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Would a President Sanders have supported the Wall Street bailout in 2008?

This, it seems to me, is the most relevant question emerging from a growing debate about whether Sanders voted against the auto bailout, as Hillary Clinton has alleged. The timeline goes like this: Sanders voted against George W. Bush’s emergency financial industry rescue plan (TARP) in the fall of 2008. Sanders then supported a separate package that would have funneled aid directly to Detroit’s ailing auto companies, but was blocked by Senate Republicans. Sanders then voted against the release of TARP funds in early 2009, when Barack Obama was in office, despite the fact that some of the funds were earmarked for the auto bailout.

The Sanders campaign is arguing that he was for the auto bailout, and against the Wall Street bailout. Fine. But this reminds us that Sanders would have preferred letting the banks go under. Given that the global financial system was on the brink of collapse at the time, this would have been a pretty risky move, to say the least. What would a President Sanders do if a similar situation arose in 2017?

(I’ve reached out to the Sanders campaign for comment, and will update once they do.)

April 28, 2017

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No, Obama’s Wall Street speech critics aren’t creating a double standard.

I want to make a quick end-of-the-week point about the debate over whether those criticizing President Obama for accepting a paid Wall Street speaking gig are creating a double standard for him. George W. Bush and other past presidents have joined the lecture circuit, given speeches to the corporations and financial interests they had once regulated, and nobody really seemed to think much of it. Obama does it and it’s a big news story.

As a normative matter, it’s true that if accepting money to give a speech on Wall Street is a bad thing for current or future or former politicians to do, then they should all face comparable scrutiny and criticism when they do it.

But what about as an ideological housekeeping matter? Is it unfair or unwise of liberals to criticize Obama for harming the image of the movement he once led, if conservatives give their standard bearers a total pass when they do far more corrupt things?

Here, I think Obama’s defenders are making a category error projecting the animating concerns of the Democratic base on to the Republican base. It’s true that conservatives don’t care that Bush gave Wall Street speeches, or that Trump is a walking conflict of interest, but that’s because the glue holding the conservative coalition together isn’t labor-populism, but rather white identity politics. If you think about which Republican politicians are viewed most suspiciously by rank and file Republicans and conservative thought-leaders, it isn’t the supply-siders, per se, or members of the Freedom Caucus, but the ones you might call cosmopolitan-curious conservatives. People like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, who supported comprehensive immigration reform and believed, before Donald Trump won the GOP nomination, that the GOP had to become more ethnically inclusive for the good of the party. Trump could shoot someone on fifth avenue and his core supporters wouldn’t care, but if he began (or had a history of) giving secret, paid speeches to the National Council of La Raza, or was caught working behind closed doors with Chuck Schumer on an amnesty bill, he would have hell to pay with them.

For better or worse (and obviously I think for FAR better) the cohering force in Democratic politics is much different. It is, or it should be, the idea that the little guys—whether they’re immigrants and ethnic minorities facing xenophobia and racism, or workers laboring under oppressive conditions—deserve strong and loyal advocates. No Democratic politician is going to face blowback for appealing to blue-collar Trump voters on class-solidarity grounds, or for working to align environmental and labor interests in a fancy board room. But giving a paid speech to the big guys does convey the impression that the advocacy is hollow. Today’s blowback stems from the same kind of sense of betrayal Obama’s supporters felt when he invited Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his first inaugural.

Republicans can get away with Wall Street speeches or reaching out to homophobes not because conservatives give them a pass on everything, but because conservatives hold them to a different set of standards. The fact that liberal standards are better is something liberals should celebrate.

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Donald Trump decides he once again likes Ted Cruz (for now).

Speaking to the National Riffle Association, the president rehearsed the saga of his relationship with another politician in attendance: Texas Senator Ted Cruz. As Trump noted, Cruz was someone he “really liked, didn’t like, and now like again.” As the crowd laughed, Trump asked, “Does that make sense?” Then he summed up the whole story in three words: “like, dislike, like.”

This rendition is accurate enough: Trump and Cruz had been allies during the early part of the Republican primaries, then became bitter foes as Trump insulted the appearance of Cruz’s wife and accused Cruz’s father of involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. They became allies again when Cruz swallowed his pride and supported Trump for president.

All of which suggests two things: 1) Trump might be the only person in Washington who likes Ted Cruz and 2) this situation won’t last. Since the relationship is so fickle, it could easily turn to “like, dislike, like, dislike.”

