The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the dead zone – this year Tuesday to Tuesday. Anyone who can take the week off takes the week off. Politicians leave Washington. What they could do for the year they did. The year isn’t over but it’s over. They’ll make news later, and all the news shows are hosted by the second string – no one has seen these people before – because the news has already happened for the year. The regulars will be back when there’s new news. And this year things were really dead. Donald Trump is alone in the White House – his third wife went to Florida as scheduled. He cannot go. That would look arrogant. The government is shut down – all but “essential” functions have no funding now. And the government will stay shut down until Congress funds his giant wall to keep out all of those evil or whining and pathetic losers from loser-countries. Congress won’t do that. He fumes and calls them fools, and he’s stuck in a big empty house, realizing that on the first working day in January the Democrats will control the House and things will get even worse for him. The glory days are over. The halls are empty and silent. There’s no going back. That’s over. Now the only thing to do is wait for what is to come – in the dead zone where nothing will happen, yet.
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report on that wait:
The television is on. The phone is never far away. And President Trump is repeatedly calling allies such as members of Congress and conservative radio hosts, telling them privately that he will not give in on his demand for funding for a border wall.
What the president who campaigned on his ability to cut deals has not done, nine days into a partial government shutdown over his signature campaign issue, is reach out to Democratic congressional leaders to strike one.
Virtually alone in the West Wing since the shutdown began, Mr. Trump has instead taken to Twitter to excoriate Democrats, and highlight that he canceled his own vacation to his private club in Florida while lawmakers left the city. He has lamented the negativity of the news media coverage, which has included repeated airings of Mr. Trump’s declaration in the Oval Office a few weeks ago that he would not blame Democrats for a shutdown, according to people familiar with his thinking.
Why do they keep rolling that clip, over and over? The Democrats did this! They are to blame! Nancy Pelosi is to blame! Maybe he did say what he said, but this is not his fault! So he WILL NOT give in:
Even as some lawmakers floated compromises on Sunday, Democrats prepared to pass a bill to fund the government as soon as they take control of the House on Thursday. Like the Democrats, Mr. Trump appears to have dug in. And the uncertainty over what he might sign threatens to indefinitely drag out a shutdown that has affected 800,000 federal workers and shuttered parts of nine cabinet-level departments.
Anyone could see where this was heading. Democrats pass a bill to fund the government. He vetoes it. They pass another one. He vetoes that. They pass another one. He vetoes that. He vetoes anything that doesn’t give him the funds to build a giant wall along every inch of our border with Mexico. He will “break” the Democrats. He will humiliate them.
He’s that kind of guy. He humiliates others. That’s what made him president, perhaps. But he did have a lunch visitor:
After Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, met with Mr. Trump over lunch on Sunday, he said the president would not accept any deal without funding for the wall. But he remained optimistic that a compromise could be reached and encouraged both sides to come together.
“At the end of the day, there’s a deal to be had,” he said on Sunday. “We need to start talking again.”
Still, Mr. Graham said after the meeting that the president had not signed on to his potential compromise, which would provide wall funding in return for work permits for the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
That was the old deal from a year or more ago. He gets his wall. The Dreamers, those brought here as children and now part of American society, get to stay, and can apply for citizenship. Even most Republicans say that’s fair – those Dreamers are good people – but that deal is off:
The president is concerned that if he makes a deal, his core political support will falter, and his voters will see him as inauthentic after he talked about a wall in rally after rally for three years. As Mr. Trump was poised to sign a compromise bill ushered through the Republican-controlled Congress that would have funded the government through February, conservative commentators berated him as “gutless,” and some hardline House Republicans urged him to reconsider. He backed away from the bill soon after.
Adding to the mixed messages over what eventual deal the president would accept, John F. Kelly, the outgoing White House chief of staff, said in an interview published Sunday that the administration had backed away from the idea of a solid concrete wall long ago, even though Mr. Trump had dangled “steel slats” as a potential enticement to lawmakers only in recent weeks.
Kelly screwed things up for Trump. He let the cat out of the bag. They’d stop thinking “wall” long ago, and speaking to reporters after lunch at the White House, Lindsey Graham said that big giant concrete wall was only a “metaphor” for border security. This didn’t help, and meanwhile:
The president’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, and personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, faulted the presumptive incoming House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, for leaving for Hawaii while the government was partly shuttered. They blamed Democrats for not reaching out to forge a compromise.
“Those who have completely walked away from the table are doing no justice to the people of this country,” Ms. Conway said on “State of the Union” on Sunday morning.
