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Fri Mar 8, 2019, 10:23 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Trump Begins Building Stone Wall

President Donald Trump, as we all know, is a big fan of walls. Big, beautiful walls, according to him. But although he's never gotten Mexico to pony up a single peso for his border wall, and is still having trouble convincing Congress that it's the right thing to do, when future historians look back on this week, they might mark it as when Trump began constructing a metaphorical wall between his administration and Congress. Because the first big block of stone was just deposited on the White House lawn -- with 81 more big stone blocks waiting in the wings.

For those too young to understand the political use of the metaphor, the verb "to stonewall" reached its heyday in the administration of a former crooked president, Richard M. Nixon. Throughout the Watergate scandal, the Nixon White House took the position of answering no questions and revealing nothing about what had taken place behind the scenes. It wasn't until Congress, backed with a few court rulings, pried this information out of the White House that he was forced to resign in disgrace.

The stonewall tactic didn't work out so well for Nixon, in other words.

This week, the Trump administration refused a records request on the subject of their non-standard ways of granting security clearances -- most notably, to the presidential son-in-law, Jared Kushner. By doing so, Trump is daring the House Democrats who are demanding the documents to go ahead and subpoena them. But, as mentioned, this is just the first stone in the wall. Because later in the week, another House committee chairman sent out a whopping 81 letters demanding documents from pretty much everyone who might have knowledge of criminal behavior inside the White House and beyond. They've given the recipients two weeks to produce the documents, with the threat of subpoenas if they don't comply.

The Trump administration reaction has not taken place yet, but it's a pretty safe bet that they'll resist these demands as well. So that stone wall is going to grow a lot higher, very soon now.

In other separation-of-powers news, next week the Senate will vote on a resolution terminating Trump's "national emergency" at the southern border. This week, Senator Rand Paul became the fourth Republican to say he will vote for the resolution, meaning if Democrats stick together as expected, the measure will pass with at least 51 votes. It may pick up a handful more, as several other GOP senators have already expressed displeasure with Trump's so-called "emergency" power-grab. But then again, they could join the vast majority of Republicans who will be wallowing in their own hypocrisy by voting against the measure, even though they regularly bemoan executive overreach when a Democrat is in the White House.

Trump has said he'll veto it, and neither house is likely to overturn his veto, but it'll still be a stinging rebuke to the president, which wouldn't have been possible without bipartisan disapproval of his actions. So there's that to look forward to.

One of Trump's normal deflection techniques when things are going badly for him is to tout how well the economy is doing. Except he really can't, at the moment. The monthly jobs report was just released, showing a dismal 20,000 jobs had been created last month (the expectations were over 100,000, and even that was a pretty low number, comparatively). The yearly budget deficit is up a whopping 77 percent over this time last year, proving (once again) that the magic of "trickle-down" tax cuts never works as planned. For the year, the deficit is now in danger of topping $1 billion. And to top it off, the trade deficit just hit its highest number in all of U.S. history, after two years of "Trumponomics" that were supposed to make it disappear.

As for those tax cuts, a new governmental report shows that over 11 million taxpayers lost a total of $323 billion in tax deductions under the new system. But Wall Street is doing just fine under the new tax regime, so thanks for asking.

In Trump-minion incarceration news, Team Trump is celebrating the fact that Trump's former campaign manager will only have to serve four years in jail, instead of the 19-to-24 years the prosecutors wanted. This is what counts for a victory, these days, among Trump henchmen. But this news could get worse within a week, because Paul Manafort faces a second sentencing with a different federal judge, which could add another 10 years to his time behind bars. Oh, and Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, will be joining Manafort in the federal pokey within a few weeks. And even though Cohen was convicted in part for lying to Congress, a new poll shows that far more Americans believe him over what Trump says. Which is no real surprise, because Trump has now hit the dubious milestone of having lied over 9,000 times while in office.

There's no joy for Trump on the international stage, either. Mere days after Trump's failed attempt at reaching a summit agreement with Kim Jong Un, satellite photos showed the North Koreans have now rebuilt a missile testing and launching facility -- one they had promised to dismantle. This, even after Trump announced (with no quid pro quo at all) that the U.S. would permanently end its major military exercises with the South Koreans. So Trump gave Kim something Kim wanted, and Trump got slapped in the face in return.

