To celebrate our nation, Republic Report planned to take an Independence Day break from Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings, but by Sunday morning, when Rock ‘Em Sock ’Em POTUS tried to knock CNN’s block off, we were so deep into another week of Trump team disgracefulness that we had to punch through.
Republic Report, which focuses on how money corrupts democracy, has met its abusive dream mate with the kleptocratic administration of President Donald J. Trump. Trump and his lieutenants personify how money and greed, mixed with serious bigotry, disrespect for constitutional freedoms, know-nothing ignorance, and an endless capacity for lying, can really, really corrupt democracy.
Hence, Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings, counting down the week’s ten most disgraceful figures in the Trump administration. Will yourself off opioids (see 7 below) and grab a ringside seat.
Permanent spoiler alert: We simply can’t imagine anyone other than Donald J. Trump ever occupying the top spot in the rankings. But we won’t get tired of him winning. Believe me.
This Week’s Rankings
10. Chris Christie, Trump friend and Governor of New Jersey. Last week’s ranking: ―
Trump’s sycophant, fired transition head, and fellow climate change denier Chris Christie moved himself into final Governor DGAF status by mismanaging his state budget, closing state beaches for the holiday weekend, using his exclusive access to lie across one of those state beaches, and then barely trying to cover it up (with a baseball hat).
The end of Christie’s term in office can’t come quick enough for the people of New Jersey, who currently give the governor a 15 percent approval rating. Christie could quickly replace hapless Reince Priebus (June 15 ranking: 10) as White House chief of staff, assuming Priebus is tired of the humiliation at Trump’s hands, and Christie is tanned, rested, and ready for more humiliation at Trump’s hands.
9. James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and H.R. McMaster, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Last week’s ranking: ―
Generally we’d like to avoid including generals Mattis and McMaster in our rankings because, although Trump’s over-reliance on active duty or recently retired military personnel for national security jobs is concerning, at least these men are qualified for their positions and are a major improvement over Trump’s favorite “good guy,” the corrupt, vengeful hothead Michael Flynn.
But this week Secretary of Defense Mattis joined the Trump administration’s attack on civil rights, and particularly LGBTQ rights, delaying for six months a Pentagon plan approved in the Obama administration to permit transgender recruits to enlist in the military. Mattis said the plan would give the Defense Department more time to study the issue, and insisted that the delay in “no way presupposes the outcome of review,” but LGBTQ advocates noted that the Obama order was issued a full year ago, giving the military branches sufficient time to address concerns, and conservative groups cheered the decision and expressed hope the Obama decision would be cancelled. The order already prohibited the armed forces from kicking out existing service members for coming out as transgender, and there’s been no showing of national security danger from allowing transgender Americans to serve openly. Blocking basic anti-discrimination protections for people who want to serve their country, just as the Pentagon previously did with gays and lesbians, is plain wrong.
What did White House national security adviser General McMaster do? Simply, he told reporters, regarding Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, “There’s no specific agenda — it’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about.” General, you’re supposed to be protecting Americans, not scaring the fuck out of us.
8. Thomas Bossert, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Last week’s ranking: ―
Confronted Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” with a fresh Trump tweet that transmitted a video from Trump’s pro wrestling period, doctored to depict him pummeling a man whose head is a CNN microphone, Trump’s White House terrorism advisor Thomas Bossert could have stayed in his lane, pivoting to talk of securing the homeland. Hell, he even could have criticized Trump’s latest incitement to violence and attack on free speech (see 1, below). Instead, Bossert sucked up to his bellicose boss, insisting, falsely, “No one would perceive that as a threat” before adding, “I hope they don’t.” Then Bossert, perhaps hoping Trump would applaud the TV appearance rather than throw his golf shoe at the screen, gushed, “He’s a genuine president expressing himself genuinely.”
Bossert is in charge of defending Americans against violence ― not lavishing praise on Trump when he broadcasts a violent revenge fantasy against our country’s free press. Disgraceful.
(Pressed about the same tweet on “Meet the Press,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (June 10 ranking: 7) tried to attack host Chuck Todd, saying he wanted to discuss health care and asking, “your program, a program with the incredible history of ‘Meet the Press,’ and that’s what you want to talk about?” When Todd responded by asking why Trump didn’t seem to be “as devoted to this [health care] as you are,” Price offered his own suck-up to his POTUS: “He can do more than one thing at a time.”)
7. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President. Last week’s ranking: 8
Having last week joined Trump and Tom Price in offering the old GOP deception that a bill cutting health care benefits is not actually a cut; and saying that people cut off from Obamacare could simply get jobs to fix the problem, even though many jobs don’t come with health benefits, Kellyanne Conway offered up a new swipe at Americans who may lose some health coverage if the latest GOP health care bill is enacted. Addressing the impact on opioid addicts of GOP cuts to Medicaid, after Trump early this year pledged to “expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted,” Conway said such patients can overcome such funding shortfalls with “a four-letter word called ‘will.’” Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), whose state saw nearly 2,000 opioid overdose deaths last year, responded that Conway “owes an apology to the entire addiction and treatment community for her outrageous and disrespectful remarks.”
6. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General. Last week’s ranking: 7
Attorney General Jeff Sessions mysteriously cancelled his speech set for today (Thursday) in Philadelphia to discuss his heavy-handed efforts to pressure so-called “sanctuary cities” to stop providing protections for undocumented immigrants.
Sessions also took a break from his work to help Trump’s private prison owner donors, and to hurt gravely ill people who depend on medical marijuana, to appear last Friday on the morning show “Fox & Friends.” Despite his announced decision to recuse himself from the Russiagate investigation, Sessions offered thoughts on the Russiagate investigation, including, when pressed by the Fox hosts about concerns that special counsel Robert Mueller has hired lawyers connected to Democratic politics, this comment: “Well, Mr. Mueller, is entitled, lawfully, I guess at this point, to hire who he desires, but I think he should look for people who have strength and credibility by all people.” Fairly bland, but a less disgraceful attorney general could have said, “I’m recused from this matter so I can’t comment on it.” Especially since a March 2 memo from Jody Hunt, Sessions’ chief of staff, said the AG’s commitment to recuse on the investigation covers speaking with the media: “The Attorney General’s recusal is not only with respect to such investigations, if any, but also extends to Department responses to Congressional and media inquiries related to any such investigations.” George W. Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter flatly told Politico that Sessions “should not be doing this.”
5. Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States. Last week’s ranking: 6
As always, VP Pence makes the list for his rapturous gazes at Trump at every meaningless White House meeting and ceremony, and for generally working to validate this disgraceful president. And for not immediately defending his wife Karen Pence’s honor when Trump told a July 4 White House gathering that he had never before heard the term “second lady” but that Mrs. Pence “is some lady, that I can tell you.”
4. Stephen Bannon, White House Chief Strategist. Last week’s ranking: 5
3. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education. Last week’s ranking: 4
Having announced last month that she would launch a lengthy process to rewrite the rules developed under President Obama to hold predatory for-profit colleges accountable for ripping off students and taxpayers, Secretary DeVos announced online at 4:20 pm Friday before the holiday weekend that she was delaying key parts of one of the rules, called gainful employment. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) charged, appropriately, that the move would give “predatory for-profit schools more time to take advantage of students, bilk taxpayers, and hide information about perpetually poor-performing programs from the public.”
To make matters more disgraceful, DeVos justified her harmful decision with a gross misstatement. “Gainful Employment regulations,” she said in a press release, “have been repeatedly challenged by educational institutions and overturned by the courts.” DeVos was right that the rules had been challenged over and over by schools ― many of them the predatory schools that risked losing their federal aid under the rules if they didn’t shape up and stop deceiving, overcharging, and under-educating students. But her characterization of what “the courts” had done with the rule was false.
In truth, one federal district judge ― Rudolph Contreras ― in 2012 found fault with parts of the gainful employment rule, but that was an earlier, different version of the rule, and the judge nevertheless upheld the authority of the Department of Education to issue it. After that decision, the Department of Education undertook a brand-new rule-making process and issued a brand-new gainful employment rule that eliminated the provisions that Contreras rejected. When the for-profit college industry then challenged the new rule in court, two other federal district judges and three federal appeals judges all upheld the rule in its entirety. Then, last week, Judge Contreras issued a narrow ruling in yet another industry lawsuit, directing the Department to give certain cosmetology programs that had sued more flexibility to file appeals of adverse results, but the judge noted that his order “avoids upending the entire GE regulatory scheme.”
The rule DeVos blocked, therefore, has certainly not been “repeatedly ... overturned by the courts.” That was a lie, and a phony excuse for blocking the rule.
To make her action even worse, DeVos in her official notification claimed that her delay in enforcing the rule for all schools across the country was “in light of” Contreras’s new decision, even though that decision applied only to a narrow set of appeals pursued by a small group of cosmetology schools.
We don’t know what prompted DeVos to craft this gross misstatement and to implement this wholesale abandonment of protections for students and taxpayers against waste, fraud, and abuse by predatory for-profit colleges. We can only remind you that Robert Eitel, Senior Counselor to DeVos, was, when he joined the Department, an executive at Bridgepoint Education, a predatory for-profit college company repeatedly caught engaging in fraudulent behavior, and before that was at Career Education Corp., a predatory for-profit college company repeatedly caught engaging in fraudulent behavior; Eitel reportedly committed when he arrived to recuse himself from matters related to those schools and from the Department’s review of the gainful employment rule, but apparently not to issues related to for-profit colleges generally. We also can tell you that Devos herself invested money in for-profit education, that Republicans in Congress have long done the bidding of the for-profit college industry, which has donated big money to the GOP, and that DeVos’s boss Donald Trump owned his own for-profit real estate “university,” whose predatory practices were similar to practices of for-profit colleges that stand to benefit from DeVos’s trashing of the Obama rules.
