U.S. Government & governance 2019

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U.S. Government & governance 2018
U.S. Government & governance 2017 – 18
The firings and fury: The biggest Trump resignations and firings so far
How the shutdown might end, according to game theory
Brookings: Tracking turnover in the Trump administration
On Bullshit and the Oath of Office: The “LOL Nothing Matters” Presidency (November 2016)

22 June
Pompeo, a Steadfast Hawk, Coaxes a Hesitant Trump on Iran
In the days leading up to President Trump’s decision on whether to launch a missile strike against Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commanded the stage.
After warning that Mr. Trump was prepared to use force because of Iran’s suspected role in oil tanker attacks, Mr. Pompeo flew to Florida on Monday to strategize with generals at Central Command. Back in Washington, he briefed the foreign minister of the European Union on intelligence. By Thursday, he was pressing the case in the White House Situation Room for a strike.
Mr. Pompeo was steering Mr. Trump toward one of the most consequential actions of the administration. Only at the last minute did the president reverse course and cancel the strike.
The confrontation with Iran has put a spotlight on the extent of Mr. Pompeo’s influence with Mr. Trump. In an administration that churns through cabinet members at a dizzying pace, few have survived as long as Mr. Pompeo — and none have as much stature, a feat he has achieved through an uncanny ability to read the president’s desires and translate them into policy and public messaging. He has also taken advantage of a leadership void at the Defense Department, which has gone nearly six months without a confirmed secretary.

21-22 June
Inside a Texas Facility That Is Holding Immigrant Children
Warren Binford, a lawyer who has been interviewing children held in the detention facilities, was so disturbed by what she saw that she decided to talk to the media.
(The New Yorker) Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. This week, a team of lawyers interviewed more than fifty children at one of those facilities, in Clint, Texas, in order to monitor government compliance with the Flores settlement, which mandates that children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions and moved out of Border Patrol custody without unnecessary delays. The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of each other because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.
The Unimaginable Reality of American Concentration Camps
By Masha Gessen
Ocasio-Cortez and her opponents agree that the term “concentration camp” refers to something so horrible as to be unimaginable. (For this reason, mounting a defense of Ocasio-Cortez’s position by explaining that not all concentration camps were death camps misses the point.) It is the choice between thinking that whatever is happening in reality is, by definition, acceptable, and thinking that some actual events in our current reality are fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves—not just as Americans but as human beings—and therefore unimaginable. The latter position is immeasurably more difficult to hold—not so much because it is contentious and politically risky, as attacks on Ocasio-Cortez continue to demonstrate, but because it is cognitively strenuous. It makes one’s brain implode. It will always be a minority position.

18 June
The Pentagon is without a permanent leader, again.
(The Atlantic) Patrick Shanahan took over as the Defense Department’s acting secretary after James Mattis stepped down at the end of last year, and after five months of Shanahan auditioning, Trump vowed to make the gig permanent. But today, Shanahan suddenly withdrew from consideration after reports surfaced of domestic abuse within his family. The Shanahan tenure was short but rocky (in good company with … many recent tenures): At times he struggled to answer basic questions in congressional hearings, and he helped oversee controversial Trump initiatives such as military funding of the border wall. Trump already has another acting secretary lined up, but now the wait for a permanent leader drags on, even as the U.S. faces heightened animosity with Iran.

17 June
Mitch McConnell Calls Representative Democracy for Puerto Rico and D.C. ‘Full-Bore Socialism’
(New York) On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted a video of a recent interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News, in which he claimed that House Democrats “would turn us into a country we’ve never been.” For example, a country that resembles something closer to representative democracy for all its citizens. McConnell explained his thinking as it relates to the Democratic wish of granting congressional seats to the people of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico:
“They plan to make the District of Columbia a state — that’d give them two new Democratic senators — Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators. And as a former Supreme Court clerk yourself, you’ve surely noticed that they plan to expand the Supreme Court. So this is full bore socialism on the march in the House. And yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”
Whether McConnell is defending against “full-bore socialism” or the advent of (almost) full representative democracy for millions of Americans, the inclusion of Puerto Rico and D.C. in Congress would cause profound shifts to the power balance of the parties — not to mention the Electoral College. Four additional seats in the Senate that skew Democratic could cancel out the Republican advantage of more representation with fewer votes: In the 2014 midterm, the 46 Democrats received 20 million more votes than the 54 Republicans in the chamber. In the House, Puerto Rico would end up with around seven electoral votes and D.C. with one. On population level alone, the district and the territory are certainly worthy of membership. D.C., at 702,455, has more people than Vermont or Wyoming. With a pre-Maria population of almost 3.2 million, Puerto Rico is home to more Americans than 21 states.

