Strange Realignments

Astrology is nonsense. When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars, and as everyone knows, that will be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, with harmony and understanding, and sympathy and trust abounding, and so on and forth. That was the big hit song from Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical that opened in October 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York, and then opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances – but there was no Age of Aquarius. This was the late sixties. Things got hotter in Vietnam. America elected Richard Nixon. Then those kids were shot dead at Kent State. It was all nonsense.

In 1978, Miloš Forman turned the thing into a feature film and, being thoroughly Czech, added the necessary insightful but subtle gentle irony to it all. The kids sang and danced, but everyone knew there had been no Age of Aquarius. Ten years had passed. The movie was a bit bittersweet. America had learned a thing or two. When the stars align, the gods will laugh at those who think that sort of thing means anything at all. That’s a Czech thing – Milan Kundera employs the same clear-eyed resigned irony in his novels – The Unbearable Lightness of Being and all the rest. Don’t get your hopes up. Enjoy what you’ve got.

That’s not an American thing. The stars really did align for the Republicans. In 2012 they won back the House. They couldn’t repeal Obamacare, but things were looking up. In 2016 the won back the Senate and they sort of won the presidency. Donald Trump wasn’t much of a Republican – he mocked every other Republican in sight during his campaign – but he would do. He was vague on policy, or maybe didn’t care about policy, or maybe didn’t know anything about policy, but they could work with that. Let him play president on television. He loved it. They would pass everything they ever wanted pass and he would sign all of it. He probably wouldn’t read any of it. He was malleable. The stars had aligned for them.

And now the gods have laughed:

President Trump signed a bill Friday to deliver $15 billion in disaster aid and also extend government funding and the federal borrowing limit until Dec. 8, despite objections of Republican lawmakers who booed two top White House officials earlier in the day over the deal Trump struck with Democrats.

The measure passed a morning House vote 316 to 90; every member opposed was a Republican.

Yet even the House Republicans who supported the bill were frustrated that Trump bargained with Democrats on Wednesday for a short-limit debt increase, undercutting GOP congressional leaders and setting up a messy end-of-year negotiation.

Trump struck a bargain with those Democrats, making “his” Republicans look like fools, and they were pissed:

That frustration was taken out Friday morning on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who came to Capitol Hill to urge skeptical Republican lawmakers to back the measure.

To many GOP members, the administration’s messengers were poorly chosen: Mnuchin is a New York financier known for his past as a Democratic fundraiser. Mulvaney is a former House conservative who spent much of his legislative career browbeating GOP leaders over the national debt and budget deficits.

“There were probably a lot of members in there in disbelief,” Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) said. “I do know that there is a lot of frustration with the deal that was cut by the president, and I think it’s a very difficult pill for many in there to swallow.”

This did not go well:

At several points, according to several members and aides, comments from Mnuchin and Mulvaney were met with groans, boos and hisses.

Mnuchin, in particular, drew jeers after asking Republicans to support the measure for him personally rather than for the policy, then leaving the meeting early by explaining he had other pressing matters to attend to.

Those other pressing matters were more important than them? Yep, deal with it, or don’t:

“His last words, and I quote, were, ‘Vote for the debt ceiling for me,'” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who leads a group of conservative members. “That did not go over well in the room at all … His performance was incredibly poor.”

Mnuchin’s closing went so poorly, Walker said, that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) reminded members afterward that hundreds of thousands of hurricane victims were counting on their votes.

Think of the children! Or don’t:

At another point, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) pressed Mulvaney on whether the Trump administration would commit to seeking reductions in the federal budget deficit as a part of negotiations with Democrats ahead of the new Dec. 8 deadline.

Mulvaney said he could not make that commitment, and members booed.

“The debt ceiling is supposed to be at least a stop sign that gives us pause and gives us a chance to change the way we’re doing our spending, and it’s not even a yield sign,” Barton said afterward. “In fact, it’s an increase speed sign right now.”

There would be no Republican Age of Aquarius, and someone had to rub it in, and did:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the scale of the Republican revolt on Friday was still “remarkable.”

