US Senate

What They Vote For (Yellowhammer Special)

#supremacism | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Lebanon's memories: Pictures of Lebanon's family, in happier days. (Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 5, "Gunsmoke Blows, Life Flows...")

This is the sort of thing only voters can achieve:

Rep. Mo Brooks is moving on after a distant third-place finish in the Republican primary on Tuesday for the Alabama Senate special election.

And Brooks is doing that without endorsing either of the two men, Judge Roy Moore and appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who beat him to enter a runoff on Sept. 26 to decide the GOP nominee.

(Connolly)

More precisely: After rejecting Rep. Mo Brooks to replace Attorney General and former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, voters find themselves presented with a choice between the disgraceful Luther Strange and the disgraced Roy Moore, and history reminds that state voters have already re-elected the twice-disgraced former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after his first tumble from grace for abuse of authority. What chance does Luther Strange have? All he ever did was take his dispute against human rights, on behalf of religious supremacism, to the Supreme Court and lose.

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The Avoidance of Stupidity (McConnell Mix)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This ought to be a striking note from Axios:

Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides.

“We aren’t stupid,” said one of the aides.

Then again, this is the twenty-first century, and these are Congressional Republicans.

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The Trump Hole (Emergent)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz delivers a statement to the press in Washington, D.C., 8 June 2017. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP)

The sitcom pace of benchmark headlines sometimes means the effort of retort requires falling behind the story. Or, you know, there is a professional class, and say what we will about that. More directly, Steve Benen makes a certain point about the life and times of the Trump administration:

Kasowitz’s plan to go after Comey by way of the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office is itself more troubling than Comey’s actions. First, the IG’s office isn’t equipped to launch investigations into private citizens. And second, as Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney administration, noted this morning, trying to get the Justice Department to target a material witness—in this case, the former director of the FBI—only adds to the concerns about Team Trump trying to obstruct justice.

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The Blind Chaos of Futility

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the travel pool aboard Air Force One during a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, while flying over South Carolina, 3 February 2017. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Somewhere between the joke about how conservatives in general cannot tell the difference, particular observations about the breathtaking naïveté we are supposed to believe about the Trump administration—

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Thursday dodged questions about the existence of possible recordings of conversations between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey.

Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)“I can’t comment on that,” Conway said on Fox News before moving to discuss other portions of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier in the day.

Pressed twice more about the existence of possible tapes, Conway responded, “I can’t comment on that and actually the president himself has said he won’t comment any further on that.”

(Byrnes)

—we might find echoes of Sen. Martin Heinrich’s (D-NM) point to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats when the latter decided he simply did not feel like answering: “You realize how simple it would be to simply say no, that never happened?”

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The Beltway Sketch (Civics: General and Particular)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump speaks about trade in the Oval Office of the White House, 31 March 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

What additional commentary could possibly go here? You will, eventually, encounter a conservative complaining about Democratic obstructionism, and these are some points worth keeping in mind:

1. Democrats are in the minority, and don’t control the Senate calendar.

2. Filibusters on executive-branch nominees have been eliminated. Senate Dems can slow the process down a bit when they want to, delaying votes by a couple of weeks in some instances, but they don’t have the power to block any of Trump’s nominees on their own. It’s simply not possible as a procedural matter.

3. In order for nominees to be confirmed, they have to be sent. Of the 559 key positions in the administration requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has not yet nominated anyone for 442 of the posts. This is especially true when it comes to ambassadors: for the vast majority of these diplomatic positions, the White House hasn’t yet nominated anyone. Josh Barro noted that only five countries currently have U.S. nominees awaiting Senate confirmation: Bahamas, Ethiopia, Holy See, Japan, and New Zealand (and the Vatican doesn’t really count as a country, per se).

All of this is of particular interest right now because there is no current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, which affects our response to the two recent British terrorist attacks. Trump chose Woody Johnson for the post months ago, but the administration never formally nominated Johnson, so the Senate hasn’t been able to even consider acting.

Trump apparently wants to blame Democrats for this. Even by his standards, that’s completely bonkers.

(Benen)

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Infamy (James Brien Comey, Jr.)

FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the State Department, 7 July 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Peter Elkind, for ProPublica:

FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin—Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy—had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss ....

.... The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

Take some time. Let that sink in.

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Image note: FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Elkind, Peter. “Comey’s Testimony on Huma Abedin Forwarding Emails Was Inaccurate”. ProPublica. 9 May 2017.

