Friday Talking Points -- Buck-Passer In Chief

Trump's style is to cause a crisis on his own, and then dump the entire problem on Congress to deal with.
10/13/2017 09:07 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2017
Carlos Barria / Reuters

On Harry Truman’s desk famously sat a sign which proudly proclaimed “The Buck Stops Here.” If Donald Trump had such an item, it might read “Buck-Passer In Chief.” His governing style (if it can even be dignified as such) is to cause a crisis on his own, and then dump the entire problem on Congress to deal with. Because we all know what masterful problem-solvers the Republican-led Congress are, or something. This could lead to utter disaster on many fronts, within the next few months.

Consider the “bucks” Trump has passed to Congress recently. First, he created a crisis out of thin air by setting an end date for the DACA program (for the Dreamers). At least with this one, he announced a six-month pause before full implementation, which (in normal times) would give Congress enough time to act. This year’s budget process was also punted to early December, along with a necessary raise in the debt ceiling. That’s a pretty full plate already, but Trump didn’t stop there.

This week, Trump shoved two more issues off onto Congress (to, in effect, clean up his messes). He announced he will officially be sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. Since it wasn’t living up to his claims of failure, he will be doing everything in his power to assure that it does, in fact, fail. Health insurance for twenty or thirty Americans is on the line, but that doesn’t seem to concern him a bit. Congress could save Trump from himself on this one, but it would have to act quickly and on a bipartisan basis, which seems like a pretty slim chance.

Then today, Trump announced he will not be pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, but instead (once again) shoving the entire issue onto Congress instead. Congress officially has 60 days to act, after which time it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. If they don’t act and if Trump does nothing, then nothing will actually change about the deal. It will all be an internal U.S. political squabble over “certification,” which won’t affect Iran or any of the other signatories. But Congress could pass additional sanctions or decide to pull out of the deal on their own. Trump just successfully passed this particular buck to Congress with a two-month deadline ― which should put it squarely in the middle of the budget fight in December.

So, to review: a Congress which has no notable achievements yet is going to, in the next few months: pass a massive Republican tax cut, come together on a 2018 budget, raise the debt ceiling, restore the Obamacare subsidies Trump just torpedoed, and figure out what American foreign policy towards Iran should be. That’s all supposed to happen before Christmas, mind you. Then next year, they’ll be able to pass DACA relief and immigration reform inside of two months.

Sure. No problem. And then we’ll all get unicorns and rainbows for Christmas. Does any sane person believe this entire list will be accomplished? We’d be amazed if even half of those problems were solved before next spring. And most of them are problems entirely created by Donald Trump. So who knows what else he’ll manage to destroy in the meantime?

Maybe this is all somehow for the best. We doubt it, but feel honor-bound to explore the possibility. Maybe punting all these things to Congress (after lighting them all on fire) is better than Trump actually trying to govern on his own. Because this week saw a raft of stories about how unhinged Trump is fast becoming.

We were kind of astonished at these stories, to tell you the truth, because who among us still believed a few weeks ago that the president was in any way “hinged”? He’s been unhinged since Day One, as far as we can tell, and now doesn’t seem any worse than the past ten months or so, really. Maybe that’s just us, but we were kind of astonished at all the astonishment. At least from journalists who really should know better by now.

The biggest and most astonishing condemnation of Trump-as-cranky-toddler came from Senator Bob Corker, who was actually a big supporter of Trump during the campaign. Now, though, Corker is singing a very different tune. Last week he said he was thankful for the few solid adults surrounding Trump in the White House, saying they “are those people that help separate our country from chaos.” This week Corker warned Trump was setting us “on the path to World War III.” In response to a nasty (and inaccurate) Trump tweet, Corker tweeted back: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” This, mind you, is all coming from a former supporter of Trump, who is a member of the president’s own political party.

In the interview with the New York Times, Corker also said most Republicans agree in private about Trump: “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here. Of course, they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

This then led to a Vanity Fair dish-the-dirt article on the current state of the Trump White House:

[The Corker spat] brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”

. . .

In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”

According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” (A White House official denies this.) Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision.

From Politico comes a similar report:

Interviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling ― and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.

“You either had to just convince him something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hoped he forgot about it the next day,” said Barbara Res, a former executive in the Trump Organization.

Trump, several advisers and aides said, sometimes comes into the Oval Office worked into a lather from talking to friends or watching TV coverage in the morning. Sometimes, a side conversation with an aide like Stephen Miller on immigration or a TV host like Sean Hannity would set him off.

