A Coup or Two

Donald Trump is a bit odd but everyone is used to that now. The only fresh eyes are overseas. There’s Ian Birrell, a speechwriter for former Prime Minister David Cameron and an editor for the Mail over there in the land of stiff upper lips. He finds Trump almost as awful as Brexit:

Trump is certainly the more repellent, with his racism, sexism and mockery of people with disabilities. I will never forget asking an elderly African American woman in West Virginia about her new president, and seeing her eyes fill with tears as she told me she was so upset she could not watch the news for 10 days after the election. His vile behavior toward refugees demeans a great nation founded on immigration. It is also horrific to see someone in the White House use white supremacists as political props and transgender people as pawns…

The president’s nastiness to his fellow citizens is also clearly energizing the opposition. More damaging in the long term is the way that Trump’s endless lying degrades the presidency in an era when politics is being transformed by technology and when public cynicism is growing. His abuse of journalism and embrace of despots are already having serious global consequences.

And of course he will be gone one day, but it looks like Brexit will be forever, leaving the British economy in proud and isolated patriot ruins forever – so the Yanks should consider themselves lucky. Trump is a temporary aberration. Things will get back to normal, one day. It wasn’t always like this.

Yes it was. There was Zell Miller – the conservative Democrat from Georgia who had turned into a fire-breathing take-no-prisoners perpetually irate conservative. He had been Governor of Georgia from 1991 to 1999, and one of their two senators from 2000 to 2005 – and he had been a keynote speaker at both parties’ national conventions – Democratic in 1992 and Republican in 2004 – but that 2004 speech was unhinged. This was the year of George W. Bush versus John Kerry. Miller did his thing. Miller called Kerry a coward and a fool, a fool who hated the military and wanted to defend the country with no more than spitballs. When pressed about this on CNN he suggested Kerry was actually committing treason by running against a sitting president during a war for the survival of everything – the war in Iraq at the time. Chris Matthews pressed him on this Mathews’ MSNBC show, and Miller said that Matthews was impugning his honor and he challenged Matthews to a duel – the real thing –with pistols and all. Choose your time, Tweety Bird!

There was no duel. Miller realized he had gone too far. He decided not to run for reelection to the Senate. He became a consultant. He became a board member of the National Rifle Association. He became a regular on Fox News. He was still irate, but he became selectively irate. And he died on March 23, 2018 – the wild man was gone. Chris Matthews must have felt a bit of relief. There’d be no duel. And no one was screaming about treason at the drop of a hat anymore. Zell was gone. Screaming about treason was for talk radio once again, not for polite conversation. National politician didn’t mention treason. People disagree. That isn’t treason.

Zell Miller had been an aberration. These things happen now and then. Disagreement isn’t treason. Reason isn’t treason. But there’s something in the air again:

A Florida student is facing misdemeanor charges after a confrontation with his teacher that began with his refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and escalated into what officials described as disruptive behavior.

The student, a sixth-grader at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa, refused to stand for the pledge in the Feb. 4 incident, telling the teacher that he thinks the flag and the national anthem are “racist” against black people, according to an affidavit. The teacher then had what appeared to be a contentious exchange with the boy.

If living in the United States is “so bad,” why not go to another place to live, substitute teacher Ana Alvarez asked the student, according to a handwritten statement from her.

“They brought me here,” the boy replied.

Alvarez responded by saying, “Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba, and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live.” She then called the school office, as she did not want to keep dealing with the student, according to the statement.

And then this became something else entirely:

The student yelled at the administrative dean and a school resource officer with the Lakeland Police Department after they came to the classroom, accusing them of being racist and repeatedly refusing to leave the room.

“Suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist,” the student, who is black, told the dean as he walked out of the classroom with his backpack, according to the affidavit.

According to a statement from the Lakeland Police Department, the boy then “created another disturbance and made threats while he was escorted to the office.” He was later charged by police with disruption of a school facility and resisting an officer without violence.

Lakeland police said in the news release that the student was not arrested for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. “This arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom,” police said.

The Lakeland police aren’t fools. They’ll say nothing about freedom of speech. One side or the other would be angry, and one side was angry:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida issued a rebuke in the wake of the controversy. “This is outrageous. Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates,” the group said on Twitter. “This is a prime example of the over-policing of Black students in school.”

Perhaps so, but this started over a matter that actually had been settled long ago:

The school district said students are not required to participate in reciting the pledge. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that schools cannot require students to salute the flag or recite the pledge, citing First Amendment rights.

But the substitute teacher was not aware that students are not required to recite the pledge, the school district said, adding that officials will look at improving training for substitute teachers and that Alvarez no longer works in the district.

Okay, fine. This was just a misunderstanding. Like flag-burning in the late sixties and early seventies, or black football players kneeling (respectfully) for the national anthem these days, this too is protected free speech, unless it’s not:

In 2017, a black student was expelled from her Houston high school for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. India Landry’s silent protest prompted a long legal battle in federal court, with the teen’s family accusing the school of violating her free speech rights. Last year, the Texas attorney general intervened and defended a state law requiring students to recite the pledge.

So this will go back to the Supreme Court. They could refuse to hear this. They decided the matter back in 1943 – when we were fighting the Nazis and the Japanese. The government cannot compel or force agreement with its policies and actions. That’s not treason. That’s not even disrespect. That’s disagreement. That’s allowed. That’s why we were fighting the Nazis and the Japanese – to preserve our system, where everyone has the right to disagree with just about everything.

But that does make Donald Trump an aberration:

Donald Trump has accused Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein of plotting treason against him. Former acting FBI Director McCabe has been drip-feeding revelations from his new book to the media over the past few weeks, including an assertion that Trump’s decision to fire Comey in May 2017 sparked so much alarm within the agency that it led to discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him as president. He also claimed that Trump said he trusted Vladimir Putin more than U.S. intelligence when it came to the question of whether North Korean had the capability to hit the U.S. with ballistic missiles.

Tweeting Monday morning, Trump said: “Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught … There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!”

Philip Bump doubts that:

President Trump woke up at his private club in Florida on Monday and watched just enough Fox News to lift up a quote making an unfounded allegation that someone had attempted a coup against him.

This was the tweet:

“This was an illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States.” Dan Bongino on @foxandfriends True!

And then he was off to play golf for the third day in a row, which Bump finds curious:

As with the national emergency Trump announced Friday, his actions in response to the “coup” don’t really convey the sense of urgency that you might expect from his declarations. If there were there are actual, active coup attempt against a president, one might expect a serious effort to address the situation. As Trump probably realizes, though, there is now and never was any such effort.

The allegation made by Fox News Channel regular Dan Bongino derives from a story included in a soon-to-be-released book by former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. In it, McCabe alleges that after Trump fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein raised the prospect of removing Trump from office using a mechanism outlined in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. This, in the eyes of Bongino and other Fox News pundits in recent days, was an attempted coup.

It wasn’t.

It can’t be:

Removing a president from office using systems included in the Constitution is, by definition, not a coup. Removing Trump from office by following the guidelines of the 25th Amendment would no more be a coup than removing him from office through impeachment or, really, than voting for another candidate in 2020. It’s part of the system.

But he doesn’t like the system. That was his message. That message has been received:

A small town Alabama newspaper publisher has written an editorial calling for the Ku Klux Klan to ‘ride again,’ according to a new report in the Montgomery Advertiser.

Goodloe Sutton, the publisher of the Democrat-Reporter newspaper in Linden, Alabama, confirmed to the larger Montgomery Advertiser newspaper Monday that he authored a controversial Feb. 14 editorial calling for the return of the notorious white supremacist hate group.

“If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we’d all been better off,” Sutton told the Advertiser’s Melissa Brown.

Asked to clarify what he meant by “cleaning up D.C.,” Sutton suggested lynching.

“We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them,” Sutton said.

So here we go again:

In the Feb 14th editorial, the publisher of the smaller newspaper (which is not online and only exists in print edition) said that it was “time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again.”

We’re in one of those cycles again. Everyone wants to take over, to overthrow what is to get what they alone want. But there are coups and countercoups too:

A coalition of 16 states, including California and New York, on Monday challenged President Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend billions of dollars on his border wall.

The lawsuit is part of a constitutional confrontation that Mr. Trump set off on Friday when he declared that he would spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than Congress had granted him. The clash raises questions over congressional control of spending, the scope of emergency powers granted to the president, and how far the courts are willing to go to settle such a dispute.

The suit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing a wall along the Mexican border because it is Congress that controls spending.

In short, Trump is a thief:

The lawsuit, California et al. v. Trump et al., says that the plaintiff states are going to court to protect their residents, natural resources and economic interests. “Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” the lawsuit says.

Trump staged this coup. He overthrew Congress.

Is that treason? That’s not giving aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war. But it does feel like treason – a word everyone is using now. It’s like Zell Miller came back from the dead. Maybe it is time for a few duels.

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The Parade Moves On

Valentine’s Day is over – this year the day the president just gave up and accepted the fact that Congress wasn’t going to appropriate any money for any big wall to show Mexico a thing or two, or whatever he had in mind. Congress did that once before. He said that was unacceptable and refused to sign any legislation keeping the government funded. That shut down the government for thirty-five days, a record, but on Valentine’s Day the president said he’d sign whatever Congress came up with – the whole thing had become absurd. Too many people had been hurt, badly, and everyone was getting a bit anxious about not having a fully functioning government. What the FAA and TSA did was useful. Monitoring the safety of the nation’s food supply was useful. The president had to admit that. And he had come off as cruel and petulant and unreasonable and a total jerk. He had to admit that to himself. He would never say the whole shutdown thing had been a massive political blunder – he will never say that. He will never apologize for the mess he made. He calls every failure a massive success. But he did give up. He wasn’t going to get the money for the wall. Everyone had known that for months. Now he knew that. That finally sunk in.

It didn’t matter. The next day he said he’d divert funds from the military and the justice department and disaster agencies to build the wall right now. Congress had appropriated those funds to those departments and agencies, with specific instruction on the use of those funds, but Congress had foolishly passed the Emergency Powers Act back in 1976, allowing President Trump to do something like that. Congress said no, but years ago they had said their “no” didn’t matter at all under certain circumstances. The president can declare a national emergency. He can move funds around in an emergency. He can override Congress on that, or on anything. Congress said so. All he has to do is declare an emergency, which is as good as dissolving Congress.

