January 14, 2019

Right before the partial government shutdown over President Trump's border wall became the longest in U.S. history on Saturday, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassert found the bright side for the roughly 380,000 furloughed federal employees. "A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say between Christmas and New Year's," he told PBS NewsHour's Paul Solman. "And then we have a shutdown and so they can't go to work, and so then they have the vacation but they don't have to use their vacation days." Because theses workers will eventually get their back pay, "in some sense they're better off," he added.

Hassett did not address the 420,000 federal workers who have been forced to stay on the job without pay, or what these cash-strapped federal employees should do with this unplanned vacation they can't know the end dates for, but he did go on to say the U.S. economy has already lost about $20 billion in output from the shutdown and will lose $10 billion more for every week it continues. You can watch federal employees not enjoying their free vacation time in the video below, and watch the entire Hassett interview at PBS NewsHour. Peter Weber

January 9, 2019

President Trump's short speech on the border Tuesday night was not universally celebrated, either on style or substance, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) liked it, and so did Fox News host Sean Hannity. "This is the most presidential I have seen President Trump," Graham told Hannity on Tuesday night. "It was compelling and everything he said was true."

Hannity and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs are among the immigration hardliners who have been privately advising Trump to "push forward for the wall funding and break the Democrats' will," The Daily Beast reports. Talking points distributed by the White House during the speech instructed Trump surrogates to describe the address using words like "presidential," "confident," "leadership," "strong," and "empathetic."

Before the speech, Reuters released a poll showing Trump's border wall idea to be really unpopular, his shutting down the government over wall funding less popular still, and a growing number of Americans blaming Trump for the shutdown. Also Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) joined GOP colleagues Susan Collins (Maine), Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), and Cory Gardner (Colo.) in backing Democratic-led bipartisan legislation that would reopen the parts of the government that don't deal with the border wall.

Graham tried to head off GOP defections, too: "To my Republican colleagues, this is the best chance we'll ever have to help President Trump get border wall funding, steel barrier funding, and at the same time fix the loopholes. The only way we lose is to give in. If we'll stand firm, put deals on the table that make sense, we will win this on behalf of the American people — but if we undercut the president, that's the end of his presidency and the end of our party, and we deserve to be punished if we give in now." Presumably that speech, not Graham's push for comprehensive immigration reform, is what got him invited onto Hannity. Peter Weber

January 9, 2019

Rick Wilson is a Republican strategist, but he's decidedly not a fan of President Trump. "Donald Trump has been a political escape artist since the beginnings of his shady, scummy, shiftless life," he wrote at The Daily Beast, beginning his reaction to Trump's Tuesday night speech on immigration and the border. Usually, Trump is able to escape the consequences of his actions by creating "some larger outrage, tossing red meat to a media always eager to chase it," Wilson said, but "on Tuesday night, Trump's flaming dumpster train of distractions, lies, cons, and empty political promises flew off the rails and plunged into a mountain of burning tires in one of his worst public speeches." He continued:

The crisis he proudly created will end without a wall, and he knows it. This speech was supposed to be about forcing the national dialogue to stay on the border wall. No such luck. He reeked of defeat, clearly didn't want to be there, and it showed. Trump looked exhausted, squinty, and bored, reading in a near-monotone from the Teleprompter. It went over like a wet fart.

The hysterical Know-Nothing show that flooded America's airwaves on Tuesday evening was Trumpian boilerplate: Scary immigrants are coming to kill you! Drugs are coming over the border! The man who gleefully put kids in cages tried to briefly pretend he gives a damn about migrant children in the least convincing humanitarian performance since the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. [Rick Wilson, The Daily Beast]

If you've not seen the movie of Ian Fleming's children's novel:

"The speech can most accurately be seen as the death twitch of The Wall cult," Wilson predicted. You can read the rest of his op-ed at The Daily Beast. Peter Weber

January 6, 2019

When asked by 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper if she thinks President Trump is "a racist," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) didn't mince words. "Yeah," she replied. "No question."

In an interview that aired Sunday night, Ocasio-Cortez told Cooper the "words [Trump] uses are historic dog whistles of white supremacy. When you look at how he reacted to the Charlottesville incident, where neo-Nazis murdered a woman, versus how he manufactures crises like immigrants seeking legal refuge on our borders, it's night and day."

Trump "certainly didn't invent racism," Ocasio-Cortez said. "But he's certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things." In a statement, a White House deputy press secretary told 60 Minutes Trump has "repeatedly condemned racism and bigotry in all forms." Catherine Garcia

January 4, 2019

There's definitely an impeachment caucus in the new Democratic House majority — Reps. Brad Sherman (Calif.) and Al Green (Texas) reintroduced articles of impeachment against President Trump on Thursday — but most Democrats are at least waiting for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to release his report on Russian election meddling first. "We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told NBC News this week.

