GOP Congressman sought Trump deal on WikiLeaks, Russia

The Wall Street Journal reports: A U.S. congressman contacted the White House this week trying to broker a deal that would end WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s U.S. legal troubles in exchange for what he described as evidence that Russia wasn’t the source of hacked emails published by the antisecrecy website during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The proposal made by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), in a phone call Wednesday with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, was apparently aimed at resolving the probe of WikiLeaks prompted by Mr. Assange’s publication of secret U.S. government documents in 2010 through a pardon or other act of clemency from President Donald Trump.

The possible “deal”—a term used by Mr. Rohrabacher during the Wednesday phone call—would involve a pardon of Mr. Assange or “something like that,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. In exchange, Mr. Assange would probably present a computer drive or other data-storage device that Mr. Rohrabacher said would exonerate Russia in the long-running controversy about who was the source of hacked and stolen material aimed at embarrassing the Democratic Party during the 2016 election. [Continue reading…]

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Who helped the Russians?

David Remnick writes: I asked Clinton if she thought Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians. “I don’t want to overstate what we already know publicly, but I think the compilation of coincidence adds up to something more than public support,” she said, referring to Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin (“Why should I tell Putin what to do?”) and his encouragement of Julian Assange (“I love WikiLeaks!”).

She went on, “The latest disclosure by Facebook about the targeting of attack ads, negative stories, dovetails with my concern that there had to be some information provided to the Russians by someone as to how best to weaponize the information that they stole, first from the Democratic Committee, then from John Podesta. And the refusal of the Trump Administration officials, both current and former, to admit to their involvements with Russians raises a lot of unanswered questions.” Putin’s motives, she said, went well beyond destabilizing a particular campaign. “Putin wants to undermine democracy, to undermine the Atlantic alliance, to undermine the E.U., to undermine nato, and to resurrect Russian influence as much as possible beyond the borders,” she said. “So the stakes are huge here.”

If, as Clinton told me, the Russians had deployed a “new form of warfare” to upend American democratic processes, what should President Obama have done in the closing act of the campaign? At a summit in China, Obama told Putin to back off from any election tampering, and he talked about the issue at a press conference. But he did not raise the stakes. Figuring that Clinton would win, Obama was wary of being seen as tipping the election to her and confirming Trump’s constant assertions that the vote was rigged against him. When the C.I.A. first told Obama, in August, that the Russians had been meddling in the Presidential race, the agency shared the information with the Gang of Eight—the congressional leadership and the chairs and the ranking members of the intelligence committees. The Administration asked for a bipartisan statement of warning. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, adamantly refused, muffling for weeks any sense of national alarm.

“I feel we sort of choked,” one senior Obama Administration official told the Washington Post. Another former Administration official said that national-security people were feeling, “Wow, did we mishandle this.” Clinton, in her book, gingerly “wonders” what the effect might have been had Obama gone on national television in the fall of 2016 “warning that our democracy was under attack.” I asked her whether Obama had failed—whether the issue should have been treated less as a narrowcasted political problem and more as a grave national-security threat.

“Well, I think that I’m very understanding of the position he found himself in,” she said. “Because I’ve been in that Situation Room, I know how hard these calls can be. And I believe that they struggled with this, and they were facing some pretty difficult headwinds.” She was less restrained in her description of the Senate Majority Leader’s behavior. “Mitch McConnell, in what I think of as a not only unpatriotic but despicable act of partisan politics, made it clear that if the Obama Administration spoke publicly about what they knew, he would accuse them of partisan politics, of trying to tip the balance toward me,” she said. “McConnell basically threatened the White House, and I know that was on the President’s mind. It was a predicament for him.” She also lambasted James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who “refused to publicly acknowledge that there was an investigation, and, with the height of irony, said, ‘Well, you can’t do that so close to the election.’ ” (Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the investigation had not progressed to the point where disclosure would have been appropriate.)

All the same, I asked, did President Obama blow it?

Clinton paused, and spoke very carefully: “I would have, in retrospect now, wished that he had said something, because I think the American people deserved to know.”

In “What Happened,” Clinton, by way of demanding national resolve against a Russian threat, quotes a maxim attributed to Vladimir Lenin: “You take a bayonet and you push. If you hit mush, you keep going; if you hit steel, you stop.”

“Were we mush?” I asked about the Obama Administration’s response.

