Trump and Mueller

Big noise of the last day is that Trump tried to fire Mueller but the White House counsel stopped him with the threat of resignation.  Lots of good takes.  Former deputy AG Harry Litman in NYT:

On the surface, the revelation is one more piece of damning evidence in the now-overwhelming case of obstruction of justice that Mr. Mueller has assembled. The core of the case — the Feb. 14 meeting in which Mr. Trump asked the director of the F.B.I., James Comey, to drop the investigation against the national security adviser, Michael Flynn; Mr. Trump’s subsequent sacking of Mr. Comey; and Mr. Trump’s serial lies about Mr. Comey’s firing — has long been solid. And Mr. Mueller has added significant pieces of circumstantial evidence, such as Mr. Trump’s apparent knowledge that Mr. Flynn had lied to the F.B.I. when he buttonholed Mr. Comey.

Thursday’s revelation seals the deal. The president’s attempted ouster of Mr. Mueller seems plainly to have been intended to squelch Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s attempts to conceal the obvious with a rank, virtually comical explanation provide additional evidence of guilty intent. Mr. Mueller, the president argued, could not serve because, years before, he had resigned his membership at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia because of a dispute over fees; or he needed to be fired because he had worked at the law firm that previously represented Mr. Trump’s son-in law, Jared Kushner. Why strain to concoct such feeble rationales unless the truth is indefensible?

Post’s Aaron Blake:

Still, it’s worth emphasizing that this is not something Trump decided against; instead, it’s a reality he’s been forced into. And the only thing standing in the way of going nuclear and firing Mueller was the prospect of a staff defection that would make the already highly questionable decision — which even GOP senators warned against — look like even more of a PR nightmare. The reporting makes clear that Trump made this decision before it was rendered completely impractical by McGahn. Firing Mueller and then losing McGahn (and possibly Justice Department officials tasked with signing off on it) would have been viewed as pure desperation from a floundering White House.

And in that way, it follows the pattern of so many other attempts by Trump to manipulate law enforcement and those overseeing the Russia probe. He fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey, who was overseeing the investigation at the time, only to have it lead to the appointment of Mueller. He clearly wants to be rid of Attorney General Jeff Sessions — whose recusal from Russia-related matters paved the way for Mueller’s appointment — but firing Sessions would clearly be a disaster. He has tried to remove Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, only to be rebuffed by Comey’s replacement, Christopher A. Wray. There are a bunch more examples

The combination of that and Mueller’s attempted firing, plus everything else, looks like an attempt to install more sympathetic law enforcement officials and possibly even cover up something nefarious. At the very least, it betrays a concern about what these people might find or accuse you of.

And you know what else makes all of this look rather underhanded? The fact that Trump denied even considering firing Mueller.

Dave Leonhardt:

Unfortunately, other Republicans may soon find themselves facing the same decision as McGahn did. Trump has recently been offering conciliatory words about the investigation, but there is every reason to think he is afraid of it — and willing to do almost anything to obstruct it. Here’s hoping other Republicans show the same courage as McGahn.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine — even before the news of the June order broke — that Paul Ryan is actively helping Trump undermine the rule of law. [emphasis mine]

Hope springs eternal, but, at this point, there’s no reason to have any hope that Congressional Republicans have any courage whatsoever when it comes to Trump.



Our democracy may not be dying, but it’s at least been sent to the hospital

Listened to a terrific interview on Fresh Air last week with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of a new book, How Democracies Die.  Well worth listening to.  They’ve also got a nice summary of their key points in a TNR piece from December.  Among other things, what’s kind of amazing is that you can to a considerable degree pinpoint the decline of American democracy to Newt Gingrich.  Seriously.  Anyway, lots of good stuff in here:

If constitutional rules alone do not secure democracy, then what does? Much of the answer lies in the development of strong democratic norms. Two norms stand out: mutual toleration, or accepting one’s partisan rivals as legitimate (not treating them as dangerous enemies or traitors); and forbearance, or deploying one’s institutional prerogatives with restraint—in other words, not using the letter of the Constitution to undermine its spirit (what legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls “constitutional hardball”)…

In 1979, newly elected Congressman Newt Gingrich came to Washington with a blunter, more cutthroat vision of politics than Republicans were accustomed to. Backed by a small but growing group of loyalists, Gingrich launched an insurgency aimed at instilling a more “combative” approach in the party. Taking advantage of a new media technology, C-SPAN, Gingrich used hateful language, deliberately employing over-the-top rhetoric. He described Democrats in Congress as corrupt and sick. He questioned his Democratic rivals’ patriotism. He even compared them to Mussolini and accused them of trying to destroy the country.

Through a new political advocacy group, GOPAC, Gingrich and his allies worked to diffuse these tactics across the party. GOPAC produced more than 2,000 training audiotapes, distributed each month to get the recruits of Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” on the same rhetorical page. Gingrich’s former press secretary Tony Blankley compared this tactic of audiotape distribution to one used by Ayatollah Khomeini on his route to power in Iran.

Though few realized it at the time, Gingrich and his allies were on the cusp of a new wave of polarization rooted in growing public discontent, particularly among the Republican base. Gingrich didn’t create this polarization, but he was one of the first Republicans to sense—and exploit—the shift in popular sentiment. And his leadership helped to establish “politics as warfare” as the GOP’s dominant strategy.

After the Republicans’ landslide 1994 election, the GOP began to seek victory by “any means necessary.” House Republicans refused to compromise, for example, in budget negotiations, leading to a five-day government shutdown in November 1995 and a 21-day shutdown a month later. This was a dangerous turn. As norms of forbearance weakened, checks and balances began to devolve into deadlock and dysfunction.

Hadn’t really heard about the principle of “forbearance” but it’s a really important idea and explored at length in the Fresh Air interview.  And Gingrich, sure as hell, began a path of undermining both mutual toleration and forbearance.  And, now, of course, we’re in Trump’s world:

If, 25 years ago, someone had described to you a country where candidates threatened to lock up their rivals, political opponents accused the government of election fraud, and parties used their legislative majorities to impeach presidents and steal Supreme Court seats, you might have thought of Ecuador or Romania. It wouldn’t have been the United States of America.

But Democrats and Republicans have become much more than just two competing parties, sorted into liberal and conservative camps. Their voters are now deeply divided by race, religious belief, culture, and geography. Republican politicians from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump learned that in a polarized society, treating rivals as enemies can be useful—and that the pursuit of politics as warfare can mobilize people who fear they have much to lose. War has its price, though. For now, the American political order and its institutions remain intact. But the mounting assault on the norms that sustain them should strike fear in anyone who hopes to see the United States secure a democratic future.

And Kristoff with a nice summary of key points:

It’s true that he [Trump] has tried to undermine institutions and referees of our political system: judges, the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies like the F.B.I., the intelligence community, the news media, the opposition party and Congress. But to his great frustration, American institutions have mostly passed the stress test with flying colors.

“President Trump followed the electoral authoritarian script during his first year,” Levitsky and Ziblatt conclude. “He made efforts to capture the referees, sideline the key players who might halt him, and tilt the playing field. But the president has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not been realized. … Little actual backsliding occurred in 2017.”

That seems right to me: The system worked.

And yet.

For all my confidence that our institutions will trump Trump, the chipping away at the integrity of our institutions and norms does worry me. Levitsky and Ziblatt warn of the unraveling of democratic norms — norms such as treating the other side as rivals rather than as enemies, condemning violence and bigotry, and so on. This unraveling was underway long before Trump (Newt Gingrich nudged it along in the 1990s), but Trump accelerated it.

