Jun. 24

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Trump Rallies in Nevada

Donald Trump held his second rally of the week on Saturday, this time in Nevada. Its purpose, ostensibly, was to encourage voters to support Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the Senate's most endangered Republican, in his race against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). Not surprisingly for a Trump rally, Heller's name rarely got mentioned.

In most ways, the event followed the standard script for these things. Trump spent the majority of his time praising his own accomplishments, and a sizable minority slamming his opponents. He called Rosen "Wacky Jacky" and once again slurred Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as "Pocahontas." The President also mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), namely his "no" vote for killing Obamacare. This may give us a clue as to why White House staffers think it is OK to make jokes at the expense of a dying man.

There were a couple things of interest, however, that went beyond the usual rally storylines. The first is that Trump once again neglected to say anything about family separation, and his "leadership" in resolving the matter. More evidence that he knows that, even with the base, he's walking on thin ice with this one. The second is that, on those occasions when Heller's name was mentioned, the reaction from the crowd was tepid. They were clearly there to see the President, and not the Senator, which suggests that while rallies may please the Donald, they are not terribly likely to move the needle in close races. (Z)

Today's Position on Immigration Reform: Democratic Votes Are Needed

Before he left for Nevada, Donald Trump delivered his weekly radio address (presumably nobody has told him that tradition was started by a Democrat). As part of his remarks, the President acknowledged something that's been obvious to everyone else for months, namely that passing any sort of immigration reform is going to require Democratic votes. His exact words:

Remember this, we need Democrat votes. Without the Democrats constantly obstructing, there's no way you can do it. Without having Democrats voting, there is no way you can get this done. So the Democrats are obstructing, the Democrats don't want border security, the Democrats are OK with crime—but we're not OK with it. We need Democrat votes. Without it, frankly, nothing can be done.

Admittedly, this is only moderately comprehensible. Nonetheless, it's a clear shift from Friday's position, which was that it is hopeless to try to pass anything before the midterms and the Trump-predicted "Red Wave."

With that said, it's not clear that Trump actually wants to reach across the aisle. At the same time he concedes the need for Democratic support, he is also deeply insulting toward them. That's not exactly a good starting point for a compromise. The odds are pretty good that his real goal is to pass the buck, as he's been doing throughout this entire chapter of his presidency. If Trump really is signalling that he wants Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) & Co. to come up with something bipartisan, they likely won't spend too much energy on it, knowing that Trump's position is likely to shift again by the next time he delivers his weekly radio address. Actually, it's likely to shift again by the next time he changes his socks. (Z)

North Korea Is a Threat Again

Speaking of shifting positions, last week Donald Trump told the world that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. Here, as a reminder, is that tweet:

Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018

Most folks found that pronouncement to be just a tad bit premature, but maybe there were a few people who slept better on hearing news. If so, well, the party is over. On Friday, Kim Jong-Un officially became a threat again.

The reason for this is that this week was the deadline for extending sanctions on North Korea. Trump had no option but to do so; if he killed the sanctions while getting nothing in return, he would have been excoriated from both sides of he aisle. And so, he issued an order on Friday keeping the sanctions in place for another year and announcing that, "the existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material...continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."

Of course, if Trump had just scheduled the summit for early July, instead of mid-June, he could have avoided the need for such an obvious reversal of course. But that would require a certain amount of foresight and long-term planning, which are not this administration's strong suit. The good news for Trump, such as it is, is that the family separation mess has largely pushed this story off the front pages. (Z)

Chinese Are Confused about What Trump Wants

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962, it was clear to citizens in both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that neither side was particularly willing to start a nuclear war. However, the risk of an accidental nuclear war still loomed large, hence movies like "Fail-Safe" (1964), "Dr. Strangelove" (1965), "WarGames" (1985), and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991).

We mention this because the U.S. could well be headed into an accidental trade war with China. While the Chinese would almost certainly have the upper hand in such a scenario, they would nonetheless feel some substantial pain. So, given their druthers, they would rather find a way to resolve their differences with the Trump administration. The problem is that, much like the much-discussed immigration bill, the Trump administration doesn't seem to know what it wants. Observers agree that the Chinese government is "positively confused." Li Kexin, minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington, delivered a speech this week in which he said, "We appeal our American interlocutors to be credible and consistent. When you agree, you mean it."

In the end, there are two problems here: ignorance and impatience. There is no question that China is a bad actor in some ways, and that it does problematic things. However, the Trump administration doesn't seem to understand exactly what is going on. Or, at very least, the President doesn't understand. And since he doesn't really listen to anyone else, that is all that matters. He is laser-focused on the trade imbalance between the two countries, and evinces no awareness of the structural elements of the Chinese economy that give China an upper hand over American producers. Stricter regulations for foreign corporations compared to regulations for domestic ones, for example. Low regard for American patents and intellectual property rights. Vast subsidies.

