×
September 14, 2018

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined Instagram, and his new nickname for the State Department raised some eyebrows. "You know, between the Space Force and the Department of Swagger, this Trump administration has really given us an exciting look into what the government could be if it were run by a wealthy 12-year-old," Jimmy Kimmel said on Thursday's Kimmel Live. He paired the "Department of Swagger" idea with a specially created State Department new-employee orientation video designed to "fit in with the hip new attitude," and, well, maybe this all would have gone better with input from actual 12-year-olds. Watch below. Peter Weber

6:42 a.m.

President Trump said on camera he would proudly shut down the government to get his border wall, he did shut it down, and a majority of Americans blame him for the longest shutdown in U.S. history. But Trump is convinced he has the leverage, The Washington Post reports, and as often is the case with Trump, it's leverage of his own making.

Trump "creates — or threatens to create — a calamity, and then insists he will address the problem only if his adversary capitulates to a separate demand," the Post says, counting at least eight times he has used this technique in office, with mixed success. "Trump has described this approach as creating leverage and negotiating, but Democrats and other opponents have said it amounts to 'hostage taking.'" On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) compared it to "bartering with stolen goods." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) explained why Trump's hardball tactic won't bring Democrats to the table:

Using self-generated leverage — in this case, 800,000 unpaid federal employees and a million immigrants whose protections he's moved to strip — to force concessions "is a well-worn tactic from Trump's business career, but this is the first time the livelihoods of so many U.S. workers and households have hung in the balance," the Post says, and the first time he's used it with Congress. Democrats are standing firm in part because they don't want him to use it again with must-pass funding bills and the debt ceiling.

Ironically, Peter Baker says at The New York Times, "among the hostages has been his own presidency," because "his single-minded pursuit of a border wall" has frozen the rest of his agenda. Peter Weber

5:08 a.m.

On Monday, Gizmodo reported that President Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts have in recent months featured several photos of him that were digitally manipulated to make him look thinner, less wrinkled, fuller-haired, "and in one of the strangest alterations, Trump's fingers have been made slightly longer. Seriously."

"Well, it's nice to know that even during the shutdown, we've still got a functioning Department of Homeland Insecurity," Stephen Colbert joked on Tuesday's Late Show. He showed Trump's slimmed waist line and then his elongated finger. "You know what they say about a man with long photoshopped fingers," he said, eschewing subtlety: "Sad little ding-dong." Also, Colbert added, "Photoshop has its limits. We see him in real life. What's he going to do, give the State of the Union in Hulk hands?" (Subtle changes are "the point of using an app like Facetune," Gizmodo notes. "The goal is to make sure that no one notices. Everyone knows what President Trump looks like, so drastic alterations are going to be obvious immediately.")

Still, "if they're trying to make Trump more appealing, I say they just go farther," Colbert said, and his demonstration was the deepest cut of all.

The Late Show also teed off Rudy Giuliani's New Yorker interview to come up with some rough drafts for his tombstone epitaph. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:55 a.m.

The 32-day-old government shutdown is leaving marks, and not just on the 800,000 federal employees about to miss their second paycheck.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration sent out a letter requesting at least 250 TSA agents in 10 states to move to airports hit hard by employees calling in sick, CNN reports, travel and hotels paid for by Uncle Sam (eventually). So many USDA meat inspectors are calling in sick that the department briefly ordered them to bring doctor's notes for every sick day, and federal prisons are making secretaries and janitors patrol the halls and yards, The Washington Post reports. On Tuesday, the FBI Agents Association issued a report detailing shutdown-induced paralysis at the nation's top law enforcement agency.

Also on Tuesday, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz posted a video slamming the shutdown without directly assigning blame. "We're five plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," he told Coast Guard members, who work for the unfunded Department of Homeland Security. "You as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden," and while the "outpouring of support from local communities across the nation" has been heartening, "ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members."

Schultz says this is the first time U.S. service members have not been paid during a shutdown, and he's telling Capitol Hill how unacceptable that is. The House has passed several bills to re-open the government and the Senate will consider two rival bills on Thursday. Peter Weber

3:05 a.m.

Last week, the White House budget office took the extraordinary step of classifying Internal Revenue Service employees who process tax refunds as "essential" and recalling at least 30,000 to return to work without pay. But hundreds of those un-furloughed workers are staying home, requesting and receiving "hardship" exemptions that, under their union contract, allow them to skip work during a shutdown if they can't afford to work for free, The Washington Post reports.

"Trump has expressed an interest in making sure that tax refunds are paid out next month, believing that if they are delayed he could face major public backlash," the Post reports. But IRS workers who help process refunds and answer taxpayer questions are among the lowest-paid at the agency. "They are definitely angry that they're not getting paid, and maybe some of them are angry enough to express their anger this way," said Tony Reardon, president of the 150,000-member National Treasury Employees Union. "But these employees live paycheck to paycheck, and they can't scrape up the dollars to get to work or pay for child care."