At a party hosted by MoveOn on Thursday night, newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) signaled that she is ready to impeach sooner rather than later: "When your son looks at you and says, 'Mama, look, you won — bullies don't win,' and I said, 'Baby, they don't, because we're going to go in there and we're going to impeach the motherf---er.'" (The word is not censored in the video.)

Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress and one of two Muslim women sworn in on Thursday, had already called for Trump's impeachment in a Detroit Free Press op-ed with John Bonifaz published earlier Thursday. "Trump is a direct and serious threat to our country" who "attacks our Constitution, our democracy, the rule of law, and the people who are in this country" nearly every day, they write. "Those who say we must wait for Special Counsel Mueller to complete his criminal investigation before Congress can start any impeachment proceedings ignore" the "crucial distinction" that Congress, not Mueller, is charged with deciding if Trump has committed an impeachable offense, and "there is no requirement whatsoever that a president be charged with or be convicted of a crime before Congress can impeach him." You can read their full argument at the Detroit Free Press. Peter Weber

January 2, 2019

Mitt Romney, the Republican former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential nominee, will be sworn in as the junior senator from Utah on Thursday, and he is beginning his new job with a Washington Post op-ed calling President Trump a failed leader. Romney notes in his Tuesday night op-ed that "Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination," but says after he won, "I hoped he would rise to the occasion." Nope: "On balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office."

Romney registers his approval of Trump's tax cuts, regulatory rollback, China trade crackdown, conservative judicial nominations, and many of his early appointees, but in the "qualities of character" department, he says, Trump's "shortfall has been most glaring," both in a divided America and an increasingly chaotic world America no longer leads.

In a hard jab, Romney highlights the 68-point plummet in trust America's closest allies have that the U.S. president will do the right thing between former President Barack Obama's last year in office and Trump's first year. Romney says that as senator, he will treat Trump as he would any president — vote with him when it aligns with his and Utah's interests, oppose him when it doesn't — and claims he won't "comment on every tweet or fault" but will "speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest, or destructive to democratic institutions." Somewhat cryptically, Romney says the "project" to "repair failings in our politics at home" must begin "with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us."

What does this mean? There's speculation that this is the beginning of a Romney 2020 primary campaign against Trump, but McKay Coppins at The Atlantic notes that in a recent Associated Press poll, 64 percent of Utah voters say they want Sen. Romney to stand up to Trump. Read Romney's op-ed at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

December 31, 2018

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of President Trump who has been sharply critical of his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, emerged from a two-hour lunch at the White House on Sunday saying he felt "a lot better" about the situation. He suggested that Trump has slowed down his troop withdrawal. "I think we're in a pause situation where we are re-evaluating what's the best way to achieve the president's objective of having people pay more and do more," Graham told reporters outside the White House.

Graham didn't elaborate, but The New York Times speculates he "may have been referring to assurances that Mr. Trump is said to have given some military officials that they can have more time than 30 days to ensure a proper drawdown of troops." Graham later went on Twitter to reiterate the main points he took away from his meeting with Trump, though with few details on how Trump will achieve these goals:

Graham said that Trump is suitably "worried about Iranian influence and the potential dangers to Israel from having a superhighway from Beirut to Tehran in terms of delivering weapons into Lebanon, and he'll be talking to Turkey about making sure we don't have a war between the Turks and our allies the Kurds." Before his lunch, Graham said on CNN's State of the Union that "if we leave the Kurds and abandon them and they get slaughtered, who's going to help you in the future?" The White House had no comment on Graham's assessment of the lunch. You can watch Graham's full comments, which also touch on the government shutdown, below. Peter Weber

December 31, 2018

Retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal called President Trump dishonest and immoral in an interview with ABC News' Martha Raddatz broadcast Sunday. He asked Americans to consider why someone as "selfless and committed" as outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis, a fellow four-star general, would resign "in a public way like that," with a rebuke of Trump. And McChrystal, once floated by Trump as a running mate, shut down any notion he might be willing to replace Mattis. "I think it's important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it," he said. "You think he's a liar?" Raddatz asked. "I don't think he tells the truth," McChrystal said. "Is Trump immoral, in your view?" Raddatz asked. "I think he is," McChrystal replied.

McChyrstal said he'd never tell any Trump supporters "they are wrong," but he asked every American to "stand in front of that mirror" and consider whether we really "want to be governed by someone we wouldn't do a business deal with because their background is so shady." Maggie Haberman at The New York Times notes that McChrystal's comments overlapped with milder criticism from outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, another retired four-star general:

McChrystal — who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan before President Barack Obama reluctantly relieved him of duty in 2010 for criticizing White House officials to Rolling Stone — also offered some critiques of Trump's war strategy. You can watch more at ABC News. Peter Weber

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