EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's "solution" to his ethical issues is causing even more ethical issues:
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing investigations into his housing arrangements with a lobbyist, his travel expenses, and his security detail. He has authorized raises for staff in spite of being told not to by the White House, and allegedly retaliated against EPA whistleblowers. This adds up to at least 11 audits and investigations from the Office of Inspector General and Government Accountability Office, with more news of his ethical lapses seeming to break every day. In order to address these problems, according to the New York Times, the former Oklahoma attorney general has decided he is going to need extra help from a private legal defense fund.
But as the head environmental regulator, Pruitt having a legal defense fund raises even more questions for government ethics experts, who have trouble envisioning how he will accept donations without creating another ethical mess.
“Legal defense funds can be expensive and difficult to maintain due to extensive screening, compliance, and reporting requirements,” [Virginia Canter, executive branch counsel for Citizens for Responsibility Ethics in Washington (CREW),] notes. “From that perspective alone, he would be better off resigning.”
Yes, but, see: the ethical issues are a feature, not a bug. The whole point of Pruitt's current role is to make as much money as possible from it. No less important to Pruitt is the opportunity to convince people that government doesn't work, which he hopes to accomplish by poisoning the EPA from within.
Once you understand how these guys work, it makes a lot more sense.
Conor Friedersdorf wants people who voted for President Trump to understand how much he's sold out the government:
The GOP base is drawn to media figures who support their president and quickly turn on those who criticize him as if they are guilty of a betrayal; for that reason, many populist-right pundits are reluctant to criticize the president or to delve deeply into the behavior of the swamp creatures he has enabled. Instead, they pander to the GOP base, keep them in the dark about important corruption—and so fail to keep the president and his associates accountable. That very betrayal of their audience is what creates the illusion of their loyalty.
I opposed electing Trump, but I’m always 100 percent honest with his supporters. And when I give specific examples of how he has failed to drain the swamp, some lash out at me for telling them truths that they don’t want to face, or angrily change the subject by pointing out that various establishment politicians have been guilty of flagrant cronyism in the past.
Wake up, Trump supporters—your country needs you to hold the man you elected accountable to his promises rather than blindly defending him to own liberals. Demand better or your country suffers.
I mean, I agree with Friedersdorf, but typically people who voted for Trump don't actually listen to people who didn't. We have to keep trying, though.
Writing for New Republic, political scientist Scott Lemieux suggests that Democrats start playing constitutional hardball if the Republicans don't let us govern:
If the Democrats take over Congress and the White House in 2021 with Anthony Kennedy as the median justice—giving them a realistic chance of replacing him—it would be wise for Democrats to hold their fire, barring the Supreme Court serially striking down major legislation on specious constitutional grounds (which the decisions of the Obama era suggest is unlikely).
But what if Donald Trump is able to replace Kennedy, and, God forbid, justices Stephen Breyer and/or Ginsburg as well? There is no good outcome in this scenario. Republicans would have a hammerlock on a nine-member Court for decades. If Trump gets two nominees, this Court is likely to be well to the right of the current Roberts Court and likely to go to war with a Democratic Congress.
Even worse, the decisive nominations would be a product of a Republican Senate refusing to allow a president who won two majorities to fill a vacancy, and then confirming multiple nominees of a president who lost the popular vote by a substantial margin. Court-packing is bad, but allowing an entrenched majority on the Supreme Court to represent a minority party that refuses to let Democratic governments govern would not be acceptable or democratically legitimate, either.
For this reason, it would be very unwise for Democrats to rule anything out. They should be careful not to blow up the power of judicial review without good cause. But if desperate Republicans try to establish an anti-Democratic rearguard on the Supreme Court before they get swept out of office, Democrats have to leave all options on the table.
This reflects what we ancient D&D players know as the "Lawful Stupid" problem. Characters with lawful-good alignment run the risk of trying to do the right thing so much that they fail to do the necessary thing. Think: the Enterprise crew deciding not to save a planet because doing so would violate the prime directive. Or the Democratic Party continuing to assume the Republican Party will follow established political norms even when doing so would cause a temporary shift in power in the United States.
New Republic's Matt Ford contemplates the counter-factual:
Trump might also have had a better first year of his presidency. He wouldn’t be tweeting every morning about witch hunts and collusion, at least (though he’d still be tweeting). And while his poll numbers might have stayed the same, the Russia investigation might not have become the lightning rod that’s energized Democrats and demoralized Republicans. Yes, the 2018 midterms were always going to be tough for the GOP. But they would’ve been easier without the threat of more indictments from Mueller between now and Election Day.
What about legal danger? Without Comey’s removal, Trump wouldn’t be facing obstruction-of-justice questions and the risk of impeachment. The Russia investigation would have continued in a less intense form. The president’s family members might have avoided intense scrutiny from Mueller’s team. Cohen, who knows more about Trump’s legal and business dealings than almost anyone, maybe wouldn’t be facing for an imminent federal indictment. That might have spared him (and maybe the president) from questions about money laundering that are slowly starting to surface.
