U.S. Politics

Trump touted ‘armada’ he was sending to North Korea while it was sailing in opposite direction

CREDIT: Fox Business screengrab


The White House is blaming the Defense Department for the mistake.

The armada Trump bragged about sending to North Korea last week was actually headed in the opposite direction, according to a new report from the New York Times.

In an interview with Fox Business that aired on April 12, President Trump declared that the United States was “sending an armada” to deal with the threat posed by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s refusal to stop testing weapons.

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments came on the heels of news reports that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed toward North Korea — news seemingly confirmed by a strike group spokesman.

The day before Trump’s Fox Business interview aired, Press Secretary Sean Spicer also seemed to confirm the strike group was on the way to North Korea, saying during a news conference that “a carrier group is several things. The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It’s prudent. But it does a lot of things. It ensures our — we have the strategic capabilities, and it gives the president options in the region.”

“But I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence,” he added. “So I think it serves multiple capabilities.”

News of the strike group’s proximity to North Korea contributed to an alarming NBC report that the U.S. military was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.”

But turns out it was all false— the strike group wasn’t en route to North Korea last week after all.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that while Trump and Spicer were touting the strike group’s new mission to North Korea, “the Carl Vinson [and] the four other warships in its strike force were at that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.”

The White House is blaming the Defense Department for the mistake.

“White House officials said on Tuesday they were relying on guidance from the Defense Department,” the Times reports. “Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from a premature announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea.”

A key to unraveling the confusion, the Times reports, was a photo taken Saturday and posted online by the Navy on Monday showing the Carl Vision sailing through Indonesian islands thousands of miles away from North Korea.

CREDIT: Bradd Jaffy on Twitter

If it makes anyone feel better, the Times reports that the strike group “is now on a northerly course for the Korean Peninsula and is expected to arrive in the region sometime next week,” according to Defense Department officials.

News of the USS Carl Vinson strike group’s true location was first broken by Defense News.

Aaron Rupar

U.S. Politics

Nancy Pelosi Demands Congressional Action To Stop Trigger-Happy Trump From Blowing Up The World

Nancy Pelosi Demands Congressional Action To Stop Trigger-Happy Trump From Blowing Up The World


With Trump in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal – like a toddler playing with a loaded firearm – Congressional oversight is a necessity

After a week in which Donald Trump launched airstrikes on an empty airfield in Syria, dropped a massive bomb in Afghanistan, and is said to be planning a preemptive strike on North Korea, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is saying enough is enough.

In a statement released Thursday, Pelosi said Congress must immediately be called back into session to receive briefings and debate Trump’s increasing use of force.

The full statement:

Every day, the President gives Congress reason to return and debate the use of force.  The President’s escalation in Syria and his saber-rattling on North Korea demand serious and immediate Congressional scrutiny.


Speaker Ryan must call Congress back into session for classified briefings and debate.  Congress must do its duty and honor our responsibility to the Constitution.

In normal circumstances with a normal president in the White House, Congressional oversight on matters of war and peace is critical. With Trump in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal – like a toddler playing with a loaded firearm – this becomes even more necessary.

For the safety and security of the United States and the rest of the world, House Speaker Paul Ryan should call Congress back and work to ensure that Donald Trump’s quick and reckless military escalations face some level of oversight from the legislative branch.

This president can’t be trusted to conduct himself like an adult in his Twitter posts, much less be responsible for America’s nuclear arsenal.

As Hillary Clinton said frequently during the 2016 presidential campaign, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Now he has the nuclear weapons, and he still can’t be trusted.


U.S. Politics

Eric Trump: Donald Trump bombed Syria because Ivanka told him to

Eric Trump: Donald Trump bombed Syria because Ivanka told him to

(Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)



The president’s daughter has “influence,” and can apparently get him to alter his foreign policy at her whim

Less than a month after it was announced that first daughter Ivanka Trump was getting an unpaid job in her father’s White House, her brother Eric is now speculating that she may have influenced President Donald Trump into abandoning his longheld opposition to attacking Syria and the Bashar Assad regime.

“Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said ‘listen, this is horrible stuff.’ My father will act in times like that,” Eric Trump told The Telegraph.

He added, “And by the way, he was anti doing anything with Syria two years ago. Then a leader gasses their own people, women and children, at some point America is the global leader and the world’s superpower has to come forward and act and they did with a lot of support of our allies and I think that’s a great thing.”

Notably, however — and in keeping with Eric Trump’s recent habit of accidentally stating truths that embarrass the rest of his family — he also used the interview as an opportunity to insist that there was nothing to see about his father’s well documented connections to the regime of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

“If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie,” Trump told The Telegraph. This argument ignores the fact that Trump warned Russia before conducting his airstrikes on Syria,

Trump also said that he wasn’t worried about Putin’s threats of military retaliation over America’s attacks on Syria, claiming that the president “is not a guy who gets intimidated. I can tell you he is tough and he won’t be pushed around. The cards will shake out the way they do but he’s tough.”

U.S. Politics

The United States Senate is a failed institution (Opinion)

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite


It’s a malapportioned, anti-democratic embarrassment.

Let’s briefly take stock of what’s about to happen in the U.S. Senate.

A president who lost the popular vote by 2,864,974 nominated Neil Gorsuch to serve a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest Court. Although a bloc of senators representing at least 53 percent of the country oppose this nominee, Gorsuch is all but certain to be confirmed — after a bit of a showdown over the Senate’s rules.

