president a liar right to his face on live television.

Schumer got his own licks in, too. Right after Pelosi smacked Trump down for intimating that she didn't have the support of her own caucus, Pelosi shot back: "Please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory." Schumer chimed in with: "Elections have consequences," after which Trump petulantly insisted he had won two seats in the Senate. This prompted Schumer to turn to the cameras (in what a stage actor would term "an aside" ) and say: "When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble."

Schumer also got in another pointed dig, in reference to the Washington Post fact-checker introducing a brand-new category for Trump: the "bottomless Pinocchio," for lies that the president has told more than 20 times each. Schumer pointed this out, right to Trump's face: "We have a lot of disagreements here. The Washington Post today gave you a lot of Pinocchios, because they say you constantly misstate how much of the wall is built."

After the raucous meeting, both Pelosi and Schumer were pretty stunned at how well things had gone for them. After all, the biggest soundbite that came out of the meeting was Trump unilaterally disarming himself politically in the upcoming border wall/government shutdown fight: "I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.... I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won't blame you for it."

Schumer termed the meeting a Trump "temper tantrum," while Pelosi was a lot more colorful: "The press is all there! Chuck is really shouting out. I was trying to be the mom. I can't explain it to you. It was so wild. It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you." Pelosi also hit Trump where it hurts, speaking of his obsession with the wall: "It's like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him."

Pelosi had such a good day all around that she wound up actually influencing the fashion world -- the coat she wore to the meeting is now apparently a hot item.

Pelosi's performance was so strong that it effectively ended the challenge from within the Democratic Party over the speakership. She cut a deal within days which included a promise to step down (at the latest) after the 2022 election cycle, and by doing so secured enough votes to assure she will take the gavel next month. So it really has been a red-letter week for Pelosi.

Both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi proved this week that the Democrats are going to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump whenever it becomes necessary. Not only will this play out next week in the shutdown drama (however it ends), but it is a bright harbinger of things to come for the next two years. Trump has had nothing but sycophants to deal with in Congress up until now, as both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell bowed and scraped before their master.

Those days are now officially over. For showing America -- on live television, no less -- how things are going to work in the future, there's simply no way we cannot give Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

{Congratulate House Speaker Designate Nancy Pelosi on her House contact page, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.}

We've first got some "old business" to attend to, since we have decided to retroactively award Representative Seth Moulton his own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, for spinelessly and ineffectively leading the push against Nancy Pelosi in the House. Now, we can understand a principled stance if it is backed up by personally leading a fight, but this wasn't that at all.

Moulton tried to be the kingmaker from behind the scenes -- pushing hard for Pelosi to be deposed, but never putting his own name forward as a replacement. He tried to finagle others into doing so (and take all the political risk it would have entailed), but in the end nobody took him up on the offer. Here's how effective Moulton's effort was, in the end:

Moulton had drawn up list of 58 Democrats who he knew wanted a new leader. Most of those, he said he believed, would sign a letter expressing opposition to Pelosi.... Instead of 35 names, the rebels ultimately released a letter Nov. 19 with only 16 names.

And now, as a reward, primary challengers from other Democrats in his district are already lining up. Once again -- if Moulton had led the rebels personally, he likely wouldn't have qualified for a MDDOTW award, but because he wasn't even brave enough to do that, we feel he qualifies (retroactively).

This week, however, we actually have five winners of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. The Senate -- in a stunning rebuke to Trump -- comfortably passed a challenge to U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution accusing the Saudi crown prince of ordering the murder of a journalist for an American newspaper. By passing the war challenge, the Senate was testing the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which has never actually happened before.

Over in the House, however, outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan avoided having the House even vote on the move to cut off aid to the Saudis in their war in Yemen. He inserted a rider to the farm bill which barred the House from voting on any War Powers issue for the rest of the year. Democrats almost defeated this move, and even enticed over a dozen Republicans to vote with them against it. However, five Democrats broke ranks and voted with the Republicans, which allowed it to pass (Ryan didn't have the votes to pass it without the five Democrats, so their support was crucial). One of them later admitted that he didn't know "a damn thing" about Yemen, he just wanted the farm bill to pass.

For such clueless and counterproductive behavior, all five Democrats more than deserve this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. The five award-winners are: Jim Costa from California, Al Lawson from Florida, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, and David Scott from Georgia.

{Contact Representative Jim Costa on his House contact page, Representative Al Lawson on his House contact page, Representative Collin Peterson on his House contact page, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger on his House contact page, and Representative David Scott on his House contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions. Or, perhaps, consider donating to their inevitable primary challengers, we suppose.}

Volume 512 (12/14/18)

Before we begin here, we have a program note. This will be the final Friday Talking Points column of the year. Instead, for the next two Fridays, watch this space for our annual "McLaughlin awards," our two-part end-of-the-year wrapup in the style of The McLaughlin Group. We've thrown open the field for nominations, so if you're interested, check out the list of categories and make your suggestions! And don't fear, this column will return in the new year once again, on the first Friday in January.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's talking points.


And counting....

"We're now up to 14 Trump associates who have been proven to have had contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition. Fourteen! Russians contacted his closest family members, his friends, and his campaign officials. They offered dirt on his opponents, and help with his real estate business. They offered sit-down meetings with Vladimir Putin. And much of this was publicly known, even if the media largely ignored it at the time. Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager, just pointed this out, rightly asking: 'Why did it take two years and dozens of indictments for so many to believe that Russia was not only behind the DNC hack but may also have been in cahoots with the Trump campaign, when there was so much evidence at the time?' That's a very good question indeed."

Hoo boy.

Another AC/DC song comes to mind, here: "Big Balls"

"Kevin McCarthy's chutzpah knows no bounds, apparently. He is reportedly reaching out to Democratic House freshmen, in a futile attempt to undermine the new Democratic majority. McCarthy is now mister sweetness-and-light, holding open the hand of bipartisan cooperation, now that he faces leading his party from the wilderness of a House minority. Funny thing, though, neither he nor his party showed the slightest inclination to doing so while they ran the place for the past two years. Even more amusing were the quotes from McCarthy warning Democrats not to do exactly what the Republicans have been busy doing for that period -- launching investigations into their political opponents. McCarthy told Fox News>: 'It looks like what {Democrats are} going to focus on is just more investigations. I think America's too great of a nation to have such a small agenda,' adding helpfully that there are 'other problems out there that we really should be focused upon.' So let me get this straight -- after doing nothing but launching partisan investigation after partisan investigation since they've been in charge of the House -- including an investigation into Benghazi that McCarthy himself openly bragged was successful in eating into Hillary Clinton's political support -- while doing little else, Democrats are now supposed to come in and clean up the mess and not launch any investigations of their own because 'America is too great a nation for such a small agenda.' The stench of desperation and sheer hypocrisy coming off McCarthy is notable."

Again: do what we say, not what we do

Speaking of chutzpah....

"Donald Trump complains constantly about people in the federal government -- the Justice Department in particular -- who he says have to be biased because they've made past political donations to his political opponents. That's an interesting standard to hold federal workers to, but apparently Trump is not concerned when the donations go towards Republicans instead. His new pick for attorney general has given over half a million dollars in donations to Republicans over the years, while his wife gave almost a quarter-million. What this means is Trump simply has no leg to stand on when making this complaint any more. If he really thinks that political donations shouldn't be allowed for Justice Department officials, then why did he nominate GOP megadonor William Barr to run the place?"

Um, that's not the way it works...

We've been trying to get Democrats to use this talking point for a few weeks now, and now that Trump has himself pushed the issue, it should be impossible for them not to.

"Donald Trump made an incredibly bizarre claim this week, in a tweet:"

I often stated, “One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.” This has never changed. Our new deal with Mexico (and Canada), the USMCA, is so much better than the old, very costly & anti-USA NAFTA deal, that just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!

"Now, first off, Trump's 'new' trade deal with Mexico is 95 percent the same as NAFTA -- it's not that big a change, really. Secondly, this isn't the way things actually work -- Mexico is not actually paying for Trump's wall at all. Nancy Pelosi responded with: 'It doesn't make any sense. Maybe he doesn't understand how a trade agreement works.... I think the Oval Office is an evidence-free zone.' But Chuck Schumer was even better, as he pointed out on the Senate floor that if Mexico really is paying for the wall, then there was absolutely no need for Congress to spend any American taxpayer dollars for it. After all, Trump can't have it both ways, right?"

Because that's what the internet thinks of him!

This got little notice this week, what with everything else that was going on.

"The head of Google testified before Congress this week, and it soon became clear that politicians on both sides of the aisle had absolutely no clue what an algorithm is, or how computers or the internet works. Zoe Lofgren, a Bay Area House Democrat, directly asked: 'If you Google the word "idiot" under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. How would that happen? How does search work so that that would occur?' The head of Google tried to patiently explain that there weren't armies of human beings who directed search results, but rather a computer program that did so, but he avoided the plain truth. It would have been a lot more accurate for him to have just answered: 'Because there are so many millions of people posting online who think the president is an idiot.' In other words, there is no nefarious cabal at Google, instead it is a matter of Vox populi, vox Dei."

Speaking of idiots....

Trump claimed -- twice! -- in a tweet this week that there was "no smocking gun" to be found in the Russia probe. This led to much hilarity among the populi online, of course. But the best response came from Dana Milbank, who wrote a spoof cover letter for those vying for the chief of staff position. We'd urge everyone to read the full article, complete with multiple links to the actual Trump misspellings. Here's just a taste, though (if we can convince our spell-checker not to fix it):

Dear Mr. Predisent:

I am dieing here! The situation with you finding a chief of staff has become rediculous.

Nick Ayers turning down the job was a big shoker. You already had reached a dael! Well, to bad for him. And I hear your wife Melanie didn't like him either.

You were right to fire John Kelly -- a real lose cannon. What a discgrace to the Marine Core! In the end, the great general was just another chocker. And that little schitt Reince Priebus? One of the dummer people I've met. He just could not handel the job.

Moose and squirrel is building wall!

In a week where Russian influence over the president was a major subject, the Department of Homeland Security -- in an incredibly political move -- tried to back up Trump's claim about the nonexistent wall that Trump continues to insist is being built. But in their press release, they sounded a bit... Russian?

"You just can't make this stuff up, folks. The Department of Homeland Security just issued a press release so filled with errors it is downright laughable -- and that's just the grammatical errors, to say nothing of the factual errors contained within it. Here is exactly what the D.H.S. is spending your taxpayer dollars trying to convince the public, and I quote: 'D.H.S. is committed to building wall and building wall quickly... We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall.... FACT: Prior to President Trump taking office, we have never built wall that high.' This all sounds like a bad Cold War movie, if you read it with the proper hokey Russian accent. In fact, it wouldn't have surprised me one bit if the D.H.S. followed this up with a claim that: 'Da, Moose and squirrel is building wall quickly.' "

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