Now she did not hesitate. “I think we were mushy,” she said. “Partly because we couldn’t believe it. Richard Clarke, who is one of our nation’s experts on terrorism, has written a book about Cassandras,” unheeded predictors of calamity. “And there was a collective Cassandra out there—my campaign was part of that—saying, ‘The Russians are in our electoral system, the Russians are weaponizing information, look at it!’ And everybody in the press basically thought we were overstating, exaggerating, making it up. And Comey wouldn’t confirm an investigation, so there was nothing to hold on to. And I think that the point Clarke makes is when you have an initial occurrence that has never happened before, some people might see it and try to warn about it, but most people would find it unlikely, impossible. And what I fear is we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what the Russians did.” [Continue reading…]

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Bannon plotting primaries against slate of GOP incumbents

Politico reports: President Donald Trump’s closest allies are planning a slate of primary challenges against Republican senators, potentially undermining the party’s prospects in 2018 and further inflaming tensions between GOP leaders and the White House.

The effort is being led by Steve Bannon, Trump’s bomb-throwing former chief strategist, who is launching an all-out war against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment. Bannon has begun holding private meetings with insurgent challengers, vowing his support. He’s coordinating with conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, who is prepared to pour millions of dollars into attacks on GOP incumbents. Bannon has also installed a confidant at an outside group that is expected to target Republican lawmakers and push the Trump agenda.

The activity has alarmed senior Republicans, who worry it will drain millions of dollars from the party’s coffers to take on Democrats in the general election. McConnell has repeatedly expressed concern to the White House about the danger primaries pose to his members, stressing that it could imperil his narrow four-seat majority, according to three people with direct knowledge of the discussions. [Continue reading…]

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Hurricane Irma linked to climate change? For some, a very ‘insensitive’ question

The New York Times reports: Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, says it is insensitive to discuss climate change in the midst of deadly storms.

Tomás Regalado, the Republican mayor of Miami whose citizens raced to evacuate before Hurricane Irma, says if not now, when?

“This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the E.P.A. and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change,” Mr. Regalado told the Miami Herald. “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”

For scientists, drawing links between warming global temperatures and the ferocity of hurricanes is about as controversial as talking about geology after an earthquake. But in Washington, where science is increasingly political, the fact that oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the heat is propelling storms into superstorms has become as sensitive as talking about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting.

“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,” Mr. Pruitt said to CNN in an interview ahead of Hurricane Irma, echoing similar sentiments he made when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas two weeks earlier. “To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida,” he added.

Ben Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said he believes failing to discuss climate change hurts Florida and the entire country.

“It’s precisely the conversation that we should be having right now. I’m not sure what’s insensitive about that,” said Dr. Kirtman, who evacuated from Florida on Wednesday. “It’s really important to direct resources and funds to the crisis on the ground at the moment, of course. But I don’t see why what’s causing these storms and what’s contributing to making it worse is necessarily mutually exclusive.” [Continue reading…]

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Bannon declares war with Republican leadership in Congress

 

The Washington Post reports: Stephen K. Bannon — President Trump’s former chief strategist who left the White House in August — declared war Sunday against the Republican congressional leadership, called on Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, to resign, and outlined his views on issues ranging from immigration to trade.

Bannon, in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) of “trying to nullify the 2016 election.” It was Bannon’s first television interview since leaving the White House and returning as executive chairman to Breitbart News, the conservative website he previously led.

He blamed them for failing to repeal and replace former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law and made clear that he would use his Breitbart perch to hold Republicans accountable for not helping Trump push through his agenda. [Continue reading…]

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Bound to no party, Trump upends 150 years of two-party rule

The New York Times reports: When Donald J. Trump set his sights on the presidency in the 2000 election, he pursued the nomination of the Reform Party, a home for disenchanted independents. “The Republican Party has just moved too far to the extreme right,” he explained. “The Democrats are too far to the left.”

In the end, he dropped the campaign and the Reform Party, the leftover construct from Ross Perot’s two independent presidential candidacies during the 1990s. It was one of at least five times that Mr. Trump would switch party affiliations over the years. “I’m the Lone Ranger,” he once said in another context.

Now in the White House, President Trump demonstrated this past week that he still imagines himself a solitary cowboy as he abandoned Republican congressional leaders to forge a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats. Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War. [Continue reading…]

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Republican floats measure to kill Mueller probe after 6 months

Politico reports: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is pushing an amendment to severely curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

DeSantis has put forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign.