Gorsuch’s confirmation will come more than a year after President Obama — a president who won the popular vote, twice — nominated Merrick Garland to the same vacant seat on the Supreme Court. At the time, Democratic senators represented over 53 percent of the nation. Yet Garland was not confirmed because, in the bizarre kind of math that exists in the U.S. Senate, 53 percent support only earned the Democratic caucus 46 percent of the Senate’s seats.

This is hardly an unusual event in the Senate’s history. The Senate is the product of a compromise that, while it made sense at the time, rested on assumptions that haven’t been true for more than a century. It was an early bulwark for southern slaveholders and a firewall protecting Jim Crow. One of its most defining traits, the filibuster, was invented accidentally by the villain in a popular Broadway musical.

The Senate is a relic, wrapped in a mistake, wrapped in a toxic dose of sanctimony.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is one of the few Democrats who will not vote to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. He explained to reporters that he doesn’t want to goad Senate Republicans into eliminating filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, which they are expected to do after Gorsuch is filibustered.

“People who have been here for a long time know that we’re going down the wrong path here,” Manchin claimed. “The most unique political body in the world, the United States Senate, will be no more than a six-year term in the House.”

Manchin may be right that the Senate is the world’s most unique political body, but it is unique in the same way that Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is a unique restaurant, or that Nickelback is a unique band. The Senate is theShowgirls of legislative chambers, the Miller Clear Beer of lawmaking bodies. It’s past time someone put it to sleep.

How we got into this mess

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the document that set 13 British colonies on the path to independence, “that all men are created equal.” Eleven years later, several of the same men who signed this Declaration of Independence joined the delegates to America’s constitutional convention — where they promptly cast aside any pretense that the United States is dedicated to the notion that all people are equal.

The Founding Fathers betrayed the Declaration’s promise with a Constitution that explicitly protected the institution of slavery. But they also betrayed it with the Senate, which treats residents of small states as more worthy of representation than residents of larger states.

In fairness, there’s a good explanation for why delegates from larger states were willing to trade away their right to equal representation in the national legislature. The Articles of Confederation, which proceeded the Constitution, was less a charter for a single nation and more akin to NATO, or perhaps the European Union. As Yale law professor Akhil Amar explains, the Articles were “an alliance, a multilateral treaty of sovereign nation-states.”

Under the Articles, Congress could neither tax individuals directly, raise troops, or provide for an army — a matter of great annoyance to General George Washington. The 13 former colonies largely functioned as their own independent nations.

The Senate is a relic, wrapped in a mistake, wrapped in a toxic dose of sanctimony.

Yet, while the United States’ first experiment in unity was more treaty than Union, early American leaders were both well-versed in European history and fearful of the warfare than inevitably results when rival nations share geographic borders. The Constitution was thus an effort to solve two problems at once: to bind the 13 states together in a manner that would keep them from warring with each other, but also to ensure that this Union had real authority over its citizens.

Understood in this context, the Great Compromise that led to the Senate makes sense. Large states like Pennsylvania and New York feared war with their neighboring states more than they feared being outvoted in the Senate. Small states had a stronger claim to equal representation when they were conceived of as independent nations and not simply a collection of individual citizens. And, in any event, the malapportioned Senate would be less dysfunctional that the loose collection of separate nations joined together under the Articles of Confederation.

Yet, whatever the logic of this compromise in 1787, a lot has changed since then. The United States has a coherent national identity. Rhode Island has little to fear from the conquering armies of nearby Massachusetts. Utah is not going to fight a war with Colorado.

And yet the Senate persists, treating each resident of Wyoming as 67 times more worthy than each resident of California, despite the fact that the circumstances that birthed the Senate no longer exist.

The slaveholder’s house

Not long after the Constitution was ratified, slaveholders discovered that they had a problem — most of the nation lived in free states. By the early 1820s, free states controlled 105 of the 187 seats in the House of Representatives — and that’s after you account for the fact that the Three-Fifths Compromisepermitted slave states to count 60 percent of their enslaved and disenfranchised population when it came time to allocate seats in the House.

If the House were the only game in town, in other words, it could conceivably have banned the slave trade — or at least taken fairly aggressive steps to hobble the South’s “peculiar institution.”

The South’s fears came to a head in 1819, when an obscure New York congressman introduced amendments to legislation admitting Missouri as a state, which would have banned any expansion of slavery within Missouri and required that all new children born into slavery be freed at age 25. Among other things, if Missouri were admitted into the Union on these terms, free states would have gained a majority in the Senate.

The response, as Princeton historian Sean Wilentz writes, was “blistering.” Southern lawmakers “virtually threatened secession were the amendments approved.” Northerners united behind the amendments in the House, pushing them across the finish line to passage.

Nevertheless, the amendments were ultimately defeated in the Senate, after five northern senators crossed over to vote with a unified South. Missouri was eventually admitted to the Union as a slave state, under the terms enacted through the so-called Missouri Compromise.

The Senate, however, truly came into its own as a savior for Southern racists in the century following the Civil War.

In 1875, Reconstruction was on its last legs. Democrats, then the party most sympathetic to Southern whites, recently regained control of the House of Representatives. When Mississippi Democrats staged a violent uprising to seize control of their state, President Grant did not send troops to intervene. Within just two years, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes would sell out African Americans in the South in order to secure his own election — trading the end of Reconstruction for the presidency.

Yet, even as white supremacists tightened their grip on the old Confederacy, Congress, several senators elected under Reconstruction governments had not yet completed their terms. As racist mobs marched through the state, Mississippi still had two Republican senators in 1875 — one of whom, Sen. Blanche Bruce, was a black man.

