Not exactly a slow news day:
- Former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions won confirmation as Attorney General of the U.S. on a 52-47 party-line vote.
- Meanwhile, the Senate told Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to sit down and shut up, but "she persisted," thus beginning her 2020 presidential campaign.
- And though the event was almost 26 full hours ago, yesterday's appeals court hearing in California resulted in a Trump tweet being rebuked by the President's own nominee for the Supreme Court. (The BBC has a really good primer on the U.S. constitutional system of checks and balances, for those overseas.)
- Speaking of the president, it's becoming clear as day that his motivations are very simple, and amount to a total integration of his businesses with the office. Just like we told you.
- Also, we should expect more crises, real and imagined, to scare people into supporting his consolidation of power.
- Closer to home, the building I work in, Willis Tower, has secured a $1bn refinancing that will free up funds for a $500m upgrade. Too bad the company that built it will be dead within two years, according to the bond markets.
And finally, for those of you living in the new, evidence-free world of today, you'll be happy to know that all of these things may have come about because of the lunar eclipse and comet happening Friday night.
Betsy DeVos was just confirmed as Secretary of Education by one vote: the vice president's tie-breaker. This has never happened before in the history of the United States. So far, all of President Trump's nominees requiring confirmation have had roll-call votes, and the rest are likely to. This also has never happened before:
She is only the latest of Trump’s Cabinet and Cabinet-level nominees to face an unusual amount of opposition in the Senate. Newly elected presidents are typically afforded wide latitude in picking their team — before this year, only one of the last 109 Cabinet-level nominations from new presidents, dating back to Jimmy Carter, has been rejected in a vote (five others withdrew). Many nominees are confirmed simply by unanimous consent or a voice vote, which are generally used when there is no substantial opposition and no desire to record individual votes. But all six of the Trump Cabinet-level nominees confirmed by the Senate so far were voted on via a roll-call vote.
And even with only six Cabinet members and Cabinet-level administrators confirmed so far (not including Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, who received 32 “no” votes but isn’t considered Cabinet-level), the Trump administration is on track to have the highest number of contested confirmation votes since at least the Carter administration. Ronald Reagan currently holds the record, with eight of his nominees receiving at least one “no” vote. Obama had been in second place with six contested votes, but Trump has already tied him. And the political website Decision Desk HQ has identified four other Trump nominees who could face close votes.
Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments about the travel ban imposed January 27th, with an appeal to the Supreme Court a foregone conclusion. And you can bet Trump will continue his assaults on the courts regardless of the outcome, because as Brian Beutler points out, "because judges are the greatest impediments to autocratic rule, Trump has singled them out most insidiously."
At least there are some signs that the national immune system is kicking in. But Trump isn't a bad cold; he's a debilitating illness that will leave the United States weaker no matter how soon we can get him out of office.
Stuff I'll read before rehearsal today:
Back to the mines...
Corollaries to what we're seeing:
We will now resume the terror.
By now, everyone in the world has heard about President Trump's patently unconstitutional order to ban refugees from some majority-Muslim nations (except, coincidentally, not from those with which he has business dealings). But after his first Take Out the Trash Day, he did something a lot more far-reaching and dangerous yesterday:
President Donald Trump is reshuffling the US National Security Council (NSC), downgrading the military chiefs of staff and giving a regular seat to his chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Mr Bannon, formerly the head of the populist right-wing, Breitbart News website, will join high-level discussions about national security.
The order was signed on Saturday.
The director of national intelligence and the joint chiefs will attend when discussions pertain to their areas.
Under previous administrations, the director and joint chiefs attended all meetings of the NSC's inner circle, the principals' committee.
On the point of the anti-Muslim ban, Lyft this morning announced a $1m donation to the ACLU to protest it. Good for them. (Uber only turned off surge pricing at JFK and offered to compensate their drivers who were detained, which at the moment could be as few as zero.)
Meanwhile, Republicans who slammed trump just 13 months ago after he said that he was going to do this were remarkably conciliatory when it actually happened. It's almost as if they're opportunistic toadies, who are morally complicit in Trump's attacks on American institutions.
So, anti-Semite and power-drunk Steve Bannon scores a twofer, nicely capping the president's first horrific week in office.
And for those who want a reminder of the reference:
After seeing ABC's interview of the President, Charlie Pierce hadn't "been this horrified since JFK told us about the Cuban Missile Crisis:"
Holy mother of god.
