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Fri Jan 25, 2019, 08:56 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Trump Caves!

President Donald Trump's government shutdown became only the second-biggest media story this morning, after the news broke of an early-morning raid that wound up with the arrest of Roger Stone on charges of obstruction and witness-tampering. Bob Mueller's investigation just caught another witch, in other words. Trump, of course, can't stand to see (1) news about Mueller, and (2) any television news story that isn't all about him, so he immediately decided to make even bigger news, by caving completely on the shutdown and handing Nancy Pelosi exactly what she's been demanding all along.

You have to hand it to him, because Trump's ploy worked. It guaranteed that the number one news story today was not about Mueller, but rather about Trump's abject failure to get anything at all from his 35-day government-shutdown temper tantrum. Pelosi won. Trump lost. It's impossible to spin it any other way. We have not yet heard the reaction from the right-wing news media (Ann Coulter, we're looking in your direction...), but it is sure to be entertaining.

Interestingly enough, one man actually predicted today's outcome with stunning accuracy. Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter who penned The Art Of The Deal for Trump, tweeted earlier this week during the standoff over the State Of The Union speech:

There is one reason I can imagine Trump finding a way to open the government by January 29. He desperately wants to give the State of the Union to Congress. It's always, always about his vanity.

Schwartz nailed it. No word yet on whether the SOTU is back on or not, but now that the government is reopening Pelosi might just allow Trump to give his big speech on schedule. Look for his speech to be heavy on the scorn for Democrats, or (as it should properly be called) nothing more than a big bunch of sour grapes.

Trump, throughout the entire shutdown, plainly showed he had no sympathy or empathy for the millions of Americans affected by the shutdown. The 800,000 government workers who weren't being paid were, according to Trump, all on his side. But Trump was apparently surrounded by others who were even more out of touch than he was when it comes to understanding what missing a month's pay actually means in the real world. First to chime in was Marie Antoinette (checks notes... oh, wait, that's wrong... it was actually presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump... sorry) who showed her true colors when asked what she had to say to all the unpaid workers:

It's not fair to you, and we all get that, but this is so much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain, but it's going to be for the future of our country, and their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now. I know it's hard. I know people have families, they have bills to pay, they have mortgages, they have rents that are due. But the president is trying every single day to come up with a good solution here and, the reality is, it's been something that's gone on for too long and been unaddressed -- our immigration problem. If we do nothing right now, it's never going to get fixed. This is our one opportunity.

Next to weigh in was billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who was mystified at all the concern for the unpaid workers. When it was pointed out that "some federal workers are going to homeless shelters to get food," Ross responded:

Well, I know they are, but I don't really quite understand why. Because, as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say borrowing from the bank or credit union, are in effect federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay, which some people will be out -- there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it.

Top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow then offered his take, after calling the shutdown "just a glitch":

Am I out of touch? I don't think I'm out of touch. I'm addressing the problem. I've met with my individual staff members and God bless them. They're working for free. They're volunteering. But they do it because they believe government service is honorable and they believe in President Trump.

Finally, Trump himself was asked about all these warm feelings of concern for the unpaid workers coming from his aides. Trump, once again, proved that he has never been in a grocery store in his entire life:

Trump said he hadn't heard Ross's statement but acknowledged that "perhaps he should have said it differently."

He claimed that grocery stores would "work along" with furloughed employees because "they know the people" and have been "dealing with them for years."

"Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else," Trump said of furloughed workers. "And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along."

Trump added that banks, too, are "working along" with furloughed federal employees.

"If you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. And that's what happens in a time like this," he said.

Nancy Pelosi, when asked to comment, summed things up pretty nicely:

Is this the "Let them eat cake" kind of attitude? Or, "Call your father for money"? Or, "This is character-building for you. It's all going to end up very well just so long as you don't get your paychecks"?

As of now, Team Trump is not eating any cake at all, because the only thing being served up at the White House is crow.

