President Trump’s goal is to eliminate, undermine or otherwise undercut anything done by President Obama. Further, he will not do what Obama or George W. Bush would have done in any circumstance. [WW]
Trump’s actions don’t have an organizing principle. [Bob Woodward, Morning Joe, 11/8/17]
The secret strategy is that there is no secret strategy. Trump acts and reacts. He says stuff. He parries and jabs. He tries to win the minute-by-minute news cycle with little concern about any sort of long-range plan. That’s it. [Chris Cillizza, CNN.com, 12/11/17]
In his first 10 months Donald Trump told more discernable lies (103) than Barack Obama did in entire tenure (18). (The NYT Sunday Review for 12/17/17 has detailed lists.
The President’s Labor Department has proposed a rule that would allow restaurants to take the tips from servers and redistribute them among un-tipped staff such as dishwashers. The rule does not require that those tips be redistributed among un-tipped staff – so legally as long as the tipped employees are paid the minimum wage the restaurants can just keep the money. It could amount to $6.1 billion annually. [Economic Policy Institute]
One area in which Trump is making considerable progress, and will continue to do so, is the appointment of federal circuit and district court judges. Trump and the Republicans in the Senate are going full steam ahead to fill every available circuit court vacancy as quickly as possible.
There were 21 vacant appellate seats open when Trump came into office and an additional six vacancies have occurred since he took office. Many of these were vacancies that the Republicans stopped Obama from filling. (See “Demise of the Filibuster” in the Senate section on page 24.)
Nearly half of the 150 current appellate court judges are eligible to take senior status which permits the appointment of an additional judge.
So far, Trump’s appellate nominees have been pretty well qualified but that does not seem to be the standard for District Court nominees. One District Court nominee has virtually no trial experience. Interestingly that particular nomination has been pulled at the request of Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. That person was rated as completely unqualified by the American Bar Association. Now a second District Court nominee has been pulled down because he was unlikely to make it through the Judiciary Committee.
Trump’s nominees are primarily male and mostly white. [NYT, 11/12/17]
Various autocrats such as Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jing of China, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdogen of Turkey and
King Salman Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia have Donald Trump’s number — and I don’t mean his phone number. He pines to be like them. [WW]
President Trump having talked with Vladimir Putin at the recent Asia Summit said thereafter, “[Putin] said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” Later in the same conversation with media on Air Force One, Trump said that Putin has repeatedly told him, ‘I didn’t do that’ and I really believe that when he tells me that he means it.” [NBC News, 11/11/17]
The President said the above, notwithstanding that all U.S. intelligence agencies have reported that the Russians did attempt to interfere in the 2016 election.
Subsequently, after his initial response drew a fair amount of criticism, Trump said:
“What I said there is that I believe he believes it. And that’s very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he believes that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.”
The Tax Bill
The tax cut being promoted by President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress is a back door method to cut basic social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by starving the federal government of revenues until cutting those programs is the only option. And they are being up front about it. Speaker Ryan has been open about the need to reduce federal health care and anti-poverty programs in order to tackle the debt and the deficit.
As the Watch is going to distribution, the machinations over the tax bill between the House and Senate conferees, mostly behind closed doors, seem to be coming to an end.
On September 15, 2016 Trump said, “The tax relief will be concentrated on the working and middle-class”…it won’t even be close.
On November 30, 2016, the man who became Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin said, “There would be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”
On May 23, 2017 Mnuchin said, “The president’s priority has been not cutting taxes for the high end.”
On September 27, Trump said, “The reform will protect low-income and middle-income households, not the wealthy and well-connected.”
On October 18th, Mnuchin said, “So when you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class.”
Asked if the tax package in aggregate would mean a middle-class tax cut Edward Kleinbard, a former chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation said, “That’s delusional or dishonest to say. It’s actually untrue.”
He added, “The only group you can point to that wins year after year and wins in very large magnitude is the very highest income.”
[Washington Post, 12/10/17]
A federal judge on Monday declined the US government’s request to put on hold an order allowing transgender individuals to join the military beginning in January. The decision means transgender people will be free to enlist in the New Year.
“In sum, having carefully considered all of the evidence before it, the Court is not persuaded that Defendants will be irreparably injured by allowing the accession of transgender individuals into the military beginning on January 1, 2018,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in her ruling.
