Breaking stories this morning:’
— First, Rep. Deven Nunes is “temporarily stepping aside” from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the AP. Details to come. According to MSNBC, Trump himself wanted this to happen because he’s “concerned about his dropping poll numbers.” We’ll learn more as the day goes on, but it seems more likely that this decision probably comes from Prince Jared.
Nunes released a statement saying that left-wing groups had made baseless charges against him to the ethics committee, and he’s made this decision even though the complaints are politically-motivated. Democratic ranking member gave a brief statement in which he said he appreciates Nunes’ decision and looks forward to working with Rep. Conaway (R-Texas) who will now lead the investigation.
— Second, Paul Ryan held a press conference this morning to pretend that Trump-Ryancare is still alive. Supposedly the House is reaching consensus around a high risk pool–something that would never work to lower premiums for everyone. They’re all going home for Easter break soon, so we’ll see what happens when they come back. IMHO, this is just a face-saving effort by Ryan.
The Dallas News has a “developing” story on Conaway taking over: Texas’ Conaway takes over Russia meddling probe, as embattled Intel chairman steps down.
WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is taking the helm of the House-led probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, after embattled Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes agreed to step aside Thursday.
Conaway, a Midland Republican, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He chaired the Ethics Committee several years ago — considered one of the more thankless tasks in Congress, given its role in policing and occasionally punishing colleagues.
He’s one of the few CPAs in Congress. Before his election in 2004, one of his clients was the oil firm owned by future president George W. Bush.
Also happening today:
As Donald Trump gets set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a tête-à-tête at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Thursday, experts say it’s time for the U.S. leader to let his past hostile comments about the Asian powerhouse fade with the Florida sunset.
Trump must start building a solid personal relationship with his counterpart and open a starter dialogue on a number of sensitive issues between the two nations, analysts add.
“Well, it’s going to be very interesting, nobody really knows, we have not been treated fairly on trade, no presidents taken care of that the way they should have, and we have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Xi.
“I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well” Trump added.
While the Chinese are strategic and conservative in their policy and diplomacy maneuvers, Trump has earned his reputation as brash and somewhat unpredictable, often venting governing frustrations on Twitter in 140 characters or less.
“[The Chinese] know that you cannot conduct foreign policy by Twitter, by tweeting, and brashness,” former Ambassador to China Max Baucus told NBC News.
I’m sure the Chinese know that all they have to do is say nice things about Trump and he’ll give away the store. He’s going to get played. I just hope it won’t be too damaging.
Mitch McConnell is determined to get Neil Gorsuch through the Senate despite a Democratic filibuster, and it looks like he will exercise the so-called “nuclear option.” The sad fact that Gorsuch is obviously guilty of plagiarism doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans.
Now I want to move on to what I believe is the most important story for the U.S. and the world right now.
After yesterday, I’m convinced that nothing that happens in the news is more important than the fact that the man who is pretending to be “president” is not only completely unqualified but also mentally unfit. There is something seriously wrong with Trump’s cognitive processes, and whether it’s dementia, drugs, or simple stupidity, we’re all in deep trouble.
Did you read the transcript of the interview Trump gave to The New York Times yesterday? I want to quote two sections of it here. During a discussion of the Gorsuch nomination, Trump claimed that Democrats have told him privately that they really don’t object that much to the pick, and here is his example:
TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”
TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”
TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”
Did Trump somehow confuse Elijah Cummings with some other black man? WTF is he talking about, why don’t these reporters press him on it? This “interview” could easily pass as an evaluation of a mental patient by two psychiatrists. Here’s another section in which Trump claims that the story of Susan Rice’s unmasking of U.S. persons when she was Obama’s National Security Adviser is “a massive story.”
I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.
HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.
HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.
TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know. I think —
HABERMAN: You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?
TRUMP: I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.
THRUSH: Why? What do you think —
TRUMP: Take a look at what’s happening. I mean, first of all her performance was horrible yesterday on television even though she was interviewed by Hillary Clinton’s P.R. person, Andrea Mitchell [the NBC News journalist]. Course you’ve been accused of that also.
HABERMAN: Mostly by you, though.
