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Fri Jan 11, 2019, 10:01 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Borderline Insanity?

If our president is going crazy over a non-existent "emergency" at our southern border, could it be called "borderline insanity"? We're just asking....

Puns aside, we are now one day away from the longest government shutdown in modern history. And that record will indeed be broken, since Congress has decamped for the weekend and no talks are currently underway. So it'll be at least Monday before anything happens, and probably a whole lot longer.

It's hard to overstate the depths to which Donald Trump has driven America into, with his petulant tantrum over his beloved wall. Consider the following: now even some Democrats are quietly wishing for Trump to declare monarchical powers to resolve a national emergency that simply does not exist. The thinking is that this is the only way Trump has left to declare victory, so the entire country can move on and the Democrats can get the government open for business once again. That's what we're left with -- hoping Trump stomps on the Constitution because it seems to be the only avenue left back to some semblance of sanity. Here's a peek into this thinking from the Washington Post:

Some Democrats, while publicly vowing to fight an emergency declaration through the courts, see a silver lining to the potential move: "One Democratic aide called an emergency declaration an 'elegant way out of this mess' -- one that would allow Trump and Republicans to declare to their most fervent supporters that they had taken Democrats to the brink, while Democrats would quickly move to tie up any construction in the courts. The House and Senate could move quickly to pass a bill to reopen the government, predicated on assurances from Trump that he would sign the legislation.... Many Democrats also say that an emergency declaration would benefit them politically by unifying their party while splitting Republicans, creating unease among some conservatives who have expressed discomfort with a president sidestepping Congress in a way they might see as similar to how President Barack Obama circumvented Congress on immigration."

Why would Republicans be split? Because some of them are smart enough to realize that if they are complacent in allowing Trump to get away with giving himself emergency powers over a non-emergency, then what would there be to stop a future Democratic president from doing so? Jon Favreau, who used to be Barack Obama's chief speechwriter, twisted this particular knife on Twitter:

Pumped for the next Democratic president to use "emergency powers" for a Green New Deal (climate emergency), Medicare for All (public health emergency), and a new Voting Rights Act (democracy emergency)!

In other words, be careful what you wish for, Republicans.

There might just be a way out of this mess that would allow nobody to lose too much face, though. We admit we hadn't considered this scheme until it was recently pointed out in the Washington Post, but there's actually a provision of the Constitution that allows a bill to become law without the president's signature and without Congress having to overturn his veto. If Congress passes a bill and puts it on the president's desk, the president has the option to just ignore it for ten days. He doesn't sign it into law and he doesn't veto it -- he just does nothing. Then, if Congress has not adjourned in the meantime, at the end of that period the bill becomes law (if Congress does adjourn, then a "pocket veto" happens). Here is the relevant text, from Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution:

If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

So if the president sits on a bill for ten days (excluding Sundays) and Congress doesn't adjourn, it becomes law without his signature and without a veto-proof majority vote.

This could be the perfect answer to this mess, since Trump wouldn't be required to act and yet the government could be reopened. Trump could claim he hadn't budged, and he could probably get Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh to believe him, but the paychecks would start up again. At this point, it seems like the only offramp left other than Trump declaring a bogus national emergency, so hopefully we weren't the only ones who read this article.

Let's see, what else is happening in the political world? President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have not been coordinating, it seems, on the situation in Syria. Pompeo has been trying to assure all our allies that we're not pulling our soldiers out of Syria hastily, while Trump is insisting that everyone's coming home soon. The first such withdrawal is reportedly already happening, which leaves everyone in the Middle East to wonder just what the heck is going on. For Trump, this is about par for the course. This entire fiasco is what caused General Mattis to resign, of course, but Pompeo seems to be hanging in there for now.

Representative Steve King is in some hot water after musing why white supremacy gets such a bad rap. No, really -- you can't make this stuff up. Here's his quote, speaking about European (white) history to the New York Times: "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?" Got that? How did white supremacy become an offensive concept?!? Hoo boy.

In the past, the entire Republican Party has been content to simply look the other way and ignore King's racism. This time, though, after King only narrowly won re-election, he's seen as more vulnerable and his leadership may be bailing on him. The top three House Republicans all went on the record denouncing King's remarks:

"Steve's language is reckless, wrong and has no place in our society," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said. "Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation."

