May 13, 2018 --
This week had the denigration of John McCain … John Kelly on immigrants … Mitch McConnell as China person … Mike Pence on religion as cult. Trump-ets as humanitarians!
See how columnists explain the details.
Editorial Board, NYT: Where’s That Better Deal, Mr. Trump?
By reneging on the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump has said, he will be able to get an even better deal, one that will also control Iran’s ballistic missiles and its regional influence.
Sound familiar? It should. This is the same kind of gesture toward a better, smarter deal that Mr. Trump made when he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, the same sort of empty promise he made in saying he would supply plans for Middle East peace and better, cheaper, more accessible health care. So far, again and again, he has shown himself to be adept at destroying agreements — a relatively easy task for a president — and utterly lacking in the policy depth or strategic vision and patience to create new ones.
When it comes to the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, there is no sign Iran or any of the other major powers in the existing and so far successful pact will simply fall in line with Mr. Trump’s notional new plan. More likely, his decision, announced on Tuesday, will allow Iran to resume a robust nuclear program, sour relations with close European allies, erode America’s credibility, lay conditions for a possible wider war in the Middle East and make it harder to reach a sound agreement with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.
In other words, par for the course. This man who, apparently because of one book and a reality television show, has a reputation as a deal maker despite a skein of bankruptcies and lawsuits, has been piling up quite a record of scuttled agreements that he suggests “never, ever should have been made” and broken promises for a “better deal.”
Consider the Paris agreement, approved by President Barack Obama in 2016. Mr. Trump labeled it a “con job” that is unfair to the United States, and in June he declared his intention to withdraw from it. Mr. Trump suggested he was open to renegotiating this voluntary agreement but has done nothing about it. Meanwhile his administration is chipping away at environmental protections through deregulation even as the nearly 200 countries that signed the deal remain committed to it.
Or take DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also established by Mr. Obama. It provides temporary work permits and reprieves from deportation for about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Mr. Trump ended it but said he was open to fixing it. But he hasn’t, ordering instead a crackdown by federal immigration agents that has torn countless families apart and left millions of other undocumented people in limbo.
Similarly, the southern border wall, the centerpiece of his presidential campaign that was supposed to be paid for by Mexico, is more mirage than reality — and whatever parts are being built are being paid for by America.
He promised a better deal on health care, with cheaper costs and universal coverage. He never proposed one. Instead, after Congress failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he attacked it administratively, increasing the number of people without insurance and raising premiums.
One of his first moves in office was to withdraw from the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he had called “a rape of our country.” Last month he raised the possibility of rejoining it but then stepped back again.
Then there is Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the United States, Mexico and Canada have been unable to agree on amending after months of negotiations.
As for China, which Mr. Trump promised to browbeat into offering trade concessions, recent negotiations ended with few signs of progress toward avoiding a trade war.
The one agreement on which he forced new negotiations and seems to have scored modest success is the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea. Even so, the president has suggested he might delay finalizing the pact because it gives him a card to play, presumably with Seoul, while negotiating with North Korea over its nuclear program.
Mr. Trump often seems to be consumed with overturning the legacies of his predecessor, but few of the agreements so stoked his disdain as the Iran nuclear deal, Mr. Obama’s signature diplomatic achievement. Signed in 2015 by five major powers as well as the United States and Iran, it committed Iran to significantly curtailing its nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions.
International inspectors along with American and Israeli intelligence and security officials have repeatedly judged that Iran is abiding by its obligations. That doesn’t matter to Mr. Trump, allied with the anti-Iran hard-liners in his administration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who all seem to believe their problems with Iran can best be solved by driving out the regime through economic crisis or military action.
Ahead of his decision on Tuesday to impose the “highest level of economic sanctions” on foreign countries doing business in Iran, Mr. Trump put the onus on France, Germany and Britain to address what he considered “flaws” in the accord. For months the Europeans argued this could be done in a side agreement, while keeping the nuclear deal intact, but the effort ultimately collapsed because of Mr. Trump’s insistence on reopening the accord itself. It’s doubtful that Mr. Trump was ever serious about finding a compromise. The Europeans and Iranians, who say they will continue adhering to the deal, hope to manage the fallout, but despite his assurance that he is “ready, willing and able” to negotiate a new agreement, Mr. Trump has no obvious plan B, except ratcheting up the pressure on Iran.