That will be tested in the courts. President Trump says he will win this argument when this reaches the Supreme Court. They’re “his people” now. Congress can advise on what government money is spent where, and when, and how – but the president can say the magic word “emergency” and decide, on his own, all alone, what government money is spent where, and when, and how – and there’s not a damned thing they can do about it. Congress did say that was fine, once, a few years ago – unless Trump and his legal team have misread that statute. But the day after Valentine’s Day the president declared his national emergency – the invasion being staged at the Mexican border by murderers and rapists and gang members and drug dealers and ISIS terrorists. No one but the core of his base believes that for a minute, but he said the word “emergency” so he’s good. No one can touch him.

But Saturday Night Live can touch him:

“Saturday Night Live,” not surprisingly, took on President Trump’s meandering news conference declaring a national emergency at the southern border of the United States.

“Wall works, wall makes safe,” Alec Baldwin’s Trump said.

This wasn’t nice:

SNL kicked off its version of the news conference with Trump embellishing the results of his recent physical: “I’m still standing 6′7, 185 pounds – shredded,” Baldwin deadpanned before making the case for a wall along the southern border.

“We need wall, okay. We have a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border – or the brown line, as many people have asked me not to call it.”

“You all see why I gotta fake this emergency, right? I have to because I want to,” he added. “It’s really simple. We have a problem. Drugs are coming into this country through no wall.”

“I’m basically taking military money so I can has wall,” he explained before offering a breathless vision of what might happen as the result of his national emergency declaration:

“I’ll immediately be sued and the ruling will not go in my favor and then it will end up in the Supreme Court and then I’ll call my buddy [Brett] Kavanaugh and I’ll say ‘it’s time to repay the Donny.”

The Washington Post’s Alex Horton reports on what happened next:

In yet another Sunday morning tweetstorm, Trump blasted the previous night’s episode of SNL – which opened with Alec Baldwin portraying the commander in chief declaring a national emergency at the southern border – and quickly drew fire from the ACLU and Baldwin himself.

As before, Trump said without evidence or much explanation that the show is a coordinated attempt by NBC at character assassination.

“Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution?” Trump said on Twitter. “Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!”

Four minutes later, he tweeted an old standby: “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Is it time for retribution? Maybe so:

SNL’s cold open skewered Trump’s meandering Friday news conference. “Wall works, wall makes safe,” Baldwin-as-Trump said. “You don’t have to be smart to understand that – in fact, it’s even easier to understand if you’re not that smart.”

That apparently got under Trump’s skin, as Baldwin’s performances often have.

In December, when SNL imagined a world in which he did not exist, Trump suggested that the satirical program – which has needled presidents for decades and does not do any newsgathering or reporting – should be “tested in courts.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took to Trump’s favorite medium Sunday to issue a five-word rebuke.

“It’s called the First Amendment,” the group wrote on Twitter.

Ah, but there are ways around that:

Trump has frequently targeted the media as “the enemy of the people” and earlier said it would be good to “loosen up” libel laws. The rhetoric has raised concerns that Trump’s words have and will translate into real-world violence. On Monday, a man assaulted a BBC cameraman at a Trump rally in Texas.

And his dismay with SNL appears to have crossed over into the reporting side of the NBC network. During the same Friday news conference, Trump took questions but made it a point to filter out some options.

“Go ahead, ABC – not NBC. I like ABC a little bit more, not much,” he said.

Trump may do to the media what he just did to Congress – find a way to effectively dissolve it too – although there was this:

In response to Trump’s outcry, Baldwin wrote on Twitter: “Trump whines. The parade moves on.”

The parade moves on for now. There’s no guarantee of anything in the future. Trump is redefining the presidency, and he wants to look good:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe nominated President Donald Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize after the U.S. government “informally” requested the nomination, the Asahi newspaper reported Sunday.

Citing unnamed Japanese government sources, the United States’ request for a Peace Prize nomination came after Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June of last year.

Abe, in the paper’s words, was “acceding to a request from Washington” with the nomination.

That was odd. It seems that Shinzō Abe is fed up with Trump. He did stick it to Trump with this. It may be that Trump had just made him look like an ass-kissing fool:

Trump mentioned Abe’s nomination during a press conference Friday, but made no mention of any U.S. request for a nomination to the Japanese government. A spokesperson for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Japan Times that the office “would refrain from commenting on the interaction between the two leaders.”

“Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize,” Trump said Friday. “He said, ‘I have nominated you, or, respectfully on behalf of Japan, I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize.'”

No – “I asked them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize because you asked me to ask them, please, please, pretty please, over and over.”

Someone had to look pathetic here. Shinzō Abe decided that wasn’t going to be him, that would be Donald Trump. That’s what he does:

At the press conference Friday – where Trump announced he was declaring a national emergency in order to secure additional funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border – Trump brought up the Nobel Peace Prize former President Barack Obama was awarded.

“They gave it to Obama,” Trump said. “He didn’t even know what he got it for. He was there for about 15 seconds and he got the Nobel Prize. He said, ‘Oh, what did I get it for?’ With me, I probably will never get it.”

He’s right about that. Trump whines and the parade moves on:

The White House on Sunday defended President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border and sought to clarify his contradictory statements about its necessity, marking the start of what’s expected to be a drawn-out fight over funding the construction of a wall amid mounting legal challenges and objections from Congress.

Trump’s announcement last week – an attempt to circumvent Congress by redirecting taxpayer money to pay for 230 miles of barriers along the border – has led to lawsuits. On Sunday, California’s attorney general said he was working with officials from at least six other states and would be filing suit against the White House “imminently.” The national emergency declaration also triggered protests, with various groups promising to hold more throughout the country Monday.

That would be Presidents Day – the third Monday in February. Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law in 1968 to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays” so even if George Washington’s birthday is February 22 this will do, except that Washington was actually born on February 11 in 1731 when the Julian calendar was being used. During Washington’s lifetime Great Britain and the American colonies switched the official calendar system from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar – something most of Europe had done in 1582 – so people born before 1752 were told to add eleven days to their birth dates. Those born between January 1 and March 25, as Washington was, also had to add one year to be in sync with the new calendar, so by the time Washington became president in 1789, he celebrated his birthday on February 22 and listed his year of birth as 1732 – thus Washington’s birthday changed from February 11, 1731 (Julian calendar) to February 22, 1732 (Gregorian calendar) – so no one can take this holiday too seriously. It’s an approximation. Just like Donald Trump is an approximation of something kind of like a president, some days.

Reality is fluid:

Unstoppable rhetoric collided with immovable facts on “Fox News Sunday,” as White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller defended President Trump’s national emergency declaration and invoked the potential for a veto if Congress disapproves in an interview with Chris Wallace.

The segment focused on the limits of presidential powers to circumvent Congress and procure funds to build 230 miles of barriers along the southern border. Miller described an onslaught of drugs and migrants flowing over the border as justification for the emergency declaration.

Yet, like a small army of fact-checkers have noted before, Wallace told Miller the vast majority of hard drugs seized by Customs and Border Protection are captured at points of entry, not between them, and unlawful migration over the border has fallen 90 percent since 2000.

So what crisis is the wall supposed to solve? In shades of former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” theory, Miller invoked what could not be demonstrated by his own administration’s statistics.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t catch what you don’t catch,” Miller told Wallace.

Wallace was not impressed. No one is impressed, but the parade moves on. The New York Times reports on America’s allies moving on:

European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.

But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.

A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”

But at least someone is grinning and happy:

The most immediate danger, diplomats and intelligence officials warned, is that the trans-Atlantic fissures now risk being exploited by Russia and China.

Even the normally gloomy Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, happily noted the strains, remarking that the Euro-Atlantic relationship had become increasingly “tense.”

“We see new cracks forming, and old cracks deepening,” Mr. Lavrov said.

They are getting their money’s worth:

The Europeans no longer believe that Washington will change, not when Mr. Trump sees traditional allies as economic rivals and leadership as diktat. His distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation is a challenge to the very heart of what Europe is and needs to be in order to have an impact in the world.

But beyond the Trump administration, an increasing number of Europeans say they believe that relations with the United States will never be the same again.

Karl Kaiser, a longtime analyst of German-American relations, said, “Two years of Mr. Trump, and a majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States.”

The United States just doesn’t matter now. How does one say “Mission Accomplished” in Russian? But there are some pesky old-school folks still around:

To show solidarity with Europe, more than 50 American lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats – a record number – attended the Munich Security Conference. They came, said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, “to show Europeans that there is another branch of government which strongly supports NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance.”

But it may be too late for that:

The most visible pushback against Washington came from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany – who delivered an unusually passionate speech – and from her defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen. They spoke about the dangers of unilateral actions by major partners without discussing the consequences with allies.

They cited Mr. Trump’s recent announcements that American troops would leave northern Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the administration’s decision to suspend one of the last remaining arms-control agreements: the ban on land-based intermediate range missiles.

That decision affects European security, and there has been no alternative strategy, Ms. Merkel said. Abandoning the treaty, despite Russia’s violations, helps decouple Germany from the American nuclear umbrella.

“We sit there in the middle with the result,” Ms. Merkel said.

The Syria pullout, she continued, could only help Russia and Iran. That view was echoed by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called American policy in Syria “a mystery to me.”

Everything is a mystery now, and Anne Applebaum adds detail:

Two years ago, when Vice President Pence spoke at the same forum, many in Europe were still hoping to work with the Trump administration. His speech was banal and uninspiring – it was “an entirely conventional restatement of American commitment to Europe,” I wrote at the time – but Europeans were so relieved to hear it that they decided, on balance, to believe him. Now they don’t. At a side event honoring the late senator John McCain, who had been the moving spirit of the Munich conference for decades, Pence announced that “I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.” He then waited for applause. None came.

And then it got worse at the main event:

Pence’s keynote speech was more than merely embarrassing. It was awkwardly worded and stiffly delivered. It was sycophantic: Over and over again, he repeated the words “under President Trump’s leadership,” referring to the president as “a champion of freedom” and the “leader of the free world.”

It was hypocritical: Pence’s voice seemed to crack when he spoke of the suffering of Venezuelan refugees – “We hugged their children. We heard of their hardship and their plight” – as if his administration hadn’t inflicted plenty of hardship on migrant children wrenched from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Pence’s speech was also ahistorical, even nonsensical. In one hard-to-follow chain of connections, he bundled together Auschwitz and Iran, somehow implying that Europeans who still back a deal designed to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons were supporting anti-Semitism. In a room full of people working for the European Union and NATO, institutions that were explicitly created, decades ago, to prevent another Auschwitz, this would have been offensive if anybody had actually understood what Pence was trying to say.

