February 15, 2019

There's clearly a conservative legal case to be made against President Trump sidestepping the purse-strings-holding co-equal legislative branch by declaring a capricious national "emergency" to build a border wall that Congress won't fund. But there's also a conservative political case.

"Every one of you 'conservatives' gushing about the abuse of emergency powers owns it when a Democratic president declares a national emergency on Day 1," Republican strategist Rick Wilson tweeted Thursday, be it over "guns or abortion or climate or LGBT issues" or to build "the Dr. Atheist Von Clinton Celebrity Abortion Center and Vegan Advocacy Farm." At Politico, Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, took a specific contemporary example, arguing half-seriously that Trump's national emergency "is great news for future President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez," as it likely "just made a Green New Deal inevitable in 2021."

Of all Trump's "nutty ideas" he's hatched "to undermine the basic norms of our democratic institutions," his "plan to declare a national emergency is by far the absolute worst," Latimer writes. "Shame on any 'conservatives' who roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders, and let him take this path because they are sick of arguing with him. (You know who you are.)" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is already talking about gun violence being an emergency and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is talking about the national emergency of climate change, Latimer says, adding:

But maybe I'm missing something. Maybe Trump has a plan to stop all of this, too. Maybe we are only a couple of months away from Trump donning a scary robe, declaring another "emergency" and postponing the 2020 elections. If Emperor Palpatine can do something like that, why can't he? Is there anyone with the courage to stop him? We will find that out very shortly. And I'm not sure we are going to like the answer. [Matt Latimer, Politico]

Read the entire essay at Politico. Peter Weber

February 3, 2019

A new CBS poll found 63 percent of Americans do not approve of the way he is handling racial issues, Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan told President Trump in an interview airing Sunday — but Trump did not let that little detail impair his glowing assessment of his own performance on this point.

"What has happened is very interesting," he replied. "The economy is so good right now. ... [And] I think I've been given a lot of credit for that. And in terms of race, a lot of people are saying, 'Well, this is something very special, what's happening,'" Trump continued. "And I think [African Americans] like me a lot, and I like them a lot."

Brennan also pressed Trump on professional athletes' protests of police brutality and racial injustice, demonstrations he has vehemently denounced. Where in the past he has said athletes "should not be allowed" to protest by taking a knee during the national anthem, Trump now claimed some sympathy for their cause and objection only to their methods.

A "lot of people in the NFL have been calling and thanking" him, Trump said, for signing the bipartisan First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill Trump described to Brennan as a complete and permanent solution to institutional problems in the U.S. justice system. "President Obama tried. They all tried. Everybody wanted to do it. And I got it done," he said.

First Step only applies to the federal prison system, which means about nine in 10 of America's 2.1 million inmates won't be affected, and it was considered by criminal justice reform advocates to be an important but ultimately limited measure.

Read Trump's full interview here, or watch it on CBS in two portions airing at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Eastern. Bonnie Kristian

January 28, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) Skyped into the Sundance Film Festival this weekend for the premiere of Knock Down the House, a documentary on the 2018 campaigns of four Democratic candidates for Congress, of whom Ocasio-Cortez was the only one to win election.

In addition to weighing in on the film itself, Ocasio-Cortez warned against accepting common assumptions about candidate viability. "One of the things that all four of us faced in our run was this idea that we had to combat very early on that a lot of other candidates don't have to combat ... is this idea of viability," she said. "From day one, people did not give us the chance that they sometimes give to other candidates on day one, and a lot of that has to do with our preconceived notions of who looks like a person that can win a congressional race or where that person comes from."

She also urged a long-term perspective on political change which avoids myopic attention to current battles and players. "This is not just about the president of the United States," Ocasio-Cortez argued. "He could be gone tomorrow and that [would] not change the systemic injustices that led to his election."
Bonnie Kristian

January 28, 2019

On Friday morning, after being released from jail on $250,000 bail, Roger Stone insisted that despite being indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury on seven counts related to Russia's interference to elect President Trump, he would not testify or "bear false witness against the president." But "Trump is very worried," a longtime Trump confidante told Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman, with another Republican close to Trump adding: "I could see Roger flipping pretty quickly." On Sunday's ABC News This Week, Stone was a little ambiguous on that point.

Stone told This Week he hasn't done anything wrong, but "if there's wrongdoing by other people in the campaign that I know about — which I know of none — but if there is, I would certainly testify honestly." He'd "also testify honestly about any other matter, including any communications with the president," he said, characterizing their phone conversations as "political in nature, they're benign, and there is certainly no conspiracy with Russia." Stone, 66, did not rule out cooperating with Mueller, though, saying "I don't want to address that question, but I have made it clear I will not testify against the president, because I would have to bear false witness against him."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif), a former prosecutor who was on This Week after Stone, said the indictment had "specific allegations of lies and witness intimidation" that could "easily be provable." Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) agreed that it's a "pretty damning indictment" and said Stone's defense is pretty typical of "every white-collar defendant in this circumstance."

Most white-collar defendants aren't longtime friends with the president, who has unlimited pardon powers for federal crimes. But old friendships — Trump and Stone first met in 1979 — are complicated. "Stone and Trump are like an old married couple," the Republican close to Trump told Sherman. "Stone knows Donald isn't loyal. He calls him 'Mr. Ingratitude.'" Peter Weber

January 28, 2019

President Trump is not optimistic Congress will deliver him a spending bill he would sign before part of the government runs out of money again in less than three weeks, he told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, and he said another shutdown "is certainly an option," as is an emergency declaration to build his border wall without approval from Congress.

A solid majority of voters blamed Trump for the 35-day shutdown, but he got some blowback from his hardline immigration backers for agreed to reopen the government without wall funding. Ann Coulter, for example, called him "the biggest wimp" to serve as president and called herself a "very stupid girl" for ever believing him. "I hear she's become very hostile," Trump said of Coulter. "Maybe I didn't return her phone call or something." Other backers, including Fox News host Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, are sticking with Trump and calling his government-reopening a sort of victory. "Trump can withstand Ann Coulter," a Republican senator told Axios last week. "He can't lose Hannity and the rest." Peter Weber

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

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