14 June
Highlights From Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s Career of Deflection
(New York) On Thursday, President Trump tweeted that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be “going home” at the end of June, where he hopes that “she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas.” Sanders originally joined the administration as deputy White House press secretary, where she soon proved more competent than her boss, Sean Spicer.
In an administration known for its profound turnover rate, Sanders’s departure is one of the more high-profile exits of 2019 — along with former chief of staff John Kelly, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and White House communications director Bill Shine. To help understand how Sanders set the tone for the combative Trump administration, here’s a timeline of the public skirmishes of her career in the West Wing.

13 June
Kellyanne Conway Broke the Law—And Is Going to Get Away With It
A government watchdog says that the aide to the president is undermining the rule of law, and should be fired.
(The Atlantic) The report poses little challenge to the White House, though. Boosting Trump’s political prospects, undermining ethics watchdogs, and assailing the rule of law are all part of the same portfolio. Conway is doing precisely what her boss wants her to do

10 June
The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.

19 May
Trump, Republicans distance themselves from Alabama abortion law
In a series of tweets shortly before midnight on Saturday, the president wrote that his view is “the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.”
In aligning with the memory of the popular GOP figure, Trump disregarded that Reagan had, as California governor, signed a liberal abortion law. And as president, Reagan nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted to uphold Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, in later challenges to the ruling.
The most recent poll on the issue by the Kaiser Family Foundation, conducted in late April, found that two-thirds of the public wants Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, to remain in place. Slightly more than half of Republicans disagree.
He alluded to the two justices he nominated to the Supreme Court, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, writing that they and “Federal Judges (many more to come)” are part of “a whole new & positive attitude about the Right to Life.”
Trump also referred to the so-called Mexico City policy, a rule he reinstated the week he took office in 2017 that blocks U.S. aid to foreign organizations that use money from other sources to discuss or perform abortions. The rule originated in 1984. Since then, it has been reversed each time a Democrat has come into the White House and restored by every Republican president

10 May
House passes Trump-opposed disaster-relief bill with more funding for Puerto Rico
The House overwhelmingly passed a $19.1 billion bill Friday to provide federal aid to communities and military installations hit hard by natural disasters, ignoring President Trump’s opposition to the package over its assistance for Puerto Rico.
Hours after Trump told Republicans to reject the disaster relief bill, the House backed millions of dollars for Midwest farms ravaged by flooding, Southern states still struggling after tornadoes, Western locales devastated by wildfires and other regions affected since 2017. Thirty-four Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats to pass the sweeping relief package, 257 to 150. Some of Trump’s most loyal conservative supporters broke with the president, favoring their districts’ needs over the president’s demands. Among them were Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and lawmakers from Nebraska, Georgia and Texas.

27 April
Donald Trump’s Unprecedented Assault on the Power of Congress
(The New Yorker) President Donald Trump and his allies are invoking an unprecedented form of executive privilege that would systematically undermine Congress’s power and the post-Watergate norms established by Ford. Those practices, followed by six subsequent Republican and Democratic Presidents, involve the executive branch coöperating, at least in limited form, with congressional investigations and subpoenas. Failure to do so, it was assumed, could hurt a President politically.
On Monday, the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel and a key figure in the Mueller report, to appear before it and present documents related to investigations of the President. On Tuesday, in a step never taken before by a modern President, Trump declared that he would bar McGahn—and all current and former Administration officials—from testifying before Congress, and, further, that the Administration would ignore all subpoenas from the legislative branch.
Stonewalling investigations and rallying one’s political base appear to be a savvy way to secure a high voter turnout, which is needed to win elections in an increasingly divided country. In this case, Trump is exacerbating a preëxisting trend in American politics, not creating one. The question is whether a 2020 candidate can emerge who can restore lost trust and norms and garner votes.

