About the Basics of Governing

Things didn’t work out. Republicans finally had control of the House and the Senate and the White House, but they couldn’t repeal Obamacare even when they set up that vote under the “reconciliation” rule in the Senate that meant they’d only need fifty votes to do that. They had fifty-two Republican senators there. Three senators defected – and they didn’t even bother to introduce an infrastructure bill, and too many Republicans thought that the amazing new Trump Wall was a stupid idea. Mexico was never going to pay for it, of course, and almost no Republicans were will to go on record and say that American taxpayers should pay for that nonsense. No wall would fix that problem. They introduced no bill to fund one. They let that slip. They let CHIP – the Children’s Health Insurance Program – slip too. They couldn’t find a way to reauthorize that program. Nine million poor children are losing their health insurance, because this Republican congress couldn’t get organized – and in mid-December all spending authorizations were set to expire. It was time, once again, to decide what should be spent on what in the next fiscal year, get that down on paper, pass that in the House – which would require a few Democrats agreeing – and the get that passed in the Senate – which would also require a few Democrats agreeing – and send that off to the White House for the president’s signature. That’s called “a budget” – but that was too hard to pull off.

The government would have to shut down, but that was unacceptable. Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, had shut down the government before, over Obamacare, and the public had screamed bloody murder, and they had to give in, and they got nothing in the end, and they ended up hating their own Ted Cruz. Now they controlled the whole of the government. Any shutdown would be their collective fault and their collective fault alone. They couldn’t point to Ted Cruz – so they passed another continuing resolution to keep the government open, with all spending in place, as is, set to expire the Friday before Christmas – unless they pass another two-week continuing resolution, and then another, and then another – while they argue about what the government should and should not be doing, and how to pay for what it really should be doing, and no more, in some hypothetical future – unless they had spent those two weeks wisely and had settled everything about what the government would pay for and do, and not do, in the next fiscal year.

They didn’t spend those two weeks wisely. They spent those two weeks passing their massive tax bill that the public hates but they say is wonderful, or will seem wonderful soon or maybe a bit later than soon, but soon enough. That made them happy, but the government was still going to shut down. They seemed to have forgotten that. Then they remembered. Then they remembered how hard it is to get everyone, including a few Democrats, to agree on what the government should now be doing, on a day to day basis. They forgot about the basics of governing. Then they remembered that the midterm elections are coming and they will be judged on the basics of governing, on whether they can run things, not on a few more bucks in Joe Six-Pack’s paycheck every two weeks.

They remembered the practical, not the hypothetical, and as the New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan reports, they gave up again:

Congress gave final approval on Thursday to legislation to keep the government funded into January, averting a government shutdown this weekend but kicking fights over issues like immigration, surveillance and health care into the new year.

The stopgap spending bill extends government funding until Jan. 19 while also providing a short-term funding fix for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, whose financing lapsed at the end of September.

CHIP will get some funding. Not as much as it needs – existing funds will be shifted from one state to another, and they’ll throw in a few more bucks as needed. This isn’t full funding. They say they’ll figure that out before it all falls apart in March. March is a long way off. They bought themselves some time, and there’s this:

After the House and Senate succeeded in passing a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul this week, the stopgap bill includes language to prevent automatic spending cuts that would be required to offset the tax bill’s effect on the deficit.

Their massive tax bill wasn’t just hypothetical. Their massive tax bill contained automatic spending cuts to pay for the new tax cuts for corporations and the absurdly wealthy. Medicare had to take a twenty-five billion dollar hit, but congressional Republicans aren’t stupid. They added language to their new continuing resolution to put that off for a bit, until they can figure out how to save Medicare. A lot of their base is on Medicare – angry old white folks. Their anger has always been useful to Republicans. Those angry old white folks always turn out to vote. That asset had just become a liability. Something had to be done. They did something.

And that was that:

The House passed the bill 231 to 188, with most Republicans voting for it and most Democrats opposing it. The Senate later gave its approval, as well, in a 66-to-32 vote.

The extension of government funding saves Republicans from what would have been a colossal embarrassment just after they celebrated passage of the biggest tax rewrite in decades. But the lack of a resolution to several pressing issues leaves lawmakers facing a tough task when they return after the holidays, with the possibility of a high-stakes showdown when the next government funding deadline approaches.

That’s inevitable. The House voted for all that additional disaster aid. The Senate doesn’t plan to take action on any aid package until next year. The issue is how to pay for all that relief – not by more borrowing and debt, but perhaps by cutting off funding for other social services – but that’s only one of many issues:

The failure to resolve so many issues left bruised feelings in both parties. Promised bills to shield young immigrants from deportation, extend a surveillance program, bolster the military and stabilize health insurance markets were all left for another day.