So much winning. Are you all tired of all the winning yet? Maybe it's time for another "infrastructure week" or something....

Meanwhile, Democrats have already passed a gun safety bill in the House that is supported by roughly nine out of every ten Americans. Today, they also passed the most sweeping elections reform and governmental ethics reform bill since Watergate. This "drain the swamp" effort has been building for the past few years, and Democrats introduced it as their first bill after regaining control of the House. Since it has passed, we can now stop calling it "H. R. 1" and start referring to it by name: the "For The People Act."

That's if anyone's going to talk about it at all, in the media. We read a rather extraordinary article this week which fully admitted an open secret -- the political media is so enthralled with Trump's shiny, shiny tweetstorms that it is incapable of reporting on actual events taking place. Now, sometimes you see "navel-gazing" articles from the media where they examine their own shortcomings and flaws, and at times these can be insightful. At other times, they can miss the point entirely. But this article didn't even bother to glance downwards, and instead just went ahead and blamed Democrats for the media's shallow nature. "Stop us before we do it again," seemed to be the message. So we'll see how much coverage the most sweeping election reform bill since Watergate actually gets in the political media this weekend, but we have to admit, we're not very optimistic.

There was a lot of news from the Democratic presidential campaign trail this week, most of it surprisingly cautious. While one more Democrat jumped in the race (John Hickenlooper of Colorado), the bigger news was who had decided not to run. Hillary Clinton finally put all doubts to rest and definitively said she's not running. But she wasn't the only one to decide not to toss her hat in the ring this week. Michael Bloomberg, Sherrod Brown, and Eric Holder also all took a pass on a 2020 run. So maybe the final field will wind up being smaller than two dozen candidates, who knows?

Bernie Sanders held his first rally this week in New York City, and showed a new campaign strategy by leaning heavily on his own personal story. In his previous run, he avoided talking about his own history much, but it seems this time around he's decided to take a different tack. Bernie also signed a pledge to the Democratic Party to both run as a Democrat and to eventually support whomever becomes the Democratic Party nominee, which should put to rest all the complaints of "Bernie's not even a Democrat!," since he now officially is one.

The D.N.C. announced it was rejecting a bid by Fox News to hold a Democratic presidential debate, much to the delight of Democrats everywhere. The chairman had been under a lot of pressure from rank-and-file Democrats ever since he indicated that he was considering a Fox debate, but the recent story in the New Yorker exposing just how much Fox has become nothing short of a Trump propaganda channel gave him a dandy excuse for not allowing them to have one of the Democratic debates.

What else? Former Trump lawyer Ty Cobb was back in the news this week, with some unexpected praise for Bob Mueller. Here are the highlights:

"I think Bob Mueller's an American hero," Cobb said, referencing Mueller's service in Vietnam as a Marine. "I think Bob Mueller's a guy that, you know, even though he came from an arguably privileged background, you know, has a backbone of steel. He walked into a firefight in Vietnam to pull out one of his injured colleagues and was appropriately honored for that.... He is a very deliberate guy. And he -- but he's also a class act. And a very justice-oriented person."

In recent months, Trump has derided Mueller, a longtime Republican and former FBI director, accusing him of being ethically conflicted and leading a team of "angry Democrats" in an illegitimate investigation.

"You know, I don't feel the same way about Mueller," Cobb said on the ABC podcast. "I don't feel the investigation is a witch hunt."


In other amusing quotes, from the "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" department, we have the following exchange between House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, on the subject of the Trump policy of putting children in cages at the border:

"For the record, Madam Secretary, are we still using cages for children?" Thompson asked.

"Sir, we don't use cages for children," the DHS secretary said. "Yes. I'm being as clear as I can, sir. Respectfully, I'm trying to answer your question."

"Just yes or no. Are we still putting children in cages?" Thompson asked again.

"To my knowledge, {Customs and Border Patrol} never purposely put a child in a cage," Nielsen stated.

"Purposely or whatever. Are we putting children in cages? As of today?" Thompson wanted to know. "I've seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist."

"Sir, they're not cages," Nielsen remarked.

"We're not going to go through the semantics," Thompson quipped. "I saw the cyclone fences that were made as cages. And you did too. All you have to do is admit it. If it's a bad policy, then change it. But don't mislead the committee. Do not mislead the committee."