That, plus the undertone of maudlin religiosity – “I also have that faith, in those ancient words, that where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s liberty” – made it clear that this speech was not, as I say, directed at the Europeans in the room. It was made for the benefit of Trump, or maybe Pence’s evangelical friends and supporters back home.

None of this surprised Applebaum at all, really:

This administration’s foreign policy has long ceased to have much to do with people who are actually in the room. Just before Pence visited Munich, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended a surreal Middle East conference in Warsaw whose main purpose, as far as anyone could tell, was to boost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign ahead of an April 9 vote. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is allegedly hard at work on an equally surreal Middle East “peace plan,” which the president’s son-in-law is devising in secret and apparently without Palestinian input.

This is, then, an approximation of something kind of like a presidency, some days but not most days:

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy appeared set on preventing the congressional delegation from encountering too many Germans in Munich, canceling members’ attendance at annual meetings and dinners that they have traditionally attended. Conference attendees didn’t know whether to feel insulted or to just laugh.

Certainly they have stopped paying lip service to an administration that has showed it prefers its authoritarian friends to its oldest allies. There is no point in nice state visits or in trying to cultivate Ivanka Trump.

It’s better to speak bluntly, and on Saturday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel certainly did. She mocked the idea that German cars made in South Carolina could be a “security threat” to the United States, as the tariff-minded Trump administration has suggested. She said the removal of U.S. troops from Syria will not spread freedom, but will “strengthen Russia and Iran’s hand.”

And, like other Europeans, she refused to heed Pence’s call to re-impose sanctions on Iran.

The parade has moved on:

European leaders have learned that there is no point in seeking agreement with Trump, for he doesn’t respect those who do. And this, in the end, is why Pence’s pseudo-patriotic speech sounded so off: America cannot be the champion of “liberty” or the “leader of the free world” if the free world – insulted by the U.S. president, snubbed by his surrogates – refuses to follow.

Alec Baldwin said Trump whines and the parade moves on. European leaders are saying the same thing. There are the protests on Presidents Day. It would be nice to have a president, not just an approximation of something kind of like a president, some days, but not most days. No one is leading this parade.

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Solving Everything

There was no way to shrug it off. This was no way to say that this was subtle and clever and in a few days, or weeks, or months, everyone would agree that this man was actually a genius. And there was no way to say this was simply “authentic” and all those who thought this was ignorant nonsense are prissy elitists. This was just embarrassing. The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson and Toluse Olorunnipa captured the event that confused and embarrassed everyone:

President Trump stood without a teleprompter Friday morning in the White House Rose Garden – staring out at reporters, members of his administration and grieving women whose relatives were killed by undocumented immigrants – and declared a national emergency along the southern border.

But instead of making a forceful case to the public for his decision to circumvent Congress, the president casually acknowledged: “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”

In that moment, Trump undercut his administration’s attempt to justify declaring a national emergency.

This man shouldn’t wing it but that is what this man loves to do:

He jumped from one topic to another in short, seething sentences aimed at defending his presidency and demanding credit for what he has accomplished, even in the face of what some consider a failure to deliver on a key campaign promise – building a border wall.

For just under an hour, Americans were allowed to witness Trump’s intimate thought process as he reacted publicly to not getting his way and pondered the power of his presidency.

He raged and mused. He rambled. He started out in China. And then he was suddenly somewhere else. The only thing to do was to sit back and watch:

“We have a large team of very talented people in China,” said the president, dressed in an overcoat. “We’ve had a negotiation going on for about two days. It’s going extremely well. Who knows what that means, because it only matters if we get it done.”

He claimed that tariffs have resulted in “billions of dollars pouring into our treasury,” that he has strengthened the trading relationship with Britain, that the United States has successfully eradicated the Islamic State in Syria and that his meeting with North Korea’s leader last year has led to “no more rockets going up, no more missiles going up, no more testing of nuclear. Got back our remains… and we got back our hostages.”

Then he took a moment to sum up what he had just rattled off.

“A lot of positive things are going on,” Trump said.

Five minutes into his remarks, Trump got to the border and declared that he would increase security “one way or the other.”

So he did get around to his topic, but that too was odd:

Trump bounced between claiming that there is a crisis at the border and taking credit for the “very successful” actions he has already taken.

“We have to do it – not because it was a campaign promise, which it is,” Trump said. “It was one of many, by the way, not my only one.”

He veered off to reflect on how the economies of other countries are “doing terribly, and we’re doing phenomenally,” then returned to the border to promise to stop the “tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country.” Trump continued to claim that drug and human trafficking most often happen at unguarded parts of the border, not at ports of entry, contradicting experts who have studied the issue.

“It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s just a lie. It’s all a lie,” he said. “They say walls don’t work. Walls work, 100 percent.”

At that point he was talking to himself, or chanting an arcane incantation, but he was keeping it simple:

Trump introduced the women sitting before him, “angel moms” whose relatives were killed by immigrants in the country illegally – but then he returned to the topic of presidential power.

Trump explained how China gives drug dealers the death penalty, seeming to praise the idea even though just 10 days earlier he praised bipartisan attempts at criminal justice reform and declared that “America is a nation that believes in redemption.”

That keeps it simple. Build a giant wall. Execute more people. That solves everything, and then whine that no one is being fair about that:

Trump again compared himself with previous presidents and insisted that “nobody’s done the job that we’ve ever done” and that if he weren’t elected, “this economy would be down the tubes.” He scoffed at those who say Obama should receive at least some of the credit for today’s booming economy. With the economy “through the roof,” Trump claimed that more immigrants want to come into the country illegally, hence the need for the wall.

And then say you’ve won it all:

Trump said he expects his emergency order to be challenged in court, just as he was challenged when he tried early in his presidency to ban travelers from several majority-Muslim countries. He insists he won that battle, even though he said others claim he lost.

“We will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, even though it shouldn’t be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake and we’ll win in the Supreme Court,” Trump said, his voice dramatically rising and falling to emphasize his view of the ridiculousness of the U.S. court system.

He’s got this. It’s HIS Supreme Court now. They’ll rule for him. They always will now. That’s why he was sneering. He’s won already, and then things shifted:

Twenty-four minutes into his remarks, Trump began to take questions from reporters. He defended diverting money from the defense budget, saying that it is “a very, very small amount” and that the original funding priorities “didn’t sound too important to me.”

Once again, generals know nothing about anything, and he knows everything about anything and everything, but then there was this:

When pressed to explain the source of the data he uses to make policy decisions, Trump grew prickly.

When a reporter noted that government data shows border crossings at a near-record low, Trump replied, “It’s still massive numbers of crossings.”

When the reporter countered that data shows that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower levels than native-born Americans, Trump deemed the question “fake.”

When another reporter pressed the president to explain “where you get your numbers,” the president told that reporter to “sit down.”

“I get my numbers from a lot of sources, like Homeland Security, primarily, and the numbers that I have from Homeland Security are a disaster,” Trump said.

The reporter followed up: “So your own government’s stats are wrong?”

“No, no,” Trump said. “I use many stats. I use many stats.”

Which ones? Who knows? The man was musing in the land of delusion:

Trump recounted receiving “the most beautiful copy of a letter” that he said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent to “a thing called the Nobel Prize” – even though Abe has not publicly mentioned anything about this subject, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said that Trump should receive the peace prize.

“I’ll probably never get it, but that’s okay,” Trump said. “They gave it to Obama. He didn’t even know what he got it for. He was there for about 15 seconds and he got the Nobel Prize.”

Trump said that he has done things the Obama administration “couldn’t have done… probably wouldn’t have done… didn’t have the capability to do.” He added, without providing any evidence or explanation, that he “stopped the slaughter of perhaps 3 million people” in Syria.

“We do a lot of good work,” Trump said. “This administration does a tremendous job, and we don’t get credit for it.”

What good work? What tremendous job? That nation is still waiting, and then it was over:

Trump then thanked his audience. He pointed out his new attorney general, William P. Barr, offering these words of encouragement: “Great luck and speed and enjoy your life.”

He thanked everyone again and walked away.

But he couldn’t walk away from the mess he had just made:

The Constitution is filled with ambiguities. But it has a few commands the framers wanted crystal clear. The president is commander in chief. Supreme Court justices have life terms.

And, it states, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Article I, section 9, clause 7 is constitutional bedrock, popularly known as “the power of the purse.” James Madison called it “a weapon” arming “the immediate representatives of the people” against the sweeping powers of the president.

But it’s been weakened over the years, often with the collusion of Congress, which enacts flexible spending laws, and by the courts, in their silence.

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border “shines the brightest of lights on how much power Congress has given away,” tweeted Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and former assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, “and how much extraordinary power presidents have amassed.”

There is that, but Noah Rothman notes how frustrated Trump had to have been:

He staked his reputation on constructing a wall along the southern border, and he’s not going to get one. Republicans in Congress had two years to appropriate the $25 billion Trump initially sought for a contiguous partition along the border, and they passed on it at every available opportunity. Trump transformed the 2018 midterm elections into a referendum on the notion that a humanitarian disaster was unfolding at the border and the wall was the only answer. Voters were not convinced.

Having lost face at the polls, Trump sought to demonstrate who’s still the boss by demanding tribute from ascendant Democrats – a mere $5.7 billion, not for a wall per se, but for “steel slats” along a few miles of the border. He didn’t get it. Indeed, Trump will sign a compromise that appropriates only $1.375 billion for fencing and border-security enhancements – less than what the GOP-led Congress was prepared to allocate at the end of 2018. That compromise bill also imposes a 17 percent reduction on the number of beds available in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, which would be an irresponsible thing for the president to sign amid a genuine immigration crisis.

Amid this unambiguous series of defeats, Trump resolved to get his border-wall funding by other means…

And now that’s falling apart:

Congressional Democrats aren’t even being coy about their desire to expand on this precedent when their party regains control of the White House. “Want to talk about a national emergency?” asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The epidemic of gun violence in America. That’s a national emergency.” There is no shortage of Democrats who are similarly convinced that climate change also represents an existential crisis, to say nothing of a national emergency. Many have endorsed draconian anti-industrial policies that are unlikely to pass in Congress as the only rational remedy to the crisis. The next president will undoubtedly face pressure from his or her core constituents to apply the precedent Trump is setting to their domestic policy priorities.

