Even in the age of Trump, Joe Biden remains the master of the gaffe.

Speaking with Hillary Clinton in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden did an extended riff on Donald Trump’s love of tyrants. “He’s even showered praise on Saddam Hussein, one of the vilest dictators of the 20th century,” Biden said, accurately enough, before leaping into hyperbole. “He would’ve loved Stalin. He would’ve loved Stalin.”

Clinton, seated behind Biden at the podium, went wide-eyed at the Stalin comment.

It’s a classic Biden gaffe, a venerable genre in which the vice president, with great gusto, says something wholly inappropriate. Perhaps Biden felt he had to up his gaffe game to compete with Trump, who has dominated headlines with his attacks on the family of a dead soldier and claims that President Obama is the “founder” of ISIS.

If that’s what Biden was doing, he’s on the wrong track. Clinton and the Democrats gain by making a sharp contrast between Trump’s recklessness and loose tongue and Clinton’s own reliability and careful words. Biden helped blur that crucial contrast.

March 23, 2017

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Democrats will use the filibuster to try to block Neil Gorsuch after all.

On Wednesday evening, Senate Democrats were sending up trial balloons: What if they cut a deal with Senate Republicans in which Gorsuch gets through and they preserve their filibuster power for Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee? Per Politico:

The deal Democrats would be most likely to pursue, the sources said, would be to allow confirmation of Gorsuch in exchange for a commitment from Republicans not to kill the filibuster for a subsequent vacancy during President Donald Trump’s term. The next high court opening could alter the balance of the court, and some Democrats privately argue that fight will be far more consequential than the current one.

This is the kind of deal we’ve come to expect from Democrats. It thinks several steps ahead but loses in the near-term; then, when the moment of truth arrives, Republicans will obviously act in bad faith and kill the filibuster. Democrats get screwed twice over.

The left wing of the Democratic Party was understandably pissed when this story broke. But on Thursday morning, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer endorsed filibustering Gorsuch’s nomination, suggesting that the Democratic leadership is sensitive to the party’s progressive base. Maybe they also realized that Mitch McConnell is never going to let a filibuster get in the way of a Republican nominee, so they might as well blow it up now.

Gorsuch “was unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check,” Schumer said. He is “not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology,” he continued. “He was groomed by the Federalist Society and has shown not one inch of difference between his views and theirs.” Whether or not Schumer will tie Gorsuch’s nomination to the ongoing FBI investigation of President Trump—something he has hinted that he will do—remains to be seen.

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Devin Nunes is an “act now, apologize later” kind of guy.

Today, it was reported that the House Intelligence Committee chairman apologized to members of his panel for his bonkers decision to go public with allegations (based on an anonymous source) that the Trump transition team’s communications were “incidentally” surveilled by the U.S. government, without briefing the Democratic members on the committee.

Nunes deservedly received a large amount of backlash for his stunt, especially from ranking committee member Adam Schiff, who stated that Nunes’s actions “throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.” It’s the polite way of saying that in Nunes’s speedy attempt to give Donald Trump political cover (which the administration quickly utilized) he acted like a rat, undermining a lot of his own investigation’s credibility—and, hilariously, increasing the chances of an independent investigation.

Nunes’s strategy seems to be to act first and ask for forgiveness later. However, he is even bad at that—Representative Jackie Speier, a Democratic member of the committee, said that Nunes apologized “in a generic way.

Scott W. H. Young (@heiscott)/Twitter

Dana Schutz’s letter asking curators to remove her Whitney Biennial painting is a hoax.

On Thursday morning a letter appeared on the Frieze website asking for removal of the controversial painting, Open Casket. It appeared to be a remarkably fulsome apology for the work’s transgressions, and it was welcomed by her critics. It included a call for publications to remove images of the painting from their pages. The press office of the Whitney Museum and Evan Moffitt, assistant editor at Frieze, have now confirmed to the New Republic that the statement was a hoax.

Over the last week Schutz’s painting, which depicts Emmett Till’s corpse, drew significant criticism and backlash. On Tuesday morning, artist and writer Hannah Black penned an open letter calling for the painting’s removal and destruction.