1875 was thus the last year until midway through the next century that Congress enacted a civil rights law of any kind. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibited racial discrimination by “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement,” though this provision was soon struck down by the Supreme Court.

The reason why no new civil rights bill emerged from Congress until 1957 was the Senate. Though five such bills cleared the House in the 12 years following World War II alone, Senate malapportionment gave the southern senators far more influence over the legislative process than their states’ population could justify.

That, combined with another peculiarity of the Senate, was enough to halt civil rights in its tracks.

Talk less, smile more

This is an impolitic time for a liberal news site to discuss the history of the filibuster. A bloc of Democrats comprising a majority of the nation but a minority of the seats in the Senate hope to keep a very conservative judge off the Supreme Court through a filibuster. Republican leaders hope to block this maneuver by eliminating filibusters of Supreme Court nominees. Having endured under the filibuster for so many years, the United States would undoubtedly be better off if the filibuster survives just a little bit longer until the Gorsuch nomination is defeated.

Yet, while the senators hoping to filibuster Gorsuch represent a majority of the nation, this state of affairs is fairly unusual. The filibuster played a major role in Southern senators’ efforts to halt civil rights legislation. It played a similar role in a Republican minority’s efforts to shut down the only agency that can enforce much of federal labor law in 2013, and it was the centerpiece of Republican efforts to sabotage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before it was even operational. The last time the Senate erupted into a nuclear showdown over the filibuster, a Republican minority tried to prevent President Obama from confirming anyone to a powerful appeals court in Washington, DC.

Far more often than not, in other words, the filibuster thwarts democracy rather than reinforcing it. It cheated African Americans out of their full status as citizens. It threatened to dismantle entire agencies, despite the fact that Congress passed no law permitting this to happen. If the filibuster rules do change this week, Democrats should lament the rise of Neil Gorsuch, but they should not weep to see one of the most anti-democratic aspects of the Senate suffer another cut.

The filibuster’s very existence is an historic accident arising from one of Aaron Burr’s final acts as vice president. As Brookings political scientist Sarah Binder recounts the history, the lame duck vice president returned to the Senate in 1805, fresh off his indictment for killing Alexander Hamilton. There, as the Senate’s presiding officer, he told the senators that their rule book was too complicated and had too many duplicative procedures. One process in particular, the “previous question motion,” Burr deemed especially worthy of removal.

And the Senate believed him. They eliminated this motion the next year.

It turned out, however, that the previous question motion was not superfluous, it was a motion that enabled senators to cut off debate on a subject when a minority wanted to keep that debate going. Thus, by eliminating the motion, Burr effectively enabled dissenters to delay a vote indefinitely by forcing the Senate to “debate” it until the majority gave up.

No one actually attempted this until 1837, when “a minority block of Whig senators prolonged debate to prevent Andrew Jackson’s allies from expunging a resolution of censure against him.” But filibusters grew increasingly common over most of the following century and in 1917, the Senate amended its rules to permit a two-thirds supermajority to end debate. This threshold was eventually lowered to 60 senators, and later to 51 senators for confirmation votes not involving Supreme Court nominees.

In any event, one of the Senate’s most distinctive features, the filibuster, is not part of some grand vision of minority rights handed down from up on high to the Founding Fathers. It is an accident, created by a lame duck vice president and a body of senators who did not understand what they were doing.

Can it be fixed?

In its inception, the Senate had two anti-democratic features. It is malapportioned, and its members were originally selected by state legislatures, not by the voters themselves. As explained above, it soon developed a third major anti-democratic feature, the filibuster.

The good news, for those of us who believe that the right to govern should flow from the will of the people, is that the Senate has gotten better over time. The Seventeenth Amendment provides for direct election of senators. The filibuster is part-way through a process that is likely to end in its demise.

Nevertheless, curing the Senate’s greatest sin against democracy — the fact that it treats a person from California as 1/67th of a person from Wyoming — will be a much heavier lift.

Although the Constitution provides two processes for amendments, these processes come with two caveats. No amendment could be made prior to 1808 curtailing the slave trade, and “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

Theoretically, there are ways around this problem. The United States could ratify two amendments to the Constitution — one permitting amendments to the Senate’s makeup and another actually changing that makeup or abolishing the Senate. Or, alternatively, a single amendment could leave the Senate in place as a malapportioned body, but reduce its authority so that it becomes an advisory body similar to the British House of Lords.

The problem with these solutions, however, is that any amendment requires the consent of three-fourths of the states, and it is unlikely that the states that benefit from malappointment will vote to reduce their own power.

So that leaves one last option, a constitutional revolution. And there is one very significant precedent for such radical change.

Under the Articles of Confederation, amendments were only permitted with the unanimous consent of the states. Nevertheless, a new Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia which, by its own terms, became effective upon “the ratification of the conventions of nine states.” The Constitution of the United States is, in this sense, unconstitutional.

We the People could once again invoke a similar process to create a more democratic union — one that is not only free of Senate malapportionment, but also free of other anti-democratic aspects of our present system such as partisan gerrymandering and the Electoral College.

I have no illusions that this will happen any time soon, but it is likely the only way that the United States can become a truly democratic republic — one where everyone’s vote counts equally, regardless of where they live.

Ian Millhiser

U.S. Politics

The Deep State, Explained

US Capitol. (John Sonderman/Flickr cc 2.0)


America’s Deep State is harder to find than those abroad, but could get stronger under Trump.