It seems an oddly dissonant and counterproductive message as Mr. Trump has shifted from warmongering to diplomacy on North Korea and prepares to meet its leader, Kim Jong-un, to get him to abandon his nuclear program, with an arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons.
And why should the North Koreans now believe the Americans, over the long haul, will honor a deal any president strikes?
While the stakes with Iran are high, with North Korea they are even higher. Will that be another deal too far for Mr. Trump?
Paul Krugman, NYT: Let Them Eat Trump Steaks
In general, Donald Trump is notoriously uninterested in policy details. It has long been obvious, for example, that he never bothered to find out what his one major legislative victory, the 2017 tax cut, actually did. Similarly, it’s pretty clear that he had no idea what was actually in the Iran agreement he just repudiated.
In each case, it was about ego rather than substance: scoring a “win,” undoing his predecessor’s achievement.
But there are some policy issues he really does care about. By all accounts, he really hates the idea of people receiving “welfare,” by which he means any government program that helps people with low income, and he wants to eliminate such programs wherever possible.
Most recently, he has reportedly threatened to veto the upcoming farm bill unless it imposes stringent new work requirements on recipients of SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly referred to as food stamps.
Let me be upfront here: There’s something fundamentally obscene about this spectacle. Here we have a man who inherited great wealth, then built a business career largely around duping the gullible — whether they were naïve investors in his business ventures left holding the bag when those ventures went bankrupt, or students who wasted time and money on worthless degrees from Trump University. Yet he’s determined to snatch food from the mouths of the truly desperate, because he’s sure that somehow or other they’re getting away with something, having it too easy.
But however petty Trump’s motives, this is a big deal from the other side. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that new work requirements plus other restrictions proposed by House Republicans would end up denying or reducing nutritional aid to around two million people, mostly in families with children.
Why would anyone want to do that? The thing is, it’s not just Trump: Conservative hatred for food stamps is pervasive. What’s behind it?
The more respectable, supposedly intellectual side of conservative opinion portrays food stamps as reducing incentives by making life too pleasant for the poor. As Paul Ryan put it, SNAP and other programs create a “hammock” that “lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”
But this is a problem that exists only in the right’s imagination. Able-bodied SNAP recipients who should be working but aren’t are very hard to find: A vast majority of the program’s beneficiaries either are working — but at unstable jobs that pay low wages — or are children, elderly, disabled or essential family caregivers.
Oh, and there’s strong evidence that children in low-income families that receive food stamps become more productive and healthier adults, which means that the program is actually good for long-run economic growth.
Is it about the money? The enactment of the budget-busting 2017 tax cut proved once and for all, for anyone who had doubts, that Republicans don’t actually care about deficits.
But even if they did care about deficits, the C.B.O. estimates that the proposed cuts to food stamps would save less than one percent, that’s right, one percent, of the revenue lost due to that tax cut. In fact, over the next decade the entire SNAP program, which helps 40 million Americans, will cost only about a third as much as the tax cut. No, it’s not about the money.
What about racism? Historically, attacks on food stamps have often involved a barely disguised racial element — for example, when Ronald Reagan imagined a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks. And I suspect that Trump himself still thinks of food stamps as a program for urban black people.
But while many urban blacks do get food stamps, so do many rural whites. Nationally, significantly more whites than blacks receive food stamps, and participation in SNAP is higher in rural than in urban counties. Food stamps are especially important in depressed regions like Appalachia that have lost jobs in coal and other traditional sectors.
And yes, this means that some of the biggest victims of Trump’s obsession with cutting “welfare” will be the very people who put him in office.
Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia’s regional crisis. More than half the county’s population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?
In the end, I don’t believe there’s any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It’s not about the incentives, and it’s not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.
No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It’s about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don’t think, “There but for the grace of God go I”; they just see a bunch of losers. They don’t want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.
And these are the people now running America.
Gail Collins, NYT: Sex, Trump and Cecile
Cecile Richards just finished her Planned Parenthood farewell tour. Lots to reminisce about. But let’s start with her famous meeting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
It was after the election, and Javanka wanted to share their great idea for bridging the gap between Planned Parenthood and the new Republican administration.
“You have to give everybody a chance,” Richards said mildly.
The couple proposed that Planned Parenthood simply give up abortion services, and then let Jared lobby Congress for more family planning funding. It was a little like suggesting to Mark Zuckerberg that he could get past his business problems if he dropped the part about being on the internet.
“I guess I was just shocked at how naïve they seemed,” Richards mused in a recent interview.
