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.

Witless House – Priebus mooched and trumped

Chaos at the White House continues.

Yesterday an interview with new communications chief Anthony Scaramucci whistled around the world, in which he abused Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Now it seems that Priebus is being dumped.

Peggy Noonan summarises the Scaramucci  diatribe in Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor

The new communications chief, Anthony Scaramucci, who in his debut came across as affable and in control of himself, went on CNN Thursday to show he’ll fit right in. He’s surrounded by “nefarious, backstabbing” leakers. “The fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, and that’s me and the president.” He’s strong and well connected: “I’ve got buddies of mine in the FBI”; “ Sean Hannity is one of my closest friends.” He is constantly with the president, at dinner, on the phone, in the sauna snapping towels. I made that up.

“The president and I would like to tell everybody we have a very, very good idea of who the leakers are.” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus better watch it. There are people in the White House who “think it is their job to save America from this president, okay?” So they leak. But we know who they are.

He seemed to think this diarrheic diatribe was professional, the kind of thing the big boys do with their media bros. But he came across as just another drama queen for this warring, riven, incontinent White House. As Scaramucci spoke, the historian Joshua Zeitz observed wonderingly, on Twitter: “It’s Team of Rivals but for morons.”

It is. And it stinks from the top.

Fox News: Scaramucci-Priebus feud: Who will survive White House war?

Anthony Scaramucci’s shocking, on-the-record tirade has blown the cover off long-simmering tensions between two of President Trump’s key men, prompting one White House worker to express safety concerns and triggering a countdown to the exit of either Scaramucci or his target, Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Scaramucci, the newly minted White House communications director, set off a firestorm with a rambling rant loaded with expletives and threats that The New Yorker published. The coarse language directed at Priebus and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, as well as blanket threats to fire people, left some inside the White House shaken.

“This is getting out of hand,” a White House staffer told Fox News. “I am honestly concerned for my safety in the office tomorrow. This type of behavior is unbelievable. Working in the White House, and something like that is said … it’s a disgrace.”

Former Republican National Committee boss Priebus was left seemingly even more isolated in the aftermath. Scaramucci all but accused Priebus of media leaks, a recurring problem that has vexed the Trump administration.

Other RNC colleagues brought into the administration have been nudged out of the West Wing, and Scaramucci’s hiring came with the rider that he reports directly to Trump – not Priebus.

Despite absorbing a brutal attack, Priebus received no outward signs of support. As of Friday morning, Trump had not weighed in on the mushrooming controversy. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., backed Scaramucci.

Scaramucci appears to have been employed as a hit man. Trump has now weighed in, heavily.

Details from NY Times: Reince Priebus Pushed Out After Rocky Tenure as Trump Chief of Staff

Reince Priebus, the establishment Republican-turned-loyalist to President Trump who served as his White House chief of staff for the last six months, was pushed out on Friday in the latest convulsion in a chaos-wracked West Wing to which he had repeatedly failed to bring some semblance of order.

Convinced that Mr. Priebus was not strong enough, Mr. Trump has been talking about bringing in “a general” as chief of staff and chose John F. Kelly, the retired Marine four-star general serving as secretary of homeland security.

Priebus had not been able to control the White House but I don’t think he was the biggest problem.

The story is still unfolding:

Some of Scarmuzzi’s tirade yesterday:

“They’ll all be fired by me. I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn’t been invited. “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”

He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him. “He didn’t get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President,” he said. “And I said to the President here are the four or five things that he will do to me.” His list of allegations included leaking the Hannity dinner and the details from his financial-disclosure form.

“O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago. This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”

“New political order”…”can’t be stopped

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in the US senior White House Staff have said  “there’s a new political order that’s being formed” and “if the party and the conservative movement are together, it can’t be stopped”.

BBC via RNZ: Bannon hails ‘new political order’

Steve Bannon vowed at a conservative conference to bring together those of “wide and sometimes divergent opinions” in support of “economic nationalism”.

“We are a nation with a culture and a reason for being,” the normally behind-the-scenes adviser told the audience.

He said the president was “maniacally focused” on pursuing his agenda.

“I’ve said that there’s a new political order that’s being formed out of this. And it’s still being formed,” he said.

The former editor of Breitbart News Network appeared with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

During his appearance on Thursday, Mr Bannon repeated his attack on the media, describing members of the press as the “opposition party” who are “always wrong” about Mr Trump.

“I think if you look at, you know, the opposition party,” Mr Bannon said, referring to the media.

It’s likely to be no coincidence that Breitbart fan Cameron Slater has been calling the New Zealand media “the opposition party” for the past few months. It’s a bit pathetic, but those trying to overreach for power often try to talk up enemies to go up against.