Some 2020 Democratic Presidential Speculation, Just Because

The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

It would be easy enough to overplay the drama in an early look toward the 2020 election by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times:

In a largely leaderless party, two distinct groups are emerging, defined mostly by age and national stature. On one side are three potential candidates approaching celebrity status who would all be over 70 years old on Election Day: Mr. Biden, and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Competing against the Democrats’ senior cohort is a large and relatively shapeless set of younger candidates who span the ideological spectrum: governors, senators, mayors, wealthy executives and even members of the House. They are animated by the president’s turbulent debut and the recent history, from Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 to Mr. Trump’s last year, of upstart candidates’ catching fire.

In the Senate alone, as much as a quarter of the Democrats’ 48-member caucus are thought to be giving at least a measure of consideration to the 2020 race, among them Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California. All are closer to 40 than 80.

For now, however, it is the party’s septuagenarian trio that is casting the longest shadow over 2020, and all three have taken steps to extend or expand their leadership status in the party.

In between, for good measure, is discussion of an amorphous non-faction we might consider as the collected other, including Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-06), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Before booking the orchestra for a dramatic score, we should remember this is merely April, 2017; Democrats need to to read the midterm map, first. That is to say, it seems a bit early to see who lands where in relation to what. And, admittedly, it is hard to account for the proverbial known unknowns in the time of Trump; the unknown unknowns seem extraordinary at this time, too.α

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The “Candy Option”

#SameSameButDifferent | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

“As full-blown tax reform looks more and more like an unreachable stretch, there’s increasing conversation on the Hill about what’s being called a “candy option”—all the goodies, with none of the pain.”

Jonathan Swan

Three brief notes go here:

• A Senate aide is actually calling it, “the candy option”.

• Apparently, the reason for a candy option, in the first place, is that, “It’s something they can pass”, according to an unnamed Republican lobbyist.

• The Axios report includes a note that, “Both House and Senate leadership sources tell us they don’t think the ‘candy’ route is feasible”.

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Something About Getting Stoned … Rogered … Trumped … (Never Mind)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Roger J. Stone Jr. in La Quinta, California, in March, 2017. (Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld/The New York Times)

Via the New York Times:

Roger J. Stone Jr., an informal adviser to President Trump, has been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to preserve any records he may have in connection to a broader inquiry into Russian attempts to interfere with United States elections.

The letter sent to Mr. Stone, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, represents the first public indication of the scope of the committee’s inquiry, and possible connections to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The Senate committee asked Mr. Stone, who is also under scrutiny from other federal investigators, to “preserve and retain all hard copies and electronically stored information as specified below in furtherance of the committee’s ongoing investigation into Russian actions targeting the 2016 U.S. elections and democratic processes globally.”

Mr. Stone confirmed the existence of the letter, which was dated Feb. 17. However, he said he had received it only on Friday, by email. Mr. Stone has acknowledged trading messages over Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, the online persona that officials believe was actually Russian intelligence officers.

Part of the trick is if you squint enough, you can focus on just one aspect of the #PutiTrump scandal and make it stand out just enough to say it’s actually nothing at all. If you stare hard enough, everything else becomes a blur, and then this bit in focus seems the only thing there is, and therefore nothing of any significance at all.

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The Difference ‘Twixt Republicans and Government

#theUnion | #WhatTheyVotedAgainst

It is so easy to miss these little moments amid the cacophony. Steve Benen brought us this episode, eariler this month:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Apparently, the point is that the Republicans’ proposal, panned by practically everyone who isn’t an elected GOP official, is better – because it’s shorter. This was Spicer’s exact quote to reporters:

“People who have concerns about this, especially on the right, look at the size. This [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is the Democrats’; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is us. There is, you can’t get any clearer, in terms of this [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is government; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is not.”

Please note, this wasn’t a joke. Spicer wasn’t kidding around. In 2017, the chief spokesperson for the president of the world’s dominant superpower argued, in all seriousness, that the merit of a national health care plan can be measured in part by page numbers.

There really is something to the idea that the presidency of Donald Trump marks the arrival proper of internet culture in American society; usually this point takes the form of reflections on trolling, flaming, and people who like lulz. This is different. This has something to do with an idea called Poe’s Law, which pertains to the written word and, for instance, emoticons. The idea is that there arises a threshold at which, without some manner of hint or cue, it becomes impossible to discern ‘twixt satire and genuine representation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer trying to illustrate the difference between the Republican agenda for government and actual government slouches toward this dark and nebulous quarter.

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Image note: White House Press Secretary attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “By pointing to piles of paper, Spicer makes the worst argument of all”. msnbc. 7 March 2017.