TRUMP: No, no, no. Mostly by a lot of people. So you know, we’ll see what happens, but it looks like it’s breaking into a massive story.
THRUSH: What do you think are — what other shoes are there to drop on this?
HABERMAN: Yeah, what else could we learn on this?
TRUMP: I think you’re going to see a lot. I think you’ll see a lot.
HABERMAN: In terms of what she did and in terms of [unintelligible]?
TRUMP: I think in terms of what other people have done also.
TRUMP: I think it’s one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we’re talking about, the Susan Rice. What’s happened is terrible. I’ve never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I’ve never seen them acting this way. Because that’s really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It’s such an affront, what took place.
THRUSH: What other people do you think will get ensnared in this? Can you give us a sense? How far this might extend
HABERMAN: From the previous administration.
TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.
THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?
TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —
TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.
Why are these NYT reporters (Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) patronizing Trump like this? I guess they are drawing him out to demonstrate that he’s a simpleton, but shouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency? The “president” is not well. No wonder there are always multiple “minders” in the room when he’s speaks publicly. Why are so many people pretending that this is somehow normal? We are facing multiple foreign crises right now and we have an incompetent “president” whose 36-year-old son-in-law appears to be running the government.
Yesterday’s Trump press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan was just as embarrassing. Trump spouted a lot of stream-of-conscientious nonsense about how disturbed he was by the chemical attack in Syria and that he had changed his point of view, and reporters pretended he had actually said something meaningful. Here’s the NYT story, for example. Yet Trump said nothing to explain what his policy was previously or what he had changed it to. He even went through that song-and-dance about how he won’t tell anyone ahead of time about what he’ll do “militarily.” This man is nuts, and the press should start saying so.
As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is every bit as incompetent as the “president.” Tillerson made a statement a couple of days ago that basically gave Asad permission to do whatever he wanted to the Syrian people. Business Insider reports:
Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the “longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”
The remark signaled a shift in the US’s official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.
The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Haley’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.
“Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” Power said at the time. “You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”
And of course there’s the growing threat from North Korea, which Tillerson also likely aggravated. The Week: Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has ‘spoken enough about North Korea,’ won’t comment on latest missile launch.
Not long after the news broke that North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan, Tillerson released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming the launch of “yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile,” adding two very terse sentences: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” If you seek words of comfort in these uncertain times or angry declarations and threats of retaliation, Tillerson made it clear you had better look elsewhere.
If this is the secretary of state’s way of hinting he wants out of the job, Tillerson should know by now that all he needs to do is tag Jared Kushner, say, “You’re it,” and call it a day. Catherine Garcia
Here’s Charles M. Blow: Creeping Toward Crisis.
I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.
What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.
His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.
We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.
Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.
Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.
Please go read the rest at the NYT.
It will clearly be another busy and chaotic day in politics. What stories are you following?
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If you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, have a good one!
I’m illustrating this post with portraits of unsmiling women by Amadeo Modigliani. Why, you may ask? It’s just a little symbolic protest of the constant barrage of “instructions” from the media on how Hillary Clinton should behave.
For months we’ve been hearing from various male commentators–and even from her very loud male opponent–that Hillary needs to stop “shouting.” As Lawrence O’Donnell condescendingly explained, with help from Chris Matthews, “the microphone works.” Hillary should speak more softly and modulate her “tone.” She’s not being “ladylike” enough for them.
Tsk tsk tsk
On Tuesday after Hillary swept five Democratic primaries, Howard Kurtz offered this:
Glenn Thrush agreed.
Britt Hume thought she looked angry.
And then there was Joe Scarborough:
Each of these men was resoundingly mocked on Twitter, but not one of them apologized. Instead they were defensive. They complained about being attacked for their helpful advice and provided examples of various negative things they had written about male candidates’ speeches. They refused to listen to women who tried to explain to them why such unsolicited advice is sexist. You can check out their timelines to read more.
Every woman has experienced this kind of “constructive criticism” again again. It’s not helpful, and refusing to listen to women explain why is also sexist. Some examples at Vogue.
Samantha Bee had a great response. She tweeted a photo of herself frowning into the camera and asked for responses. Lots of other women tweeted back unsmiling selfies. Click on the link to go to Mediaite and see some of the responses.