And then there’s this:

Maybe the most pernicious effect of the president’s extraordinary maneuver here is how he will drag complacent Republicans along with him into the abyss. Once invoked, 50 U.S. Code § 1622 on national emergencies sets into motion a series of events, including an almost immediate vote by the House of Representatives ratifying the president’s decision. The House will certainly reject Trump’s national-emergency declaration, sending that motion to the Senate, where it cannot be tabled. And that GOP-controlled chamber will be compelled to support Trump’s transparently political debasing of constitutional norms, not because of support for Trump, but because of pressure from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

They’ll look like cowards, loyal cowards, but cowards nonetheless, and David Frum adds this:

The declaration of a state of emergency is heading almost immediately to court. Construction could be enjoined while the litigation proceeds. Trump could lose. Yes, that would give him somebody to blame in 2020. Liberal judges stopped the wall. But a loss with an excuse remains a loss.

And there’s this:

By declaring an emergency, the president gains legal authority to move around some military-construction funds, reportedly about $3.6 billion. But that money has to come from somewhere, and where it comes from is other projects. “That must have been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.” Those were Trump’s mocking words to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, as quoted in his new book. He’ll have to wear them himself if the courts stop his wall.

And there’s this:

The legal route imposes another risk. Few voters will understand the limits on the emergency powers Trump has just invoked. The invocation will sound to many like final confirmation that Trump aspires to dictatorship. If the courts stop him, he will look like a defeated dictator – dangerous but weakened.

But the problems here are mainly political:

The emergency powers Trump has proclaimed allow him to reshuffle money between military-construction envelopes. Every additional dollar he devotes to the border is a dollar taken from another project already approved by Congress. Every one of those projects has patrons and sponsors. And because most military contracting goes to red states, most of the reshuffled dollars will be removed from red states.

Among the projects at risk: a $32 million vehicle-maintenance shop in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I have no idea whether this project is supremely necessary or a pork-barrel boondoggle. But I bet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly believes it is the former. What will Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina – up for reelection in 2020 – think if Trump pulls funds from the approved but not yet contracted project for a new aircraft hangar at the Marine Corps’ air station in his state?

There are hundreds of such projects. Trump hasn’t solved everything for himself. He’s made a bigger mess for himself.

He’s made a bigger mess for everyone, as David French notes here:

If you look at the plain language and clear intent of the relevant statutes, they do not permit Trump to defy Congress and build his wall. He knows it. Congress knows it. His own lawyers know it… Even under the most generous statute, only during a “national emergency” that “may require” the use of the military may the president allocate funds for “authorized” construction projects that are “essential to the national defense.”

That’s the problem with the 1976 Emergency Powers Act:

The fundamental purpose of the act was to restrain presidential power, not to enable a president to act without Congress simply because Congress won’t do what he wants.

Yes, presidents abuse the law anyway. And Congress refuses to stop them. And each past abuse is used to justify future abuses. We live under 28 separate states of emergency now, with one dating back to the Iranian hostage crisis. So what’s one more abuse in 2019?

Well, how about if the abuse requires you to gut the meaning of several statutes? For example, how about the assertion that the emergency on the border “may require” the use of the military? Don’t forget, in the United States, border security along a border with an allied nation is a civilian mission. It’s a mission managed by the civilian Department of Homeland Security. Border security has been enhanced in recent years by the addition of new civilian Border Patrol officers and the construction of civilian structures, not military fortifications.

Getting around that will be hard:

The legal argument in support of the notion that constructing a border wall is “essential to the national defense” boils down primarily to the naked assertion that, well, courts won’t dare question the president. But words still have meaning. We are not in a state of declared war with Mexico. There is no invading army. Illegal-immigrant crime, as tragic as it is, isn’t an act of war. It would be strange indeed to argue that a border fence with an allied country is “essential to the national defense” when the border-security mission by statute isn’t even a military mission.

French says it’s time to be honest about what is going on here:

Vanishingly few people in good faith believe that any of these statutes were intended to empower the construction of Trump’s promised new wall. It’s a strain to argue that they even encompass upgrades to existing walls. Not even the Trump administration believes they were intended to empower the president to build the wall. Has Trump previously sought appropriation from Congress as a mere matter of professional courtesy?

No, this is an attempted abuse of the constitutional order that is justified mainly by the existence of previous successful abuses of the constitutional order. Each abuse builds on the next; hypocrisy builds on hypocrisy. The only clear winner is the imperial presidency. The loser is our constitutional republic. And each Trump fan cheering his raw power grab will be a furious partisan when the next Democratic president builds on Trump’s abuse.

Congratulations, partisans. You claim you’re saving our country. In reality, you’re wrecking our constitution.

So it’s time for some simple solutions to this problem:

Top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are opening an “immediate investigation” into President Trump’s move Friday morning to declare a national emergency to fund the construction of a border wall.

In a letter to Trump on Friday afternoon, the Democrats requested that he make available to them individuals involved in the decision – including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and officials at the Department of Justice – for “a hearing in the coming days.” The Democrats are also seeking a slew of documents related to the decision-making process.

In short, explain what the hell you were thinking. Explain that in a televised open hearing. Own it. Be proud of it. Does it solve everything?

No? Okay. So stop it. Stop it right now.

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Poking the Bear

Valentine’s Day is all about love, or guilt, or lust – or something. Men, that gift had better be just right, or you’re in trouble. Women, make him worry – there’s power in this day. Retailers – mark up the flowers and the chocolates – there’s big money to be made. And of course Charlie Brown will sigh for that little re-haired girl who will doesn’t know he even exists, and never will know. Valentine’s Day is dangerous. There was that Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 and last Valentine’s Day it was seventeen shot dead at that high school in Florida. And this Valentine’s Day the president had had enough – he will assume the duties of Congress, because they’re useless. He can rule the country without them. That’s what people want anyway – or so he’s thinking. He was elected to shake things up, to change things. And this is that.

That’s not overstating what was happening:

Congress on Thursday approved a massive budget deal to avert an impending government shutdown, and President Trump promised to sign it, but only after announcing he would also declare a national emergency so he can get more money for a border wall.

Congress won’t appropriate the money, so screw them. He’ll grab the money elsewhere, and that played out this way:

Moments after Trump disclosed his intentions in a phone call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), McConnell announced the news on the Senate floor, ending days of uncertainty over whether the president would support the $333 billion spending deal, which includes less than a quarter of the money he’s sought for a steel wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Senate swiftly passed the legislation on an 83-to-16 vote, and the House followed suit hours later, approving the bill 300 to 128 — veto-proof margins in both chambers. If Trump keeps his promise to sign the measure, it would avert a government shutdown that would have started Saturday and keep the government open through at least Sept. 30.

Mitch McConnell was the key here. He wanted to keep the government open. He realized the only way to do that, now, was to let Trump have the “power of the purse” as stipulated in the Constitution. He’d give that up to have a functioning government that at least functions – but nothing is that easy:

Lawmakers had been eager to put shutdown politics behind them after a record 35-day funding lapse forced 800,000 federal workers to go without paychecks through Christmas and much of January. But a national emergency declaration, which would allow Trump to circumvent Congress and use the military to build his wall, would create a new set of problems.

Many of Trump’s GOP congressional allies called the move ­ill-advised, and Democrats promised immediate action aimed at blocking it. And the declaration will probably face legal challenges from states, border residents, civil liberties groups and possibly congressional Democrats.

And there were immediate problems:

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he plans to introduce a resolution of disapproval that would overturn the declaration, calling it “a gross abuse of power that cannot be tolerated.”

Under the National Emergencies Act, House passage of a disapproval resolution would trigger automatic consideration by the Senate, where a simple majority vote would be required to agree to it. Given opposition from some Republicans, that raises the prospect that a disapproval resolution would pass the narrowly divided Senate in an embarrassing rebuke to Trump – a scenario McConnell privately warned the president about recently.

And it gets worse:

That would force Trump to contemplate issuing the first veto of his presidency, which the president’s critics in Congress would probably lack the votes to override. But Nadler said that if their resolution is vetoed, House Democrats would challenge the emergency declaration in court.

But the key guy had just given up:

McConnell has been warning against an emergency declaration publicly and privately for weeks, but on Thursday he told senators he had informed the president he would support the move. According to two officials with knowledge of the exchanges who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, Trump had been leaning against supporting the congressional spending bill but relented after several conversations with McConnell, who then announced his agreement to go along with an emergency declaration.

McConnell saw this as the only way to keep the government open, but that’s no good:

The White House Counsel’s Office has warned Trump against declaring a national emergency, calling it a “high litigation risk,” according to a person with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private deliberations.

Lawyers encouraged Trump to reprogram money without declaring a national emergency. But the president has been inclined toward the declaration, in part because he sees it as an avenue to more wall money, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

That is, in a national emergency he can grab all the money he wants. It’s an emergency after all, and McConnell was trapped, and looked like an ass-kissing fool:

After getting burned by Trump in December on a spending bill the Senate passed and the president disavowed, McConnell wanted to move as fast as possible to a vote following Trump’s assurance of support. The majority leader was in such a hurry to announce Trump’s backing and call the vote Thursday that he interrupted Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) in the middle of a speech about biofuels, drawing wrathful exclamations and glares from the longtime Iowa lawmaker.

But there’s big money involved:

White House officials have closely held their precise plans on taking executive action, insisting that they had legal ways to secure more than $5.7 billion in funds without congressional approval but refusing to say exactly how they’d do it.

One reason they were circumspect is because they were waiting for final details of the congressional deal to be made public, so they could ascertain the level of resources they would need to redirect from other programs, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal plans. Traditionally, moving money from one program to another requires congressional approval, but declaring a national emergency could give them more flexibility.

Congressional aides said Thursday that they believe there is up to $21 billion in “unobligated” Defense Department funding that the president could target for construction of the wall. That includes $10 billion in military construction money in the fiscal 2019 budget and $11 billion in previous budgets that is not yet spent…

So the Defense Department will have no buffer for repairs to facilities – barracks and runways and shipyards and whatnot – because all the money will go to the big wall. There are rules of course – that money would have to be redirected to “military” spending, but the president can declare anything military that he wants to declare military. He can’t? So sue him! Someone will. And of course there’s that other matter:

A central promise of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was that he would somehow make Mexico pay for the construction of the border wall, but since becoming president, all of his efforts have focused on using U.S. taxpayer money to finance the projects. Trump has said that a pending revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada effectively fulfills his promise, but it is unclear whether Congress will approve that trade agreement. And there is no language in the agreement that would create any new funding mechanism to provide money for a wall.

So expect this:

There will be lawsuits. Lots of them. From California to Congress, the litigants will multiply.