The amendment is one of hundreds filed to a government spending package the House is expected to consider when it returns next week from the August recess. The provision is not guaranteed a vote on the House floor; the House Rules Committee has wide leeway to discard amendments it considers out of order.

In a statement, DeSantis said the order appointing Mueller as special counsel “didn’t identify a crime to be investigated and practically invites a fishing expedition.”

“Congress should use its spending power to clarify the scope and limit the duration of this investigation,” he explained. Deputy Attorney General Rod “Rosenstein has said that the DOJ doesn’t conduct fishing expeditions; the corollary to this admonition should be that Congress will not fund a fishing expedition.” [Continue reading…]

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McConnell, in private, doubts if Trump can save presidency

The New York Times reports: The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. [Continue reading…]

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Nikki Haley’s path to the presidency runs right past Trump

Vox reports: Attacks on Russia. Soccer games with refugees. Lively chats about human rights with Bono.

Browse through Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed long enough and you’d be forgiven for forgetting she’s a powerful and high-ranking official in the Trump administration, where the president pointedly refuses to do the first one of those and would consider the last two to be political suicide.

President Trump selected Haley early on in the formation of his Cabinet, settling on her as his ambassador to the United Nations before picking Rex Tillerson for secretary of state or James Mattis for secretary of defense. But she was a surprising pick then, and remains so today.

A popular twice-elected governor of South Carolina, she’s an experienced GOP politician in an administration packed with outsiders. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she stands out in an administration run chiefly by white men. Telegenic and poised, she has a knack for the limelight that stands in sharp contrast to the administration’s tendencies toward the rumpled (former press secretary Sean Spicer) or reclusive (Tillerson).

But in her first seven months at the helm of the US mission to the UN, Haley’s differences have gone far beyond optics. Trump campaigned on a foreign policy platform of “America first” — the idea that the US should avoid getting involved in unnecessary conflicts overseas and focus narrowly on national security interests over promotion of democracy and human rights abroad.

But Haley has pursued the opposite course. From her stern criticism of Moscow to her championing of human rights to her calls for Syrian regime change, she’s routinely diverged from, or outright contradicted, Trump’s stance on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish Republican senators in Washington, told the New York Times recently, “She sounds more like me than Trump.”

Haley’s stances may reflect more than just policy differences. Many in the GOP worry that Trump may not survive four years and that those who’ve served in his administration may be tainted by association if he resigns or is impeached. Haley appears to be one of the few administration officials with the potential to survive the Trump years — and could be positioning herself for a presidential campaign of her own. [Continue reading…]

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Republican committees have paid nearly $1.3 million to Trump-owned entities this year

The Washington Post reports: The Republican National Committee paid the Trump International Hotel in Washington $122,000 last month after the party held a lavish fundraiser at the venue in June, the latest example of how GOP political committees are generating a steady income stream for President Trump’s private business, new Federal Election Commission records show.

At least 25 congressional campaigns, state parties and the Republican Governors Association have together spent more than $473,000 at Trump hotels or golf resorts this year, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance filings. Trump’s companies collected an additional $793,000 from the RNC and the president’s campaign committee, some of which included payments for rent and legal consulting.

The nearly $1.3 million spent by Republican political committees at Trump entities in 2017 has helped boost his company at a time when business is falling off at some core properties. Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., lost at least 10 of the 16 galas or dinner events it had been scheduled to host next winter in the wake of Trump’s controversial response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. [Continue reading…]

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Trump embraces culture war with call to preserve Confederate statues

The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Thursday assumed the role of leading spokesman for the racially charged cause of preserving Confederate statues on public grounds, couching his defense in historical terms that thrilled his core supporters and signaled his intent to use cultural strife as a political weapon just days after deadly violence in Virginia.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“So foolish!” he added, bemoaning efforts in several municipalities to take down Confederate tributes.

Trump’s celebration of monuments from a dark chapter of American history sparked wide debate over its consequences for his embattled presidency and the nation’s civic fabric, as well as over the challenges facing both parties as he delves into the culture wars.

A chorus of Republicans expressed alarm over Trump’s words and their potential cost with voters. But Trump’s allies inside and outside the White House, most notably White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, argued that Trump’s pronouncements would rally his political base — while also serving as a welcome distraction from the policy stumbles and investigations that have hobbled the administration. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Workers dismantled a 145-year-old statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney outside the Maryland State House shortly after midnight Friday, the latest ripple effect from last weekend’s deadly violence at a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said his revulsion at what happened in Charlottesville — at a demonstration purportedly in defense of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — prompted him to change his mind about the Taney statute and push for its removal, an act long sought by civil rights groups.