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Fyre Festival’s downfall is the hilarious nadir of festie culture.

So you pay like $10,000 for a ticket to a luxury musical festival in the Bahamas, on an island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar. Bella Hadid winks at you. You are promised resort-style accommodations, the best in “food, art, music, and adventure.” What you get is....

Fyre Festival, which was masterminded by Ja Rule and 26-year-old entrepreneur Billy McFarland, was set to feature artists including Blink-182 (who cancelled their headlining set yesterday as word of the mayhem spread), Major Lazer, and Migos. Instead, it has been canceled on its first day as “the physical infrastructure was not in place on time.” Festival-goers who arrived Thursday found shoddy tents, garbage, and, according to some fun rumors on reddit, wild dogs!

As the attendees are haphazardly evacuated from the island, the internet dances on the festival’s grave.

High-profile festivals that have introduced luxury tents include Coachella ($7,500 a pop) and Desert Trip (aka Oldchella–$10,000). Certainly, it is hard not to feel for anyone stuck in an airport for hours, but perhaps harder still not to take some snide enjoyment in this seemingly perfect example of what toxic festival culture has become—faux-bohemianism morphing into hyper-capitalism.

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The comment that will come back to haunt Paul Ryan if Trumpcare becomes law.

It is so perfectly calibrated to define the broken promises of the GOP health care push—“people will be better off, with pre-existing conditions, under our plan”—it’s tempting to interpret it as an admission that the bill is truly dead, so promises are cheap.

To be clear, people with pre-existing conditions would not actually be better off under a plan that lets insurers charge them as much as they want for health care coverage, or that kicks them into an underfunded high-risk pool.

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Why won’t the DCCC release its autopsy report?

Good news: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has prepared a thorough autopsy report about its flaws. Bad news: You can’t read it. According to Politico, the report is the long-awaited result of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s investigation into the DCCC’s weaknesses, which were evident in the disaster that was the 2016 election. Those weaknesses allegedly revolve around the ways the DCCC raises and spends money but, again, who really knows:

Only about two-dozen lawmakers showed up for the presentation, which sources described as “dense but thorough.” But members were not allowed to have copies of the report and may view it only under the watchful eyes of DCCC staff.

We are talking about a report on the status of the party’s congressional campaign arm, not The Book of Kells. Unless it’s written on precious vellum using ink squeezed directly from the hearts of elderly scribes, there’s no good reason for the secrecy. The DCCC’s official explanation—that the report is meant as internal analysis not intended for “public consumption”—is simply not persuasive.

This latest incident is another data point in a troubling pattern. At any hint it may be asked to account publicly for its failures, the Democratic Party pulls up its drawbridge and retreats deep into itself. It does not seem to grasp that, as a political party, it has an obligation to be transparent to its supporters. It owes those supporters something. At the moment, it specifically owes them explanations about its weak and miserable state. That’s especially important now, with the 2018 midterms looming: The party only added six House seats last November, a showing it must improve next year.

Donald Trump’s presidency is almost 100 days old, and he is not having fun.

Trump’s 100th day in office is on Saturday and the president has spent the last two weeks trying to look busy so voters could be fooled into thinking that his young presidency has not been an outright failure so far. This is the presidential equivalent of shuffling papers around your desk so your boss thinks that you’re doing something, the only difference being that Trump is the boss. In the last week, the administration has picked a government shutdown fight, released a “tax reform plan” that isn’t a plan at all, restarted health care talks once again only to seem them collapse once again, and threatened to start a war in North Korea. Trump has now also done an interview with Reuters, ostensibly to highlight his achievements. But the most damning thing you can do to Trump is publish a transcript of his own words.

Trump says and does a lot of silly things in this interview. He reportedly handed out maps that highlighted his victory in November, proving once again that he’s the only person who still cares about the election. He praised Kim Jong-un for being a savvy operator: “He’s 27. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.” And he acted as if his threat to leave NAFTA—an obvious bluff—was really a masterstroke of negotiation: “I get a call from Mexico yesterday, ‘We hear you’re going to terminate NAFTA.’ I said that’s right. They said, ‘Is there any way we can do something without you—without termination?’ I said, ‘What do you want to do?’ He said, ‘Well, we’d like to negotiate.’ I said we’ll think about it.”

But the thing that’s gotten the most attention are Trump’s comments about the presidency itself (emphasis added).

