Friday Talking Points -- A Week Of Bad Numbers For Trump

World War III did not erupt. So things could have been worse.
05/26/2017 09:11 pm ET Updated May 27, 2017
POOL New / Reuters

 

President Donald Trump went on a tour of foreign countries this week, and World War III did not erupt. So things could have been worse.

Trump bumbled his way across the Middle East and Europe, providing the media with plenty of amusing stories to write. Much of this centered on physicality, for unknown reasons. Consider some of the Trump news over the course of the week:

  • Trump bowed to Saudi king after criticizing Barack Obama for doing the same thing.

  • His wife and daughter bared their heads in Saudi Arabia after Trump criticized Michelle Obama for doing the same thing.

  • Trump awkwardly participated in a sword dance.

  • Melania Trump not only refused to hold her husband’s hand, she actually swatted it away when it was offered ― on more than one occasion.

  • Trump shoved his way to the front of a photo-op in Europe.

  • And someone finally defeated the “Trumpshake” ― the propensity Trump has to try to yank the arm off whomever he’s shaking hands with. The new French president was warned in advance about this, and beat Trump at his own frat-boy game, though. By the end of the handshake, Trump was desperately trying to free his own hand. Turnabout is fair play, n’est-ce pas?

Then there were the inevitable gaffes.

  • Arriving in Israel, Trump stated he had just flown in “from the Middle East.” (Isn’t Trump supposed to like maps? Maybe someone should show him one.)

  • The White House put out a press statement for the Israel leg of the trip stating the goal was to “promote the possibility of lasting peach.” Lasting peach?

There were plenty of other gaffes during the first part of Trump’s trip, but we have to highlight two very recent ones.

  • Trump, while meeting with European leaders, said: “The Germans are bad, very bad. See the millions of cars they are selling in the U.S.? Terrible. We will stop this.” Way to build those personal relationships, Mister President!

  • Trump also tweeted: “Just arrived in Italy for the G7. Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.” Except for the fact that millions of jobs weren’t even on the table, of course.

Earlier, Trump had bragged about his deals with the Saudis, claiming they would “create many thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia.” The Washington Post gave Trump’s claim of “millions” four Pinocchios, pointing out:

As for the number of jobs, thousands appears to have morphed into millions. But an analysis published by The Washington Post reported that the U.S. companies involved would not confirm any specific number of jobs saved or supported, suggesting that Trump’s original estimate of “thousands” was more guesswork than reality. Our colleague Steven Mufson reported that the deals would create jobs ― in Saudi Arabia.

But the biggest gaffe of the trip belonged to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who cheerfully noted after visiting Saudi Arabia: “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.”

Um, there’s a reason for that, Wilbur. The reason is that they cut off people’s heads in Saudi Arabia when they dare to protest the government.

Trump got caught in another one of those “revealing national security secrets to foreign leaders” moments, as it was revealed this week that when Trump talked to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about America’s response to North Korea, he flat-out admitted: “We have two submarines [in the waters off North Korea] ― the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all.” America used to have a blanket policy of not ever talking about where nuclear submarines are, but apparently Trump hasn’t read that particular memo.

Back at home, Team Trump released their first detailed budget proposal. It shocked even right-wingers in Congress, it was so Draconian. Republican Mark Sanford had some choice words in response, including: “It’s not only a myth, it’s frankly a lie.” He was talking about the assumption that America would see 3 percent growth for the next decade, which he addressed at length:

“I have looked every which way at how you might get there, and you can’t get there ... This budget presumes a Goldilocks economy, and I think that’s a very difficult thing on which to base a budget, Can you guess the last time we had an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, growth at 3 percent, and inflation held at 2 percent? It’s never happened.”

“For us to have a real debate, we have to base it on real numbers. I would also say it’s important because I’m a deficit hawk, as you well know, and if you’re wrong on these numbers, it means all of a sudden we’ve created a $2-plus-trillion hole for our kids and grandkids here going forward.”

And that’s from a Republican, mind you.

Lindsey Graham also had some choice words for the idea of cutting the State Department’s diplomatic security budget:

“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world and put a lot of people at risk. A lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.”

Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt called Trump out on one broken promise in his budget ― to build a 350-ship Navy with 12 aircraft carriers:

The president’s budget has forgotten these benefits. Breaking Defense’s Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. summed up the details: “Despite his campaign pledge of a 350-ship fleet, President Trump’s first budget cuts Navy shipbuilding and aircraft procurement below what was enacted in 2017, documents released [Monday] reveal. Despite Trump’s criticism of President Obama’s defense plans, this budget sticks with Obama’s shipbuilding plan for 2018: eight ships. And it actually buys eight fewer aircraft than Obama planned.”

Others have been pointing out how the Trump budget relies upon a whopping $2.1 trillion in fantasy money (from all that wonderful 3 percent growth) ― which it actually counts twice, just for good measure.

But the best commentary on Trump’s budget came from an unexpected source. The Washington Post nailed the story:

So it has come to this: A Russian government-funded propaganda outfit schooling the Trump administration on the cruelty of its proposed federal budget. Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, unveiled Trump’s ghastly 2018 budget proposal Monday afternoon in the White House briefing room, and one point of pride was that it proposed that the child-care tax credit and the earned-income tax credit ― benefits for working families ― be denied to illegal immigrants. “It’s not right when you look at it from the perspective of people who pay the taxes,” Mulvaney declared. But Andrew Feinberg, a reporter with Russia’s Sputnik news outfit, pointed out that many of the children who would be cut off under Trump’s proposal are U.S. citizens. “Whether they’re here illegally or not,” Feinberg noted, “those families have American-citizen children.” Mulvaney, who probably didn’t know he was being interrogated by Sputnik, argued back, saying that Feinberg wasn’t duly considering taxpayers and that “we have all kinds of other programs” for poor kids. At this, another reporter in the room interjected: “You’re cutting that, too.”

On Wednesday, the parade of bad numbers continued, when the Congressional Budget Office released its new score of the Republican plan to destroy the health insurance market. The new numbers were just as grim as the first CBO score ― 23 million lose insurance, premiums go up for older people by a whopping 850 percent, a brutal $834 billion cut to Medicaid, and the guarantee for people with pre-existing conditions disappears ― all to hand out a $600 billion tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. Republican Senator Susan Collins released a statement decrying these facts:

The goal of any A.C.A. replacement should be to improve access to quality health care while providing consumers with more choices and restraining costs. Unfortunately, the C.B.O. estimates that 23 million Americans would lose insurance coverage over the next decade, and the impact would disproportionately affect older, low-income Americans. In addition, for a 64-year old with an income of $26,500, the out-of-pocket premium cost could soar from $1,700 to as high as $16,100, an 850 percent increase.

There’s one person amused by all of this, though. John Boehner (remember him?) summed up President Trump’s time in office thusly: “Everything else he’s done has been a complete disaster. He’s still learning how to be president.” Does Boehner miss Washington? Not exactly: “I wake up every day, drink my morning coffee and say, ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.’”

Michael Gerson chimed in as well, with an article aptly titled: “The Conservative Mind Has Become Diseased.” Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger, added:

“[N]o week has matched this one in revealing the moral and intellectual rot at the center of the GOP. Pandemic intellectual dishonesty and celebration of uncivilized conduct now permeate the party and its support in the conservative ecosystem.... This is the state of the GOP ― a refuge for intellectual frauds and bullies, for mean-spirited hypocrites who preach personal responsibility yet excuse the inexcusable.”

In scandal news, Michael Flynn “took the Fifth” this week, something that both he and Donald Trump used to consider an indicator of guilty behavior. Here’s Trump, from the campaign trail: “The mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

Might want to ask Flynn that, eh?

Flynn, who is asking for immunity for his testimony, earlier said: “When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime.” By week’s end, the Senate was issuing subpoenas for Flynn’s business records, because as Senator Mark Warner pointed out: “A business does not have the right to take the Fifth.”

More scandal news: Jared Kushner now seems to be a main focus of the FBI. investigation, including possible financial irregularities.

