Joshua Roberts/Reuters

One of Those Moments (… cum Farce)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies to the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., 13 December 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

To the one, something goes here about unnamed sources; it’s a long question, by now. To the other, though—

For all the morning’s madness, there may have been an underlying logic. Over the weekend, as Brett Kavanaugh’s prospects appeared increasingly imperiled, Trump faced two tactical options, both of them fraught. One was to cut Kavanaugh loose. But he was also looking for ways to dramatically shift the news cycle away from his embattled Supreme Court nominee. According to a source briefed on Trump’s thinking, Trump decided that firing Rosenstein would knock Kavanaugh out of the news, potentially saving his nomination and Republicans’ chances for keeping the Senate. “The strategy was to try and do something really big,” the source said. The leak about Rosenstein’s resignation could have been the result, and it certainly had the desired effect of driving Kavanaugh out of the news for a few hours.

(Sherman)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 24 May 2018. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)—this is the Trump administration: What insanity will we be expected to believe, tomorrow? The question is how well a bit like this ages; certes, it makes a powerful headline, but the instinct to disbelieve seems largely reasonable.

And, again, to the other, this is the Trump administration. The idea of a T&A comedy presidency ought to be a really stupid joke. Something, something, Trump administration, right. This really is what they voted for, and no, it’s been more of a tragedy cum farce than any sort of comedy. It really isn’t funny.

____________________

Image notes: Top — Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies to the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., 13 December 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)  Right — President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 24 May 2018. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Sherman, Gabe. “‘The Strategy Was to Try and Do Something Really Big’: Trump Wanted to Nuke Rosenstein to Save Kavanaugh’s Bacon”. Vanity Fair. 24 September 2018.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swampstyle)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The lede from Bloomberg ought to be enough—

President Donald Trump called his embattled environmental chief Monday to assure him his job is safe amid mounting scrutiny of Scott Pruitt’s travel, hiring practices and an unorthodox condo rental arrangement last year, according to two administration officials.

—to beg the question: So, the clock is ticking, then, right?

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The Republican Character (Even More Fuckless)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is unsurprising, though perhaps saying so risks overstating the point. Via Washington Post:

The EPA inspector general’s office announced in August that it had opened an inquiry into Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma. The internal watchdog at the time said its investigation was triggered by “congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel—primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense.”

The probe was triggered in part by findings from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that detailed through public records that Pruitt had spent nearly half of the days in March, April and May in Oklahoma. Initially, EPA investigators said they planned to audit Pruitt’s travel records, as well as those of his security and top aides, through the end of July.

But on Friday, the inspector general’s office said it would expand that inquiry to include all of Pruitt’s travel through the end of September, and not just trips to Oklahoma.

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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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The Price of Belief (#TrumpCare)

#TrumpCare | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Health and Human Services nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-GA06) testifies at his confirmation hearing, 18 January 2017, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Every once in a while, it occurs to wonder if perhaps they are doing it on purpose.

President Donald Trump’s administration made a bold guarantee Sunday morning, telling Americans that health insurance won’t cost more if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we’re going through, understanding that they’ll have choices that they can select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family, not the government forces them to buy,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

This line could become Price’s “If you like your plan, you can keep it” moment ― a sweeping sound bite that ends up being not true. (President Barack Obama eventually had to apologize for his promise in 2013.)

(Terkel; boldface accent added)

No, really. He actually went and said that.

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A Conservative Fallacy: Dualism (Bust It or Bust)

#ryancare | #trumpcare

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)

This is a basic conservative fallacy:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is selling the Republicans’ health care bill the same way he did the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. But on the health front, his pitch is falling flat with conservatives.

“Binary choice” is the phrase the Wisconsin Republican used during the presidential election to describe his reason for supporting Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Ryan acknowledged throughout the campaign that both candidates were flawed but Trump was the better of two options, the only one who would help Republicans advance their legislative agenda.

“It really comes down to a binary choice,” the speaker said Thursday during his weekly press conference about moving forward with the GOP’s plan or leaving in place the 2010 health care law.

“This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare,” Ryan said. “The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen.”

(McPherson)

The only subtlety about it is Speaker Ryan’s lack of subtlety.

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The Elephant in the Ointment

#SomethingTerrific | #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)

(sigh) This feels familiar:

Here we go again. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) say their proposals for repealing and “replacing” the Affordable Care Act will be ready really, really soon. Next month, in fact.

And they swear this won’t be like the other million times Republicans have made the same promise and failed to follow through.

Trump and Ryan made their comments at separate news conferences on Thursday, a few hours apart. Ryan’s came after a closed-door House meeting in which he and his lieutenants presented the broad brushstrokes―again―of what they are calling a “repeal plus” strategy.

(Young and Cohn)

So, a couple things go here. Like a personal note: This was disappointing. When the first chyrons broke, it seemed at least as if everyone was gearing up to finally have it out about the mythical Republican plan. And for at least a few minutes, readers and pundits tried to pretend they were. But that leads to the second, which might have something to do with Congressional Republican leadership, because apparently “repeal plus”, the replacement for “repeal and delay”, which was the longer, lazier route compared to prior advocacy for “repeal and replace”―and we keep getting signs this approach isn’t working―is probably a better name than “repeal and stumble around”.

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What They Voted For: Why Government Doesn’t Work

#earthquakes | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

There is that part within that wonders―really, truly, genuinely in all good faith, wonders―who in these United States really thinks they can do that speech in which the audience is supposed to pretend they have no effing clue? Or, to check in with Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones:

If Pruitt’s address was meant to soothe staffers’ concerns about their incoming administrator, they may have come up short.

“Pruitt’s talk [was] as bad as expected,” said a current career EPA staffer of over 20 years, who requested anonymity, following the speech. “Not one word about public health. And talking about the rule of law as if we didn’t do EVERYTHING with the realization that it WILL end up in court. It was condescending and hypocritical.”

Some former EPA officials shared that view. “Trump’s team spent the entire campaign and the last few months railing against EPA’s existence, its staff, and its purpose,” Liz Purchia, an Obama-era communications staffer at the agency, said in an email. “Accomplishing agency priorities was no easy task when the administrator had staff’s back and politicals and careers agreed the majority of the time, so let’s see how well Trump’s EPA does getting staff to follow them when they feel disrespected. These are professionals with years of experience, who have been made to feel like their leader doesn’t trust their judgment. The American people are relying on them to defend the agency, protect its environmental statutes and stand up to Trump’s team to ensure they uphold science and the law.”

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#DimensionTrump (cryptic pipeline)

#DimensionTrump | #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)

“The Trump executive order should be seen more as a mission statement, and less as a monarchical edict that can instantly change the law.”

Margot Sanger-Katz

As Republicans rally ’round their health care policy better known as, “Repeal and … y’know … whatever”, this is President Trump’s ante; Margot Sanger-Katz explains for the Upshot:

The order spells out the various ways that a Trump administration might fight the parts of the health law until new legislation comes: by writing new regulations and exercising discretion where allowed. Regulations can be changed, but, as the order notes, only through a legal process of “notice and comment” that can take months or years.

On matters of discretion, the administration can move faster, but there are limited places where current law gives the administration much power to quickly change course.

How much of the order is bluster and how much it signals a set of significant policy changes in the pipeline is unclear. The order was not specific and did not direct any particular actions.

“Right off the bat, what do they do―something incredibly cryptic that nobody understands,” said Rodney Whitlock, a vice president of M.L. Strategies, a Washington consulting firm. Mr. Whitlock was a longtime health policy aide to Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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