Archive

February 6th, 2017

Inside the White House-Cabinet battle over Trump's immigration order

    On the evening of Saturday, Jan. 28, as airport protests raged over President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, the man charged with implementing the order, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, had a plan. He would issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, a.k.a. green-card holders, from the seven majority-Muslim countries whose citizens had been banned from entering the United States.

    White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon wanted to stop Kelly in his tracks. Bannon paid a personal and unscheduled visit to Kelly's Department of Homeland Security office to deliver an order: Don't issue the waiver. Kelly, according to two administration officials familiar with the confrontation, refused to comply with Bannon's instruction. That was the beginning of a weekend of negotiations among senior Trump administration staffers that led, on Sunday, to a decision by Trump to temporarily freeze the issuance of executive orders.

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Can anyone inside or outside the White House stop Stephen Bannon?

    If the first two weeks of the Trump presidency has shown anything, it's that chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has outmaneuvered his White House rivals, Cabinet secretaries and even Republican leaders in Congress. But Bannon is just getting started; he's got a longer-term strategy to dominate White House policy making for months and years. The question now is, can anyone opposed to his power grab prevent it from happening?

    The most immediate effects of Bannon's influence were laid bare during the chaotic rollout of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration. Several reports detailed how Bannon and White House policy director Stephen Miller not only took the lead in writing the order but also took charge of its defense. Cabinet secretaries, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, were barely kept in the loop, although Kelly later said he was "informed" in advance. Rex Tillerson, then the nominee for secretary of state, was reportedly "baffled" about his lack of consultation. Republican leaders in Congress were caught totally unaware.

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What came after Conway's 'Bowling Green massacre' statement

    Kellyanne Conway messed up.

    Speaking with MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Thursday night, President Donald Trump's senior adviser invented a mass killing that never happened.

    "I bet it's brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre," she said. "Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered."

    There was no "Bowling Green massacre," in any Bowling Green. There was, as many have pointed out, an incident in 2011 where two Iraqi men were arrested for trying to send weapons to al-Qaida. Both men admitted to having attacked American troops in Iraq, but no attacks occurred in the United States. The Bowling Green massacre has the happy distinction of being the least-deadly massacre in American history.

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Uncle Sam Wants… Your Social Security Check

    Uncle Sam wants you!

    Not the Uncle Sam who’s the symbolic caricature of our country, but Sam Johnson. Although he’s been a member of Congress for more than a quarter of a century, you’ve probably never heard of him.

    Johnson’s been what’s known in legislative circles as “furniture.” That’s a lawmaker who holds a congressional seat, but just sits in it, achieving so little that he’s unnoticeable.

    But — look out! — Johnson has suddenly leapt into action. And we all need to take notice, because this Texas Republican has unveiled what he calls his “Plan to Permanently Save Social Security.”

    To get you to support the plan, Uncle Sam wants you to believe that our nation’s very popular retirement program is “going bankrupt.” He knows that’s a lie, but he hopes it’s a big enough lie to panic you into doing anything to save the program.

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Trump totally ignored black history in his 'listening session,' and it has nothing to do with Frederick Douglass

    On any level, President Donald Trump's "listening session" to mark Black History Month was an unenlightened hot mess.

    When Trump read from the sheet of paper in front of him, he did so with the confidence of an unsure student delivering a book report in front of the class. When the president veered off that single-page lifeline, he betrayed stunning ignorance. Frederick Douglass, anyone? Or how about the reference to Thomas Jefferson? A Founding Father and the third president of the United States, he was also the owner of slaves and had six children with one of them, Sally Hemings. At the start of Black History Month, it probably would have been better to just not mention him at all.

    But what made the car wreck in the Roosevelt Room of the White House all the more rubber-necky was who was in the room. To the president's left was Ben Carson, a Trump punching bag during the primaries, now his secretary-designate of housing and urban development. And to his right was Omarosa Manigault, "Apprentice" alum, communications director for the White House office of public liaison and the person I'm told who organized the session.