So it’s their fault. Trump won’t compromise – he can’t now – and course he might, once again, change his mind about everything, suddenly, with new demands – but it’s their fault. And that sets up this:
People close to Mr. Trump consider his statement, about owning a shutdown, regrettable. But White House officials and others close to the president also believe that a shutdown is unlikely to help Ms. Pelosi as she takes over as part of the new House majority, and that Democratic officials risk looking unreasonable.
Pelosi allies say that they think the shutdown will help her look like the adult in the room, because she is going to quickly move to end it, demonstrating that Democrats are serious about governing.
Ms. Conway did not rule out a presidential veto of the bill the House Democrats plan to advance.
That’s deadlock in the dead zone at the end of the year, but there’s more:
The budget fight is playing out amid the controversy over the deaths of two migrant children who were in the custody of Customs and Border Protection officials.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump tweeted that the children’s deaths were the fault of Democrats and their immigration policies, in his first public comments since the 7-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy died this month. Mr. Trump expressed no remorse for their deaths, and falsely stated that the parents of the children had said they were sick when they came in to the country.
He can say that the parents of the children said that. All sorts of news organizations will fact-check him. The parents of the children said no such thing. But his base will assume they did say that. Fox News will tell them they said that. That’s life in America these days, but Karen Tumulty has a few things to say about this:
With President Trump, there is no bottom. Every time you think you have seen it, he manages to sink even lower.
It is not news that the president is indifferent to human suffering. His limp response to the devastation of the 2017 hurricane in Puerto Rico – which he claimed to have been a “fantastic job” on the part of his administration – stands out in that regard. But on Saturday, we saw yet another level of depravity when Trump made his first comments regarding the deaths in recent days of two migrant Guatemalan children after they were apprehended by federal authorities. It revealed not only callousness but also opportunism, as he sought to turn this tragedy into a partisan advantage in his current standoff with Democrats over the government shutdown.
That’s because Trump’s tweet opened with this:
Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t. If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try!
Not a word of sympathy here – much less remorse on the part of the government over the deaths of a 7-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy while in its custody. Nor does Trump address questions that are being raised about whether the administration’s new policy seeking to limit the ability of immigrants to seek asylum protection might be a factor in putting more at risk. Under recent changes, migrants must remain in Mexico as their asylum cases are processed, possibly increasing their willingness to do something reckless to come across the border.
Then there was the dissonance: His blast came on a day that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was visiting Yuma, Ariz., after stopping in El Paso, Tex. Her department has promised more thorough medical screenings and is calling on other agencies to help. “The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis and protect vulnerable populations,” Nielsen said in a statement.
The new policies seeking to limit the ability of immigrants to seek asylum protection – no asylum for victims of gang violence or domestic violence, or those fleeing areas of economic collapse, and the requirement that these folks present themselves only at official ports of entry, during normal business hours, have been shot down in courts left and right. Our laws and treaty obligations allow none of that, but the administration keeps trying, and Kirstjen Nielsen will be in trouble with Trump again. Talk of humanitarian crises and vulnerable populations does not put “America first” at all.
Kelly recommended her. He’s gone. She’ll be gone soon, and there’s this:
As Trump fulminates about the wall, he rarely brings up the idea of doing anything about the source of the problem: the desperation of people who are being driven from their native countries by poverty and violence. Until those forces are addressed, migrants will keep coming, even if it means taking greater risks to do so.
Actually he does think about that. He has threatened to cut off all aid to all of Central America until they stop these folks, but Tumulty has other concerns:
In the meantime, we have a president who is willing to politicize the deaths of two young children to score points against the opposition party. And the most shocking thing about seeing him scrape along a new moral bottom is this: It is no longer shocking at all.
There’s a reason for that. Everything is a new low. Carla Herreria reviews a few of those, like when Trump said he’d defend Saudi Arabia even if the crown prince ordered the murder of a Saudi Washington Post journalist:
After Turkish officials revealed that Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist living in the U.S., was killed when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, Trump was hesitant to react publicly and to condemn Saudi Arabia… Days before Trump’s statement, the CIA reportedly concluded that a team of Saudi Arabians had tortured and killed Khashoggi, once a close friend to the Saudi royal family who became a critic of their government, under the direction of the crown prince.
Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post, accused Trump of lying in his statement and having “a blatant disregard for his own intelligence agencies.”
“This is a new low,” Attiah concluded.
And there was that business with Hurricane Maria’s death toll:
Over the summer, a government-commissioned study found that the official death toll for the back-to-back hurricanes that hit in 2017 was significantly higher than previously reported – 2,975 deaths, not 64.
Instead of acknowledging the deaths, Trump denied the report and accused Democrats of making up the “really large numbers” just to make him “look as bad as possible.” There is no evidence supporting his theory.
Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Roselló commissioned the analysis, which was completed by researchers at George Washington University. The new estimate made Hurricane Maria, at the time, one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the U.S.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who became a fierce critic of Trump in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, called the president’s denial “despicable.”
“This is a new low, even for President Trump,” she told CNN…
In the headline of a story covering Trump’s death toll denial, the Rolling Stone made it more concise: “Trump Reaches New Low. Republicans Remain Silent. Rinse, Repeat.”
And there was the time Trump met with Vladimir Putin and publicly defended the Russian president against accusations of meddling in the 2016 election:
Trump’s presidency has been plagued with an ongoing federal investigation into his presidential campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, bolstered with evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. But when Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, he refused to publicly condemn the leader for his country’s meddling in U.S. politics and democracy. Instead, he supported Putin’s denial.
“My people came to me; they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “President Putin just said it’s not Russia.”
Trump’s performance at the summit was “disgraceful” and “a new low for his presidency,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said shortly after the two leaders’ meeting.
Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and former world chess champion, also said the summit marked “the lowest point in the history of the American presidency.”
And there was the Trump administration separating children from their families as part of his zero tolerance crackdown on illegal immigration:
Trump was widely condemned for his zero tolerance anti-immigration policy enforced earlier this year after it was revealed that thousands of migrant children who entered the U.S. illegally had been separated from their families and placed in government custody.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Health and Human Services official Jonathan White, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, said he had warned other officials that separating the children from their families could cause them serious emotional damage. The Trump administration continued with the controversial policy.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called Trump’s family separation policy a “new low in inhumanity for this administration.”
Trump’s own daughter and official adviser, Ivanka Trump, agreed. In an interview at an Axios News Shapers panel in Washington, D.C., she called the family separations “a low point” for her – while also suggesting immigrant parents are to blame.
That sort of thing must run in the family, but there’s this too:
Trump has a reputation for saying shocking things, but when the Washington Post published a report saying that the president had referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries,” it brought his rhetoric to a whole new level of vulgar.
Trump allegedly made the remark in negotiations over a bipartisan immigration deal, the Post reported, citing unidentified people who were briefed on the meeting. NBC News, BuzzFeed and CNN also confirmed the exchange. Trump denied using such language.
In a statement, the NAACP called Trump’s alleged remark a “low point for our nation.”
Former Haitian president Laurent Lamothe proclaimed the world was “witnessing a new low” and called the comment “totally unacceptable” in a tweet that has since been deleted.
Those are a lot of new lows. The odd and unsettling last week of the year, between what happened and can’t be changed and what will soon happen and can’t be changed either, may not be the dead zone after all. The last two years may have been one long morally empty dead zone.
Was it that bad? Take if from someone who hadn’t been sucked in. Take it from the general who had not been sucked in:
Retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sharply criticized President Trump on Sunday, calling him immoral and untruthful and taking aim at his foreign policy decisions.
In an interview on ABC News’s “This Week,” McChrystal told host Martha Raddatz that “I don’t think he tells the truth.” The general also responded affirmatively when asked whether he believes Trump is “immoral.”
This, of course, is specific to one issue:
McChrystal said that contrary to Trump’s claim, the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS, has not been defeated.
“I don’t believe ISIS is defeated. I think ISIS is as much an idea as it is a number of ISIS fighters. There’s a lot of intelligence that says there are actually more ISIS fighters around the world now than there were a couple of years ago,” he said…
Trump tweeted this month that “we have defeated ISIS in Syria” and abruptly announced plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from that country, against the counsel of his top advisers. The decision – along with Trump’s directive days later to withdraw nearly half of the more than 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan – prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
McChrystal, who recently co-wrote a book on leadership, on Sunday praised Mattis as “selfless” and “committed” and said that his departure should give Americans pause.
He also decried Trump’s decision on Afghanistan, saying it effectively traded away U.S. leverage against the Taliban and “rocked the Afghan people in their belief that we are allies that can be counted on.”
That is a matter of honor, as is this:
In Sunday’s interview, McChrystal said he would decline if asked to work in the Trump administration, citing what he described as the president’s lack of honesty.
“I’d say no. It’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it,” he said.
He added that although he couldn’t tell others not to support Trump, Americans should ask themselves whether the president embodies the country’s values. “If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn’t do a business deal with, because their background is so shady – if we’re willing to do that, then that’s in conflict with who I think we are,” he said. “And so I think it’s necessary at those times to take a stand.”
McChrystal suggests this is the time to ask that question. Who are we? And there’s another question. Why are we hanging around in this morally empty dead zone? Why are we hanging around in this morally empty dead zone with this Trump guy? The New Year can be new for change.