Getting a Bit Russian Now

It’s that time again, time for Davos, time for the World Economic Forum at that absurdly exclusive and obscenely expensive ski resort in Switzerland. That’s where the political leaders of the world meet with the heads of the largest banks and corporations in the world, and with the most pompous of the big-gun economists, and with assorted celebrities of the right sort, and where the riff-raff is kept away. These people run the world, and yes, last year they found Donald Trump simply too boorish and stupid to be taken seriously. Let him scream about AMERICA FIRST and the evil of all trade agreements he didn’t make himself. This year they won’t have to pretend he’s making sense. He’s staying home and he told everyone else from his administration to stay home too. It’s the shutdown. Or this is spite – they didn’t take him seriously and he’s rich, really rich, so to hell with them. But the shutdown will do. He needs to be over here to take care of that, and Theresa May is staying home too. She has to make Brexit work, now. That can’t be done, but someone has to be there when everything falls apart this month or next. She’s busy.

That’s okay. The news from Davos was dismal:

Fears are rising about the state of the world’s biggest economies, with China posting its worst annual growth in decades and the United States injecting more uncertainty with tariffs and a lengthy government shutdown.

China reported Monday that its economy expanded by 6.6 percent last year – a figure that would be good for many countries but represents the slowest growth for China in 28 years. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund downgraded its expectations for the global economy, highlighting sharp declines in Europe and warning that the risks of a major slowdown have increased…

In contrast to a year ago – when President Trump and other world leaders talked about global prosperity – this year attendees expressed worry that the United States was undermining its own economy, and the rest of the world’s, via a trade war and the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

That is, Trump turned out to be more than a boor and a fool. He turned out to be dangerous. He’s ruining the world’s two largest economies, but mostly his own:

In the United States, the shutdown has already cut into growth, according to numerous economists. Even U.S. consumers, who have remained resilient for months, have been shaken. Early this month, consumer confidence slumped to the lowest level of Trump’s presidency, according to the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey.

But it’s more than that:

While few see a recession as imminent, the high-level officials and executives at Davos catalogue a growing number of risks, including the trade war, the potential of Britain leaving the European Union without a final agreement with the EU, rising interest rates, high global debt levels, and more polarized politics around the world.

So it’s not all Trump, but it’s all Trump kinds of things, and it’s all trouble:

The IMF is the latest institution to scale back its growth forecasts, following downward revisions by the Federal Reserve and many banks. The IMF predicts 3.5 percent global growth in 2019 and 3.6 percent in 2020, down from 3.7 percent forecasts for both years in the fall. But IMF economists warned that they had already downgraded growth in China and the United States in the autumn because of the trade war and that they only see greater risks of a slide from here.

And there’s this:

In the United States, there is no end in sight to the government shutdown, and Trump has not removed any of the tariffs he put in place. Twelve percent of U.S. imports still have new levies on them, and Trump has threatened to impose more.

This seems stupid, perhaps because it is stupid:

Trump has argued that any short-term pain will be worth the long-term benefit – border security in the case of the government shutdown, and more beneficial trade deals in the case of the tariffs.

“China posts slowest economic numbers since 1990 due to U.S. trade tensions and new policies. Makes so much sense for China to finally do a Real Deal, and stop playing around!” Trump tweeted Monday evening.

But in Davos, others argued the United States was relinquishing its historic role in the global economy.

“If you want to be a superpower in the world – and the U.S. still is – you have to engage with people,” said Hans-Paul Bürkner, chair of the Boston Consulting Group.

Perhaps so, but Donald Trump always had a different way of seeing that. He engaged with angry Americans – and he engaged with them against the world – and because he did they would always say that he was right – and they would always vote for him – so none of this other stuff mattered. He could do anything he wanted, but now, as the Washington Post’s Matt Viser reports from Michigan, Trump is losing these people:

Two years ago, Jeff Daudert was fed up with politics. He wanted to shake up the status quo. He didn’t mind sending a message to the establishment – and, frankly, he liked the idea of a disruptive president.

But the 49-year-old retired Navy reservist has had some second thoughts.

“What the [expletive] were we thinking?” he asked the other night inside a Walmart here, in an area of blue-collar suburban Detroit that helped deliver the presidency to Trump.

That’s a good question:

The shutdown fight, as it has played out over the past month, is further eroding the president’s support among voters who like the idea of beefing up border security – but not enough to close the government.

Many here, even those who still support Trump, say they hold him most responsible. They recite his comment from the Oval Office that he would be “proud to shut down the government.” When he said it, they listened.

“It’s silly. It’s destructive,” Daudert said, adding that all he knows about 2020 is that he won’t be supporting Trump. “I was certainly for the anti-status quo… I’ll be more status quo next time.”

And he is not alone:

Recent polling indicates that the government shutdown has caused skittishness among parts of Trump’s base, which has been one of the most enduring strengths of his presidency. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, conducted Jan. 10 to Jan. 13, found that his net approval rating had dropped seven points since December.

One of the biggest declines came among suburban men, whose approval rating of Trump fell a net 18 percentage points, while support from evangelicals and Republicans dipped by smaller margins. Among men without a college degree, the downward change was seven points.

That’s the data, and there are the anecdotes:

As Jeremiah Wilburn, a 45-year-old operating engineer, browsed the aisles at Walmart for a new pair of coveralls, he reflected on some of those shifts. Like many voters here, after siding with Barack Obama in two elections, he decided to gamble with Trump in 2016. And for most of the past two years, he was pleased. The economy was humming, jobs were flowing, and wages seemed stable.

Until now.

“I was doing fine with him up until this government shutdown,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. You’re not getting the wall built for $5 billion. And Mexico is not paying for it. We all know that, too. Meanwhile, it’s starting to turn people like me away.”

In fact, there is change in the air:

Macomb County, in the suburbs north of Detroit, has been a perennial political battleground and a place where the broad sweeps of American politics can be seen. It was the most Democratic suburb in the country when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, and then it helped usher in the phrase “Reagan Democrats” when Ronald Reagan won the White House two decades later.

Obama won the county twice, and then Trump defeated Hillary Clinton here by 12 points. The county is filled with the kind of white working-class voters whose flip to Trump has been the most heralded part of his coalition. Trump came here during his campaign and again in the final days before the 2016 election. He returned last year for a rally meant to pointedly spurn the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that same night. It’s an area he has continued to nurture.

But in the midterm elections, some of those voters started to peel away.

There may be a rout coming, perhaps because something odd is happening:

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, attempted Monday to clean up comments he made over the weekend asserting that discussions about a potential Trump Tower in Moscow stretched as late as November 2016.

In a statement Monday, Giuliani said his comments were purely hypothetical and not based on any conversations with the president. His statement Sunday, made on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” that Trump associates had continued negotiations about the real estate project deep into the 2016 campaign had again raised scrutiny into then-candidate Trump’s posture toward Moscow, including his call in July of that year for Russia to hack into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the President,” Giuliani said Monday. “My comments did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions.”

Who cares? All this talk about the big new wall, and now shutting down the government to get it, was for the rubes. Trump was working on a real estate deal in Moscow:

In his plea deal, Cohen admitted to lying to Congress when he said the Moscow project discussions ended in January 2016, when the negotiations continued through June of that year – a period during which Trump was campaigning vigorously and on his way to securing the GOP nomination.

During the campaign, Trump asserted multiple times that he had no business interests in Russia. Cohen had made his false statements to Congress, according to prosecutors, to minimize ties between Trump and the real estate project.

This is a big deal:

After Giuliani made his comments Sunday, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, reacted to the shifting timeline, saying it was “news to me” and adding: “That is big news.”

“I would think most voters, Democrat, Republican, independent, you name it, that knowing that the Republican nominee was actively trying to do business in Moscow, that the Republican nominee, at least at one point, had offered, if he built this building, Vladimir Putin, a three-penthouse apartment, and if those negotiations were ongoing while – up ’til the election, I think that’s a relevant fact for voters to know,” Warner said. “And I think it’s remarkable that we’re two years after the fact and just discovering it today.”

Martin Longman sees the relevance of this too:

For me, it has never particularly mattered much when or if Trump may have given up on the Moscow Tower idea. What was significant was that he had been pursuing it at all. The significance went far beyond what it could tell us about Trump’s motivations for taking pro-Putin positions. It went beyond what it told us about his honesty. The main problem was that the Russians not only knew that Trump was lying but that they could expose his lies at any time.

In the end, CNN wound up obtaining a copy of the letter of intent Donald Trump personally signed on October 28, 2015. It was an agreement with the Kremlin. Had news of the existence of that agreement come out during the primaries or the general election, it likely would have ended any chances Trump had of winning the presidency.

The Kremlin knew this and so did Trump, so one thing leads to another:

In the third debate, Trump was denying Russia’s role in the hacking and praising Putin’s savvy and intelligence for two reasons. The first was that he did not expect to win the election and was more interested in getting a real estate deal in Moscow which Giuliani has now admitted he was still actively pursuing at the time. The second reason was that Putin had controlled him since at least the moment he signed a letter of intent to build the tower.

It’s the second reason that did not go away when Trump won the presidency. During the campaign, there were people behind the scenes who had read parts of the Steele Dossier and wondered if Putin might have embarrassing sex tapes that explained Trump’s behavior. But Putin didn’t need any sex tapes. He had a letter of intent.

Trump spent the entirety of 2016 subject to Russian blackmail. This vulnerability certainly increased throughout the year, especially after the now infamous Trump Tower meeting where Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner met with Kremlin emissaries offering dirt on Clinton. But Putin held Trump’s fate in his hands from no later than October 2015.

Catherine Rampell carries that a few steps further:

The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party – and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.

She’s not kidding, as there are parallels:

Supposedly middle-class workers – people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure – are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.

Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.

And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, and the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.

And there is this:

The would-be autocrat surrounds himself with toadies who spend more time scheming against one another — sometimes to comic effect — than trying to offer their boss sound guidance or thoughtful policy solutions. In his presence, and perhaps especially when the cameras are on, they praise him relentlessly: his brains, his leadership, his “perfect genes.”

Sometimes they appear afraid to stop clapping, echoing stories of forced standing ovations for Joseph Stalin recounted in video footage and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.”

Apparent corruption among these kowtowing aides – including improper use of public funds or private favors for fancy travel and other pampering – remains rampant. Unlike in true socialist states, it seems, our leaders haven’t run out of other people’s money.