Seriously, though, the shutdown was becoming more dire by the day, as the Washington Post reported:

That included reports Friday of significant delays at key airports in the northeast because of absences of unpaid air traffic controllers that could multiply across the country at other airports. Federal officials temporarily restricted flights into and out of New York's LaGuardia Airport, while travelers were grounded for extended periods in other cities, including Newark and Philadelphia.

The shutdown was also creating a strain on the Internal Revenue Service. At least 14,000 unpaid workers in the IRS division that includes tax processing and call centers did not show up for work this week despite orders to do so, according to two House aides.

The strain amongst Republicans was increasing as well, and tempers were beginning to flare:

Republican senators clashed with one another and confronted Vice President Pence inside a private luncheon on Thursday, as anger hit a boiling point over the longest government shutdown in history.

"This is your fault," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at one point, according to two Republicans who attended the lunch and witnessed the exchange.

"Are you suggesting I'm enjoying this?" McConnell snapped back, according to the people who attended the lunch.

Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel confirmed the confrontation. He said Johnson was expressing frustration with the day's proceedings -- votes on dueling plans to reopen the government, both of which failed to advance.

The people who attended the lunch spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a closed-door session. Aides to McConnell, citing regular policy on GOP lunches, declined to comment on the gathering.

The argument was one of several heated moments in a lunch that came just before the Senate voted on the opposing plans to end the shutdown offered by President Trump and Democrats.

Even Trump's own voters were beginning to turn on him, too:

Erica McQueen, a 38-year-old from St. Clair Shores, voted for Trump and also has liked a lot of what he's done. "But it gets overshadowed by the stunts he pulls," she said.... "The wall is getting out of hand," she said. "It's too much. It's ridiculous. I'm sick of seeing it, I'm sick of hearing about it." Like other onetime Trump supporters, she's now openly wondering if she can back him again. "Something miraculous has to happen," she said, "for me to vote for him again."

Throughout it all, Trump was absolutely convinced that eventually the Democratic Party would break ranks and come flocking to support his wall. He was wrong, of course. Mitch McConnell finally emerged from his shell and held two votes on ending the shutdown. The first was Trump's plan, which was filled with poison pills on immigration that Democrats could not support, and (of course) had the full $5.7 billion for his wall. This bill failed on a vote of 50-47. One Democrat crossed the aisle to vote for it (Joe Manchin), but two Republicans (Mike Lee, Tom Cotton) voted against it.

Then the Senate voted on a Democratic bill which would have opened the government for two weeks, and it got more votes (52-44) than Trump's plan. All Democrats voted for it, as well as six Republicans (Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Johnny Isakson, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney). There was indeed movement, in other words, but it was away from Trump's position, not towards it, and the Republicans were the ones who were moving, not the Democrats.

This crushing blow came right after Trump had finally thrown in the towel on the State Of The Union speech. This fight-within-a-fight happened over the course of the week, as Trump thought he could just bluff his way into the House chamber next Tuesday night, and Nancy Pelosi called his bluff. Trump then folded like a cheap suit.

So, to sum up, Trump held 800,000-plus workers' paychecks hostage for an entire month, and at the end of it had nothing at all to show for his extended tantrum. Nancy Pelosi held firm, kept telling him "No," in no uncertain terms, and forced Trump to back down in the end. All in all, this bodes well for Pelosi and the House Democrats over the next two years. If Pelosi had been the one to cave, the House would have lost an enormous amount of bargaining power, but as things stand they are now the ones setting the agenda in Washington. It's hard to even imagine a better outcome for Democrats in general.

Today's news did overshadow everything else that took place this week, so let's just whip through them in quick order.

In addition to Roger Stone being arrested, Michael Cohen this week accused Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani of threatening him. Such witness-tampering usually happens when mobsters are accused of crimes, it's worth pointing out, not the president of the United States.