They will file suit in numerous jurisdictions – certainly within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on the West Coast, in U.S. District Court in Washington and maybe even in New York. That’s been the pattern in the hundreds of lawsuits, many of them successful, brought against the Trump administration, the idea being that some judge somewhere will block the wall…

“Any crisis on our border is of President Trump’s own making,” declared Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California and a likely litigant. “Family separations, child detention, turning our backs on asylum seekers, and more. There is no national emergency. If Trump oversteps his authority and abandons negotiations with Congress by declaring a fabricated national emergency, we won’t only call his bluff; we will do what we must to hold him accountable. No one is above the law.”

How did it come to this? Robert Costa and his team at the Washington Posts have a tale to tell about that:

After three weeks of pained negotiations to keep the federal government open, President Trump almost blew the whole thing up again on Thursday.

Headed for another defeat on his signature promise to make Mexico pay for a southern border wall, the president was frustrated after a briefing by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others on details of the final deal to avoid a shutdown, according to officials involved in the discussions. Trump threatened not to sign the legislation, the officials said, putting the government on the brink of another damaging shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was on the phone with Trump at least three times during the course of the nerve-racking day, pressing him to stay the course and asserting that Democrats had actually lost the spending fight, two people familiar with the conversations said.

“We thought he was good to go all morning, and then suddenly it’s like everything is off the rails,” said one senior Republican aide.

In short, this wasn’t pretty:

For Trump, the negotiations were never really about figuring out how to win. They were about figuring out how to lose – and how to cast his ultimate defeat as victory instead.

“Zero chance you could spin this as a win for Republicans,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said earlier in the week. He called the bipartisan deal “a total capitulation” and added, “Bluntly, it was a waste of three weeks.”

And there was this:

“I think the president’s view was that he could get us to fold. He could talk about his emergency; he could do all kinds of things,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday in an interview with The Washington Post. “Once he learned he couldn’t bully us into doing what he wanted, once he learned that the public was on our side, he realized he should give up.”

So it was time to humor him, to feed his ego, to lie to him:

Inside the West Wing, Trump’s advisers argued to him that his call for a border wall was more popular because of his showdown with Congress and that his approval ratings had improved slightly. Indeed, he said at Monday night’s rally that the shutdown was “a very important thing we did” because it raised public awareness of “what the hell is happening with the border.”

That might have helped. Tell him he’s winning. Tell him that everyone, absolutely everyone, loves him. That might work. That might calm him down, but that might be impossible:

Privately, Trump complained vociferously about the final deal and said he felt Republican negotiators had failed him and that he might not sign it, according to one person who spoke to the president. “Everyone thinks this is terrible,” Trump told this person on Tuesday, echoing the criticism from some of his supporters in conservative media, including Fox News host Sean Hannity.

But Trump did not have the stomach for another shutdown and told aides it had generated nonstop negative coverage. Polls showed most Americans blamed him for the shutdown in December and January, the longest in the nation’s history. And his advisers counseled him against a second shutdown, arguing that he had options to fund barrier projects without Congress. Even acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, once an advocate of budget brinkmanship, argued against a shutdown this time.

On Capitol Hill, there was no appetite, either, particularly among Republicans who were rattled by the GOP’s poor showing in suburban and swing areas last year. “Just not an option, at all,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) said. “We’d state the obvious: The first shutdown was a mistake and we can’t do it again.”

Trump had to sign the bill:

Tensions and worries lingered until the end, as Trump wavered and some Republican leaders were exasperated.

McConnell immediately went to the floor to announce Trump’s acquiescence to the deal because he was afraid the president would reverse course again and wanted to announce the deal while he had it, according to people familiar with the matter.

McConnell wanted to turn the tables and trap Trump, and there were those “other” people:

Democrats, privately, were amused but made a conscious decision not to gloat – concerned that if they celebrated what they considered a victory Thursday they might anger Trump enough to veto the deal.

One conferee summarized the instructions from Democratic leaders: “Don’t poke the bear.”

That’s always good advice. And don’t poke the bear on Valentine’s Day. He’s grumpy. And he is a bear, and he is dangerous. He’s changing everything. He has found a way to bypass Congress – to just decide this one thing, about building this giant wall, all on his own. The current Republicans in Congress won’t stop him. His base would toss them out of office. The courts may stop him, but he has packed those with judges who will stand by him, and a Supreme Court that’s almost entirely his now.

This is getting dire. Someone needs to poke this bear, hard. There’s no need to be nice. Valentine’s Day is over.

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Reality Bites Back

In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats and repeats in my ear
Don’t you know little fool
You never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time that I do just the thought of you makes me stop
Before I begin…

That was Cole Porter in 1936 – one of his classic songs about irrational obsession – or true love. He saw no difference. He was that little bisexual rich kid from Indiana – who became the toast of Paris and then the toast of Broadway, and then Hollywood. He overcame reality. He laughed at reality. He created his own reality. That made him rich and famous.

Not everyone can do that. Not everyone has his talent – or luck – or whatever that was. Everyone else has to use their mentality, and wake up to reality, even Donald Trump. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman tell that tale:

In pursuit of a wall, President Trump ran into one. A single-minded drive to force Congress to finance his signature campaign promise has left Mr. Trump right back where he started, this time seeking a way to climb over the political barrier in his way after trying to charge through it did not work.

As he inched closer to reluctantly accepting a bipartisan spending compromise without the money he demanded for his border wall, Mr. Trump offered no acknowledgment on Wednesday that his pressure tactics had failed even as aides sought to minimize the damage by tamping down criticism on the right.

One call was made to Lou Dobbs – a favorite of Mr. Trump’s whose Fox Business Network show he often tries to catch live. Another was placed to Sean Hannity, the Fox host who regularly talks with the president. The message: Mr. Trump deserved support because he still forced concessions that he would never have gotten without a five-week partial government shutdown.

What concessions? He got nothing. But the man can spin:

While acknowledging disappointment in the agreement, the president and his aides characterized it as better than it seemed, citing money it will provide for overall border security. Mr. Trump argued that the shutdown had been useful because it educated the country about troubles at the border and, if nothing else, he has framed the national debate on his terms.

That’s his argument. He did not get even one thing he wanted – but he got good stuff – even more money, and now everyone is talking about the wall and the uselessness of many other things that other administrations had tried – except almost everyone thinks his big new wall is useless and he’s a bit of a jerk. He did frame the argument. He didn’t frame the outcome. He won’t use his mentality. He won’t wake up to reality.

He prefers the alternative:

President Trump has installed a room-sized “golf simulator” game at the White House, which allows him to play virtual rounds at courses all over the world by hitting a ball into a large video screen, according to two people told about the system.

That system replaced an older, less sophisticated simulator that had been installed under President Barack Obama, according to two people with knowledge of the previous system.

Trump’s system cost about $50,000, and was put in during the last few weeks in a room in his personal quarters, a White House official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the president’s private residence, said that Trump had paid for the new system and the installation personally.

Obama did the same thing. Presidents do these things. Nixon added a bowling alley. And this gizmo cost the taxpayers nothing at all, but this one seems to be an anti-reality machine:

Players can play on a digital copy of the famous St. Andrews course in Scotland or on fictional courses made up just for the game. One offers the chance to play nine holes among “temples, volcanoes and dinosaur skeletons” in a South American jungle.

Players then hit a real ball into the screen and sensors track the speed, spin and path of the ball. Then, the computer takes over. It transforms that real shot into a virtual one and shows the ball soaring over fairways (or dinosaur skeletons) toward the hole.

That’s a bit spooky, and Trumpian of course:

President Trump has built his schedules around long blocks of executive time – unstructured periods in the day with no official meetings. He often spends this time watching TV, tweeting, holding impromptu meetings and making phone calls, aides have said.

The news outlet Axios examined three months of Trump’s schedules, and found that “Executive Time” accounted for 60 percent of his scheduled hours. Axios said that Trump usually did not leave his residence for the Oval Office until about 11 a.m.

Trump has responded that he uses the time productively… The White House official said that Trump has not used his new golf simulator during executive time – or at all since it was put in.

There’s no reason to believe that. This man has issues with reality and this would be a daily comfort, but reality always bites back:

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a billionaire real estate investor who is one of President Trump’s closest confidants, apologized Wednesday after defending Saudi Arabia in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and saying the United States has committed “equal or worse” atrocities.

Barrack’s remarks on Khashoggi, made Tuesday at a summit in Abu Dhabi organized by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Institute think tank, were first reported by Dubai’s Gulf News.

And this was an attack on reality:

“Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal or worse to the atrocities in Saudi Arabia,” Barrack told the crowd at the Milken Institute’s MENA Summit, according to audio provided by Gulf News reporter Ed Clowes.

“The atrocities in any autocratic country are dictated by the rule of law,” Barrack continued. “So, for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there – when we have a young man [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] and a regime that’s trying to push themselves into 2030 – I think is a mistake.”

He is arguing moral codes aren’t real, that right and wrong aren’t real, and then he used his mentality and woke up to reality, but not really:

In a statement Wednesday, Barrack called the murder of Khashoggi “atrocious” and “inexcusable” and apologized for “not making this clear in my comments earlier this week.”

But he appeared to suggest responsibility for the killing should not rest on Saudi leadership.

“I feel strongly that the bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom,” Barrack said, maintaining that “rule of law and monarchies across the Middle East are confusing to the West.”

He would say that:

In the 1970s, Barrack worked in Saudi Arabia, where he befriended sons of the Saudi king; he later went on to serve as their U.S. representative.

That was his reality for a time. That’s not reality now. Reality has a funny way of biting back, but sometimes it needs a little help:

The House on Wednesday passed a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen, a repudiation of President Trump’s continued cooperation with and defense of the kingdom and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

The resolution covers a lot. Trump got a lot of reality all wrong, but that may not matter:

The measure passed 248 to 177, and was supported by 230 Democrats and 18 Republicans. It marks the end of a months-long campaign from the legislation’s sponsors, whom House Republican leaders blocked last year from bringing the measure to the floor – even as a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted to approve it.

The war-powers legislation now heads back to the Senate, where sponsors said they are “hopeful” that similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats will vote for it when the measure comes up in the next few weeks. But even if they manage to pass the resolution in that body, Trump is already threatening to veto the measure – and Congress does not have the votes to overcome it.