Although Schutz’s intention may be to present white shame, this shame is not correctly represented as a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist – those non-Black artists who sincerely wish to highlight the shameful nature of white violence should first of all stop treating Black pain as raw material. The subject matter is not Schutz’s; white free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.

As the New Republic reported on Wednesday, the painting went beyond the usual frame of appropriation. Schutz’s good intentions were overshadowed by a clear tone-deafness toward the politics of the case, namely Mamie Till Mobley’s decision to hold an open casket funeral for her son and thereby control his visual legacy.

In a move that Moffitt called “conspiratorial,” an unknown group emailed the publication using an email address that initially appeared to be authentic. Moffitt reported that the name used in the so-called “name field” was identical to Schutz’s own (Dana Schutz Studio), although the email address itself was not. Frieze’s Berlin office is currently liaising with Schutz’s gallery, CFA Berlin, to investigate who may have been behind the hoax. We have written to that email address for comment and are awaiting reply.

The hoax will only continue to stoke the flames of controversy around Schutz’s already divisive painting. Presumably the organization or individual(s) behind the act will claim credit in coming hours. Until then, we are left with a painting and a mystery.

Did Dems ram Obamacare through Congress with no debate? Let’s consult the calendar. Oh look! Republicans were lying.

Today is Obamacare’s seventh anniversary. It is also the day House Republicans will try to pass a bill that would repeal Obamacare—a gratuitous thumb in the eye of anyone who helped write or pass the Affordable Care Act, or who has benefitted from it since. The technical term for this is a “dick move,” but it’s also a useful marker for the journalism community, where it’s fashionable to draw equivalence between both parties, and treat all partisan spin as worthy of unchallenged amplification.

For instance, Republicans have claimed for seven years now that Democrats rushed Obamacare through Congress without debate, and will use this claim as cover for doing the same. 

But it isn’t biased to point out that this is false, and today’s anniversary underscores just how dishonest the GOP’s Obamacare opposition campaign really was. Every Congress runs two years. The reason it’s the ACA’s seventh anniversary, rather than it’s eighth is that Democrats didn’t pass the law until the second year of Obama’s first term.  Now that they control government, Republicans are trying to rework the entire health care system, too—but on a timeline that’s been abbreviated by a full year. So there’s no reason to treat spin that says Republicans and Democrats did the same thing as a matter that’s up for dispute. All you have to do is look at the calendar. 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Donald Trump: I’m not lying, I’m creating reality.

Time has a fascinating interview with Trump about his use of lies, falsehoods, untruths, and exaggerations, especially on Twitter. (It’s part of an interesting and sober feature on the same subject.) The interview is a window into Trump’s brain and the result is more or less what you’d expect—Trump is essentially convinced that he can shape reality by tweeting it. He freely admits, for instance, that many of his tweets are simple speculation and proudly tells Time’s Michael Scherer that he has been proven right again and again. Trump does not seem to realize that, as president, his “predictions” provide powerful incentives to people to provide corroborating information—like Devin Nunes, who brought Trump “evidence” that he was surveilled by the Obama administration, even though this had nothing to do with Trump’s original claim, on Twitter, that he was “wiretapped.”

When Trump is proven to be completely wrong—as was the case with his claims that Ted Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald before the Kennedy assassination, or that the United States had used British intelligence to spy on his campaign—he shrugs it off, saying that he was merely citing someone else’s claim in a neutral way. (This is not true in either of these cases.) But for the most part, Trump insists that he is actually right about everything. Here he is on his widely and deservedly mocked claim that there was a terrorist attack in Sweden the day before a rally he held in February:

No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want. A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened. I talked about Brussels. I was on the front page of the New York Times for my quote. I said Brussels is not what it used to be, very sad what has happened to Brussels. I was absolutely lambasted. A short time later they had the major attack in Brussels. One year ago today. Exactly one year ago today. And then people said you know Trump was right. What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right. I’m an instinctual person, I happen to be a person that knows how life works. I said I was going to win the election, I won the election, in fact I was number one the entire route, in the primaries, from the day I announced, I was number one. And the New York Times and CNN and all of them, they did these polls, which were extremely bad and they turned out to be totally wrong, and my polls showed I was going to win. We thought we were going to win the night of the election.