There was lots of news from the 2020 presidential race, on the Democratic side. Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg (who?) all threw their hats into the ring. Sherrod Brown is still being coy, but he did appear on Seth Meyer's late-night show last night, so make of that what you will. Bernie Sanders, speaking to an audience on Martin Luther King Junior Day, straight-up called President Trump a racist: "Today we talk about justice and today we talk about racism. And I must tell you, it gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist." The audience cheered. And Elizabeth Warren unveiled a proposal to tax not just income but wealth for those who are worth more than $50 million. This will up the stakes for all the other Democratic candidates, obviously, on the inequality issue.

Another Trump administration tell-all book was released (Team Of Vipers), which painted exactly the same picture of Trump and those around him as all the other tell-all books have: Trump refuses to learn about anything, refuses to listen to briefings, and in general does not know what he is doing at all. In other words, what everyone else has said about him was confirmed, once again.

The champion Golden State Warriors were in Washington, but they didn't get invited to the White House. Instead, they dropped in on Barack Obama for some selfies.

What else? The teachers' Union in Los Angeles were successful in their strike, and are now headed back to work. Airline workers' Unions warned that the shutdown was making things unsafe for the flying public, which certainly upped the pressure on Trump to cave. So all around, Unions had a pretty good week.

The Democrats in the House are already uncovering Trump scandals, such as how lackadaisical the Trump White House was about handing out security clearances like candy. The man responsible for such decisions overruled two White House security officials when they complained about Jared Kushner getting a top-secret clearance when he hadn't actually been cleared. From the story, an astonishing revelation:

The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. {Jared} Kushner's was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, {two sources familiar with the matter} said. They said the number of rejections that were overruled was unprecedented -- it had happened only once in the three years preceding Kline's arrival.

So there are 30 people in the White House that are security risks who hold top-secret clearances. That's comforting to know. Because Trump promised he'd get "only the best people" to work for him, or something.

Meanwhile, the newly appointed secretary of state of Florida had to abruptly resign, after photos of him in blackface were revealed: "The photos... show Michael Ertel wearing blackface with red lipstick and a New Orleans Saints bandanna. He also donned a shirt that read 'Katrina Victim,' the Tallahassee Democrat reported."

And finally, the Anti-Defamation League released a report with a rather stunning conclusion:

2018 was a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders: Every single extremist killing -- from Pittsburgh to Parkland -- had a link to right-wing extremism....

In 2018, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017, though still lower than the totals for 2015 (70) and 2016 (72). The 50 deaths make 2018 the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970....

The extremist-related murders in 2018 were overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists. Every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement, although one had recently switched to supporting Islamist extremism. White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.

The deafening silence from the F.B.I. and the entire Justice Department on this shameful fact should be a lot more noticeable, one would think.

For the third week in a row (which we don't believe has ever happened before in the history of the MIDOTW award), there simply is no other choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi went toe-to-toe with Trump, and Trump blinked. Pelosi held firm, and Trump caved. Nancy told Donny he couldn't have his big speech if the government was shut down, and he folded like a cheap suit. Pelosi beat Trump like a drum. Pick your metaphor, folks, but no matter how you choose to put it, Pelosi emerged stronger from this battle of wills, and Trump emerged much weaker.

Pelosi won the narrative, as evidenced by all those polls showing that the public blamed Trump and not the Democrats for the shutdown. Trump's job approval rating took a big hit, while Pelosi's improved. Pelosi showed the only way to deal with bullies is to not give them an inch. In the end, Trump was forced to give Pelosi exactly what she had been asking for all along, and Trump didn't get one thin dime for his border wall. She got under his skin in a way that, so far, nobody else in politics has managed to do. She so terrifies Trump -- who knows she's the one who will be deciding whether to impeach him or not -- that he didn't even call her any playground names during the whole standoff. That's downright extraordinary, for Trump.

This won't be the only faceoff Pelosi and Trump are going to have over the next two years. The next one will take place over the coming weeks, as the new deadline approaches. But if Trump follows through on his threat and shuts the government down again, his own Republicans will likely revolt. They don't want to go through all of this again, and they'll break ranks to (if necessary) override Trump's veto, next time around.