The State House Trust board voted Wednesday to remove the memorial to Taney, a former chief justice who defended slavery in the court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision. Taney’s ruling said blacks, whether slaves or not, could never be U.S. citizens. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s isolation grows in the wake of Charlottesville

The Washington Post reports: President Trump now finds himself more isolated than ever from his own party, world leaders and the business community that once cautiously embraced him — a fissure that was growing for weeks but turned into a chasm following his response to the racist violence in Charlottesville this weekend.

Trump had to disband two corporate advisory councils after a slew of chief executives resigned from the panels while criticizing the president for a day earlier blaming both white supremacists and counterprotesters for the melees that led to the death of a 32-year-old woman. Republicans continue to distance themselves as they call on the president to more forcefully condemn the racist groups that gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally. And foreign officials lined up this week to make clear they strongly disagree with Trump’s view of the events in Charlottesville.

Trump had already stoked tensions in recent weeks as he repeatedly attacked congressional GOP leaders for his stalled legislative agenda and alarmed allies at home and abroad with threats of military force against North Korea and Venezuela.

But his reaction to this week’s violence, which roiled the nation at a time when a president is typically leaned on for comfort and guidance, has created deep uncertainty about whether he can effectively lead his party and focus on urgent tasks looming in the fall, including avoiding a government debt default and moving forward on the tax cuts he promised during the campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump is a racist — there is no mystery

Yesterday, CNN reported:

A coalition of major civil rights and faith groups on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to “directly disavow the white supremacists” who participated in violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend — a reference to Trump’s remarks condemning the deadly clashes on Saturday.

“It represents a failure of leadership from the nation’s chief executive,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group, said in a statement. “It is long past time for Trump to personally and unequivocally denounce white supremacy, violent extremism, and hate in all its forms.”

The group also called for the ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, who have drawn criticism from civil rights organizations for their associations with the alt-right, a hodgepodge of far-right, white nationalist groups that drafted off the President’s 2016 campaign to rise to national prominence.

For Trump to disavow white supremacists — to claim he has no connection with their current rise even while selecting the likes of Bannon, Gorka, and Stephen Miller as close advisers — would be dishonest. For him to denounce them after having persistently courted their support would be disingenuous.

What civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to do is something he cannot with credibility claim: that he is not a racist.

The unpalatable truth is that when Donald Trump was elected president, he won the support of voters who either welcomed his racism or at the very least were willing to turn a blind eye to it.

Just over a year ago, during the presidential campaign when Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Gonzalo Curiel (the Indiana-born judge presiding over a case against Trump University) who Trump believed couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican ancestry, House Speaker Paul Ryan had no difficulty in describing Trump’s remarks as the “textbook definition” of racism.

Long before then and up to the present day, Trump’s racism has been no harder to detect than the odor of a man with insufferable foul breath.

And yet, in spite of this and in spite of a mountain of evidence that no one can dispute, Trump’s racism is still treated by many politicians, journalists and pundits like one of those ultimately unanswerable questions — like whether a dog has a soul.

This issue is sustained as a question on the basis that we lack enough knowledge about Trump’s interior life, which is to say that in order to know whether he is a racist we would supposedly have to be able to gain insight into what animates his very being. Only God knows whether Trump is a racist, so the implicit argument seems to turn.

This is nonsense.

Why?

To determine whether someone is a racist is a determination, first and foremost, about behavior.

To doubt, for instance, whether the birther campaign that Trump led was anything less in substance, appearance, and intent, than a racist attack on Barack Obama is a form of denialism — a refusal to accept the implications of evidence that very few people ever had any difficulty in interpreting.

Even though racism is defined in terms of beliefs, it is clear that in practice we only attach significance to such beliefs if they result in some kind of tangible expression.

If somewhere there are racists who racism leaves no discernible trace in the world, such a subtle form of racism would hardly be worthy of the name.

Since Trump on countless occasions has acted like a racist, we don’t actually have to know anything about what he thinks in order to say unequivocally that he is indeed a racist.

Under pressure or political guidance, any statements that he might make now to distance himself from the hatred he has with such determination fomented, will be utterly hollow words.