It matters when Trump denounces the “deep state Justice Department,” calls Hillary Clinton a “criminal” and urges “jail” for Huma Abedin, denounces journalists as the “enemy of the American people” and promises to pay the legal fees of supporters who “beat the crap” out of protesters. With such bombast, Trump is beating the crap out of American norms.

Whither High School lockers?

I was going to save this Washington Post story about how HS kids hardly use their lockers any more for quick hits, but since Drum blogged about it, how could I resist.  Especially as I have been generally bewildered by my high school son’s largely locker-free school and his willingness to be responsible all his stuff at all times.

I loved how Drum actually picked out the same absolutely asinine quote I had been planning on highlighting:

But then reporter Joe Heim talks to a high school principal who tries to explain why:

“The high school experience has evolved where learning is anytime, anyplace,” said Ann Bonitatibus, principal at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, where most of the school’s individual lockers were removed during a renovation last year. “The more that our campuses are like that, the more inclined our students are to have their materials with them at all times and all places so that way they’re learning at lunch, at 20-minute break periods or between classes.

Ha ha ha. Sure they are. My only question is whether Bonitatibus really believes this, or was just trying to put one over on Heim.

The real answer, of course, is: who knows? Lockers became uncool for the usual mysterious teenage reasons—probably because it annoys their parents—and now you get laughed at for using one. So nobody uses them, and if you ask why, they invent some reason or other to fob off on the oldsters.

Exactly.  Learning anytime, anywhere sounds like “enhancing corporate synergies” etc.  And I get that a lot of kids don’t like to wear jackets, but it can get pretty damn cold some days, even in NC.  My son (much to my consternation) has taken to simply wearing his jacket all day long.  Anyway, it’s one thing to have a backpack with you all day, but a coat?!  Anyway, kids today.  Get off my lawn!

Photo of the day

From a recent Atlantic gallery:

A church and remains of an ancient village. which are usually covered by water, are seen inside the reservoir of Sau, in Vilanova de Sau, Catalonia, Spain, on January 11, 2018. One reservoir built in the early 1960s, submerging a village called San Roman de Sau and its 11th-century romanesque church, is so low on water that the ruins of buildings which are usually under water are now uncovered. 

Emilio Morenatti / AP

The gerrymandering times they are a-changing

538 just released this totally awesome feature on redrawing district maps in all sorts of cool ways.  And, yes, it is absolutely possible to draw fair maps across the whole nation providing a host of competitive districts.  What we shouldn’t do, though, is focus on shapes, as given the nature of Democratic urban concentrations, basing maps on “compact” districts provides a hefty Republican advantage (though not as much as their current gerrymanders).  So much fun to play with the map options (including for every state).

Anyway, it reminded me of an excellent piece from Jeffrey Toobin about the increasing wave of judges questions partisan gerrymandering:

The legal assault began on January 9th, when, in a powerful two-hundred-and-five-page opinion by Judge James A. Wynn, Jr., a three-judge panel struck down the North Carolina congressional-district lines. What’s most important about Wynn’s opinion is that he seems to have solved the biggest problem with judicial review of gerrymandering: the standard of review. Drawing district lines will always involve some degree of political calculation, but judges have struggled with the question of how much politics is too much. What rule should judges follow to determine if a gerrymander violates the Constitution? Wynn’s test is straightforward. As Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, puts it, under this standard, “a district map is invalid if (1) it was enacted with the discriminatory intent of benefiting a particular party and handicapping its opponent; (2) it has produced a discriminatory effect in the form of a large and durable partisan asymmetry in favor of the mapmaking party; and (3) no legitimate justification exists for this effect.” In plain English, Wynn’s test means that if politicians draw district lines solely to protect their partisan interests, they’re invalid. (The Supreme Court put the decision on hold, but this is a routine step when the Justices are considering a similar issue.) [emphases mine]

A comparable rationale seems to have motivated the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, earlier this week, to strike down the Republican gerrymander of the state’s district lines. In a brief order, with a full opinion to come later, the court held that Republican legislators violated the state constitution when they crafted districts that were so favorable to their party. Because the decision was based on the state constitution, as opposed to the federal, that means there is virtually no chance that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn it. The Pennsylvania court ordered new lines to be drawn in time for the 2018 midterms, including the primaries, so Democrats, who already have a favorable political environment in the state, have a new and better chance of picking up seats there.