Why shouldn't she? After all, her boss has told 9,000 lies, so what's a few more?

And we have one amusing note to end on today, in an exchange reported via tweet by a Washington Post reporter: "@SpeakerPelosi to a male reporter chasing after her in the hall as she tries to quickly walk away: 'No fair! you don't have heels.'"

Speaker Pelosi -- not unlike the comparison originally made between Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire -- has proven that she can do everything Paul Ryan did, except backwards and in high heels. A fitting closing point indeed, this International Women's Day!





We have to say that we're more than a little impressed by the people who decided this week against making a run for the presidency. Maybe it's just early-onset candidate fatigue or something, but when even city mayors are making a run for it, it takes a lot of self control for a senator such as Sherrod Brown (or a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg, for that matter) to decide that the field is wide enough already.

Kidding aside, however, we have one Honorable Mention to hand out before we get to the main award. For a spectacular display of political theatrics this week, Representative Joe Cunningham of South Carolina more than deserves notice. He was in a hearing over the harm that "seismic air guns" will do to right whales when he made his point in a startling way.

Here's the whole story:

As committee members engaged in a predictable debate along typical party lines -- Republicans in support of testing and President Trump's energy agenda, Democrats against it -- {Representative Joe} Cunningham reached for the air horn, put his finger on the button and turned to {N.O.A.A. administrator Chris} Oliver.

"It's fair to say seismic air gun blasting is extremely loud and disruptive... is that correct?" the congressman asked.

"I don't know exactly how loud it is. I actually never experienced it myself," Oliver replied.

So Cunningham gave Oliver a taste of the 120-decibel horn. An earsplitting sound filled the small committee room. An audience of about 50 gasped and murmured.

"Was that disruptive?" Cunningham asked.

"It was irritating, but I didn't find it too disruptive," Oliver said.

It seemed disruptive to at least one person in the room. Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) broke into the debate to say an aide, who is pregnant, informed him that when the air horn sounded, her baby kicked.

Cunningham, who represents Charleston and other coastal cities, pressed on. What if it happened every 10 seconds for days, weeks and months, he said. He asked Oliver to guess how much louder commercial air guns are than his store-bought air horn. When Oliver didn't bite, he told him the sound from air guns is 16,000 times that of his air horn.


Seldom have we seen -- or heard, to be accurate -- a more effective use of political theater to make a honkin' loud point.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, for issuing 81 letters to Trump minions and henchmen this week, in an attempt to turn over every stone connected to Donald Trump, just to see what oozes or wriggles out.

The list is breathtaking in scope (the Washington Post has the full list of names, and HuffPost breaks it down further by what information has been requested of each of them). It includes all of Trump's business ties as well as everyone close to him (with the exception, so far, of Melania and Ivanka). Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Jared Kushner were all on the list. Subjects to be investigated include the president's business dealings with Russia, the firing of James Comey, and all those hush payments to porn stars.

Nadler released a statement which said, in part:

We will act quickly to gather this information, assess the evidence, and follow the facts where they lead with full transparency with the American people. This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts. That is exactly what we intend to do.


The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and the uncovering of a thousand crimes begins with one investigation. Nadler's committee is taking the lead, but it certainly won't be the only one to make such document demands of the White House and everyone else in Trump's orbit. So far, subpoenas haven't been issued yet, but that will likely change within the next few weeks.

In other words, buckle up, folks, we're in for a rough ride.

For taking this first monumental step (or, perhaps, the "first 81 steps" ) down the road to transparency, we think Jerry Nadler has more than earned this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Democrats were put in power in the House in order to provide some necessary oversight of the president, and if this week was any indication, they're going to keep that promise to the American people.

{Congratulate House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}





While we're normally pretty appreciative of the hard work California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been doing -- especially when it comes to challenging Donald Trump in the courts -- this week he has more than earned a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

Here's the whole sad story:

Two California journalists requested and were given data on police officers' arrests and convictions over the past 10 years. What they found was surprising: domestic abuse, child molestation -- even murder. They were given these documents through a public records request, something journalists exercise frequently.

But California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says it was a mistake, and they never should have received it in the first place. Becerra -- whose office was responsible for maintaining the information -- said the center that distributed it was not authorized to do so. He wants the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California at Berkeley, and its two journalists, to destroy the files and refrain from publishing them. Not doing so, Becerra claimed, would be against the law.

