Sunday Evening Long Read: “‘In the White House waiting’”

Too long for Donny Dollhands to read, but presumably he’s gotten Ivanka or Jared to give him the highlowlights.

The president who pitched himself to voters as a world-class dealmaker has proven to be an unreliable negotiator. Grappling for the first time with a divided government, Trump has contradicted himself, sent miscues and spread falsehoods. He has zigzagged between proudly claiming ownership of the shutdown and blaming it on Democrats, and between nearly declaring a national emergency to construct the wall without congressional approval and backing off such a legally and politically perilous action…

The government could reopen if Trump agreed to sign legislation funding the government, versions of which already have passed both chambers of Congress, and table the polarizing debate over border security.

In the weeks leading up to December’s deadline to fund the government, Trump was warned repeatedly about the dangers of a shutdown but still opted to proceed, according to officials with knowledge of the conversations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the president that he had no leverage and that, without a clear strategy, he would be “boxed in a canyon.” He tried to make the case to Trump that even if Pelosi and Schumer were interested in cutting a deal with him, they would be constrained from compromising because of internal Democratic Party pressures to oppose Trump’s wall, these officials said.

Then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) talked with Trump by phone for 45 minutes the day before the shutdown, warning that he saw no way to win as he paced in a Capitol hallway just outside a conference room where House Republicans were meeting. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned about the perils of a shutdown during the Christmas season.

Inside, some of the more hard-line members urged a showdown over border wall funding, arguing that Trump’s core supporters would revolt otherwise. But McCarthy asked, “Tell me what happens when we get into a shutdown? I want to know what our next move is.”…

Trump’s advisers are scrambling to build an exit ramp while also bracing for the shutdown to last weeks longer. Current and former aides said there is little strategy in the White House; people are frustrated and, in the words of one, “freaking out.”

The shutdown was born out of frustration. Angry that he was stymied by party leaders and his own aides from getting more money for the wall in 2018, rattled by conservative criticism and stung by his party’s midterm defeats, Trump decided in late December to plunge into a border fight after being encouraged by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both hard-line conservatives. It was a startling decision to McConnell and others, who thought they had White House assurances that a shutdown would be avoided.

“He has no choice here,” said Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter who was House speaker in the Clinton administration and during the second-longest shutdown, an episode widely viewed as a disaster for Republicans. “He has to win. His entire reputation, his entire relationship with the base, it’s all a function of being committed on big things and not backing down. If he backs down on this, Pelosi will be so emboldened that the next two years will be a nightmare.”…

As another Post article helpfully reminds us, the last time Gingrich promoted a shutdown, it didn’t work out so well for him — or his GOP co-conspirators!

Which makes it all the more interesting that it sounds like McConnell just might be looking for an exit ramp now. McConnell’s only loyalty is to himself and his leadership position, so if he’s playing the ‘I tried, but whatcha gonna do?’ card, he’s decided Trump is more of a liability than a benefit.

Friday Morning Open Thread: Good Reads

(Signe Wilkinson via

Since there’s not much point in talking about yesterday’s MAH WALL I WAAAAHNNIT!!!(tm) Trumpstunting — even Chris ‘Mad Bitcher’ Cillizza panned the performance — figured I’d share a couple of my favorite online political essayists, while we’re waiting for the Friday news dump.

Tom Scocca is currently the editor of Hmm Daily, and producer of a series of brilliant rants under the subtitle “The Worst Thing We Read Yesterday™”. Sample from January 9th, “The Fact-Checkers Are Tools”:

Apparently, the Washington bureau of the New York Times doesn’t know many people who use federal government assistance in their daily lives. Less fraught with class conflict, but still fundamental to its understanding of the entire subject it covers, the Times bureau also seems not to know how much federal spending goes to outside contractors, who use that money to pay their own employees…

If the Times needs more information on the many things the federal government does, and on the millions of people who depend on the government doing them, CBS put together a nice brief roundup of shutdown effects in advance of the speech. It’s never too late to learn!

But it is too late to redeem the whole fact-checking project. The Associated Press made its own contribution, with a tweet fact-checking the notion that the shutdown is Trump’s fault:

AP FACT CHECK: Democrats put the blame for the shutdown on Trump. But it takes two to tango. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his border wall is one reason for the budget impasse. The Democrats refusal to approve the money is another.