Then, staffers would step in to avert a rash decision by calming him down.

The Washington Post also chimed in:

Frustrated by his Cabinet and angry that he has not received enough credit for his handling of three successive hurricanes, President Trump is now lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda, numerous White House officials and outside advisers said Monday.

In a matter of days, Trump has torched bridges all around him, nearly imploded an informal deal with Democrats to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and plunged himself into the culture wars on issues ranging from birth control to the national anthem.

. . .

One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. “I think we are in pressure cooker territory,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

Maybe we need a new word for all this. As we mentioned, we’ve considered Trump unhinged all along. Maybe he’s now moved into “dehinged” or had a “hingectomy” or something? We leave it to readers to suggest another snappy term for the state of Trump’s mental health these days, down in the comments. It doesn’t even have to be hinge-based!

In the midst of all this, Trump did his best to sink any chances of following through on his deal with “Chuck and Nancy” on DACA and immigration reform. He turned over the job of coming up with his priorities list to Stephen Miller, who dutifully came up with a list so odious it was guaranteed to end any talk of a deal with Democrats. Representative Luis Gutiérrez responded by calling the White House proposal “an extension of the white supremacist agenda.” Several Democrats in the House are already threatening to withhold their support on any budget agreement unless Trump passes a clean DREAM Act bill instead, as he initially agreed to, so this may come to a showdown in December.

What else? Trump picked a fight with NBC News, and issued dark warnings that maybe the First Amendment needs reinterpretation when it comes to that whole “freedom of the press” thing. Borrowing yet another tactic from Richard Nixon, Trump threatened to challenge or “revoke” network licenses. Of course, this is not the way things work, because once again Trump hasn’t even bothered to figure out if the thing he’s threatening to do is even possible. Trump’s disdain for the media is legendary, of course, but he seemed to be heading into darker possibilities, saying things like: “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.” Look into it? It’s the First freakin’ Amendment, Mister President! See? There it is, right there atop the Bill of Rights.

Sigh. In other amusing but minor news, Mike Pence spent a whole bunch of taxpayer money so he could go not see a football game. This was to protest the protest during the national anthem. Later in the week, Trump disrespected a military service for the U.S. flag, not only talking through what is supposed to be a silent moment, but saying to Sean Hannity: “What a nice sound that is. Are they playing that for you or for me? They’re playing that in honor of his ratings. He’s beating everybody!” Um, no... they’re playing it to honor the flag ― exactly the thing you’re upset at football players for supposedly not doing.

And finally, also from the “you can’t make this stuff up, folks” file, the president challenged his own secretary of state to I.Q. tests at ten paces. Or something. Since the news broke that Rex Tillerson called the president a “fucking moron” after a meeting where Trump reportedly wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal approximately tenfold, Trump has seethed. So he all but challenged Tillerson to duelling I.Q. tests, and Trump guaranteed his would be higher. Mensa, the high-I.Q. group, immediately offered to referee such a battle of tests.

Now there’s something to hope for ― the public release of Donald J. Trump’s I.Q. test results. This would be so highly amusing that we even promise that if such a thing should ever come to pass, we’ll never again even ask to see any Trump tax return. How’s that for fair?
 



We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, the first to an Illinois state representative, for successfully passing a bill to vastly improve working conditions for temporary workers. This is a little-noticed issue that Democrats would do well to champion, because it has become so common for businesses to avoid all sorts of regulations by calling their workers “temporary.” In These Times has the whole story, which is well worth reading in full:

The law will require staffing agencies to make an effort to place temp workers into permanent positions as they become available ― a step forward in the fight to end “perma-temping.” To address racial bias in hiring, the new law requires temporary staffing agencies record and report the race and gender of all job applicants to the Illinois Department of Labor. And in an effort to reduce the workplace injuries that temps frequently suffer, agencies will also now have to notify workers about the kinds of equipment, training and protective clothing required to perform a job.

State Rep. Carol Ammons ― a Democrat from Champaign-Urbana who supported Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign ― was the bill’s chief sponsor. Activists credit her with getting the bill to the governor’s desk.

“Legislators don’t always get down into the deep part of the process, but this was so personal to me,” Ammons tells In These Times. After her son told her about the problems he had experienced as a temp worker in another state, she began looking into the temp industry in Illinois and became convinced that it needed reform.

Well done, Representative Ammons! This new law will improve the lives of millions of workers in your state, and you should be proud of it.