Meanwhile, federal law enforcement is publicly directed to pursue the would-be autocrat’s political enemies, as well as the family members of those enemies, such as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s father-in-law. Purges of law enforcement or other members of the “deep state” are also demanded, and sometimes acted upon. Such actions, when taken by thugs abroad, were once denounced by Republicans.

But that is where we are. The masters of the universe in Davos see bad times coming – Trump is ruining the American economy in order to ruin the Chinese economy. And what is left of his base on these shores knows they have been betrayed. They elected him to hurt the people that they knew should be hurt and humiliated – Mexicans and Muslims and uppity black football players and such – but now he is hurting them. That’s not right. That’s not fair. But that is what is. Things are getting a bit Russian now.

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More Dangerous By the Day

Saturday didn’t work. President Trump addressed the nation. He had talked things over with the key people involved in the matter – Vice President Pence and Senate Majority Leader McConnell and his son-in-law Jared Kushner – and there was a way to end the government shutdown and get the Democrats to vote for funding of his wall and to make them happy to do just that. He wouldn’t end the shutdown just like that but he was willing to hold off tossing out those “dreamers” and those here on special protected status – those we allowed in when their home countries were destroyed by massive natural disasters and that sort of thing. They would have to go, eventually – this was not amnesty with a path to citizenship or anything like that – but they could stay a few more years. He said that’s what the Democrats wanted, and if they agreed, and agreed to fully fund his wall, he might just let the government reopen – but he wasn’t promising anything. He was floating an idea, just an idea, but an offer the Democrats really couldn’t refuse. How could they refuse? He was being reasonable. They’ll look like fools if they refuse – or worse than fools. They’d be the ones who were keeping the government shut down and ruining the economy because they hated America.

That didn’t work. The Democrats pointed out that Trump had made this offer about those “dreamers” before and they had agreed to fund his wall, and then he changed his mind. The deal was off. Those people could not stay here, ever, under any circumstances – even if most Republicans had no problem with that. He had chatted with Stephen Miller or something. But it didn’t matter. He reneged on the deal. He took it all back. The Democrats could only assume he’d do that again – there’d be no deal. And there were other issues – these people had already been protected by the courts which keep ruling against Trump on this point and that. He was offering what was going to happen anyway – and of course his team did not speak to any Democrats at all in developing any of this. They might have asked. They didn’t. He wants exactly what he asked for in the first place, and if he doesn’t get what he asked for in the first the national suffering will continue, and get worse, week by week – but he did offer the Democrats something – so it’s all on them now.

They don’t see it that way, so nothing changed, except Donald Trump angered Ann Coulter and all the immigration hawks. Those completely illegal people could not stay here, ever, under any circumstances. This was amnesty. Coulter said Trump was Jeb Bush. That’s the Bush who married a Mexican national decades ago and now speaks reasonably good Spanish – the guy they all hate for that – the guy none of them voted for. They had voted for rude and crude and nasty Donald and somehow they got low-energy Jeb, who betrayed his country. They were outraged. They had their man in the White House to stop this kind of nonsense –Trump’s hyper-nationalist speechwriter Stephen Miller. Trump, however, was listening to his son-in-law Jared Kushner – the Jew. Damn. So in the end Trump offended everyone. This man may not be the expert on the Art of the Deal.

He’s just angry now:

President Donald Trump lit into Democrats – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in particular – in a Sunday tweetstorm in which he appeared to threaten to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants living in the United States and defended his proposal to end the partial government shutdown.

He wasn’t getting his way and promised more pain all around unless he did, and he ended with random nastiness:

Nancy Pelosi has behaved so irrationally & has gone so far to the left that she has now officially become a Radical Democrat. She is so petrified of the “lefties” in her party that she has lost control… And by the way, clean up the streets in San Francisco, they are disgusting!

That’s an example of what he seems to think is effective negotiating – he will hurt others unless you give in and that will close the deal – but that doesn’t quite work:

Pelosi said in a Saturday statement that the proposal was “a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives.”

“It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a nonstarter,” she said. “For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports.”

There is the real world, and the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus reports from the real world:

Nancy Pelosi is winning her showdown with President Trump for one simple reason: She knows how to do her job better than he knows how to do his.

And this is fairly simple:

The House speaker is fond of three precepts; spend time with her and you’ll hear them all. One is from Abraham Lincoln: “Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed.”

The second is from her father, an old-school Democratic mayor of Baltimore: “Votes are the coin of the realm.” The third is her own: Never underestimate Nancy Pelosi.

In this battle, she’s winning – and Trump’s losing – on all three counts.

She is winning, given the empirical data:

Since the president forced the partial shutdown of the federal government on Dec. 22, public sentiment has run against him and the wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico.

A Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday reported that 58% of Americans oppose building a border wall; 61% disapprove of the way Trump is handling the shutdown.

Even worse for the White House, Democratic voters are more unified on the issue than Trump’s base. The Pew survey found that 84% of anti-wall Democrats oppose any compromise that includes funding for the wall.

So Pelosi and her allies are winning the “outside game,” the battle for public opinion – even though that’s supposed to be Trump’s turf.

And there’s this:

The speaker is prevailing in the inside game too. That should not come as a surprise, since she’s one of the Democrats’ best vote counters in a generation.

After the Nov. 6 midterm election, her reelection as speaker was challenged but she quashed a nascent Democratic rebellion with relative ease.

Now the confrontation with Trump has united House Democrats; the left-wing insurgents and centrist mavericks who once grumbled about the 78-year-old speaker have fallen into line.

Contrast that with the Republican-led Senate, where a dozen members of the GOP majority have complained that the White House has no strategy and several have proposed reopening the government without money for a wall.

And she’s playing the long game:

Pelosi’s real goal is to establish a new balance of power for the next two years – reflecting her fourth precept: “Congress is a co-equal branch of government.”

In a sense, she’s been preparing for this fight for decades. She’s served in Congress since 1987 – including 12 years as minority leader and four as speaker.

And Trump? He landed in the White House almost by accident, never planned for his presidency, and still avoids the hard work of absorbing briefings and formulating policies.

She knows how to do her job. Him, not so much. It’s not a fair fight.

That’s becoming obvious, and the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey note this:

Donald Trump was elected president partly by assuring the American people that “I alone can fix it.”

But precisely two years into his presidency, the government is not simply broken – it is in crisis, and Trump is grappling with the reality that he cannot fix it alone.

And there’s a reason this was never going to work:

Trump’s management of the partial government shutdown – his first foray in divided government – has exposed as never before his shortcomings as a dealmaker. The president has been adamant about securing $5.7 billion in public money to construct his long-promised border wall, but he has not won over congressional Democrats, who call the wall immoral and have refused to negotiate over border security until the government reopens…

The shutdown has accentuated several fundamental traits of Trump’s presidency: his apparent shortage of empathy, in this case for furloughed workers; his difficulty accepting responsibility, this time for a crisis he had said he would be proud to instigate; his tendency for revenge when it comes to one-upping political foes; and his seeming misunderstanding of Democrats’ motivations.

That’s a deadly array of traits:

Before Trump even made it to the presidential lectern in the White House’s stately Diplomatic Reception Room to announce what he called a “straightforward, fair, reasonable, and common sense” proposal, Democrats rejected it as a non-starter…

“What really drove him was ‘Art of the Deal,’ that he could get stuff done in D.C. and deal with the knuckleheads,” said Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a sharp Trump critic, referring to Trump’s book on negotiating. “People saw him as some sort of business wizard. That’s all disintegrating. It’s like McDonald’s not being able to make a hamburger.”

In fact, he never understood the job:

Trump has approached the shutdown primarily as a public relations challenge. He has used nearly every tool of his office – including a prime-time Oval Office address as well as a high-profile visit to the U.S.-Mexico line – to convince voters that the situation at the southern border has reached crisis levels and can be solved only by constructing a physical barrier.

Trump’s advisers argue the president has been successful at educating and persuading Americans, even though his efforts have not led to a bipartisan deal. “You can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime,” said one White House official who, like some others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

But the data tell a more troubling story for the president. One month into the shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, a preponderance of public polls show Trump is losing the political fight. For instance, a Jan. 13 Washington Post-ABC News survey found that many more Americans blame him than blame Democrats for the shutdown, 53 percent to 29 percent. And the president’s job approval ratings continue to be decidedly negative.

“Even though he thinks he’s doing a great job for his core, it’s ripping the nation apart,” said one Trump friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t think there is a plan. He’s not listening to anybody because he thinks that if he folds on this, he loses whatever constituency he thinks he has.”

That’s panic, and then there’s incompetence:

Trump’s management of the impasse has also drawn criticism about his competence as an executive. The administration this past month has been playing a game of whack-a-mole, with West Wing aides saying they did no contingency planning for a shutdown this long and have been learning of problems from agencies and press reports in real time. Officials have scrambled to respond as best they can and keep key services operating, but they fear they may soon run out of so-called Band-Aid solutions, and temporary pots of money may run dry in February, one official said.

No one was thinking, but the fish rots from the head:

Trump has been preoccupied by the political messaging and stagecraft of the shutdown showdown, according to White House aides. He has personally met with outside allies to ask them to go on cable television to defend his position, and he has spent time calling those who have praised him.

The president has also gone days without speaking to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), leaving negotiations effectively at a standstill despite Trump’s latest offer Saturday.

It’s a little more complicated than that:

In private conversations with advisers, Trump alternately complains that nobody has presented him a deal to end the shutdown, grouses about Pelosi and Schumer and asks how the fight affects his reelection chances. Aides said they have shown him polling that shows he is losing the shutdown battle and that most Americans do not think the situation at the border is a crisis, as he and his administration have termed it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) repeatedly has told Trump that he believes Pelosi is trying to embarrass him, two people familiar with the conversations said.

Trump has accused Democrats of being insensitive to the dangers of illegal immigration. “They don’t see crime & drugs, they only see 2020 which they are not going to win,” he tweeted Sunday. He went on to single out Pelosi for behaving “irrationally” and acting as “a Radical Democrat.”

Pelosi and other Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump is immune to the hardships of federal workers who are going without paychecks.

