Political Animal

The Democrats Are Now the Party of Conservative Principles

I’m compelled to note a deafening silence.

I know the Republican Party is now in thrall to right-wingism more than actual conservatism, but conservatives are still influential. In the debate over sanctuary cities, where are they? I don’t mean the libertarians, like the good people at Reason and Cato. I mean rock-ribbed, small-government, local-control Buckleyite conservatives.

Why haven’t they defended sanctuary cities?

I have been looking around and have not found any. If I’m missing someone, let me know. But even Bill Buckley’s old magazine, National Review, appears to stand against sanctuary cities. This is the journal, you’ll recall, that famously stood with the South during the civil rights movement. Per Buckley: “Why the South Must Prevail.”

At the heart of that debate is not crime. It is not immigration. It is not even “nationalism,” however you want to define it. It is state’s rights and it is “home rule.” It is the idea, going back to the founding of the republic, that localities have the right to determine their fates on their own terms—and that federal interference can be tyrannical.

Liberals hear “states’ rights” and think Strom Thurmond or some other apologist for Jim Crow apartheid. Thurmond was the original Dixiecrat, the first segregationist Democrat to break for the Republican Party. He helped deliver the South to Richard Nixon in 1968, sparking a party realignment. Throughout his epic run as a United States senator, he managed to yoke, no matter the issue, the federal government to a creeping tide of faceless totalitarianism.

But “local control” means more than that. Here in Connecticut, we believe so much in local control that we abolished county government in the middle of the last century. The Constitution State’s yearly budget woes are rooted in love of home rule. Instead of distributing widely the cost of services, we have 169 municipalities with 169 fire and police departments, and 169 (or so) public school systems. We will have local control if it drives us to the poor house.

These ideas are not only rooted in tradition but enshrined in jurisprudence. The Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Affordable Care Act in 2012 that would have revoked funding from states that did not comply with the law’s Medicaid requirement. Chief Justice John Roberts called that provision a “gun to the head” to the state. Bad, bad. Very bad. Broadly, the federal government cannot commandeer state and local police forces for any reason. That goes back to Tenth Amendment but also the Third, which prohibits the quartering of federal “soldiers” in any “house” without consent.

At least as important as home rule is the privilege given to family. In this too I am hearing a deafening silence among conservatives.

Where are family values figures blasting the federal government for separating children from their mother and fathers? States like Connecticut have assembled “toolkits” in the event a child comes home from school to find her parents taken by federal authorities.

Where are family values figures decrying husbands being separated from their wives? Since the 1990s, unauthorized immigrants who are legally married to US citizens can be and are being deported. One such man, Wilmer Galo-Andino, was apprehended in New Haven in February and ordered to leave the country in the next 30 days.

With local control and family, conservatives tell us they also believe in private property. If we don’t have that, we have socialism or something like it. Well, I don’t see many conservatives outraged by the loss of businesses and property after “illegal aliens” are deported. Yes, I know. “Illegal aliens” are not citizens. But since when is citizenship a pre-existing condition of conservative principles that conservatives have told us for decades apply universally?

I’m being a little coy.

There are a few conservatives here and there who at least not attacking immigrants. People like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. But I don’t see them defending sanctuary cities on conservative grounds. They are defending immigrants as humanitarians and as Republicans of the Old Order, which is to say friendly to business.

And a lot of that states’ rights talk was indeed a defense of racism. It wasn’t mean for non-whites. It isn’t meant for “illegals.” And family values has nearly always been a pretext for attacking women.

But principles matter. And it’s now, ironically, the Democrats who defend local control, family values and the rights of property.

Let’s not shrink away.

Let’s wear the mantle proudly.

A Case Study in Trump Chaos: NAFTA

Yesterday the headlines blared, “Donald Trump to sign executive order withdrawing US from Nafta.” Given that the plan was to sign the order this week, it was obvious that the desperation the White House is feeling about propping up Trump’s ego heading into his 100th day in office was the big driver.

But twenty-four hours later, the story has flipped to, “Trump Rules Out Swift Nafta Exit in Favor of Renegotiation.” How and why did things change so dramatically in just one day? The answer to that question provides us with a case study in why chaos continues to reign in the Trump administration.

First of all, the battle for the so-called “Game of Thrones” continues.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers are embroiled in a debate over how aggressively to proceed on reshaping U.S. participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement, with hard-liners favoring a threatened withdrawal as soon as this week and others advocating for a more measured approach to reopening negotiations with Canada and Mexico.