As the daily drip of information about possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia trickles on, Democrats, commentators and at least some officials in the US intelligence community, it seems, smell a rat. CNN reported last week that according to sources, “The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Meanwhile, White House sources continue insisting to reporters that there’s no fire behind all the smoke. The true story, they say, is a conspiracy by the so-called “Deep State” to undermine a democratically elected president.

Trump and his team are good at taking terms and twisting their meaning to suit their own ends. “Fake news,” for example. Once Trump started using it, the mainstream media, which had been using “fake news” to describe online lies packaged in the guise of honest reporting, largely backed away. “Let’s put this tainted term out of its misery,” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote.

“Deep State” may meet a similar fate, with some anti-Trump commentators arguing that the term, while appropriate for less democratic governments abroad, has no meaning in the United States, and refers to one of many conspiracy theories that found a home at InfoWars, Breitbart, and, ultimately, in the president’s brain.

Yet despite that, the idea of a Deep State is useful when talking about the forces that drive US policy. Here’s a look at its history and use today.

How Trump allies talk about the “Deep State”

In Trump’s world, the “Deep State” is a sub rosa part of the liberal establishment, that crowd resistant to the reality TV star’s insurgent candidacy all along, and which ultimately was rebuffed by voters on Election Day. Although Trump has taken the helm of the executive branch, this theory goes, his opponents lurk just below the surface. “We are talking about the emergence of a deep state led by Barack Obama, and that is something that we should prevent,” Steve King, the right-wing member of Congress from Iowa and a Trump ally, told The New York Times.

Implicit is the idea that the intelligence agencies’ investigation into Trump and his campaign’s Russia ties are baseless, and that leaks about the investigation to the press are part of an effort to undermine him. “Of course, the deep state exists,” Trump ally Newt Gingrich recently told the Associated Press. “There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president. This is what the deep state does: They create a lie, spread a lie, fail to check the lie and then deny that they were behind the lie.”

The claim that the campaign was surveilled by Obama is also part of this supposed Deep State conspiracy; House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes fanned the flames last Wednesday when he suggested, based on information shared with him by the administration, that Trump advisers’ communications were likely collected during the transition, perhaps by accident. Breitbart has even started calling the wiretapping story DeepStateGate.

The Deep State abroad

Historically, the idea of a Deep State is an import; it has been used for decades abroad to describe any network of entrenched government officials who function independently from elected politicians and work toward their own ends.

One such network cropped up decades ago in Turkey, devoted to opposing communism and protecting by any means necessary the new Turkish Republic that Mustafa Ataturk founded after World War I. In the 1950s, the derin devlet — literally, “deep state” — began bumping off its enemies and seeking to confuse and scare the public through “false flag” attacks and engineered riots. The network ultimately was responsible for thousands of deaths.

Another shadowy entity exists in present day Pakistan, where the country’s main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the military exert considerable control over government, often operating independently of the country’s elected leaders and sometimes overthrowing them in military coups. “The vast majority of Pakistanis are effectively disenfranchised by this system,” wrote Daniel Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “As far as it is possible to know their views through public opinion polling and interviews, it appears that they perceive the state as generally ineffective, often even predatory, in their daily lives.”

America’s Deep State

Here in the United States, we have another kind of Deep State, one that Mike Lofgren, a former congressional staffer specializing in intelligence, described in an original essay for our site in 2014.

The Deep State, Lofgren wrote, was not “a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day.” It is not a tight-knit group, and has no clear objective. Rather, it is a sprawling network, stretching across the government and into the private sector. “It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies,” Lofgren wrote. “… I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.” In Lofgren’s definition are echoes of President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell address in 1961, in which he implored future presidents to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

But in his Obama-era definition of the Deep State, Lofgren also included “the White House advisers who urged Obama not to impose compensation limits on Wall Street CEOs, the contractor-connected think tank experts who besought us to ‘stay the course’ in Iraq, the economic gurus who perpetually demonstrate that globalization and deregulation are a blessing that makes us all better off in the long run.” These individuals pretend they have no ideology — “their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise.”

In short, by Lofgren’s conception, the Deep State is maintained by the mid-level number crunchers, analysts, congressional staffers and lawyers — technocrats who build and perpetuate the Washington consensus, leading the country in and out of wars, in and out of trade agreements, into and, if we’re lucky, out of recessions, without questioning their own judgment. The 2016 election saw voters rebel against that system, and Donald Trump was the surprising result.

A Deep State divided and debated

The 2016 election shook up the Deep State. It’s without question that elements within it are concerned about Donald Trump and pushing back against him. The FBI, which may have helped Trump win the election with its last-minute announcement about Clinton’s emails, is now investigating him. But some elements of the intelligence agencies may also be the source of stories fanning the flames of Trump’s wiretapping theory.

On one hand, public servants at the State Department are chafing at Trump’s defunding of diplomacy and object to his repeated attempts to put in place a Muslim travel ban. On the other, elements of Lofgren’s Deep State, including Wall Street lawyers and alumni of Silicon Valley companies that help the government surveil citizens, have become part of Trump’s administration.

We are in a moment where the intelligence community has tremendous power. Leakers continue to give to the press part, but not all of the story; declassified documents and testimony by agency heads before Congress yield few definitive takeaways.

Some on both the left and right hope the Deep State will take Trump down. But civil libertarians and such journalists as Glenn Greenwald have been imploring the media, Democratic politicians and Washington insiders to make sure that in their enthusiasm to get rid of Trump, they do not give intelligence agencies too long a leash or too much ability to shape the narrative. Once they have it, Greenwald argues, the agencies won’t want to let it go.