Ivanka, Richards recalled, also felt “I didn’t appreciate” her father’s supportiveness during the presidential debates. Donald Trump did indeed say “millions of women” were helped by Planned Parenthood, before adding that he would defund it anyway “because I’m pro-life.” Details, details.
Richards, 60, has had a long career in organizing and politics. She took over Planned Parenthood 12 years ago when George W. Bush was president. He was a strong abortion opponent, but from her current perch, it definitely seems like the good old days.
“Look, the Bush administration was not friendly to reproductive rights,” she said. “But they weren’t ideologues. They didn’t try to dismantle family planning.”
That brings us to Trump. If you looked back on that moment when the next president appeared to be throwing in a good word for Planned Parenthood, you’d notice that he limited his praise to its helping women with “cervical cancer, breast cancer.”
That’s it. And the clinics do provide critical basic health services to millions of mainly low-income women. But Planned Parenthood is at its very roots about, um, family planning. And now Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services is being stuffed with people who appear to believe that the only good birth control is abstinence.
We will stop here to contemplate the fact that an administration that is all about stopping abortion wants to destroy programs meant to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
O.K., moment of silence is over.
But while we’re into irony, let’s dwell briefly on the idea of Donald Trump presiding over a drive for chastity, i.e., “sexual risk avoidance.” You know that no matter how desperately Trump caters to that dreaded Base, he’s not seriously championing a reduction in copulation.
“This has been Mike Pence’s mission,” Richards said. “When he was governor he did everything he could to shut us down.” (The crusade was certainly successful in one low-income Indiana county, where the Planned Parenthood clinic was driven away, and with it the only free testing for H.I.V. in the area. Infection rates soared.)
Planned Parenthood’s patients are certainly worried about what’s next. They’ve been calling up “desperate to get birth control — especially IUDs,” Richards said. Presumably, the best form of contraception in the age of Trump is one that could last you past 2020.
Planned Parenthood has been a flash point ever since 1916, when Margaret Sanger was arrested for handing out birth control information. These days, its opposition seems particularly obsessed.
Yet at the same time the organization is becoming more and more popular. A recent Fox News survey found it had a 58 percent favorable rating — the top in a crop that included everything from labor unions to Donald Trump. In a similar NBC News poll, Planned Parenthood came in ahead of the F.B.I. and everyone else on the questionnaire, including the Republican Party.
For Richards it’s been a stupendously successful run. She’s just published a memoir, “Make Trouble,” in which she writes about her own history of hell-raising, going back to a boycott of the class prayer when she was in grade school.
Making trouble was actually a kind of family business — her mother, Ann Richards, was a pathbreaking governor of Texas, the first woman ever elected to that job without being married to a prior governor who got indicted.
Nobody would blame Richards for wanting to move on after a dozen years, three presidents, endless lawsuits and a series of right-wing undercover filmmakers trying unsuccessfully to prove that Planned Parenthood made money selling fetal tissue. And then there was that House hearing where an irate congressman told her she was just like a criminal.
It isn’t clear what her next step is going to be, although you certainly would wish her a long vacation.
Maybe a run for office? Many people who connect Richards with her mother presume she lives in Houston or Waco. But she’s actually a New Yorker.
At the moment, we’re sort of busy here with Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, but I think I speak for many state residents when I say there are plenty of elected officials we would be really happy to see terrified out of their socks by a Cecile Richards challenge. Let the games begin.
Eugene Robinson, WaPo: Lord save the world
The one area in which any president has almost complete latitude is foreign affairs. Lord save us.
Lord save the world, actually. President Trump is making rash and risky moves that promise either brilliant success or catastrophic failure. Given that it’s Trump we’re dealing with, I do not like the odds.
I can only applaud his achievement in securing the release of Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, the three Americans who were being held in North Korea on baseless charges — apparently as bargaining chips. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Pyongyang to bring them home, and Trump was there to meet them when they arrived before dawn Thursday at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.
“We want to thank Kim Jong Un, who was really excellent,” Trump said. It was an odd way to describe a dictator who leads one of the most brutal and secretive regimes on Earth — a man whose nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, according to Trump and his advisers, pose a grave and unacceptable threat to the United States and its allies.
Trump announced later Thursday that he and Kim the Excellent (formerly known as Rocket Man) will hold their much-anticipated summit on June 12 in Singapore. I remain skeptical that Kim will ever give up his hard-won nukes and missiles, even for an ironclad U.S. promise never to attack or seek regime change, which is what Kim says he wants. I believe Kim looks at Trump and sees unprecedented opportunity.