It was a tremendously stupid argument—the president’s extraordinary demand for a wall and the Democrats’ response to the demand aren’t two opposing reasons, they’re the same reason, which originated with the president—but it was also not a fact-check at all. It was what conventional politics reporting would call a piece of news analysis: Who is to blame for the shutdown? Only it had been reduced to a true-false question, or a true/some-might-say-not-necessarily-true question…

Also a reliable source of solace, for us cynics, is Bess Levin’s daily business report for Vanity Fair. Thursday, “Become a Dog Walker, Sell Your Stuff: Helpful Government Offers Furloughed Workers Shutdown Advice”:

At midnight on Thursday, the government shutdown will reach its 20th day; if it continues through Saturday, it’ll be the longest in history. At present, the White House and Congress are not even close to cutting a deal, with Donald Trump rejecting every offer proposed to him, including one from Republican Lindsey Graham who told reporters Thursday, “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don’t see a pathway forward.” Happily for Graham, he’s still being paid during the shutdown, while some 800,000 federal employees have either been furloughed or forced to work without pay. For many who live paycheck to paycheck, the prospect of not being able to put food on the table, access crucial medicine, or pay their mortgage or rent, is a very real concern. Luckily, the government has advice!…

… Just knock on doors and ask if anyone has spare dogs or kids lying around, or churn out some scarves for Etsy, and you’ll be back in the black in no time! While we would never suggest that the above is largely unhelpful, tone-deaf advice, a furloughed Forest Service crew member told The New Yorker, “No one wants to hire me because they know once the shutdown is over I’ll have to quit,” adding that temp agencies are “overflowed” with people in the same position. Meanwhile, and apparently this may come as a shock to the government, the employees who are being forced to work without pay—2,100 at the Coast Guard—don’t have time for second jobs… Elsewhere, workers are told that “yes, your credit score may suffer during this time” if you miss payments, but to “keep things in perspective.”…

Also, on the “saddening news” that Lord Smallgloves is “respectfully cancelling [his] very important trip to Davos”

Presumably, this announcement came after the report that the administration was still planning to send a large delegation to the annual billionaire confab at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers—money that will still be spent even if the president stays home, owing to “Davos’s tight cancellation policies around the conference.”…

Open Thread: The Political Horse-Race Touts Are Warming Up to Warren

For better or worse. At least she’s out there!

Warren showed her early strength again on Tuesday by signing up four experienced Iowa operatives to her campaign team. It’s an impressive haul. Especially notable is the range of experience they have. She added one staffer from Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign, two from Hillary Clinton’s, and one from Barack Obama’s 2008 run. That’s the sign of a candidate attempting to run a coalition-style campaign — the kind that has captured every Democratic nomination since 1984…

Of course, Warren won’t be the only candidate who will attempt to build a broad coalition. And it obviously takes a lot more than four good hires to do that anyway. It’s also true that Donald Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 with a factional campaign that received very little support, and plenty of hostility, from party actors. Still, this is a path that winners have taken.

Beyond that, this kind of news is important for two reasons. One is that the specific skills these folks possess are scarce resources within each party, and those candidates who fail to secure enough of them are at a real disadvantage in the campaign — perhaps enough to drop out entirely before the Iowa caucuses. Another reason is that when campaign professionals side with a particular candidate, it’s a signal to other party actors that they should take that person seriously. As parties compete and coordinate over presidential nominations, we tend to focus on high-profile endorsements and fund-raising from party sources to determine a candidate’s chances. But it’s very likely that decisions such as these matter just as much…

John Cassidy, in the New Yorker, “Don’t Underestimate Elizabeth Warren and Her Populist Message”:

The rap on Warren is that she missed her best chance in 2016, allowing Bernie Sanders to seize the mantle of populist tribune, and blundered last fall by rekindling the controversy over her ancestry. These are backward-looking critiques, the force of which is yet to be determined. What we know for sure is that, with at least a dozen Democrats thinking seriously about entering the primary, it will take someone resolute, resilient, and well organized to prevail. The successful candidate will need a message that distinguishes her or his campaign from the pack and resonates with Democratic voters. Since the prize is a head-to-head contest with Donald Trump, the winner will have to be someone who doesn’t shy away from confrontation.

