US Senate

Somewhere in the Range ‘Twixt Apt and Emblematic

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspects the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army at an undisclosed location, 14 August 2017, in image released by Korean Central News Agency. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

“Well, this about sums it up: when you’re blinded so much by partisan tribalism that you like a totalitarian dictator who executes people with flamethrowers for his viewing pleasure more than *gasp* a Democrat.”

Brian Klaas

This is the bouncing ball: Columnist Brian Klaas tweeting Axios coverage of an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll. Regarding that last:

A coin for a planned US-North Korea summit, later canceled, displayed in Washington, D.C., 21 May 2018. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)The poll of roughly 1,000 adults aged 18 and over was conducted June 14-15, shortly after President Trump’s historic summit with the North Korea dictator. According to the results, 19 percent of Republicans indicated they had a favorable view of Kim with 68 percent saying they had an unfavorable view (12 percent of voters overall had a favorable view of Kim, compared to 75 percent who viewed him unfavorably). That compared slightly better than the perception of Pelosi, who had a 17 percent favorable, 72 percent unfavorable rating among self-identified Republicans.

Pelosi, nevertheless, was only the second-most disliked figure on Capitol Hill. Her overall 29 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable rating was slightly better than the numbers for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell had an overall favorability rating of 20 percent with 43 percent viewing him unfavorable. (Self-identified Democrats, for what it’s worth, had a significantly more favorable opinion of McConnell than of Kim Jong Un.)

(Resnick)

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Image notes: Top — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspects the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, 14 August 2017, in image released by Korean Central News Agency. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)  Right — A coin for a planned US-North Korea summit, later canceled, displayed in Washington, D.C., 21 May 2018. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

@brianklaas. “Well, this about sums it up: when you’re blinded so much by partisan tribalism that you like a totalitarian dictator who executes people with flamethrowers for his viewing pleasure more than *gasp* a Democrat.” Twitter. 19 June 2018.

Ipsos. “American Public Does Not See Celebrity Candidates as the Answer”. 18 June 2018.

Resnick, Gideon. “Kim Jong Un More Popular Than Pelosi Among Republicans: Exclusive Poll Results”. The Daily Beast. 18 June 2018.

Sykes, Michael. “Poll: Republicans favor Kim Jong-un more than Nancy Pelosi”. Axios. 18 June 2018.

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Rudy’s Bizarre Adventure (Recollection Remix)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite image: Donald Trump speaks to the National Rifle Association convention, in Dallas, Texas, 4 May 2018 (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters); Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., 5 May 2018 (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo); uncredited protest image of Vladimir Putin.

The intersection of #DimensionTrump and coming right out and saying it is itself a futile endeavor; something can easily go here about parallel lines, overlap, and single tracks. Meanwhile, there is a no longer confidential memo from John Dowd to Robert Mueller, in January, and it is worth reconsidering the last several months of presidential simmer and tantrum in light of what we learn. Steve Benen tries, today, explaining one particular aspect:

This was the first time Trump World acknowledged the president’s direct role in dictating the wording of his son’s statement to the New York Times. In fact, the president’s legal team and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders specifically told the public, on multiple occasions, that Trump had nothing to do with crafting that statement. Those denials, we now know, were plainly false.

Over the course of the last year, Trump and his team have already changed their story about the purpose of the meeting—more than once—and these new revelations take the evolving narrative in an even messier direction.

Asked about the contradictions, Rudy Giuliani told ABC News yesterday, “This is the reason you don’t let the president testify. Our recollection keeps changing.”

And there you have it. Something, something, mumble, murmur only goes downhill from there. Or not. Giuliani could stand at the bottom of a giant sinkhole and tout the merits of natural engineering, and for some reason people would try to take him seriously.

Oh. Right.

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Either Worth the Moment, or Not

A portion of the U.S. Capitol dome. (Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, 2013)

This could be . . . fun? . . . interesting? More to the point, it seems one of those bits that is either important or not:

President Donald Trump smiles as he prepares to speak at his "Make America Great Again Rally" at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, Saturday, 18 February 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)The White House hopes the Senate will get spending bills done and curtail the nominations backlog before the August recess, but it is backing a call to cut down the break if needed to overcome delays in confirming President Donald Trump’s nominations.

Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, made that clear during an event on Capitol Hill Tuesday with conservative leaders, putting the onus on Democrats to move the process along.

“If we reach August and [they] still have not completed appropriations work or not confirmed our nominees, then of course we would like to see Congress stay in and do its work,” Short said.

“We think it’s not work for the administration,” Short said. “It’s work for the American people.”

(Lesniewski)

Some manner of chortle goes here, but everything will either make better sense, later, or else not really matter at all. It’s like a punch line waiting for a setup.

