Steve Benen

Your Quote of the Day (Pence’s Progress)

#Pence2020 | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“I’m skeptical Pence can emerge from the White House’s crisis unscathed … but the fact that the vice president is even trying suggests we’re approaching the every-person-for-themselves phase.”

Steve Benen

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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 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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Incompetence (Paging Mr. Trump)

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Carter Page in Moscow, Russia, 12 July 2016.  (Photo: Reuters)

There are days when the primary argument against the idea we really are witnessing this debacle is, really, it just seems impossible that anyone could possibly be so bad at this. It seems even more impossible that the Trump administration should be inflicting so many wounds against itself. To wit, the lede from Reuters seems, by comparison, nearly harmless:

President Donald Trump sought to insert himself into congressional investigations on Russia on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to hear from one of his former advisers, Carter Page, to counter testimony by directors of the FBI and CIA.

Well, okay, we are discussing Carter Page, which is never quite as harmless as it ought to seem.

For instance, the lede and some detail from Roll Call:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Democrats of resisting testimony from Carter Page, his former campaign adviser, because he “blows away” allegations they have made.

In two tweets, the president went on to say that this alleged change of heart by Democratic members comes because they have concluded Page “blows away their … case against him.”

Trump, referring to the FBI director he fired and the Obama administration’s last CIA director, wrote that his former adviser “wants to clear his name by showing “the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan…”

A’ight, so, are we ready for the tricky part? Is there always a tricky part? Never mind.

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The Impossible Successor

#PresidentRyan | ¿#WhatTheyVotedFor?

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Amid everything else over the last week or so, we ought not forget this:

We’re left with an unsettling picture. Flynn told the transition team he’s the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, and either that information either reached Pence or it didn’t. If Pence was out of the loop, he was dangerously incompetent at his job. If Pence knew, and Flynn became National Security Advisor anyway, that’s worse.

Remember, as the turmoil surrounding Flynn grew more serious, the vice president said he was completely unaware of Flynn’s alleged misdeeds. In March, when Fox News asked Pence about Flynn having to register as a foreign agent, Pence said he was hearing the story for the first time.

Except, as Rachel has explained on the show, that’s literally unbelievable. Not only were there multiple news reports for months about Flynn’s foreign work, but Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Pence’s transition team to make sure Team Trump was aware of this.

(Benen)

Because, quite frankly, it still cracks me up that once upon a time, when Rubio was fumbling for water, Paul was drowning in plagiarism, and Christie apparently had nothing to do with that bridge, we might have heard Mike Pence’s name whispered as the cyclical dark horse. The Indiana governor, by Republican accounts, was politically savvy and a dedicated conservative. And while others might disagree about the savvy, it seemed for naught when he signed a RFRA and failed to comprehend what happened next. Except, of course, his dramatic revitalization as Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, and then vice president. It was easy enough to joke that we might yet see a President Pence.

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Terrific (Nobody Dies)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID01). [Detail of photo by John Miller/Associated Press]

Let us try a compromise: Just don’t call him “pro-life”. Or, perhaps, we should begin in the moment, as Kristine Phillips tells it for the Washington Post:

A conservative Republican congressman from Idaho is drawing criticism for his response to a town-hall attendee’s concerns about how his party’s health-care bill would affect Medicaid recipients.

“You are mandating people on Medicaid to accept dying,” the woman said.

“That line is so indefensible,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, a member of the influential House Freedom Caucus. “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

The boos instantly drowned him out.

The congressman from Idaho’s First Congressional District and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus might have discovered a new apex for the absolute value of conservative political rhetoric. To the other, tempting as it seems to wonder if e’er so thoughtless bovine excrement was spoken, we do happen to be speaking both of Congress and conservatives, so, yeah, actually, lots. Still, though, Rep. Labrador reminds without question the challenge of abiding no integrity.

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Terrific (On the Rocks)

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President Donald Trump, joined by HHS Secretary Tom Price (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) explains his intention to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, 24 March 2017, at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by The Washington Post)

Robert Pear runs for the New York Times under the headline, “Pushing for Vote on Health Care Bill, Trump Seems Unclear on Its Details”. And the detail there, in turn:

After two false starts on President Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump administration officials are pressing the House to vote on a revised version of the Republican repeal bill this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, administration officials said.

And Mr. Trump insisted that the Republican health legislation would not allow discrimination against people with pre-existing medical conditions, an assertion contradicted by numerous health policy experts as well as the American Medical Association.

“Pre-existing conditions are in the bill,” the president said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”

Steve Benen adds, for msnbc:

When Dickerson pressed Trump on whether he’s prepared to “guarantee” protections to those with pre-existing conditions, the president replied, “We actually have – we actually have a clause that guarantees.”

There is no such clause. The Republican bill guts benefits for consumers with pre-existing conditions, clearing the way for states to do the exact opposite of what Trump said yesterday. (GOP leaders have been reduced to telling worried lawmakers that most states won’t take advantage of the option, but under the Republican blueprint, the financial pressure on states to roll back protections like these would be significant.)

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Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

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A Whiff of the Racket

#extortion | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump, joined by HHS Secretary Tom Price (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) explains his intention to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, 24 March 2017, at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by The Washington Post)

The setup, here, is not particularly complex. We can start with blaming Democrats after the collapse of #Trumpcare, which apparently failed to be #SomethingTerrific. It seems a reliable first instinct for Republicans; that is, as Steve Benen notes:

When Donald Trump’s Muslim ban failed miserably in the courts, the president was quick to assign blame—to everyone but himself. Now that the health care plan Trump wanted has also collapsed, he’s desperate to avoid responsibility, though he seems unsure who to point the finger at first.

Trump’s first instinct, evidently, was to call the Washington Post to blame Democrats.

And if the president seems to be engaging in that weird Republican sense of sport by which one simply says enough wrong that there is no reasonable way to address every problem, well, right, he is. That is to say, here we all are a few weeks later, and Mr. Trump is still upset that Democrats won’t do Republicans’ jobs for them. Again, Benen:

The confused president was nevertheless convinced that Democrats should’ve helped him destroy the most significant Democratic accomplishment since Medicare—because Trump said so. Indeed, despite the White House’s previous claims that Republicans would shift their attention towards tax reform, Trump told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he not only remains focused on health care, he’s also considering a new hostage strategy to force Democrats to give him what he wants.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.

“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump said, referring to cost-sharing reductions. “I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt…. What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
In other words, when the president says he doesn’t “want people to get hurt,” he means he will start hurting people by sabotaging the American health care system unless Democrats take steps to satisfy his demands.

This is a terrible habit. That is, we all know Donald Trump likes a bit of the tough-guy, wannabe mafioso bluff, but he is President of the United States of Amerca, and should not be seen threatening extortion over legislation, full stop.

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