So, nothing may come of this, but the argument is about reality:

The president’s advisers this week warned that the War Powers Resolution raised constitutional concerns and was “flawed” in its premise, as U.S. forces were not fighting on the ground in Yemen. Their statement also stressed that the United States had already curtailed the aerial refueling of Saudi warplanes, and that other forms of assistance the United States was providing, such as intelligence sharing and logistical support, would not fall under the auspices of the War Powers Resolution.

Its sponsors, however, rejected that notion. “This is exactly the type of hostilities that the framers of the War Powers Resolution contemplated,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in an interview.

So it comes down to this:

Republican opponents of the Yemen resolution argued that by focusing solely on ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign, the resolution “sends a green light to the Houthis and their Iranian backers to press on,” as Mike McCaul (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, put it.

Democrats objected to Republicans characterizing the resolution as soft on Iran, stressing that its chief motivation was to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“We can go after Iran another time, and heaven knows I’ve been the sponsor of many resolutions and bills sanctioning Iran,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “There is a civil war going on now in Yemen and innocent children are dying. We have an ability to put an end to that, and that’s what we should do with this humanitarian crisis. It’s critical that we don’t delay.”

So reality bites back. It’s the reality of thousands and thousands of dead children, and a dead journalist too:

Congress has never successfully passed a resolution under the authority Congress granted itself in the War Powers Act to end U.S. participation in hostilities, and less than a year ago, leaders of both parties still thought doing so was a bad idea.

But the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prompted lawmakers to take a critical look at Saudi leaders, in particular Mohammed, whom many lawmakers have said is liable for the murder.

Trump has to date defended the crown prince’s denials of involvement. Last week, he also missed two congressionally mandated deadlines to report to lawmakers on the status of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and announce sanctions against which officials he deemed to be responsible for Khashoggi’s death – or explain why he was declining to do so.

The CIA in November assessed that the crown prince had ordered the killing.

And that’s the reality that bit back in this case, but there was a bigger burst of reality the same day:

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in an order Wednesday that Paul Manafort had violated his plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Her order also said that Mueller had shown by a preponderance of evidence that Manafort had lied about three of the five topic areas prosecutors accused the former Trump campaign chairman of making intentionally false statements. In the other two topic areas, Mueller has failed to sufficiently prove that Manafort lied.

Specifically Berman Jackson found by a preponderance of the evidence that Manafort had lied about a $125,000 payment, about certain interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate Mueller has tied to Russian intelligence, and about a matter in an unspecified Justice Department investigation.

The judge, however, said prosecutors had failed to establish that Manafort lied about his contacts with the Trump administration or about the role Kilimnik played in efforts to engage in witness tampering in his case.

Still, this is trouble:

Manafort reached the cooperation deal with prosecutors just before the case against him in D.C. was set to go trial. As part of the deal, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and to a conspiracy to obstruct justice via witness tampering.

He had previously been convicted by a jury in Virginia in the case that Mueller brought against him there. The judge in the Virginia case had delayed sentencing in light of the proceedings in D.C. over whether Manafort had breached the deal.

In what was dramatic development in Manafort’s ongoing legal saga, Mueller first unveiled in November that he had found Manafort in breach of the plea agreement for not being truthful while purportedly cooperating with investigators.

Aaron Blake takes it from there, with these observations:

We don’t know whether special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has found evidence of collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

But for the fourth time, he has proved a Trump aide lied about contacts with Russians.

Yes, reality bites back, in detail:

A judge on Wednesday voided former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s cooperation deal with the government, agreeing with Mueller’s team that Manafort lied about three matters. In another two matters about which Mueller’s team accused Manafort of lying, the judge did not find “a preponderance of evidence.”

Importantly, included in the three instances in which U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson found Manafort made false statements, one involved his business associate in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik.

The Office of Special Counsel “has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant intentionally made multiple false statements to the FBI, the OSC, and the grand jury concerning matters that were material to the investigation: his interactions and communications with Kilimnik,” reads the ruling from Jackson. Jackson found the evidence lacking on another claim of lies involving Kilimnik.

This is deadly stuff to Trump:

Kilimnik is an increasingly important figure in the Russia probe. An Aug. 2, 2016, meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of Mueller’s probe, according to Mueller’s team in a recently released court transcript. Previous court filings indicate Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik and discussed a pro-Russian “peace deal” for Ukraine, where Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in 2013.

Importantly, Mueller’s team has assessed that Kilimnik, who attended a school that produced Russian intelligence agents, continued to have ties to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign. It also says Kilimnik, who was born in Soviet-controlled Ukraine, is a Russian citizen.

That translates to the court finding Manafort lied about a contact with a Russian, which wasn’t among the crimes Manafort had previously been convicted of. And that means the courts have found a fourth example of a Trump aide lying about contacts with Russians.

These things add up:

Previously, former Trump campaign surrogate and White House national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition between the 2016 campaign and Trump’s inauguration. Former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying about contact with the Kremlin during his efforts during the 2016 campaign to secure a Trump Tower in Russia. And among the lies Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded to was lying about contact with a “female Russian national.”

So now there’s this, and Martin Longman adds the detail:

On June 19, 2017, the Washington Post broke the story that Paul Manafort, while serving as the chairman of the Trump campaign, had a secret August 2, 2016 meeting with suspected GRU (Russian military intelligence) officer Konstantin Kilimnik in a Manhattan cigar bar called the Grand Havana Room. I still don’t know how the Post got wind of the meeting, but it’s hardly breaking news that it took place. You might not realize this if you look at today’s article on the meeting in the Post.

“A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, called the details about what occurred at the Grand Havana Room gathering ‘the most interesting and potentially significant development we have seen in a long time.'”

That’s what Manafort lied about and that’s what broke this open:

Something seriously nefarious was taking place.

We now know that the deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates also attended the meeting. We know that they all left the club separately in order to evade detection. We know that one of the main topics of discussion was a so-called Ukrainian peace plan that would have presumably allowed Russia to keep possession of the Crimea and get sanctions relief in the bargain. And we know that Manafort and Gates shared detailed polling data with Kilimnik.

And then things fall into place:

In the Post’s original reporting, they already knew that Kilimnik had been open about his prior work in the Russian military. They knew that he had learned Swedish and English in a language school often used for recruitment by the GRU. Now, we now that Rick Gates has given evidence that Kilimnik acknowledged to him that he had worked for the GRU. We also now have court documents from the Office of Special Counsel stating that the U.S. intelligence community assesses that Kilimnik remained linked to Russian intelligence throughout 2016.

We also have emails and other communications between Manafort and Kilimnik from the spring and summer of 2016 showing that Manafort was seeking to use his positions, first as the delegate manager for the Republican convention and then as the campaign chairman, to “get whole” with a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska. Manafort owed him a great deal of money, perhaps in the neighborhood of 20 million dollars. Through Kilimnik, he offered Deripaska private briefings on the status of the campaign and thinking of Trump’s inner circle. We’ve also learned that the meeting in the Grand Havana Room was initiated at Deripaska’s request.

That information forms the prism through which we should judge the news that Kilimnik arrived at the meeting with a proposed peace deal for Ukraine. That we now know that Manafort had offered Deripaska private briefings on the campaign makes it easier to understand why he handed Kilimnik detailed polling data. And the fact that they all left the meeting separately to avoid being seen on the street together indicates that they knew what they were doing was wrong.

But this is bigger than that:

As it stands, Manafort was clearly involved in a plot to work with Kremlin. The plot included receiving plans for sanctions relief and it included giving the Russians internal polling data. These activities can’t be separated from Trump campaign because the chairman and deputy chairman were the main drivers. It’s hard to see how, at this late date, they can be separated from Trump. He’s had almost two years to silo himself off from Manafort and yet he’s been more interested in keeping him quiet.

Keeping him quiet, however, does no good. There are other players. There’s Mueller. Democrats now control the House of Representatives and they will not be quiet. Reality will bite back. It always does, except in that room-sized “golf simulator” game. That was a good personal investment. Donald Trump will need that. There’s nowhere else to hide.

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An Imaginary Win

This street is odd. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the last years of his life in Hollywood, in a little apartment just down the street here on North Laurel Avenue, editing others’ screenplays and typing away at “The Last Tycoon” – the novel he never finished. Paris with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and that crowd was long ago. Zelda was locked up in an asylum back east, in the North Carolina mountains. It had all gone wrong, and he was still writing about rich people.

He always did. The last tycoon was a Hollywood producer. The first tycoon was Jay Gatsby, and the narrator of Fitzgerald’s first novel wasn’t too happy with two of those rich people:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Fitzgerald was impressed and disgusted with these people, a love-hate thing, or a disgust-envy thing, and a decade after the Gatsby novel he opened a short story with this:

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

That’s what he wrote about. It was all very American. The rich are cool. The rich are awful. Jay Gatsby was absurdly rich but a good guy, the hero of that tale. Gatsby had dreams and ideals – stupid dreams and stupid ideals – but that was enough to make him oddly admirable. Tom and Daisy smashed up things and let other people clean up the mess they had made. That’s all they had. That wasn’t enough. And that was the late twenties in American culture.

That’s today too:

The 400 richest Americans – the top 0.00025 percent of the population – have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s, according to a new working paper on wealth inequality by University of California at Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman.

Those 400 Americans own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of the wealth distribution, who saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall from 5.7 percent in 1987 to 2.1 percent in 2014, according to the World Inequality Database maintained by Zucman and others.

Overall, Zucman finds that “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.”

Fitzgerald would understand:

That shift is eroding security from families in the lower and middle classes, who rely on their small stores of wealth to finance their retirement and to smooth over economic shocks like the loss of a job. And it’s consolidating power in the hands of the nation’s billionaires, who are increasingly using their riches to purchase political influence.

This is the world of Jay Gatsby again, the world of careless people who smash things and let someone else clean up the mess. It’s the world of people who are soft where everyone else is hard, and cynical where everyone else is trustful. Everyone else has to discover the compensations and refuges of life – because they lose all the time in all sorts of ways. The rich are wholly unacquainted with losing, ever. Their wealth has insulated them from loss. There’s no pain. There is no loss.

Donald Trump knows this. There was always a way out of each of his four bankruptcies – his father’s money, or the Saudi’s money, or someone’s. The rich cover for each other. And they don’t lose, really.

That presents Donald Trump with an interesting problem. He just lost. He would not sign any legislation to keep the government open unless he got at least five billion dollars to start building his wall. He held out for thirty-five days. Millions got clobbered – they weren’t rich and they needed the work – but Trump is one of those careless people. Others could clean that up. He wanted his wall. And he didn’t get it. He didn’t get anything. He always wins. He says so. He always says so. But he faced a House controlled by the Democrats, finally, and he faced Nancy Pelosi, who knows how things work. And he faced two-thirds of the nation thinking that he was even more of a total jerk than they already suspected. The man who always won lost this one.