If the number of IRS workers staying home rises, as union officials say they expect it will, refunds will likely be delayed. The IRS won't say how many workers are out on hardship leave, and IRS spokesman Matt Leas tells the Post that the agency is busy preparing for next week's start of tax filing season, "we are continuing our recall operations, and we continue to assess the situation at this time." You can read about some of the hardships at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

1:51 a.m.

President Trump might soon restrict Rudy Giuliani's television privileges, but that's likely as far as his punishment will go for a problematic media tour.

On Sunday, Giuliani announced on Meet the Press that discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow project continued until October or November 2016, meaning that Trump was dealing with Russians throughout the entire campaign, contradicting Trump. Giuliani tried to do damage control on Monday, saying his comments were "hypothetical," but then he dug himself a deeper hole by telling The New Yorker he listened to tapes of Trump and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. When pressed, he backtracked. "I shouldn't have said tapes," Giuliani replied. "No tapes. Well, I have listened to tapes, but none of them concern this."

This left Trump and some of his allies completely agitated, three White House officials told The Associated Press, and Trump is being encouraged to put Giuliani on a TV timeout. His antics have overshadowed what Trump saw as good news: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office saying portions of a BuzzFeed News article about Trump directing Cohen to lie are not accurate. Giuliani "changed the headlines," but not in a good way, AP notes.

A White House aide told Politico that "handling Rudy's f--kups takes more than one man," but people close to Trump tell CNN and AP that Trump doesn't plan on giving Giuliani the ax. Still, Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reports, Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are both urging him to cut ties.

The big question isn't whether Trump will fire Giuliani, but rather, what's behind all the mixed messages? Some theorize that Giuliani likes to drop bombs right before major stories break, but friends of Giuliani say it's simple: He loves being in the spotlight, even if he's struggling to adapt to the current media landscape. As one buddy told Sherman: "There's a school of thought that it's better to be famous and ridiculed than ignored." Catherine Garcia

1:50 a.m.

President Trump may get easily bored by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, but he apparently never tires of space travel. NASA is currently shuttered in the 32-day-old government shutdown, but in April 2017, Trump was willing to give the space agency unlimited funding if it spent the money getting astronauts to Mars while he was still in office, according to former Trump aide Cliff Sims' new memoir, Team of Vipers.

Anyone who watched Trump's public April 24 video chat with astronauts on the International Space Station heard him say he wanted to speed up the manned mission to Mars by a decade, New York's Olivia Nuzzi notes. And according Sims, Trump was dead serious. About three minutes before the video chat, Trump abruptly asked acting NASA chief Robert Lightfoot Jr. about the plan for Mars, Nuzzi recaps:

Lightfoot explained to the president — who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars — that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight. "Trump bristled," according to Sims. He asked, "But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?" Sims described the uncomfortable exchange that followed the question, with Lightfoot shifting and placing his hand on his chin, hesitating politely and attempting to let Trump down easily. ...

"But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?" Trump asked. "What if we sent NASA's budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you're doing now. Could it work then?" Lightfoot told him he was sorry, but he didn't think it was possible. This left Trump "visibly disappointed," Sims wrote. [New York]

With about 30 seconds until chat time, Trump took a detour to "his white-marbled bathroom for one final check in the mirror," Sims writes. "In the bathroom mirror, Trump smirked and said to himself, 'Space Station, this is your president.'" Read more at New York. Peter Weber

12:50 a.m.

Tuesday was Day 32 of the government shutdown, and Stephen Colbert is prepping to live without a government. "I'm licking raw chicken to build up an immunity, and I'm practicing to be my own TSA," he joked on Tuesday's Late Show. "I'm hiding something somewhere, and I'm gonna find it." There is some hope for a temporary end to the shutdown, Colbert noted, but there was also "some bad news from the Supreme Court," which revived President Trump's ban on transgender military service. "That was like 15 bigoted policies ago," he said, and since it was a 5-4 party-line vote, Colbert threw in a Brett Kavanaugh joke.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani "stepped in it" on Sunday by saying Trump's Moscow Trump Tower deal was under negotiation until right before the 2016 election, but he "tried to call backsies" in a "weird" and "rambling" interview with The New Yorker on Monday night, Colbert said. Giuliani appeared to disclose Trump-Russia tapes and conversations he later said he shouldn't have mentioned, contradicted himself repeatedly, and mused about lying for Trump being on his tombstone and how he would convince St. Peter he was honest. "You know things are going great when your lawyer is already prepping his argument to stay out of hell," Colbert said.

Cliff Sims, a former Trump staffer with a new tell-all out, will be on The Late Show next week, Colbert said, and he ran through some of the newly released revelations, like Trump's reliance on budget-brand hairspray ("Now we know where Trump gets most of his best ideas from — the fumes," Colbert joked) and Trump walking out on a droning Paul Ryan to turn on the TV in a room down the hall. In Colbert's imagination, the TV wasn't tuned to Fox News.

On The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon put on his Trump outfit and imagined what other things are going through Trump's head these days. Watch below. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads