U.S. Government & governance 2017 – the first six months

Written by  //  July 19, 2017  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  Comments Off on U.S. Government & governance 2017 – the first six months

Eight Political Scientists Who Will Make Sense of 2017
Presidential memoranda vs. executive orders. What’s the difference?
What Trump Can and Can’t Do to Dismantle Obama’s Climate Rules
Stephen’s LIVE Monologue: Trump Lays Out His Vision For Moving Forward
Gilbert and Sullivan Explain Trump Lies.

How Many People Have to Die, Resign, or Go to Jail Before a Good Person Is President?
A Definitive Guide to the G.O.P. Insiders Enabling Donald Trump
From Paul Ryan to John McCain, Sarah Ellison takes a look at the men—
and the motives—that are propping up a Donald Trump presidency.

The Trump Enigma
US President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming cabinet now includes retired generals, plutocrats, and people who would abolish the very departments they will lead. But it is still unclear how Trump will actually govern, which has become a source of growing anxiety for the rest of the world.
(Project Syndicate) John Andrews asks whether Carl Bildt, Joschka Fischer, Ana Palacio, and other Project Syndicate commentators are right to be so uneasy about the incoming US administration.
(16 December 2016)

19 July
I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration.
Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue. (WaPost) I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government. I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

17 July
Mitch McConnell is breaking the Senate
Will the majority leader’s desire to win lead him to wreck the institution he says he loves?
(Vox) His prize? The federal government will spend hundreds of billions less on health care. Spending on Medicaid, the main program covering low-income Americans, will fall dramatically. Millions of people — tens of millions, by the latest estimates — will lose their health insurance. Years more instability and bitter political conflict over health care will ensue.
And the Senate majority leader would get a historic legislative achievement to his name. “Every Republican senator has been elected or reelected on repealing Obamacare. And he’s a guy who wants to win,” one McConnell insider told me.
But the cost will be that the legislative body he leads and has long claimed to deeply value will be changed forever.
That’s because the tactics McConnell is using to get his win — which have entailed previously unimaginable amounts of secrecy, speed, and utter disregard for public opinion — are a blueprint that future Senate majorities will surely use for their own purposes.
If you ask his critics on both the left and right, there’s no mystery to what ultimately drives the Senate majority leader. “The cardinal rule of McConnell is he will do anything to acquire more power, or to achieve an outcome he thinks achieves his political interest,”…

13 July
The surprise is not the conclusion, but the author, the Washington Post’s most vocal defender of the Right
Bungled collusion is still collusion
By Charles Krauthammer
There is no statute against helping a foreign hostile power meddle in an American election. What Donald Jr. — and Kushner and Manafort — did may not be criminal. But it is not merely stupid. It is also deeply wrong, a fundamental violation of any code of civic honor.

4 July
The office of the US president has too much power, and Congress is finally moving to limit it
(Quartz) Questions about whether the US president is too powerful have been raised regularly from America’s very first days to Barack Obama’s last year in office.  … since Donald Trump’s inauguration this January, those questions have morphed into more serious concerns. As Trump’s increasingly bizarre public conduct raises questions about his temperament and decision-making, and he continues to disregard his own policy experts in favor of advisors with no diplomatic experience, members of both houses of Congress are slowly moving to curb the powers of the office through new legislation. At the same time, state governments are pushing back on some of the president’s demands.

30 June
Paul Krugman: Understanding Republican Cruelty
I think there are two big drivers — actually, two big lies — behind Republican cruelty on health care and beyond.
First, the evils of the G.O.P. plan are the flip side of the virtues of Obamacare. Because Republicans spent almost the entire Obama administration railing against the imaginary horrors of the Affordable Care Act — death panels! — repealing Obamacare was bound to be their first priority. Once the prospect of repeal became real, however, Republicans had to face the fact that … trying to reverse the A.C.A. means taking away health care from people who desperately need it in order to cut taxes on the rich…. Republicans, through their political opportunism and dishonesty, boxed themselves into a position that makes them seem cruel and immoral — because they are.
Obamacare isn’t the only social insurance program that does great good yet faces incessant right-wing attack. … As with Obamacare, this story began with a politically convenient lie — the pretense, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan, that social safety net programs just reward lazy people who don’t want to work.

28 June
Tillerson blows up at top White House aide
The secretary of state, frustrated by negative press coverage and delays in appointing staff, unleashed his anger in front of Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner and others.
(Politico) The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment.

27 June
President Trump Slams ‘Archaic’ U.S. Constitution, Says It Is ‘Really Bad’ for Nation
Yes, folks, our own President – elected by average-Joe Americans who constantly slammed President Obama because they believe Obama didn’t care one damn bit for our beloved Constitution – just admits that he doesn’t care at all about the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the very pillars of our nation that have made it the greatest nation in known history.
But he goes on, “They are archaic rules, and maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on. Because for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different. You can’t go through a process like this.”

22 June
Gail Collins: You’ve Named Trump’s Worst! [Cabinet appointee(s)]
It was a hard-fought race, people. But the results of our Worst Trump Cabinet Member reader poll are in.
And the winner is — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos!
With a near tie for second place between Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “It’s hard to be worse than Sessions or Pruitt. But DeVos deals with … children,” wrote a Michigan reader.

21 June
(WSJ Capital Journal) Even though the GOP escaped defeat in the special elections Tuesday, there are some potential warning signs that the Democrats may ride a wave down the road as Republican support wanes. Republican margins of victory have generally eroded in the special elections since Mr. Trump has taken office, as noted on Twitter by John Weaver, the campaign strategist for former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, the governor of Ohio who ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2016. Mr. Weaver tweeted: “…Immediate disaster adverted [sic], but ‘Danger Will Robinson.’” He also tweeted that the GOP will “read too much in win.”

20 June
An adult in the room at last? Maybe even more than one
James Mattis is quickly becoming one of the most powerful Defense secretaries in recent memory, with access to President Trump that few can match.
(The Hill) There is a “very, very close and good relationship” between Trump and Mattis, the spokesman said, describing frequent working dinners “almost on a weekly basis, sometimes more than once a week.”
The two are sometimes joined at the dinners by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, another former Marine Corps general.
But Mattis above all seems to command the most time with Trump.
GOP’s Ralph Norman Wins House Seat in South Carolina
Candidate campaigned with support of GOP’s most conservative wing
(WSJ) Republican Ralph Norman won a closer-than-expected special election in a U.S. House district in South Carolina, holding a safe Republican seat vacated earlier this year by Mick Mulvaney, who left to lead the Office of Management and Budget . Mr. Norman won by less than four percentage points—a steep drop from the 20-point margin by which Mr. Mulvaney carried the district last November.

15 June
(The Atlantic) Governance Gripes: Despite controlling the legislative and executive branches, the Republican Party faces a challenging task—its majority is slim, and it lacks a nationwide mandate from voters on any one agenda. As a result, both Congress and the president have aimed to please their conservative base, a risky strategy as the 2018 elections approach. But the party has a dissident in Evan McMullin, the former presidential candidate who’s leading an earnest, conservative anti-Trump movement from his Twitter feed.

13 June
Republicans are building Trump an ‘idiot defence’ against impeachment. Here’s why it might work
The normal rules for prosecuting a crime simply don’t apply to the president, say experts on U.S. constitutional law.
(The Star) U.S. President Donald Trump’s defenders would like you to know that he doesn’t know important things.
They’re not saying he’s stupid. They’re saying he is somewhere between ill-informed and clueless. To hear some Republican members of Congress tell it, Trump did not attempt to obstruct justice in his Oval Office words to James Comey in February — he just didn’t understand how a president is supposed to interact with the director of the FBI.
“The president’s new at this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week. “He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols …”

12 June
Trump Boasts of ‘Record-Setting’ Pace of Activity
(NYT) He made the remarks at a highly unusual cabinet meeting in which he sought to deflect attention from his faltering agenda and the accusations leveled against him by his former F.B.I. director by basking in the adulation of senior members of the government.
After his introductory remarks on Monday, the president went around the table asking for a statement from each cabinet member. One by one, they said their names and paid tribute to Mr. Trump, describing how honored they were to serve in his administration as he nodded approvingly.

9 June
The Comey Hearing: In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey affirmed his belief that President Trump fired him “because of the Russia investigation.” He did not accuse the president of obstructing justice, leaving that question up to Robert Mueller, the appointed special counsel. In response, Trump’s personal lawyer accused Comey—inaccurately—of leaking classified information, referring to the memos Comey had drafted regarding his conversations with the president. All in all, writes David Frum, “Thursday was a bad, bad, day for Team Trump.”

5 June
Trump’s advisers are only enabling his erratic behavior
(WaPost via Chicago Tribune) “There is, we strongly suspect, no master plan that involves attacking the mayor of a victimized city, blowing your cover on the Muslim travel ban and worsening our already-tarnished image with European allies. This is impulsive, unhinged behavior — and that’s an inconvenient fact for those convinced that it is honorable to serve in this administration because the presence of mature, sober figures keeps the country from running into a ditch. With the exception of Jim Mattis, who might prevent a nuclear volley or other calamity involving our armed services, there seems to be less and less reason for others to hang around.“
White House Turmoil Makes It Harder to Stay Focused, Trump Aide Says
President Trump’s point man on Capitol Hill conceded on Monday that controversy over the firing of James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, and open investigations into Russian election meddling made it harder to stay “focused” on ambitious Republican tax cut and health care plans.

22 May
White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll
The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose any ethics waivers granted to former lobbyists who now work in the White House or federal agencies.
Federal law gives the Office of Government Ethics, which was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, clear legal authority to issue such a “data request” to the ethics officers at federal agencies. This is the main power the office has to oversee compliance with federal ethics standards.
It is less clear whether it has the power to demand such information from the White House. Historically, there has been some debate over whether the White House is a “federal agency” or, as it calls itself, the “executive office of the president.” Such an office might not be subject to oversight.
The White House, however, tried on Wednesday to stop the process across the entire federal government, even before most agencies had responded to Mr. Shaub’s April 28 request.

20 May
Will the Presidency Survive This President?
Mr. Trump’s recklessness may force Congress or the courts to constrain him, diminishing the power of the office.
(NYT Sunday Review) Mr. Trump has created an entirely new problem for Congress, the courts and agencies: What do they do when the president himself is the pressing danger? Unlike other presidents, Mr. Trump has lacked the basic competence to manage the government. If Congress and the courts diminish the power of the office to constrain him, could they leave the office too weak for future presidents to be able to govern effectively?
The answer is that with the country at risk of serious harm from Mr. Trump, the damage to the office is secondary. The next president will just have to pick up the pieces.

18 May
Trump: ‘Single Greatest Witch Hunt’ in American History
(Newsmax) Mueller’s broad mandate gives him not only oversight of the Russia probe, but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” That would surely include Trump’s firing last week of FBI Director James Comey.
Mueller, a former federal prosecutor at the Justice Department, was confirmed as FBI director days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that would ultimately shape his tenure. The FBI’s counterterror mission was elevated in those years, as the U.S. intelligence agencies adjusted to better position America to prevent another attack of such magnitude. He was so valued that President Barack Obama asked him to stay on two years longer than his 10-year term.
Comey succeeded him, appointed by Obama.
Mueller was appointed Wednesday by Rosenstein, who had faced criticism as the author of a memo that preceded Comey’s firing. Rosenstein said the appointment was “necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome.”
Special prosecutor appointment gets bipartisan praise
(The Hill) Lawmakers are quickly backing the decision to name former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor for the probe into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election.
The administration was under growing pressure to name a special prosecutor in the wake of President Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, with Democrats increasingly demanding the move over the last week.

16 May
Following advice, potential FBI chiefs steer clear of job under Trump
(Reuters) The difficulty in filling key administration jobs is not just limited to the FBI director post.
Trump’s habits of contradicting his top aides, demanding personal loyalty and punishing officials who contradict him in public has discouraged a number of experienced people from pursuing jobs. … “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract good people to work in this administration,” said one senior official. “In other cases, veteran people with expertise are leaving or seeking posts overseas and away from this White House.”
At a Besieged White House, Tempers Flare and Confusion Swirls
(NYT) The president’s appetite for chaos, coupled with his disregard for the self-protective conventions of the presidency, has left his staff confused and squabbling. And his own mood, according to two advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as “incompetent,” according to one of those advisers.
There is a growing sense that Mr. Trump seems unwilling or unable to do the things necessary to keep himself out of trouble and that the presidency has done little to tame a shoot-from-the-hip-into-his-own-foot style that characterized his campaign.
Some of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers fear leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn. General McMaster, in particular, has tried to insert caveats or gentle corrections into conversations when he believes the president is straying off topic or onto boggy diplomatic ground. Free Advice to Trump Aides: Quit While You Can

15 May
Eliot Cohen: The Terrible Cost of Trump’s Disclosures
The consequences of the president’s reported divulgence of top-secret codeword information to the Russians are only beginning.
(The Atlantic) If The Washington Post is right, President Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a jovial meeting in the Oval Office. Here is why this is appalling, beyond even this president’s usual standard. …
Tillerson casually said of Trump in an interview on Meet the Press on Sunday “I have to earn his confidence every day.” One does not earn Donald Trump’s confidence by calmly conveying to him some unpleasant but essential truths. Rather, one earns his confidence by truckling to him, and by lying to everyone else. Now, what Tillerson, Powell, and McMaster said are not quite lies, but they are the kind of parsed half truths that are as bad, and in some cases worse. This is how one’s reputation for veracity is infected by the virulent moral bacteria that cover Donald Trump. Friends will watch, pained and incredulous, as they realize that one simply cannot assume that anything these senior subordinates of the president say is the truth. And having stretched, manipulated, or artfully misrepresented the truth once, these officials will do it again and again. They will be particularly surprised when they learn that most people assume that as trusted subordinates of the president, they lie not as colorfully as he does, but just as routinely. Perhaps the worst will be the moment when these high officials can no longer recognize their own characters for what they once were.

11 May
Hidden Clues In The Trump-Comey Drama: It’s Worse Than You Think
By Melik Kaylan
(Forbes) As state institutions grind away against each other what happens? The end goal: deadlock of due process while the strong leader takes the strategic heights of state power. That’s what Putin did, Erdogan, Chavez et al. In truth, one can’t imagine Donald Trump having the deep Machiavellian patience to click all the pieces into place over time. So is it all just a paranoid fever-dream, our sense that Trump is pushing a hidden agenda? No, he’s working from a blueprint already extant and well-utilized by leaders in several countries – and they don’t need to be geniuses. The Kremlin invented it, just as it invented the worldwide Marxist uprising script during the Soviet era.
(The Atlantic newsletter) Comey, Cont’d: The latest explanation for the controversial dismissal comes from President Trump himself, who says he’d planned to fire the FBI director “regardless” of the DAG’s recommendation. What’s it mean for the president to fire a principal officer charged with investigating his campaign? Though many commentators have called this a constitutional crisis, the firing doesn’t quite meet the definition—though it could increase the likelihood of a future one. For now, Senate Democrats are struggling to nail down a plan to respond. And as for the Russia investigation, its future is still unknown.

Trump and the FBI: Palace whispers
(The Economist Print edition 13 May) It is too soon to know whether Mr Trump’s sudden, regal dismissal of James Comey, the FBI director—“Off with his head!”—will trigger a constitutional crisis. It is not too soon to make a more general observation. Less than four months into the reign of King Donald, his impetuous ways are making it more likely that his presidency will be a failure, with few large achievements to its name. …
At the root of each fresh crisis lies Mr Trump’s character. … To get his appointees confirmed, budgets passed, and reforms agreed, Mr Trump needs Congress, and notably a Senate in which his party enjoys the slimmest of majorities, and he has ever-fewer admirers. Party loyalty may save him from a revolution. But, startlingly early on, his own colleagues are starting to wonder what King Donald is for.

10 May
The White House Just Used a Brazen Backdoor Move to Bypass the Senate
A loophole allowed the Trump administration to install a Wall Street lawyer to take over one of the nation’s most powerful regulators without a hearing or confirmation.
(Vanity Fair) Noreika’s transition from representing banks to overseeing them came courtesy of a quick two-step. He was made “first deputy” at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a designation that ensured he would ascend to the top job once it opened. Then the administration ousted Thomas Curry…Just like that, Noreika became acting comptroller.

9 May
Trump fires FBI Director Comey, setting off U.S. political storm
(Reuters) The Republican president said he fired Comey, the top U.S. law enforcement official, over his handling of an election-year email scandal involving then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The move stunned Washington and raised suspicions among Democrats and others that the White House was trying to blunt the FBI probe involving Russia. … An independent investigation into Moscow’s role in the election “is now the only way to go to restore the American people’s faith,” [Senate Democratic leader Chuck] Schumer said. Updates and Reactions to F.B.I. Director Comey’s Firing
Donald Trump’s Firing of James Comey
(NYT Editorial) Of course, if Mr. Trump truly believed, as he said in his letter of dismissal, that Mr. Comey had undermined “public trust and confidence” in the agency, he could just as well have fired him on his first day in office.

At a Senate hearing on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she had warned the White House that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s false statements about speaking to a Russian official could expose him to blackmail from Russia. Ahead of the hearing, President Trump tried to shift blame for the Flynn scandal onto the Obama administration, which had previously granted Flynn security clearance—but that excuse doesn’t explain the failures in his administration’s vetting process.

8 May
Kushner Family Stands to Gain From Visa Rules in Trump’s First Major Law
(NYT) It was the first major piece of legislation that President Trump signed into law, and buried on Page 734 was one sentence that brought a potential benefit to the president’s extended family: renewal of a program offering permanent residence in the United States to affluent foreigners investing money in real estate projects here.
Reporters barred from Kushner Companies’ visa-for-investment event in China
(Reuters) Organizers barred journalists on Sunday from a publicly advertised event in Shanghai that offered Chinese investors the chance to get U.S. immigrant visas if they put money in a real estate project linked to the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law. The developers are seeking to raise $150 million, or 15.4 percent of funding for the project, from investors through the … controversial EB-5 program [that] allows wealthy foreigners to, in effect, buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects.

6 May
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
(R-Bakersfield) has an unexpected challenger from the right. Republican Joe Aleman says the healthcare bill is an “injustice” and told Wire he is mounting the campaign because the bill protects the wealthy over the poor. He has not yet opened a campaign committee, but has a website.
Trump is issuing secret waivers to his own ethics rules. So much for draining the swamp.
(WaPost) Now come reports the Trump White House is issuing secret waivers to the president’s own ethics rules, allowing incoming officials to work on issues they handled before becoming public servants. …   according to a survey conducted by the Times in collaboration with ProPublica.
Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, has challenged the executive branch to report by June 1 on all such waivers issued so far.

A bit of history illustrating the Power of One
The Bad Grade That Changed The U.S. Constitution
(NPR) Twenty-five years ago, the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified — nearly two centuries after it was written. The improbable story of how that happened starts with the Founding Fathers themselves and winds up at the University of Texas. And it’s a heartening reminder of the power of individuals to make real change.
What’s so striking about this story is the sheer degree of difficulty of what Gregory Watson did. Amending the Constitution is — by design — incredibly hard to do. In fact, the 27th Amendment is still the most recent amendment to the Constitution.

29 April
Neglecting the State Department does real damage
America has a proud and effective tradition of diplomacy. It is being traduced
FEW Americans would have known it, but on New Year’s Eve their diplomats probably prevented scores of killings in central Africa, and perhaps a war. President Joseph Kabila, Congo’s long-stay autocrat, had refused to leave power, as he was obliged to do. Angry protesters were taking to the streets of Kinshasa and Mr Kabila’s troops buckling up to see them there. Yet through a combination of adroit negotiating and the high-minded pushiness that comes with representing a values-based superpower, Tom Perriello, the State Department’s then special envoy for the Great Lakes, and John Kerry, the then secretary of state, helped persuade Mr Kabila to back down. The resulting deal, brokered by the Catholic church, committed Mr Kabila to a power-sharing arrangement and retirement later this year. That would represent the first-ever peaceful transition in Congo. But it probably won’t happen.Three weeks later, Donald Trump became president and the State Department’s 100-odd political appointees, including Mr Kerry and Mr Perriello, shipped out. That is normal in American transitions. But the most senior career diplomats were also pushed out, which is not.
The vacant positions—in effect, almost the State Department’s entire decision-making staff of under-secretaries, assistant secretaries and ambassadors—are being covered by mid-ranking civil servants, who lack the authority, or understanding of the administration’s plans, to take the initiative.

