The Review, 10 February 2018: Victory at the Shutdown Corral; Trump Pushes Authoritarian Trappings

Rand Paul, doing what he does best, shutting down the government. (attribution: U.S. Senate)

Despite Trump threatening a government shutdown if he didn’t get additional limits on immigration, the Senate calculated the situation correctly, ignored him and passed a long-term spending bill. The House then passed the bill and Trump signed.

There was still a brief government shutdown along the way, beginning just after midnight and lasting until 8:40 a.m. Eastern time on Friday morning. Republican Senator Rand Paul prevented the Senate from voting on the bill on Thursday. He wanted an amendment that would reinstitute the budget caps on the grounds that budget spending would add to the U.S. deficit. Senator Paul enthusiastically voted for the earlier Republican bill that cut taxes primarily for the wealthy and corporations by $1.5 trillion. Apparently, tax cuts don’t increase the federal deficit, only budget allocations do.

The spending bill was a win for the country and the Democrats, who despite being the minority in both the Senate and the House, obtained items that were unimaginable just a short while ago. The bill ended spending caps on domestic programs and the military that the Republicans had forced on President Obama in 2011. More specifically:

The two-year budget deal would lift caps on defense and non-defense spending by $300 billion over two years. It also includes: $6 billion to fight the opioid crisis; $5.8 billion for child care development block grants; $4 billion for veterans’ medical facilities; $2 billion for medical research; $20 billion to augment existing infrastructure programs; and $4 billion for college affordability.

It also authorizes $90 billion in disaster aid for Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though not for other western states with large wildfires.

Further, it raises the cap on the debt ceiling until March of 2019. That had been a separate issue that could have led to the U.S. defaulting on its debt in a month or so, with disastrous results for the U.S. economy.

The bill did not include any protections for the Dreamers, but it did not include any money for Trump’s border wall or the limitations he wanted on immigration either. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to allow a vote on a DACA bill with unlimited amendments. That could allow a DACA bill to pass the Senate, perhaps without the further items Trump wishes. (Senate Republicans would love to resolve this issue prior to the 2018 elections.) If the House then did not pass the bill, Democrats would have a wonderful campaign issue against House Republicans in the 2018 elections.

We won’t wade much into the flood caused by resignation of Rob Porter based on alleged abuse of two prior wives. Trump said it was a shame that “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation” despite one wife posting a picture of herself with a black eye she said Porter had given her.

More important, Porter did not have a permanent security clearance because the FBI was concerned he might be subject to blackmail due to the abuse allegations. That led to the report that dozens of Trump advisors have not received permanent security clearances despite having access to top-secret material. That includes Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. One wonders what the FBI knows that it is hesitant about.

There was more, of course, regarding the infamous Nunes memo. Last week Trump released the much-criticized memo by Republican Devin Nunes that implied Department of Justice Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein wrongfully renewed a surveillance warrant against Trump advisor Carter Page after Page left the Trump campaign in 2016.   To the surprise of absolutely no one, Trump declined to release the Democratic counter memo responding to the Nunes document, allegedly based on security concerns. This was despite the facts that the Nunes memo relied on the same sources as the Democratic memo, that the House Intelligence Committee unanimously voted that the Dem memo be released, and that the Democrats had already gotten FBI clearance for their memo. A redacted version of the Democratic memo may be released this week. Any bets on whether the Trump administration will redact anything it finds embarrassing?

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is conducting an ethics investigation into the “entire Republican staff” of the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by the same Devin Nunes, for alleged leaks. Perhaps in response, Republicans on the Committee are planning to construct an actual wall between the Republican and Democratic staffers in Committee spaces. I wonder where they got the idea of a wall?   Republicans did not say whether the wall was intended to keep Democratic staffers from emigrating – or merely from discovering Republican leaks.

On Friday the New York Times reported that the number three person at the Department of Justice, Rachel Brand, was resigning.   She was next in the line of succession to Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. While she was a conservative, she was not expected to remove Mueller if Trump fires Rosenstein. Her resignation could be further preparation for Rosenstein’s removal. The next person in line, Noel Francisco, unfortunately is believed to be much more amenable to Trump’s wishes. Francisco is an expert at the Federalist Society, a right-wing group of conservatives and libertarians in the legal world.

In further Russia investigation news, the Dallas News published a story this week about how proxies for Putin made more than $10 million in political contributions to Republicans from the start of the 2015-2016 campaign season through September 2017. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee demanded immediate hearings into hacking threats from Russia in the upcoming 2018 U.S. elections.

This week lawyers for Trump advised him against speaking to Robert Mueller regarding the Russia investigation. Given Trump’s strong likelihood of perjuring himself, that’s hardly a surprise either.   Mueller can still subpoena Trump to appear before the grand jury. If Trump refuses, the matter will go through the court system up to the Supreme Court. While there is precedent from the Watergate scandal that would support Mueller’s position, we don’t know how the conservatives on the current Supreme Court might vote.

In other attempts at converting the U.S. to a dictatorship, the Trump administration yanked the press credentials of a reporter who reported that a top Medicaid official had resigned because of a disagreement or workload problems. I guess if no one finds out, nothing really happened.

Trump also called Democrats who didn’t clap for him during his State of the Union speech “un-American” and “’treasonous”. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs as a helicopter pilot in military service in Iraq, responded by saying “We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy” and that she swore an oath to protect the Constitution, not to clap for “Cadet Bone Spurs”. Trump avoided military service in Vietnam on the basis of alleged bone spurs.

In addition, Trump also called for a military parade in Washington, DC to show off U.S. military equipment. Republican Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) succinctly responded that “When you’re the most powerful nation in all of human history, you don’t have to show it off, like Russia does, and North Korea, and China.” As Major General (Ret) Paul Eton said through, “we have a wannabe banana republic strongman.”

Unbelievably, scientists may have discovered the first planets in another galaxy due to gravitational lensing. (Thank you, Albert Einstein.) I wonder if it’s too late to start moving.

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