Top Story: Trump to CEOs – You Can’t Disband if I Disband You First

Today’s Top Story: In the wake of the Charlottesville vehicle attack and President Trump’s inability to condemn white supremacist terrorism on US soil, several CEOs withdrew from the Strategic and Policy Forum, an advisory panel for business matters, and the Manufacturing Council, a similar panel for manufacturing concerns. In the midst of the withdrawals Trump disbanded both panels.

The CEOs cited dismay over Trump’s slow, unclear, and ultimately inadequate response to the weekend’s hate crime. One of the first to resign, Kenneth Frazier of Merck, cited the need to reject “hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy” and stated that his withdrawal was both a professional act and “a matter of personal conscience.”

Frazier resigned on August 14, and as the President doubled and tripled down on his statements, other members of the council followed. A conference call Tuesday morning concluded that both panels should dissolve. Before that could happen, however, Trump disbanded the panels over Twitter. He cited the need to not “put pressure on the businesspeople” on the councils.

At press time, the President has not Tweeted whether any replacement advisory committees will be created.

Top Story: Trump Transcripts Tell Troubling Tale

Today’s Top Story: On Thursday, it was revealed that the Washington Post had obtained two transcripts of phone conversations of world leaders with Trump from January; calls he had with Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, and Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia. The call with Turnbull was previously reported as tense, with President Trump reportedly hanging up midway through the call. The call with President Peña Nieto reportedly mostly concerned the border wall, and also led to the memetic “tough hombre” (matching an earlier comment about nasty women).

The released transcripts reveal conversations familiar to students of Trump’s diplomatic style. He harps on the size of the crowds he attracted at rallies, he exaggerates his win margins, he doesn’t understand how policy is truly formed (that there is more to it than saying it at a rally), and he manages to complement Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also called New Hampshire a “drug-infested den”, and claimed he won it. While the President did win the New Hampshire primary, the vote was so close that Hillary was called to have won their vote after the fact.

When he was speaking to President Peña Nieto, President Trump seemed surprised that his campaign promises were not considered policy. Trump had been including a message about introducing some sort of tariff with Mexico on the campaign trail. However, he had apparently not included it in trade talks with Mexico, and when the Mexican president claimed it was new policy that had not been discussed, Trump seemed almost offended. During the call, Trump returns to the topic of the wall again and again, emphasizing how President Peña Nieto has to stop denying he’s going to pay for the wall, because it looks bad for Trump. Peña Nieto replies again and again that he cannot say anything else, because he has a duty to his citizens. Trump also seems to grasp that the wall is empty rhetoric, saying “this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about,” [sic] although Trump claims, as he has many times, that he can keep the cost for what would be the greatest public works project America has ever embarked upon down to a reasonable level.  The call ends with Trump trying to flatter Peña Nieto, while the Mexican president seems to understand how empty Trump’s words truly are.

President Trump’s conversation with PM Turnbull primarily concerned a deal that the Obama administration had made to take in 1,250 detainees (although Trump thought the number might be as high as 5,000) from Australia’s Manus and Nauru detention facilities, where anyone trying to enter Australia by boat (for example, asylum seekers) are held. Conditions are awful there. Commenting on the Australian policy, Trump told Turnbull, “You are worse than I am.” The call came the day after Trump enacted his first Muslim ban, which was later found unconstitutional, and the President was incensed by how weak he thought the detainee deal would make him look. President Trump seemed to think that the detainees were guilty of violent crimes, saying, “I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.” (He probably meant dairy farmers.) The Boston Bombers were brought up (although the brothers were from Russia and Kyrgyzstan, not the countries where these Australian detainees originated), and while Trump worried about security, Turnbull assured him the “vast bulk” were “basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan”. Again Trump had an insight he didn’t follow up on, asking, “Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?”, with Turnbull replying about his commitment to stop the boats (Australian laws concerning refugees give undocumented refugees significant rights, as long as they land on Australia), as doing anything else encourages human smuggling. Outspoken opponents criticize the practice as violating international regulations on human rights. Frustratingly,  although Turnbull explains to Trump exactly how he can utilize his “extreme vetting” to keep only a handful of the detainees, Trump still complains about the deal. The call ends in unrequited acrimony, with Trump ending the call while Turnbull desperately tries to conclude with some semblance of regular order, to the point where his replies do not match up to what Trump is saying.