The real question is for the Republican party itself: whether it chooses to remain America’s white party, or whether it’s ready break away from the many currents of bigotry it has harbored for so long.

If it chooses the latter, it’s time for the Republicans to dump Trump.

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Flake extends his attacks on Trump and the GOP — all the way back to the dawn of birtherism

The Washington Post reports: Sen. Jeff Flake has been getting a lot of attention for his attacks on President Trump, Trump the candidate — and the senator’s own Republican Party for abetting both in recent months.

His argument is a wide-ranging conservative manifesto against Trumpism.

Against the president’s “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians,” as Flake wrote for Politico this week.

And against the White House’s demonization of Muslims and Mexicans, Flake (Ariz.) writes in his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”

And “a far-right press that too often deals in unreality,” and right-wing voters’ celebration of anger and a Republican Party that “abandoned its core principles” in the course of a single year in 2016.

And on and on goes this list of conservative betrayals in the past two years.

But Sunday, as he promoted his book on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Flake took his assault on Trumpism back years further — all the way to the pre-dawn of Trump’s political rise, to “when the birtherism thing was going on,” as Flake put it to host Chuck Todd. [Continue reading…]

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Republican shadow campaign for 2020 takes shape as Trump doubts grow

The New York Times reports: Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.

The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term.

But the sheer disarray surrounding this presidency— the intensifying investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the plain uncertainty about what Mr. Trump will do in the next week, let alone in the next election—have prompted Republican officeholders to take political steps that are unheard-of so soon into a new administration.

Asked about those Republicans who seem to be eyeing 2020, a White House spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, fired a warning shot: “The president is as strong as he’s ever been in Iowa, and every potentially ambitious Republican knows that.”

But in interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning. [Continue reading…]

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Trump, GOP senators introduce bill to slash legal immigration levels

The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Wednesday endorsed a new bill in the Senate aimed at slashing legal immigration levels over a decade, a goal Trump endorsed on the campaign trail that would represent a profound change to U.S. immigration policies that have been in place for half a century.

Trump appeared with Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) at the White House to unveil a modified version of a bill the senators first introduced in April to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million foreigners each year who receive green cards granting them permanent legal residence in the United States.

The outlines of the legislation reflect the aims Trump touted on the campaign trail, when he argued that the rapid growth of legal immigration levels over five decades had harmed job opportunities for American workers. [Continue reading…]

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White Trump voters think they face more discrimination than blacks. The Trump administration is listening

Christopher Ingraham writes: Trump appointees at the Justice Department will soon launch an investigation of affirmative action programs at the nation’s colleges and universities aimed at rooting out alleged anti-white bias, according to documents obtained by the New York Times.

On its face, the notion of widespread anti-white bias in the higher education system appears farcical. White Americans obtain bachelor’s degrees at significantly higher rates than blacks or Hispanics. A 2012 Stanford University study found that while whites comprised 60 percent of the nation’s graduating high school class in 2004, they accounted for nearly three-quarters of admissions to the nation’s most selective colleges. At elite schools, wealthy white families have traditionally used donations and legacy admission preferences to tip the scales in favor of their children.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department’s move appears to be linked to a widespread belief among white conservatives that “anti-white bias” is a serious problem in society today. Recent polling underscores the point. A Huffington Post/YouGov survey from last fall, for instance, found that Trump voters believe that whites are more discriminated against than Muslims, blacks, Jews and Latinos. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s bet on a Trump presidency backfires spectacularly

The New York Times reports: A little more than a year after the Russian effort to interfere in the American presidential election came to light, the diplomatic fallout — an unraveling of the relationship between Moscow and Washington on a scale not seen in decades — is taking its toll.

President Vladimir V. Putin bet that Donald J. Trump, who had spoken fondly of Russia and its authoritarian leader for years, would treat his nation as Mr. Putin has longed to have it treated by the West. That is, as the superpower it once was, or at least a major force to be reckoned with, from Syria to Europe, and boasting a military revived after two decades of neglect.

That bet has now backfired, spectacularly. If the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week sent any message to Moscow, it was that Mr. Trump’s hands are now tied in dealing with Moscow, probably for years to come.