27 April
Trump vs. Congress: Trump’s about-face this week on his demand to fund the border wall illustrates the perils of his bombastic style: His ultimatums will mean nothing if lawmakers know they can call his bluff. He’s also struggling to achieve his legislative goals on health care and tax reform, committing the twin presidential errors of pushing Congress too little and hanging back too much. Raising the stakes on health care even further, Congress needs to pass a spending bill by Friday night to keep the government running—and if the GOP tries to repeal Obamacare first, Democrats might force a shutdown.

13 April
GOP rep asks constituents the wrong question at town-hall event
(NBC) Why is it so important for members of Congress to hold town-hall events with their constituents? Because you just never know what they’ll end up saying.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) faced off with constituents at a town hall this week, telling the audience that they don’t pay his salary.
In a document sent to all House Republicans and obtained by The Huffington Post, the House GOP conference offers some tips on how to frame the past few less-than-spectacular months.
Among the things House Republicans are supposed to emphasize: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, which the House had literally nothing to do with.

12 April
Congress can’t allow Trump to make war on his own
(LATimes editorial) There is a built-in tension in the Constitution between Congress’ power to “declare war” and the president’s responsibility as commander in chief to protect the nation and its armed forces. Sometimes the president will need to deploy the military to respond to emergencies without seeking prior congressional approval.
Sustained military campaigns require timely and specific congressional approval. That’s true regardless of who occupies the White House.

7 April
Trump’s Syria Strike Was Unconstitutional and Unwise
The military intervention solved nothing, while bypassing Congress, betraying the president’s non-interventionist supporters, and highlighting his hypocrisy.
(The Atlantic) Trump explicitly understood that a military response would require congressional approval. Yet Thursday, Trump ordered a strike on Syria without seeking that approval.
There are those who supported the president’s actions.
Prior to the strike, various members of the military-industrial complex, hawkish pundits, and social-media users outraged by killings of Syrian civilians demanded that Trump do something in response to the abhorrent slaughter of innocents. But Trump never swore to slake a vocal minority’s outrage. He swore to uphold the Constitution.
Wishful thinking or perceptive analysis?
The Kids Take Over And Turn Trump Into Dubya
(Daily Beast) That was the week that was: How the Bannon crowd got cornered by Jared, Ivanka, the generals—and a president who maybe seems to get that it hasn’t been working.

7 April
Mitch McConnell, the man who broke America
(WaPost) Although his predecessors at least attempted collegiality, McConnell practices no such niceties (recall his “nevertheless, she persisted” silencing of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren). But most characteristic of McConnell is his tendency to shift his views to suit current exigencies (on the minimum wage, withdrawal from Iraq, earmarks, abortion, labor and civil rights) and his adroitness at gumming up the works: forcing clerks to spend hours reading a bill aloud on the floor; opposing immigration legislation he’d encouraged; asking for a vote on a debt-ceiling proposal and then trying to filibuster it; urging the Obama administration to support a bipartisan debt commission and then voting against it.

5 April
In Battle for Trump’s Heart and Mind, It’s Bannon vs. Kushner
(NYT) The escalating feud, though, goes beyond mere West Wing melodrama. Instead, it reflects a larger struggle to guide the direction of the Trump presidency, played out in disagreements over the policies Mr. Trump should pursue, the people he should hire and the image he should put forward to the American people.
How much is too much? Jared Kushner’s ever-expanding role in Trump administration
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law advising on everything from innovation to Middle East peace to China
(CBC) Senior adviser to the U.S. president. Peace envoy in the Middle East. Top adviser on relations with Canada, China and Mexico. Head of White House bureaucratic “innovation.” Why not add emissary to Iraq to the list?
It can be hard to keep track of all the sensitive jobs Jared Kushner has been given by his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. His latest mission involved a surprise visit to Baghdad, where the 36-year-old flew with the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a covert trip to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Together with the Iraq deployment, experts on governance say, Kushner’s sphere of influence has ballooned into something so vast that it could eclipse other portfolios in the Trump administration.
Frank Bruni: Jared Kushner, Man of Steel
The president seems to see certain people as exempt from the laws of gravity, and he has accorded Kushner a place snug beside him in that pantheon. He keeps telling us that he can predict the future, and he keeps telling himself that Kushner can juggle more than even the most seasoned, brilliant White House aides of yesteryear pulled off. Kushner doesn’t seem to be quibbling.

28 March
An intriguing profile of the Vice President
Amid White House Tumult, Pence Offers Trump a Steady Hand
(NYT) But even as Mr. Pence steps up his activity as a go-between bridging the White House and Capitol Hill, it’s clear he has adopted a far less ambitious approach to the job than his predecessors Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Dick Cheney, who despised being out of the loop and stocked their staffs with first-rate talent that often rivaled, and later replaced, their presidents’ West Wing teams.

The Business of Politics: Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to lead a new initiative to reform how government works, with the help of former business executives. But the federal government operates much differently from a business, and without a deep understanding of the public sector, Kushner’s team could run into trouble. Meanwhile, America’s rising individual wealth and shrinking government means philanthropists’ gifts are supplanting some government functions—but their influence may be at odds with the democratic process.

24 March
Paul Krugman: The Scammers, the Scammed and America’s Fate
(NYT) we should be asking ourselves how the people running our government came to wield such power. How, in particular, did a man whose fraudulence, lack of concern for those he claims to care about and lack of policy coherence should have been obvious to everyone nonetheless manage to win over so many gullible souls?
No, this isn’t a column about whatshisname, the guy on Twitter, who’s getting plenty of attention. It’s about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House.
Whatever happens in the House and the Senate, however, there’s no question that the A.H.C.A. is one of the worst bills ever presented to Congress.

15 March
Wherever Trump goes, his gang of aides stays close by
Preoccupied with proximity, the president’s senior staff have developed an unusual habit of crowding into meetings and joining trips.
(Politico) In Trump’s White House, many of his top aides have overlapping interests and roles. And because the president doesn’t like to read policy papers or use the Internet, he is more focused on advice and information delivered to him verbally — putting even greater importance on proximity.