18 April
The coming showdown over government reform
How the dismantlers and rebuilders will shape the 2020 election
By Paul C. Light
(Brookings) Most Americans may favor federal action to strengthen the economy, prevent terrorism, guarantee safe food and drugs, and rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges, but they also worry the federal government cannot honor the promises made. Many give the government poor ratings on running its programs, believe the bureaucracy is almost always wasteful and inefficient, are either angry or frustrated toward government, and think ordinary Americans would do a better job at solving the nation’s problems than their elected representatives.
Trump can take credit for maintaining Republican demands for significant reform. He continues to criticize federal employees for national and state crises, promote conspiracy theories about a “deep state” out to undermine him, blame his appointees for failing him, foment high staff turnover through public criticisms and firings, and criticize career officers for major policy breakdowns. Trump has also failed to honor his signal campaign promises to drain the swamp, “cut so much, it will make your heads spin,” surround himself with only “the best and most serious people,” and “buy things for less.” He has rarely followed through with specifics and then often with intemperance, further over promising, White House intrigue, and a tainted presidential appointments process that has produced record-setting delays and vacancy rates, persistent allegations of corruption, and the resignations of conflicted appointees such as Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and Ryan Zinke. As noted later in this report, Trump has also overseen a series of highly visible government breakdowns that have reinforced public distrust, including allegations of failed Federal Aviation Administration oversight of the Boeing 737 Max 8 flight-control system.
By attacking the government he leads, Trump has fueled public distrust across the political divide

17 April
A long read and very discouraging.
The McKinsey Way to Save an Island Why is a bankrupt Puerto Rico spending more than a billion dollars on expert advice?
By Andrew Rice With Luis Valentin Ortiz
(New York) Since 2016, Puerto Rico has been buffeted by a natural disaster and several overlapping, man-made catastrophes. Its government is bankrupt and owes $74 billion to bondholders: a staggering sum that amounts to 99 percent of the island’s gross national product, or $25,000 for each of its 3 million men, women, and children. It faces a vociferously hostile president, a stalemated and colonial relationship with Congress, entrenched local political dysfunction, and a bunch of angry creditors — most notably, a group of hedge funds that speculate in distressed debt and are fighting for every last penny they think they’re owed.
Under a law Congress passed in 2016, the island’s finances are overseen by a federally appointed board, which hired McKinsey as its “strategic consultant.” … In October, the board issued a 148-page fiscal plan that touches nearly every sector of the Puerto Rican government. Following McKinsey’s guidance, it laid out numerous service reductions, agency consolidations, and “right-sizing” measures — the plan’s euphemism for job cuts.
In D.C., Democrats like presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren were excoriating McKinsey for having “paved the way for many of Puerto Rico’s creditors to receive handsome payouts.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration was maneuvering to cut federal disaster aid to the financially fragile island, a campaign that culminated in April with a Twitter tantrum accusing Puerto Rico’s “grossly incompetent” elected leaders of “foolishly or corruptly” spending the money the territory had already received.
Trump is vehemently opposed to giving Puerto Rico the $82 billion it anticipates, and if the figure is lower, the economic stimulus will be smaller. Second, whatever the size of the boost to tax revenue, how it’s allotted will be determined in court. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are currently at loggerheads about how much, or how little, relief to offer…
… Among the many mind-blowing figures in the fiscal plan, one stands out: the $1.5 billion earmarked over the next six years for costs related to the restructuring process itself — more than a billion of which will go to lawyers, bankers, and consultants, McKinsey included.
All those fees are being footed by the taxpayers of Puerto Rico, which is far poorer than any U.S. state, with a median household income of less than $20,000 a year. Its economy was shrinking even before the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria, among the deadliest storms to ever hit U.S. territory.

2 April
Trump leaves Washington reeling with policy whiplash as he struggles with domestic agenda
(WaPo) President Trump has left his advisers and GOP lawmakers reeling from policy whiplash in recent days, cycling through new ideas on health care and immigration that underscore his continuing struggle to pursue a coherent domestic agenda in a divided Washington.
Trump surprised Republicans last week with a new pledge to replace the Affordable Care Act, only to backtrack Tuesday after being confronted with the realities of another all-consuming fight over President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law on Capitol Hill.
Trump has also sent aides and a large part of the federal bureaucracy scrambling to respond to his expansive vow to close the entire U.S.-Mexico border this week unless “ALL illegal immigration” is halted by Mexico. Alarmed lawmakers and business leaders warned that any such move would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy, and administration officials signaled Tuesday that they were seeking more-limited options to address a surge in migration at the border.

25 March
Paul Krugman: Trump’s Kakistocracy Is Also a Hackistocracy.
The invasion of hucksters has reached the Federal Reserve
… Until recently, however, one agency had seemed immune to the continuing hack invasion: the Federal Reserve, the single institution most crucial to economic policymaking. Trump’s Fed nominees, have, by and large, been sensible, respected economists. But that all changed last week, when Trump said he planned to nominate Stephen Moore for the Fed’s Board of Governors.
Why do hacks rule on the right? It may simply be that a party of apparatchiks feels uncomfortable with people who have any real expertise or independent reputation, no matter how loyal they may seem. After all, you never know when they might take a stand on principle. … as top jobs systematically go to hacks, there is an inevitable process of corrosion. We’re already seeing a degradation of the way our government responds to things like natural disasters. Well, there will be more and bigger disasters ahead. And the people in charge of dealing with those disasters will be the worst of the worst.