When DeVos declined to commit to proceeding with the gainful employment rule at her confirmation hearing in January, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), said, “Swindlers and crooks are out there doing back flips when they hear an answer like that.”
This week, for-profit college industry lawyer Keith Zakarin of the firm Duane Morris celebrated on LinkedIn with some Trumpian triumphalism, referring to Obama administration Education officials as “vicious haters” and to industry critics as “anti-sector jihadis,” and mourning “the executions of Marinello and ITT” ― two for-profit colleges that each were caught engaging in particularly egregious deceptions against students and taxpayers and were eventually cut off from future taxpayer aid (not denied the right to exist). Poor, poor Marinello Schools of Beauty and ITT Tech (which at its peak was getting $1.1 billion a year from U.S. taxpayers)― and their poor wealthy executives who have escaped accountability for their companies’ fraudulent behavior.
2. Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Last week's ranking: 3
Since becoming Trump's EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt has pursued an agenda of holding private meetings with fossil fuel industry executives and lobbyists, kicking respected scientists off agency review panels, concealing agency documents, hiding the truth regarding his emails, and, above all, cancelling Obama-era EPA rules aimed at protecting Americans against toxic pollution, catastrophic chemical explosions, and devastating global warming. The lawlessness of Pruitt's approach to dismantling critical EPA regulations was exposed on Monday when the federal court of appeals in DC slapped down Pruitt's attempt to delay for two years, while reconsidering it, an Obama EPA rule to limit emissions of methane from new oil and gas wells. The court said Pruitt couldn't delay the rule, which fossil fuel companies have relentlessly opposed, without a new rule-making process that solicited comments from the public.
1. Donald J. Trump, President of the United States. Last week's ranking: duh
As with past weeks, presiding over Pruitt's assault on the environment, the GOP Congress's assault on health care, Devos's assault on students, and other policy outrages hasn't been enough for Donald J. Trump, who must always deliver his own personal brand of kleptocratic, misogynistic, narcissistic, and Putinistic disgracefulness.
This week's low point, perhaps, was the president's childish tweet of an old Trump pro wrestling video, modified to show him slamming to the ground and repeatedly punching a guy whose head was a CNN logo.
White House officials chided critics for not being able to take a "joke," but Trump's tweet wasn't too funny, given the disturbing context: Trump has repeatedly attacked and threatened news media outlets and, of course, dismissed numerous reports of Trump team misconduct as "fake news." Trump also has participated in an increasingly ugly escalation of political threats and violence: Trump repeatedly threatened and endorsed violence against protestors at his 2016 rallies; after the election there were reports across the country of Trump supporters carrying out vicious attacks against people of color, women, immigrants, and others in “celebration” of Trump’s victory; in December a North Carolina man who believed a grotesque conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton drove to the alleged locus of the wrongdoing, a DC pizza restaurant, and repeatedly fired an assault rifle; in May Montana GOP candidate/ now-congressman Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian who asked a question that Gianforte disliked; and in June an Illinois man opened fire on a GOP congressional baseball practice, wounding Rep. Steve Scalise (LA) and three others.
When evidence developed that the video Trump tweeted may have come from a reddit user who had posted racist comments in the past, that reddit user, name of HansAssholeSolo, apologized, which prompted Paul Begala to tweet,"If only our President had the conscience and class of HansAssholeSolo." (Disgraceful Trump team members including Donald Trump Jr. then riled up the Trumposphere with the phony claim that CNN had blackmailed Hans.)
Trump celebrated Independence Day by visiting a golf course, a Trump course, of course, for his 35th time since inauguration day, after saying as a candidate that he would not be playing golf because he would be working all the time.
Trump also turned a holiday concert that was supposed to salute service members and veterans into a tribute to himself, gloating that “the fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I’m president and they’re not."
Finally, Trump said at a White House "Unleashing American Energy" event that he planned to cancel Obama-era limits on U.S. financing for overseas coal projects and that he would accelerate efforts to effectively turn American communities into energy colonies mined for fossil fuels to export overseas. “We have nearly 100 years’ worth of natural gas and more than 250 years’ worth of clean, beautiful coal,” Trump said. “We will be dominant. We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.” Trump is selling the idea of clean coal at a time when even litigious coal baron and Trump booster Bob Murray admits that the process of trying to make clean coal through the process of carbon capture and sequestration "does not work."
Today Trump has arrived in European to represent our nation in crucial discussions with leaders of key nations. He's already insisted in a press conference in Poland that "nobody really knows" who hacked the U.S. election, even though the entire intelligence community told him it was Russia. With North Korea developing a missile that could deliver nuclear warheads to U.S. territory, and so many other dangers and challenges in the world, is this the man with which we are to defend America?
Trump is again this week's number one in Republic Report's Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings. Trump is not merely a disgrace; he's a total and complete disgrace.
Throwback Thursday - vintage disgracefulness:
This article also appears on Republic Report.