Just weeks after the two leaders spent hours in seemingly friendly conversation in Hamburg, Germany, the prospect of the kinds of deals Mr. Trump once mused about in interviews seems more distant than ever. Congress is not ready to forgive the annexation of Crimea, nor allow extensive reinvestment in Russian energy. The new sanctions were passed by a coalition of Democrats who blame Mr. Putin for contributing to Hillary Clinton’s defeat and Republicans fearful that their president misunderstands who he is dealing with in Moscow.

So with his decision to order that hundreds of American diplomats and Russians working for the American Embassy leave their posts, Mr. Putin, known as a great tactician but not a great strategist, has changed course again. For now, American officials and outside experts said on Sunday, he seems to believe his greater leverage lies in escalating the dispute, Cold War-style, rather than subtly trying to manipulate events with a mix of subterfuge, cyberattacks and information warfare.

But it is unclear how much the announcement will affect day-to-day relations. While the Russian news media said 755 diplomats would be barred from working, and presumably expelled, there do not appear to be anything close to 755 American diplomats working in Russia.

That figure almost certainly includes Russian nationals working at the embassy, usually in nonsensitive jobs. [Continue reading…]

Given that the last time Trump spoke to Putin face to face, Trump saw no need for his own translator or any aides, and given that the State Department is already under assault from this administration, maybe this paring down of diplomatic ties will be of little concern inside the White House.

Who knows? Maybe Trump even gave Putin his personal cell number because he’s confident he can handle U.S.-Russia relations on his own in the Oval Office or while playing golf.

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Without Priebus, Trump is a man without a party

Tim Alberta writes: By firing [Reince Priebus], Trump has severed a critical connection to his own party—not simply to major donors and GOP congressional leaders, but to the unruly, broader constellation of conservative-affiliated organizations and individuals that Priebus had spent five years corralling. He was effortlessly tagged as an “establishment” figure—inevitably, given his title atop the party—but Priebus was a specialist at coalition-building. He convened regular meetings as RNC chairman with influential players in the conservative movement, picking their brains and taking their temperatures on various issues. That continued as chief of staff: Priebus spoke by phone with prominent activists, such as the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, at least once a week. There is a meeting scheduled at the White House this Wednesday of the Conservative Action Project—an umbrella group that brings together leaders from across the right—and Priebus was planning to attend. It was this kind of systematic outreach that made Priebus, whatever his flaws as a West Wing manager, an essential lieutenant for Trump.

There is no question, however, that Priebus’ absence will echo loudest on Capitol Hill—particularly in the speaker’s office. Ryan’s team had heard whispers for months of Priebus’ possible departure, but the news was nonetheless a dagger, especially on the heels of a health care defeat and at the dawn of tax-reform season. Ryan and Priebus, both Green Bay Packers fans and local beer loyalists, have been friends for decades; Ryan’s former chief of staff, Andy Speth, was Priebus’ college roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Priebus was the first call Ryan made when things got hairy this year, and vice versa. Working with a West Wing that contains few other true allies—and with a volatile president who has viewed him suspiciously ever since the speaker accused him of making “the textbook definition of a racist comment” about a Hispanic-American judge—Ryan saw Priebus as his staunchest ally and bunker mate. And now he’s gone.

In his place is John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general and respected disciplinarian whose mandate is to succeed where Priebus failed: imposing order and organization on a chaotic White House. Kelly, however, is not a political figure; he did not support (or oppose) Trump’s campaign, and is not known to hold strong political or ideological inclinations. Looking around Trump’s inner circle, there is communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a political novice who in the past donated to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton; chief strategist Steve Bannon, who used Breitbart to try and burn the Republican Party to the ground; National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a lifelong Democrat; director of strategic communication Hope Hicks, who has zero history with GOP politics; and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, a pair of self-professed Manhattan progressives. Of Trump’s closest advisers, only Mike Pence has any association with the Republican Party.

This no longer seems accidental. Trump has, since taking office, consistently referred to Republicans as though he is not one himself—it’s invariably “they” or “them.” Unlike past presidents of his party, Trump entered the White House with few personal relationships with prominent Republicans: donors, lobbyists, party activists, politicians. This liberated him to say whatever he pleased as a candidate, and, by firing Priebus, Trump might feel similarly liberated. The fear now, among Republicans in his administration and on Capitol Hill, is that Trump will turn against the party, waging rhetorical warfare against a straw-man GOP whom he blames for the legislative failures and swamp-stained inertia that has bedeviled his young presidency. It would represent a new, harsher type of triangulation, turning his base against the politicians of his own party that they elected. [Continue reading…]

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