16 March
Politico: PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP has issued his first veto, rejecting broadly bipartisan legislation that overturned his emergency declaration at the border. HERE IS WHAT’S NEXT: The legislation originated in the House, which means the House gets to try to overturn the veto first. They’ll do so when they return from their week-long recess, which is now underway.
IN ORDER TO OVERTURN THE VETO, every House Democrat needs to vote yes — a certainty. But 55 House Republicans have to also vote to overturn it — and that’s not going to happen. After this process fails in the House, the Senate cannot take it up, and that’s the end of that.

8 March
House passes sweeping election reform bill
Democrats had made the proposal a key part of their campaign to win back the House.
(Politico) The legislation includes a national expansion of early voting, redistricting reform, automatic voter registration and stricter disclosure rules for a bevy of political activities. One particular ethics provision would mandate presidential and vice presidential candidates to publicly disclose 10 years of tax returns — a measure taken after Trump has refused to do so despite decades of precedent.
The bill has little chance of becoming law in the face of stiff opposition from the GOP-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that it would get no floor time “because I get to decide what we vote on.” Trump has also threatened to veto the bill, in the unlikely event it will make it to the president’s desk.

6 March
Trump administration seeks GOP support on border wall as senators confront hard choices
(WaPost) The Trump administration privately appealed to Republican senators on Tuesday to stand with President Trump on his controversial wall, painting a picture of a U.S.-Mexico border crisis to persuade undecided GOP lawmakers to back his emergency declaration in a highly anticipated vote next week.
Yet many GOP senators weighing a vote on nullifying Trump’s national emergency are being confronted with a difficult choice: Buck their president and potentially draw the wrath of core Republican voters, or support Trump’s controversial declaration for a wall that remains unpopular with the broader public.
Wilbur Ross broke law, violated Constitution in census decision, judge rules
(WaPost) The administration has been on the losing end of scores of court decisions involving immigration issues since President Trump took office. But the census case has taken on special significance because it strikes at the heart of the United States’ form of government and because of what Seeborg described as a “strong showing of bad faith” by a Cabinet secretary who, influenced in part by White House advisers, tried to conceal his motives.

4 March
McConnell: Senate will pass resolution blocking Trump’s border emergency
The Senate majority leader had urged the president not to declare a national emergency after Congress rejected his demands to fund the wall.
McConnell’s Kentucky GOP colleague Rand Paul became the fourth Republican senator to join 47 Senate Democrats in supporting the House-passed disapproval resolution, which needs a simple majority to go to Trump’s desk. The Senate will vote later this month on the measure to stop Trump from unilaterally redirecting billions toward his border wall.

18 February
16 States Sue to Stop Trump’s Use of Emergency Powers to Build Border Wall
(NYT) A coalition of 16 states, including California and New York, on Monday challenged President Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend billions of dollars on his border wall.
The lawsuit is part of a constitutional confrontation that Mr. Trump set off on Friday when he declared that he would spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than Congress had granted him. The clash raises questions over congressional control of spending, the scope of emergency powers granted to the president, and how far the courts are willing to go to settle such a dispute.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing a wall along the Mexican border because it is Congress that controls spending.

8-15 February
David Leonhardt morning round-up
President Trump’s emergency declaration for a border wall is based on an obvious falsehood: There is no emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. And because he was goaded into the declaration by Sean Hannity, the episode makes a mockery of the federal government.
But in the relative scheme of Trump’s misbehavior, the emergency declaration doesn’t rank very high. It’s not corruption or obstruction of justice. It’s not an attempt to undermine America’s alliance with Western Europe. And it doesn’t even matter much for immigration policy.
A presidential declaration of emergency in order to construct a wall would be stupid,” Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic wrote. “It would be wasteful. It would test the limits of the president’s authority under the law in question. But it would not, in itself, be a step toward authoritarianism.” (Here’s the longer version of her case.)
This will be challenged in courts immediately, and it will be pretty easy to throw this thing out,” Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general, predicted
Trump’s fake emergency is a sign of weakness not strength,” tweeted The New Yorker’s John Cassidy. “He ran on the wall, he had two years of Republican control of Congress, and he still couldn’t get it financed. Weak president.
Trump’s Bizarre, Rambling Announcement of a National Emergency
(The Atlantic) The circus in the Rose Garden threatened to distract from what the president actually did on Friday.
The move is sure to draw legal challenges, and might not take effect exactly as Trump described. But the fact remains that the president has declared a national emergency in order to save face with anti-immigration members of the conservative media and his base, having been roundly defeated in a joust with Congress over funding. In essence, the president has created a new crisis to get himself out of a previous crisis—which he also created.