Now the issue is coping with loss, and the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Glenn Thrush cover how Trump is coping:

President Trump appeared poised on Tuesday to end two months of scorched-earth confrontation without the money he demanded for a border wall as Republicans pressured him to accept a bipartisan spending deal rather than close the government again on Friday.

Mr. Trump pronounced himself unsatisfied with the agreement brokered by House and Senate negotiators, and he refused to publicly commit to signing it. But he all but ruled out another government shutdown and emphasized that he would find “other methods” to finance a border barrier, leading aides and allies to predict he would grudgingly go along with the deal.

“Am I happy at first glance?” the president said, speaking with reporters at the beginning of a cabinet meeting. “I just got to see it. The answer is no, I’m not. I’m not happy.”

But he’ll probably sign the damned thing, not that it matters, because he can still win:

He said he was “moving things around” in the budget from “far less important areas” to finance a wall even without explicit congressional approval, and he expressed no desire to repeat the standoff that shuttered many federal agencies for 35 days. “I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown,” he said.

Hours later, after a further briefing, Mr. Trump seemed to signal acceptance of the agreement, saying that it “will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources” and provide plenty of resources for border security even if not for the wall itself. “Regardless of Wall money,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening, “it is being built as we speak!”

He was reframing everything. He didn’t need Congress to appropriate any money at all because he’ll get the money from other government programs and operations. He could should down a military base or use all the FEMA money – every cent of it – or something. Congress could sue, and they’d surely win – Congress gets to say how and where and when government funds are spent – but “the people” would love him for being bold.

That seems unlikely and there was that embarrassing hole:

The compromise measure, assembled by senior members of both parties on Monday night, includes just $1.375 billion for new fencing along the border with Mexico, far short of the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump sought for a steel or concrete wall – and less even than the deal that he rejected in December, prompting the longest government shutdown in American history.

That must anger him, and then there was the betrayal:

While some conservatives denounced it as a sellout, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, spoke with Mr. Trump by telephone on Tuesday and urged him to accept the compromise. “I hope he’ll sign it,” Mr. McConnell told reporters afterward. “I think he got a pretty good deal.”

Mr. McConnell had initially sought to avoid the confrontation that has consumed the nation’s capital by pressing Mr. Trump to accept the previous measure in December, only to be surprised when the president changed his mind.

McConnell knows better now:

Mr. McConnell made clear that he was ready to put the new spending package to a vote even though the president had not endorsed it and, notably, did not rule out overriding a veto if Mr. Trump turned against the compromise as he did two months ago.

And maybe this could be a win after all:

In an attempt to appease Mr. Trump, Republicans repeatedly referred to the deal as a “big down payment” on his wall and indicated that they were open to him transferring funds within the government to build more barriers. Mr. McConnell said he had no objection to the president using whatever “tools” were available. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee suggested using $800 million in drug interdiction funding to shore up border security in areas used by narcotic traffickers.

That’s desperation, and the only issue that remained was how the rich guy who never loses was going to react:

Current and former administration officials said on Tuesday that Mr. Trump seemed to be preparing to sign the bill and then reprogram as much money as he can on his own, although they cautioned that the president is unpredictable and his decision would depend on details still to be examined.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who joined Mr. Trump on Monday at a rally in El Paso, told attendees at a Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday that his conversations with the president left him with the impression that Mr. Trump was preparing to “pivot” to a “yes” on the deal, according to a person in the room.

Even Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who denounced the deal on Monday night as a “garbage compromise” that Republicans would have to answer for, said on Tuesday that he expected Mr. Trump to sign it to keep the government open and get his down payment. “He’s telegraphing what he’s going to do,” Mr. Hannity said on his radio program.

They think they know what will happen, but there was that other voice:

Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator whose criticism helped push Mr. Trump into taking a tougher stand in December, agreed but castigated the president for it. “Trump talks a good game on the border wall but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it,” she wrote on Twitter. “Call this his ‘Yellow New Deal.'”

She said he was yellow. She called him a coward. That could get him to change his mind, but the alternative is to reframe everything:

Mr. Trump told reporters that he was still thinking about declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress and finance wall construction on his own authority, but aides increasingly doubt he will, given opposition by Mr. McConnell and other Republicans.

Instead, Mr. Trump seemed to be trying to frame the outcome on his own terms by insisting he would still be able to protect the border. “Right now, we’re building a lot of wall,” he said.

No, not quite:

In fact, no new walls have been built or financed by Congress based on the prototypes that the Trump administration unveiled in October 2017. Projects to replace or repair about 40 miles of existing barriers have been started or completed since 2017.

Construction of the first extension of the current barriers, 14 miles of a levee wall in the Rio Grande Valley, is scheduled to begin this month, but a butterfly center has asked a judge to block construction because the barrier would bisect its property.

He was talking nonsense, and speaking of the compromise bill there was this:

“Am I happy at first glance? The answer is no, I’m not, I’m not happy,” Trump told reporters around midday at the White House, as he met with Cabinet members.

“It’s not going to do the trick, but I’m adding things to it, and when you add whatever I have to add, it’s all going to happen where we’re going to build a beautiful, big, strong wall,” Trump said.

Donald Trump has no experience in government, so he was saying, here, that he gets to mark-up the bill – to add whatever he wants and to delete whatever he wants – to rewrite every word of the whole thing – and then sign it into law. Isn’t that how things are done?

Someone needs to talk to him about the real world, as Greg Sargent notes here:

At President Trump’s big rally in El Paso on Monday night, you could see signs everywhere that proclaimed: “Finish the wall.”

That’s some amusingly dishonest sleight of hand – it’s meant to create the impression that the wall is already being built, which is a lie Trump tells regularly. Thus, it substitutes an imaginary Trump win for a real one, since apparently support for Trump among his voters on such an important symbolic matter is too delicate to withstand the unbearable prospect of him losing without withering or shattering.

Now that negotiators have reached an agreement in principle for six months of spending on the border, however, it’s once again clear that Trump’s win on the wall will remain firmly in the category of the imaginary.

The compromise proposal assures that:

It includes only $1.375 billion for new bollard fencing in targeted areas. That’s nothing like Trump’s wall – it’s limited to the kind of fencing that has already been built for years – and it’s substantially short of the $5.7 billion Trump wants. It’s nothing remotely close to the wall that haunts the imagination of the president and his rally crowds. The $1.375 billion is slightly less than what Democrats had previously offered him. It can’t even be credibly sold as a down payment on the wall.

It is, in fact, a loss, so the rich man who never losses, who cannot lose, given his circumstances, has lost:

Trump and Republicans suffered an electoral wipeout in an election that Trump turned into a referendum on his xenophobic nativist nationalism. He then used a shutdown to try to force the new Democratic House to accept both his wall and radical legal changes that would have made our immigration system far more inhumane. He isn’t getting his wall or those changes, and it looks as though a lot of humanitarian money will be channeled to the border to address the actual crisis there.

In other words, the fake crisis that Trump invented – and with it, his broader immigration vision – is getting repudiated. The only question is whether Trump will agree to the surrender Republicans are trying to negotiate for him.

No. The only question is whether Trump can even imagine that he has actually lost. Tom and Daisy smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made – and Donald Trump is one of those careless people too. He’ll simply imagine he’s winning. The rich are different. They’re dangerous.

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Out In That West Texas Town

It was the ultimate cowboy ballad. Late in 1959 Marty Robbins released El Paso – that song about the cowboy, out in the West Texas town of El Paso, who fell in love with a Mexican girl. Within a few months the single was number one on both the country and pop charts. It was a great tune with a compelling narrative – the smitten guy who kills a seeming rival and has to get out of town quick, then cannot help himself. He knows the law will take him and hang him if he returns, but he has to see that Mexican girl one more time. He’s shot dead trying, and as he dies in the dusty streets of El Paso, the girl gives him one last kiss. It’s very Shakespearean, in a Tex-Mex sort of way. It’s a keeper. Even the Grateful Dead did a cover of it.

But of course it doesn’t get much play these days. And perhaps that’s because the idea of the devastatingly attractive Mexican – the Mexican girl that Gringo cowboy just couldn’t quit – just doesn’t fit the current narrative we’ve got going about Mexicans. They’re the bad guys now – shiftless and dirty and sloppy and out to take our jobs, when they’re not in gangs or running drug cartels, and they fill up our public schools, and flood our emergency rooms, all the while talking funny, in Spanish of all things. We want them gone. That Marty Robbins song would just puzzle people now.

And of course El Paso is no longer a dusty little cowboy town. The army has the ironically named giant Fort Bliss there, and El Paso itself is just another relatively large city, with Toyota dealerships and strip malls and all the rest. And just across what passes for a river, in Mexico proper, there’s Juarez, the drug-murder capital of the western world. So there’s no cultural mixing in any cantina, like in the Marty Robbins song, but crime in El Paso is surprisingly low. The place is kind of boring. If you’ve been to El Paso you know it has a sort of shut-down nowhere feel to it. And it looks like the end of the earth – the White Sands area stretches far out to the north, hundreds of miles of scorching bleak emptiness, all the way out to Alamogordo, where we set off the very first atomic bomb, to see if it worked. It did. This is end-of-the-world apocalypse country.

El Paso was forgotten, but on Tuesday, May 10, 2011, President Obama went to El Paso and gave a speech on immigration reform – he called for legalizing the millions of undocumented but otherwise hardworking and law-abiding folks already here, not calling for amnesty, but suggesting newly legalized workers could pay fines and taxes, learn English, and submit to background checks and wait their turn to apply for permanent status. Obama said that the border was more secure than ever, and more people, who want to be here, and want to work, and actually want to pay taxes, might be good for the country. And he made a case for the DREAM Act – allow conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who did nothing wrong but follow their parents across the border when they were minors. That legislation would legalize those students who have been in the country for five years or more, and who are really enmeshed in English and American culture and not much else, and who go to college or serve in the military. You don’t punish them for what their parents did. These are good people who are good for the country.

Of course no one was buying any of this – the Republicans had already dug in. They didn’t need the Hispanic vote and they were going to make Obama a one-term president. Immigration reform was boring. They’d repeal Obamacare and dismantle whatever else they could. Everyone forget El Paso.