6 March
Transportation secretary admits that infrastructure plan is to make you pay tolls to corporations
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was on Sean Hannity’s news-gameshow and you could really see that Ms. Chao is not the seasoned scam-artist when it comes to articulating a hussle. After saying how we needed to come up with “new and innovative ways” to revamp our country’s infrastructure, Chao started falling all over herself.
“So, basically, we allow foreign inv—uh, we allow different kinds of money, private sector money to come into the United States—I’m not saying foreign—to come and fund, let’s say a bridge or a road or it can be any kind of infrastructure.”
President Donald Trump is the most powerful cornered animal in the world
By Lawrence Douglas
Trump lashes out by creating a chaos of conflicting claims to distract attention away from real allegations. It is all too effective
(The Guardian) Now once again, he seeks to buoy his political fortunes by attacking Obama. Perhaps what is so striking about the tweets is not their desperation, but their cynicism.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee was undoubtedly correct when she observed that “if this [the wiretapping] happened … we have … seen … a huge attack on democracy itself.” But if it didn’t, we have witnessed an attack on democracy no less ominous. It is an attack at once concerted and ongoing. (emphasis added)
Trump’s Wiretapping Claims Puncture Veneer of Presidential Civility
(NYT) Mr. Trump’s team has been angered by the criticism but even more by what they see as the enemy within. With so few of his own political appointees in place, much of the government is still operating with acting officials, some held over from the Obama administration.
So when Mark Levin, the conservative radio host, contended that Mr. Obama had targeted Mr. Trump for surveillance in what he called a “silent coup,” an assertion picked up by Breitbart News, the former website of the White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, it struck a chord.

3 March
Trump aides’ bid to plug leaks creates unease among some civil servants
(Reuters) Current and former officials said that in a departure from past practice, access to a classified computer system at the White House has been tightened by political appointees to prevent some professional staffers from seeing memos being prepared for the new president.
And at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), some officials told Reuters they believe a search is under way for the leaker of a draft intelligence report which found little evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries covered by Trump’s now-suspended travel ban pose a threat to the United States.

2 March
Sarah Kendzior: Trump played nice for a night—a technique straight out of the autocrat’s playbook
(Quartz) Dutifully reading off a teleprompter, Trump made promises—like greater rights for women and clean air and water—that are countered by his actual policies. He explained that he would combat crises, like a soaring murder rate, that do not actually exist. He framed the scapegoating of immigrants as a palliative to job loss and crime, shamelessly using people who have lost loved ones as human props. For the first time since taking office, Trump addressed, for a mere minute, the wave of hate crimes that began when he launched his campaign. He spoke calmly and competently and was therefore praised by pundits like Van Jones, Wolf Biltzer, Anderson Cooper, and Chris Wallace.
Actions speak louder than words, and Trump’s speech is ultimately just another embarrassing exhibit in how wishful thinking will keep this burgeoning American autocracy afloat.
Gail Collins: The Three Donald Trumps Speak
The key to understanding our president is to realize there are three versions. Unscripted Trump is the one who obsesses about crowd size and expresses complete astonishment that constructing a national health care plan is hard. That’s the one we worry will start a nuclear war.
The second version is Reasonable Chatting Trump. R.C.T. is the one who had pre-speech gatherings with journalists in which he mused about passing immigration law reform and making the Dreamers legal. Everyone was very excited until it became clear this had no relation to anything he was actually planning to say in public.
Version 3? … the guy with the teleprompter. We will call him Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, or SNORT.
President Trump Changes His Tone, if Not His Tune

1 March
Jeffrey D. Sachs: The Three Trumps
[N]o one should ever underestimate a demagogue’s willingness to use fear and violence – even war – to maintain power. And if Putin is indeed his backer and partner, Trump’s temptations will be strong.
(Project Syndicate) Another theory is that all three Trumps – friend of Putin, wealth maximizer, and demagogue – are really one: Trump the businessman has long been supported by the Russians, who have used him for years as a front for laundered money. One might say they won the jackpot, parlaying a small bet – on manipulating the outcome of an election they most likely never expected him to win – into a huge payoff. On this interpretation, Trump’s attacks on the press, the intelligence agencies, and the FBI specifically, aim to discredit these organizations in advance of further revelations regarding the Trump-Russia dealings. …
His approval ratings are historically low for a new president, around 40%, with roughly 55% of respondents disapproving. Judicial challenges to executive actions, fights with the media, tensions stemming from rising budget deficits, and new revelations regarding Trump and Russia, will keep the pot boiling – and Trump’s public support could evaporate.

28 February
Trump’s Address To Joint Session Of Congress, Annotated
(NPR) President Trump gave an address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, outlining his vision for America. “We are one people, with one destiny,” Trump said, offering a markedly different tone than his inaugural address, which described a country in crisis.
He touted his executive actions, called again for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare and reiterated his position on immigration and national security.
Democratic Response To Trump’s Address To Congress, Annotated
Following President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, the Democratic Party gave its response. Party leaders chose former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to do the honors this year.
Beshear, who left office in 2015, has a record of expanding access to affordable health care, lowering his state’s uninsured rate from more than 20 percent to 7.5 percent.
Dripping with sarcasm
Richard Wolffe: Donald Trump’s Congress speech was a heroic effort in contradiction and cliché
The president’s first address to Congress was full of inconsistency when compared to his words and deeds in the White House
(The Guardian) He described a world in which dead factories would come back to life, drug addiction would end, inner cities would spring into prosperity, and the nation would be paved with gleaming new roads. Seriously, they are going to gleam because of this promise: “Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people.” … Few of his critics understand what Trump so eloquently described as the way “each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present”. Trump’s loving care and attention to truth, liberty and justice shone throughout his lengthy explanation of his approach to immigration.
How the US press reacted to Trump’s Congress speech
Presidential address viewed as more upbeat than inauguration speech but for some little of what he said was new

27 February
Trump and Rep elephant New YorkerGeorge Packer: Holding Trump Accountable
After a month in office, he has already proved himself unable to discharge his duties. But the only people with real leverage over him won’t use it.
An authoritarian and erratic leader, a chaotic Presidency, a supine legislature, a resistant permanent bureaucracy, street demonstrations, fear abroad: this is what illiberal regimes look like. If Trump were more rational and more competent, he might have a chance of destroying our democracy.
(The New Yorker) Republican leaders … need Trump to pass their agenda of rewriting the tax code in favor of the rich and of gutting regulations that protect the public and the planet—an agenda that a majority of Americans never supported—so they are looking the other way.