“I loved my previous life, I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. I actually, this is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier. ... I do miss my old life. This—I like to work. But this is actually more work. And, while I had very little privacy, in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time. I really—this is much less privacy than I’ve seen before. This is, you know, something that’s really amazing. At the same time, you’re really into your own cocoon because there’s such massive protection, that you really can’t go anywhere.”

Donald Trump, a man who loved campaigning because it fed his bottomless need for affirmation, is not having very much fun as president. And the “I thought it would be easier” jibes with the larger narrative of Trump’s presidency—that he is ill-suited for the job and is an incompetent leader.

But this idea—that the presidency is harder than it seems—is shared by pretty much every president. After leading a successful campaign, many imagine that the same wave that swept them to power will carry them to victories in Washington, which is not true at all. In 2009, Barack Obama, who is fond of talking about how hard being president is, said, “When you’re in this job, I think—every president who’s had it is constantly humbled by the degree to which there are a lot of issues out there, and the notion that one person alone can solve all these problems—I think you’re cured of that illusion very quickly.”

Trump seems to have been cured of that illusion. The one difference is that Trump does seem more naive than most—it’s hard to imagine anything easier than Trump’s old life, at least post-bankruptcy. But this is as close to pathos as Trump gets, even if it’s not exactly reflective.

April 27, 2017

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Ann Coulter’s Berkeley controversy isn’t really about free speech.

This morning, Jesse Singal implored liberals to “fight for free speech” on college campuses in New York’s Daily Intelligencer. In the wake of Ann Coulter deciding not to give a speech at Berkeley, he argues, “Just because the most high-profile recent examples of campus speech getting shut down have affected the right doesn’t mean that would be the norm were free-speech norms and rules to crumble more completely.”

It is true that the recent discussion of free speech and censorship on college campuses has centered around high-profile, inflammatory conservatives, meaning many liberals might not be moved to their defense. It is also true that the left is not immune to censorship in the university. The example Singal uses to demonstrate this is Fordham University’s refusal to approve the club Students for Justice in Palestine, the founders of which filed a lawsuit against the university yesterday. Fordham’s Dean of Students rejected the club on the grounds that

the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ... is a topic that often leads to polarization rather than dialogue. The purpose of the organization as stated in the proposed club constitution points toward that polarization. Specifically, the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel presents a barrier to open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding.

Singal makes a nuanced argument about the subjectivity of what kind of speech should be protected or “what sort of speech is considered so harmful it should be suppressed.” He also notes that, in a university system, students are entirely at the political whims of administrators. But what is so interesting about the example of SJP at Fordham is that, by comparison, it shows the problems of claiming that Ann Coulter’s speech is being suppressed.

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform. Aside from safety concerns, that doesn’t mean trying to cancel her appearance was necessarily the right decision—it very well may be true that students should challenge her views face-to-face—but doing so is still not a violation of her rights.

That cannot be said, however, of the Fordham case. As Singal notes, Fordham is a private university, and as such the question of free speech in this case relates not to the Constitution but the university’s own policies. But unlike Coulter, who has a regular platform on television and in publishing, the students of Fordham are truly limited by what their university will and will not allow as protected speech. Those students have been denied the opportunity to engage in the political action they find meaningful. They have been punished for peacefully protesting that decision. At Berkeley, the College Republicans who invited Ann Coulter to speak presumably retain their official club status and likely their budget.

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Dems to House GOP: try to mug us with Trumpcare and we won’t help you fund the government.

House Republicans may or may not ultimately pass a regressive health care bill, but either way, they seem resigned to the fact that the only way they can succeed is to commit a mugging—rush a vote on a bill negotiated in private, before the Congressional Budget Office has issued an analysis of its effects on costs and coverage. To that end, they’ve passed a rule that will allow them to put a final bill directly on the floor anytime between now and Saturday.

Democrats can’t stop this directly, but they can make Republicans feel pain for tossing regular order out the window. To that end, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer announced Thursday that Republicans will risk shutting down their own government unless they run the health care bill through a more above-board process.

If Republicans announce their intention to bring their harmful TrumpCare bill to the House Floor tomorrow or Saturday, I will oppose a one-week Continuing Resolution and will advise House Democrats to oppose it as well. Republicans continue to struggle to find the votes to pass a bill that will kick 24 million Americans off their health coverage, allow discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, and impose an age tax on older Americans. That’s why they are trying to jam it through the House before their Members can hear from the American people this weekend about their opposition to this horrible legislation.