Also this week, it was revealed:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an F.B.I. investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials. Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate. . . . Current and former officials said either Trump lacks an understanding of the FBI’s role as an independent law enforcement agency or does not care about maintaining such boundaries. . . . Trump’s effort to use the D.N.I. and the N.S.A. director to refute Comey’s statement and to say there is no evidence of collusion echoes former president Richard Nixon’s “unsuccessful efforts to use the C.I.A. to shut down the F.B.I.’s investigation of the Watergate break-in on national security grounds,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel at the C.I.A. Smith called Trump’s actions “an appalling abuse of power.”

Speaking of Nixon, there was this tidbit in another article comparing Trump to him:

On Aug. 2, 1974, a week before President Richard Nixon resigned, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson took a skeptical look at the president’s generosity. He found that the Richard Nixon Foundation had made “only one charitable grant in its four-year existence: $7,500 to buy a painting of Richard Nixon.”

By week’s end, Trump had hired a personal lawyer to defend him in the growing tidal wave of scandal washing over his administration.

Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0 lost again in yet another federal court, this time in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the 10-3 decision, the majority found that the travel ban “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” The Ninth Circuit is also going to chime in within weeks, as well.

Let’s see, what else? Remember those Carrier jobs Trump bragged about saving? Here’s a reminder:

Trump told Indiana residents at a rally last year that, if he got elected, there was a “100 percent chance” he would save these jobs at the heating and air-conditioning manufacturer. “It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent chance,” he said. “100 percent!!” After the election, Trump claimed credit for rescuing the factory. He tweeted on Thanksgiving that he called the company’s leadership to cut a deal. Trump then flew to Indy in December to announce that, thanks to his brilliant negotiating, the jobs would stay.

The reality: Carrier just announced 632 of those jobs are moving to Mexico anyway. Looks like Trump lied yet again (no surprise, really) to his strongest supporters.

Things have gotten so bad for Trump, he’s attempting to brag about his poll numbers again. Not that he has much to brag about, since the Rasmussen job approval rating was only 48 percent ― meaning less than half the country approves of Trump’s job, even in the most Trump-leaning poll around. Trump’s job approval average at Real Clear Politics is actually currently below 40 percent ― which is our final very bad number this week from the Trump administration.

Before we get to the main award, we have two Honorable Mentions to hand out. The first goes to last week’s winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, for following up in admirable fashion to last week’s light display on the Trump Hotel. This week, projection artist Robin Bell projected images onto the Department of Justice and the FBI, depicting Attorney General Jeff Sessions dressed as a Klansman, with a direct quote from Sessions from years ago: “I thought the KKK was OK until I learned they smoked pot.”

Well done, and keep up the good work!

Our second Honorable Mention goes to Bernie Sanders, for continuing his fight against gigantic tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. While grilling the White House budget director, Sanders repeatedly tried to get him to explain why a multi-million-dollar tax cut was appropriate for the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. The video is worth watching, just to see Mulvaney squirm.

But the MIDOTW award this week goes to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He won the same award two weeks ago, for writing an opinion piece explaining why he was proud to be removing Confederate monuments in his city, and he followed this up with an amazing speech where he explained his thoughts at greater length in an incredibly inspiring way.

We’re going to save the speech itself for the talking points, though, so for now we’d like to once again honor Mayor Landrieu with his second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award in three weeks. Well done, and well said!

[Congratulate New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

We considered giving the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Vermont’s governor, when we saw the headline: “Vermont Governor Vetoes Marijuana Legalization Bill,” but then we actually read the article and calmed down a bit.

This would have been historic, since it is the first time a legislature has passed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana. But Governor Phil Scott isn’t totally against the idea, he just had minor problems with the bill he was presented with. He’s reportedly going to work with the state legislature to revise the bill to address his concerns over penalties for sales to minors and other safety issues.

From the article, one voice we have come to respect:

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said the veto “likely just amounts to a short delay” and that he’s “very hopeful” the state will become the first in history to end marijuana prohibition by an act of the legislature. “The fact that a bill even ended up on the governor’s desk signals a new phase of the marijuana legalization movement,” Angell said.

