The Oaf in the Oval Office

What sort of game changer will it take to sort out the Oaf in the Oval Office?

It has been an eventful week in US politics. The inability of Donald Trump and Republicans to progress major legislation was highlighted by the failure of a watered down (‘skinny’) health repeal bill failing to overturn ‘Obamacare’.

WSJ:  The Republican ObamaCare Crack Up

After promising Americans for seven years that it would fix the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party failed. This is a historic debacle that will echo politically for years.

A divided GOP Senate could not muster a majority even for a simple bill repealing the individual and employer mandates they had long opposed. Nor were they able to repeal the medical-device tax that some 70 Senators had gone on record wanting to repeal in previous Congresses.

The so-called skinny bill that failed in the Senate would have gone to a conference with the House, which had signaled its willingness to work out a compromise. That arduous process is the way the American legislative system works. A strong majority of the GOP caucuses on both chambers supported the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare, but that was undone by an intransigent and petulant minority

The sacking of Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus was done in a public and ugly way, but it may do something to sort out the chaos in the White House. May. Trump seems to be a significant cause of the chaos and may not be controllable.

Trump had campaigned he would ‘drain the swamp’, an attack on the mess that Washington politics has become and something that was a popular aim. If he cleaned up US politics he would deserve a lot of credit. But the jury is still not even out yet to decide whether trump is making Washington murkier, with his apparent inability to separate business interests from politics.

Trump’s declaration by tweet that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military seems to have been a decision on personal whim that blindsided just about everyone, including the military and his own staff.

I think of greater concern is Trump’s concerted effort over a week to publicly undermine his attorney general Jeff Sessions.The legal balance and checking of political power and abuse of power is a fundamental cornerstone of US democracy. Trump seems to be prepared to drain judicial independence, which is alarming.

Andrew Sullivan sums up A Week of Reckoning

We have become, at this point, inured to having an irrational president in an increasingly post-rational America. We’ve also come to tell ourselves that somehow

(a) this isn’t really happening,

(b) by some miracle, it will be over soon, or

(c) at some point the Republican Party will have to acknowledge what they are abetting, and cut their losses.

And yet with each particular breach of decency, stability, and constitutionality, no breaking point seems to have arrived, even as the tribalism has deepened, the president’s madness has metastasized, and the norms of liberal democracy are hanging on by a thread.

But surely this week must mark some kind of moment in this vertiginous descent, some point at which the manifest unfitness of this president to continue in office becomes impossible to deny.

Compare it with any other week in modern political history. Day after day, the president has publicly savaged his own attorney general for doing the only thing possible with an investigation into a political campaign he was a key part of: recusing himself. And the point of the president’s fulminations was that the recusal prevented Sessions from obstructing that very investigation.

The president, in other words, has been openly attacking his own attorney general for not subverting the rule of law.

After the last few days, someone in the GOP leadership somewhere is surely going to have to take responsibility for running this country since we have a president who cannot.

Sullivan sees some hope that the system will hold out on a reckless president.

The Congress as a whole has effectively torpedoed any intention the president might have of lifting sanctions against Russia, by passing a bill by massive margins to prevent it.

And on the related matter of the investigation into Russian interference in the last election, Senator Chuck Grassley made it clear this week that, if the president were to fire Sessions, his Judiciary Committee would not hold any hearings on a successor.

That’s a checkmate for Trump for the time being, because it would leave the Justice Department under the control of Rod Rosenstein, who hired Robert Mueller in the first place. Put all these developments together and you have an inkling of how the Constitution can still protect us from the worst of this presidency — if the Senate wants to play the role it is designed to play.

Shunting Sessions sideways would look as bad as firing him.

Finding someone willing to replace him given Trump’s public displeasure at not being able to subvert justice may not be easy, especially if it is not a candidate who is widely considered to be credible and able to be act independently of the White House.

As new chief of staff John Kelly may be able to sort out most of the White House, but it must be doubtful he can straighten out the crucial part – the Oval Office, more particularly the Oaf in Office.

Tough guidelines on deporting illegal US immigrants

Donald Trump is following through on his promise to get even tougher than Barack Obama on deporting illegal immigrants.

BBC: US unveils sweeping orders to deport illegal immigrants

The Trump administration has issued tough guidelines to widen the net for deporting illegal immigrants from the US, and speed up their removal.

Undocumented immigrants arrested for traffic violations or shop-lifting will be targeted along with those convicted of more serious crimes.

All 11 million or so undocumented foreigners in the US could be affected.

But the plan leaves in place Obama-era protections for immigrants who entered the US illegally as children.

Fox News: DHS secretary orders immigration agent hiring surge, end to ‘catch-and-release’

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly moved Tuesday to implement a host of immigration enforcement changes ordered by President Trump, directing agency heads to hire thousands more officers, end so-called “catch-and-release” policies and begin work on the president’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“It is in the national interest of the United States to prevent criminals and criminal organizations from destabilizing border security,” Kelly wrote in one of two memos released Tuesday by the department.

The memos follow up on Trump’s related executive actions from January and, at their heart, aim to toughen enforcement by expanding the categories of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation.

The memos cover a sprawling set of initiatives including:

  • Prioritizing criminal illegal immigrants and others for deportation, including those convicted or charged with “any criminal offense,” or who have “abused” any public welfare program
  • Expanding the 287(g) program, which allows participating local officers to act as immigration agents – and had been rolled back under the Obama administration
  • Starting the planning, design and construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall
  • Hiring 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and officers
  • Hiring 5,000 Border Patrol agents
  • Ending “catch-and-release” policies under which illegal immigrants subject to deportation potentially are allowed to “abscond” and fail to appear at removal hearings

It’s unclear what timelines the secretary is setting for some of these objectives, and what budgetary and other constraints the department and its myriad agencies will face.

In pursuing an end to “catch-and-release,” one memo called for a plan with the Justice Department to “surge” immigration judges and asylum officers to handle additional cases.

This is attempting to fulfil campaign promises, but risks major disruption of families and communities and could impact significantly on companies relying on immigrant labour.