Kim is finally getting one thing that North Korean leaders have always sought — one-on-one negotiation with a U.S. president as equals. I believe Trump was right to agree to a summit, since the policy of not talking hasn’t worked. But a lot more groundwork should have been laid, and I fear Trump will return with a bright, shiny package full of promises that turn out to be empty.
I understand why Kim would want to get out from under international sanctions and offer his oppressed people enough economic growth to make his own position more secure. I also understand why he might want to signal officials in neighboring China that if they are not more forthcoming with money, technology and other goodies, North Korea has another suitor knocking at the door.
But there’s no reason to prejudge the summit’s outcome when we don’t even really know the agenda. Kim has already declared a pause in his provocative nuclear and missile testing. Maybe he and Trump will emerge with a pact to reach a more substantive agreement at a later date. That would be a good thing — while we’re talking, we’re not shooting — and Trump would have achieved something worthwhile.
That credit is negated, however, by Trump’s unjustifiable and reckless decision to renounce the Iran nuclear deal. Of all the bad decisions Trump has made as president, this is the most dangerous. He seems to be trying to start an unthinkable war.
Officials in Germany, France and Britain have pledged to try to keep the agreement alive. But with the Trump administration already threatening to impose sanctions on European firms that continue to do business with Iran, it is unclear whether the deal can survive without the world’s leading economic power and most important reserve currency.
It is customary to insert the caveat that the Iran agreement isn’t perfect, that it has obvious flaws, that it could be much better, and so on. But actually it is, or was, quite good. It has provided an unprecedented window into every nook and cranny of the Iranian nuclear program; divested Iran of its stocks of highly enriched uranium that can be easily made into fuel for bombs; and halted Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons for at least a decade.
Put yourself, for a moment, in the Iranian regime’s position. You know that the full economic benefits of the deal will never come through. You see the U.S. administration aggressively promoting your rival, Saudi Arabia, as a dominant regional power that is bristling with advanced new weapons and backed by other Sunni states. You see nuclear-armed Israel effectively joining in as a member of an anti-Iran coalition.
Iranian officials can just surrender. Or they can intensify their campaigns of asymmetrical warfare, using groups such as Hezbollah, while also secretly resuming work on a bomb.
I fear that Trump’s decision greatly increases the likelihood of a major war in the Middle East — not because he has a better idea but because he can’t bear living with a landmark pact signed by Barack Obama.
Paul Krugman, NYT: Gnawing Away at Health Care
At the beginning of 2017, Republicans promised to release the kraken on Obamacare — to destroy the program with one devastating blow. But a funny thing happened: Voters realized that repealing the Affordable Care Act would mean taking health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans. They didn’t like that prospect — and enough Republicans balked at the backlash that Obamacare repeal fizzled.
But Republicans still hate the idea of helping Americans get health care. So instead of releasing the kraken, they’ve brought on the termites. Rather than trying to eliminate Obamacare in one fell swoop, they’re trying to undermine it with multiple acts of sabotage — while hoping voters won’t realize who’s responsible for rising premiums and falling coverage.
Which is why it’s important to place the blame where it belongs.
The first thing you need to understand is that Obamacare has been a highly successful program. When the legislation was passed, Republicans insisted it would fail to cut the number of uninsured and would blow a huge hole in the federal budget. In fact, it led to major gains in coverage, reducing the uninsured rate to its lowest level in history, at relatively low cost.
It’s true that the coverage expansion was somewhat less than originally predicted, although the shortfall was much less than you may have heard. It’s also true that after initially offering surprisingly cheap policies on the Obamacare exchanges, insurers found that the people signing up were sicker, on average, than they expected, leading to higher premiums. But as of last year, the markets appeared to have stabilized, with insurers generally profitable.
Nobody would claim that Obamacare is perfect; many Americans remain uninsured, and too many of those with coverage face troublingly high out-of-pocket expenses. Still, health reform delivered most of what its advocates promised and caused none of the disasters its opponents predicted.
Yet Republicans still want to destroy it. One reason is that much of the coverage expansion was paid for with taxes on high incomes, so repeal would be a way to cut taxes on the wealthy. More broadly, conservatives hate Obamacare precisely because it works. It shows that government actually can help tens of millions of Americans lead better, more secure lives, and in so doing it threatens their low-tax, small-government ideology.
