Now Things Only Get Worse

There are those who love Friday – the workweek is over and it’s time for some fun – but there are Fridays that seem like the end of the world. This was one of those:

Three-quarters of Americans say the government shutdown, now tied for the longest in U.S. history, is “embarrassing for the country,” including a majority of Republicans, a new NPR/Ipsos Poll finds.

If no deal is struck by midnight Friday, this partial shutdown will be the longest ever. From late 1995 to early 1996, the government was shut down for 21 days. Friday is the 21st day of this current shutdown. Neither side appears ready to budge, and this poll and others make Democrats feel they have the upper hand.

And they have reason to feel that way – about 7 in 10 in the NPR/Ipsos Poll also say the government shutdown is going to hurt the country, that it will hurt the economy and that Congress should pass a bill to reopen the government now while budget talks continue. Just 3 in 10 believe the government should remain closed until there is funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But that’s not what the president says and he had presented his case:

The NPR/Ipsos Poll also found that Trump’s Oval Office address Tuesday had little effect. Just 10 percent of Americans said the president’s speech brought the country closer to ending the government shutdown. (Nearly 4 in 10 said they did not watch or even follow the address.)

And not many, if anyone, beyond his base says his speech convinced them that there is a “crisis” at the Southern U.S. border. Just 38 percent of Americans overall said his speech convinced them of a crisis at the border, and only about a third said his speech convinced them there is a need for a wall along the border.

Oops. That didn’t work, but Trump won’t give in, which means that this could go on forever, and that’s the new plan:

White House officials are warning congressional Republicans not to expect an immediate end to the government shutdown even if President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the southern border.

The warning came during Trump’s Thursday visit to the southern U.S. border, according to three sources with knowledge of those conversations.

Everyone underestimated him:

Many Democrats and some Republicans have grown hopeful that a national emergency declaration, which would allow Trump to tap Pentagon funds for a border wall, might end a political standoff that has partially shut down the government for three weeks.

Their thinking is that such an effort by Trump would allow him to declare victory and strike a deal with Congress to reopen the federal government, even though his extreme legal move would then face severe court challenges.

They forgot that his only negotiating notion is applied scorn and sarcasm and walking away, which some do understand now:

Trump’s allies say the president is reluctant to hand Democrats a “win” by reopening the government after he’s invoked emergency powers. They claim that in such a scenario, Trump’s political opponents would avoid making a single concession and potentially score a major victory if the administration were to lose in federal courts as many legal experts predict.

“He could say, ‘Look, I’m going to get what I want and then I’m still going to screw you,'” a former White House official told Politico.

“It’s making Democrats feel pain instead of declaring a national emergency, opening the government up, and making it so they don’t have to give anything,” the former official added.

It’s all about inflicting pain:

It is not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would join the president to keep federal agencies shuttered while negotiations continue and his emergency declaration made its way through the courts. Such a process could take months.

And the move would infuriate Democrats, and even some members of the president’s own party, who oppose efforts to construct a barrier without congressional approval and want Trump to reopen the government as soon as possible.

But if he reopens the government, soon, or later, or in five years, he loses the only leverage he has. For now, he can inflict pain, although there is an alternative:

Some argue that Trump would benefit from agreeing to sign spending legislation immediately after declaring a national emergency.

As one Senate GOP aide put it “The president could reopen everything and basically declare himself the bigger guy.”

It’s too late for that. This was an “end of the world” Friday, given the late-breaking New York Times story:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the FBI opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

So, the FBI really did wonder if Donald Trump had been and still was working for the Russians in their effort to sow chaos and break up the United States, and one thing led to another:

Agents and senior FBI officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed days after FBI officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter…

This is more serious than anyone imagined:

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the FBI to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The FBI’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved…

But this had to be done:

The FBI conducts two types of inquiries, criminal and counterintelligence investigations. Unlike criminal investigations, which are typically aimed at solving a crime and can result in arrests and convictions, counterintelligence inquiries are generally fact-finding missions to understand what a foreign power is doing and to stop any anti-American activity, like thefts of United States government secrets or covert efforts to influence policy. In most cases, the investigations are carried out quietly, sometimes for years. Often, they result in no arrests.

Mr. Trump had caught the attention of FBI counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia.

In the months before the 2016 election, the FBI was also already investigating four of Mr. Trump’s associates over their ties to Russia. The constellation of events disquieted FBI officials who were simultaneously watching as Russia’s campaign unfolded to undermine the presidential election by exploiting existing divisions among Americans.

Some things now become clearer:

The White House is blasting as “absurd” a blockbuster new report that the FBI opened an investigation into the whether the president of the United States was working on behalf of the Kremlin. But respected former FBI special agents tell The Daily Beast such a momentous step would not be taken without “serious and substantial evidence.”

They told The Daily Beast that the senior-most levels of the FBI and Justice Department would have known about an event they considered without precedent in bureau history.

“This is uncharted territory,” said Ali Soufan, a retired FBI counterterrorism special agent. “I don’t believe that it had happened before… ever.”

Something was up:

Soufan added that to open a case “on any official, or high-ranking official, requires some serious deliberations.” He continued: “Imagine if it is a case on the president of the U.S. acting as an agent of a hostile foreign power.”

Soufan went on to note that to open up a counterintelligence investigation into Trump would require “serious and substantial” levels of evidence of a relationship with a hostile foreign power.

That could be arranged or done the other way:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed a New York Times report on Friday that said the FBI opened an inquiry into President Donald Trump shortly after he fired FBI Director James Comey that centered on whether the commander in chief was a national security threat to his own country.