23 February
Bannon Admits Trump’s Cabinet Nominees Were Selected To Destroy Their Agencies.
In the clearest explanation for why nearly all of Trump’s cabinet choices are known mostly for despising and attacking the very Federal agencies they’ve been designated to lead, Bannon explained—in very clear language–that they weren’t appointed to lead these agencies, but to destroy them:
The crippling or wholesale elimination of Federal agencies that ensure we receive such things as clean air, clean water, fair labor laws, fair housing standards, anti-discrimination laws, financial protections, food and drug safety, national education standards and the like, has been a goal of far-right “thinkers” for decades. Their rationale, propagated by corporate and industry-funded think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, has always been that that the existence of these “unelected” agencies represents a mortal threat to American “sovereignty and self-government.”

17 February
Trump must banish Bannon — or his presidency is doomed
(WaPost) Harward’s decision reflects how far the president and this administration have fallen in the eyes of esteemed national security experts, including current and former officials. The White House is without an experienced chief of staff or normal internal decision-making procedures. Stephen K. Bannon got himself inserted into the National Security Council’s principals meeting; Trump plans to bring on a crony, Stephen A. Feinberg, to “review” the intelligence operation. The president is in the middle of a crisis of his and Bannon’s making. …
Sooner rather than later, we hope that for the country’s sake, Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump (or someone else Trump will listen to) will lay it out bluntly: He can have Bannon running roughshod over the administration, or he can be a successful president; he cannot have both.
Trump’s team in disarray, U.S. Senator McCain tells Europe
(Reuters) Republican Senator John McCain broke with the reassuring message that U.S. officials visiting Germany have sought to convey on their debut trip to Europe, saying on Friday that the administration of President Donald Trump was in “disarray”. [He] told the Munich Security Conference that the resignation of the new president’s security adviser Michael Flynn over his contacts with Russia reflected deep problems in Washington.
Who Is Sebastian Gorka? A Primer on the Trump Adviser
(NYT) Since President Trump appointed Sebastian Gorka last month as a deputy assistant, Mr. Gorka has been an increasingly visible defender of the administration.
He has spoken out in favor of the targeted travel ban, which spurred mass protests and was then blocked by federal courts. He suggested in a recent interview with The Hill that the CNN anchor Jake Tapper was sexist for aggressively questioning the Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. He has also insisted that media reports of turmoil in the White House bear “almost no resemblance to reality.” … Mr. Gorka, 46, is a former editor for the far-right media outlet Breitbart News and a friend of Stephen Bannon

13 February
The only way to get into America is through this 60,000 strong, pro-Trump armed force
(Quartz) As part of the US Department of Homeland Security’s largest law enforcement body, the 60,000 employees of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are tasked with policing the migration of goods and people in and out of the country, with two-thirds of them manning border crossings, airports, and ports. The agency is part of the executive branch of government, which means it answers to the White House—and is subject to the same checks and balances, from the legislative and judiciary branches, as the administration.
But in the wake of Trump’s attempted policy change on immigration, CBP officers refused to comply with a Brooklyn court order, issued hours after the president’s executive action, that temporarily blocked travelers nationwide from being deported. They also ignored demands from other federal judges that the CBP let travelers see lawyers.
As concerns swirl over the Trump administration’s unorthodox approach to everything from crafting executive policy to governing with conflicts of interest, the CBP’s actions in the days after Trump’s executive order have drawn heavy scrutiny. Several Democratic congressmen have called for an investigation into the president’s instructions to the CBP, warning that the US could become a “military junta” if the system of checks and balances breaks down.

Paul Krugman: Ignorance Is Strength
What we’ve seen … over the past three weeks is an awesome display of raw ignorance on every front. Worse, there’s no hint that either the White House or its allies in Congress see this as a problem. They appear to believe that expertise, or even basic familiarity with a subject, is for wimps; ignorance is strength.
We see this on legal matters: In a widely quoted analysis, the legal expert Benjamin Wittes described the infamous executive order on refugees as “malevolence tempered by incompetence,” and noted that the order reads “as if it was not reviewed by competent counsel at all” — which is a good way to lose in court.
We see it on education, where the hearings for Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, revealed her to be completely ignorant about even the most elementary issues.
We see it on diplomacy. How hard is it to ask someone from the State Department to make sure that the White House gets foreign leaders’ names right? Too hard, apparently: Before the Abe flub, the official agenda for the state visit by Theresa May, the British prime minister, repeatedly misspelled her name.
And on economics — well, there’s nobody home. The Council of Economic Advisers, which is supposed to provide technical expertise, has been demoted from cabinet rank, but that hardly matters, since nobody has been nominated to serve. Remember all that talk about a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan? If you do, please remind the White House, which hasn’t offered even a ghost of a concrete proposal.
In some ways this cluelessness may be a good thing: malevolence may indeed be tempered by incompetence. It’s not just the court defeat over immigration; Republican ignorance has turned what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg against Obamacare into a quagmire, to the great benefit of millions. And Mr. Trump’s imploding job approval might help slow the march to autocracy.
But meanwhile, who’s in charge? Crises happen, and we have an intellectual vacuum at the top. Be afraid, be very afraid.

11 February
‘A Sense of Dread’ for Civil Servants Shaken by Trump Transition
Across the vast federal bureaucracy, Donald J. Trump’s arrival in the White House has spread anxiety, frustration, fear and resistance among many of the two million nonpolitical civil servants who say they work for the public, not a particular president.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, a group of scientists strategized this past week about how to slow-walk President Trump’s environmental orders without being fired.
At the Treasury Department, civil servants are quietly gathering information about whistle-blower protections as they polish their résumés
State G.O.P. Leaders Move Swiftly as Party Bickers in Congress
Republicans have top-to-bottom control in 25 states now, holding both the governorship and the entire legislature, and Republican lawmakers are acting with lightning speed to enact longstanding conservative priorities.
In states from New England to the Midwest and across the South, conservative lawmakers have introduced or enacted legislation to erode union powers and abortion rights, loosen gun regulations, expand school-choice programs and slash taxes and spending.
10 February
Who’ll get fired first?

8 February
steve_bannon_cover_time“President Bannon,” explained
A narrative about who’s really in charge of the Trump administration is forming.
(Vox) On Monday morning, President Donald Trump decided that there was an urgent matter he needed to clear up for the public. “I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it,” he tweeted. “Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!”
It may seem odd that the president of the United States would feel compelled to remind the country that he is actually in charge. But over the past week and a half of Trump’s young presidency, a narrative has been gaining steam in the media and among political observers that it is not Trump but in fact White House chief strategist Steve Bannon who is actually running the show.
In the wake of the chaos following Trump’s order banning entry into the US from nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries — and in the wake of reports that Bannon was the chief architect of the policy — the hashtag #PresidentBannon began to spread on Twitter, and images of Bannon as a puppet master pulling Trump’s strings became commonplace. A Saturday Night Live skit concluded an Oval Office session with its version of Bannon asking Trump for the president’s desk back, and Alec Baldwin as Trump responding, “Yes, of course, Mr. President.”
Perhaps most prominently, Time magazine put Bannon on a striking cover and dubbed him “The Great Manipulator.” Just whom he might be manipulating was left unstated.