The most telling part of the interview comes at the very end. Before signing off, Trump says, “Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.” It’s a very Trump-ian joke. After Trump’s surprise victory many worried about its effects on his psyche—no one thought he could win and he did win, which could only suggest to a narcissist like Trump that he is right and everyone else is wrong. More significantly, this is Trump’s version of “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”—in this case, it’s “If the president says it, that means that it is not a lie.”


If true, this CNN report about Russia could destroy Trump’s presidency.

On Wednesday afternoon, an enraged Adam Schiff went on television to lash out at fellow House Intelligence Committee member Devin Nunes, for his handling of the committee’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. (Earlier that day, Nunes had presented Donald Trump with related information without first briefing other members of the committee.) “There is more than circumstantial evidence now” that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, Schiff told MSNBC.

We may have a hint of what that non-circumstantial evidence is. On Wednesday evening, CNN published a bombshell—a vague bombshell but a bombshell nonetheless—alleging that the FBI has evidence suggesting coordination between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials in the release of “information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

While this is a very big deal indeed, the report is thin on actual details and heavily caveated. It is not clear which Trump campaign officials were allegedly speaking to Russian officials (Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Flynn are all being investigated). We don’t know the roles the Russian officials held, or even what the damaging information was, though it is presumably the information leaked by Guccifer 2.0, the entity that hacked the Democratic National Committee. It’s also unclear if Trump campaign officials knew they were speaking to Russian officials, or if the campaign was unwittingly infiltrated.

Still, this report looks bad. It suggests that evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials may exist, something that Trump lackeys have been denying for months. And collusion is serious enough that it could bring down this administration. Even a vague report like this is a very bad omen for the future of the Trump presidency.

At the very least, it’s hard not to see this leak as being retaliation for Nunes’s weird and unethical freelancing earlier in the day. Russia is, as Nunes put it, “a big gray cloud” over the administration. This report only makes that cloud bigger and grayer.

March 22, 2017

Why can’t Sean Spicer give a straight answer about possible treason in the White House?

At the White House press briefing, Peter Alexander of NBC asked the press secretary, “Can you say with certainty right now that there’s nobody working for this White House that is presently working in the interest of a foreign government?” There would seem to be only one answer to this question. But Spicer gave a remarkable reply, saying, “I can tell you that every form has been filled out.”

Spicer added that the White House “absolutely” trusts its people to fill out these “forms” correctly. He elaborated at length: “People are filling out forms. So to sit here and ask me whether I can vouch for, whatever it is, a few hundred people who have filled out everything, that would be ridiculous for me to stand here and suggest I possibly could. But what I can tell you is that under the penalty of law, every single person who has filled out a form, that is being vetted by whatever level of classification that they need to get by the appropriate law enforcement agencies or HR entities.”

This is a very odd response, to put it mildly, shifting from the question of foreign influence to one of proper documentation. On the day in which new evidence emerged of connections between Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian oligarchs, Spicer did little to reassure those concerned about possible illicit ties between Trump’s team and foreign governments.

Devin Nunes, the guy investigating Russian election-meddling, is also providing political cover for Donald Trump.

Two days ago, Nunes grilled FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers during a House hearing ostensibly convened to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. election—as it turned out, Nunes was more concerned about the source of leaks showing contact between Trump’s team and Russian officials, not the nature of the contact itself. Now, Nunes is engaged in a very strange bit of political theater. On Wednesday, he was told by a “source”—an anonymous source—that Trumpland’s communications after the election were “incidentally” collected by U.S. national security agencies.

Nunes insisted that the surveillance, weirdly enough, was not related to Russia. Nunes then informed Paul Ryan of this development. Then, without briefing his colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, he went to the White House to tell Donald Trump and do a press conference. Trump said that the information, which had nothing to do with his accusation that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, “somewhat” vindicated his claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. “I very much appreciate the fact that they found what they found,” he said.

