Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
Donald Trump faced his worst nightmare this week when a woman – and not even a hot one, like his daughter -- put him in his place in the most visible way possible. The longest and dumbest government shutdown in U.S. history ended on Friday with Mango Mugabe giving a rambling, semi-coherent presser in the rose Garden that was widely understood to mean he was accepting the Democrats terms but would ultimately prevail. We weren't sure until he signed it last night.
Just to recap: Trump signed off on a short-term spending deal in late December, the Senate voted for it and everyone went home expecting the House to follow suit. But before they could, Ann Coulter called Trump a wimp and he pulled a 180-degree u-turn and demanded $5.7 billion for a wall -- a seemingly arbitrary figure -- and then shut the government down when he didn’t get it. For five weeks he insisted that he’d hold the line for as long as necessary, and Jared Kushner -- who brought the same deft negotiating skills that he had used to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and convince opioids to stop killing people to the shutdown fight -- kept telling him that he was winning, that the Dems would break. When that didn’t happen, air traffic controllers started coming down with some colds, and he ended up signing the same deal that was on the table before this all began. And Ann Coulter called him a wimp again anyway.
This was… predictable.
I bet the "deal" Trump takes to get out of his mess is gonna be the same 3-week CR that he could've signed on Dec 2… https://t.co/BtIwBa3qIj— Joshua Holland 🔥 (@Joshua Holland 🔥)1548365855.0
So where do we go from here?
Trump insists that he’s not done fighting. He threatened to declare a national emergency and go around Congress to find money for his dumb wall elsewhere if he doesn’t get what he wants by February 15. But what will be different in three weeks? Let’s see if we can game it out.
The Democrats have no incentive to fold on the wall. They won both the midterms and their first big fight after taking the House on this very issue. The polling is with them, they’re confident and they believe that this is really about making sure Trump understands that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and he can't simply rule by temper tantrum.
Meanwhile, Trump’s weak and a caged animal can be dangerous. He might not recover from another loss. His instinct will be to break things. But he can’t shut down the government again just three weeks after his last outburst cost the economy billions of dollars. Congressional Republicans probably wouldn't let him do so if he tried (Congress can always pass appropriations bills and override his veto if need be).
Something has to give, and there are two potential avenues to get past February 15 that one should keep an eye on over the next three weeks.
The first is whether a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers can come up with some combination of non-Wall border security measures that Trump can call a “virtual wall.” And if they can, will he think that it’ll be enough to get Ann Coulter off his ass? (It won’t be, but will he convince himself he can get past this without losing much of his rabid beloved base?)
That seems like it may be a tough lift. Trump thinks the threat of declaring an emergency gives him leverage that will force Democrats to crack. But Republicans may be more uncomfortable with that approach than the Democrats, who know that such a move is illegal on its face and would get Trump’s dumb wall tied up in the courts for the next year or two.
So if they can’t negotiate a wall-free deal that Donald Trump can swallow, we will see if he can be persuaded by members of his own party to give up on the idea because it’s a bridge too far and take a loss that he likely sees as an existential threat to his prospects of re-election, if not his presidency.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen. We think the most likely scenario is that Congress won’t come up with a bill without wall funding that he can live with and he declares an emergency. The wall then disappears from the national conversation while it’s being litigated and he tells his supporters that he won and is in fact in the process of building the wall. And they will believe it.
We'd like to begin this week’s roundup with an apology to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. We thought you were the second most corrupt grifter in Trump’s cabinet after Scott Pruitt.
Sorry, Ryan Zinke, you’re a conflicted sleaze, but you’re not Scott Pruitt 2.0 because that honor clearly belongs to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
Dan Alexander reported this week for Forbes that while it may be “difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners” that does appear to be a consistent theme.
Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.
You really have to read the whole thing.
Speaking of grifters…
Trump’s CFPB fines a man $1 for swindling veterans, orders him never to do it again https://t.co/azx1DEdW2G by @ddayen— Ryan Grim (@Ryan Grim)1548508109.0
David Dayen reported that, “somehow, two other state regulatory agencies, in Arkansas and South Carolina, assisted in the extraction of a single dollar bill from” the crook, and notes that this isn’t the first time CFPB, under the watchful eye of Mick Mulvaney, “has taken an inability to pay into account to reduce a fine for violations of consumer protection law.”