But the Berkeley journalists say they're on solid legal footing and are standing their ground.


The journalists filed a public records request with the Commission on Peace Office Standards and Training, which determines qualifications for people to serve as cops. To do so, it tracks crimes committed by current police officers and those applying for the job. The journalists asked for a list of officers who had been convicted of a crime. After a few emails saying their request was being processed, they received a spreadsheet containing 12,000 names. The list included current cops, former cops, and people applying to be cops who got rejected. The journalists tried several times to reach the attorney general's office with questions, but heard nothing from them in response. Weeks later, they got a message which stated that they were breaking the law by possessing this list. They were asked to destroy it, and threatened with legal action if they didn't.

Now, the Pentagon Papers case seems to have set the precedent here -- journalists cannot be threatened with legal action for government papers they have obtained, if the documents are in the public's interest to know. Especially when they hadn't been leaked or stolen -- they had merely been officially requested and officially delivered.

Becerra is on shaky legal ground, in other words, but he shows no signs of backing down. How he can claim that the public does not have a right to know which cops are guilty of serious crimes is a mystery, in fact, but that's the position he's taken.

So while we do applaud his other legal efforts (to hold Trump accountable in federal court), we cannot condone the use of legal threats against journalists, especially when they did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed procedure, they obtained information, and they are now free to publish that information under First Amendment guarantees. Xavier Becerra is wrong to fight so hard against this flow of information, and for his misguided legal stance we have to award him this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

{Contact California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}




Volume 521 (3/8/19)

We've gone rather anti-Trump for this week's talking points, because there's never any shortage of hypocrisy or outrage on that front. We did throw one ringer in there -- some sage advice for House Democrats who appear on committees that are about to conduct further hearings into Trump's misdeeds, but then we ended with a talking point that should have everyone reaching (or clicking) for a dictionary, just for fun. We have to admit, we personally learned the root word from The Big Bang Theory ourselves, but this certainly isn't what the title of Sheldon's video series meant -- of that we're pretty certain.



Promises not kept

We strongly recommend reading the whole article we took the lead-in line from, because it is an excellent roundup of Trump's broken promises.

"As Eugene Robinson just wrote in the Washington Post, he's got the perfect slogan for Trump's re-election campaign: 'Promises Made, Promises Unkept, But I'm Betting My Voters Are Too Stupid To Notice.' On issue after issue, Trump is either coming up short or just ignoring the promises he previously made to get elected. Remember when Mexico was going to pay for the wall? Haven't heard that one in a while, have you? Now he's saying the wall's already being built, when he has built exactly zero miles of new wall. Trump was going to singlehandedly fix the trade deficit by striking lots of great deals with other countries, but for the second year in a row our trade deficit grew enormously -- to the highest point it has ever been in American history. Remember when he was going to wipe out the deficit? The deficit is running 77 percent higher than last year, and is approaching $1 billion a year once again. Trump was going to personally charm Kim Jong Un out of his nukes, but after his disastrous summit failure North Korea looks like it's getting ready to launch another I.C.B.M. test. Obamacare was supposed to be repealed and replaced with a plan that would be far better, but that obviously never happened and never will. Trump was also going to drain the swamp, but I've personally lost count of how many of his underlings have already gone to federal prison for all the swampy things they've done for Trump. Of course, Robinson may be right -- Trump's voters may just be too stupid to realize how badly they've been conned, and they may buy his snake oil all over again next time."



Speaking of broken promises...

Trickle-down is bound to work sooner or later, right?

"When faced with the news that the deficit was skyrocketing rather than coming down -- as he had wrongly predicted -- Donald Trump's economic advisor Larry Kudlow advised everyone to dig a deep hole, insert head, and then pull down all the sand over it. After saying that the national debt has 'inched up' rather than come down, Kudlow pulled on a pair of rosy glasses and predicted yet again: 'We are making an investment in America's future... and if that means we incur some additional debt in the short run, so be it. Growth solves the problem.... That will solve all of these problems and people will be very prosperous.' What was it Einstein said about doing the same thing and expecting a different result? This has to now be classified as nothing short of 'faith-based economics,' since they've got no reality to point to in order to justify their rosy picture of the future... that never actually arrives."