It hardly needs to be said that those are issues that have to do with what the government should now be doing on a day to day basis – the basics of governing after all the tax cuts, or even without the tax cuts had that legislation somehow failed. Perhaps that’s tedious detail work – not ideologically heroic like passing massive tax cuts – but the midterm elections are coming. Republicans must sense that they will be judged on governing, on whether they can run things.

They should be worried. They are worried. Something went wrong. Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report on accusations flying:

Within hours of celebrating President Trump’s biggest legislative achievement, at the South Portico of the White House on Wednesday, his aides and outside advisers had a spirited, and at times tense, discussion with him about the political outlook ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

The gathering saw tempers flare as aides vented their frustrations with electoral defeats this year and concerns about the 2018 political map, according to several people with knowledge of the discussion. Complaints about the president’s political operation and the Republican National Committee boiled over, playing out in front of the president as an inner-circle drama.

This was quite a scene:

The late-afternoon meeting – attended by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, counselor Kellyanne Conway, political director Bill Stepien, marketing and data specialist Brad Parscale, communications director Hope Hicks and political consultant and confidant Corey Lewandowski, among others – quickly became a griping session for Lewandowski and others about the way the White House manages the GOP and handles its planning for what is sure to be a hotly contested campaign season, people familiar with the meeting said.

Lewandowski told the president that the RNC was not raising nearly enough money – even though the party has raised record sums – and not doing enough to support his agenda. The former Trump campaign manager also griped that he could no longer get his calls returned from the White House, these people said, and was being blocked by the president’s assistant and others under the direction of Kelly.

John Kelly has a thankless job, but there was more:

Lewandowski complained, too, about the Office of Public Liaison, saying it was not effective in building out Trump’s relationships and the White House’s message. Other advisers present outlined to the president what could be a difficult year ahead and urged the White House to beef up its management of the political calendar and party efforts.

In short, this called for a far better sales job, selling nothing getting done as if something was getting done, because something bold and dynamic should be done, as promised, or all would be lost.

That caused a bit of confusion:

Trump did not react angrily to what Lewandowski said and instead listened and watched for the reaction of others, revealing little about where exactly he lands in these debates among Trump associates, the people added. But essentially, Lewandowski tried to convince the president that “he wasn’t being served well,” in the words of one person with knowledge.

And then there’s Kelly:

The meeting and the conflicts underscore the tension surrounding the president’s political operation – and the occasional chaos that arises, even as Kelly has tried to impose more order. Advisers such as Lewandowski and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, now at Breitbart, continue to talk to the president, who likes them personally, even as other advisers try to keep them away.

There are also strains inside the White House among the political affairs team, the RNC and some of Trump’s closest counselors on the outside – and they are all competing for Trump’s ear, the people said, and requesting anonymity to speak candidly about private conversations.

Kelly guards Trump’s ear. Oddball things set Trump off on twitter in the dark hours before dawn. The situation is volatile. This president is volatile, and delusional:

All sides of Trump’s orbit are hoping that the recently passed Republican tax bill becomes more popular in upcoming months and that the federal Russia probe turns its focus away from issues or people close to the president. Trump made clear to his advisers that he wants to be heavily involved in the upcoming elections, although it is unclear how many places will welcome a presidential visit.

This president is volatile, and now he’s toxic, and Politico reports this:

A few weeks before Alabama’s special Senate election, President Donald Trump’s handpicked Republican National Committee leader, Ronna Romney McDaniel, delivered a two-page memo to White House chief of staff John Kelly outlining the party’s collapse with female voters.

The warning, several people close to the chairwoman said, reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election – which the president was edging closer to at the time – would further damage the party’s standing with women. McDaniel’s memo, which detailed the president’s poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded, as Trump eventually went all-in for the ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate.

Trump then looked like a loser, which is the worst of all signs of coming trouble:

The backstage talks provide a window into how those closest to Trump are bracing for a possible bloodbath in the 2018 midterms, which could obliterate the Republican congressional majorities and paralyze the president’s legislative agenda. The potential for a Democratic wave has grown after Republican losses this fall in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, and as the president’s approval ratings have plummeted to the 30s.

In recent weeks, some of the president’s advisers have taken it upon themselves to warn him directly about the fast-deteriorating political environment. White House officials have convened to discuss ways to improve his standing with suburban voters.

That’s what the meeting at the White House was about, even if those folks tell Politico that they have “strong sense of optimism” – which isn’t widely shared:

Among GOP leaders there is widespread concern heading into 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than seek reelection.

