Clem Notes: The Political Week in Review (10/21)
I feel so much better, thank you Mr. President
Reporter (to Trump): Why haven’t you spoken publically about the four U.S. Special Forces members who were killed in an ambush in Niger nearly two weeks ago?
Trump: “I have written them personal letters. They have been sent or they are going out over the weekend. I will, at some point during the period of time call the parents or the families, because I have done that traditionally. I felt very, very badly about that. I always feel badly… It’s a very, very difficult thing. It gets to the point, where you make four or five of them in one day, it’s a very, very tough day for me … the traditional way if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls — a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it … I’m going to be calling them, I want a little time to pass.”
Reporter: “Earlier you said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers, how can you make that claim?”
Trump: “I don’t know if he did. No, no, no. I was told that he didn’t often, and a lot of presidents don’t, they write letters, I do a combination of both, sometimes it’s a very difficult thing to do but I do a combination of both. President Obama, I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t, I don’t know, that’s what I was told, all I can do is ask my Generals. Other presidents did not call, they would write letters, and some presidents didn’t do anything.”
Pete Sousa (Obama WH Photographer): I “photographed [Obama] meeting with hundreds of wounded soldiers, and family members of those killed in action.” Indeed, throughout his entire presidency, he made monthly visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to visit wounded soldiers and these visits were not made public until just before he left office.
Trump: I am really taking heat for not calling the families of the soldiers who died in Niger. I am going to have to actually get those calls done this week.
Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.): I am a personal friend of the Johnson family and was present when the President called Lt. Johnson’s widow about the death of her son. The president told her “something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.” Ms. Johnson “was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”
Sarah H. Sanders (WH Spokesperson): Actually, Trump doesn’t have any proof and there is no transcript of the call. But shame on congresswoman Wilson for “politicizing” Trump’s condolence calls. And, no, I see no irony in that statement vis a vis anything Trump may have said about Obama in the last 24 hours.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson (Lt. Johnson’s mother, in response to a question asking if Wilson’s account of the call was accurate): “Yes … President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
General Kelly: “[S]ome Presidents have elected to call. All Presidents, I believe, have elected to send letters.” But I am not, however going to acknowledge that, when Trump said that some presidents “did nothing” that was false. Instead, I will “tell you that President Obama, who was my Commander-in-Chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family.” I am not, however, going to point out that he invited us to a White House breakfast for Gold Star families and that we were seated right next to Michelle Obama, because that would get in the way of the narrative. Instead, I will tell you that Trump “called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could” which was that “he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted.” Yes, that totally contradicts Trump’s claim that Ms. Wilson’s account of the conversation was fabricated, but instead of acknowledging that I am going to attack Ms. Wilson by saying that “[i]t stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.” And no, I will not acknowledge that Ms. Wilson has made it clear that she is a personal friend of the family and that the soldier’s widow decided to put the call on the speakerphone in the car, because (again) that would get in the way of my narrative that she was inappropriately listening in. Instead I will double down on my attack on Ms. Wilson by saying that at a ceremony honoring dead FBI agents, she got up and started talking “about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
Florida Sun Sentinel: Actually, we have a video of Ms. Wilson’s speech at that event and she said nothing of the kind. To the contrary, she spoke about the fact that she had help push though bipartisan legislation to name the building after the fallen FBI officers and said she was “honored to be a part of this special and momentous occasion. The naming ceremony and dedication is a fitting tribute to Special Agents Benjamin P. Gorgan and Jerry L. Dove. These brave men answered the call of duty and gave their lives to keep our streets, communities and country safe. We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”
Frederica Wilson (D-Fla): “You know, I feel sorry for Gen. Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me. I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured. So that’s a lie. How dare he? He didn’t tell the truth, and he needs to stop telling lies on me.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: I have nothing substantive to say in defense of General Kelly’s press conference. So instead I will intimate that it is just completely inappropriate to ever criticize anyone who is in the military: “If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that’s up to you. But I think that if you want to get into a debate with the four-star marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”
Chris Baldridge: When Trump called me after the death of my son, he said he would “write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000.” That was months ago, but he hasn’t followed through.