“This is absurd,” Sanders said in a statement provided to Politico. “James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI.”

Those words were spoken too late:

The report drew quick reaction among legal analysts on social media. Carrie Cordero, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown, said the report showed a “cautious” FBI “not eager” to investigate the president.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and Democratic candidate for Illinois Attorney General, said the report showed the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe “because it had good reason to believe that Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia against our interests.”

And a reminder:

The Times previously reported that Trump, in a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after Comey’s ouster, bragged that “pressure” on him was now alleviated.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump allegedly said. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

And now it’s back. That’s how the week ended, but Gail Collins saw a week of weirdness:

The Coast Guard tries to buck up its unpaid civilian employees by suggesting they consider becoming dog walkers or giving music lessons.

In order to dramatize the dangers of life without a Mexico wall, Donald Trump goes to visit a Texas border city that just had its lowest crime rate in 34 years.

The president rebuts critics who say walling off a country is sort of medieval by pointing out that all cars have wheels and “a wheel is older than a wall.”

Multitudinous fact checkers point out that a wall is actually older than a wheel.

It’s as if we’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in a Wonderland totally devoid of wonder.

That would be this:

Even if you really, really want Donald Trump to be a total failure hurtling his way back toward civilian life, it’s not comforting to have a president who is so out to lunch. Just think about that trip to Texas. McAllen, the city Trump chose to demonstrate the terror of wall-free borders, was recently listed by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best places to retire in the nation. But the president, who was making only his second trip to the border since he took office, assured the public he knew how terrible things are because “I have been there numerous times.”

And when Trump was invited to comment on the pain of the unpaid government she notes that he said that it’s better than being killed by an illegal immigrant, and that a lot of them think it’s worth missing their salaries to get a wall, and that he, too, had to suffer by spending the holidays in the White House. He did say those things, and elsewhere:

Just keep telling yourself that it isn’t going to last forever. Soon the presidential primary races will be underway and concerned citizens will have something to talk about besides the Mad Hatter. It looks as if the Democrats are going to have lots of serious policy discussions. And the fact that this week Beto O’Rourke posted videos of himself having his teeth cleaned is just one hint that there will also be plenty of cheering diversion.

So she imagines an alternative universe:

Try to imagine how the nation would have responded if Trump’s week had happened under Barack Obama. Obviously Obama didn’t have a yen for border walls. But he was a big proponent of gun regulation – so suppose, just for the sake of comparison, he told Congress he wanted billions of dollars to confiscate all the automatic weapons in the country.

Then imagine the opposing party dug in its heels, and Obama announced he was going to veto any spending package that didn’t include his plan. The government shuts down. Then Obama makes a special address to the nation from the Oval Office. “My fellow Americans: Tonight I am speaking to you because there is a growing crisis over guns,” he begins.

By now, in our parallel universe, the nation – which had heard the gun speech several thousand times before – begins to drift away or debate whether his sniffling was from hay fever or nerves. Nobody’s mind gets changed, but the next day congressional leaders try to sit down and work out a compromise that might, say, invest a lot more money to enforce the existing laws. Obama ignores them and demands, “Do all guns go?” When they say no, he slaps the table, walks out the door, and lets the government just stop.

Well, obviously Republicans would be shrieking for Obama’s impeachment. But Trump just goes babbling along. Secure in his conviction that the best way to protect our safety involves stopping the pay for air traffic controllers.

Things have changed:

When a reporter asked whether he accepted the old Harry Truman line about how “the buck stops here,” our president responded that “the buck stops with everyone.” He won’t even admit where the buck stops! Do you think that’s because he’s just incapable of accepting responsibility or because he doesn’t know who Harry Truman was?

On the plus side, in the future you can tell your grandchildren that you were there when the government set records for not being open for business.

And that was the week that was, except there is a future, and Andrew Sullivan sees that:

Am I allowed to say that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is likable?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. She has an easy, open demeanor, fun-loving smile, stunning good looks, and an ability to make arguments few others are brave enough to make. She’s manifestly sincere, charismatic, and, despite her occasional factual overreaches, engaging the issues that really matter. She can dance! She once went by “Sandy.” And when conservatives like – or even Ann Coulter – are revisiting the question of tax redistribution in a society that is being torn apart by late capitalism, she makes a kind of sense. She is still a little wet behind the ears, and will doubtless mature in office, but her energy, good humor and, yes, charm are integral to her appeal. They help her persuade people of her arguments.

There’s a reason some Republicans are owning themselves with their AOC obsession: They can recognize a deadly talent when they see it.

The future isn’t awful, and Laura Bassett adds this:

Ocasio-Cortez is the most formidable opponent to President Donald Trump the Democratic Party has put forth yet. She has even more of a knack for social media than America’s first Twitter president; she’s anti-establishment like he is; she breaks all the rules of how a politician is supposed to behave; and she has an undeniably strong emotional appeal…

And conservative men are upset with her, and by her, but that’s just too bad:

The problem for these men is that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t seem interested in what they think of her. She doesn’t seek attention for anything other than her policy ideas and ambition, even though Americans still seem to dislike power-seeking women…

Alexandria presents a challenge, because conservative men or men in general who are encouraged to objectify women are attracted to her, but she’s also unmanageable  in that she doesn’t exist for them… She is a woman who not only has now formal power, but a lot of informal power, in that she doesn’t give a damn what they think of her.

At least she had a good week. But for now, things only get worse.


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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