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said it was "offensive to try to legitimize those terms." He credited King for issuing a statement after the story published that said, "I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define."

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who just became No. 3 in GOP leadership by winning the race for conference chair, tweeted: "These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse."

The only black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott, wrote a lengthy article explaining to his fellow Republicans that this is why their entire party gets painted as racist, as well.

While it's nice that top Republicans have finally woken up to King's bigotry and racism, the fact remains that he's been saying stuff like this for years while the GOP remained silent.

What else? Ex-presidential "fixer" Michael Cohen has agreed to testify before a House committee next month, so that'll be some must-see television, that's for sure. He's got a whole lot of beans to spill, and this will be the first time he'll be doing so in public.

Over 400 people have already filed paperwork to run for president in 2020, although you've never heard of almost all of them. From the story:

But here’s a little quirk. The title of most declared candidates per Zip code belongs not to some county in Texas or some neighborhood in Brooklyn. Instead, it belongs to one house in Black Hawk, S.D. There are four 2020 candidates living there (or who at least filed from there), which must make dinners awfully contentious.

To say the least!

There was some good news from Florida, as 1.4 million felons had their right to vote restored this week.

And finally, to be filed under "only in the Trump era would this be possible," porn star Stormy Daniels offered up a choice for Americans who didn't want to sit through President Trump's primetime Oval Office speech -- instead, they could tune in to Stormy folding her laundry in her underwear. No word yet on how many Americans took her up on the offer.

Before we get to the main award, we have to hand out a lifetime achievement Honorable Mention to Jerry Brown, who just stepped down as California's governor for the last time. He handed over the reins to fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom, because Brown was precluded from running again by California's term limits law.

Jerry Brown will likely go down in history as the only "F.D.R. governor" California will ever have (unless the term limits law is changed in the future). Brown just ended his fourth term in office, a record that beats that of his own father and every other governor in the state's history. He served two terms in the 1970s and then ran again eight years ago. The law limits governors to two terms, but it had a grandfather clause built in -- the clock started ticking on the two terms limit when the law was passed, meaning any previous history didn't count. So Brown was able to win two more terms, and he presided over bringing California's budget back from the brink of the 2008 financial meltdown to where it is today (with tens of billions in an emergency fund, in preparation for the next recession).

Brown wasn't perfect, not by a long shot. He started his second period in office in dire economic circumstances. He had to make some very tough choices, ones that not everybody (even within his own party) agreed with. But he got the state through the tough times and he will be remembered for this success more than anything else, quite likely.

Unless another living ex-two-term-governor decides to run again and wins two terms (a possibility, but a very remote one), Brown will have set the record for longevity in the governor's office in California -- one that will never be broken. For doing so, he deserves a Lifetime Honorable Mention award at the very least.

But when it comes to the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week the choice is pretty obvious. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are on the front lines of the shutdown battle, and so far they've been doing an exemplary job of holding firm.

Two weeks ago, President Trump sat down with the two Democratic congressional leaders, but nothing much came of it. This week, Trump announced he was giving his first Oval Office primetime address, and the television networks decided to run Trump's speech live but also to allow Pelosi and Schumer to respond, immediately afterwards. This is fairly unprecedented for a presidential Oval Office address, but it was made necessary by the fact that everyone fully expected Trump to just flat-out lie during his speech -- and the television networks were leery of being used as propaganda tools in such a fashion.

Trump's speech was underwhelming, to put it mildly. It convinced no one. Pelosi and Schumer looked like serious adults, in comparison. Trump then went down to the border for a photo op, and returned to Washington to hold another meeting with Pelosi and Schumer. It didn't go well. Trump asked if he was ever going to get Pelosi to agree to wall money, she said no, so Trump stormed out and the meeting was over.

Meanwhile, the media has been flooding the airwaves with stories of the hardships the shutdown is causing -- not just for government workers who aren't getting paid, but from all the other people directly affected by the shutdown because government services have ground to a halt. In the midst of this, Trump decided that he hadn't spread the pain around enough, and threatened to withhold FEMA money earmarked for California after the devastating fires there, and openly speculated about raiding some emergency response money that was set to go to Texas and Puerto Rico to help with the hurricane damage.

