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.