But outright repeal failed, so now it’s time for sabotage, which is taking place on two main fronts.
One of these fronts involves the expansion of Medicaid, which probably accounted for more than half the gains in coverage under Obamacare. Now a number of Republican-controlled states are trying to make Medicaid harder to get, notably by imposing work requirements on recipients.
What is the point of these work requirements? The ostensible justification — cracking down on able-bodied Medicaid recipients who should be working but aren’t — is nonsense: There are very few people meeting that description. The real goal is simply to make getting health care harder, by imposing onerous reporting and paperwork requirements and punishing people who lose their jobs for reasons beyond their control.
The other front involves trying to reduce the number of people signing up for private coverage. Last year the Trump administration drastically reduced outreach — the effort to let Americans know when and how to get health insurance.
The administration is also promoting various dodges that would in effect let insurance companies go back to discriminating against people in poor health. And when Congress passed a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, it also eliminated the individual mandate, the requirement that people sign up for insurance even if they’re currently healthy.
Preliminary evidence suggests that these efforts at sabotage have already partially reversed the coverage gains achieved under Obama, especially among lower-income Americans. (Curiously, all the coverage losses seem to have happened among self-identified Republicans.) But the worst is yet to come.
You see, G.O.P. sabotage disproportionately discourages young and healthy people from signing up, which, as one commentator put it, “drives up the cost for other folks within that market.” Who said that? Tom Price, President Trump’s first secretary of health and human services.
Sure enough, insurers are already proposing major premium hikes — and they are specifically attributing those hikes to G.O.P. actions that are driving healthy Americans out of the market, leaving a sicker, more expensive pool behind.
So here’s what’s going to happen: Soon, many Americans will suffer sticker shock from their insurance policies; federal subsidies will protect most of them, but by no means everyone. They’ll also hear news about declining insurance coverage. And Republicans will say, “See, Obamacare is failing.”
But the problem isn’t with Obamacare, it’s with the politicians who unleashed this termite infestation — who are doing all they can to take away your health coverage. And they need to be held accountable.
Karen Tumulty, WaPo: Melania Trump trolls her husband
It may be that the most effective way to strike a blow against a Twitter bully is to be a deft troll. In choosing and unveiling the child-welfare platform she plans to champion, first lady Melania Trump proved she has a well developed sense of irony.
“I do believe children should be both seen and heard,” she said on Monday in the White House’s Rose Garden. “And it is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind them that when they’re using their voices, whether verbally or online, they must use their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”
There is no reason to doubt either her sincerity or her commitment to fighting a very real problem for young people. But the first lady managed to also draw everyone’s attention to the fact that the worst imaginable role model for those values happened to be the man sitting right there in the front row. Every time she brings up the subject, she knows the commentary will certainly include references to her husband’s abusive comments on social media and in his tirades against his adversaries.
“I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic,” Melania Trump had acknowledged in March during a White House meeting with tech executives and Internet-safety advocates.
But then again, who better to do it? Who else can shame Donald Trump? Who else can he not afford to attack or belittle, at a time when the country is transfixed and disgusted by reports of his extramarital dalliances with a porn star and a Playboy centerfold?
When he has reached for her hand at photo opportunities, she has sometimes replied with a swat, knowing the cameras will bear evidence to her humiliation and her anger. And now she has done it by putting a spotlight on a cause guaranteed to remind people of his character flaws.
First lady is a role that comes with no job description; each one has had to figure it out for herself. Melania Trump, while a traditional presidential spouse in most respects, has refused to perform the most fundamental exercise that has been expected of all of them: to stand by her husband’s side, beaming with admiration, as a testament to a home life that is blissful and free of drama.
“Political marriages tend to be more complicated than most, but it’s striking that the Trumps make so little effort to project a more united front,” The Post noted on its front page Monday, the same day Melania Trump unveiled her new initiative.
That rejection of pretense could explain why her approval rating in a new CNN poll has jumped to 57 percent, up 10 percentage points since January, and close to 20 points higher than the president’s numbers have been running. She is learning her power — and so is her husband.
Dana, Milbank, WaPo: Tom Cotton bests Ted Cruz as the most-disliked lawmaker
As I sat in the hearing room watching Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to be director of central intelligence, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief . . . that Tom Cotton wasn’t nominated to run the CIA.