That may be the real issue here:

“I don’t think that he understands the real-life impacts,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D), whose home state of Montana has one of the highest concentrations of federal workers. “Look, the guy was born with a lot of money, and that’s great. I wish I was born with a lot of money, too. I was born with great parents, okay? And so I don’t think he really can relate with people who live paycheck to paycheck. That’s why I don’t think there’s urgency on his part.”

He may not want to make a deal on behalf those people. Who are they to him? But no one should be surprised by this. The New York Times’ Russ Buettner and Maggie Haberman aren’t surprised by this. They remember the businessman. The years have passed but he’s still the same:

Three decades ago, Donald J. Trump waged a public battle with the talk show host Merv Griffin to take control of what would become Mr. Trump’s third Atlantic City casino. Executives at Mr. Trump’s company warned that the casino would siphon revenue from the others. Analysts predicted the associated debt would crush him.

The naysayers would be proved right, but throughout the turmoil Mr. Trump fixated on just one outcome: declaring himself a winner and Mr. Griffin a loser.

And now:

As president, Mr. Trump has displayed a similar fixation in his standoff with Congress over leveraging a government shutdown to gain funding for a wall on the Mexican border. As he did during decades in business, Mr. Trump has insulted adversaries, undermined his aides, repeatedly changed course, extolled his primacy as a negotiator and induced chaos.

“He hasn’t changed at all,” said Jack O’Donnell, who ran a casino for Mr. Trump in the 1980s and wrote a book about it. “And it’s only people who have been around him through the years who realize that.”

So there was no change and the results were the same:

Trump’s lack of public empathy for unpaid federal workers echoes his treatment of some construction workers, contractors and lawyers whom he refused to pay for their work on his real estate projects. The plight of the farmers and small-business owners wilting without the financial support pledged by his administration harks back to the multiple lenders and investors who financed Mr. Trump’s business ventures only to come up shortchanged.

And his ever-changing positions (I’ll own the shutdown; you own the shutdown; the wall could be steel; it must be concrete; then again, it could be steel) have left heads in both parties spinning. Even after his televised proposal on Saturday to break the deadlock, Mr. Trump has no progress to show.

And there’s a reason for that too:

“I think he was always a terrible negotiator,” said Tony Schwartz, co-author with Mr. Trump of “The Art of the Deal.”

That book, published in 1987, was intended to be an autobiography of Mr. Trump, who was 41 at the time. Mr. Schwartz said that he created the idea of Mr. Trump as a great deal maker as a literary device to give the book a unifying theme. He said he came to regret the contribution as he watched Mr. Trump seize on the label to sell himself as something he was not – a solver of complicated problems.

Rather, Mr. Schwartz said, Mr. Trump’s “virtue” in negotiating was his relentlessness and lack of concern for anything but claiming victory.

“If you don’t care what the collateral damage you create is, then you have a potential advantage,” he said. “He used a hammer, deceit, relentlessness and an absence of conscience as a formula for getting what he wanted.”

And that’s what happened:

During his years in business, Mr. Trump earned a reputation as someone whose word meant very little. When a commitment he made no longer made sense, he walked away, often blaming the other party with a fantastical line of reasoning.

To win financing from Deutsche Bank to build a Trump Hotel in Chicago, for example, Mr. Trump personally guaranteed $40 million of the debt. When he could not make his payments during the 2008 financial crisis, Deutsche Bank executives were open to granting him more time to repay the loan, a person briefed on negotiations later recalled.

But before a compromise could be reached, Mr. Trump flipped the script. He filed a lawsuit and argued that the bank had helped cause the worldwide financial meltdown that essentially rendered Mr. Trump unable to make his debt payments. At the time, Deutsche Bank called the lawsuit “classic Trump.”

The bank eventually settled with Mr. Trump, saving him from having to pay the $40 million. Mr. Trump expressed his gratitude to the lawyer who fought on his behalf by not fully paying his bill. “He left me with some costs,” said the lawyer, Steven Schlesinger.

That’s just who he is:

From the time he built his first Manhattan apartment building, Mr. Trump left a string of unpaid tabs for the people who worked for him.

The undocumented Polish workers who did the demolition work for that first building, Trump Tower, eventually won a $1.375 million settlement. Since then, scores of lawyers, contractors, engineers and waiters have sued Mr. Trump for unpaid bills or pay. Typically, he responds by asserting that their work did not meet his standard.

That might sound familiar to furloughed federal workers. Mr. Trump recently retweeted an article, attributed to an anonymous senior official in his administration, arguing that 80 percent of federal workers do “nothing of external value” and that “furloughed employees should find other work, never return and not be paid.”

Mr. Trump has claimed, without evidence, that “maybe most” federal workers going without pay are “the biggest fan” of his use of the shutdown to fund a border wall. In ordering thousands back to work without pay, he has put the pain for the shutdown on them.

Some things never change:

Mr. Trump has also embraced his business practice of giving the most latitude and trust to family members, no matter their prior experience.

He put his first wife, Ivana, a model, in charge of an Atlantic City casino and the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. He put his younger brother, Robert, who had some background in corporate finance, in senior positions at the casinos. Not long after three of his children graduated from college, he vested authority in them over golf courses, hotels and licensing deals.

In the White House, Mr. Trump has increasingly leaned on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for guidance on dealing with Congress amid the current stalemate. Mr. Kushner, who like Mr. Trump is the son of a wealthy real estate developer, has not always impressed old hands on Capitol Hill.

He began some early conversations by saying that Democrats would need to yield because his father-in-law would not budge – a statement that lawmakers found naïve, according to Democrats familiar with the remarks.

And then there’s this:

Barbara Res, who said she enjoyed much about working for Mr. Trump as a construction executive in the 1980s and 1990s, sees in Ms. Pelosi a new challenge to Mr. Trump’s lifelong tactics. One blind spot she observed was that Mr. Trump “believes he’s better than anyone who ever lived” and saw even the most capable of women as easy to run over.

“But there was never a woman with power that he ran up against, until Pelosi,” she said. “And he doesn’t know what to do with it. He’s totally in a corner.”

And that explains the Saturday that just didn’t work. On national television, from the White House, he proposed a deal. He made an offer that the Democrats couldn’t refuse, but they did. He may believe that he is better than anyone who ever lived – an irritating but harmless delusion – but he was always a terrible negotiator. And that, now, is more dangerous by the day.

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Wait For It

There’s no Friday evening column – a bit under the weather – and really, all the political news is the same – except President Trump will make a big announcement about the shutdown and his wall on Saturday – his plan to fix everything. Let’s all wait for that. Expect a full assessment Sunday evening. But don’t expect much change.

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Petty Little Lies

Everyone lies, now and then, usually to keep the peace. No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat, not at all. Everyone cheats a little too. Who comes to a full stop at each and every stop sign? No one is looking. No one is around. Roll through. No one is going to die, but one should not make a habit of any of this. That might lead to what the Wall Street Journal reports here:

In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.

In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said.

Or not:

Mr. Cohen disputed that he handed over a bag of cash. “All monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check,” he said, offering no further comment on his ties to the consultant.

But this is an odd business:

Mr. Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is chief information officer at Liberty University in Virginia, where Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical leader and fervent Trump supporter, is president.

Somehow this does involve the Jesus folks, but the real issue is Trump:

Mr. Gauger said he never got the rest of what he claimed he was owed. But Mr. Cohen in early 2017 still asked for – and received – a $50,000 reimbursement from Mr. Trump and his company for the work by RedFinch, according to a government document and a person familiar with the matter. The reimbursement – made on the sole basis of a handwritten note from Mr. Cohen and paid largely out of Mr. Trump’s personal account – demonstrates the level of trust the lawyer once had within the Trump Organization, whose officials arranged the repayment.

So it seems Donald Trump paid Michael Cohen fifty grand to go pay someone to rig some polls – no questions asked – and in a tweet, Cohen acknowledges that – “What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”

This would be a scandal, except this was before the primaries and Gauger was incompetent. He said he’d create a secret “bot” that would flood the online polls with hundreds of thousands of simultaneous pro-Trump votes, all looking like those votes came from individual real people, but his bot didn’t quite work, Trump didn’t get a big boost, and of course online polls never mean much of anything. Real people can vote over and over. Online polls are useless, but Trump slipped Cohen fifty grand and he only spent thirteen grand. Cohen pocketed the difference, and he got what he wanted:

According to The Journal, Mr. Cohen also asked during the 2016 campaign for Mr. Gauger’s help establishing a “Women for Cohen” Twitter feed that described Mr. Cohen as a “sex symbol,” and sought to promote his public appearances. Mr. Cohen was a frequent cable news presence during the 2016 campaign in support of Mr. Trump.

Donald Trump didn’t know about that, but none of it matters much. These three were rigging polls no one trusts anyway, and it didn’t even work. It was petty stuff, but one thing leads to another. Sometime it’s not petty at all:

Democratic leaders reacted with fury and demanded an investigation late Thursday following a new report that President Trump personally directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the president’s push for a lucrative condo project in Moscow in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

This is more serious:

The Thursday night report from BuzzFeed News cites two unnamed federal law enforcement officials who say Cohen acknowledged in interviews with the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that the president directed him to deceive Congress about key facts linking Trump to the proposed deal in Russia. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying under oath about those details.

Democrats said that if the report is accurate, Trump must quickly be held to account for his role in the perjury, with some raising the specter of impeachment.

“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” wrote Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

No, no, no, it’s petty:

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, responded to the report by saying, “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Or it’s not petty:

BuzzFeed says that Mueller’s office has more evidence than just Cohen’s testimony that Trump directed him to lie to Congress. Per the report, Cohen’s testimony is backed up by “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”

This is not petty at all:

In November, Cohen admitted he’d falsely told Congress that Trump’s efforts to build a condo tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when, in reality, those efforts continued through that June. As Mueller noted, Cohen’s testimony was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1,” which is how Trump is referred to in the report. Trump had repeatedly insisted on the campaign trail that he had no ongoing business interests in Russia, even as the deal continued to unfold.

In court documents, Cohen admitted that he’d briefed Trump on his ongoing negotiations with Russian officials about the proposed deal and said that he’d consulted with Trump’s team before his false testimony before Congress. But he never said in those documents that Trump himself played any role in encouraging his false testimony.

According to BuzzFeed, Mueller’s team now has evidence that Trump did just that. Democratic leaders promised a quick probe into whether Trump, in fact, did direct Cohen to lie.

This is trouble. Odd little lies and big lies are trouble, and the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tells that tale:

President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani backtracked on Thursday from a surprising assertion he had made a night earlier that left open the possibility that Trump campaign aides might have coordinated with Russia in its election interference in 2016.

“There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Giuliani said in a statement on Thursday, reiterating the president’s longstanding defense against accusations that his campaign secretly coordinated with Moscow to help swing the election. “Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”

He added, referring to discredited conspiracy theories that the president and his allies have long cited, “The only knowledge I have in this regard is the collusion of the Clinton campaign with Russia, which has so far been ignored.”

What? But putting Hillary Clinton selling all our nuclear weapons to Russia for three bucks and a chocolate chip cookie aside, that’s not what Giuliani had said the night before:

Mr. Giuliani was seeking to clarify an interview on Wednesday night in which he stopped short of defending Trump campaign aides, drawing speculation that he might have inside knowledge of possible coordination with Russia.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” he told CNN. He added: “I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack” the Democratic National Committee.

He said that there might have been collusion with the Russians – lots of it – but that didn’t involve Donald Trump – which is not what he had said before:

Mr. Giuliani has previously denied that there was coordination by Trump campaign aides.

“When I say the Trump campaign, I mean the upper levels of the Trump campaign,” Mr. Giuliani said during a July interview with Fox News. “I have no reason to believe anybody else did. The only ones I checked with obviously are the top four or five people.”

Mr. Giuliani also went a bit further on the collusion defense, telling Fox, “Even if he did it, it’s not a crime.”

The president agreed with him in a subsequent Twitter post, and added that Hillary Clinton, his former Democratic rival, was the one who was doing the colluding.

But something was going on:

Whether Mr. Trump knew during the campaign of any Russian attempts to disrupt the election has been a central question in the investigation that started in the summer of 2016. Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, was prepared to tell prosecutors that Mr. Trump knew about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that was arranged so campaign officials could get damaging information on Mrs. Clinton from Russians. The president and his lawyers have denied that Mr. Trump had any knowledge of the meeting until July 2017, when The New York Times was preparing to publish an article about it.

That’s when things got interesting:

At the time, when the White House was scrambling to prepare a statement about the Trump Tower meeting in response to The Times’s article, Mr. Trump met with President Vladimir V. Putin for more than two hours in Hamburg, Germany, where they were attending an economic summit meeting. Later that day, Mr. Trump sought out the Russian leader during a summit meeting dinner. Only interpreters, the secretary of state at the time, Rex W. Tillerson, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, were in the first meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter’s notes and told the interpreter not to tell anyone what was discussed. No American officials were present for the second encounter during the dinner.

The following day, while Mr. Trump traveled back to Washington on Air Force One, he called a Times reporter to say that the Russians had been falsely accused by American intelligence agencies of hacking during the campaign. The president also huddled with his aides to draft a statement in response to the article about the Trump Tower meeting and personally dictated a misleading account that the meeting was about Russian adoptions.

That was a petty little lie that will come back to haunt Trump, but the man is petty:

The fight over the weeks-long government shutdown hit a bizarre new low as President Trump on Thursday canceled a planned trip to Afghanistan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a day after she angered Republicans by suggesting the president delay his State of the Union Address.

Hours before Pelosi and top Democrats were set to depart for a visit to military leaders in Brussels and to troops in Afghanistan, Trump released a letter canceling what he termed a “public relations event.”

“I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown,” he wrote. “We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over.”

The president’s letter to Pelosi (D-Calif.) followed one she wrote to him Wednesday suggesting he postpone his State of the Union address, set for Jan. 29, if the partial government shutdown does not end this week, citing security concerns because of Secret Service and other personnel who are working without pay.

That seemed petty:

Democrats responded furiously to Trump’s cancellation and accused the president of acting like a child.

Lawmakers’ visits to war zones are typically kept secret for security reasons, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said Trump’s decision to disclose Pelosi’s travel plans was “completely and utterly irresponsible in every way.”

“I can say that all too often the last two years the president has acted like he’s in the fifth grade, and to have someone who has that kind of character running the country is an enormous problem at every level,” Schiff, who was to have joined Pelosi and other lawmakers on the delegation, told reporters assembled outside Pelosi’s office in the Capitol.

But there was a fix:

Trump himself visited Iraq after the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, raising questions about his stated rationale for blocking Pelosi’s travel. But the president Thursday canceled a U.S. delegation’s trip to the annual economic conference in Davos, Switzerland. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials had been slated to attend.

That will take the stink off this. She cannot go visit the troops and their commanders, but to be fair, America will not show up for the big economic forum. No one will go anywhere. But that doesn’t take the stink off it:

Even one of Trump’s top Republican allies questioned his move.

“One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi’s threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement. “President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate.”

This was stupid stuff, and there were bigger lies to consider:

Trump administration officials weighed speeding up the deportation of migrant children by denying them their legal right to asylum hearings after separating them from their parents, according to comments on a late 2017 draft of what became the administration’s family separation policy obtained by NBC News.

The draft also shows officials wanted to specifically target parents in migrant families for increased prosecutions, contradicting the administration’s previous statements. In June, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration did “not have a policy of separating families at the border” but was simply enforcing existing law.

The authors noted that the “increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have a substantial deterrent effect.”

The draft plan was provided to NBC News by the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D.-Ore., which says it was leaked by a government whistleblower.

No one had known about this:

One policy that was discussed but not implemented from the draft memo included limiting protections for migrant children who were victims of abuse or neglect.

The draft’s authors suggested targeting “potential abuses” in the Special Immigrant Juveniles program, which provides green cards for immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent. The Justice Department official notes in a comment that children who have been abused by one parent are often living with the other parent when they qualify and that DHS Secretary Nielsen could refuse to award green cards in such cases.

And one thing leads to another:

The Trump administration separated thousands more migrant kids at the border than it previously acknowledged, and the separations began months before the policy was announced, according to a federal audit released Thursday morning.

“More children over a longer period of time” were separated at the border than commonly known, an investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office told reporters Thursday morning. “How many more children were separated is unknown, by us and HHS” because of failures to track families as they were being separated, he said.

HHS officials involved in caring for the separated children and reunifying families estimated “thousands” of additional children are separated at the border, the inspector general said.

This is not minor stuff:

The report sheds new light on the Trump administration’s efforts to deter border crossings by separating migrant families. House Democrats who’ve condemned the separations as inhumane have vowed to investigate the administration’s handling of the policy and its health effects on separated children, and the inspector general said additional investigations are in the works.

“America can have border security without bullying and we can be safe without treating toddlers as terrorists,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote on Twitter as he again urged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign over the policy.

A federal investigator declined to say whether senior Trump administration officials were told about those early separations…

They might not have cared. There are petty people, and as CNN’s Barbara Starr notes, that applies everywhere:

Two years into his presidency, Donald Trump is fueling unprecedented uncertainty and anxiety inside the Pentagon. In private conversations over the past month, many of them unsolicited, more than a dozen key military officers, enlisted personnel and senior civilians have expressed worry and concern to CNN. None of the officials have spoken publicly about this, as military law prohibits active-duty personnel from criticizing a sitting president.

They’re worried:

It’s not just Trump’s unpredictable decision making that has officials on edge, it’s also his penchant for politicizing the military – something that’s come into focus in recent months as he’s struggled to fulfill his campaign promise to crack down on immigration and build a border wall. His decision to draw down troops in Syria, and his claims that ISIS is defeated, have also rankled military commanders who felt it wasn’t well thought out.

Some of the highest-ranking officers say there is a new atmosphere of unease inside the Pentagon, particularly among some of the most senior ranks, over the President’s inclination to use the military to achieve certain partisan policy objectives…

If commanders order the troops to perform a mission for reasons that are political – rather than based on national security grounds – the fundamental nature of the US military is changed, several officials worry. That line has already been crossed in the minds of some over the issue of sending troops to the border. It could become even more of a problem should the President decide to declare a national emergency to gain access to Defense Department funds to build the wall.

On top of that, there are also general concerns about the President’s foreign policy decisions, particularly his public announcement to pull US troops out of Syria. Wednesday’s suicide attack in Manbij in northern Syria that killed American service members raises the question of whether the President’s decision to withdraw troops might have resulted in ISIS or other groups seeing vulnerability and attacking US forces.

And there’s this:

Pentagon officials have also been unnerved by requests from the White House National Security Council, which continues to ask the Pentagon for options to attack Iran. Military planners CNN has spoken to say these requests are concerning since there is no real understanding of how Iran might react – or exactly what military objective the Trump Administration is trying to achieve. It’s the ultimate worry: the White House orders some type of strike, perhaps against Iranian-backed fighters in Syria, and Tehran retaliates in a counterattack.

This is not working:

One military officer told CNN impulsive decision-making by the President is making it harder to plan operations and troop movements with minimum risk to the safety of American forces. The announcement of a sudden withdrawal from Syria was a case in point. “We can jump ten feet high when a President tells us to, but we need to ask when you want it done. How much risk are you willing to take?”

And since the President tweeted on Sunday that he wants a 20-mile safe zone in northern Syria, there is more confusion. Twenty-four hours later, two defense officials who would be involved in formulating that plan said there was still no understanding of what Trump was talking about. And that was before the Wednesday’s suicide bomb attack.

But they do know what he is talking about:

There is growing concern among Pentagon officials that Trump will continue trying to use the military as a tool for his own political gain. Of particular concern is his use of partisan rhetoric in front of military audiences— essentially making troops part of his 2020 campaign.

The latest and most explicit public example came Thursday during a speech the President gave at the Pentagon on missile defense, which was laden with partisan references to the border wall and the government shutdown.

Trump blamed what he called Democratic “fringe” party members, who he equated to “the radical left,” for a lack of progress toward reopening the government amid negotiations surrounding the border wall. “While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi will not let them negotiate,” Trump said. “The party has been hijacked by the open borders fringe within the party. The radical left becoming the radical Democrats.”

As Trump made these comments, the room remained silent with no applause.

One does not applaud petty little people who tell petty little lies and expect massive praise for their vindictiveness. Consider what’s happening. There should be no more applause. Mean little people deserve none. They deserve something else.

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Trusting the Women

“At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.” ~ P. G. Wodehouse, Uneasy Money

Donald Trump is now in his seventies. He’s still working on the poise thing. His ability to handle difficult situations is limited too. Hit back ten times harder. That’s about it – enhanced by sneering and threats – and he seems to have no idea of how to handle a poised and competent woman. Nancy Pelosi is a long way from eleven of course, but she has his number. She’s making him look foolish:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking to move the day of the State of the Union address or deliver it in writing, citing security concerns from the ongoing government shutdown.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29,” Pelosi writes in the letter dated Wednesday.

And yes, she can do that:

While Pelosi’s letter is framed as a request to find a new date, the decision of when to host the President is very much up to the speaker of the House. The House and the Senate have to pass resolutions to actually green light the State of the Union. Neither has done so yet and Pelosi controls whether the House passes one at all.

And then she got nasty:

Speaking with reporters, Pelosi argued the security issues are “completely out of my hands” and suggested Trump “can make it from the Oval Office if he wants.”

And he of course brought this on, all on his own:

Pelosi noted that the Secret Service, which is “designated as the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating, planning, exercising, and implementing security” for such high-profile government events, has not been funded for 26 days.

In her letter, Pelosi referenced a dispatch from September from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen designating the State of the Union address as a “National Special Security Event.”

“In September 2018, Secretary Nielsen designated State of the Union Addresses as National Special Security Events (NSSEs), recognizing the need for ‘the full resources of the Federal Government to be brought to bear’ to ensure the security of these events.”

The full resources of the Federal Government are not available at the moment. Reschedule the speech. Half of the Secret Service is working without pay. The other half was sent home. There are alternatives for Trump. And there’s no need to make a fuss about this:

The US Constitution requires the President to brief Congress on the state of the union, but that briefing is not required to be a speech in front of Congress. President George Washington and his successor, John Adams, both delivered their annual messages as speeches before Congress. President Thomas Jefferson began the practice of delivering the State of the Union in writing. The tradition continued for 112 years until 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of giving the address in person. Almost every president since has delivered the address in person, rather than in writing.

But they didn’t have to do that, and Chris Cillizza adds this:

Make no mistake: Pelosi’s decision to disinvite Trump from delivering his “State of the Union” address to Congress is a total power play designed to remind Trump that a) Congress is a co-equal branch of government and b) his willingness to keep the government shuttered until he gets money for a border wall is going to have impacts on him, too.

Just in case you missed that message, Pelosi delivered it again in an interview with CNN’s Ashley Killough. “This is a housekeeping matter in the Congress of the United States, so we can honor the responsibility of the invitation we extended to the President,” said Pelosi.

That’s the trap and Pelosi had him trapped:

What Pelosi is saying there is, essentially, this: Look, Trump can give a speech if he wants. But we are not giving him the platform of a bipartisan session of Congress to do it unless and until he reopens the government.

And from a logistical standpoint, Pelosi is well within her rights to rescind the invitation.

And there’s this:

In her initial letter inviting Trump to deliver the “State of the Union” on January 29, Pelosi made sure to note: “The Constitution established the legislative, executive and judicial branches as co-equal branches of government, to be a check and balance on each other.” And, when asked by The New York Times earlier this month whether she considered herself to be Trump’s equal, Pelosi responded: “The Constitution does.”

She’s just pointing out the obvious. He’s not the only big gun here. And she’s a “girl” – which must drive him crazy.

There is more to this, and the Washington Post team of Paul Kane and Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey dives deep:

House Democrats on Wednesday were making plans to undermine President Trump at his Jan. 29 State of the Union address. Just past 8:30 a.m., the leadership’s communications arm sent an email to lawmakers urging them to bring furloughed federal workers or other “message-related” guests to the nationally televised event.

Unknown to most of her caucus, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had decided on a more confrontational approach.

Addressing a closed-door meeting of House Democrats, the speaker read a letter she had just sent to Trump asking him to either postpone the speech until the federal government reopens or deliver the text in writing, citing security concerns.

Surprised Democratic lawmakers cheered their leader’s rationale: If the government stays shut down, Pelosi would deprive Trump of the spotlight he craves. To a president especially sensitive to acts of disrespect – and one with a hearty appetite for pomp and circumstance – the so-called unvitation was not merely a power play. It was a calculated personal slight.

It’s all calculation:

Both Trump and Pelosi are gambling that the other will bear the brunt of the blame as the economic impact worsens, with the shutdown now dragging on for nearly a month. But Pelosi’s challenge to Trump also comes with a degree of risk, for her and for Democrats. The more she becomes the face of Trump’s opposition, the more Republicans will probably use her unpopularity nationally to label vulnerable House Democrats as Pelosi clones – a potentially potent line of attack against sitting lawmakers who cast votes in lock-step with party leaders.

Still, with a self-declared mandate to provide a check on the president’s power, Pelosi is helping to keep Democrats largely united while energizing liberals who have yearned for a leader to challenge Trump directly.

This might be a model for how that’s done:

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) called her letter to Trump to delay the State of the Union speech her “Gene Hackman moment,” comparing it to an inspirational speech the actor gives a basketball team in the movie “Hoosiers.”

“It’s smart for two reasons,” Cohen said. “Number one, Pelosi would be right behind him, and she’d have to sit there as he put the onus on her for the shutdown. Number two is that this gives him a reason to end the shutdown, because he loves the TV audience and the attention.”

He can be manipulated, and he can be stunned too:

Trump was largely indifferent to Pelosi’s letter Wednesday, according to two people familiar with his remarks about the issue who requested anonymity to speak about internal discussions. Trump and the White House decided not to respond because it was unclear whether Pelosi was actually canceling the event or just making a political statement, both of these people said.

She has them confused, and she has a larger plan too:

Pelosi’s strategy for dealing with Trump was born of exasperation, advisers said. She has been deliberately trying to get under his skin and “to talk to him in a way he understands,” according to one person familiar with her views.

After Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s Dec. 11 Oval Office meeting with Trump, their first since the midterm elections, the speaker-designate told House Democrats their session was like “a tinkle contest with a skunk” and that she felt his wall demand was “like a manhood thing for him,” according to an aide in the room.

Pelosi kept her digs coming. After Trump backed off his demand that the wall be built of cement, she suggested he wanted “a beaded curtain or something.” She has implied he cannot relate to furloughed workers and “thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money,” a reference to the president’s inherited wealth. And she has described his behavior as unstable and childish.

“It’s a temper tantrum,” Pelosi said after Trump stalked out of a negotiating session last week. “I’m the mother of five, grandmother of nine. I know a temper tantrum when I see one.”

That’s the worst kind of attack. Look at the guy. Listen to the guy. There’s no good response. That’ll do:

Pelosi is setting the tone for how her party plans to confront the president over the next two years – in the political and legal fights consuming Washington as well as the presidential campaign taking shape across the country.

“She’s had so much experience and has been attacked so much that she’s secure,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a longtime Democratic strategist. “She is a woman of power who knows how to use it and is not at all cowed by what [Trump’s] reaction is to her. It’s not a concern. That frees her to take actions that others might be afraid to do.”

Donald is going to find it hard to deal with Nancy:

Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, said the president probably figured he could manage Pelosi just as he dealt with foes in real estate.

“I think that, as usual, he thought he would be able to charm her and that at the end of the day, they would have this great bipartisan type of dealmaking,” he said. “I think it’s completely naive.”

It is, and Jeff Greenfield sees this now:

In 1974, the Watergate investigation was blowing up around the White House, and Congress looked well on its way to impeaching President Richard Nixon. But on January 30 it all came to a standstill as Nixon walked into the Capitol, stood before Congress, and delivered the State of the Union address. Members of both parties stood respectfully when he entered and left.

In 1998, the House of Representatives actually did impeach Bill Clinton. But he came to Capitol Hill a month later and delivered an address that made no acknowledgment of that fact. Members of both parties stood respectfully when he entered and left.

When Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted a speech by President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress and yelled “you lie!” the breach of civility was so startling that he was formally reprimanded by the House and apologized.

The rituals of respect around these speeches are so ingrained that you might have thought that the century-old practice of presidents delivering their State of the Union messages in person would survive even in the highly charged atmosphere of Donald Trump’s Washington in January 2019, with a partial government shutdown in effect and a looming tsunami of investigations driven by a Democratic House of Representatives.

You would be wrong.

This has, in fact, become a hot mess:

The State of the Union may still wear the outer garb of a respectful and neutral routine, with enrobed Supreme Court justices sitting in prominent seats, and members of opposing parties often sharing the dais. But the event has long since curdled into the exact kind of partisanship it is supposed to transcend, its rituals more a papering-over of our political rancor than a moment that genuinely brings us together.

The chamber is studded with “regular Americans” handpicked to offer sentimental backing to not just the president’s policy ideas, but his cultural messaging. Once the speech begins, with clockwork reliability, half the chamber will stand to applaud certain phrases, splitting precisely on partisan lines; it has even become a bit of a game to goad your opponents into being caught sitting down, or forcing them into dutiful applause for veterans and other national shibboleths.

It might be time to end this nonsense:

The Constitution does require the president to report “Information of the State of the Union” to Congress, but there’s no requirement that it be a speech – it was delivered in writing until Woodrow Wilson showed up in person in 1913 – and we’ve long passed the time when it contained any useful “information” at all.

So maybe Pelosi has done all of us – including the president – a favor by postponing (if not canceling) an address that this year promises to be even more of a sham than usual.

And of course it takes a woman to get that change to begin. The man in his seventies is useless. Even an eleven-year-old girl would do better. It’s the poise and an ability to handle difficult situations. Young women can pull that off. One just did. Elise Viebeck tells that tale:

The tweet landed Sunday evening and instantly triggered an online melee over age, class and politics.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “was so fiscally irresponsible that she hadn’t saved up enough money to rent an apartment in the Washington D.C. area,” wrote conservative commentator Candace Owens, adding the hashtag #SocialismSucks, as she blasted the New York freshman for complaining that some members of Congress have trouble paying for two residences. “But sure, let’s trust her with the future fiscal-planning of America.”

Ever since she burst onto the national political scene as a young socialist Democrat with a knack for making headlines, the 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez has been an obsession for many on the political right.

As a young woman of Puerto Rican descent, a lawmaker from an ethnically diverse urban district and an outspoken liberal on issues of race, gender and class, she has in effect emerged as a living counterpoint to today’s heavily white, male and rural Republican Party – and has drawn ire from seemingly all corners of the conservative movement.