As for the Supreme Court, I knew that Maryland had been added to the Wisconsin case, but hadn’t really thought about the politics of it.  I sure hope Toobin is right about this:

Still, the Supreme Court could slow or even stop the momentum against partisan gerrymandering. Last year, the Court heard arguments in a case challenging the Republican-drawn district lines in Wisconsin, and the Justices have yet to reach a decision. But, in addition to sympathetic comments by Justice Anthony Kennedy during the argument of the Wisconsin case, there is another reason for optimism. In December, the Justices agreed to hear a Republican challenge to a gerrymander by Democratic legislators in Maryland. During the oral argument of the Wisconsin case, several Justices expressed worry that they would appear unduly partisan by striking down a Republican-led effort; the chance to eliminate a Democratic initiative at the same time would satisfy the Court’s desire to appear even-handed in its application of a new standard—and would serve as a warning to all states that gerrymandering had become an out-of-control affliction across the country.

That said, it’s pretty much all in Anthony Kennedy’s court.  All we can do is hope he does the obviously right thing.  Though, I do wonder about the possiblity of other states ruling based on their state constitutions, as Pennsylvania has.


The strategery of the post-shutdown

Really liked this post from John Cassidy which nicely lays out the strategic advantages for Democrats from the shut-down agreement:

Progressives worry that Schumer and his colleagues will capitulate again in February, which could happen. But a number of things will be different then. For one thing, they will already have assured six years of funding for chip, the public health-insurance program that serves six million children…

The second difference is that, by mid-February, the deadline for reaching an agreement on the Dreamers will be almost upon us. Over the weekend, Democrats were vulnerable to the argument, made by McConnell and others, that they had shut down the government over an issue that doesn’t have to be resolved immediately. In three weeks, Republicans won’t be able to say this.

Thirdly, by February 8th, the “Common Sense Coalition,” a group of twenty-five moderates led by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, which helped resolve the weekend standoff, might well have put forward an actual bill to protect the Dreamers and give Donald Trump the funding he wants to build his non-wall along the border with Mexico. If that bill passes, as seems likely, the White House will be under pressure to declare victory and call on the House Republicans to fall in line…

As the Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller pointed out, “The Democratic position of not voting for a government funding bill until there’s a daca deal seems much more reasonable if there’s actual legislation that’s passed the Senate and is being ignored in the House. You’d be certain to hear the words, ‘Give us a vote, Mr. Speaker!’ ” …

Another key point is that the potential roadblocks to a deal would still be there if the Democrats had again rejected McConnell’s offer. They might be even larger. With the government closed, Trump and the Republicans would be pounding the Democrats, claiming that they were holding hostage two million federal employees. None of the critics of Monday’s deal has explained how the Democrats would have been able to change this dynamic as the shutdown went on and large elements of the public got more disgusted about it. It seems fanciful to suppose that Trump, whose entire outlook on life is circumscribed by his obsession over whether he is “winning” or “losing,” would have capitulated and given the Democrats a better deal than the one McConnell offered.

By agreeing to reopen the government, the Democrats didn’t insure the Dreamers will be protected: the critics are right about that. But they didn’t give the house away, either

Exactly.  Good points all.

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg reminds me why I was not a fan before she moved to the NYT:

It’s hard to overstate how disgusted many progressive leaders are. “It’s Senator Schumer’s job as minority leader to keep his caucus together and stand up for progressive values and he failed to do it,” Ezra Levin, a co-founder of Indivisible, a left-wing advocacy group modeled on the Tea Party, [emphasis mine] told me. “He led them off a cliff. They caved.” (An Indivisible chapter is planning a Tuesday evening protest outside Schumer’s Brooklyn apartment.)