During a conference meeting last week, House Republicans listened as the past five chairmen of the party’s campaign arm addressed the political environment. One endangered lawmaker said his main takeaway was that incumbents should spend little time worrying about Trump or the White House and focus only on controlling what they can. Another person who was present came away with the impression that if lawmakers didn’t shore up their political standing now, they shouldn’t expect the national party to be able to save them down the road.

It’s every man for himself (or herself) for good reason:

For much of the year, Capitol Hill Republicans worried about whether Trump’s team fully recognized the political realities they faced in 2018 and vented that the administration wasn’t always responsive to their concerns. In some corners of the Republican world, there is anxiety about the White House political operation and its readiness for next year’s races.

That also has to do with one man:

Some senior Republicans believe the departure of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, an avowed McConnell critic who is closely aligned with the conservative insurgency, has eased tensions with the administration.

“I think there have been incredible signs of progress in recent weeks,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff and top political lieutenant, adding that “almost everything seems to be headed in a much more productive direction.”

But some Republicans are still sounding the alarm. Scott Jennings, a former top political adviser in the George W. Bush White House who is close to McConnell, said the president has major political challenges in the coming year: improving his approval numbers, ensuring the party nominates strong general election candidates, and selling his economic accomplishments.

“There are 10 months to improve the fundamentals here, and the Senate map is, on paper, good. But maps don’t make majorities and I think there’s a realization that there’s at least a 50 percent chance one or both chambers could fall,” Jennings said. “In less than one year, this first term could be, for all intents and purposes, over if the Democrats take control of either chamber.”

That might be because Trump is talking to Bannon every day, behind Kelly’s back, but that might be dangerous;

Vanity Fair is reporting that former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is frustrated with President Trump.

In a piece written by Gabriel Sherman, the magazine reports that Bannon joked to a friend last month that the president is like an eleven-year-old child and that Trump has told his own advisers that after a year in office, the president has “lost a step.”

Sherman writes that in private conversations, Bannon has said that Trump has just a 30 percent chance of finishing his term, because he may be impeached or removed from office under the 25th Amendment, and that there are rumors that Bannon may run for president in 2020 if Trump does not.

The Vanity Fair item is here:

Bannon told Vanity Fair in an interview that he had been frustrated in the White House, was not a good staffer and that he relished his outside role, where he leads Breitbart News. He told Sherman, “I have power. I can actually drive things in a certain direction.”

He also praised Trump in the interview, Sherman wrote.

Bannon is toying with Trump. Bannon could be our next president. Stranger things have happened.

What can Trump do now? He’s toxic and the Republicans cannot or will not govern. The midterm election may be a bloodbath. It’s looking that way. Something must be done. Something was done:

The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a measure rejecting the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a stunning rebuke of a U.S. decision that allies and adversaries alike warned would undermine prospects for peace.

Despite U.S. threats to cut aid to countries that backed the resolution and even funding for the United Nations itself, 128 countries voted in favor of the measure. Only nine countries – including the United States and Israel – voted against it. Another 35 abstained, and 21 were absent.

The vote in a rare emergency session was a public reproach of an administration that stands alone in the world in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a status other governments say should be left undecided until the final stage of talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

That was Classic Trump. America always goes it alone – with Israel going it alone with us on this one – and we’re taking names, which didn’t matter to anyone:

The vote underscored the apparent futility of the U.S. campaign to sway votes by threatening to cut funding, which some countries viewed as an effort to intimidate them into submission. Although Trump said Wednesday that he would be “watching” for countries that receive a lot of U.S. aid and voted “against us,” the list of co-sponsors grew at the last minute to include Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries besides Israel that receive more than $1 billion in U.S. aid annually.

This was a fuck-you to the rest of the world. They said fuck-you right back, which may have been the point of this whole thing:

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, set the stage for a future showdown.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” she said. “We will remember it when, once again, we are called up to make the world’s largest contribution to the U.N., and we will remember it when many countries come calling on us to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Characterizing the United States as “disrespected,” Haley said the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem regardless.

That was pure Trump. America will NOT be disrespected. We just might stop funding the UN itself and seize their pretty blue building on the East River and turn it into condos, another Trump Tower. That might change things in the midterms. That’s what this was about. Those elections won’t be a bloodbath. The political ads have already been written. Screw the UN and screw NATO too. We pulled out of the Paris climate accord – we stand alone there too. We pulled out of the TPP and we will pull out of NAFTA – let other countries have the trade agreements and prosper together. We don’t give up our rights for that sort of thing. America stands alone, proud and superior to what others think and do. America First!

That might work with voters again, but Trump is now toxic for other reasons and our current Republicans cannot or will not govern. They got their tax cuts but expect endless continuing resolutions, not governance. And expect that bloodbath. An eleven-year-old child shouldn’t have been running things in the first place.

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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