“If I ever as leader or as speaker had 90 members vote against one of the easiest bills to vote for, which is disaster assistance, you know they have a philosophical problem with governance,” she said.

They don’t have one of those:

On Friday morning, it was Mulvaney – a firebrand co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, a group that has railed against increasing the debt limit – who absorbed much of the House GOP’s frustration.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) rose to ask Mulvaney whether he had 42 openings for deputy directors at the Office of Management and Budget. A bewildered Mulvaney replied he had only one vacancy.

Issa replied that was unfortunate, because he could hire his former Freedom Caucus colleagues so they could reverse their positions on raising the debt limit just like Mulvaney had – a response that prompted a roar in the room and caused Mulvaney, in several members’ telling, to turn red.

The gods were laughing:

Afterward, Mulvaney’s former colleagues defended him – to a point. “It’s ironic, but it’s not hypocritical, because he works for somebody now,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said. “But it’s ironic, it’s really, really, really ironic.”

These guys need a Czech to explain to them the world is made of irony.

Short of that, at Vanity Fair, Tina Nguyen tries to sort this all out:

There were several theories for the president’s sudden political jiu-jitsu: Trump may have been fed up with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and ready for revenge, or eager to confound critics and make the sort of bipartisan deals he always promised. He may simply be more comfortable with fellow New Yorker Chuck Schumer, as a chummy after-party with the Democratic Senate minority leader suggests. (“The press has been incredible,” Trump reportedly gushed to Nancy Pelosi.) It could also be that Trump is so popular with his base (a new poll shows he has 98 percent approval with Republicans who voted for him in both the primary and the general) that he realizes he can be more popular cutting deals with Democrats than with leaders of his own, more fractious party.

It could be any or all of those things, but it’s still trouble:

Many Republicans are fuming about being sidelined: “It’s just a betrayal of everything we’ve been talking about for years as Republicans,” former senator Jim DeMint, now senior advisor to Citizens for Self-Governance, told Politico. Instead of having more time to coordinate the party’s plan of attack, Republicans will now have to take two controversial votes on the debt ceiling, giving Democrats more leverage as they push for Congress to codify DACA – legislation the president appears willing to accept in exchange for increased immigration enforcement. One senior GOP aide was particularly blunt: “The president of the United States just handed a loaded gun to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.”

Well, that’s just too bad:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the president’s most ardent fans are sticking by him while he does the political equivalent of standing in the middle of 5th Avenue and shooting somebody. Breitbart’s editor-at-large, Joel Pollak, argued that President Trump is being consistent with the man he was as a candidate. “Trump has long warned that he would work with Democrats, if necessary, to fulfill his campaign promises. And Wednesday’s deal is a sign that he intends to follow through on that threat,” he wrote. Pollak also suggested that the president was engaged in a bit of five-dimensional chess: “The only way to stop him is for Republicans to unite. By showing he can deal with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump may have found the one way of making them do so.”

That’s putting a positive spin on this, unwarranted but positive, but somehow this is not Trump’s problem:

More surprising is the fact that Paul Ryan, not Trump, is the one being criticized for the Schumer-Pelosi debt deal. Fox Business News’ Lou Dobbs ripped into the House Speaker, who had earlier described the Democratic proposal as “unworkable,” accusing Ryan on his show Wednesday night of “obsequious deference to corporate lobbyists” and “unbridled hostility toward President Trump.”

The stars are not aligning:

In perhaps the most profound illustration of the GOP’s evolving identity crisis, both McConnell and Ryan demurred after being publicly rebuked by the president. “It’s fine,” McConnell told Politico Wednesday, saying the deal wasn’t his idea but he would support it. “Everything’s fine.” Ryan, who had called the deal “ridiculous” (and been whipped by Dobbs for it), recast the deal as Trump wanting to avoid a partisan fight in order to pass hurricane relief funding, and trying to “clear the decks” for tax reform. “It’s perfectly reasonable and rational why he’s doing what he’s doing,” Ryan said on Fox News Thursday night. “He wanted to make this a bipartisan moment.”