Connie Shultz at The National Memo: Hey, Hillary: Smile, Girl.
You know, the world would be a happier place if a girl would just smile more.
Just ask the guys on Twitter.Now, by “girl,” I mean a former U.S. senator and secretary of state who is likely to be the first female president of these allegedly united states.
As for “the world,” let’s narrow it down. We’re talking mean men who apparently spend much of their day breathing into paper bags because they’re not even allowed to ask a secretary to grab them a cuppa joe anymore without someone from HR signing them up for diversity training.
What? No more office wife? Evidence of hell in a handbasket right there. Just ask them.
So now we’ve got this Hillary woman going all presidential on us. She’s everywhere. Giving speeches. Declaring victories. Starring in one town hall after another. How much suffering must a good ol’ boy endure? ….
Some men hear what they want to hear, and too many men don’t want to hear from women at all. This is an unhappy century for them, and it’s only going to get worse. One grandmother barreling her way toward the presidency is bound to work up all kinds of other women who’ve had it up to here with the catcall mentality of men who measure our worth by our ability to make them feel better about their limited view of us.
Much more at the link.
Of course the advice about smiling and speaking in a softer tone are only the beginning of the unsolicited advice pundits have for Hillary.
Tuesday night, those who were lucky enough to be watching their primary coverage on MSNBC were treated to what may be a record-setter in scorching hot takes, courtesy of, who else, Chris Matthews. “I do think if you could ever find a way to put a ticket together that would actually end some of this mishegoss, to use a Yiddish word,” Matthews spun out before coughing up, and you could feel this coming, that he’d like to see Hillary Clinton pick John Kasich as her running mate“If Hillary Clinton were smart,” Matthews said, with a certainty that is unique to men discrediting the intelligence of women who are, in reality, much smarter than they are, “she’d make herself the alternative” for Republicans who don’t want to vote for Trump by putting Kasich on her ticket.“Of course, this doesn’t happen in American politics,” he added wistfully, “because American politics is so free of wonder anymore. It’s so predictable.”Yes, he said this during the administration of the first black president, during a campaign that pits the first major party female candidate against a reality TV star who is winning his party’s nomination against the party leaders’ wills and while running a fascism-reminiscient campaign. But what we really need to get out of the doldrums is for a liberal Democrat to pick a running mate that stands against everything she and her party stand for.
Read the rest at Salon.
Of course the big news is President Obama’s Supreme Court pick of Merrick Garland. JJ covered it thoroughly yesterday. Today the pundits are speculating about why Obama picked an “old white guy” instead of making a “truly progressive” choice. Of course Merrick is Jewish, so he would add to the diversity of a court that is packed with right win Catholics. Forward.com:
Merrick Garland grew up Jewish in Chicago suburbs of Skokie, worked his way to Harvard Law School and investigated the Oklahoma City bombing as a federal prosecutor.
The “mensch” of a jurist with a most un-Jewish sounding name and a sterling reputation for fairness won a coveted spot on the Washington D.C. court of appeals and rose to lead that prestigious court.
After twice being passed over for the Supreme Court, he is now aiming to become an unprecedented fourth Jew on the nine-member top court.
“He’s a total mensch,” said Jay Michaelson, a Forward columnist who once clerked for Garland. “He really wanted to get the law right.”
Garland’s first cousin, Marty Shukert, an urban designer in Omaha, Nebraska, said it was “almost dreamlike” to see Garland nominated by President Obama.
Garland called the nomination “the greatest honor of my life,” in a carefully scripted roll-out to the nation.
Recounting his Jewish family’s battle with persecution, Garland made an emotional pitch for the job he has coveted for decades.
“My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement…in the early 1900’s, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” Garland told reporters in the Rose Garden, flanked by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
As the headline of the story says, Garland seems like a real “mensch.”
Josh Lederman at the AP: Analysis: Obama Dares GOP to Let Clinton, Trump Pick Justice.
By nominating an uncontroversial 63-year-old judge, President Barack Obama handed Republicans an unwelcome election-year proposition: Give in or risk letting Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump pick a Supreme Court justice the GOP might like even less.