Right– because we need liberals emulating the Tea Party.  Ugh.  If Goldberg had not noticed, the Tea Party was busy undermining a number of Senate seats Republicans should have won with quixotic quests of ideological purity and insistence that a party lacking the presidency somehow accomplish all it’s policy goals.

And Paul Waldman makes the case that this is really all on Paul Ryan now:

But whatever the Senate passes would then have to pass the House. The trouble there isn’t getting the votes, because a bill that was acceptable to the Senate would likely be able to pass the House without much of a problem. Presuming all or nearly all House Democrats vote for it, it would only need two dozen of the 238 Republican members to join in. The question is whether Ryan would allow a vote on a bill. If he does not, the dreamers would lose their work permits and likely be driven underground. Some could be deported — ripped away from their families and the country they grew up in, to be sent back to places they barely know. It is no exaggeration to say their lives are in Ryan’s hands.

And what do we know about what he’ll do? Like most Republicans, when questioned about dreamers, Ryan says the right things. Last January, Ryan had a powerful exchange with a dreamer mom, during which he hailed her contribution to her community and said he and Trump want to act to allow people like her to “get right with the law.” More recently, in September, he said that dreamers should “rest easy,” because the Republican-controlled Congress would make sure they get to stay. In December, he again said he wanted to “make sure that we don’t pull the rug out from under people.”

But if Ryan is going to be true to those sentiments, he might have to break another promise — one he made to the hard-right Freedom Caucus…

What it ultimately comes down to is these questions: How deep is Ryan’s cruelty? Will he condemn hundreds of thousands of dreamers to possible deportation because he’s afraid of the ultra-right members of his caucus? Or will he do what he himself says is the right thing? [emphasis mine]

We all know that once the threat of the government shutdown has passed, there won’t be any immigration compromise. The conflicts within the Republican Party are just too deep. So it’s now or never, and the fact that dreamers are going to have to rely on Paul Ryan’s humanity makes it hard to be optimistic.

And, in a similar vein, Yglesias make it crystal clear.  If you want to blame somebody for the Dreamer’s status, blame Republicans, damnit!

[And, if you are too young for GWB, and wondering about the title of this post.  I’ve always loved “strategery” and enjoyed using it ever since (9’25” in at the link)].

The Republican Evangelical Bible

Alexandra Petri, on fire again:

Recently, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, talked to Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere to explain why evangelical Christians such as he were still supporting President Trump. He had a lot to say! For instance, he observed that evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

“What happened to turning the other cheek?” Dovere asked.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins replied. He went on: “Christianity is not just about being a welcoming mat that people can stomp their feet on.”

Well said. It is past time that evangelicals stop letting the Bible dictate how they feel about things. This nonsense book full of terrible, outdated opinions has kicked them around long enough, and it is good that they are taking a stand and making some updates. I have taken the liberty of revising this ancient text in light of this new attitude…

Please use the following updated edition of the Beatitudes and other scriptural highlights:

Turn the other cheek.You only have two cheeks.

Suffer little children to come unto me unless of course they are immigrants who all are probably affiliated with ISIS in some way and we are quite right to want nothing to do with them.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.I will be the greatest president God ever created. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will pay no inheritance tax.

Brilliant.  Please read it all.

Meanwhile, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele seems to have belatedly realized the nature of the people he’s been enabling all these years:

Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee, has just about had it with evangelical Christian leaders who support President Donald Trump no matter what.

On Monday, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Christian nonprofit Family Research Council, said Trump gets “a mulligan” or “do-over” over allegations that he paid porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet over their reported affair.

 Steele wasn’t having it.

“I have a very simple admonition at this point,” Steele said on “Hardball” on MSNBC. “Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it.”

Steele added:

“After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter? The outright behavior and lies don’t matter? Just shut up.”

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