The only demonstrable difference between Muir's conversation with Donald Trump and Katie Couric's legendary encounter with Sarah Palin is that Trump actually is the President* of the United States. He actually has the nuclear codes. He actually is enacting actual policies that will affect actual people. He actually did happen to the oldest self-governing republic on Earth...
And lest we lose sight of why Zaphod Beeblebrox is now in the Oval Office:
I wish the biggest problem with the new president* was that he doesn't know what he's talking about, and that what he is talking is insane ragtime from a campaign that, in his mind, never has ended. However, the biggest problem is that, while he's out talking the insane ragtime, truly retrograde policies are zooming into place from people with their own private agendas.
The more stringent "gag rule" on abortion that Trump signed into place with his executive order is pure Mike Pence. While Trump is blathering on about crowd size and Peyton Manning, Paul Ryan is as close as he's ever been to his golden dream of dismantling the social programs that, in his mind, stopped serving a useful purpose when they got him through college. The country's environmental programs are being handed over to people who would frack their grandmother's old gray head if they thought there was a buck to be made in doing it.
They need a front man who is both unintelligent enough not to get in the way, and enough of a freak show to distract the public from what they're really up to. Luckily, we hit the jackpot for them.
Four years of this? It hasn't even been a week.
Remember when we in the reality-based community said that Donald Trump didn't have the bare minimum intellectual, emotional, or moral capital to qualify for the office of president? We weren't bloody wrong. New York Times reporter gives us a glimpse into the new life of President Trump that confirms our deepest worries:
“These are the most beautiful phones I’ve ever used in my life,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.
His mornings, he said, are spent as they were in Trump Tower. He rises before 6 a.m., watches television tuned to a cable channel first in the residence, and later in a small dining room in the West Wing, and looks through the morning newspapers: The New York Times, The New York Post and now The Washington Post.
But his meetings now begin at 9 a.m., earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his television time. Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.
“They have a lot of board rooms,” he said of the White House, an apparent reference to the Cabinet Room and the Roosevelt Room.
He said he was enjoying himself so far, despite his visible displeasure with the coverage of his inauguration and the first performance of his press secretary, Sean Spicer, who shouted at the news media and made numerous false statements about Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowds in the White House briefing room on Saturday.
Read the whole thing. Every paragraph has a jewel in it. And then, at the bottom of the article, the Times website has this:
This, you see, is punctuation. Because the least-qualified human being ever to be president of the United States still has the enormous power that comes with the office, and he's using it exactly as he said he would.
Tabs open but not read in my browser:
There was one more item, but it's too big to gloss over.
Krugman's column from yesterday—the day Donald Trump was actually elected our next President—echoes a concern I've had for years:
I couldn’t help noticing the contemporary resonances of some Roman history — specifically, the tale of how the Roman Republic fell.
Here’s what I learned: Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.
Famously, on paper the transformation of Rome from republic to empire never happened. Officially, imperial Rome was still ruled by a Senate that just happened to defer to the emperor, whose title originally just meant “commander,” on everything that mattered. We may not go down exactly the same route — although are we even sure of that? — but the process of destroying democratic substance while preserving forms is already underway.
... [T]he sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.
Meanwhile, Trump set another new low yesterday when 7 electors voted for someone other than who they were pledged to vote, the largest such group since the 12th Amendment essentially enshrined two-party politics into our system.
Tales in the war against reality waged by Trump and his party:
And yet, James Fallows sees cause for optimism (assuming Trump doesn't blow up the world):
In [the election's] calamitous effects—for climate change, in what might happen in a nuclear standoff, for race relations—this could indeed be as consequential a “change” election as the United States has had since 1860. But nothing about the voting patterns suggests that much of the population intended upheaval on this scale. “Change” elections drive waves of incumbents from office. This time only two senators, both Republicans, lost their seats.
[C]ity by city, and at the level of politics where people’s judgments are based on direct observation rather than media-fueled fear, Americans still trust democratic processes and observe long-respected norms. As I argued in a cover story last year, most American communities still manage to compromise, invest and innovate, make long-term plans.
Given the atrophy of old-line media with their quaint regard for truth, the addictive strength of social media and their unprecedented capacity to spread lies, and the cynicism of modern politics, will we ever be able to accurately match image with reality? The answer to that question will determine the answer to another: whether this election will be a dire but survivable challenge to American institutions or an irreversible step toward something else.
Only 698 days until the 2018 election...