Commentators and politicians have criticized her intelligence, her clothing, even her claims of working-class roots. There are new examples all the time.

Republicans Ed Rollins and Rush Limbaugh recently dismissed Ocasio-Cortez as a “little girl” and “some young uppity.” The Washington Examiner’s Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her in November and wrote that she doesn’t “look like a girl who struggles.” The Daily Caller promoted what it described as a possible “nude selfie” of her last week before walking back its headline.

But she’s as tough as Nancy:

Ocasio-Cortez, who has amassed more than 2 million Twitter followers and has emerged as one of her party’s most prominent national figures, seems to relish beating back the attacks.

“It’s encouraging because this is my sixth day in Congress and they’re out of all their artillery,” she said in a recent interview. “The nude is supposed to be like the bazooka. You know, like, ‘We’re going to take her down.’ Dude, you’re all out of bullets, you’re all out of bombs – you’re all out of all this stuff. What have you got left?”

She can play this game too:

When Trump was asked recently about Ocasio-Cortez calling him a racist, he said, “Who cares?” and made a dismissive gesture. She tweeted in response: “We got under his skin.”

And there’s more to come:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has secured a position on one of the House’s most powerful committees, pitting the New York Democrat against the Wall Street banks she has long criticized.

With a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, Ocasio-Cortez will be at the center of discussions about whether big banks deserve regulatory relief, the need for housing affordability and the independence of the Federal Reserve.

That should be interesting, and Lili Loofbourow adds this:

In all the noise surrounding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, much of the attention centered on her has been hostile or leering, racist or white-knighty or paparazzish – and predictably focused on her looks. While the left certainly isn’t exempt, the response from the right has been notable not just for its frenzied ubiquity, but for the gendered stink of the efforts to undermine her…

This is the kind of thing that can generally sink a female politician, through zero fault of her own. Actors and reality stars can build careers on this kind of attention, but female political candidates have historically been held to conservative standards from which their white male colleagues are happily exempt, and these include attracting only the right kind of attention – unless you want to sacrifice your message to your looks. Discussion of a female politician’s appearance has long been used to automatically delegitimize her. Whether the content was flattering or cruel, the fact that her looks were discussed at all made her seem ineffective and insubstantial to the public. I’m not breaking ground here by observing that a woman’s beauty tends to subtract from her perceived seriousness; a nation socialized to objectify a subset of people doesn’t typically accord those human ornaments agency, intentionality, or depth.

But there will be no more of that:

What’s surprising about Ocasio-Cortez is that she seems to be exposing the falseness of that dichotomy. If anything, she’s functioning as a magnifying glass: collecting all those rays of dysfunctional attention and using them to get America to focus differently on matters of national importance.

So forget that old man:

There are a thousand reasons why Donald Trump – a soft old fellow who never served, inherited millions from his dad, and made a career of being petty, arbitrary, and punitive – shouldn’t appeal to right-leaning Americans who insist they value hard work, bootstraps, and military service. But he really does. And it’s not just because he’s tall or gratifyingly grumpy and shouty. It’s not because he promised a wall and a Space Force, and it’s not just because he eats fast food and comes up with nicknames for people he doesn’t like.

It’s that his charisma made it possible for a subset of Americans to openly air grievances they couldn’t before without seeming uncouth: how immigrants are lazy, job-stealing criminals, for instance.

And now that changes:

Something similar is happening with the rise of Ocasio-Cortez, I think: The combination of her personal and political appeal seems to be channeling the unspoken (and unspeakable) feelings of many Americans. In a country that values bootstrapping, a failure to thrive is shameful, and we have an economy whose sunny reports don’t square with the fact that 40 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency. Stardom may be opaque, but Ocasio-Cortez’s has created unexpected eddies in America’s political conversation.

If Trump’s winky crowd work made it possible for America to open up about its racism and xenophobia, Ocasio-Cortez appears to have helped the country come to terms with other facts about itself. People are tired of being blamed for failing to haul themselves out of their own unlucky financial circumstances. As someone who did just that, she’s in a position to acknowledge that the unsayable sacrifices people make within a flawed economic framework might constitute a problem that’s worth fixing – or at least discussing.

And now Nancy Pelosi is doing the same thing, again, in her second round of being Speaker of the House. Trump is flummoxed by her. The next generation old white right-wing men will be flummoxed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Wodehouse was right. At the age of eleven women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies – but Donald Trump isn’t lucky. He lived to see the new age of poised and competent women. And his luck just ran out.

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Considering Trump’s Men

Some things don’t matter but kind of matter anyway. The United States needs a new attorney general. Donald Trump finally fired Jeff Sessions and slipped in an odd and rather sleazy fellow as “acting” attorney general who has spent the last year or two arguing that any investigation of President Trump has to stop – no one has the right to do that sort of thing – and he had fifty or more ideas on how to get rid of Robert Mueller. He said so on CNN and in op-eds. And now he would be in charge of the ongoing Mueller investigation, which he thought was evil. He had a bit of a conflict.

That was the problem with Jeff Sessions. He worked hard at rolling back all federal civil rights and voting rights enforcement of any kind, and he stopped cold all federal consent decrees that had been set up to reform police departments anywhere in the country where black folks ended up dead all the time for no particular reason. He’d stand by the nation’s police – they could do no wrong, ever – all of which should have pleased Donald Trump. It didn’t. Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any matter that had to do with Trump and Russia and all that stuff. He had been a Trump campaign official. He had been forced to admit that he had met with the Russians himself. He really couldn’t supervise the Mueller investigation into all of that. Mueller would be investigating him too. He had no choice – but Trump never forgave him for that. The attorney general reports to the president. The president is his boss. The attorney general is supposed to protect his boss. Jeff Sessions was supposed to shut down Mueller and anything else that had to do with what the president might have done. Jeff Sessions had recused himself from that. Jeff Sessions had betrayed Donald Trump. Jeff Sessions had to go.

It was time for new attorney general, a real one, confirmed by the Senate and not just dropped in out of nowhere to hold the fort for a bit. The Senate would make sure the new guy wasn’t a flake or a flunky. But that’s a bit idealistic. Republicans hold a solid majority in the Senate. Trump could nominate Ted Nugent or Mike Tyson and Trump’s Republican Senate would confirm either of them anyway – so confirmation hearings really don’t matter in this case. Trump nominated Bill Barr this time.

That was safe. Barr had been attorney general before – he made sure the Iran-Contra guys got off easy back in the Reagan years – and he had written a sixteen page opinion, out of the blue, arguing that the Mueller investigation was stupid, and he had sent that to Trump and to each of Trump’s many new and old attorneys. He had conflicts too, but some things don’t matter much. He had conflicts. Senate Republicans had the votes. He’s the next attorney general. The rest is what only kind of matters.

The rest is trying to figure out what happens next:

Attorney general nominee William P. Barr suggested Tuesday that any report written by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III might not be made public, signaling the possibility of future battles within the government over his findings.

The remarks by Barr, who is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, highlight the uncertainty surrounding how he will grapple with what many expect will be the final steps of Mueller’s investigation into President Trump, his advisers and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That is an issue – the Mueller report is actually an internal report for the attorney general. It’s not a report to Congress. It’s not a report to the public. The attorney general can file it and forget it, but Barr asked the senators to trust him:

Barr pledged at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to keep politics out of Justice Department decisions about criminal investigations. He said he would allow Mueller, whom he called a longtime friend, to finish his work, but Democrats expressed concern that, if confirmed, Barr might not follow the advice of the agency’s ethics officials.

Throughout the nine-hour hearing, Barr lavished praise on Mueller, noting that under the regulations he could fire the special counsel only for good cause, adding: “Frankly, it’s unimaginable to me that Bob would do anything that gave rise to good cause.”

He and Mueller are good friends. The two of them will be just fine working together. He won’t need to recuse himself. They’re buddies. What’s the problem?

That would be this:

Lawmakers repeatedly pressed him about the report Mueller is expected to produce at the end of his investigation. In a sign of potential fights to come, Barr said any report from Mueller would probably be treated like internal Justice Department prosecution memos that are kept secret.

In a chippy back-and-forth with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Barr cast doubt on the notion that Mueller’s report might be made public.

“The rules I think say the special counsel will prepare a summary report on any prosecutive or declination decisions and that shall be confidential and be treated as any other declination or prosecutive material within the department,” Barr said.

Declination memos are written by Justice Department officials when they decline to file charges against individuals, essentially ending an investigation.

He could write that internal declination memo and that would be all that anyone would ever see about these matters. They’d know nothing with a few minor exceptions:

Barr said the attorney general is responsible for notifying Congress and reporting “certain information” once the investigation ends, and he sought to assure lawmakers that he would be as transparent as regulations allow.

But they don’t allow much:

Earlier in the hearing, Barr criticized former FBI director James B. Comey in a way that suggested Barr, as attorney general, would limit what information is released from the Mueller investigation.

Speaking of Comey’s July 2016 announcement that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the presidential election, would not be charged for her use of a private email server to do government business, Barr said: “If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That’s not the way the department does business.”

That last point could be important if Barr were to apply that rationale to the Mueller investigation. By the same logic, Barr might decide it is inappropriate for the Justice Department to provide negative information about any individuals who were not charged or accused of crimes by Mueller – leaving lingering questions unanswered.

Note that this is about indicting a president for a crime. Barr might do that. He might not. He’ll decide. That’s his job. Barr does not mention impeachment, but one might infer that he is saying that if Congress wants to impeach a president they should do the investigating themselves. The upcoming Mueller report was written for his eyes only. Congress can go fish.

That’s not everyone’s understanding:

A poll released last month found that 3 in 4 American adults believed the entire Mueller report should be made public. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with that statement, while 9 in 10 Democrats agreed, according to the poll from NPR-Marist.

They can go fish too, and there was this:

Barr said he would not halt or hamper Mueller but that he also would not commit to following the recommendation of ethics officials if they saw a reason for him to recuse from overseeing the Russia investigation.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) pressed him to explain: “Under what scenario would you imagine that you would not follow the recommendation of the career ethics officials?”

Barr was blunt.

“If I disagreed with them,” he said.

This will be more of the same:

The current acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, decided to disregard the view of ethics officials who felt he should recuse from overseeing the Russia probe because of his past statements regarding that investigation. Whitaker is scheduled to testify for the first time before Congress on Feb. 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. That hearing is also expected to focus on the Russia investigation.