Paul Ryan is now the abused spouse. He was right to hit me. I had it coming.

Someone had it coming and the blogger BooMan adds this:

Trump only found himself in this quagmire because he followed a legislative game plan that Ryan and McConnell sold to him back during the transition. The plan did not work. It was now at a dead end.

It might be hard to see Trump as any kind of strategist, but he had all of August to prepare for this showdown. He cleaned his administration of Priebus, Bannon and some other uncompromising folks and put John Kelly in charge as his chief of staff. Kelly then consulted with former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta. A strategy emerged, but it was a strategy dictated by constraints rather than ideology. It wasn’t a straight line. You could see Trump clawing at the burlap bag he was being placed in, calling one moment for money for his wall and at another blaming McConnell and Ryan for not taking care of the debt limit earlier. But certain facts couldn’t be avoided. And the most important fact was that Ryan and McConnell had not delivered on their promises and did not have a plan to avoid a default and a shutdown. Trump would have to pivot to the Democrats.

It was their fault:

A lot of people think Trump agreed to the 90-day deal in a kind of vindictive way, as punishment or to humiliate McConnell and Ryan. I think a better way to understand his decision is to focus on how useless they’ve been to the president and how badly he’s suffered for putting his faith in them up to this point. They had literally nothing to offer him in that meeting. They had no credibility with him. Schumer and Pelosi were the people who mattered, and Ryan and McConnell were the reason they mattered…

He didn’t change because he had an epiphany or his heart grew three times in size. He changed because of hard deadlines that couldn’t be met by his own political allies.

Greg Sargent sees something else:

Donald Trump’s total lack of any visible ideological moorings, combined with his nonexistent sense of responsibility to others (which, disconcertingly, comes packaged with an insatiable demand for loyalty to him), has long led Republicans and conservatives to fear he would eventually sell them out when the moment seemed opportune.

Judging by the noise out there, they now apparently believe that the moment is upon them.

Still, they shouldn’t worry all that much:

There are all kinds of incentives for different groups to over-read the significance of this moment. Democrats have an incentive to hype it because it makes Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan look like fools and might help sow dissension in congressional GOP ranks. GOP leaders have an incentive to hype it – albeit via anonymous sources – because it helps them blame their own catastrophic failings of the last six months on Trump’s ideological and personal disloyalty to the GOP cause and could allow them to retroactively blame any failings in future negotiations on him, too. Never-Trumpers have an incentive to hype it because it allows them to rub the faces of Republicans who backed Trump in the manure of their own making. I would not dismiss out of hand the possibility that this moment might prove to have lasting significance, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Maybe so, but there was this:

Two GOP lawmakers have turned their fire on President Trump’s Justice Department after it announced it would not reconsider its decision not to prosecute Lois Lerner, the IRS employee at the center of the 2013 political-targeting scandal.

Reps. Kevin Brady (Texas) and Peter Roskam (Ill.), who sit on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, issued a statement Friday afternoon blasting the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “deeply flawed” decision not to prosecute Lerner criminally.

“I have the utmost respect for Attorney General Sessions, but I’m troubled by his Department’s lack of action to fully respond to our request and deliver accountability. Today’s decision does not mean Lois Lerner is innocent. It means the justice system in Washington is deeply flawed,” wrote Brady, the committee chairman.

Roskam, chairman of the Tax Policy subcommittee, called Sessions’ announcement a “miscarriage of justice.”

That was about this:

Lerner was the head of IRS divisions that oversaw tax-exempt groups when requests from conservative groups began to receive more scrutiny by the department. Lerner acknowledged the improper handling of the applications in 2013 shortly before being put on leave by the IRS and eventually retiring.

The Justice Department declined to prosecute Lerner in 2015 under former President Obama, but Brady and Roskam wrote a letter in April to Sessions asking him to reconsider the department’s decision.

In a letter Friday afternoon, Sessions rejected their request, writing that based on a review of the case, it “would not be appropriate” to reopen the investigation.