Cotton, a 40-year-old Republican senator from Arkansas and a Trump loyalist, had been the front-runner for the position. But President Trump instead tapped a career CIA operative, and Cotton was on the dais when Haspel testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
Haspel has her flaws. Her lawyerly statements about torture and her role in destroying tapes of black-site interrogators using it did not inspire confidence that she would stand up to Trump if he pressed her to, say, poison Angela Merkel’s Pilsener.
But Haspel’s flaws are nothing compared with those of Cotton, who has surpassed Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) as the most disliked member of the Senate. He used his five minutes of questioning time to “clear up” and to “take exception to” the “entirely false” things his colleagues said, peppering his remarks with gratuitous partisan swipes.
And then, he kept going.
When Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, was questioning Haspel about moral standards, Cotton heckled his senior colleague from the other side of the dais.
A few minutes after that, when intelligence committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) was giving closing remarks about former CIA director John Brennan’s views on torture, Cotton interrupted again.
Warner winced and looked over at Cotton. “Excuse me,” he said.
Cotton kept on heckling. “That would be the same Mr. Brennan who supports her nomination!”
Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.) hammered the gavel to silence his fellow Republican.
“The senator will suspend,” he ordered.
Cotton ignored Burr. “We need the full record on the record!” he continued.
“No,” Burr repeated. “The senator will suspend.”
Cotton still refused. “John Brennan supports her nomination!” he said, before quieting.
Such an outburst, and rebuke, is unusual — but Cotton is no ordinary guy. Colleagues and staff on the Hill report that he can be as nasty privately as he is publicly, as uncivil to Republicans as he is to Democrats. He imputes ill motives to those who disagree with him. He served in the military but now treats politics as war.
He is, in short, an embodiment of what ails Washington: no compromise, and no disagreement without disagreeability.
It was Cotton who went to the White House to dissuade Trump from backing a bipartisan immigration compromise. When Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) observed that Cotton had become “sort of the Steve King of the Senate,” Cotton retorted that Graham “didn’t even make it off the kiddie table in the debates.”
It was Cotton, too, who suggested that Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Graham were lying about Trump referring to “shithole” African countries — even though Trump and the White House hadn’t denied he used such language.
It was Cotton who in 2015 wrote a letter to “the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” discouraging them from negotiating with the Obama administration.
It was Cotton who in 2016 denounced the “cancerous leadership” and “bitter, vulgar, incoherent ramblings” of then-Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).
And, most revealingly, it was Cotton who blocked confirmation of Cassandra Butts to be ambassador to the Bahamas. Butts died awaiting confirmation, but before that she told Frank Bruni of the New York Times that Cotton told her that because she was a friend of President Barack Obama’s, “blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president.” Bruni reported in 2016 that Cotton’s spokeswoman did not dispute Butts’s account.
The Haspel nomination is a case in which reasonable people can disagree. Demonstrators portrayed her as “Bloody Gina” the “torturer.” She, by contrast, went full Carrie Mathison in her opening statement, describing brush passes, dead drops, dusty alleys and dismantled cells.
In between those caricatures are fair and principled concerns: that she’s allowing declassification only of favorable information about her; that she’s reluctant to say it was wrong to do “enhanced interrogation”; that she’s naive to think Trump would never ask her to do something inappropriate.
But Cotton could see only malignant motives. “If Hillary Clinton had won and nominated you to be CIA director, how many votes do you think you would have gotten?” he asked Haspel, in a statement full of partisan invective that preceded his heckling.
I asked Cotton’s office if he had regrets about the hearing. Cotton replied to me in a statement: “I regret Senator Warner implied that Gina Haspel and other CIA officers belonged in jail. I regret Senator Reed compared patriotic CIA officers to terrorists. I regret Senate Democrats are shocked when they are called to account. . . . I regret Senate Democrats are so blinded by their hatred of Donald Trump.”
And I regret that this rage-filled man can’t understand that his opponents are not his enemies.
Maureen Dowd, NYT: From Ice Cube to Black Cube
WASHINGTON — Once I would have rolled my eyes at a “Homeland” season in which the Russians deftly maneuvered to control whether a Democratic woman, an increasingly paranoid former junior senator from New York, would occupy the Oval Office.
Last year, I shook my head at the “Billions” plotline showing a top New York law enforcement official fighting corruption by day and engaging in sadomasochism by night.
There was a time I would have considered it off the wall if Kanye West said he shared dragon energy with Donald Trump.
Now I don’t blink. Everything is plausible.