The more Trump does things like this, of course, the more reasonable Chuck Schumer sounds when he accuses the president of having a "temper tantrum." Throughout it all, both Schumer and Pelosi have held firm and not given an inch -- which is precisely what they should be doing. Republicans made the entire 2018 midterm about fearing immigrants, and it didn't work. It's a losing argument, plain and simple. So why should Democrats give in on it? For two years, Pelosi and Schumer have successfully blocked all money for Trump's wall, so why should they reconsider this now?

For holding the line and not giving in to the false equivalency some in the media are pushing ("Why can't Democrats just give Trump a little money for his wall?" ), both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are to be commended. This is what politicians with a backbone look like, folks. Which is why it was an easy choice to give Pelosi and Schumer the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week.

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

Both of these involve things that happened long ago, but both came to light this week, so these awards are somewhat retroactive, we should mention.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination race often bristled at being labelled a "Bernie bro" who was misogynistic and just didn't want to see a women elected president. Many resented this accusation, but this week it was revealed that there was more than a little truth to the rumors that the Sanders campaign was pretty hostile towards the women who worked on it.

Sanders, to his credit, held a meeting with women who felt they'd be wronged, and denounced his former Iowa campaign manager for having to pay out a $30,000 discrimination settlement to two women. Sanders then sincerely apologized for his campaign's problems.

Another article, however, revealed further details:

At a Philadelphia restaurant where campaign staffers had gathered to mark the end of Sanders' bid for the presidency, the 50-year-old {Robert} Becker allegedly grabbed a woman in her 20s by her wrists. He then forcibly kissed her while physically holding her in place, the outlet reported citing the unnamed woman and people who were there at the time. The adviser had previously told the young woman in front of other people that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a crude comment, according to Politico.

So while credit has to be given Bernie for his belated reaction, what is not to his credit is the fact that these problems happened in the first place, and that it has taken him over two years to realize the problems did exist, so we have to give Bernie at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.

But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to Democratic operatives who ran "Project Birmingham" during last year's Alabama Senate race, which strove to copy Russian tactics in influencing elections. Here's the whole sordid story:

Recent revelations about Project Birmingham... have shocked Democrats in Alabama and Washington. And news of the effort has underscored the warnings of disinformation experts who long have said that threats to honest, transparent political discourse in the age of social media are as likely to be domestic as foreign.... But all those who have acknowledged playing a role in Project Birmingham have denied knowing the full extent of the activities described in {a document on the operation}. Project Birmingham got its funding from Internet billionaire Reid Hoffman, who emerged as a leading underwriter of Democratic causes after the 2016 election. While acknowledging his money ended up paying for Project Birmingham, Hoffman said he did not know how his funds were used until details began to emerge in the New York Times and The {Washington} Post.

The New York Times had even more details to report:

The "Dry Alabama" Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil's work, and the state should ban it entirely. Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported {Roy Moore}. "Pray for Roy Moore," one tweet exhorted. In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore -- the second such secret effort to be unmasked.

It should go without saying that Russian-style dirty tricks are not what Democrats should be emulating and copying in their efforts to get elected. So everyone involved in these efforts will share in this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

{Project Birmingham no longer exists, so there is no contact information we can give, sorry.}

Volume 513 (1/12/19)

We've been on a three-week hiatus here, as the final two Fridays of 2018 were devoted to our year-end awards and last week we had massive technical problems which prevented us from writing a Friday Talking Points column. So we've got a lot of catching up to do.

This week, however, we felt the need to just go off on an extended rant on both the shutdown and on what House Democrats have been doing since Nancy Pelosi picked up the speaker's gavel once again. Because while all the media oxygen has been sucked up into the shutdown drama, Democrats have already come out swinging for the fences. Sooner or later the shutdown will end, and when it does perhaps the spotlight will land on these Democratic efforts. One would like to think so, at any rate. So here's our first talking point rant of 2019 -- sit back, and enjoy.