On all of these grounds, an argument can be made for Warren, who has been in the Senate since 2012. Ever since Trump launched his 2016 Presidential bid, she has been mocking him. “Let’s be honest—Donald Trump is a loser,” she wrote in March, 2016. “Count all his failed businesses. See how he kept his father’s empire afloat by cheating people with scams like Trump University and by using strategic corporate bankruptcy (excuse me, bankruptcies) to skip out on debt.” At other points, Warren called Trump a “small, insecure money-grubber” a “loud, nasty, thin-skinned fraud,” and “a large orange elephant.”

Trump isn’t the only powerful man that Warren has taken to task. At a 2016 hearing of the Banking Committee, on which she sits, she told the chief executive of the scandal-plagued Wells Fargo that he should resign immediately and “give back the money you took while the scam was going on.” Before the February, 2017, confirmation vote for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Republicans used an obscure Senate rule to silence Warren as she tried to read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, in which the civil-rights leader opposed Sessions’s nomination to a federal judgeship. “She was warned,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, said subsequently. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”…
Read more

Friday Morning Open Thread: “It Begins Now”

Besides Tlaib, Illan Omar, a Somali immigrant from Minnesota, also was sworn in, resplendent in a white-and-gold hijab. A few rows in front of Omar in the House chamber was Deb Haaland of New Mexico, dressed in turquoise jewelry and traditional Pueblo Native costume. Along with Sharice Davids of Kansas, Haaland is one of the first two Native American women to be elected to the Congress. After the morning’s business was concluded, the two women enfolded each other, weeping, in a long embrace, Haaland using David’s scarf to wipe away her tears.

All of these new members of the House, it needn’t be said, were members of the Democratic Party. So was virtually every person of color in the chamber. On the other side of the hall was a largely monochromatic new Republican minority that channelled its foul mood through the person of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, child of the Undead, who spit up a bitter, Trumpian nominating speech on behalf of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s candidacy for the speakership. She even went to “build that wall,” which got her a hoot and a holler from her fellow Republicans, but which was drowned out by the sound of happy children and grandchildren from the other side of the aisle. It was as though someone had grafted a Chuck E. Cheese onto a funeral parlor.

Nancy Pelosi, because she is smarter than everyone in the House, and much smarter than anyone in the White House, god knows, was re-elected easily to be the new Speaker, although the balloting was not devoid of hilarity. Pelosi and McCarthy were the only two announced candidates, but votes also were cast for Reps. Jim Jordan, Cheri Bustos, and Marcia Fudge, as well as for Senator Tammy Duckworth, defeated Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Conor Lamb, the rookie from Pennsylvania, voted for Rep. Joe Kennedy, who got a good laugh out of it, and Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, voted for Rep. John Lewis, who looked rather frosty about it. Two Democratic House members voted “Present.” And Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey haplessly voted, “No,” which was not on the menu. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, both of whom made noises months ago about challenging Pelosi, both voted for her. And, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted for Pelosi, there was some kind of organized whoo-hoo from the Republican side. She simply makes them completely crazy.

The most touching moment of the balloting came when Lucy McBath of Georgia dedicated her vote for Pelosi to her late son, Jordan, murdered for the offense of playing his music too loudly for the white guy in the next car. McBath threw herself into the fight for sensible gun laws, and that culminated in her election in November. This was quite a moment, as was the embrace between Davids and Haaland. It took 240 years for people like the two of them to represent their fellow citizens in a government that did so much bloody damage to their people…

It is a different place now, this House of Representatives. There is something of the future in it, and god alone knows where it will lead, but the work, the real work, begins now.

Open Thread: Elizabeth Warren Is Not Here for the DC Press Corpse’s Weak Sauce

Got an email from my senior & favorite Senator this morning:

When Elizabeth first decided to run for the Senate in 2012, she ran against a Republican senator who had a 65% approval rating, $10 million in the bank, and a cool pick-up truck…in a state that had never in its history elected a woman senator or governor.

So we’re used to the tired, beard-stroking opinion pieces masquerading as smart political analysis.

We’re used to being compared to any woman who’s ever lost an election, and we’re used to the anonymous, angsty quotes from “concerned” insiders, and the she-can-never-win garbage churned out by the Republican propaganda machine and recycled by the media.