Our second MIDOTW this week goes to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, for fighting the good fight against Donald Trump’s fantasy of what a good job he’s doing in Puerto Rico.

Here is but a sample of what Cruz has been saying about Trump:

[Donald Trump] is simply incapable of understanding the contributions, the sacrifices and the commitment to democratic values that Puerto Ricans have shown over decades... every American that has love, and not hate in their hearts... stand with Puerto Rico and let this President know we WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE.

And, after Trump tweeted he might just pull federal disaster response teams out, Cruz shot back:

Tweet away your hate to mask your administration’s mishandling of this humanitarian crisis. While you are amusing yourself throwing paper towels at us, your compatriots and the world are sending love and help our way. Condemn us to a slow death of non drinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep others eager to help from reaching us since they face the impediment of the Jones Act.

From an article on a letter she sent to a member of Congress, begging for a better response:

“Stop the genocide,” the mayor implored.

After reviewing how the two hurricanes which recently slammed Puerto Rico have left its citizens without water, food, medicine, homes or an electrical infrastructure, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital city described how Trump’s “tweets, comments and actions seem to be taken out of a book on ‘how to add insult to injury’ rather than a book on ‘how to help during a humanitarian crisis’” and argued that his actions were “unbecoming of a leader of the free world.”

Cruz also pointed out that Trump’s decision to replace the FEMA coordinator in Puerto Rico “is an admission that things are not going the way they should.” As she pointed out, “It is not that you do not get it, it is that you are incapable of empathy and frankly simply cannot get the job done.”

Her unflagging criticism of the disaster response so far has been just about the only thing keeping the story alive in the mainland American news. She has been the strongest voice for Puerto Rico during the crisis, far stronger than that of the island’s governor. She will not back down from Trump’s bullying, instead she continues in the attempt to get her citizens treated the same way hurricane victims in Texas or Florida are routinely treated.

For being such a standout voice, she has more than earned herself the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Keep getting your message out, Mayor Cruz. Some of us are listening.

[Congratulate Illinois State Representative Carol Ammons on her official contact page, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on her Twitter page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

 

This one is personal, we have to admit. The Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was none other than our own senior (very senior, in fact) senator, Dianne Feinstein. What earned her this award (her sixteenth, putting her in third place on the all-time MDDOTW list) was her announcement that she’ll be running for re-election next year instead of gracefully stepping down.

We spent two whole articles ranting about this, earlier in the week, if anyone’s interested in the long-play version, but in short, Feinstein’s particular brand of centrism does not accurately reflect the California electorate of today. Also, she’ll be 85 on Election Day and a full 91 years old on the last day of the term she’s running for.

A few years ago, Barbara Boxer decided to gracefully retire, and this ushered in some young blood in the form of Kamala Harris. Dianne Feinstein really should have taken this route, and bowed out in favor of a generation who grew up after F.D.R. was president.

Feinstein has already drawn one serious primary challenger, so perhaps she can be influenced if the race is at all close. At this point, that’s the only thing a California progressive can hope for, really. So for disappointing millions of Democrats with her announcement, Dianne Feinstein was definitely the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to us, this week.

[Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]

 

Volume 457 (10/13/17)

We’re devoting our entire Talking Points section this week to the ongoing disaster of a disaster recovery effort in Puerto Rico. The media has largely moved on, chasing fresher disasters (last week: “Oh, no, another hurricane!”; this week: “California’s on fire!”; next week: who knows?). But Puerto Ricans have not moved on.

Imagine living for three weeks with no electricity and no running water. Just imagine that for a moment. No refrigeration, no light, no power for phones or radios or any other means of communication. Having to collect rainwater or runoff water without knowing how safe it is. For three weeks. And that’s even before you imagine what state your house would be in, after a monster hurricane. That’s where most of Puerto Rico’s population still is, and that’s where they are likely going to be for a long time to come, if the response so far is any indication.

These are Americans. These are not foreigners. They are our own. And we don’t seem to care about their suffering all that much. What is it going to take for America to pay closer attention ― an outbreak of cholera, perhaps? We’ve got international organizations who normally aid third-world countries now on Puerto Rico, because we have been so ineffective.

The only way to get the media to pay attention is for Democrats not to let the issue go. This whole episode should be downright shameful to every American, except Trump, who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “shame.”

So we’re turning over the whole Talking Points section to addressing Puerto Rico this week, in the hopes others will also keep beating this drum.

 


   Stop the victim-blaming, Mr. Trump!

This really needs to be called out in no uncertain terms.