A president’s national emergencies are in the eye of the beholder
After President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday in order to secure funding to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, Elaine Kamarck explains how this expansion of presidential power will open the door for the next Democratic president to declare a similar national emergency over issues like gun violence, health care, or climate change.
(Brookings) There are obvious constitutional concerns with this, the least of which is the very specific “power of the purse” granted by the Constitution in Article I, Section 9. The president’s action is, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the day it was leaked that the president would declare a national emergency, “an end run around Congress” which will no doubt be litigated in the federal courts.
But should the president’s move somehow pass constitutional muster, it would create a pyrrhic victory for Republicans and set a precedent that the GOP would come to regret. That’s because national emergencies can be, as recent history shows, very much in the eye of the beholder—and a president who expands the power of the office for himself also expands the power of the office for his successors. While President Trump believes this national emergency applies only to the border, his actions may reach far beyond the U.S.-Mexico border and endure longer than his tenure as president.
President Trump thinks the situation at the border is a national emergency even though arrests at the border have dropped precipitously since 2000. How else might a future president interpret policy data to identify an emergency that to others may be a controversial declaration?

Everything You Need to Know About Trump’s National Emergency Plan
(New York) The move is a questionable reach of executive authority, to say the least. Because the situation at the border is not a real emergency, and because Congress chose not to provide significant wall funding, the president is putting himself at the forefront of a self-made Constitutional crisis – again.
“This is a real institutional threat to the separation of powers to use emergency powers to enable the president to bypass Congress to build a wall on his own initiative that our elected representatives have chosen not to fund,” Syracuse law professor William C. Banks told the New York Times.
On Thursday, Nancy Pelosi announced that if the president declares a national emergency, Democrats would “review our options” of legal actions to halt his order.
Hasn’t Trump been threatening to use emergency powers all along?
Trump shocks GOP with emergency declaration
Senate Republicans were stunned to learn Trump is ignoring their warnings against such a move.
(Politico) The surprise announcement Thursday that President Donald Trump will use his emergency powers to try and build his border wall blindsided some Republicans, confused others and sent the Senate GOP into a general state of shock.
The news, delivered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor, came after weeks of warnings from his own party not to declare a national emergency at the border.
Trump has decided to challenge Republicans’ resolve anyway — but he may not like the outcome. Aides privately predicted Trump will lose a vote on the Senate floor once the Democratic House passes a resolution of disapproval to block the move.

12 February
Lawmakers say they have reached an ‘agreement in principle’ to avoid government shutdown
The deal doesn’t give Trump as much money as he wanted for a border wall and drops some Democratic proposals to limit ICE detentions.
(WaPost) Key lawmakers announced a tentative deal late Monday that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week while denying President Trump much of the money he’s sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Talks Over Border Security Break Down, Imperiling Effort to Prevent Shutdown
The hang-up was not primarily the amount of funding for a border barrier, but a Democratic effort to force Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on detaining migrants with criminal records instead of people who have overstayed their visas by limiting the number of beds it has in detention centers.
The breakdown in negotiations came as Pentagon and administration officials were preparing for two situations: another partial government shutdown or the president, unsatisfied with an agreement produced by the bipartisan panel, fulfilling his threat to declare a national emergency.
Trump Gives Ground on His Wall as Border Deal Comes Into View
Faced with limited options and a looming deadline to prevent another government shutdown, President Trump is moving toward accepting a border security deal that would fall well short of his once firm demand for $5.7 billion in funds for a wall along the southwestern border.

4 February
Trump Chooses David Bernhardt, a Former Oil Lobbyist, to Head the Interior Dept.
(NYT) President Trump on Monday announced he would nominate David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist and current deputy chief of the Interior Department, to succeed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. While Mr. Zinke had been the public face of some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation’s history, Mr. Bernhardt was the one quietly pulling the levers to carry them out, opening millions of acres of land and water to oil, gas and coal companies. He is described by allies and opponents alike as having played a crucial role in advancing what Mr. Trump has described as an “energy dominance” agenda for the country.