7 February

It would take two things to impeach Donald Trump, and right now his critics have neither
(Quartz) Democrats know two big things need to happen before they can even get close to booting Trump out of office:
Someone in the House of Representatives needs to actually charge him with something.
They need to convince a load of Republicans to vote to take him down.

2 February
One Nation Under God: Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. this morning. Though he did take a moment to pray for better ratings for The Apprenticea characteristic move that prompted speculation of a publicity stunt—the main thrust of his speech was to present a vision of religious nationalism, describing the U.S. as a nation strengthened by Christian values and under attack by Islamic extremism. Such threats are a defining theme of Trump’s rhetoric, and they’re one way he might redefine American exceptionalism—by making the measure of America’s greatness its success in keeping people out.

31 January
David Frum: How to Build an Autocracy
(The Atlantic Magazine March issue) The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
“A president determined to thwart the law to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.”

29 January
A Clarifying Moment in American History
There should be nothing surprising about what Donald Trump has done in his first week—but he has underestimated the resilience of Americans and their institutions.
By Eliot A. Cohen, Director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
(The Atlantic) … friends who urged us to tone it down, to make our peace with him, to stop saying as loudly as we could “this is abnormal,” to accommodate him, to show loyalty to the Republican Party, to think that he and his advisers could be tamed, were wrong. In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations.
Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.
Bannon Is Given Security Role Usually Held for Generals
(NYT) [I]n terms of real influence, Mr. Bannon looms above almost everyone except the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. …  Mr. Flynn has gotten on the nerves of Mr. Trump and other administration officials because of his sometimes overbearing demeanor, and has further diminished his internal standing by presiding over a chaotic and opaque N.S.C. transition process that prioritized the hiring of military officials over civilian experts recommended to him by his own team.
Steve Bannon Is Making Sure There’s No White House Paper Trail, Says Intel Source
(Foreign Policy) The Trump administration’s chief strategist has already taken control of both policy and process on national security.

27 January
Trump’s Fevered Executive Orders Leave Capitol Hill in Chaos
Drawn up without consulting his Cabinet or legal experts, a number of the president’s first executive actions could be headed for failure.
(Vanity Fair) While President Barack Obama’s administration adopted a meticulous, weeks-long approach to drafting and issuing executive orders—thoroughly vetting any actions with affected agencies, lawmakers, and legal experts—the nascent Trump administration has been churning out initiatives at full tilt and, largely, without proper review. … But Trump’s aggressive pace in his first days as president could backfire. “If you don’t run these kinds of initiatives through the affected agencies, you’re going to get something wrong,” David Vladeck, a law professor at Georgetown University and a former official at the Federal Trade Commission, told Politico. “A government by edict is not a sustainable idea.”
More from Daily Kos Ex-Breitbart Alt-Nazi promoter Steve Bannon is author of Trump’s executive orders
Two of Donald Trump’s senior advisors — neither of whom has any previous government or legal experience — have reportedly been writing executive orders without any input from the agencies they would affect.
Aides told Politico that Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and Stephen Miller, the senior White House advisor for policy, have made almost no effort to consult with federal agency lawyers or lawmakers as they wrote executive orders.

26 January
From the Survival Condo Project, a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo to a New Zealand luxury community with three thousand acres of dunes and forestland, and seven miles of coastline …
Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich
(This article appears in other versions of the January 30, 2017, issue, with the headline “Survival of the Richest.”)
Some of the wealthiest people in America—in Silicon Valley, New York, and beyond—are getting ready for the crackup of civilization.
(The New Yorker Magazine) Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort. Élite anxiety cuts across political lines. Even financiers who supported Trump for President, hoping that he would cut taxes and regulations, have been unnerved at the ways his insurgent campaign seems to have hastened a collapse of respect for established institutions. …

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index measures the state of democracy in 167 countries globally. If, like me, you think that democracy is a good thing then 2016 was an unhappy year: the average global score fell from 5.55 out of 10 in 2015 to 5.52 in 2016, with 72 countries recording a lower score and only 38 an improvement.
One of the most notable features of the Democracy Index, which is compiled using the expertise of our team of country analysts, is that the US is now classed as a “flawed democracy” rather than a “full democracy”. The key driver of this is a decline in public trust in democratic institutions to historic lows. Mr Trump’s election was in large part a consequence, not a cause, of this trust deficit, which has been a long time in the making.

Trump’s flashy executive actions could run aground
(Politico) The breakneck pace of Trump’s executive actions might please his supporters, but critics are questioning whether the documents are being rushed through without the necessary review from agency experts and lawmakers who will bear the burden of actually carrying them out. For example, there are legal questions on how the country can force companies building pipelines to use materials manufactured domestically, which might not be available or which could violate trade treaty obligations. There’s also the question of whether the federal government can take billions from cities who don’t comply with immigration enforcement actions: Legal experts said it was unclear.