Only the best people!

It's not so much a presidential administration as a White House temp agency.

"Donald Trump has, to date, now had six communications directors, five deputy national security advisors, four national security advisors and four H.H.S. secretaries, three attorneys general and chiefs of staff, and two secretaries of state, defense secretaries, and press secretaries. And that's not even a full list. Trump has had a turnover rate in senior jobs of 65 percent, with 29 percent of the positions turning over multiple times. Six former Trump advisors are serving time, have been convicted, or have been indicted. If you enter the White House these days, you've got to be very careful in doing so or else you'll get slammed by the rapidly-whirling revolving door. Nothing but the best people, as Trump promised!"



How about white-collar mandatory minimums?

Now there's an idea whose time may have come!

"Lawyers and prosecutors across the land are incredulous at the extremely lenient sentence just handed down for Paul Manafort's numerous and longstanding crimes. One defense lawyer pointed out that one of his clients just got offered a comparable sentence for the crime of stealing $100 worth of quarters from a laundry room. The same sentence, even though Manafort cheated the I.R.S. out of six million dollars in taxes. Also, there was the case of the woman who just got sent to jail for five whole years for voting while on probation, even though she didn't know it was a crime to do so. The judge in the Manafort case has previously sentenced a man to 40 years for dealing drugs, even though he thought it might be a wee bit too excessive. But there are no mandatory minimum sentences for white-collar crimes. This obviously is not working, so maybe some tough-on-crime law-and-order type Republicans can change this situation. How about a 'three strikes and you're out' law for financial crimes? Any three convictions would merit a life sentence. Think that could change some of the behavior that people like Manafort routinely exhibit? Hey, it's worth a try...."



Stop grandstanding and develop a strategy

This, unusually, is not a talking point for Democrats to use, rather it is one that they should take to heart. It comes in the form of two tweets from Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general under Bill Clinton. He's got some sage advice for Democrats who want all the upcoming hearings to be a lot more effective than the Cohen hearing (Editor's note: punctuation and grammar mistakes were left uncorrected):

1) The Test: If House Dems are serious about oversight of Trump, they will retain counsel to ask the first 2 hours of questions of each witness. Endless, uncoordinated 5 minute showoff rounds are not designed to find the truth.

2) If I said to a client: "My 2 hr. plan for examining the other side's key witness is to have 24 lawyers question her for 5 minutes each." That would be a former client. Even before I said they would not pay any attention to each other's questions or the answers..




What's Lil' Donny hiding?

Hypocrisy, once again, thy name is Trump.

"During Michael Cohen's testimony, we learned that he had been directed by Donald Trump during the campaign to threaten all his former schools and colleges with dire consequences if his scholastic record was ever released to the public. Now we find out this effort went back even further. In 2011 -- mere days after Trump had challenged President Barack Obama to show his school records to prove he hadn't been, as Trump called it a 'terrible student' -- the headmaster at the New York Military Academy where Trump went to high school was contacted by friends of Trump, and told to hand over all of Trump's academic records. Seems Trump was worried about his own history proving what a flaming hypocrite he was being, even before he ran for president. The headmaster refused to hand over the records, instead choosing to hide them somewhere on the school's campus so nobody could ever find them. Maybe at some point in the future when the buildings are torn down some contractor will find them stuffed into a wall someplace, and we'll find out what Trump's been trying to hide for the past eight years. Because if he had been the stellar student he claims to have been, he certainly wouldn't have been so worried about hiding the facts."



Vexillological harassment

It is so a word -- look it up!

"Was anyone else as revolted as I was to see the president of the United States of America dry-humping a flag at the conservative conference last week? One ex-C.I.A. officer tweeted out a terse response: '4 U.S. Code 8(b): The flag should never touch anything beneath it.' At this point, I can't imagine anything further beneath the glory of the flag than Donald Trump. Remember when Republicans used to absolutely freak out when a Democrat didn't show the proper respect for the flag by wearing a lapel pin? Yeah, those were the days, right? Now they stand up and cheer when a Republican commits what can only properly be called vexillological harassment on stage in front of them. I mean, get a room, you two!"




Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Fri Mar 8, 2019, 10:37 PM

1. K&R nt

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Fri Mar 8, 2019, 11:16 PM

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Thanks for sharing these!

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