30 January
Trump administration faces an increasingly adversarial Congress — in both parties
Senior Republicans are warning him away from a national emergency declaration to build a border wall. The top Senate leader is directly rebuking his national ­security policy in Syria and Afghanistan. And Democratic committee chairs are threatening subpoenas for his top officials.
… Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced this week an amendment to Middle East policy legislation that rebuked Trump’s decision to pull back troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
While there have been some long-standing disagreements between Senate Republicans and the White House on foreign policy, the amendment — coming from the top Republican senator who has worked hand-in-glove with Trump on many shared priorities — was one of the most forceful protests against the president’s foreign policy.

26 January
Trump White House stonewalls as Puerto Rico aid runs dry
The president’s theories about how the storm-wracked island is using disaster relief money could have dire consequences for its residents.
Additional food aid for the island’s poor will soon be exhausted without supplemental funds opposed by the White House. At the same time, billions in community development appropriations have yet to leave Washington — a year after being approved by Congress to assist in the recovery from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

25 January
After causing so much disruption and damage to the lives of 800,000 workers and all those who rely on their custom. Inconveniencing the public in so many ways … What a disgraceful exercise.

Trump Agrees to Reopen Government for 3 Weeks in Surprise Retreat From Wall

(NYT) President Trump agreed Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks while negotiations proceeded over how to secure the nation’s southwestern border, backing down after a month-long standoff failed to force Democrats to give him billions of dollars for his long-promised wall.
The decision paved the way for Congress to pass spending bills as soon as Friday that Mr. Trump will sign to restore normal operations at a series of federal agencies until Feb. 15 and begin paying again the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed or forced to work for free for 35 days.
The plan includes none of the money for the wall that he had demanded and was essentially the same approach that Mr. Trump rejected at the end of December, meaning he won nothing concrete during the impasse. But if Republicans and Democrats cannot reach agreement on wall money by the February deadline, he indicated that he was ready to renew the confrontation or declare a national emergency and bypass Congress altogether.
Checkmate: Nancy Breaks Trump and Ends the Shutdown
Pelosi’s masterclass, and plummeting polls, forced the president’s hand—at least for now.
(Vanity Fair) Trump did his best to frame the measure as a victory, saying he was “very proud to announce” a “deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government.” But there was no disguising the fact that he had been outplayed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and badly misread the national mood. Earlier in the day, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Trump’s approval rating had fallen to a historic low of 37 percent. According to the survey, a whopping 53 percent of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown, and 60 percent disapproved of how he was handling negotiations to reopen it. A higher percentage of Americans said they trusted Democrats to handle issues of border security (42 percent) and illegal immigration (47 percent) over the G.O.P.—a significant shift in sentiment over the past several months.

24 January
A ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ Shutdown? Democrats Make the Most of an Administration’s Missteps
(NYT) Mr. Trump has stocked his administration with millionaires and the garden-variety wealthy who have not been as careful with their messaging, and Democrats are making the most of it.
The ripest partisan target is Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary … On Thursday, he expressed confusion about why furloughed federal workers were visiting food banks. Another Loan?
Some things you should know about Wilbur Ross New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting
Collapse of Two Plans to End Shutdown Propels Urgent Negotiations
(NYT) A pair of measures to reopen the government — one with President Trump’s border wall, the other without it — failed in the Senate on Thursday, sending lawmakers from both parties into frenzied efforts to forge a compromise that could end the nearly six-week partial shutdown.
But the results undercut the president by revealing that his proposal drew less support in the Republican-controlled Senate than did the Democrats’ plan, which attracted a half-dozen Republicans willing to break with Mr. Trump.
Trump tells federal workers to borrow groceries as second missed pay day looms
“Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else.”
As federal workers across the country have queued up at food banks, taken out loans, and rationed life-saving medicine to get by without a paycheck, Trump administration officials have continued to insist many federal workers support the shutdown.
Aviation workers issue dire shutdown warning
(Politico) Pilots, air traffic controllers and flight attendants are warning that aviation safety is “deteriorating by the day” as the shutdown drags on, and suggested that there’s no telling when “the entire system will break.”
Leaders of three unions issued a statement late Wednesday evening saying their concern is growing for their employees, airlines and the public.
‘Extraordinarily angry and very upset taxpayers’: IRS faces chaotic tax season amid shutdown.
As it prepares to accept 2018 filings beginning Monday, the administration has recalled tens of thousands of IRS employees, but there are already signs that some will be no-shows because they’re facing the prospect of working without pay. An IRS union says some are taking advantage of rules allowing them to stay home if they face financial hardships.

21-22 January
Senate to vote on shutdown end, Trump wall impasse
(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate shifted slightly closer on Tuesday to resolving a month-long partial government shutdown, but there was no sign of relief anytime soon for 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay.
GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight
(The Hill) Republicans, who have seen poll after poll showing that a majority of respondents blame Trump for the shutdown, are eager to corner Democrats by forcing a vote on the White House proposal to reopen the government and provide Trump with $5.7 billion in wall funding.
The White House and McConnell have also sought to sweeten the pot: Their plan includes priorities backed by Democrats including extension of the Violence Against Women Act and more than $12 billion in disaster relief funding.
Despite stated principles, McConnell readies vote on Trump’s shutdown plan
(MSNBC Rachel Maddow) During his speech on Saturday afternoon, unveiling his latest “plan” to end his government shutdown, Donald Trump declared, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to bring this bill to a vote this week in the United States Senate.”
…before the legislative head-counts begin in earnest, there’s a question that deserves an answer: whatever happened to Mitch McConnell’s principle of denying a vote on any measure that lacks bipartisan backing?

14-19 January
David Frum: The President’s Hostage Attempt Is Going Miserably Wrong
Once again, Trump tried and failed to strike a deal on Saturday.
President Donald Trump is trapped. He shut the government to impose his will on the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. That plan has miserably failed. Instead, Trump has found himself caught in the trap he supposed he had set for his opponents.
The shutdown was a demand for unconditional surrender. Unfortunately for him, the president lacks the political realism to recognize that he doesn’t have the clout to impose that surrender. He’s the one who will now have to climb down, and very soon, probably within days. The end of a hostage taking is not a surrender. But it will surely feel that way to the hostage taker—and deservedly, too.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stands back as shutdown drags on
(PBS Newshour) The Republican leader has been conspicuously deferential to Trump since the shutdown began. He’s waiting on the president and Democrats to make a deal to end it. The result is an unusually inactive profile for the GOP leader who’s often the behind-the-scenes architect of intricate legislative maneuvers to resolve bitter partisan stalemates.
But the Kentucky Republican, who is up for re-election in 2020 in a state where Trump tends to be more popular than he is, sees no other choice than to stand back  …  McConnell has plenty of solutions at the ready, allies say. But he sees no value in trying to execute a deal that Trump may not ultimately endorse. It’s not only a waste of time, in his view, it potentially exposes Republican senators up for re-election in 2020, including himself, as sideways to Trump’s wishes
Trump and Pelosi: A Game of Spite and Malice
She gets under his skin. He punches back. Game on.
(NYT) On Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised eyebrows on both sides of the aisle by effectively disinviting President Trump from delivering his State of the Union address to Congress this month.
In a letter citing concerns about the security implications of the continuing government shutdown, Ms. Pelosi suggested, “sadly,” that it might be best if she and the president could “determine another suitable date after government has reopened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing.”
The communiqué was at once excruciatingly polite and brutally dismissive, driving home how the power dynamic has shifted on Capitol Hill. As congressional Republicans sputtered about how grossly political the speaker was being, Mr. Trump was reminded not only of the limitations of his own power, but also of how his House enablers have been stripped of theirs.
Calling Trump’s bluff: The deal Democrats should offer to end the shutdown
By Morley Winograd, Senior Policy Advisor to Vice-President Gore in the second term of the Clinton administration.
(Brookings) To end the government shutdown, the Democrats should give Trump what he wants—$5 billion for the wall—and insist in return on what the country needs: complete protection of the Mueller investigation and the full public disclosure of its report.
Of course, adding money for the wall will be a hard pill for many Democrats to swallow. Legislative language that makes it clear it is not a literal concrete wall and provides for some continuing review of its effectiveness could help mitigate those concerns. But ultimately, Democrats should pay more attention to the long game that needs to be played here on behalf of the future of our democracy and to the need to end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of federal workers who have become the innocent victims of Trump’s vanity. A wall may well prove to be a $5 billion waste of money, but it is a small price to pay to finally expose the real threat to our country’s security that currently inhabits the Oval Office.
Shutdown bites economy, U.S. Coast Guard, as talks to end impasse stall
(Reuters) Democrats, who took over the House this month, have rejected the border wall but back $1.3 billion in other border security measures this year. They have insisted the government be fully open before negotiations occur. House Democrats have passed a number of bills to end the shutdown, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said the chamber will not consider anything Trump would not sign into law.
Compelled to work without pay, federal employees sue Trump, accusing him of violating 13th Amendment
(WaPost) The lawsuit is one of several pursued by federal workers against the Trump administration as the government shutdown enters its 24th day, the longest in history, leaving hundreds of thousands of employees without a paycheck and, in many cases, struggling to pay bills. Employees at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Prisons and Federal Aviation Administration have already filed lawsuits against the administration through their respective unions, among others.
But this case, filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, diverges from the others by invoking the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the aftermath of the Civil War.