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Image note: Top — Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.  President Donald Trump. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

Lesniewski, Niels. “White House: No August Recess Until Appropriations, Nominations Done”. Roll Call. 8 May 2018.

The Pruitt Watch (#WhatTheyVotedFor)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Skyhobo, 2009)

Miserable: Jonathan Swan offers a glimpse “Inside Scott Pruitt’s ‘miserable’ bunker”, and what is unbelievable about the article is that it might be written at all. Starting with the incendiary report from The Atlantic about intracabinet political attacks and the typical Axios brief on “why this matters”—approximately that for whatever reasons, Administrator Pruitt still has his job—but then lays an ugly string of points from “behind the scenes”, starting with the idea that EPA senior staff apparently being surprised by a photo of the Administrator at lunch with “members of his team” emerging in a lobbyist’s tweet.

Gravity is gravity; the slope is uncertain, but something about downhill goes here.

• Over the last few months, Pruitt has walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees: ​Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, Hayley Ford, Lincoln Ferguson, and Wilcox. Of those five, only Wilcox is over 30. Hupp, Greenwalt and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma. Wilcox is the only press aide Pruitt appears to trust.

• Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, runs the agency’s operations but rarely knows where his boss is. Pruitt has frozen Jackson out of his inner circle—a disaster for a chief of staff. Pruitt and Jackson don’t trust each other, multiple sources told me.

• “All of us have been frozen out over time,” one EPA political appointee told me. “It’s absolutely unreal working here. Everyone’s miserable. Nobody talks. It’s a dry wall prison.”

And the band plays on as EPA tumbles down the rabbit hole: “Pruitt never trusted the EPA’s career staff”, writes Swan, and the understatement about the sentence is nearly unavoidable; the point is highlight the Administrator having “frozen out” political appointees as administrative paranoia apparently grows and staff morale similarly continues its plummet.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swamped)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Jason Andrew/Getty Images)

The list from Steve Benen might, ‘twixt now and Monday, have become obsolete; it’s hard to tell, some days.

1. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.

2. The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.

3. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.

4. Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.

5. The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.

6. The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.

7. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.

8. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.

9. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.

10. The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.

11. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

12. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.

13. And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

Before the day was out, the msnbc blogger found himself adding to the list, sort of, noting a “controversy that should become the 14th” in a Reuters report describing a financial hardship waiver Pruitt’s EPA granted to an Oklahoma facility for a company owned by former Trump administration hand Carl Icahn:

The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The regulation is meant to cut air pollution, reduce petroleum imports and support corn farmers by requiring refiners to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel each year.

And it does, you know, just keep going downhill.

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Congress, As Only Congress Can

#dysfunction | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A reflection of the U.S. Capitol, 17 February 2012. (Detail of photo by Kevin LaMarque/Reuters)

This is what it is—

At last count, one member has stepped down for health reasons (Mississippi’s Thad Cochran), one member resigned to seek a statewide office (California’s Xavier Becerra), four members gave up their seats to serve in the Trump administration (Georgia’s Tom Price, South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney, Kansas’ Mike Pompeo, and Montana’s Ryan Zinke), five resigned under a cloud of scandal (Arizona’s Trent Franks, Michigan’s John Conyers, Pennsylvania’s Tim Murphy, Minnesota’s Al Franken, and Texas’ Blake Farenthold), and two stepped down because they didn’t feel like being in Congress anymore (Ohio’s Pat Tiberi and Utah’s Jason Chaffetz).

A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis noted, “If that feels like a lot, that’s because it is; it’s the most people who have resigned from Congress through this point in the session in at least 117 years.”

(Benen)

—but does not account for three U.S. Senators and thirty-three Members of Congress who are simply not running for any office, nor nineteen leaving their House seats in search of statewide office.

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What They Voted For: Why Government Doesn’t Work (Educational Remix)

#wellduh | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Betsy Devos (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It is said, sometimes, that there are no stupid questions, and we all know better, but that really does not seem the problem challenging Steve Benen when his consideration of Education Secretary Betsy Devos would seem to wonder after the obvious:

There’s a reason Betsy DeVos doesn’t sit down for a lot of interviews.

My question, however, is for the 51 Republicans who put elevated her to her current post: any regrets?

Of course not; they’re Republicans. This is the party that tells us government does not work; we ought not be surprised, and instead remember that Secretary DeVos only “embarrasses herself (and the 50 senators who voted to confirm her)” according to contexts by which competence and functionality are considered admirable, desirable, or, at the very least, a necessary component according to purpose. To the other, it seems worth reminding that even into the twenty-first century it was inappropriate to presume so poorly of public servants as we would to account for the incompetence, corruption, and sheer stupidity of the Trump administration.