The Pentagon said it was already following a court ruling last week and is “planning to prepare to access transgender persons,” as of January 1, US Army Maj. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman said in a written statement following the ruling.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Department of Justice is “reviewing the legal options”.
Peter Hart (WW’s favorite pollster) organized a focus group in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 15th on behalf of Emory University. I was able to watch the bulk of the 2 hour plus session on closed circuit cable. Rather than trying to capture the evening myself I am setting out below pieces from the Washington Post coverage authored by James Hohmann in an article published in the Post on November 16th.
Trump carried North Carolina by four points last year. With 15 electoral votes, the Tar Heel State was a hotly contested battleground and will be again in 2020. Barack Obama won here in 2008, and Mitt Romney picked it off in 2012.
The participants in the focus group included five independents, four Republicans and three Democrats
Annie Anthony, 56, voted for Trump last year because she opposes abortion and did not like how Hillary Clinton handled Benghazi. Now she fears that Trump is marching us toward war with North Korea. She describes the first 10 months of his presidency as “chaotic, stressful and an uphill battle. “ While I thought his ideas appealed to me, since he’s been in there he’s embarrassed me by his behavior.” [Anthony is a registered Republican]
When Hart asked for one word or phrase to describe Trump, the group initially erupted in laughter. Only two of 12 said something positive (“bold” and “fights back”). The others called him incompetent, a baffling fool, childlike, a loose cannon, an immature narcissist and ignorant.
Melissa Hight, a 62-year-old married retiree who has a postgraduate degree and voted for Trump, used the word “antagonistic” to describe him. “I had high hopes, but he just goes about things in a way that gets everybody’s back up against the wall,” she lamented. “He doesn’t facilitate working together. He comes out with these grandiose ideas, and there’s no follow through. It’s a lot of talk…He hasn’t acted presidential at all.”
Only one of the 12 participants emerged as an unapologetic defender of the president. Cynthia Layton, a 64-year-old nurse, said she loves Trump’s tweets. “I like him because he talks like my neighbor talks to me,” she explained. “I don’t need an elitist person talking down to me. The media does not give an honest opinion. That’s why I turned off cable 10 years ago. I read my sites. I listen to his tweets. … That’s how I hear from him. The media doesn’t tell you what’s going on, so you have to find out what’s going on on your own. … To me, I think his tweets are simply what he honestly feels because he uses white and black language and doesn’t give you all these flowery descriptions about everything. I appreciate that he’s direct and tells it like it is.
The economy and health care were the issues that everyone cared about most. Seven of the 12 participants said they think Trump is doing a good job on the economy; 10 said he’s not doing a good job at addressing racial tensions.
Asked to name their top concerns, no one mentioned Russian interference or the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who got reelected last year, is leading one of the inquiries into Moscow’s meddling as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The room remained quite downbeat about Clinton. Participants described her as annoying, crooked, a thief, outmatched, troubled, despicable and a sore loser.
Interestingly, Joe Biden received widespread praise as savvy, smart, nice and levelheaded.
The focus group really underscored the extent to which the deep unease that propelled Trump’s victory a year ago has only gotten worse. Asked for one word to describe the state of America today, the answers were chaotic, tornado, backward, troubled, disrupted, fearful, anxious and embarrassing. Only Layton used a positive word: “Improving.”
Michael Leimone, 41, cooks pizzas at a chain restaurant and backed Trump last year. Asked to describe how the presidency has gone, he used the words “whirlwind” and “vacant.” “He’s not been there when you needed him to be there,” he said. “After Charlottesville and (the hurricanes), he was out doing other stuff.”
Leimone — who is married, has kids at home and didn’t go to college — added later that he still thinks Trump is probably doing a better job than Clinton would have. “We kind of knew what we were getting with him,” he said. “He’s kind of a loose cannon — I don’t like that — but what we’ve had for years and years — not just Obama, but leading up to that — they weren’t getting the job done in terms of leading the country. So he’s still better than the alternative of a career politician.”
He said he remains optimistic. “I expected a lot out of him … but nobody can do it all,” Leimone said. “He has a harder road because everyone hates him, not just the Democrats. He still has a lot of time to prove himself.”
In a major announcement, the President has announced that he plans to block the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. [WPost, 11/20/17]