14 January
Chuck Schumer Threatens Confirmation Delays For Trump’s Cabinet Picks Over Ethics Reviews
To prove his point, he sent Mitch McConnell a copy of a 2009 letter that McConnell himself had written about vetting nominees.
Senate Hearings Begin for Wealthiest Cabinet in U.S. History Despite Lack of Vetting
AMY GOODMAN: A barrage of Senate confirmation hearings is set to begin Tuesday for what could be the wealthiest Cabinet in modern American history. This comes despite concerns that ethics clearances and background checks are incomplete for several of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks. …
Tillerson’s net worth is at least $300 million, and several other nominees hold assets of more than a billion dollars, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose confirmation hearing is on Thursday. The New York Times reports some of the nominees have so many assets, there are not enough boxes on the standard form for them. See also Six Confirmation Hearings, Trump News Conference Scheduled on One Day
(The Atlantic)
… Federal nepotism laws seem to prohibit such an appointment, but Trump and Kushner may be able to bend the rules. In a similar vein, Senate Republicans are rushing to hold confirmation hearings for eight of Trump’s Cabinet nominees this week even though four of them haven’t yet completed the ethics review process—breaking a longstanding tradition and causing concern from the independent Office of Government Ethics. Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, continues to defend his civil-rights record. One example he and his allies have cited is his role in prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1982—but the details of that case don’t seem to support Sessions’s claims.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, to be top adviser
The 35-year-old played a key role in the presidential campaign and his new White House job will cover both domestic and foreign policy.
The news was confirmed by Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway, who described it as the “best news of the day”.
Jonathan Freedland: Don’t treat Donald Trump as if he’s a normal president. He’s not
From the US Congress to Theresa May, everyone needs to understand that when the next president takes office the usual rules will no longer apply
(The Guardian) The mistake is to project on to Trump the standards that would normally apply. Take this week’s parallel drama, as several of his nominees came before the senate to have their appointments confirmed. They all offered sweet words of reassurance: the would-be attorney general insisting he was no racist; the prospective secretary of state avowing that he was no patsy to Putin. Official Washington seized on these morsels of comfort, especially when Trump tweeted an apparent admission that his senior team were at odds with him on several core issues: “I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”
But what if such licensed independence is all for show? Maybe Trump has no plan to use these cabinet members for anything but window dressing. … Or  …  Surely it is just as possible that Trump’s team gave his nominees permission to say whatever they had to say to get confirmed, true or false.
7 January
Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal
(NYT) Unlike the Trump Organization, which has shifted its focus from acquisition to branding of the Trump name, the Kushner family business, led by Mr. Kushner, is a major real estate investor across the New York area and beyond. The company has participated in roughly $7 billion in acquisitions in the last decade, many of them backed by opaque foreign money, as well as financial institutions Mr. Kushner’s father-in-law will soon have a hand in regulating. … Goldman Sachs has lent the Kushner Companies money and is an investor in a real estate technology company co-founded by Mr. Kushner and his brother.
Mr. Kushner played a pivotal role in persuading Mr. Trump to appoint the firm’s president, Gary D. Cohn, as his chief economic adviser, according to several people involved in the transition. …
Ethics officials express ‘great concern’ over Trump Cabinet vetting
(UPI) — A nonpartisan government ethics office said the potential for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees to be approved before vetting for potential ethical violations or conflicts of interest is “of great concern.”
In a letter to Senate leaders on Saturday, Walter Shaub, Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, said he was concerned that financial filings from several of Trump’s Cabinet choices have not been completed and ethics monitors are lacking information from the nominees to finish the reviews before the confirmation hearings are held.
Shaub said the ethics reviews are a process that normally takes “weeks, not days.”
“The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me. This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,” Shaub wrote.
6 January
What Donald Trump Owes Wall Street
One wonders whether to be more worried about Big Finance using its leverage to influence the president or the president abusing his power in order to thwart his creditors.
(The Atlantic) Wells Fargo. JPMorgan Chase. Fidelity Investments. Prudential PLC. Vanguard Group. These are among the major financial institutions that own business debt held by Donald Trump, according to an investigation just published by the Wall Street Journal.
While the president-elect’s finances remain murky, due largely to his refusal to release his tax returns, the newspaper reports that he owes at least hundreds of millions of dollars, that the debt is held by more than 150 institutions, and that some of it is backed by his personal guarantee. …
Trump is nevertheless offering less transparency than any predecessor in the modern era, and entering office with both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans who show no inclination to fulfill their responsibility to scrutinize his conflicts. Until members of Congress launch a full probe into Trump’s financial assets and debts, so that at the very least they can understand where his interests and America’s interests diverge, there is no way that they can adequately represent their constituents.
3 January
Scott Feschuk: President Trump’s first 100 days in five overconfident predictions
A mulligan on the oath of office. A foreign trip to Israel. Many, many pardons. And that doesn’t even include the inevitable Twitter fight with Beyoncé.
1. He will need to retake the oath of office. Even when delivering a speech with a Teleprompter, he can’t help himself: Trump’s gotta Trump. Is there any chance the new President doesn’t ad lib on Inauguration Day? I do solemnly swear bigly, and better than any President person has sweared before…
Republicans Can’t Get Rid of These Watchdogs
By Noah Feldman
The stealth Republican move Monday night to weaken the ethics oversight office in the House of Representatives is a good reminder that the U.S. Constitution provides only limited protections when a single party rules. But the swift rollback of the plan on Tuesday is also a good reminder that the Constitution does have an oversight mechanism built in: the press. When one party controls the legislature and presidency, the “Fourth Estate” isn’t just a metaphor. It’s a necessity for functioning free government.
Flooded with phone calls from voters, House GOP drops effort to gut ethics panel
A North Carolina Republican said he got a “tremendous number of calls.”
(Think Progress) The House GOP reversed course on Tuesday, deciding in a closed door meeting to abandon a plan approved less than 24 hours earlier to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
2 January
How the GOP plans to begin dismantling Obama’s legacy
(PBS Newshour) The new Congress starts work this week, with the Republicans in control of both houses. Soon, they’ll also have the White House. What’s on the GOP agenda?
LISA DESJARDINS: I could go into a lot of details, but essentially dismantling the eight years of the Obama presidency.
And they’re going to start right away with actions that lead toward the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It’s complicated. In the end, it’s going to be a three-step process, but they are going to start with the process this week with votes Tuesday, Wednesday.
They’re also going to try and set up a process where they can start immediately rolling back some Obama regulations. Think about the environment in particular. And then there is going to be potentially a drawn-out fight over some of these Cabinet nominees.
Republicans Face a Dangerous First 100 Days
(Bloomberg) Congressional Republicans say Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence claim they’ll essentially delegate the substantive agenda to House Speaker Paul Ryan and other leaders on Capitol Hill, though the president-elect already has had several screaming phone calls with top Republican members of Congress.
Speaker Ryan’s top priorities are permanent tax cuts, skewed to the wealthy and investment, accompanied by cutbacks to domestic programs. If that proves unpopular, will Trump, who doesn’t like to be associated with unpopular things, pull the rug out?
Republicans remain tied in knots over Obamacare. They are going to repeal it quickly with gaping questions and loopholes when it comes to how and when it will be replaced. But the real possibility this could create chaos and cause the health insurance market to crater scares them.
Of course, the initial battles in the next few weeks will be over confirming Trump’s appointments. Most will make it through, unless they stumble badly in hearings or a new controversy or scandal is uncovered.
… The big economic issues will dominate the legislative calendar as Republicans calculate they have to enact sweeping changes by July 4.
If they achieve their goals, and work together, consumer and business confidence could be soaring, the economy humming, adding jobs, and Republicans won’t have much to worry about.
That entails threading delicate political needles and enjoying a lot of luck. The zeal to make the supply-side tax cuts permanent means that, under the budget resolutions, they can’t add to the deficit in the second decade. Even with the gimmicks Ryan and others will employ that’s not anywhere close to achievable. To do so, they might then accompany these tax cuts with sharp cutbacks in federal spending on programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. That juxtaposition makes a few Republicans uncomfortable.

Ross Douthat: The Trump Matrix
(NYT Opinion)  What we can do, for now, is set up a matrix to help assess the Trump era as it proceeds, in which each appointment and policy move gets plotted along two axes. The first axis, the X-axis, represents possibilities for Trumpist policy, the second, the Y-axis, scenarios for Trump’s approach to governance.
The policy axis runs from full populism at one end to predictable conservative orthodoxy on the other. (28 December 2016)

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