The Deep State to come

While the Russia story continues to trickle out, Trump and his minions have gotten to work trying to build their own network of loyal informants across the government, a web that resembles the deep states seen abroad more than anything America has known.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly has taken the reins of foreign policy from the State Department and is running it out of the White House. He’s also been tasked with overhauling, and potentially privatizing, elements of the federal bureaucracy from his perch at Donald Trump’s side. Meanwhile, Trump has installed hundreds of officials across government to serve as his eyes and ears, rooting out those opposed to his administration and pushing his agenda throughout official agencies.

If Obama’s Deep State is perceived by Trump as the enemy, his solution is to build his own Deep State to counter it.

U.S. Politics

6 ways President Trump tried to spin his total defeat on health care


President Donald Trump, who loves to win, just suffered the biggest defeat of his still-nascent presidency. The American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, was so unpopular that House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled a vote on the bill at the last minute Friday.

You might be wondering how Trump would react to a loss that is nearly impossible to spin as a victory. The answer is that, of course, he tried anyway.

Trump was involved with the last stages of the bill’s failure. He wanted congressional Republicans to quit negotiating, which they did late Thursday night. Then, even with serious doubt about whether the bill had enough votes, Trump kept insisting they hold the vote anyway — until Ryan canceled it at the last second.

In the aftermath, Trump, in a short statement from the Oval Office, shared his take on the process. In sum: All of this is Democrats’ fault, and when Obamacare simultaneously implodes and explodes, they will come begging to him to make a deal. He also gave the American people an idea of what the president learned about lawmaking during the three-week process that he decided was “enough”:

1) How legislating works

“We all learned a lot,” Trump said. “We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and in the House. So, it’s been certainly for me, it’s been an interesting experience.”

2) If your bill fails because not enough people in your party will vote for it, it’s the other party’s fault

“We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote so it’s a very difficult thing to do.” The real losers, he said, were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Now they own Obamacare,” Trump said. “They own it. One hundred percent own it.”

Judging by the statement Pelosi and Schumer gave, surrounded by several fellow Democrats, they’re very happy losers indeed:

3) Obamacare is failing, and when it does, Democrats will be begging for a bipartisan deal

“I’ve been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode,” said Trump, who never said such a thing until January 2017, according to an archive of his public statements. “It is exploding right now.”

“It’s imploding and soon will explode and it’s not going to be pretty,” he said later.

The Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act denied that Obamacare was exploding (or imploding, or going into a death spiral). But Trump said he was convinced that when that happens, it will be an opportunity for an even better, bipartisan health care bill.

“I know some Democrats and they’re good people,” Trump said. “I honestly believe the Democrats will come to us and say, look, let’s get together and get a great health care bill or plan that’s really great for the people of our country.”

4) The Republican Party is complicated

But everyone likes him, Trump said, which is the really important thing. “He’s got a lot of factions,” he said of House Speaker Paul Ryan, “and there’s been a long history of liking and disliking even within the Republican Party. Long before I got here. But I’ve had a great relationship with the Republican Party. It seems that both sides like Trump, and that’s good.”

5) He really wanted to do tax reform anyway

“So now we’re going to go for tax reform, which I’ve always liked,” said Trump, who insisted for weeks that Obamacare repeal was required to happen first, before tax reform. (This isn’t true, but it was the preferred strategy of Republicans in Congress.)

6) Anyway, this crushing defeat is actually for the best

“Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today, because we’ll end up with a truly great health care bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes,” Trump said. “So, I want to thank everybody for being here. It will go very smoothly.”

Libby Nelson

U.S. Politics

CNN analyst: Sources say Mike Flynn may have turned on Trump and become a witness for the FBI

Gen. Michael Flynn speaks to NBC (screen grab)


As of Saturday evening, rumors are swirling that Pres. Donald Trump’s ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn has cut a deal with the FBI and is now informing on his old boss, the president.

CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem discussed the possibility in a panel discussion on Friday night when she said that former Trump foreign policy consultant Carter Page, ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone will all testify before the House Intelligence Committee regarding their ties to Russia.

“It’s not that interesting to me because I don’t think they’ll be under oath,” Kayyem said. “The one name not mentioned is a name I mention often on this show: Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser.”

“It is starting to look like — from my sources and from open reporting — that Mike Flynn is the one who may have a deal with the FBI and that’s why we have not heard from him for some time,” she said.

Flynn, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General, was forced to step down from the Trump administration when it came to light that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the public about his contacts with Russian Ambassador and former FSB spy recruiter Sergey Kislyak.

This week, retired CIA Director James Woolsey said that he sat in on a secret meeting with Flynn and officials from Turkey’s authoritarian Erdogan regime in which Flynn entertained the idea of illegally sidestepping U.S. diplomatic protocols to return a fugitive Muslim cleric to Turkey. Woolsey describe the proposed operation as a “dead of night” mission to “whisk away” Fethullah Gulen and return him to Erdogan’s far-right government.

Watch the video, embedded below:

U.S. Politics

The Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care



A week of high drama in Washington reached a stunning climax on Friday: President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) decided to pull the Republican bill that had sought to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act rather than watch it go down to certain defeat.

There will be no second attempt anytime soon. Ryan said at a Capitol Hill news conference on Friday afternoon that the nation will “be living with ObamaCare for the foreseeable future.”

It’s an astonishing conclusion to one of the main fights that Republicans — including Trump — have sought for years.

As the dust settles, who are the biggest winners and losers?


President Trump

Make no mistake, this was a humiliating defeat for a president who campaigned as the ultimate deal-maker who could shake up a moribund Washington and get things done.