“Donald Trump has responded to a vast humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico by victim-shaming, insults, and threats to cut off aid. He warned this week that the federal responders won’t be there ‘forever,’ even though they were pathetically slow to arrive and haven’t even been there a month yet. Mister Trump, you need to stop the victim-blaming. Puerto Ricans did not cause Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans did not stop you from sending aid faster or more efficiently. Puerto Ricans didn’t destroy the entire electrical grid on their island. Please, if you have a shred of humanity or decency, start fixing the problems and stop blaming the victims!

 


   Guys, it’s been three weeks

Both the president and a member of his cabinet came down with foot-in-mouth disease this week.

“Over three weeks after Hurricane Maria caused so much devastation to so many United States citizens, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry still hasn’t learned that Puerto Rico is not actually a separate country. Donald Trump did him one better, by saying during a speech that he had met with the, quote, president, unquote of the Virgin Islands. In reality, they have a governor. Since they are American citizens, Donald Trump is their president. Perhaps this ‘meeting’ happened while Trump was looking in the mirror shaving? It’s hard to tell....”

 


   Are your freakin’ kidding me?!?

This deserves much more attention than it has been getting.

“A doctor who worked with the National Disaster Medical System (N.D.M.S.) for 20 years ― a veteran of humanitarian missions in 10 countries ― just quit, because, as she put it, she could ‘no longer serve with honor.’ What pushed her over the edge? As Rachel Maddow explained, medical workers supposed to be aiding Puerto Ricans ‘used the triage tents that are supposed to be for medical care and instead they brought in local Puerto Rican residents to give the medical workers cut-rate manicures and pedicures.’ In the doctor’s resignation letter, she berated the ‘optics of N.D.M.S. medical personnel responsible for seeing injured and ill Puerto Ricans who have no homes, food or supplies having a spa day on taxpayer money,’ and concluded: ‘I find this gross misuse of taxpayer funds and abuse of our privileged positions personally abhorrent.’ Millions of other Americans would likely feel the same, if this story had been covered adequately. Health workers taking a spa day in freakin’ disaster zone? Are you kidding me?!?”

 


   Heckuva job!

Another Puerto Rico story that is not getting much airplay.

“Remember all the outrage over Michael “heckuva job, Brownie” Brown’s inadequacy, in the aftermath of Katrina? So why is there not equal outrage over the fact that the FEMA coordinator in Puerto Rico was just replaced? This is, as the San Juan mayor pointed out, ‘an admission that things are not going the way they should.’ Over three weeks after the hurricane hit, as you can see on the Status.pr Puerto Rican recovery-tracking website, the vast majority of the island is still without power. But, you know, they had a fun and successful spa day for the healthcare workers, so I guess they’re all doing a ‘heckuva job,’ eh?”

 


   Oxfam helps out

This is just downright embarrassing.

“The international aid agency Oxfam put out a statement that said: ‘After witnessing the slow and inadequate response from the US government in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Oxfam has decided support local efforts to meet the most urgent needs in this disaster. We also intend to help Puerto Ricans advocate in Congress and to federal agencies in Washington to allocate more and better resources for the response to the storm to build back better.’ Oxfam, for those who don’t know, is an organization that usually responds to disasters in third-world countries. They normally don’t involve themselves in first-world disaster relief, because they fully expect the first world to be able to respond to disasters on their own, so the fact that Oxfam is in Puerto Rico is really a gigantic black eye for American in general and Donald Trump in particular.”

 


   Waive the Jones Act!

The following came from a strongly-worded statement by the San Juan mayor, which points out that allowing foreign ships to deliver supplies to the island for 10 days was nice, but wholly inadequate, and the waiver needs to be extended. It expired this week. So she wrote to Trump:

Tweet away your hate to mask your administration’s mishandling of this humanitarian crisis. While you are amusing yourself throwing paper towels at us, your compatriots and the world are sending love and help our way. Condemn us to a slow death of non drinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep others eager to help from reaching us since they face the impediment of the Jones Act.

 


   Achtung, baby

But our final talking point is the best of the week, by a longshot. This is from a speech delivered on the House floor by Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez on Thursday. He makes a compelling point.

Three weeks after D-Day in 1944, the Allies liberated the deep water port of Cherbourg, one of the most important objectives in France. It took 20 days and we built bridges and communication lines along the way. We made better progress in the three weeks after D-Day than we are making on Puerto Rico, and in Puerto Rico, to the best of my knowledge, there are no Germans shooting at us.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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