If Republicans pursue this partisan path of forcing Americans to pay more for less and destabilizing our county’s health care system – without even knowing how much their bill will cost – Republicans should be prepared to pass a one-week Continuing Resolution on their own.

A sizable rump of House conservatives will sometimes vote against these stopgap bills, too, and if that were to happen this time, Republicans would be precipitating a government shutdown by announcing a rushed health care vote. But, of course, House conservatives might make an exception in this case, to counteract Hoyer’s threat. What would really give this squeeze play full force is if Senate Democrats backed up Hoyer’s threat with one of their own.

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White House staffers are mad that no one praised them for pulling off the Easter Egg Roll.

Today, Politico published a wide-ranging report on Trump’s first 100 days, based on interviews with senior officials and with Donald Trump himself. The piece is full of interesting tidbits that reveal the inner dynamics of the administration, which haven’t changed much over the last 100 days—i.e., they are completely insane. 

On a whim, Trump insisted on talking to Politico reporters himself, to convince them that everything was fine, absolutely fine, with his administration. To prove this point, he forced Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner to walk into the room like debutantes to show how just how well everyone is getting along. (They aren’t.

Apparently, Trump has also been meeting with media goblin Matt Drudge for advice. And a White House official complained about how hard it is to govern, and how they have learned that having “the experience stuff” is actually helpful. 

But the best bit comes when we learn that senior staffers are angry that they didn’t get enough credit for the Easter Egg Roll:

West Wing staffers have even fumed about news coverage of the Easter Egg Roll. First, it was that Trump’s White House wouldn’t be smart enough to pull it off. Then, it was that no one would be there. And after the Easter Egg Roll went off without a hitch, “no one wanted to give us any credit,” said one senior administration official.

For once, they are right. So you heard it here from me first: Congratulations Trump staffers for pulling off the Easter Egg Roll! You are all definitely qualified to run our country.  

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Donald Trump has been bullsh*tting all week.

Wednesday was one of those days in the White House. The administration released a barrage of plans, figures, and tweets on every conceivable issue, suggesting that it’s just about ready to fight a war on eleven different fronts at the same time—and maybe start a real war too. This tweet, from HuffPo’s Sam Stein, sums up the day that was nicely:

By the end of the day, the White House had backed off its threat to leave NAFTA. It is still beating the drum of war on North Korea, but it seems to be doing so because it thinks it will help its negotiating position—war is not imminent. The pledge to cripple Obamacare has been around for a month, and still faces the same obstacles that have prevented Trump from making good on that pledge. The tax reform plan released by the administration doesn’t deserve to be called a “reform” or “plan”—it’s unlikely to pass because it explodes the deficit, is heavily tilted toward the rich, and, again, is so skeletal that the word “plan” is really too generous. Trump’s desire to break up the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has consistently ruled against his executive orders, is destructive but not realistic. It is the kind of bombastic, headline-grabbing, and ultimately not-at-all-serious statement that Trump believes will get him out of jams and, if he is lucky, project an image of a guy who is in charge.

It’s worth taking a moment to examine what would happen if the Trump administration did try to follow through with any of these plans. Pulling out of NAFTA without introducing a substitute would be an economic disaster and would likely result in a trade war with Mexico. War in North Korea would not only be unpopular, but also a global catastrophe that could very well result in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. If the White House were to pull the rug out from under Obamacare, it would face severe political consequences. Americans generally don’t like the few tangible things in Trump’s tax plan, but it’s not even remotely close to being a piece of legislation—and we all saw what happened the last time Republicans tried to pass an actual piece of legislation. The court-busting scheme would result in a constitutional crisis and months of bad press, all of which would cement the image of Donald Trump as a wannabe dictator.

The Trump administration’s midweek sprint left news organizations with whiplash. They had to report with straight faces all the new “developments” coming out of the White House. But there’s no indication that this is anything other than a load of bullshit. Trump’s bombast is self-evidently about narrative. His 100th day in office will be Saturday and this flurry of activity seems designed to simultaneously distract from negative assessments of his first 100 days and to show that the White House is a hive of activity. The Trump White House has insisted again and again that this is the most active first 100 days in presidential history (it isn’t), and this week’s veneer of frenetic activity proved that there’s just nothing there.