His big legislative push has fallen at the first hurdle. Trump himself was deeply engaged in trying to win over reluctant Republican lawmakers — and it didn’t work.

There are many unknowns: How will this affect other items on Trump’s agenda? How much frustration among grassroots Republican voters will be focused on him rather than Ryan or the GOP lawmakers who refused to get on board?

In remarks on Friday afternoon, Trump sought to put a brave face on the situation, avoiding lashing out at any Republicans and arguing that the Democrats would continue to “own” ObamaCare, to their political detriment.

But when Trump said, “There’s not much you can do about it,” referring to ObamaCare, it seemed an oddly impotent remark for a sitting president with majorities in both houses of Congress.

This is a very big setback for Trump. Just how big will become clear only after more time has passed.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Friday’s developments were at least as damaging for Ryan as they were for the president.

Whether the American Health Care Act would ultimately have been signed into law or not, the fact that Ryan could not get it through the House is deeply embarrassing for the Speaker.

Ryan’s fingerprints were all over the legislation, which faced immediate and fierce pushback from conservative members of his own conference as well as several important interest groups.

Some Trump loyalists contend that Ryan erred by focusing on healthcare rather than tax reform out of the gate. And conservative media commentators are openly questioning his leadership.

Trump publicly insists that he retains confidence in Ryan. But the Speaker went down to a big defeat that revealed an inability to muscle his members into line.

Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and Office of Management And Budget Director Mick Mulvaney

Pence, Price and Mulvaney were all once House members — in the case of the latter two, right up until they joined the Trump administration.

As such, the White House had suggested they would be especially effective in winning over members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and other lawmakers. Mulvaney was a founding member of the group.

When all’s said and done, the trio failed to round up the required votes. That’s a political black eye for all three men.


The House Freedom Caucus

The conservative group won the battle — but the outcome of the broader war has yet to be decided.

The caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), held the line in opposition to the bill, despite the urgings of Trump himself. More than any other Republican group, they were responsible for the failure of the legislation.

The whole episode showed the power of the Freedom Caucus, but its members will have to deal with the consequences too.

They defied a president of their own party who — for all his broader struggles with popularity — is fervently supported by many grassroots Republicans.

They sank an effort to replace a law that many of those grassroots voters detest.

And the realpolitik argument for their position — that they could force Trump and the House leadership to come back to the table with a proposal that was more attentive to their concerns, appears to have proven untrue.


Former President Barack Obama

The bottom line is simple: Obama’s signature domestic achievement has survived – and at a moment when the White House, the Senate and the House are all controlled by people who have repeatedly pledged to destroy it.

Trump, speaking from the White House on Friday afternoon, insisted that the Affordable Care Act would explode under its own weight. But the current president did not make any pledge to renew his efforts to undo it, instead suggesting he would be open to some more incremental repairs in tandem with congressional Democrats.

Obama’s big law dodged a bullet here. And that strengthens his legacy as a president of considerable historical significance.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Pelosi displayed the kind of grip on her party colleagues that Ryan so signally failed to exhibit.

Not a single Democrat broke ranks to support the Republican proposal. The position may not have been that surprising. But it did ensure that Republicans faced the steepest possible gradient.

Pelosi, who loves the hand-to-hand political combat of Capitol Hill, clearly took some pleasure in the Republicans’ disarray.

When the vote was first postponed on Thursday, she told reporters, “Rookie’s error, Donald Trump.”

Jared Kushner

Trump’s son-in-law, among his most trusted advisers, was reportedly against the decision to move on healthcare from the get-go. But he was also out of Washington for much of the week, on a ski trip with his family in Aspen.

CNN reported that the president was displeased that Kushner was out of town.

But as someone who was physically and politically distant from the week’s messy horse-trading, he emerges relatively unscathed from the debacle.


Several GOP governors were critical of the replacement plan put forward by their colleagues in the House.

Ohio’s John Kasich, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson and Michigan’s Rick Snyder wrote an open letter last week to Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stating that they could not support the legislation.

Their argument, in essence, was that the bill would have hit Medicaid too hard.

They gave political cover to lawmakers from their states who were also leaning against the legislation.


The organization for older Americans lobbied vigorously against the law.

It attacked one proposed change as “an age tax,” emphasized that 24 million fewer people were projected to have health insurance after a decade, and declared the issue to be an “accountability vote” — in other words, one where it would use its muscle against lawmakers who voted against its wishes.

The association’s efforts were a reminder that it is not to be underestimated.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

U.S. Politics

The mind-boggling past 24 hours in politics, explained

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty


Russia revelations. Health bill woes. Wiretap wars. And that Supreme Court seat.

Donald Trump’s presidency has reached a new level of chaos, somehow.

Last night, CNN reported that the FBI “has information that indicates” Trump’s associates communicated with Russian operatives, “possibly” to coordinate the release of information damaging to his opponent’s campaign.

That’s just days after the FBI director revealed, in congressional testimony, that he was investigating whether the president’s associates colluded with Russia to interfere with last year’s election — publicly confirming something we knew of only from anonymously sourced news reports.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are continuing to barrel toward a Thursday vote on a comprehensive health reform bill that was crafted in secret and released just weeks ago. They don’t yet have the votes, but are desperately trying to win over enough wavering conservatives and moderates to ram this bill through — which could have immense consequences for millions of Americans.

As all this continues to unfold, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is claiming that US intelligence agencies in the previous administration intercepted some communications of people involved in the president-elect’s transition.