We feel that taking a little time to get it right isn’t the same thing as trying to kill the bill outright, and so Phil Scott gets no negative awards this week. Hopefully, a bill can be signed into law before the end of this year, and legislative legalization history can be made.

But there’s been one big political story this week that we have not addressed yet. Every so often we hand out the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week not for disappointing behavior or words, but for disappointing such a sheer number of Democrats in the country by losing an election. Which is why this week we must award the MDDOTW to Rob Quist, who just got beat in the special election for Montana’s single House seat.

What makes the loss hard, of course, is the fact that his opponent was caught bodyslamming and punching a reporter the day before the election. This extraordinary event didn’t change the outcome of the race, however, as Quist lost by precisely the six percent that the polling predicted.

There were two reactions to the incident worth quoting, one from the left and one from the right. Nancy Pelosi responded: “How do you explain that to children? You ask a question and I’ll strangle you? I mean, really.” But the most scathing response was from Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz: “If you check the party affiliation of someone who commits assaults before deciding how you feel about it, you’re what’s wrong with America.” Couldn’t have said that better ourselves.

Two things are worth remembering about this election, though. The first is that something like 70 percent of the ballots had already been cast, and could not be changed (Montana, like many Western states, has expanded mail-in and early voting to the point where it is the preferred method). Second, any bombshell event usually takes a few days to really sink in with the public, and the news broke only a day before the polls closed.

Quist’s loss was not due to any fault of his own, but it certainly disappointed many Democrats who are still salivating over the prospects of picking up a seat in one of the four special elections caused by Trump naming sitting House members to his administration. Next month’s race in Georgia is their best chance, though, so there is still hope. But for this week, Rob Quist was the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Since the race is now over, Rob Quist is now a private citizen not involved in politics, and our standing policy is to not provide contact information for such persons.]

Volume 438 (5/26/17)

Some Republicans often complain that they are wrongly portrayed as a party of racists. But sometimes it’s pretty hard not to come to this conclusion. Case in point, a state representative from Mississippi, reacting to New Orleans removing Confederate monuments. Karl Oliver took the time to post the following on Facebook:

The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, “leadership” of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.

That seems pretty crystal clear to us. If you try to remove our monuments to racist traitors to their country, we will string you up from the nearest tree. Nothing like celebrating the “loving memory” of “OUR HISTORY,” eh? Looked at in a certain way, Oliver seems downright nostalgic.

For a campaign of terrorism and murder, that is.

Historical footnote: Karl Oliver represents the same district that 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in, back in 1955.

Oliver was later forced to apologize, but we all know what’s really in his heart: pure, unadulterated racism. By week’s end, Mississippi had passed an actual law making it illegal not only to remove Confederate monuments, but even to rename Mississippi streets or buildings that celebrate the Confederacy. So Oliver’s not the only one, it can safely be assumed. Also in the news this week was the Supreme Court overturning yet another racially gerrymandered district, this time in North Carolina. So it’s not like racism is a completely foreign concept within the Republican Party, even today.

Which is one reason why we’re turning the talking points this week over to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who makes exactly the opposite case in high style. What follows are excerpts from his recent speech, where he strongly defends the removal of four Confederate monuments from his city. This is an extraordinary speech, and we urge everyone to read the full transcript of it or find a video of it to watch.

New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum ― out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined “separate but equal”; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth. And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame... all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

Landrieu then quotes George W. Bush (”A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”) and proceeds to lay out some historical facts:

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This “cult” had one goal ― through monuments and through other means ― to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for. After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous “Cornerstone speech” that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery ― subordination to the superior race ― is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago so we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and more perfect union.

Landrieu then shares some personal stories, about growing up in New Orleans and barely noticing the statues ― an experience he contrasts with an African-American family’s different take on them. How can such mothers and fathers explain these statues to their children? After calling removal of the statues “the right thing, not the easy thing,” he continues:

History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong. And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African-Americans ― or anyone else ― to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd. Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.

Landrieu finishes with two obligatory quotes. The first:

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say “wait, not so fast.” But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “’wait’ has almost always meant ‘never’.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now. No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.

Landrieu then wraps up with the immortal words of President Lincoln:

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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