That didn’t work out. Mitt Romney did no better than John McCain. Obama had his second term – but the Republicans had learned their lesson. Immigration reform wasn’t boring. Make keeping “those people” out the be-all and end-all of governance. They’d need a candidate who sneered at “those people” – and at Muslims too – and at anyone who wanted in, for any reason. They needed a brash and loud xenophobic anti-immigrant bigot to get people all riled up and keep them riled up about “those people” – who had to be stopped. They needed to get back to El Paso – but not in a Marty Robbins kind of way. Jeb Bush was the one who has fallen in love with that Mexican girl – he married her and they’ve been happy for years and years – so he wouldn’t do. They needed someone like Donald Trump. They got Donald Trump. They got the real thing.

So it was back to El Paso, for a showdown in the streets this time. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker explains that:

President Trump’s push to get Congress to fund his proposed border wall officially converged with his 2020 reelection campaign here on Monday night, as the president and potential Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke staged dueling rallies in this vibrant border city. The two events along the U.S.-Mexico border encapsulated the fierce debate over illegal immigration and border security that has been roiling Washington and is emerging as a flash point in the presidential campaign.

And this was an attempt to turn things around:

At the start of a consequential week at the U.S. Capitol, where congressional negotiators are seeking to avoid another government shutdown, the president tried to use the backdrop of O’Rourke’s hometown to argue that a wall would help protect border communities. With four days to go before a partial government shutdown, Trump took Air Force One to the border in an attempt to gain a political advantage in an immigration debate that polls show he has been losing.

So it was time for sneers and insults:

In a meandering, 75-minute speech, Trump tried to paint an image of crime and lawlessness on the border while claiming falsely that violent crime went down in El Paso after a wall was built.

“We need the wall, and it has to be built, and we want to build it fast,” he said. Pausing to listen to chants of “Build that wall,” Trump sought to correct his supporters: “Now, you really mean finish the wall,” he said, claiming that his promised border wall was already under construction.

He referred to O’Rourke several times during the rally, calling the former congressman “a young man who’s got very little going for himself.” Trump claimed O’Rourke’s rally was poorly attended and that his 2018 election loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) should disqualify him from seeking higher office.

“How about Beto?” Trump said, during a lengthy screed attacking Democrats over policies he labeled as “socialism.” “Beto was defeated, too. But he suffered a great defeat.”

The rowdy crowd repeatedly burst into chants of “USA! USA!” and “Build that wall!” to drown out several demonstrators who interrupted Trump multiple times.

Beto is a loser, and that’s that, but meanwhile:

About a mile down the road, several thousand demonstrators gathered at a high school carrying American flags, rainbow banners, “Beto for President” flags, and flags for Mexico and Texas. There were also signs decrying Trump and his border wall – such as “Trump made America hate again” – and chants from the crowd that included “Make tacos, not walls!”

O’Rourke – who has disagreed vehemently with Trump’s depiction of El Paso as crime-ridden before construction of a border fence – has pointed to statistics showing that the city was one of America’s safest cities long before the fencing was installed a decade ago. Local officials also have said that the physical barrier has had no impact on the city’s relatively low rate of violent crime.

It was facts versus sneers, but Rucker points out Trump had already been on a roll:

Trump traded words with Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) over the weekend as they announced their presidential campaigns.

On Monday, the president sharply attacked Democrats, calling them “the party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime.” For the first time, he singled out the “Green New Deal” – a climate-change action plan backed by several presidential contenders – saying it would virtually eliminate air travel.

“To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care,” he said. “They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

And all he’s going to do is shut down the government if he doesn’t get his wall, or not:

Another government shutdown could further harden battle lines. Key lawmakers said they had reached an agreement late Monday with enough time to secure House and Senate approval this week and avoid another shutdown. Government funding for several agencies is set to expire Friday. And it’s not clear whether Trump, who is considering declaring a national emergency over border security, would ultimately support any deal reached by Congress.

He could just say “screw it” and shut down the government, because he can, and people need to be reminded that he can. He can do anything he wants, and no one can do one single thing about it. That was the El Paso message:

Trump has often played the role of spoiler after lawmakers reach bipartisan agreements, and he has been dismissive of the negotiations. On Monday, Trump said he had not yet heard the details of the tentative agreement, but he said it would not matter because he would build the wall one way or another.

“As I was walking up to the stage, they said that progress is being made with this committee,” Trump told his El Paso crowd. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”

Trump alluded to building the wall by declaring a national emergency, which would trigger executive authority to reallocate federal funds for wall construction, by telling rally-goers, “We’re setting the stage. We’re setting the table.”

No one can stop him, on anything, and that seems to be what this was about:

Trump’s campaign released a video before the president’s visit featuring El Paso residents who claimed that fencing has improved safety in their community.

O’Rourke offered a direct contrast to Trump’s rhetoric during his opposing rally less than a mile away from the president’s event. On Friday, O’Rourke published a Medium post laying out his argument for why Trump’s characterization of El Paso is wrong and why a wall is not needed, along with 10 proposals for immigration policy.

“The President, using the same racist, inflammatory rhetoric of years past, seeks to build a wall, to take kids from their parents, to deploy the U.S. Army on American soil, to continue mass deportations and to end the protection for Dreamers,” wrote O’Rourke, who has said he will decide by the end of this month whether to run for president.

El Paso is back, and just a note:

Officials in El Paso rebuked President Trump in advance of his visit to the border city on Monday night, assailing the president for falsely crediting the Texas city’s safety to the border fence that was built there 10 years ago.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D), who represents the city in Congress, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, District Attorney Jaime Esparza, and Commissioner Carlos Leon said Trump’s statements threatened to damage the town’s reputation.

And what he said wasn’t even close to true:

Trump had made the city a centerpiece of his push for a border wall during the State of the Union address last week, saying that its fence, which was constructed between 2008 and 2010, had reduced violent crime and made El Paso one of the “safest cities in our country.” He repeated the claims during his campaign rally in the city on Monday night.

But Trump’s claims were false. The city’s violent crime peaked in 1993 before declining sharply throughout the 1990s, in line with national trends, and long before the city’s fence was approved by Congress in 2006. From 2006 to 2011 – the period through the two years after it was built, violent crime actually increased 17 percent, according to the El Paso Times.

It was a point that officials underscored on Monday.

“Even if you give president the benefit of the doubt, the fence that was built in 2008 has made really no difference one way or the other,” said Esparza, who has served as district attorney since 1993.

“That statement was entirely untrue and unacceptable to the residents of our great city,” said Leon, the former chief of the El Paso Police Department who served in total for 30 years.

Yes, they were unhappy:

In El Paso, the harsh statements at the news conference were coupled with a sharply worded resolution signed by the town’s four commissioners and Samaniego that said Trump’s claims were “yet another lie that was quickly disputed by residents and members of our local law enforcement agencies.”

“Donald Trump has continuously made inaccurate claims about the United States’ southern border, including El Paso,” the resolution said, noting that data from Customs and Border Protection showed that “no crisis exists” on the border, despite Trump’s claims.

“The County of El Paso is disillusioned by President Trump’s lies regarding the border and our community, and though it is difficult to welcome him to El Paso while he continues to proliferate such untruths, we do welcome him to meet with local officials to become properly informed about our great and safe region.”

Of course that will never happen:

The statement said that Trump had never reached out to local officials or law enforcement agencies to inform himself about the city; instead, he repeated the claim about the danger of the city before the fence during a conference call with officials.

The false statement has drawn rebukes from Republicans as well, including the city’s mayor, Dee Margo, and Jon Barela, the chief executive of the regional development group Borderplex Alliance, who told The Washington Post last week that he feared it could have an effect on the city’s economy.

But once again it’s Trump and his anger at empirical evidence:

El Paso has been listed as one of the country’s safest cities in a number of published ratings for 20 years.

The city of 650,000, which has long been known as one of the country’s safest cities of that size, has been buzzing with the fallout from Trump’s remarks since the State of the Union. The violence in the Mexican city that lies across the border, Ciudad Juárez, has long cast a pall over the town’s reputation.

“Residents here are used to their city being mischaracterized as a war zone by outsiders, an enduring impression that emerged more than a decade ago when its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, was in the throes of cartel and gang violence,” the Texas Tribune wrote. ” … El Pasoans have been striving to set the record straight about their city’s crime rate and its relationship to a ramping up of immigration enforcement dating to the early 1990s.”

On Monday night, Trump highlighted El Paso’s proximity to Juárez and said that the wall was responsible for the difference in crime between the two cities. He called reporting about El Paso’s low crime rate and how it was not connected to the wall “fake news.”

“I don’t care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they’re full of crap when they say it hasn’t made a big difference,” he said. “Walls work.”

Yeah, well, there’s a lot of that going around – Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen in public Monday. Conspiracy theorists still insist she’s dead.

But there was an agreement:

Key lawmakers announced a tentative deal late Monday that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week while denying President Trump much of the money he’s sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The agreement came together during intense hours of closed-door negotiations at the Capitol, as lawmakers resurrected talks that had fallen apart over the weekend in a dispute over new Democratic demands to limit immigrant detention. Democrats ultimately dropped some of those demands, which had come under fire from Republicans, clearing the way for a deal.

Hurdles remained, and Trump’s ultimate backing was in doubt after quick opposition emerged from conservatives. But lawmakers on both sides said they were motivated to find agreement by the looming specter of another government shutdown Friday night, three weeks after the last one ended.

So this is the deal:

The deal includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fences along the border, compared with $5.7 billion Trump had sought for more than 200 miles of walls. The deal omits a strict new cap Democrats had sought on immigrants detained within the United States – as opposed to at the border. At the same time, it limits overall levels of detention beds maintained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, although GOP aides said ICE would have enough money and flexibility to maintain its current detention levels and add more when needed.

This was standard bargaining, give up a bit to get most of what you want, and live to fight another day, but of course this is dead already:

Details of the compromise disclosed late Monday quickly came under fire from conservatives, raising the prospect of a backlash from the right that could ultimately render it unacceptable to Trump.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, a Trump confidant, immediately called the shutdown deal a “garbage compromise.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who talks regularly with Trump, said that it fails to address serious threats.

“This does not represent a fraction of what the president has promised the American people,” Meadows said in a text message.

And there is what Trump said in El Paso:

Trump defended the ­record-long 35-day government shutdown that ended late last month – even though polling suggests voters largely blamed him for the impasse.

That’s fake news too, and out in the West Texas town of El Paso there’s another gunfight in the streets:

Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle
I’m getting weary, unable to ride…

Someone just got shot in El Paso. Who was it?

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