We’ve come to know the players pretty well. On one side are the nativists like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, head of Trump’s National Trade Council. On the other side is the Goldman Sachs wing of the cabinet led by Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council. Members of Congress joined the latter group.

Early returns from Capitol Hill lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were not encouraging and suggested that a go-it-alone move from the White House without Congress’ backing could cause trouble down the road, as the administration looks to strike a series of nation-to-nation “America First” trade deals.

No fewer than four influential Republicans said the White House should hold up, with GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona saying that such a move would have “the worst possible impact” on his state.

Rather than being a problem for this president, he seems to thrive in an environment where factions of his staff go to war with each other. That is why this kind of chaos is a defining characteristic of his administration.

But there is yet another factor that seems to have affected the dramatic reversal.

In other words, we are once again witnessing the pattern of bluster followed by surrender when Trump actually engages with individuals. One can only imagine that this is the one that enrages the Bannon’s and Navarro’s of the administration. But it tends to empower the Goldman Sachs crew. So it seems that the latter might have “won” this particular round.

What we can learn from this case study is that chaos will continue to define this administration as long as assuaging Trump’s ego is the primary directive, the management style that feeds the Game of Thrones atmosphere survives, and the pattern of bluster followed by surrender persists.

Ivanka Trump’s Fund for Female Entrepreneurs Requires Scrutiny

Mike Allen reports that Ivanka Trump is setting up a fund for female entrepreneurs.

Ivanka Trump told me yesterday from Berlin that she has begun building a massive fund that will benefit female entrepreneurs around the globe. Both countries and companies will contribute to create a pool of capital to economically empower women.

In later reports he says that the fund will be managed by the World Bank — although that is still to be confirmed. But obviously this raises a lot of questions. Dan Primack highlights six of them.

  1. Will these be investments seeking to generate a financial return, or will they be some sort of grant or loan?
  2. Who will be on the investment committee? Will they receive financial compensation?
  3. Are Trump, Powell or other White House employees actively soliciting contributions from foreign governments and/or private institutions (banks, foundations, etc.)? If so, has White House counsel signed off on it?
  4. Will the fund solicit capital from U.S. state pension funds, as do many more traditional private equity funds.
  5. Will the fund be registered with the SEC?
  6. How will the fund balance interests of U.S. companies that could receive direct competition from foreign startups that receive investment?

Given the fact that we don’t know a lot yet about how this fund will work, I have a variety of thoughts in response. First of all, as Josh Marshall suggests, we are once again faced with a situation where something Trump railed against Clinton about is now being embraced by his administration. But it wasn’t just the candidate who criticized Hillary’s involvement with the Clinton Foundation. Most of the media seemed to take it for granted that there was something nefarious going on that presented the “appearance” of a problem. It will be interesting to see if Ivanka’s endeavor comes under similar scrutiny.

Secondly, the way the entire Trump family and administration have blurred the lines between their business interests and government policies makes it impossible to give Ivanka the benefit of the doubt on both her motives for doing this and how it will be administered.

But with that in mind, I also think that we shouldn’t simply throw the baby out with the bathwater. It was sad to watch the way the achievements of the Clinton Foundation were simply cast aside or trampled on because they became fodder for media clicks and political games.

All of this brings to mind the fact that the Obamas started a couple of worthwhile initiatives while they were in the White House. Neither were as large as the Clinton Foundation and all of them involved very different structures. So perhaps it behooves us to make sure we maintain the possibility for supporting these kinds of efforts by future presidents.

In 2014, President Obama started the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. It was initiated as a White House effort that eventually spun off into a private non-profit organization — My Brother’s Keeper Alliance — with its own governing board and leadership. Over its first two years, the initiative matched federal grants with over $1 billion in private sector commitments.

Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative was based on a somewhat different model. It developed cooperative efforts between the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, the Peace Corps, the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture. Since Trump was elected, it seems to have been discontinued (I suspect it would have been embraced in a Clinton administration). But these are the kinds of initiatives in which the State Department has participated regularly, often in cooperation with private partners and foreign governments.

As I’ve already mentioned, the Trump family’s pattern means that Ivanka’s efforts require close scrutiny. Should she fail to be transparent in providing information, that would pose an even bigger issue. So let’s hold Ivanka accountable. But it would be unwise to simply condemn any effort to initiate public/private partnerships within the White House to address domestic or global issues.

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.