And you know what? We’re also used to proving them all wrong. Because here’s the truth: we outraised, outworked, and beat – by eight points – that Republican senator nobody said we could defeat…

If you get frustrated when commentators spend more time covering Elizabeth or any woman’s “likability” than her plans for huge, systemic change to make this country work for all of us, do something productive about it:

Chip in $5 right now to becoming a founding member of our Elizabeth Warren 🧐 Fund. (We’re calling it the “You Know it When You See It” Fund because, well, you know why.)…

Open Thread: *[Crickets]*

Remember the Great Bulk-Shipped Crickets Escape? We’re not the only Extremely On-Line People who appreciated it, per author Christopher Ingraham, reporting for the Washington Post:

For Christmas this year, my family adopted a young bearded dragon lizard as a pet.

Our dragon, whom we named Holly, eats a lot, and the thing she loves to eat most is crickets (typically about 10 a day, in addition to other things like mealworms and vegetables). From the get-go, I knew that keeping an ample supply of crickets on hand would require some planning. We live in a rural area of northwestern Minnesota. The closest pet shop is an hour away, in North Dakota. Restocking our cricket supply would require a time commitment of at least two hours out and back.

By Christmas Day this year, Holly’s cricket supply was running low. I decided to order crickets online, which I had never done before, to save a trip to North Dakota. I bought the crickets from Fluker Farms, one of the more well-established online insect vendors (yes, these exist and there are a lot of them). I decided on a shipment of 250 crickets, which seemed like a reasonable amount for a lizard who is theoretically capable of gobbling up to 50 of them every day…

The package arrived Friday. I anxiously met the FedEx delivery man at the door. He appeared to be relieved to unburden himself of the six-inch-square box emblazoned with the words “Live Insects” and decorated with life-size cricket silhouettes. We exchanged no words. If you’re a FedEx driver, you probably try to avoid conversations with the types of people who order boxes full of insects from the Internet…

Writer Nicole Cliffe took it to a whole new level. For once, it is safe to read the comments, as long as you don’t have anything in your mouth:

One Good Thing Open Thread: Paul Ryan Is *Finally* Going Away

Not permanently, I’m sure; like herpes, Repubs of Ryan’s stamp are prone to reappear whenever our political system’s immune system is stressed. But at least his “I Am the Most Earnestly Concerned Policy Wonk” stand-up routine should be limited to the talk shows instead of the news broadcasts for a few blessed months.

Anti-encomium (anticomium?) from the Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver’s premier pig-bladderer, Mr. Charles P. Pierce:

Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, has spent this week bidding farewell to Our Nation’s Capital, and taking both his prodigious ego, and parading the tattered remnants of his utterly undeserved reputation down the boulevards of Washington. To complete the metaphor, somebody should have walked behind him with the shovel and a bucket. Ever the charlatan’s charlatan, and in keeping with the spirit of the season, his prolonged valedictory was as full of shit as the Christmas goose.

It began on Tuesday, when we all paid for a six-part miniseries on the electric Twitter machine chronicling Ryan’s rise from his poor but humble origins as the scion of a family that got rich on government construction contracts, to his hardscrabble years when we all paid for his needs through the Social Security survivor’s benefits he received (you’re welcome again, bumblefck), to his career in politics…

The Twitter epic was bad enough but then, on Wednesday, he favored us with a Farewell Address that, quite honestly, if you spread it on the Gobi Desert, you’d have a cash crop of anything you planted within a year.

(Before going on, can we ask, please, who in the fck did he think cared about what he said in his long goodbye? Democratic politicians never had much use for him. The scales seem to have dropped from the eyes of his misbegotten acolytes in the elite political press; make no mistake, Ryan’s rise to eminence represents yet another monumental failure on their part. And the Republican power base in the House wanted him replaced by Jim Jordan, for pity’s sake.)…

He had one major policy goal and, thank Baal, he only achieved half of it. He did manage to shove so much of the nation’s wealth so far upwards that it now endangers the crew of the International Space Station. However, he failed to throw seniors into the loving arms of his donors in the financial-services industry, and he also failed to turn their health-care over the his donors in the insurance industry. Poor Paul. He was so sad about this…

Wait — did someone say ‘going away’? Nah, I’m sure this is just one more example of Ryan’s and his fellow GOP “leaders” looking the other way while a hostile government infiltrated America…