“How they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and how they’re portraying the administration – it’s always wrong,” he told Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosted the conference.

Referring to the “corporatist, globalist media”, he said: “If you [the audience] think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken.”

Pot calling kettle black with gross exaggerations saying the media are “always wrong”.

“The truth of the matter is [Trump] brought together the party and the conservative moment, and I’ve got to tell you, if the party and the conservative movement are together, it can’t be stopped,” Mr Priebus said.

With Republican majorities in both the Senate and Congress a lot can probably be done, but Trump’s administration has already found out that another check on power, the US courts, can at least slow them down.

Trump now accepts Russian hacking claim

Donald Trump appears to have u-turned on the allegations of Russian hacking, but this has come from senior aide Reince Priebus rather than directly from him. But Priebus is still trying to direct blame at the victims of the hacking.

Fox: Priebus says Democrats to blame for email hack, thinks Trump accepts intel findings

Reince Priebus, Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday that he thinks the president-elect “accepts the findings” of the recently released U.S. intelligence report that ties Russian President Vladimir Putin to meddling in the 2016 White House race.

“I think he accepts the finding,” Priebus said. “He’s not denying entities in Russia are behind these particular hackings.”

If that’s correct it’s a major change in stance.

Priebus’ comments marked a significant shift away from the repeated dismissals by Trump of Russian interference in the presidential election. The Republican president-elect has rebuffed claims that Russia was behind the hacks or was trying to help him win, saying the intrusions could have been carried out by China or a 400-pound hacker on his bed.

It was the first acknowledgment from a senior member of the president-elect’s team that Trump has accepted that Russia directed the hacking and subsequent disclosure of Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election.

With less than two weeks to his inauguration, Trump has come under increasing pressure from fellow Republicans to accept intelligence community findings on Russian hacking and other attempts to influence the election.

A crucial test of Republican support for Trump comes this week with the first confirmation hearings of his Cabinet picks.

Perhaps Trump is being given reality checks from his advisers.

But Priebus also cast a lot of blame on Democrats for allowing sensitive emails to be hacked, which hurt the campaign of their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Blaming the victims. The Democrats should have had more secure communications, but that doesn’t excuse Russian interference.

Nothing from Trump on Twitter on this so far.


Republicans “in a state of panic”

NZ Herald focusses on the apparent disarray and dismay in the Republican Party over the Donald Trump problem.

It’s an odd time to be panicking, two weeks after confirming Trump’s nomination.

Republicans in state of panic

Senior Republican figures were growing increasingly concerned about Trump’s behaviour following his criticism of the family of a dead Muslim American soldier and his refusal to back the re-election campaign of Paul Ryan, the House speaker.

Frustration at Trump’s divisive tactics and insulting comments reached new heights yesterday, with several extraordinary developments:

Intervention plot

Senior Republicans including GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were reportedly considering an “intervention” meeting with Trump. They hoped to talk Trump into “a dramatic reset of his campaign”, NBC reported.

“A new level of panic hit the street,” Scott Reed, chief strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Post. “It’s time for a serious reset.”

Gingrich, a Trump ally, said his friend currently stood no chance of beating Hillary Clinton in November. “The current race is which of these two is the more unacceptable, because right now neither of them is acceptable. “Trump is helping her to win by proving he is more unacceptable than she is.”

Reince Priebus, chairman of the GOP, was said to be “livid” over Trump’s behaviour.

A Plan B candidate?

There were reports that some Republicans were exploring what the process would be should Trump himself pull out of the race. ABC reported that if Trump pulled out before early September, it would be up to the 168 members of the Republican National Committee to choose a successor.

Changing candidates now would probably be no less disastrous. Howe gas the ‘Grand Old Party’ got itself into this dire situation?

Trump was remorseless yesterday, taking to Twitter to state: “There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before. I want to thank everyone for your tremendous support. Beat Crooked H!”

Manafort also attempted to give the impression that there was no panic within the Trump camp, telling Fox News: “The candidate is in control of his campaign and I’m in control of doing the things that he wants me to do in the campaign. The only need we have for an intervention is maybe with some media types who keep saying things that aren’t true.”

The Trump campaign accusing “some media types” of saying things that aren’t true is more than a little ironic.

Trump doesn’t just say things that are untrue, he keeps repeating them even when they have been proven to be untrue.

Trump was given a lot of political oxygen by the media through his campaign, he used them and they used him for attention seeking.

Now the media seems to have largely turned highly critical of Trump his campaign team seems at a loss as to how to deal with that and also the poll slide.

I think this was all inevitable.