Pelosi's strength was notable not just for her own spinal fortitude, but also because she and Chuck Schumer largely held their entire caucus together. That may not seem extraordinary, but if you think back to the way Democrats operated over the past two or three decades, it truly is exceptional. Nobody's using the phrase "herding cats" about the Democrats any more, in other words.

For holding strong, for doing what was right, for bringing a majority of the public along with her, and for corralling her own caucus so effectively, we hereby award this week's "Golden Backbone" Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to Nancy Pelosi, for the third time in a row. Thank you, Madam Speaker, for beating Trump at his own game.

{Congratulate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

To begin with, we have a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, for Senator Mark Warner. You can file this one under "Be careful with that acronym!"

Warner just introduced a bill intended to solve the problem of government shutdowns altogether. It was (obviously) a stunt, as evidenced by his bill's "backronym" title: the "Stop STUPIDITY Act." Cute, right? Well, the bill's actual title was: "Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years Act," which actually works out to either the "Stop STUPAIDITCY Act," or perhaps the "Stop STUPIDITCY Act." We would advise Warner to (ahem) get his own act together, next time.

Less amusing was the news that Representative Shelia Jackson Lee was forced to step down from her committee chairmanship and a leadership position. She is denying the charges, so we're going to hold off on giving her an award, but here's the sordid story so far:

A senior Democratic congresswoman is stepping down as chair of a House subcommittee and the nonprofit arm of the Congressional Black Caucus amid claims that she fired an aide who planned to sue the nonprofit after she reported a sexual assault, lawmakers said Wednesday.

The move, by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), comes amid a growing backlash after an unnamed woman claimed in a lawsuit that she was sexually assaulted by an employee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and that Jackson Lee dismissed her when she said she planned to take legal action against the group. The 13-term congresswoman led the foundation at the time.

Jackson Lee has denied through her office that she retaliated against the woman, who was identified as "Jane Doe" in court papers.

If true, she would obviously deserve a MDDOTW award, but there will be time for that later, when more facts are revealed.

Instead, this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representative Collin C. Peterson, from Minnesota. Peterson, a "founding member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition," was the only Democrat to publicly break with Pelosi all week long. His advice? Give up, and just give Trump everything he's asking for:

Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) said Tuesday that Congress should agree to President Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall, in one of the first public statements by a Democrat calling for his party's leaders to throw in the towel as the partial government shutdown drags on.

"Give Trump the money," Peterson said in an interview with Fargo, N.D.-based radio station KFGO. "I'd give him the whole thing... and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We're going to build that wall anyway, at some time."

Good thing Pelosi ignored him, eh? For being the sole Democrat to advocate for complete surrender, Collin Peterson is the easy choice for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

{Contact Representative Collin C. Peterson on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}

Volume 515 (1/29/19)

This is nothing short of a victory lap for Democrats, because this week they earned one and they deserve one.

No cat-herding here

It's time to lay this one to rest.

"You might be surprised to hear me say this, but Donald Trump is truly a unifying force in American politics. Trump has managed to do what most people over the past 20 or 25 years said couldn't be done -- unify the Democratic Party. Rather than seeing defections across the aisle to the Republican side, this time it was Republicans who came over to our side. Democrats were almost completely unanimous in standing up to Trump, and as time went on Republicans could see that Trump was losing. Democrats held firm behind Nancy Pelosi. I can remember the days when Democratic leaders used to regularly bemoan the problem of 'herding cats' within their own party, but those days seem to be gone -- and good riddance!"

We could have done this a month ago

Point this one out as forcefully as possible.