Lindsay Walters (White House spokesperson): Now that the news report has come out we are going to have to follow though. But that’s embarrassing, so I will deflect the criticism by telling the press that the check “has been sent” and that “It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the president, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.” I mean, since when is it legitimate for the media to be interested in how the president follows through on his promises or how he treats veterans?
These are Taxing Times
Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “This is the last, best chance we will have to cut taxes.” If we don’t “[t]hat will be the end of us as a party, because if you’re a Republican and you don’t want to simplify the tax code and cut taxes, what good are you to anybody?” So we are going to pass a budget that allows us to grow the deficit by $1.5 trillion in order to finance tax cuts.
Tony Newmeyer (author of the daily Finance 202 newsletter): The $1.5 trillion deficit will blow “a gaping hole in the deficit, roughly twice the size of the [Obama] 2009 stimulus package that 38 then-Senate Republicans opposed.”
Tax Policy Center (a nonpartisan project of the liberal Urban Institute & conservative Brookings Institution): Actually, the Republicans would be extremely lucky to limit the deficit growth to $1.5 trillion. Under their current plan, “Federal revenues would fall by $3.1 trillion over the first decade before accounting for added interest costs and macroeconomic effects. Including both those factors, the federal debt would rise by at least 3 trillion over the first decade and by at least $6.6 trillion by the end of the second ten years.” Also, it may be worth pointing out that virtually all of the benefit would go to the wealthiest Americans. Those in the top 1 percent — with incomes above about $730,000 — would receive about half the total tax benefit (an average tax cut of $129,000) while those with incomes between about $49,000 and $86,000 would see an average tax cut of only $660. Meanwhile, taxpayers who earn $150,000-$300,000 would see their taxes go up.
Bob Corker (R-Tn): “My support will be contingent on a final package that generates significant economic growth and does not worsen, but hopefully improves our fiscal situation.” This is not to say that I will reject the administrations voodoo economics. Only that I am going to at least pretend to care about the deficit as much as I did when Obama was in power.
Maya MacGuineas, (president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget): “The president and members of Congress have spent years warning of our large and growing national debt and have said their goal was to pursue tax reform that doesn’t make that debt worse. It is extremely disheartening that the Senate budget may be abandoning that commitment.”
Paul Ryan: I know that the House’s budget calls for a deficit-neutral tax plan. But given how desperate we are for a quick win, we are just going to adopt the Senate budget. Indeed, the plan is to write the entire tax bill in secret and then vote on it before anyone has time to analyze it. Yes, we are revealing that everything we said about procedure, fiscal responsibility, the deficit, and our focus on the middle class is a lie. But really the only thing that matters is that the Koch brothers’ network agrees to fund the 2018 election.
NY Times: Apparently Republicans are considering whether their tax plan should sharply limit 401K contributions (to $2,400 annually) in order to offset some of their tax cuts and avoid explosive growth of the deficit. Its not clear, however, whether this will make it into the plan because both the middle class and the financial services industry will hate it. Perhaps more importantly, this would have the effect of reducing taxes more than 10 years out (which you cannot do if you want to pass a bill under reconciliation). But the Republicans may also just refuse to accept the CBO numbers and pass the plan anyway.
I’ll have pancakes, but Trump would like the waffles
Lamar Alexander (R-Ten), Patty Murray (D-Was): We have reached an agreement on a bill to fund the Obamacare subsidies for co-payments and deductibles that Trump said he would no longer pay. The deal funds the subsidies for two years and provides states with additional flexibility to seek waivers from some Obamacare provisions, a set of guarantees that those waivers wont harm low income people, and increase the funding allocated to signing people up for insurance.
Trump (in the Rose Garden): This deal will “get us over this intermediate hump. Its a short-term solution so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period. For a period of one year, two years, we will have a very good solution. But we’re going to have a great solution, ultimately, for health care.”
Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn): Trump should get the credit for this deal. Indeed “Trump completely engineered the plan that we announced yesterday,” by calling me repeatedly and asking Sen. Murray to be a part of it. “He wanted a bipartisan bill for the short term.”
Trump (to the Heritage Foundation): “While I commend the bipartisan work done by senators Alexander and Murray — and I do commend it — I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess, instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”
Chuck Schumer (D-NY): “He’s totally inconsistent — for it one day, against it the next day. You can’t govern. Mr. President, you cannot govern a country. You cannot keep America great if you don’t know what’s in the bills and don’t have a consistent policy about them.”
Sarah H Sanders: “We think that this is … a good step in the right direction. This president certainly supports Republicans and Democrats coming to work together. But it’s not a full approach and we need something to go a little bit further to get on board.”
Trump: “If something can happen, that’s fine, but I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies.”
Lamar Alexander: It won’t. The bill has “about a page and a half of language in our agreement that tries to make it clear that the benefits of cost-sharing reductions go to consumers and not insurance companies.”
NBC: The Murry/Alexader bill has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
NY Times: Democrats are planning to attach the bill to the end of the year spending deal to keep the government open. Trump does not want a shut down, but cannot pass a spending bill without Democratic help, so they will have a lot of leverage about what to include in the bill. Both this bill and something to deal with the Dreamers will likely be included in that continuing resolution. This is why Republicans were so angry when Trump agreed to the a short, six-month spending resolution last time around.
The Big Tent of the Republican Party
John McCain (while receiving the Liberty Medal) “To fear the world … to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership … for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”
GW Bush: “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism. Forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.” At the same time “foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence, should never be downplayed or tolerated.”
Trump: These guys better watch it. “I’m being very, very nice, but at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”
Drill baby Drill
NY Times: The budget passed this week opens the way for drilling in the Artic National Wildlife refuge. An amendment to prevent that drilling failed 48 to 52.
Maria Cantwell (D-Wa, top Dem on Energy and National Resources Committee): “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most pristine areas of the United States, and we have been protecting it for decades for a reason.”
Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): Blocking drilling in ANWAR would “deprive us of a substantial opportunity to benefit our country at the same time that we care for our environment.” More importantly, it will mean more money for the state government. I will not mention the fact that Alaska gets so much revenue from oil drilling already that we have among the highest per-capita income in the country (more than $4,600 per person as compared, e.g. to $1,779 for Florida) despite the fact that we have no income tax.
Nature Resents Her Injuries
Reporter: “Between 1 and 10 how would you grade the White House response so far to Puerto Rico?”
Trump: “I would say it is a 10”
The Hill: Roughly 80 percent of the island remains without electricity and almost 30 of the island still does not have access to clean water.
ABC News: Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Republicans George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush are coming together for the “One America Appeal” concert at Texas A&M University’s Reed Arena in College Station to raise money for relief efforts from the recent hurricane devastation in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Trump will not attend
Trump: “With the liberation of ISIS’s capital and the vast majority of its territory, the end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight.” Also, I should get all the credit. “I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military, and they have done a fantastic job. ISIS is now giving up. They are giving up, they are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.”
Ash Carter (Obama’s secretary of defense): Give me a break. “The plan … was laid out two years ago, and has been executed pretty much in the manner and the schedule that was foreseen then.”
Combating Terrorism Center at West Point: “Pushing the Islamic State out as the formal governing party in a territory is not a sufficient development when it comes to ending the group’s ability to enact violence against individuals in Iraq and Syria.” Conservative estimates are that they still have tens of thousands of armed fighters, and have long planned to conduct an insurgency. This is far from over.
The Russia Files
Washington Post: Trump announced this week that he would use his own money to pay for the legal fees of White House staff and campaign aids who are interviewed by Muller’s team. A “White House official said many issues remain to be resolved, including how the money will be accessed and who can request it.”