Experts and analysts spent the last year wondering how to contain the damage that Comey’s firing has done to the justice system. But perhaps the most effective safeguard is the example Trump has set for his successors. If civic virtue, political norms, or personal integrity don’t compel future presidents to uphold the rule of law, then maybe a simpler reason will suffice: It’s too costly not to.
Of course, if enough Republicans care more about personal enrichment than the rule of law—perish the thought!—then Trump and his cronies may not suffer any consequences for destroying it.
Greg Sargent this morning points out that my party's congressional candidates aren't running the campaigns that the popular imagination thinks they are, which is a good thing:
There’s a narrative about our politics right now that you constantly encounter on social and political media. It goes like this: Democrats are too obsessed with the Russia investigation, or with Stormy Daniels, or they’re just too focused on “not being President Trump,” and as a result, they aren’t articulating an affirmative agenda and risk getting caught flat-footed by Trump’s supposedly rising popularity.
But this narrative is entirely wrong, and two new pieces this morning help set the record straight.
The first article is by Nate Silver, and it puts Trump’s job-approval numbers in their proper perspective.
If Trump’s numbers are rising, they are only doing so inside a very narrow range that remains abysmally low. And don’t forget the polling that shows strong disapproval of Trump is running higher than strong approval, which could impact disparities in voter engagement.
The second piece is by Ron Brownstein, and it reports accurately on how Democrats are actually running their campaigns right now. As Brownstein notes, many Democrats think that their chances of winning this fall turn less on whether Trump gets further dragged down by scandal, and more on their ability to link the GOP’s tax cuts to its failed (but continuing) drive to roll back health coverage, which together amount to a deeply unpopular overall set of GOP priorities.
With Republican primary elections in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and North Carolina going on today, we may have even better data about how we're retaking the House in November.
On the other hand, Bruce Schneier notes that both parties' campaigns are dangerously nonchalant about IT security. Great.
Back in the day, Rudy Giuliani put away a lot of bad people when he served as the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York. Then he because mayor of New York and did some good things (and some bad).
Flash forward 30 years. Yesterday he went on TV and seriously injured his client's, President Trump's, interests:
[F]ormer New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a recent addition to Trump’s legal team, acknowledged for the first time that Trump had repaid [other Trump attorney Michael] Cohen — despite Trump’s assertion last month that he was unaware of the payment. Giuliani made the comments Wednesday night to Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel.
Josh Marshall explains why this was so...unhinged:
My best guess is that Guiliani and Trump and other members of the legal team had discussed this story (true or not) as a way to escape a claimed FEC violation. They did so with what appears to have been a fairly limited understanding of campaign finance law. But they thought it was a good idea. Giuliani then meandered his way into floating it during his interview with Sean Hannity. Note how he immediately fixes on the point that this solves the campaign finance problem (even though it appears not to). He’s adamant and cocky about it. He is then caught off guard when Hannity – himself caught off guard and scrambling in response to the initial claim – reminds him that the story is that Trump never knew anything about the Daniels deal at all and did not know where the money was from.
So, great, in arguing against a possible campaign finance violation, you've argued in favor of making false statements to law enforcement, no attorney-client privilege between Trump and Cohen, and also that Stephanie Clifford's defamation suit against Trump has merit.
These guys are just incapable of thinking things through. I guess that works in New York real estate, but it's alarming when it's the President and his aides.
House Speaker and Sophomore Class President Paul Ryan has decided he won't run for re-election this year:
The latest and most high-profile departure from Congress, he joins dozens of Republicans who have resigned or retired ahead of the 2018 midterms,according to a Congressional Casualty List. According to an NBC News count, Ryan is the 24th House Republican who has decided not to seek re-election this cycle. His departure had been rumored for months.
Back home in his Wisconsin district, there are already a slew of challengers lined up, including Democrat Randy Bryce, who boasted yesterday of strong fundraising numbers. He cheered Ryan's announcement with a joke about Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
In Washington, Ryan's announcement moves the potential battle for House Speaker out of the shadows and gives possible contenders like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and others time to gather support for possible bids to lead their conference in the next Congress.
Jennifer Rubin sees another rat (in her own party, take note) leaving the sinking ship:
The political reality is less noble. One can hardly imagine a more obvious signal that Ryan fears the prospect, if not of losing his own seat, than of losing the majority and hence his speakership. In the past, speakers — understanding the demoralizing impact that premature white-flag-waving would have on their troops — had the good sense to wait until after the election to announce that they would exit the leadership of their party. Ryan’s move has several consequences.
First, Democrats (who were heavily spending to defeat Ryan) can declare victory in that race and save the money it would have taken to knock out a sitting speaker.
Second, this is a flashing light to donors and candidates on both sides. For Republican money-men, the message is: Don’t throw away cash trying to save the House. (One wonders whether Ryan, previously a strong fundraiser, will still be able to get donors to open their wallets when he’s abandoning ship.)
Third, this will be seen in some quarters as a sign that Ryan cannot bear defending the president from potential impeachment. It has been a chore to act as Trump’s lead apologist, ignoring Trump’s outbursts and justifying his zigzags.
I'm very much looking forward to a Democratic 116th Congress. Apparently so is Paul Ryan.
I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:
There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.
In the last seven days, these things have happened:
Can't wait to see what the next week will bring...
Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.
Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:
Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.