"Congress just voted to reopen the government without any money for Trump's wall. This is exactly where we were a month ago before Trump had his tantrum. This entire shameful exercise could have been avoided altogether, in other words. Trump caused immense pain to 800,000 workers just because he couldn't get his own way, and he stubbornly continued to do so even when nothing changed. The bill that passed today is not materially different than the bill which the Senate passed unanimously at the end of last year. If Trump had allowed the House to approve it, we could have avoided this whole stupid fight altogether. And he got absolutely nothing for his intransigence, in the end."

Hostage-taking will not be rewarded

A crucial point to make, as well.

"Hopefully Donald Trump has learned a big lesson from this whole fiasco: hostage-taking is not acceptable. Hostage-taking will not be rewarded. Playing dangerous games with people's livelihoods is not the way forward, ever. Throughout it all, Trump didn't care a whit for how his tantrum was affecting hardworking American families, they were merely leverage for him to use in a petulant effort to get his own way. We refused to reward his hostage-taking this time, and we will refuse to do so if he ever does this sort of thing again. This is not a winning strategy for you, Mister President."

We were fighting for next time

Which brings up a talking point from the other side that needs rebuttal.

"I've heard some on the right accuse Democrats of being the ones who didn't care about the workers' paychecks, but this is completely wrong. Sure, if we had caved and given Trump what he wanted, it would have gotten people their paychecks faster. This time. But by doing so, by giving in to Trump so completely, it would have guaranteed that Trump would use this leverage again in the future, whenever he couldn't get his own way. We would have had shutdown after shutdown, because Trump would know that it worked for him. We could not do that because it would have threatened not only federal workers' pay right now, but it would have threatened their pay for the entire next two years, which is absolutely unacceptable. By forcing Trump to cave this time around, perhaps we have avoided the next time around."

Out of touch

Trump's been getting away with being a false "working class hero" for far too long.

"Nancy Pelosi was right to accuse the Trump administration of showing their true 'let them eat cake' colors during the shutdown. Nobody in the administration -- from Trump on down -- showed the slightest compassion or concern for the 800,000 workers affected. This is because they are all so radically out of touch with how most Americans live their lives and pay their bills. In Trump's primetime address on the shutdown, he didn't mention the affected workers once. Whenever a reporter would ask him about the unpaid workers, he would immediately pivot to another subject, because he plainly didn't want to talk about the pain he was personally causing so many hundreds of thousands of families. Trump and those around him have never missed a meal in their lives, so apparently it was impossible for them to imagine anyone else doing so either. And Trump even had the gall to say that these workers were fully behind him -- perhaps the most out-of-touch statement he made during the whole disgraceful shutdown period."

Has Trump ever been in a grocery store?

For most Americans, this would be a silly question. But not for Trump.

"A while back, Trump stated that you needed a photo ID to buy cereal in a grocery store. This week, he astoundingly claimed that all the federal workers could just go into grocery stores and carry out some free food, because the stores 'knew them' and would 'work along' with them, in some unspecified fashion. Where he got this idea from, nobody knows. He also stated that banks would be happy not to be paid for the workers' mortgages, and that landlords would be happy not to get their rent as well. I'm not sure what color the sky is in his fantastical universe, personally. In fact, I wonder if Trump has ever shopped in a grocery store in his entire life. After all, he's always had people to do that sort of thing for him. Federal workers, however, have to live in the real world, where food actually costs money."

What changed Trump's mind?

Some straight-up snark, just to end with.

"So what changed Trump's mind in the end? He started the week tweeting out: 'No Cave!' but by the end of the week went spelunking lower than Carlsbad Caverns. First he caved on the State Of The Union speech, then he completely caved on the whole shutdown. Was the speech the reason? Being denied his big television night was so humiliating that he decided to just throw in the towel? We all know how much he loves to see his face on TV, after all. Or maybe it was seeing his poll ratings take a deep dive, since he never convinced anyone outside of his base that shutting the government down for his precious wall was a good idea. I guess we won't know the answer until the next tell-all book about the Trump White House is released. But for whatever reason, I'm glad that Trump is at the bottom of a deep, dark cave right now while Nancy Pelosi basks in the sunshine above."

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