While “the Department’s investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement at the IRS,” the Justice letter said, the probe “had not uncovered evidence of criminal intent by any IRS official.”

That’s what James Comey said about Hillary’s emails. The stars did not realign at all. It’s not the stars anyway. Nancy Pelosi said that these guys have a philosophical problem with governance. She may be right.

Jennifer Rubin runs with that:

First, three moderate Republican members of the House, all well-respected and seasoned legislators, have announced their retirements. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Charlie Dent (Pa.) won’t be running for reelection in 2018. Dent says:

“I have done my best to make a meaningful, positive impact. As a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party, I’ve worked to instill stability, certainty and predictability in Washington. I’ve fought to fulfill the basic functions of Government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default. Regrettably, that has not been easy given the disruptive outside influences that profit from increased polarization and ideological rigidity that leads to dysfunction, disorder and chaos.”

In other words, there is no place for a reasonable legislative craftsman.

Now add this:

Second, Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s ex-chief strategist and leader of the so-called alt-right, attacks the Catholic Church for defending “dreamers” who have been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (You know, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt …” Exodus 23:9.) He accuses the Catholic Church of defending innocent children brought here by their parents because “they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches.” He declares, “It’s obvious on the face of it.” Actually, what’s obvious is that this crowd’s claim to be defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition is as phony as Trump’s foundation. With corrupt motives and disdain for those people who act according to a moral and/or religious tradition, they declare “winning” and wealth to be the means by which we judge our fellow man. This is now the spirit that animates the so-called values voters – the right-wing evangelical crowd that dominates the GOP. Instead of self-reliance, work ethic and concern for the most vulnerable, they preach the gospel of white grievance.

Now add this:

And finally, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich goes on TV this week to explain how bizarre it is that it should take Congress six months to fix the DACA problem. “Congress has six months, it should take six hours to get this done, and the way I think they need to do it, they need reasonable Republicans and Democrats from the middle and build out a solution to this,” Kasich said on CBS. He added, “We’re putting kids, young people in jeopardy, this is not the America that we all love, this is a melting pot. If the dreamers want to go somewhere and live, come to Ohio, we want all the immigrants to come to Ohio, we know how much immigrants contribute.” Kasich is now considered an outlier (while Bannon reigns over the Trump base!), but of course he is right. If the Dream Act were placed on the floor of each house, it would pass overwhelmingly, but that cannot happen because the xenophobic contingent in the GOP wants either to extract onerous concessions or bury DACA in endless negotiations that never achieve immigration reform.

Three strikes and you’re out:

In short, the sane grown-ups are leaving (or have already left) Congress. Republican governors such as Kasich, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland, who push for sensible health-care fixes and a DACA solution, are treated as heretics. The inmates are running the prison (apologies to inmates), so even with GOP majorities in both houses and a GOP president, they cannot set the agenda. Republicans wind up acting as though they are back in the minority and allow Democrats to wield power. Meanwhile, the “constitutional conservatives” try to run interference for Trump on everything from emoluments violations to the Russia investigation.

Trump’s party is convinced that climate change isn’t real but that massive, unproven voter fraud is. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to talk about evidence-based policymaking. No, really. The party that makes up a crime wave, denies environmental science, lies about immigrants stealing jobs and murdering our children, and thinks trillions in tax cuts will pay for themselves wants evidence-based policymaking? The gall takes one’s breath away.

There will be no Republican Age of Aquarius:

The GOP is a party gone off the rails morally, intellectually and politically. Not conservative or even coherent, it relies on state TV (Fox News) and Russia bots to echo its nonsense. The question is not why people like Dent, Ros-Lehtinen and Reichert are leaving but why any reasonable adult would remain in the GOP.

Even the woefully clueless Donald Trump has now left the party, if he ever really joined it. Yes, the stars had aligned. They finally had the House and the Senate and the presidency. Jupiter aligned with Mars, but when the stars align, the gods will laugh at those who think that sort of thing means anything at all. There’s really not that much difference between astrology and party politics. They’re both nonsense.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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