Political Animal

Quick Takes: Trump’s Joke of a Tax Plan

* Perhaps you remember that a few months ago a memo was leaked that provided guidance to agents who put together the president’s daily intelligence briefing. In effect, it was the old KISS advice: “keep it simple, stupid.” The president preferred one-page memos with bulleted points, sans nuance. So it shouldn’t be surprising that is exactly what his so-called “tax plan” looked like.

* Steve Benen says it’s a joke…not a plan.

In fact, the document the White House released to reporters today is literally one sheet of paper, with roughly 500 words of text, printed on one side. For comparison purposes, note that the blog post you’re reading right now is longer than the president’s approach to tax policy.

No, seriously. The officials responsible for running the executive branch of a global superpower have had plenty of time to craft a half-way credible proposal, and they instead presented some bullet points that read like a wish-list from a president who can’t be bothered to think about policy details.

* In case you were wondering, the probe into whether or not the Trump administration collaborated with Russia to influence the 2016 continues. Apparently it just gained some gravitas.

The flagging U.S. probes into the Trump administration’s ties to the Kremlin are about to get an injection of fresh blood.

Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have tapped April Doss, a former NSA lawyer, to join the committee’s investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. election. Meanwhile, Rod Rosenstein, who was confirmed as deputy attorney general on Tuesday, will take the reins of the Justice Department’s sprawling probe into Trump’s Russia ties and Kremlin meddling.

The two veterans are poised to bring legal and intelligence heft to probes that have been hobbled by a shortage of technical expertise and a lack of political cover at the Justice Department.

* Carl Bernstein shared some interesting thoughts about where the investigation is heading.

* Minority Leader Pelosi is standing strong.

The White House is telling lawmakers that it will continue paying Affordable Care Act cost-sharing subsidies, potentially defusing a bruising conflict between Democrats and Trump administration officials that had sparked a new round of shutdown fears in Washington Wednesday.

Three sources said the administration was spreading the word across the Capitol that it would continue to provide payments to help millions of Americans to afford health insurance. It was not immediately clear how long the White House planned to keep the money flowing.

On Tuesday evening, Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump’s budget director clashed in a phone call over the Obamacare subsidies threatening delicate bipartisan negotiations to fund the government, according to sources familiar with the matter. The solution to the row appears to be the status quo: Paying for the subsidies outside of the congressional spending process. That would give Trump some future leverage over Obamacare while allowing Democrats to say they’ve protected the law, if only temporarily.

The House minority leader told Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that she cannot support a spending bill that doesn’t include a commitment to continuing the subsidies for Americans with low incomes, according to a high-ranking Republican source briefed on the conversation.

In case that is unclear, here’s the summary. Initially Mulvaney said the administration would continue funding the subsidies if Democrats would agree to funding for the border wall. Pelosi basically responded by saying, “No!” Mulvaney backed off on the border wall funding. Then Pelosi set her terms: either fund the subsidies or we walk.

* Finally, lots of us have been talking about the fact that Trump is feeding the swamp rather than draining it. There’s actually a web site for that. It’s called, “Drain the Swamp: 101 ways Donald Trump Failed. Go take a look.

The ‘Game of Thrones’ Administration Can’t Hire Staff

According to a Washington Post tracker, Trump has nominated just 37 people to fill the 530 remaining vacant senior-level jobs requiring Senate confirmation. The president has been all over the map in explaining this one. At times, he blames Democrats in Senate for obstruction – which is hard to do when he hasn’t even submitted nominations.  At other times, he says he’s not interested in filling all those positions.

Trump, in an exclusive interview Tuesday with “Fox & Friends,” suggested his lack of political appointees is less about a difficulty in finding eager candidates and more about a desire for a leaner government operation.

“When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs,” Trump said.

As is often the case with Trump, he simply says whatever suits him in the moment or whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear.

Lisa Rein says that even his cabinet members are starting to get frustrated with the hold-up.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has publicly expressed frustration with the process…

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price aired his dismay at a recent breakfast meeting with his former congressional colleagues…

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has also become impatient…

So what’s the problem? It might have something to do with this:

Prospective nominees for senior posts and even some of the more junior ones must win approval from competing camps inside the White House, according to close Trump associates and Republican lobbyists.

Around the table for weekly hiring meetings are chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, representing the populist wing; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, leading the establishment Republican wing; White House Counsel Don McGahn; Pence’s chief of staff, Josh Pitcock; and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, representing a business-oriented faction, according to a lobbyist and several White House officials. For economic appointments, Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, also sits in, as does the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, when a hiring decision piques her interest.

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall and observe those meetings? The fact that Ivanka shows up whenever a decision “piques her interest” says it all. This is like the Game of Thrones characters trying to hire a staff. Can you imagine what it takes to get through that gauntlet? No wonder they are failing so miserably.

Pardon Me While I Rage Against Non-Voting Democrats

I’m not in favor of compulsory voting. It probably wouldn’t work in a country as large as ours and it might even backfire. But I do believe voting is a duty as well as a right. Rights must be exercised to be preserved. It is one’s duty as a citizen to preserve them. If self-government means anything, it means individuals taking responsibility to act. Indeed, no one is going to do it for you.

I realize this might seem a bit old fashioned, even conservative. Many smart liberal writers I admire greatly have made the case that democracy belongs to those who want it. Indeed, they say, democracy may be harmed by those with little information about policy—or whose minds are filled with rainbows and pixie dust.

I find that to be a powerful argument. Before the last election, I thought of myself as a small-d democrat. The people, I said to myself, know what they want. Then a lying, thieving, philandering sadist managed to get himself elected as president of the United States. I’m a small-r republican now. The people, in 2016, voted for a madman. The people must be protected from themselves.