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Trump's far-right feedback loop is shaking Europe to its core

    Last week, Frank-Walter Steinmeier made his last visit to Paris as Germany's foreign minister (he is about to become president) in order to issue a plea to the French people: "Please do not surrender to the siren song of populism." His meaning was plain: Do not elect Marine Le Pen, leader of the nativist National Front, in the presidential election this spring. If France falls, Germany, which votes in September, could be next. And if Germany turns against Chancellor Angela Merkel, "it is Europe itself that will founder," as Le Monde editorialist Sylvie Kauffmann put it.

    There is one crucial player missing in this dire feedback loop; that, of course, is President Donald Trump. The announcement last weekend that the United States was blocking all refugees from Syria, temporarily suspending all other refugee admissions, and blocking entry to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, while roundly condemned by world leaders, has been welcomed by the populist forces of whom Steinmeier warned.

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There's A Fuzzy New Sheriff In Town

    I don't know about you, but I'm all Trumped-out.

    The whole country is learning how exhausting it can be to live with a seriously mentally ill person: The constant feeling of apprehension and unease over what kind of manipulative, delusional nonsense is coming next. The uncertainty about how to react. Definitely remove all weapons and secure potentially dangerous drugs. Will calling the police make things better, or worse? Is it too early to seek order of commitment? Or too late? If the judge denies it, then what?

    If the analogy makes you angry, tough. You and that scrofulous twit Steve Bannon can both take a hike. He's the Trump apparatchik who says the press should keep its mouth shut. I've been hearing from knuckleheads like him as long as I've written this column. Fat chance.

    Because crazy people tend to be cunning and tireless, it's important to take reality breaks. So this is a column about my 6-year-old orange tabby, Albert, the most unusual cat I've known. Albert's had major life adjustments to make over the past year, and he's handled them with creativity and aplomb.

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Time for Supreme Court fans to brush up on Chevron doctrine

    Confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch are likely to feature a somewhat offbeat topic: administrative law, and particularly a key issue known as the "Chevron doctrine." Central to environmental law and all other forms of federal regulation, the doctrine, adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 in a case involving the Chevron oil company, says the courts should defer to agencies' interpretations of ambiguous laws.

    Dry as it may sound, the principle is in fact the subject of heated debate among scholars -- and last year, Gorsuch weighed in with a lengthy opinion proposing to abandon the prevailing approach, thus strengthening the judiciary and weakening the agencies. Democratic senators are likely to question him intensively about his views, which for the first time may make Chevron doctrine into a household word -- and a partisan flashpoint.

    The origins of the doctrine aren't especially political. The original opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, then still a moderate Republican in the mode of Gerald Ford, who appointed him. (Stevens later became a liberal, one of the most outspoken on the Rehnquist court.)

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The Supreme Court Meets Reality TV

    You can take the man out of “The Apprentice,” but you can’t take “The Apprentice” out of the man.

    President Donald Trump unveiled his nominee for the Supreme Court on Tuesday night, and like so much about his campaign and now his administration, the announcement had some of the unreal aspects of reality TV.

    There were reports that he had summoned both of the two finalists to Washington: an elimination contest! He had programmed the big reveal for prime time. No slow leak of the news followed by its anti-climactic confirmation. No muted moment in the Rose Garden in the middle of the day.

    Instead, an orchestrated drumroll and then a television appearance at the same hour — 8 p.m. Eastern — when “The Apprentice” sometimes used to begin. Just like old times, but with “you’re fired” replaced by “you’re hired” (pending Senate confirmation).

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How much weight will Trump's words carry on the world stage?

    If Trump White House officials were running the foreign policy ship for the first two weeks, well, man, do they stink at it. A botched process leading to a botched raid in Yemen. A foreign head of state canceling a U.S. visit. A stupid executive order on immigration that will weaken national security. Pulling out of a trade deal in a move that will only benefit China. Counterproductive phone calls with close allies in Australia and Mexico. Sean Spicer saying things that are consistent with his tenure as press secretary, by which I mean they are inflammatory and untrue. A veritable geyser of leaks about all of these screw-ups. And then there are the loud tweets putting countries "ON NOTICE."

    It's not surprising that the GOP foreign policy establishment is tearing its hair out at the array of stumbles, bumbles and tantrums that the White House has committed in its first fortnight.

    But - maybe foreign leaders have adjusted to the fact that Donald Trump's words don't mean all that much on the global stage. The Washington Post's A. Odysseus Patrick noted this from an opposition leader in Australia:

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