Overall, the conversations are alarming mostly because it shows a man who has no grasp of the task ahead of him, and very little ability to adapt to it. World leaders are almost assuredly giving each other advice on how to best deal with the President of the United States, to flatter the “dealmaker” instead of trying to negotiate or reason with him. At this point, Trump’s behavior in these conversations is not surprising, but the status of American relationships with foreign governments remains in the state of crisis that we now know began at least as far back as January of this year.

Top Story: Scaramucci Lasts 10 Days as Communications Director

Today’s Top Story: White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was fired on Monday, ending his brief and profane tenure. As of this writing, a replacement has not been announced.

Depending on how you count it, Scaramucci served either 10 days – from his announcement on July 21 to his firing on July 31 – or negative 15 days – from his firing on July 31 to his anticipated start date, August 15. Regardless, Scaramucci is officially the White House Communications Director with the shortest tenure. The previous record holder, Jack Koehler, served 11 days under President Reagan and lost the job when it was learned that in his youth he was part of a German young men’s organization sponsored by the Nazi Party.

After Scaramucci and Koehler, the next three shortest tenures among White House Communication Directors are all from President Trump’s administration, which, we hasten to remind readers, is not even a year old.

We wish Mr. Scaramucci all the best as he returns to a world where he can say “I’m not trying to suck my own cock” and not have it plastered across every news outlet in America.

Top Story: ACA Remains the Law of the Land

Today’s Top Story: At 1:30 am on July 28, 2017, something amazing happened. The clerk called the roll of yay votes, and there was a notable name missing: Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Then the clerk called the nays, and again, amazement: McCain’s name appeared! The final vote was 49 yay to 51 nay. Perhaps the most momentous and consequential vote since TARP and the ACA… and it did not carry. The other two no votes, Collins (R-ME) and Murkowski(R-AK) have been consistently criticized the bill and its process and held to firm no votes throughout.

This vote was for the so called “skinny repeal” of the ACA. The provisions would have resulted in 16 million people losing their health insurance. That’s about 1 in 20 adults in the United States. It would have cut $235 billion (with a ‘b’) from Medicaid over 10 years. There would have been annual premium increases of approximately 20%. All to save $184 million (with an ‘m’) over 10 years. To put that in perspective, that’s about 35% of this year’s defense budget. In short, the bill was disastrous.

Through the process of trying different (but equally destructive) repeals through a series of procedural games, many a Senator’s hypocrisy was on full display. In particular Senator McCain, who gave a speech Wednesday decrying the loss of regular order while voting to proceed. McConnell and his Senators did their best to keep going, ignoring hearings and stifling debate and shunning anything resembling regular order. The latest plan was to vote for something awful–a new version of “skinny repeal”–while telling caucus members that the bill was a placeholder that would be fixed in committee (although signs pointed to the House potentially circumnavigating that process by immediately passing the “placeholder” bill for subsequent signing by President Trump and certain, massive harm to the country). That a bill affecting 1/6th of the American economy and tens of millions of Americans came close to being passed in a matter of hours in the dead of night is, frankly, a terrifying sign of the fragility of our democracy in its current state of crisis.

McCain was not the only Republican Senator to decry the process while still participating in it. A group of Republican Senators–McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC), Johnson (R-WI), and Cassiday (R-LA) also spoke out during a press conference on the morning of the 27th, deploring the secrecy, the lack of regular order, the lack of hearings and debate, and so on. Just as McCain’s speech did not prevent him from voting yes on the motion to proceed Wednesday, these sensible objections did not prevent Graham, Johnson, and Cassiday from ultimately supporting the “skinny repeal” vote after midnight that night.