And somehow, the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, continues to sail toward confirmation, with some Senate Democrats reportedly weighing some sort of deal with Republicans to let him through. Gorsuch is young enough that he could conceivably sit on the Court for decades and be one of Trump’s most important legacies.

So there’s a lot going on. Here’s the context you need to understand what’s new and important on each of these topics.

The FBI investigation revelation

The background: Before this week, the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was a shadowy thing. There had been many anonymously sourced news reports asserting that such an investigation existed and that it may be looking at some of Trump’s associates. But some of those reports conflicted on the question of how serious the investigation was. There was no public confirmation. It was hard to tell whether all this really amounted to anything.

Then on Monday, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that the bureau was in fact “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts” to interfere with the 2016 election. This confirmed that the investigation was a) real, and b) looking squarely at the Trump campaign and its associates.

The news: On Wednesday night, we learned more on just what, exactly, has caught the FBI’s interest. According to a bombshell CNN report, the bureau “has information that indicates” Trump associates “communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

This information “includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings,” per anonymous US officials interviewed by CNN.

Why it matters: This is a step beyond any claim we’ve seen before about the investigation. Previous reports suggested the FBI was looking at the general topic of Trump associate contacts with Russia, but it wasn’t really clear whether they had found much of substance. But this story claims they do have at least some information suggesting there was shady communication and coordination afoot (though the story cautions this information isn’t “conclusive”).

Furthermore, when the story discusses “information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” it’s almost surely referring to the hacked email dumps that dogged Democrats last year — most prominently, the public releases of internal Democratic National Committee emails in July and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails in October by WikiLeaks. (US intelligence agencies have attributed these hacks to Russian-aligned actors.)

Though these email dumps likely didn’t swing the outcome of the election (there’s a better case that Comey’s letter on Clinton emails did), they did seem extremely well-timed for Trump. The DNC emails were released just in time to cause tension between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention. Podesta’s emails came out as an “October surprise” when Trump was trailing badly in the polls. Did Trump’s campaign or his associates have a role in this timing? That is, apparently, what the FBI is looking into.

The health care fight in the House

Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty

The background: House Republican leaders are struggling to come up with the votes to pass the American Health Care Act, their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The bill’s final form still appears to be in flux, but among other things it would replace Obamacare’s income-adjusted subsidies to buy insurance on individual marketplaces with a flat and overall less generous tax credit. It would overhaul and dramatically cut Medicaid. And it would slash some taxes that only hit the wealthy. The Congressional Budget Office estimated its enactment would lead to 24 million more people becoming uninsured by 2026.

Republicans have had a tough time coming up with the votes, because they’re trying to appease two groups with very different demands.

  • Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have long and loudly condemned the bill for keeping too much of Obamacare in place. They’re backed by anti-government-spending groups including Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners.
  • Other Republicans (I call them the Coverage Caucus) have more gradually come out against the bill because they fear it would negatively impact their constituents. They’re backed by the AARP, the American Hospital Association, and other groups.

Since no Democrats are expected to back the effort in the House, Paul Ryan can only afford to lose 22 Republicans — or else the bill would fail.

The news: In an attempt to win over enough Freedom Caucus members, Republican leaders are considering major changes to the health bill. These changes reportedly include dropping the “essential health benefits” requirement which lays out 10 benefits insurance plans for the individual markets or offered by small businesses must cover. As Dylan Matthews explains:

These provisions set a baseline, mandating that all offered plans meet a certain threshold. They can’t skimp out and not cover big things like emergency room visits or pregnancy or mental health. Particularly for previously undercovered areas like mental health and addiction services, which plans didn’t have to cover before the ACA, this provision was a huge deal.

But many free market conservatives hate this provision, because it runs counter to the goal of having wide consumer choice among different kinds of health plans offering different types of procedures. They note that this drives up the cost of insurance, and insist that people should have the chance to buy less protective plans that are cheaper.

President Trump will meet with Freedom Caucus members Thursday morning to try to cut this deal, but it’s unclear whether this will prove so controversial that it drives away many more members of the Coverage Caucus.

Why it matters: Well, in addition to potentially affecting (or ending) millions of people’s health coverage, the outcome of these negotiations could determine whether this bill passes the House or fails — though it should be noted that the AHCA will face towering difficulties getting through the Senate, considering it’s been trashed by so many Republican senators.

The wiretapping drama

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

The background: Back on March 3, President Trump sent out a series of early-morning tweets claiming, with no evidence, that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower back during the presidential campaign. It eventually emerged that Trump’s apparent source was a sketchily sourced article from a right-wing news site that had been read out on television.

The claims, it now seems clear, were false. Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers both bluntly rebutted them in their congressional testimony Monday, saying they’d seen no information to back up Trump’s tweets. Leading Republicans in Congress briefed by the intelligence agencies also said they’d heard nothing to back up Trump’s accusations.

But while the Obama-ordered tap of Donald Trump at Trump Tower clearly seems not to exist, it is quite plausible that some of Trump’s aides or associates were being monitored — perhaps because of that pesky FBI investigation into their contacts with Russia — or that their communications were picked up because foreigners communicating with them were themselves being tapped.

The news: On Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, held a surprise press conference in which he claimed to have new wiretapping news.

“On numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes said.

Shortly afterward, President Trump claimed that he had been “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’s announcement. “So that means I’m right,” he proclaimed in a Time interview with Michael Scherer.

What it means: It does not mean Trump was right. Looking at the specific words Nunes used, what seems to have happened is that “the US intelligence community, during legally authorized surveillance of foreign nationals, picked up communications between members of Trump’s campaign” and some foreign nationals, as Zack Beauchamp writes.