And this is no surprise:

Much of the hearing focused on a memo Barr wrote in June that was highly critical of what he wrote was a “fatally misconceived” legal approach by Mueller toward possible obstruction of justice by the president related to his firing of Comey in May 2017. Separately, Barr also wrote opinion pieces defending the president’s decision and criticizing former deputy attorney general Sally Yates for refusing to defend Trump’s travel-ban executive order.

Barr called “ludicrous” the notion that his public comments critical of the Mueller investigation was some kind of audition for the attorney general job, and Barr promised that no changes would be made to the special counsel’s report.

Okay, Rudy Guliani, Trump’s lawyer, had been demanding Trump’s people had the right to rewrite and correct and edit out every paragraph of any Mueller report – before its release to anyone. Fair is fair. Barr said no, it doesn’t work that way – but Sally Yates should never have refused to carry out an order from this president, or any president, because she thought she was being asked to do something unlawful. Do what the president says, whatever it is. That’s the rule.

That’s also the preview. That’s what’s coming. But this is not coming:

A federal judge blocked the Commerce Department from adding a question on American citizenship to the 2020 census, handing a legal victory on Tuesday to critics who accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the census into a tool to advance Republican political fortunes.

That seemed to be the case:

The upcoming census count will determine which states gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives when redistricting begins in 2021. When the Trump administration announced last year it was adding a citizenship question to the census, opponents argued the results would undercount noncitizens and legal immigrants – who tend to live in places that vote Democratic – and shift political power to Republican areas.

In a lengthy and stinging opinion, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the United States District Court in Manhattan said that Wilbur L. Ross Jr., the commerce secretary, broke “a veritable smorgasbord” of federal rules when he ordered the citizenship question added to the census nearly a year ago. Judge Furman said Mr. Ross cherry-picked facts to support his views, ignored or twisted contrary evidence and hid deliberations from Census Bureau experts.

And this isn’t rocket science:

Roughly 24 million noncitizens live in the United States, and nearly 11 million of them do so illegally. Nearly one in 10 households includes at least one noncitizen. Evidence in the eight-day trial in November indicated that the question could deter not just noncitizens and immigrants from completing the census form, but Hispanics and others of foreign descent.

Fear will do that, and there is the Constitution:

The 14th Amendment requires the House to be apportioned based on “the whole number of persons in each state,” and the Supreme Court has long ruled that the “whole number” includes noncitizens.

“This ruling is a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, adding that evidence at the trial “exposed how adding a citizenship question would wreck the once-in-a-decade count of the nation’s population.”

The new attorney general may turn out to be useless but there are still good judges who know when someone has been a bad boy:

Mr. Ross said his review of whether to add the question did not support warnings that it would lead to an undercount of noncitizens and minorities who feared disclosing their citizenship status to the government.

Judge Furman, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, all but demolished that explanation in his ruling.

Mr. Ross “materially mischaracterized” a conversation with a polling expert to make it appear that she did not object to adding the question to the census, Judge Furman said, and he kept Census Bureau officials in the dark about his desire for a citizenship question for nearly a year, forgoing any chance for a detailed study of its ramifications. The judge also rejected a sworn deposition on aspects of the question by Mr. Ross’s chief aide, Earl Comstock, calling it “misleading, if not false.”

But of course this also involved two other bad boys:

Internal documents produced in the lawsuit showed that Mr. Ross had discussed the citizenship issue early in his tenure with Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and an architect of the Trump administration’s tough policies against immigrants, and that he had met at Mr. Bannon’s direction with Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and a far-right opponent of immigration.

But things aren’t working out as those two, and others, have planned, as Cameron Joseph notes here:

President Trump asked a group of moderate House Democrats to meet with him on Tuesday, looking to drive a wedge between them and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). No dice, said the Democrats.

White House officials scrambled to find moderate House Democrats willing to meet with Trump Tuesday morning after the President demanded the meeting from aides.

But Democrat after Democrat turned them down, uninterested in giving Trump a chance to berate them, try to embarrass them or try to get them to split with House Democratic leadership and entertain offers to reopen the government while funding a border wall that are anathema to most of the party.

But the Trump will get his new attorney general, so that’s something. Or it’s not. Dana Milbank saw this:

President Trump had nominated William Barr to be his new attorney general to shield him from Mueller’s hoax of a rigged witch hunt. But Barr spent much of his seven-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday lavishing praise on his future boss’s tormentor. And Republicans, for the most part, didn’t defend Trump – and occasionally joined in the Mueller veneration.

None of this guarantees that Mueller will be able to complete his work unhindered, or that Americans will ever know what work he did. Ominously, Barr, while promising “as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” suggested he might try to bury the special counsel’s report by treating it as confidential and releasing only “certain information” himself.

Still, Mueller’s de facto affirmation hearing should be of concern to Trump as the president tries to discredit whatever the special prosecutor comes up with in the coming weeks or months. Just about everybody but Trump regards Mueller as an upstanding man doing honest work. Even Trump’s potential new attorney general.

And there was this:

Barr warned that the president’s interference in cases involving himself and his associates could be unconstitutional or criminal. He even qualified his earlier memo criticizing parts of the Mueller investigation, saying, “I had no facts.”

And now he has facts, and Trump has nothing much:

Maybe the bombshell reports over the weekend about Trump’s Russia ties had cowed the Republicans. Whatever the cause, they were disinclined to defend Trump. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) joined Democrats in pushing Barr for an expansive release of the Mueller report, saying, “The taxpayers ought to know what their money was spent for.”

And the chairman, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), usually a Trump loyalist, seemed to be trolling the president.

“Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt against anybody?” Graham asked, invoking the president’s favorite phrase.

“I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” the nominee replied.

And then there was the coup de grâce:

Asked whether then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation – a source of Trump’s fury – Barr replied: “I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself.”

“I agree,” Graham added, before poking fun at Trump’s lack of intellectual curiosity. “President Trump is a one-pager kind of guy,” he said.

“I suspect he is,” Barr concurred.

A coup de grâce – the “blow of mercy” – is the death blow to end the suffering of a severely wounded person – the shot in the head to end their suffering. This wasn’t that, but this comes close. The confirmation hearings here didn’t really matter very much – Trump will get his new attorney general – but this does matter in an odd kind of way. Now people know a bit more about where this is headed.

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The White American Dinosaurs

Graduate school at Duke was fine. North Carolina was a bit problematic. There were the Lost Cause folks sure that the South would rise again – they hadn’t really lost that war. There was the New South crowd – forget all that and build a new high-tech economy with shiny tall buildings everywhere. And there were Jesus folks everywhere, from the vibrant black churches to the whiter than white giant evangelical megachurch complexes, with slick telegenic pastors rolling in money and Republican to the core. Their people were Republicans too, the Makers who hated the Takers. Somehow the Takers were always people of color – any color would do – and those people wouldn’t do. Give them nothing. Charity begins at home. And of course Jesus was a Republican, or will be one day when He returns, any day now.

The theology was a bit shaky and some saw that. See How Raleigh’s John Pavlovitz Went from Fired Megachurch Pastor to Rising Star of the Religious Left – this guy had had just about enough of that nonsense. And he writes quite a bit now, in short bursts, like The Extinction of the White American Dinosaur:

I love the look I saw this week.

It was the look of terrified dinosaurs realizing that the meteorite is on its way; the dilated pupils in the eyes of leadened, lumbering prehistoric monsters that’ve had their run of the house, now finding themselves at the precipice of extinction…

They can see the change in the weather and the light in the sky – and they are scrambling to avoid the coming impact because they can sense it will not end well for them.

They know what’s coming but they’ll say it’s not coming:

It’s why Mitch McConnell is holding the Government hostage over an ineffective, multi-billion dollar monument to racism of a border wall that two-thirds of this country doesn’t want.

It’s why men like Tucker Carlson, rant mindlessly about successful women ushering in the “decline of men.”

It’s why Jim Mattis and Michael Cohen and General Kelly and Mike Flynn, and a perpetually revolving door of men are leaving or being forced out of positions of influence and leadership.

It’s why Republican leaders have spent the past year creating a massive straw man out of exhausted migrant families and refugee children, as though they were wealthy foreign adversaries rigging a Presidential election.

They’re all in a scalding panic, because they understand that their brief moment in history to have their way and impose their will is quickly coming to a close.

John Pavlovitz knows what is really coming:

America’s history is being rewritten in real-time by a fearless, disparate, interdependent humanity of every creed and orientation and nation of origin. And despite a reign that seemed like it would never end, the once mighty white dinosaurs are running out of real estate – and time.

Their eyes tell the story.

They see extinction coming.

We all do.

But they will fight extinction. They’re not all racist jerks. They can rejoin the living world. They can evolve. They just tried:

A panel of Republican leaders voted unanimously Monday to keep veteran Iowa lawmaker Steve King off House committees, a firm rebuke to an influential opponent of illegal immigration who sparked outrage last week after openly questioning whether the term “white supremacist” was offensive.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee, which seats lawmakers on House committees, followed his own recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP at large.

“That is not the party of Lincoln,” he said of King’s comments. “It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”

But why do that now? That multi-billion dollar monument to racism of a border wall might have something to do with that. More Americans blame Trump for the government shutdown over that wall than blame Democrats, and most oppose a border wall – the polls are clear. Trump has already lost this one. The public has turned on him, and on Republicans, and now the Democrats hold the House. They were going to slam King, so Republicans had to get there first:

King, who was elected to a ninth term in November, served on the House Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees in the last Congress. The decision to effectively strip him of those posts came as House Democrats pondered rebukes of their own and as leading Republicans across the party spoke out against him.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said there is “no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind,” while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a former presidential nominee, called on King to resign.

That preempted the Democrats, but this was still a mess:

The recent controversy was touched off when King asked in a New York Times interview published last week, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

It followed a long string of remarks disparaging of immigrants and minorities, as well as a seeming embrace of far-right foreign politicians and parties that have been openly hostile to those same groups.

And the Democrats already claimed the high ground:

House Democrats could bring up a measure condemning King as soon as Tuesday. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the party’s No. 3 leader, on Monday said he would introduce a resolution to express “disapproval of Mr. King’s comments and condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms.”

“I do so invoking the words of another King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who, if he had been allowed to live, would be celebrating his 90th birthday” Tuesday, he said on the House floor. “Dr. King counseled that, ‘We are going to be made to repent, not just for the hateful words and deeds of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.'”