Donny Little Hands throws a tantrum

You know why I think Donald Trump is throwing a hissy fit over his wall money right now? To distract everyone from the Democratic agenda that has started making its way through the House of Representatives. He's miffed that Democrats have solid ideas for making life easier for people, when Republicans have nothing to offer but fear itself.

Think about it -- Trump had two years to convince America and Congress to give him money to build his wall. Throughout all that time, no money was appropriated. Budget bills were passed, but the Republicans couldn't get enough votes for the wall money even though they controlled both chambers of Congress. The idea wasn't even popular enough with Republicans in Congress, so why does Trump think it'll go over any better with Democrats in control of the House? Time after time, Trump pushed for his wall money but couldn't get the votes -- and he wound up signing the budget bills anyway. In all that time, there was no "crisis" and there was no "national emergency." Now that Democrats have even more control over the purse strings, Trump has decided it's an emergency.

The definition of an emergency is something that requires fast action. Trump will not be able to act fast even if he does proclaim a national emergency, though. His action will be challenged in court, and who knows how long that will take? He will also need to fight eminent domain battles with landowners on the border, and that will take even longer for the courts to address. The 2020 election might well be over before any of these are sorted out enough for construction to even begin on Trump's wall, which does not fit my definition of emergency at all.

Trump ran his 2016 campaign promising that Mexico was going to pay to build the wall. Three million more people voted for his opponent than him. He turned the entire midterm election into a referendum on immigration and his wall, and he lost 40 seats in the House -- the biggest GOP midterm loss since Watergate. Public support for his wall is low -- more people don't want to see it built than do -- and it gets even lower when pollsters ask whether it is worth shutting the government down over. Trump's own approval rating -- which has never topped 45 percent -- is heading down as the shutdown drags on. The people are pretty obviously not behind Trump.

Trump has tried selling his wall with lies. After his falsehood-filled fearmongering speech from the Oval Office this week, Nancy Pelosi began her rebuttal with: "Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice. The President has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts." Amusingly, her speech was written before Pelosi heard what Trump had to say -- meaning she made a bet that Trump was going to viciously lie, and she turned out to be right. This was somewhat of a no-brainer, after Trump officials had been making claims that 4,000 suspected terrorists were apprehended at the southern border. The actual number was revealed as only six. That's a pretty big whopper, you've got to admit. The State Department last September issued a report which found "no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States." But Trump doesn't let such facts get in the way of his demagoguery. Trump even lied that some former presidents had told him they support his wall, after which each and every ex-president issued statements saying they had never even talked to Trump about the wall. As of last count, Donald Trump had lied over 7,600 times since taking office, so I suppose it's no surprise that he would continue to do so now.

If anything, Trump's shutdown has shown many Americans all the good things government actually does. As Joni Mitchell famously sang: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." The shutdown is already hurting more than just the federal workers who protect Americans in the air, on the border, and even protect the president himself -- all of whom are not getting paid for doing so. The shutdown means that farmers -- a big Trump constituency -- are not getting their crop payments that were necessitated by Trump's trade war against China, they cannot get federally-backed loans to buy seed for spring planting or feed for their livestock. And they're not the only ones affected, as the shutdown's ripple effects grow wider by the day. Next week, brave members of the Coast Guard will not get paid, and funding for the federal courts runs out. Next month is the start of tax season, but the I.R.S. is part of the shutdown.

Since the president sees fit to call Speaker of the House Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer by their first names, maybe we should start calling him "Donny Little Hands" or something. Maybe that would get his attention, since obviously the pain he's causing millions of Americans hasn't had much of an impact. Lil' Donny was "proud" to own the shutdown last month, and promised he'd take all the blame for it. Now, though, Lil' Donny is trying to point the finger anywhere else he can. When asked about a famous presidential slogan (whether the "buck stops with him" on ending the showdown), Trump summed up his entire governing style with: "The buck stops with everybody." It would have been even more honest if he had added "...everybody else but me," since that's obviously the way his mind works.

We're all stuck in Trump's titanic temper tantrum now. Lil' Donny is holding his breath until he turns blue, and we're supposed to reward this behavior by giving him $5.7 billion to play with. All while 800,000 federal workers aren't being paid. Maybe, as Nancy Pelosi put it, "he thinks... they could just ask their father for more money. But they can't."