You may recall a series of stories last year about the Trump regime packing the Department of Health and Human Services with religious right ideologues. We’ve been tracking some of the results.
As have others…
Washington Post reports that the Department of Health and Human Services has granted a waiver to a foster care plac… https://t.co/9GkVeTCQOT— Sarah Posner (@Sarah Posner)1548277613.0
Here’s a head-scratcher from Slate. Natalie Nanasi reported this week that, “without fanfare or even notice, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women made significant changes to its definition of domestic violence in April.”
The Obama-era definition was expansive, vetted by experts including the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Trump administration’s definition is substantially more limited and less informed, effectively denying the experiences of victims of abuse by attempting to cast domestic violence as an exclusively criminal concern.
It's unclear what their purpose was, but we’re way past giving this regime the benefit of the doubt.
Why does Jared Kushner have a security clearance “after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him”?
Well, his daddy-in-law is Prezdent. #SimpleAnswersToEasyQuestions
And he’s not the only potential security threat walking around with top secret clearance, according to NBC…
Last week, The Washington Post reported that Trump had attempted to illegally cut off federal recovery assistance for Puerto Rico.
Trump told then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico, because he thought the island was misusing the money and taking advantage of the government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal deliberations. Instead, he wanted more of the money to go to Texas and Florida, the person said.
“POTUS was not consolable about this,” the person said.
And Politico’s David Rogers reported that “additional food aid for the island’s poor will soon be exhausted without supplemental funds opposed by the White House.”
At the same time, billions in community development appropriations have yet to leave Washington — a year after being approved by Congress to assist in the recovery from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Next to the government shutdown and bitter fight over immigration policy, Puerto Rico’s plight remains an afterthought to many in Washington. But the big common denominator is Trump’s high profile and the fact that low-income, often Hispanic or Latino families are feeling the crunch — even as U.S. citizens.
Couple of related stories...
Josh Lederman at NBC: “Nearly three months after deeming Russia in violation of a chemical weapons law, the Trump administration has yet to impose tough new sanctions on Moscow required by the law and triggered by the poisoning last year of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.”
And the NYT’s Kenneth Vogel reports…
When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.
But… the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.
The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.
“U.S. officials at the southern border will begin sending some asylum applicants back to Mexico on Friday as the Trump administration implements new measures preventing migrants from waiting in the United States while their cases are processed,” according to WaPo.
Mexico doesn’t have sufficient infrastructure for them either.
“Immigrant rights groups have opposed it, saying it violates U.S. and international asylum laws and could face court challenges. ‘The president thinks he can do this unilaterally,’ said Kevin Appleby, a senior director at the Center for Migration Studies. ‘But it’s a blatant rejection of current law.’”
The U.S. isn't "beginning" to block asylum seekers: CPB have been using lies, threats, coercion and verbal & physic… https://t.co/tbRhlv1WRU— Southern Poverty Law Center (@Southern Poverty Law Center)1548437011.0
Finally, because elections matter and the courts are still functioning, we have several positive items with which to leave you this week.
Big news out of Virginia, where “a panel of federal judges has chosen a redistricting map for Virginia’s House of Delegates that could shift some districts toward Democrats and help the party gain control in this year’s election.” Details at TPM.
Ginger Gibson and Karen Freifeld reported for The Guardian this week that House Democrats made an obscure rule change that could really accelerate their investigations into the Trump regime.
In related news, now that the House Intelligence Committee is under Democratic control, they are sending transcripts from all of their Kremlingate hearings to Robert Mueller so he can determine if anyone lied to them and potentially charge them with a felony. Devin Nunes, the former Republican chair, had refused to authorize their release. Mueller has so far charged Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort with lying to investigators. Axios has (a little) more on that.
And finally, for all your Schadenfreude needs, we give you Will Sommer’s roundup of pro-Trump media stars melting down over this week’s deal. Via The Daily Beast.