That is, the foreigners talking to Trump’s people were tapped, not Trump’s people themselves.

Now, Nunes also raised questions about whether the information picked up in those taps was too “widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting” considering its actual value, which is a separate matter.

But there are questions about Nunes’s conduct too. He’s tasked with leading the House’s investigation on this matter, so it’s unclear why, when informed of this, he went public so quickly, why he didn’t tell his House Democratic counterpart, and why he went off to the White House to talk to Trump about an investigation that may implicate his associates. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called this “very disturbing” behavior that compromised Nunes’s “credibility.”

Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing

Neil Gorsuch.

The background: Rather than going outside the box for his Supreme Court choice, Trump picked Neil Gorsuch, a circuit judge well respected in the conservative legal community. Gorsuch appears to have support from a majority of senators, so the main political drama with his hearing is whether Democrats try to filibuster his nomination. If they do so, Republicans are expected to change Senate rules to ram him through.

The news: Gorsuch finished 20 hours of Senate testimony yesterday, and the New York Times has a rundown of what Gorsuch said here — essentially, he was really vague, and nothing stood out as a major gaffe or revelation.

The real news was that, per Politico’s Burgess Everett, some Democratic senators are considering trying to cut some kind of deal with Republicans to let Gorsuch through without a Senate rules change. What they’d hope to get in exchange is a commitment that Republicans wouldn’t change the rules to ram through any other Supreme Court nominations in Trump’s term.

Why it matters: Though important, Gorsuch’s nomination would restore the Supreme Court to its status quo as it existed before Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. That’s something many Democrats feel they can live with.

But if Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Stephen Breyer were to step down or die during Trump’s presidency, the next justice could move the Court sharply to the right if confirmed — putting liberal precedents like Roe v. Wade at stake. So some Democrats are hoping to do whatever they can to try to ensure a more mainstream nominee gets picked for the next vacancy, even if it means letting Gorsuch through.

Still, the idea of letting Trump’s Supreme Court nominee through may prove too much for the liberal base to bear, particularly after Republicans refused to even consider President Obama’s nominee for this very seat, Merrick Garland. So this could get messy.

U.S. Politics

‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air’

FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers appear in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Monday, March 20, 2017  (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


FBI and NSA chiefs verify a Russia probe and refute the president’s claims as Republicans scramble to pretend the “drip, drip, drip” hasn’t started.

Monday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Committee was proof positive of the absolute need for both a special prosecutor and an independent, bipartisan commission with subpoena power to conduct a full investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian intelligence — as well as Russia’s multi-pronged attack on our elections and Trump’s business connections with that country’s oligarchs.

(Note that there was agreement that leaks are illegal but no one mentioned that it’s the media’s complete and constitutionally guaranteed right to report on them. Nor was anyone asked how many times GOP members of the committee have done their own leaking.)

Trump did what he could to distract as well, firing a volley of five heated early-morning tweets just before testimony began, reiterating claims that disgruntled Democrats manufactured charges about Russia’s involvement in the election and contact with Trump aides. There were more during the hearing itself — from Trump or someone at the White House tweeting in his name — twisting the day’s testimony by Comey and National

Security Agency chief Mike Rogers. Bizarrely, the two men then were placed in the position of having to rebut Trump’s allegations while they still were in the witness seats, correcting and putting the president in his place — virtually in real time.

Not only did Comey verify that the FBI was actively investigating Trump and his associates, he also flatly denied on behalf of his agency and the Justice Department that prior to January’s inauguration now-former President Obama had ordered eavesdropping on Trump Tower. Under normal circumstances this would seem to neutralize yet another of Trump’s wacky tweet storms, this one from two weeks ago, but as we’ve learned so well, the truth has never been a barrier to the social media madness of King Donald I.

And yet, as presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The Washington Post, “There’s a smell of treason in the air. Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mindboggling event.”

But here we are, adrift in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of prevarication and incompetence in which little seems capable of boggling or driving our minds agog these days and where the truth shall not set you free but subject you to ridicule from the rabid trolls of the right.

And still there is hope. Even though neither Comey nor Rogers would reveal much of what they are discovering — continually citing the confidentiality they said was necessary to an ongoing investigation — the questions asked, despite the “no comment” answers, suggested ongoing areas of inquiry not only for investigating committees but also for the press.

For it is the free and independent media that continue to provide our clearest window into the extent of the investigation and the possible interface among the Trump campaign, Russia and the right. Late Monday, for example, McClatchy News reported:

“Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

“Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as ‘bots,’ to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.”

McClatchy reports that most of the stories were linked from social media posts and many of them connected to stories at Breitbart and Alex Jones’ InfoWars, as well as Russia Today and Sputnik News:

“Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.”

The spin machines are twirling at cyclonic speeds as the White House and the Republican Party counterattack or try to act as if none of this is happening. Like the refugee couple in Casablanca, they pretend to hear very little and understand even less. At the end of Monday’s testimony, intelligence committee chair Nunes actually told David Corn of Mother Jones that he had never heard of Roger Stone or Carter Page, two of the Trump/Russia story’s most prominent and tawdry players. Ingenuous or ignorant? You be the judge.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence?” Adam Schiff asked at Monday’s hearing.

“Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt US persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know. Not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.”

During Schiff’s questioning on Monday, Comey seemed to nod toward agreeing that Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not unlike the 1972 physical break-in at the DNC. You know, the one that precipitated the revelations, resignations and prison convictions of Watergate. Drip, drip, drip…