Sixty-two million nine hundred eighty-four thousand eight hundred twenty-five. This is what they voted for.

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Image note: Betsy Devos (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “DeVos embarrasses herself (and the 50 senators who voted to confirm her)”. msnbc. 12 March 2018.

How Mitch Made It

#PutiPoodle | #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)

There is a question of whether political messaging is similar to sentiments regarding the periods in which humans have been recording audio or video, and the proposition that we should, as a society, have passed the threshold by which it seems plausible to say one did not say it when anyone in their right mind already knows there is a definitive recording of the very words one really did say. Perhaps it seems obscure, but twenty years ago, traditional Christianist evangelism faltered on the internet and required transformation in large part because countless repetition wore it thin, while myriad objections and retorts pelted traditional religionistic grifting into remission. At some point, then, we might wonder when the necromancy required to raise the dead horse in order to kill it and beat it to chum all over again becomes apparent to political audiences. NBC News brings the latest ouroboros ’round Republican mulberries:

Former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Sunday said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “watered down” a warning about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and defended the Obama administration’s response to foreign meddling in the campaign.

The language in a September 2016 letter from congressional leaders to state election officials was drastically softened at McConnell’s urging, McDonough said in an exclusive interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” . . . .

. . . . Asked if it was watered down at the insistence of McConnell and only McConnell, McDonough responded, “yes.”

Or, as Steve Benen reminds:

The problem, of course, is that every time Trump World turns its attention to officials’ response to Russian intervention in 2016, we’re reminded that it wasn’t Barack Obama who was negligent—it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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A Matter of Perspective (Poodlefinger Mix)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

This is important:

When Donald Trump makes ridiculously untrue comments, few are surprised. The president has a reputation for breathtaking dishonesty, which is well deserved. Making matters much worse, however, is the degree to which his White House makes no real effort to be more trustworthy.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)For example, the White House issued a formal written statement late Friday responding to the federal indictment of 13 Russian operatives who are accused of attacking our elections to help put Trump in power. A Washington Post analysis described the statement as “extremely dishonest,” and documented several demonstrable falsehoods—none of which has been corrected.

But West Wing officials weren’t content to stop there. On Twitter, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Unlike Obama, [Trump] isn’t going to be pushed around by Russia or anybody else.” That might be slightly less laughable if Obama hadn’t imposed sanctions on Russia, which is the opposite of what Trump did.

In a certain way it does not matter what the esteemed Steve Benen finds laughable. There is a long story, of course, behind the statement that, brain chemistry is brain chemistry, or that brain chemistry will as brain chemistry does, but the proposition of laughability depends on circumstantial norms observably not in effect.

When the Press Secretary says President Trump will not be “pushed around by Russia or anybody else”, we need to consider what that means to her. Because either Sarah Huckabee Sanders believes what she says or she does not. The latter is actually the extraordinary alternative, so the question becomes how she believes such a seemingly ridiculous statement.

And to this the answer is actually straightforward:

• President Trump will not be pushed around by Russia because Russia is not pushing him around.

• President Trump will not be pushed around by anybody else because he will not be pushed around by Congress or the Special Counsel’s Office.

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SOTU Speculation

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump addresses supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016.

Take the note, via Steve Benen:

On Jan. 30, 1974, exactly 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered his State of the Union address and argued that the investigation into the Watergate scandal should end. “One year of Watergate is enough,” the Republican president said at the time.

And this, of course, is a setup to noting that Rep. Steve King (R-IA04), never known as a bastion of measured rhetoric, described the content of a House Republican staff-written memorandum as worse than Watergate. Similarly, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) attacked the Special Counsel investigation into the #TrumpRussia affair as corrupt and worse than Watergate. And famed conspiracist Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) worried that collusion to stop Trump’s election is Worse than Watergate. President Trump himself adores making Watergate claims: Uranium One, imagined wiretapping, and Benghazi conspiracism, at least, he declares on par with Watergate. The Birther conspiracy? Even bigger than Watergate. This is hardly a new GOP obsession; Benen counted at least ten assertions of scandal in the Obama White House that Republicans chose to compare to Watergate, and that was in 2013.

It is easy enough to wonder if perhaps a soberish president carefully reading staid remarks prepared by professional hands would be sufficient to win critical praise, but given the state of things, it starts to seem more likely that Mr. Trump will, instead, afford himself the indulgence of simply going off.

For public safety, drinking games ought to be prohibited.

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Image note: #PutiTrump — Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown; Donald Trump addresses supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016.

Benen, Steve. “The bar has already been lowered too much for Trump”. msnbc. 29 January 2018.

—————. “The curious Republican preoccupation with Watergate”. msnbc. 30 January 2018.

—————. “‘Worse than Watergate'”. msnbc. 11 November 2013.