Well, there had been silence:

Shortly before the November election, for instance, King lashed out at the media after The Washington Post reported that he had met with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties after flying to Europe for a trip financed by a Holocaust memorial group. Republican leaders largely remained silent.

King is a figure of prominence in the House GOP, not only due to the controversies he has stoked but also as a former Judiciary subcommittee chairman, a leader in opposing legalized abortion and chairman of the Conservative Opportunity Society, an internal caucus of right-wing House Republicans that meets regularly.

After the Times interview was published, King issued a statement trying to clean up the controversy and later spoke on the House floor to say that he had made a “freshman mistake” by taking a reporter’s call and that the comments were “snippets” taken out of context of a large conversation.

That conversation, he said, was about “how did that language get injected into our political dialog? Who does that? How does it get done?”

But members of both parties have become increasingly weary of the repeated cycle of offense and outrage surrounding King. Among those speaking out against King this time include Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the most prominent black Republican in Congress.

Enough is enough, but there was this too:

President Trump professed ignorance Monday about recent remarks from Rep. Steve King regarding white supremacy, while the storm around the Iowa Republican’s inflammatory comments continued to grow and senior GOP officials moved to strip him of valuable committee assignments.

Yet Trump had no qualms about engaging in racially offensive comments of his own over the weekend, invoking the Wounded Knee massacre – which killed hundreds of Sioux Indians on a South Dakota reservation in 1890 – to launch a political attack against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her claims of American Indian heritage…

In a tweet Sunday night, Trump mocked Warren – a potential 2020 presidential candidate – over a recent Instagram Live appearance from her kitchen during which she awkwardly announced that she was going to grab a beer as she spoke directly to her followers.

“If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!” Trump tweeted, using a name he has repeatedly used to disparage Warren.

Enough is enough:

The tweet drew a rebuke from the GOP senators who represent South Dakota, as well as a harsh condemnation from the National Congress of American Indians, which denounced Trump’s tweet in the “strongest possible terms.”

“On behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, I condemn President Trump’s racist and disrespectful tweet about this brutal incident, in which an estimated 300 unarmed men, women, and children were rounded up and slaughtered,” said Rodney Bordeaux, the tribe’s chairman.

In an interview, [Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)] Rounds said of Trump’s tweet: “I do not think he gains any points by using the site of that atrocity in a political speech or a tweet. So I think maybe he should reconsider using that one in the future. That’s not appropriate.”

“I wish he wouldn’t do that. I wish he wouldn’t tweet as much, I’ve said many times in the past,” added Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “That’s obviously a very sensitive part of our state’s history. I wish he’d stay away from it.”

He won’t stay away from it:

Before he left for New Orleans for a farm conference, Trump dismissed questions about King, who started a firestorm when he asked in a New York Times interview published last week, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

“Who?” Trump responded. When a reporter clarified, Trump responded: “I haven’t been following.”

When asked about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calling him a “racist,” Trump dismissed the question, saying, “Who cares?”

Trump is the dinosaur here, and Michael Gerson explains why:

In their criticism of King, you get the sense that Republicans are actually relieved to be in the position of attacking racism for a change, instead of being forced to defend it from the president. They seem to be signaling that they are not really the bigots they appear to be. Republicans seem desperate to explain that they are normal and moral – despite all the evidence. Attacking King reveals some sense of shame at what they have become.

Yet, in the end, Republican critics of King manage to look worse rather than better. If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender.

The evidence is clear:

Take the last days before the 2018 midterm elections. Trump closed his campaign for Republicans with a hysterical warning that brown people were invading the country. He initially suggested they should be shot, adding that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if George Soros was funding the migrant caravan. This is clearly what he regards as his strongest political argument – the racist promotion of animus against outsiders, tied to pernicious conspiracy theories.

Trump feeds ethnic stereotypes of migrants as “rapists” and “murderers.” He makes apocalyptic warnings that Democratic control would “turn America into Venezuela” and “totally open borders.” And his supporters dismiss criticism against him as a personality thing.

Add to this Trump’s attribution of Kenyan citizenship to former president Barack Obama – and his sympathy for the “very fine people” attending a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville – and his attacks on African American athletes and other figures – and his pardoning of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for racial profiling, terror raids and cruel punishment of inmates. And the president’s attempts at a Muslim ban – and his contempt for “shithole countries” and… a list far longer than I can include.

Gerson looks at this logically:

By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.

And they will be dinosaurs. Adam Serwer sees that:

King’s remarks are the latest entry in a long list of similar statements, such as his declaration that “we can’t restore our civilization with other people’s babies,” that “cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end,” and that “we need to get our birth rates up or Europe will be entirely transformed.” He has called illegal immigration a “slow-motion holocaust,” language that echoes the neo-Nazi doctrine that non-white immigration is a form of “white genocide.” Last year, he endorsed a candidate for mayor of Toronto who has a history of touting white-nationalist and anti-Semitic ideas.

It was only after King’s latest remarks that Republicans condemned him with any kind of force.

That is odd:

King drew a rebuke from Iowa’s two Republican senators, House Republicans have said they may take action against the congressman, and other high profile Republican legislators, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, have condemned his remarks. The conservative intellectual Henry Olsen warned that the “seeds of bigotry” could take root in the Republican Party, and National Review called for King to be expelled from Congress, declaring that “one of the glories of American history is how we finally shed our shameful racist past.”

Hardly. While it is heartening to see that King’s antics have finally drawn a unified response of condemnation from the right, the reactions seem to miss the obvious point that there is little daylight between Steve King and the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

There’s a bit of history to this too:

In 2014, as Trump was mulling a run for president, he made an appearance in Iowa with King, calling him “special guy, a smart person, with really the right views on almost everything,” and noting that their views on the issues were so similar that “we don’t even have to compare notes.”

Little has changed. The president has defended white nationalists; sought to exploit the census to dilute the political power of minority voters, described immigration as an infestation, warning that it was “changing the culture of Europe;” derided black and Latino immigrants as coming from “shithole countries,” while expressing a preference for immigrants from places like “Norway;” and generally portrayed non-white immigrants as little more than rapists, drug dealers, and murderers at every opportunity.

Unlike King however, the president has the authority, by himself, to make his views into policy.

And that’s what he did:

From his travel ban to his child-separation policy to his revocation of protections for immigrants brought here as children, he has pursued discriminatory policies with a commitment he has shown for few other campaign promises. Even now, the federal government remains shut down, its workforce denied payment for their labor, all in pursuit of the construction of a taxpayer funded symbolic monument of disapproval towards immigrants of Latin American descent.

But wait, there’s more:

As if to remind the world of his similarity to King, on Sunday night, Trump tweeted a column from Pat Buchanan arguing that the president should seize executive power and build the wall without approval from Congress, warning that unless he does so, “the United States, as we have known it, is going to cease to exist.” Such a barrier is made necessary, Buchanan argues, because of the increasing diversity of the United States, which he portrays in apocalyptic terms. “The more multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual America becomes – the less it looks like Ronald Reagan’s America – the more dependably Democratic it will become,” he argues in the same column. “The Democratic Party is hostile to white men, because the smaller the share of the U.S. population that white men become, the sooner Democrats inherit the national estate.”

That’s typical Pat Buchanan, and politically stupid:

This genetic determinism – that the sovereignty of America’s white people is threatened by the presence of non-white people – is the logic of white nationalism. It is an argument for treating people as hostile invaders because of the color of their skin. There is nothing preventing Republicans from competing with Democrats for the votes of religious and ethnic minorities, except for this hostility towards them.

And that’s the trap:

Tempting as it might be for Trump supporters to argue that the president doesn’t endorse such sentiments, Trump is fully conscious of Buchanan’s views. After the Klan leader David Duke’s run for Senate in 1990, Trump said that Buchanan “has many of the same theories, except it’s in a better package.” Years later, Trump said of Buchanan, “He’s a Hitler lover. I guess he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t like the blacks, he doesn’t like the gays. It’s just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy… I just can’t imagine that anybody can take him seriously.”

The president has obviously changed his mind about whether Buchanan’s views are morally objectionable. But no one could argue that he is unaware of what they are.

Trump is the giant white dinosaur here, and Serwer had some advice for Republicans:

It’s important that Republicans are taking racism more seriously. But that means not only rejecting backbencher congressmen like King. It means recognizing that King believes little that the man in the White House does not also believe. If the rejection of King is more than political opportunism, more than an attempt to portray the party as rejecting ideas that the president they support has embraced, then the Republican Party and the conservative movement will have to do more than censure King. They will have to reject Trumpism, and all it represents.

They will have to reject Trump himself. They will have to evolve or become extinct, but Paul Waldman sees a third options for them, to fake being all shiny and new:

Steve King was Trumpian before there was President Trump. Not only did King design his own border wall a decade ago, the kinds of things he would say about immigrants are now said by the president of the United States.

But it’s safe to say many Republicans, particularly in the wake of their thrashing in the 2018 midterm elections, are worried about whether their party needs to be a little more subtle than King or Trump is capable of.

After all, for many years, they pulled off a neat trick: Encourage white people to feed their racial resentments at the ballot box, but do it with enough plausible deniability that they could wave away the inevitable charges of racism.

But those days are over:

Trump made that strategy much more difficult. When your party is led by someone who became a political figure by promoting the racist “birther” lie, who says a Hispanic judge can’t be fair in his fraud case because “He’s a Mexican,” who retweets racist memes, who muses about “shithole countries” and wonders why we can’t get more immigrants from Norway, who calls a group of neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis “very fine people,” and who based his entire 2016 campaign and much of his presidency on fear of foreigners and white identity politics, the charge sticks a lot easier.

And that makes extinction more likely:

Republicans are certainly aware that the country’s demographics are changing in precisely the way that King fears, away from the dominance of whites and toward more diversity. The smart ones probably realize that 2016 may have been the last time a Republican could win a nationwide campaign with the kind of racial appeal Trump offered. Even with Trump still in office, they have to look toward the future, when they’ll begin a rebuilding project that includes convincing voters they won’t tolerate overt racism.

But of course, they do tolerate it. All you have to do is look at who’s in charge of their party.

The Great White American Dinosaur is in charge of their party. They do see extinction coming. And now there’s nothing they can do about that.

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