The Senate passed a budget bill that would have avoided this entire disaster, right before the end of the year. It was so non-controversial that they held a voice vote, which was unanimous. Not one single GOP senator objected to the bill. Now, the House is passing exactly the same language in bills to reopen the government, and Republicans are rushing to vote against it. Go figure -- these bills were written by Republicans but now they won't vote for them. But already some cracks are showing in the GOP's resolve. At least four Republican senators have now called on Trump to end the shutdown, and more and more House Republicans are already voting with the Democrats to do so. The first bill that came up for a vote only got a handful of GOP votes in the House, but the last one that passed did so with 10 Republican votes. This trend is likely to continue, as more and more GOP congressmen hear an earful from their constituents who either aren't being paid or are otherwise hurting from the shutdown idiocy. There's been movement in only one direction -- towards ending the shutdown. No movement has happened in the opposite direction. You can see which side is getting weaker as time goes on, in other words.

But back to my initial point -- this is nothing short of a gigantic distraction intended to do nothing more than keep Donald Trump's face on television as much as possible. Trump knows this could be his last chance at driving the political agenda in Washington, plain and simple. From now on, the Trump administration is going to be investigated quite publicly in House hearings on all sorts of nefarious subjects. Robert Mueller's investigation just keeps getting worse for Trump as well. The White House is going to spend the next few months battling subpoenas, which will be flooding in very soon now.

Republicans have little or nothing to offer the American public other than fearmongering over immigration -- that much was obvious from their midterm election strategy. Democrats, on the other hand, have all sorts of good ideas. Nancy Pelosi's House is about to move these ideas into the center of the American political dialogue, and Trump can't stand it since he and the GOP have nothing to offer in response.

While the shutdown drama has consumed the political news, in the past week alone Democrats have introduced a bill to mandate universal background checks on all gun sales. This is a commonsense gun safety reform that is long overdue, and is even supported by many Republicans and law-abiding gun owners.

Democrats have also filed legislation to directly take on the greed of the drug companies, by allowing the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for people on Medicare. Two other bills would force the drug companies to charge Americans similar prices to what they charge people in the rest of the world, and if that doesn't work then the second bill would allow the importation of drugs from places like Canada, where they are much cheaper. Trump used to be for this idea, so we'll see how he reacts now that Democrats have proposed these concrete solutions.

Democrats are also showing what hypocrites many Republicans are, by forcing a vote in the House on fighting for Obamacare's protections for pre-existing conditions in court. Plenty of GOP politicians ran dishonest midterm campaigns on how they'd fight to protect such people, but by their vote they are proving all of those campaign promises to have been nothing short of bald-faced lies.

So far these efforts haven't gotten the media attention they deserve, because of the all-consuming shutdown drama. But even that is not going to stop Democrats from moving forward. The very first bill filed in the House would usher in sweeping changes to government ethics rules -- like mandating that presidential candidates release 10 years of tax returns -- and would also protect the voting rights of millions and end gerrymandering forever. All good ideas, and all ideas that the public strongly supports. All of these bills will be working their way through the committee process over the next few months, so hopefully when the shutdown ends the news media will notice them.

The message is a simple one: Democrats will keep working to make life better for all Americans even while Trump is throwing his tantrum. Trump can get his face all over television by creating a crisis (where none previously existed), but his act is already wearing a bit thin, even for his fellow Republicans.

The real reason Trump is acting out in such an infantile way right now is that this is truly his last gasp at driving the political agenda in Washington. From this point onwards there will be investigations into the Trump administration coupled with Democratic legislation that the public overwhelmingly approves of. Trump and the Republicans can choose to obstruct these good ideas, but they will do so at their peril. Republicans obviously have nothing to offer on any of these issues, because if they did they would have done something about them during their past two years of complete control of Congress. They didn't. So now it is the Democrats' turn to set the agenda. Once the tantrum is over -- however it ends -- the public will be able to clearly see this, as the Democratic agenda advances forward. And this is going to happen whether Donny Little Hands likes it or not.

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