We have crossed into a surreal dimension where we are limited only by our imaginations. The American identity and American values are fungible at the moment. The guardrails are off.
Our brains are so scrambled that it’s starting to make sense that none of it makes sense.
For example, it’s dissonant that cybercop Melania strides into the Rose Garden to introduce her “Be Best” plan to help at-risk children at the same time her cyberbully husband unleashes his cruel Be Worst plot to slash the popular children’s health benefits program.
But in the Trump era, sure, why not? Everything is plausible.
Consider how the president lavished praise on Gina Haspel, the evidence-destroying torture queen, tweeting, “There is nobody even close to run the CIA!” At the same time, White House aide Kelly Sadler shrugged off qualms about Haspel from torture survivor John McCain, blithely noting, “He’s dying anyway.”
White House most foul. Everything is plausible — even the jackbooted Dick Cheney rearing his poisonous head to call for the reboot of Torture Inc.
Trump’s renovation of the Wollman Rink is nothing compared with his breathtaking expansion of the capital swamp. He has ushered in a bold new breed of swamp creatures, from Scott Pruitt to Ryan Zinke to Steve Mnuchin to the incomparable Michael “I’m Crushing It” Cohen.
Cohen, who once had to beg Trump to drop by his son’s bar mitzvah, elbowed into the swamp by pretending he had the president’s ear. He made up a job selling access to a White House where he could not even get a job.
Holding out a tin cup as the president’s “personal attorney,” he racked up over $2 million from a law firm and corporations, including AT&T, even though it quickly became clear that, while he swanned around like a character out of “The Sopranos,” he was not connected.
Incredibly, the two things he did manage to connect were his boss’s twin bêtes noires: the saucy porn star and the relentless Russia investigation. Stormy Daniels’s mongoose of a lawyer, Michael Avenatti, revealed on Twitter that the slush fund Cohen used to pay the adult actress was being funded in part by a Russian oligarch, who was questioned by Robert Mueller’s team.
Everything is plausible — even Rudy Giuliani continuing his punch-drunk performance by referring to Avenatti as a “pimp.”
The rest of the world was shocked by the scoop by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker chronicling Eric Schneiderman’s depravity. But it may have been old news to the Page Six President.
A lawyer for two women who said they had been victims of Schneiderman’s sick proclivities told Judge Kimba Wood, who is overseeing a legal dispute about the raids on Cohen’s office and residences, that he had discussed the women’s allegations with the Trump fixer. Cohen may have passed on the dirt to Trump, who was then warring with the New York attorney general over Trump University.
In 2013, Trump presciently tweeted: “Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone — next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner.”
Everything is plausible.
Just when you thought the Trump family saga could not get more absurd, The New York Post, the premiere Trump divorce publication, served up an eye-popping tale about Don Jr.’s soon-to-be ex: Vanessa Trump’s high school romance on the Lower East Side with a Latin King gang member, Valentin Rivera.
And just when you thought the feuds between the Trump and Clinton camps had run out of juice, former Hillary capo and State Department adviser Philippe Reines weighed in with a jaw-dropping tweet to Don Jr.: “Vanessa being with a Latin King must’ve driven you insanely jealous. The machismo, the passion. Tough act to follow. Did you wonder if she fantasized about Valentin Rivera when intimate with you? She did. Every time.”
Every time, everything is plausible.
Also, the other day a Daily Mail headline screamed, “Steve Bannon Was Target of Bribery Plot by Top Qatari Who Invested in Ice Cube’s Basketball League to Get to Trump’s Strategist and Boasted ‘Mike Flynn Took Our Money’, Rapper Claims in Court.”
Everything is plausible, even a segue from Ice Cube to Black Cube.
The Observer, another British paper, broke the news that Trump aides hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to run a “dirty ops” campaign against Obama administration officials who had helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, including Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s national security adviser. The firm was Black Cube, the same one hired by Harvey Weinstein to spy on the women he attacked and the reporters working on the story.
Everything is plausible.
Finally, we learned from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Tuesday that Woody Harrelson and Mike Pence were pals in college.
Now, that’s implausible.
Personal Tweets Posted This Week
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The real joy of Mother’s Day is the legacy of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Like Putin-people interfering in our government, we also have Netanyahu standing before Congress and telling us what to do. We’re now governed by despots. Trump’s wandered off track.
Despite pleas from our allies, military, and diplomats, Trump killed Iranian nuclear deal thereby unleashing the hounds of war. #DJT’sDeathStar