10-11 January
Andrew Sullivan: Welcome to Act III of the Trump Tragedy
(New York Magazine) When is the moment we can say that Trump has clearly gone over the line in erasing democratic and constitutional restraints on his personal power?
I’d say declaring a national emergency when there isn’t one to fund a project he can’t get through Congress pretty obviously qualifies.
Defenses of Trump’s Emergency Declaration Defy the Plain Language and Clear Intent of the Law
By David French
(National Review) …partisans are tripping over themselves to disregard the law in service of their imperial president. He doesn’t need Congress, they say. The law gives him the authority to declare an emergency and build his wall anyway. But if that’s true, why is the government shut down? Why are we going through this ridiculous charade? Why didn’t he declare an emergency and build the wall months ago? Why didn’t he deal with this crisis the moment he walked into office?
The answer is simple. If you look at the plain language and clear intent of the relevant statutes, they do not permit Trump to defy Congress and build his wall. He knows it. Congress knows it. His own lawyers know it.
I wrote a long piece earlier this week analyzing the relevant statutes and judicial precedent, and I won’t rehash all of that here, but the bottom line is that even under the most generous statute, only during a “national emergency” that “may require” the use of the military may the president allocate funds for “authorized” construction projects that are “essential to the national defense.”
No, Trump Can’t Use an Emergency Declaration To Build a Wall

7 January
Trump Literally Did Not Understand What a Shutdown Would Do
(New York) Two devastating reports in the Washington Post over the weekend detail the horrifying scope of their ignorance. The administration did not realize that 38 million Americans lose their food stamps under a shutdown, nor did it know that thousands of tenants would face eviction without assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Administration officials “recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact,” reports the Post, and was “focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.” First Trump shut down the government, and then the Trump administration started looking into what effect this would have.
Trump’s emergency threat on wall risks dual legal challenge
(Reuters) Legal scholars said it was unclear exactly how such a step would play out, but they agreed that a court test would likely focus on whether an emergency actually exists on the southern border and on the limits of presidential power over taxpayer funds.
Under the Constitution, decisions about spending taxpayer funds and creating new policy are made by Congress.
However, the president can make quick decisions during emergencies under a patchwork of laws in specific situations such as war, natural disasters and epidemics.
A 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of the legislature, said: “Both the judiciary and Congress, as co-equal branches, can restrain the executive regarding emergency powers.”

3 January
Speaker Pelosi heralds ‘new dawn’ at opening of 116th Congress
(PBS Newshour) The 116th Congress gaveled into session Thursday swathed in history, returning Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker’s office and ushering in a diverse class of Democratic freshmen ready to confront President Donald Trump in a new era of divided government.
The new Congress is like none other. There are more women than ever before, and a new generation of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans and African-Americans in the House is creating what academics call a reflective democracy, more aligned with the population of the United States. The Republican side in the House is still made up mostly of white men, and in the Senate Republicans bolstered their ranks in the majority.
Pelosi, the first female speaker, was broadly pledging to make Congress work for all Americans — addressing kitchen table issues at a time of deep economic churn — even as her party is ready to challenge Trump with investigations and subpoena powers that threaten the White House agenda. It’s the first new Congress to convene amid a partial government shutdown, now in its 13th day over Trump’s demands for money for a wall along the U.S-Mexico border.
“This House will be for the people,” Pelosi said, outlining an agenda “to lower health costs and prescription drugs prices, and protect people with pre-existing conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure — from sea to shining sea.”
Pelosi defied history in returning to the speaker’s office after eight years in the minority, overcoming internal opposition from Democrats demanding a new generation of leaders. She will be the first to regain the gavel since legendary Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.

2 January
A defensive Trump calls a Cabinet meeting and uses it to boast, deflect and distract
President Trump, 12 days into a government shutdown and facing new scrutiny from emboldened Democrats, inaugurated the new year Wednesday with a Cabinet meeting. It quickly became a 95-minute stream-of-consciousness defense of his presidency and worldview, filled with falsehoods, revisionist history and self-aggrandizement.

1 January
Trump invites congressional leaders to White House for wall briefing
(Politico) The meeting would mark the first time Trump has sat down with top congressional leaders of both parties since the shutdown started. There have been virtually no discussions until this point, and the meeting would offer both sides a chance to restart talks.
Democrats are set to take control of the House on Thursday and immediately pass a bill to reopen the government without providing the $5 billion the president has requested for his wall with Mexico. Trump, meanwhile, has vowed to hold out and continue the shutdown standoff until he gets funding for the southern structure.

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