Steve Benen

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.

(more…)

Advertisements

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.

(more…)

The Latest Pickup: Joseph diGenova

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

US President Donald J. Trump after a group photo on the second day of the G7 Summit at the Hotel San Domenico in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, 27 May 2017. (Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA)

Steve Benen suggests—

Obviously, diGenova’s track record of pushing strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television makes it difficult to take him seriously, but because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, the opposite is true in the White House: this president loves those who push strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television. The same qualities that make Joseph diGenova appear foolish in the eyes of the American mainstream are the very qualities that make him appealing to Trump.

Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, ca. 2016 (Image: C-SPAN)—and that is all well and fine insofar as it goes. One need not protest, though, in order to recall general questions of White House morale and who might wish to work for the Trump administration, and from there specifically point out that eventually there will only be diverse manners of true believers left to answer the call. In this context, Joe diGenova might not be the best man for the job—

For those who support the president and want him to succeed, none of this is good news. Trump is facing a serious scandal of historic significance, which may very well bring his presidency to a premature end. He needs the best legal defense possible.

I’m not sure he’s getting it. Trump—who already had to replace the former head of his legal team, who seemed completely out of his depth—has assembled a group of attorneys who haven’t necessarily served him especially well, and he’s now adding a conspiracy theorist whom the president probably saw on Fox News, peddling a strange tale with no basis in fact.

—but could well be the last best attorney to take up President Trump’s defense.

____________________

Image notes: Top —President Donald Trump. (Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA)  Right — Attorney Joseph E. diGenova (Image: C-SPAN)

Benen, Steve. “Trump’s new defense attorney burdened by a controversial past”. msnbc. 19 March 2018.

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.

____________________

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.

What They Voted For: They Are, After All, Conservatives

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

The Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, D.C., 21 December 2016.  (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Steve Benen notes an obvious question:

The point isn’t that the arrangement is somehow untoward. Rather, what’s amazing about this is that our self-professed billionaire president has a re-election campaign operation in place, housed in a building the president still owns and profits from, and despite the fact that the operation has millions of dollars in the bank, it’s the Republican National Committee that’s using donor money to help Trump’s campaign with the rent.

This comes on the heels of Washington Post reporting from last summer, which said the RNC and other Republican political committees spent nearly $1.3 million at Trump-owned properties in 2017—and that was long before the year was even over.

Whether party donors actually mind any of this is unclear.

The actual answer is not so complicated: First, the upward redistribution of wealth and assets is the Republican Party’s raison d’être; and then there is the point that this is precisely #WhatTheyVotedFor.α

____________________

α At some point, we must accept that conservative populism means cronyism with an ameliorating dose of supremacism.

Image note: The Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Benen, Steve. “The many bills the RNC is willing to pay for Trump”. msnbc. 26 February 2018.

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.

(more…)

What They Voted For: Jeopardy

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image.

“Trump’s lawyers are cognizant of the fact that the president lies with such incredible frequency that allowing him to have a conversation with federal investigators would likely put him in legal jeopardy.”

Steve Benen

There are many standards by which we might consider the daily grind of life during the Trump administration, and perhaps some ought not complain so much if it is not a daily question of life and death, or, maybe, freedom, necessity, and serious impairment thereof; nonetheless, there is still just the general indignity of how long the spectacle must persist, and within that context we might note that circumstances do continue, as circumstances will, apace. Via msnbc:

Three weeks ago today, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters by making unscheduled comments about a provocative subject: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal. More specifically, the president made a variety of comments about how much he’s looking forward to speaking to Mueller and his team under oath.

“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said, adding that he’d “love to” talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he’s “absolutely” prepared to answer questions under oath.

And, yes, President Trump did go on to say two or three weeks.

(more…)

Jim and the Buried Lede (Mattis Matters for America)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, 19 November 2016, in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It seems worth noting that we are actually through a particular looking glass:

One tense moment came last May as officials grew increasingly concerned about aggressive Iranian behavior.

For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

“Why can’t we sink them?” Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president’s request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. At that point, McMaster took Mattis off speakerphone, cleared his staff from the room and continued the conversation.

“It was clear that the call was not going well,” one official said. In the weeks that followed, the options never arrived.

(Jaffe and Ryan)

Something about buried ledes might go here, but, to be explicit: We are nine months into the period during which the National Security Advisor, a retired Marine Corps general, keeps the peace by refusing or ignoring the president.

(more…)

What They Voted For: Swampstyle

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Ital Vardi brings this wonderful bit of news for the Huffington Post:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a shareholder in a private Montana company that manufactures and sells firearms and advanced weapons materials, a financial interest he did not disclose when nominated last year.

In response to inquiries from HuffPost, both Zinke and the company, PROOF Research Inc., confirmed the secretary’s holdings, though the dollar value placed on them varied. This previously undisclosed holding comes to light after numerous decisions in his first year in office that benefited the hunting and gun industries.

PROOF Research Inc. was first established in 2011 in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, under the name Extreme Precision Armaments Inc., according to state of Montana business records. The company specializes in the production of lightweight rifles with high-precision carbon fiber barrels for hunting and military applications and was born as a merger of four smaller firearms and gun parts companies. It later changed its name to PROOF Research Inc. and moved to the nearby town of Columbia Falls.

According to the company’s website, its facility in Columbia Falls produces “the world’s finest composite barrels, stocks, and complete rifles.” A second facility in Dayton, Ohio, makes specialized high-temperature composite materials for the aerospace and defense industries, including components for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and B-2 stealth bomber.

Obvious questions present themselves, but there is also something inherently clownish about the brazen stupidity of the omission, and given everything else, Steve Benen’s point last week, that the “Interior Secretary can’t seem to stay out of trouble”, resonates anew. There is also some impulse to raise an eyebrow at the seeming strangeness of a small firearms firm with such specialized defense-industry pedigree.

(more…)

Disaster, Dreaming

#trumpswindle | #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)

Steve Benen, on the obvious:

As I understand it, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has agreed to a vote on an immigration bill, and unlike before, he won’t wait for Donald Trump’s guidance on the subject. If a comprehensive proposal isn’t ready by Feb. 8, today’s agreement says a DACA bill will get a vote on the Senate floor (though we don’t know precisely which DACA bill).

If you’re thinking, “Won’t McConnell just betray Democrats and refuse to bring up the bill?” that’s certainly possible, though that would practically guarantee another shutdown, for which the Kentucky Republican would be solely responsible.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking, “There’s no reason to assume a Senate-passed bill to protect Dreamers will pass the House,” you’re right to be concerned. But Democrats aren’t exactly negotiating from a position of strength right now, and they feel like they have no choice but to pursue incremental steps.

In the meantime, they’re taking CHIP off the table for the next six years, securing a key progressive priority. If there’s another shutdown on the horizon—a distinct possibility—Republicans won’t be able to hold children’s health care hostage.

Heads: McConnell backs out entirely, just walking away for his own reasons. Tails: The DACA vote is to table whatever DACA bill comes to hand.

(more…)