In the end, however, Senator McCain partially redeemed himself for enabling the repeal and replace process, because his vote is the one that killed this version of the bill. Now, the bill was returned to the calendar, so it’s not completely dead, but at least for now, the ACA is relatively safe. McConnell has another two months before he loses his slot for a health care reconciliation bill, and the executive branch continues to sabotaging the exchanges, so uncertainty remains and the fight is not over. But for now, those rooting against repeal can rest easy.

Top Story: GOP Health Care Repeal Efforts Proceed in Senate

Today’s Top Story: 50 Republican Senators and tie-breaker Vice President Pence voted Tuesday afternoon to open debate on a nebulous Senate version of the AHCA tax cut/Medicaid cut/ACA repeal effort. The process consists of 20 hours of debate and proposed amendments, likely comprising wildly different versions of the bill, followed by a final vote to pass or not pass the legislation out of the Senate. From there, the Senate bill will either be taken up directly by the House or pass to conference committee along with the House AHCA so that one compromise bill can emerge for a final vote in both houses.

Presumably multiple versions of the several Senate bills under the BCRA name will be put up for a vote during the amendment process, but it is not known which version will ultimately be put to a final vote. That decision rests with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Tuesday’s vote was notable for several reasons. First, it featured a number of Republican Senators changing previous “No” votes to “Aye” on the motion to proceed for a variety of reasons, some apparent (Senator Rand Paul voting yes in exchange for consideration of a straight ACA repeal), some less so (Senator Dean Heller had been wavering for some time before voting yes).

Second, the vote to proceed with debate is notable simply for being the next step in a legislative process whose undemocratic nature is unprecedented in living memory. Not content to merely write the bill in secret, without input from Democrats or even female Republicans, McConnell put forth the motion to proceed without any understanding among the public or his fellow Senators as to what, exactly, they would be voting on. Any version of the bill or its amendments to be briefly discussed and then voted up or down during the remainder of the 20 hour process will not be scored by the CBO, may contain provisions that (as per rulings from the parliamentarian) cannot be passed in a reconciliation bill, and may not be adjusted for any of this before ultimately being voted on in the expected conclusion this Thursday or Friday. In short, an enormously unpopular bill which will almost certainly result in tens of millions of additional uninsured Americans and thousands of deaths is being rushed through in secrecy and confusion in the hopes of hiding the bill from the voters and the voters from the Senators. It remains to be seen whether Republican Senators can agree on a version of this bill, but it is certain that a significant hurdle before the ultimate passage of some Republican health care bill into law has been crossed.

Finally, the last yes vote on the motion to proceed was cast today by Senator John McCain, who recently underwent surgery for a blood clot above his eye and was subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite the health risks involved, McCain unexpectedly returned to DC in time to cast a vote in favor of stripping the very health care from which he so recently benefited from tens of millions of Americans. In an ostensibly rousing speech, the Senator followed his party line vote by calling for bipartisan compromise. Late Tuesday night McCain voted in favor of a version of the bill he called a “shell” and swore he would not vote for just hours earlier, proving that even serious illness could not hamper his facility with hypocrisy and lies.

Top Story: Secretary Tillerson Cuts Cyber Defense Amidst Cyber Attacks

Today’s Top Story: Not to be fully overshadowed by acts, or lack of acts, of Congress, the State Department is reportedly looking to downsize even more. Now Secretary Tillerson is planning to merge or completely remove the cyber office at State. It’s an interesting stance considering both the cyber attacks that have occurred recently and statements from President Trump indicating a desire to create some kind of cyber security initiative with Russia (one of, if not the, main cyber attackers). 

The Trump administration has failed to fill key positions throughout government. They started by being historically behind on nominations and continued unabated by this lack of leadership within the Cabinet. Now, Secretary of State Tillerson is looking to further decimate necessary positions in the highest levels of American government and with that open the United States to yet more intrusions of security infrastructure and elections.

As career public servants remove themselves from being under the Trump administration, and having heads of agencies that are actively hostile to the purpose of their department, there will continue to be vacancies that cannot be filled by adequately competent individuals because no one wants to work for an administration so mired in controversy and lead by someone who creates such a turbulent atmosphere.