Obama’s selection of appellate judge Merrick Garland landed with a bang the morning after primaries in Florida, Ohio and other key states made clear that Clinton and Trump will be their parties’ presidential candidates, barring extraordinary circumstances. Obama described Garland as an evenhanded consensus-builder, all but daring Republicans to block him and face uncertain consequences from voters.
Republican leaders dug in on their insistence that the next president get to choose the replacement for the late Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and high court’s most provocative member. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “an issue where we can’t agree.” ….
Republicans loathe Clinton, but they recognize that if she wins the presidency, she could nominate someone far more liberal than Garland, who’s regarded as a centrist. At the same time, the GOP establishment is extremely wary of the unpredictable Trump and desperate for an alternative.
A Democratic victory at the presidential level could be accompanied by a return of the Senate to Democratic control, further complicating Republicans’ ability to prevent Democrats from getting their way. Republicans are fighting their toughest Senate races this year in states like New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Illinois where Democrats are hoping independent-minded voters will be turned off by the GOP’s hardline position.
Brian Beutler calls Garland an “old white guy” and opines that Obama isn’t playing 11 dimensional chess. He just made a mistake in not choosing someone who would make all the progs happy.
Did you hear about the story that PBS News ran about the Tilly family, first-time voters working for Trump in North Carolina? Please go to the link and watch it. PBS did not notice that a woman they featured prominently while she phone-banked for Trump had white supremacist tattoos all over her arms and hands. Gawker did notice. Here’s a photo of Grace Tilly.
From the Gawker story:
Above, you see Grace phone banking for Donald Trump, with the Celtic Cross tattoo on her right hand. Despite the tattoo being in plain view of PBS’ cameras, the story never acknowledges that it is interviewing a walking white power billboard. The Anti-Defamation League explains that the Celtic Cross is one of the most “commonly used white supremacist symbols.” Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the ADL, tells me:
The Celtic Cross is an ancient and revered Christian symbol typically not associated with extremism at all. However, one particular version of the Celtic Cross—a squarish cross with a thick circle intersecting with it (also known as Odin’s Cross), has become one of the most popular white supremacist symbols around. In the past 20 years, its popularity has done little but grow, thanks to its use as the logo by Stormfront, the largest white supremacist website in the world.
And on her hand, Grace has a large tattoo that reads “88,” which according to ADL is “code for Heil Hitler.” See that photo at Gawker. So far, PBS has reacted to the Gawker story.
On Tuesday night we learned that the Sanders Campaign plans to try to convince superdelegates to vote for him at the Democratic convention. Yesterday they announced plans to poach delegates that are pledged to vote for Clinton. It’s hard to remember now that only a couple of months ago, Sanders was supposedly running a clean, positive campaign. Time reports on a call with reporters hosted by camapaign manager Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ and strategist Tad Devine:
Although the Democratic pledged delegates are bound to a particular candidate based on state Democratic votes, Sanders senior strategist Tad Devine suggested there is some leeway there. Devine pointed to the Carter campaigns 1980 victory and their worry about holding onto pledged delegates. The Carter campaign was “deeply concerned about the defection of pledged delegates” to Ted Kennedy, Devine said.
“My point is that a frontrunner in a process like this needs to continue to win if you want to keep hold of delegates,” Devine continued. When pressed by a reporter, Devine said there was no plan “at the moment” to try to sway pledged delegates.
Weaver said that Sanders is doing Clinton a favor by staying in the race–because Bernie will protect poor fragile Hillary from Donald Trump.
“Were this contest to end, you know, by Secretary Clinton, or us getting out—certainly if the Secretary were still in the race, she could expect months and months and months of immediate, and vicious, and very personal attacks from the Trump people,” Weaver said. “So I don’t know if that’s necessarily healthy for her.”
WTF?! The people who said all along that the superdelegate process is undemocratic now want to win with their votes? And on top of that, they want to usurp the voters’ choices by stealing pledge delegates?
It’s just breathtaking. Here’s a great Greg Sargent interview with Hillary’s chief strategist Joel Benenson as an antidote: Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist: Sanders can’t win, and we’re ready to take down Trump. Read the whole thing at the WaPo.
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of your Thursday.