Ironically, they can be protected from themselves when more of them vote. Obviously, Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than President Trump, but those votes came mostly from the coasts and from districts bluer than the deep blue sea. We need more people to vote in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania—any place with a big urban center whose local politics will deliver for the Democrats.

I thought of all this when I read Dave Weigel’s recent piece in the Washington Post about how energized Democrats are to vote. Actually, no. I didn’t think of all of the above. Not at first. My first thought was a fantasia of profanity and was something to the effect of: “Why didn’t you people vote in November what is wrong with you all of this could have been avoided I can’t believe now you want to get involved so much has already been lost it’s a little late in the game to wanna act like a citizen!

Yeah, something like that.

Here’s Dave:

In a new survey, taken in the first week of April by Global Strategy Group and Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, Priorities USA found that Democrats who tend to sit home in midterm elections were unusually motivated to turn out in 2018. Fifty-eight percent of “drop-off” voters said they were extremely motivated and enthusiastic about voting in the 2018 elections, rating their interest as nine or 10 on a 10-point scale. An additional 22 percent of the voters were “somewhat” motivated to turn out.

“These voters are ready to turn out,” said Guy Cecil, Priorities USA’s chairman. “I was at the DSCC in 2006 when Democrats took back the Senate; I was at the DSCC when Republicans took it back in 2014. There wasn’t a circumstance where I saw eight out of 10 drop-off voters expressing interest in the election.”

The kicker:

The polling sample included 402 Democrats who didn’t vote in 2016 and 401 Democrats who voted in 2016 but tend to skip midterms. The latter group, they found, was more likely (61 percent to 56 percent) to be extremely motivated. African American voters, who Democrats have found difficult to turn out without Barack Obama on the ballot, were the least likely to be extremely motivated — just 49 percent. [My bold.]

You know, this is great. It really is. It’s great, really, to see Americans getting more involved. But I’m not one to say: Well, Trump is a tragedy, an epic disaster, a miscarriage of democracy, an authoritarian threat to the values and principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights…but at least people are taking an interest in their country.

No, not me. I’m more like: why did we have to go through all of this for you to act like a grownup? Of course an American over the age of 18 should take an interest in his or her country. Why would you not? Of course you should be involved, because one way or another, politics, like the Good Lord above, is going to find you. You are active or you are passive. This isn’t a game. This isn’t TV. Real people are going to suffer real harm, have already suffered real harm, because you couldn’t bother to register and vote on Election Day.

Voter suppression is real, but not insurmountable. And anyway, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about people who somehow rationalize to themselves that there is something more important to do than vote in an election. And I mean every election: for president of the United States to president of the Board of Education.

The short term looks very good for the Democrats. Turnout is likely to be much larger in 2018 than it was in 2010 and 2014, both of which were historic setbacks for the president whom, I presume, these voters liked. But the long term is still a problem. It’s one thing to have a president who inspires a reactionary wave. It’s another to have a deep lasting immutable culture of citizenship and voting.

Trump is not the gift, as it were, that keeps on giving. For real progress, the kind that Barack Obama wanted, we must do it ourselves.

This Administration’s Incompetence Leads to Another Blocked Executive Order

On January 25th, Trump signed an executive order that included the administration’s intent to pull federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.” Yesterday, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of California temporarily froze it, making the president 0 for 3 in the courts on executive orders.

Recently, I wrote about the problems this one would face in court. Roger Parloff described the order’s flaws as “multilayered, fundamental, and unsalvageable.”

[It] appears to offend the principles of separation of powers, due process, and interpretations of both the Tenth Amendment (establishing that the federal government only has powers specifically delegated to it by the Constitution) and limits on Congress’s spending power…

But as Derek Hawkins reports, Judge Orrick didn’t even get to those problems. Perhaps understanding the constitutional issues this executive order faces, the administration’s lawyers chose not to defend it on those grounds. Instead, they developed a rather bizarre approach.

In court, the government tried to make the case that the order doesn’t actually do anything, at least not at the moment, because the administration has yet to define what exactly a sanctuary city is or threaten any particular jurisdiction with a loss of funds. It was their way of convincing the judge to toss out the lawsuit on the grounds that no city or county has yet suffered any harm.

In his ruling, Judge Orrick outlined how that defense was at odds with many public statements made by the president and his staff.

In his ruling, the judge pointed to a February interview between Trump and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, in which Trump called the order “a weapon” to use against cities that tried to defy his immigration policies…

The judge also cited news conferences in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to “claw back any funds” awarded to a city that violated the order…

On top of that, the judge said, Trump and Sessions had repeatedly held up San Francisco as an example of the supposed dangers sanctuary cities pose to ordinary, law-abiding citizens because of the killing there of Kathryn Steinle in July, 2015 allegedly by a man deported five times.

Apparently no one in the White House actually read the judge’s ruling or discussed it with their lawyers because they immediately issued a press release that validated all of those statements. For example:

In its statement Tuesday, the administration cast the ongoing battle over immigration enforcement in “sanctuary cites” as one “between sovereignty and open borders, between the rule of law and lawlessness, and between hard-working Americans and those who would undermine their safety and freedom.”

Citing instances of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in”sanctuary cities,” the White House blasted local officials for enacting such policies, saying the authors now “have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.”

Once again, they specifically referred to the killing of Kathryn Steinle.

Beyond how bizarre and inappropriate it is for the White House to accuse a local government of having “the blood of dead Americans on their hands,” that statement is in direct conflict with the argument their own lawyers just attempted to make. It only serves to reinforce the ruling issued by Judge Orrick.

As we saw with the travel ban, the malevolence of this crew is once again checked by their incompetence.