Past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, understood these things, and realized that none of them are going away overnight. Hence, a strategy of small, incremental changes, negotiated every year. But that leads us to problem number two: Impatience. Trump prefers big, bold actions that he can brag about on Twitter. In his world, the hare wins the race, not the tortoise. But if there was something simple and quick that could be extracted from the Chinese, some president would already have done it. Dick Nixon, for example, knew just a little bit about this matter, and was pretty good at getting the Chinese on the same page with him.

The upshot is that, as with so many issues, Trump can see the end game that he wants, but he has no idea how to get there, particularly at the speed he prefers. It's no wonder that his administration cannot communicate to the Chinese government what is wanted. (Z)

This Week's Swamp News: Zinke Is in Trouble

While some members of Donald Trump's cabinet appear to be honest (Elaine Chao? Sonny Perdue?), an inordinate number of them appear to be on the take. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is the unquestioned champion in this area, but several of his colleagues are certainly giving him a run for his money. This week's swamp creature is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is raising eyebrows thanks to his involvement in plans to build a shopping center back in his native Montana.

At this point, one might ask: Why is the Secretary of the Interior involving himself in something that is clearly a business deal, and beyond the purview of his office? That is a good question, but it gets worse. The land that is being used for the development is being sold by a foundation...established by Zinke, and chaired by him until 2017. Meanwhile, the leading investor in the project is David Lesar, who just so happens to be chair of Halliburton, which just so happens to have all sorts of business pending before the Interior Department. And if the project comes to fruition, it will mean the land surrounding the development will jump in value. Most of the land is owned by...Ryan Zinke.

So, the whole arrangement has a distinct odor to it, and that odor ain't roses. Not helping things is that Zinke has apparently held meetings to discuss the project in his office in Washington, and has even used government transportation to ferry Lesar around. There's no investigation as yet, but one is surely around the corner. (Z)

Huckabee Sanders Steps in it on Twitter

On Friday night, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders decided to dine out. And, as happened this week with her colleagues Kirstjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller, she was recognized and politely asked to leave the establishment. Undoubtedly, this was pretty embarrassing, though Sanders would have been served well to let it go. Instead, she decided to follow her boss's lead, and to vent on Twitter:

Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018

Notice, first of all, that this is her official account, which she uses in her official capacity as a official of the federal government. Next, notice that she includes the name and location of the restaurant, such that people know exactly what restaurant is was (and that it was not the other local Red Hen, located in Washington proper). This is, as former White House ethics lawyer Walter Shaub was quick to point out, a clear violation of federal law. Federal employees cannot use their official position for personal gain, and cannot use it to advertise (or denigrate) private businesses.

Needless to say, Huckabee Sanders is not likely to face sanctions for this, since nobody in a position to hold her accountable particularly cares about these rules. However, it's yet another case study in the culture of this particular White House. Most of the key members of the administration play very fast and loose with the rules. And 90%, or 95%, or maybe even 99% of the time, they get away with it, because most folks whose job it is to enforce the rules (ahem, Congress) is willing to do so. But it's that other small fraction, the 10%, or the 5%, or the 1%, that will, one day, likely prove the undoing of Team Trump. (Z)

So Does Huckabee

As they get ready for the midterms, many prominent Republicans—including the one who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—have been getting their dog whistles out, making sure they're nice and oiled up so they'll be ready for use during campaign season. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, father to the current White House Press Secretary, and undercover spokesman for the Qatari board of tourism, decided to jump the gun a little bit:

Nancy Pelosi introduces her campaign committee for the take back of the House. pic.twitter.com/yKDhkVubck

— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) June 23, 2018

This is so unsubtle that it might not be correct to call it a dog whistle. Maybe a dog bullhorn. Anyhow, as soon as the very obvious racial overtones were pointed out to Huckabee, he fell back on the classic defense of declaring that his critics are the actual racists, because they see racism everywhere. Like, in racist tweets by Mike Huckabee, for example.

Huckabee, of course, is not running for anything in 2018, and is not likely to ever hold political office again. However, he's still dialed in to Republican politics in general, and to this White House in particular. And so, his tweet is more evidence that the GOP—which is getting zero mileage out of its tax bill—is going to run on the notion that vile hordes of brown-skinned immigrants, most of them criminals, are overtaking the United States, and only the Republican Party can fight them off. (Z)

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