Nunes, meanwhile, also hinted that something nefarious was going—perhaps also orchestrated by Barack Obama. “Some of it seems to be inappropriate. ... I don’t know if the American people would be comfortable with what I’ve read,” he said.

So what the hell is going on here? The simplest explanation is that Nunes received a speck of evidence that could be packaged in such a way that, if you squint real hard, vindicates Trump’s paranoid tweets about being wiretapped by the Obama administration. He then rushed that information to Trump so he could use it as political cover. Nunes, despite admitting that the Trump transition team was not the “target” of surveillance and that Trump Tower was not wiretapped, could only have kickstarted his strange and bewildering string of events for that purpose.

It’s worth noting three things here. One, it’s possible that Nunes’s own communications were swept up, since he was a member of Trump’s transition team. Two, being caught up in surveillance by the U.S. government should be a cause for suspicion, at least to the head of the House Intelligence Committee. Third, Nunes is supposed to be investigating the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government. He is justifying his behavior by claiming that the information is not related to Russia. But still, this doesn’t change the fact that a man that has been tasked with investigating the president embarked on a bizarre stunt seemingly for the sole purpose of insulating the president from criticism.

Trumpcare is flatlining.

For the Affordable Health Care Act to pass the House on Thursday, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can only lose 21 Republican votes. But on Wednesday, over 25 members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus went to the White House and told Trump that they could not support the bill. They declared that he and Ryan would have to “start over.”

This is a crushing blow, near fatal, but the bill could still be jolted back to life. The Freedom Caucus is basically daring Ryan and Trump to send the bill to a vote—if Ryan and Trump call their bluff, it’s possible that some of the 25-plus Freedom Caucus members will come around, out of fear that they will be blamed for the bill’s failure and for obstructing the GOP’s promises to repeal Obamacare. However, the best assumption right now is that everyone will get blamed, with Ryan and Trump taking most of the heat. (It’s also possible that Ryan and Trump could conjure up some sweeteners to win over these members, but it’s very late in the game.)

It’s still too soon to declare Trumpcare dead. But coming just 24 hours before the bill goes to vote, this is very bad news for Trump and Ryan and good news for anyone who doesn’t want to see tens of millions of people lose their health insurance. Trumpcare has been in critical condition ever since it was unveiled, and now it’s flatlining.

Nicholas Kamm/Getty

Erin McPike’s long-awaited dispatch about Rex Tillerson’s Asia trip is here, and it’s exactly what Trump wants.

The secretary of state sparked a media firestorm last week by allowing only one journalist, from the conservative Independent Journal Review, to join him on his first major diplomatic trip to Asia. The reporter, McPike, added to the controversy when she announced she would not produce regular reports on Tillerson’s official activities, saying her editors favored of a “longer piece” about the five-day trip.

McPike’s piece has now been published. There are a few revelations: Tillerson hasn’t yet spoken to President Donald Trump about what the State Department would look like under the president’s proposal to slash the agency by 28 percent. He also revealed that he didn’t want to be secretary of state; his wife pushed him to take the job. McPike covers Tillerson’s aversion to media access, but uncritically for the most part, suggesting that secrecy is part of Trump’s diplomatic strategy and that Tillerson is merely “uncomfortable” with being in the spotlight. The report doesn’t consider the possibility that the administration is hostile to transparency.

The biggest problem with the piece, though, is that it allows the administration to claim transparency while providing very little substance about how Tillerson plans to handle foreign policy issues. McPike could only do so much, given her expertise; she’s a beat reporter at the White House, not the State Department. But given her decision not to file pool reports, and her past claims that “being adversarial is a problem” in journalism, it’s no wonder that Tillerson chose to grant her exclusive access.

McPike hasn’t been particularly forceful in her own defense. In addition to the above tweet, she told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday, “Sometimes you have to make a decision and go ahead with it.” Meanwhile, that decision has irked seasoned State Department reporters who have been attempting to ask Tillerson questions for nearly two months, to no avail. As former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele pointed out during the same Morning Joe panel, this kind of media infighting is exactly what the president wants—an example, in the The Daily Beast’s words, of Trump’s “divide-and-conquer strategy regarding the Fourth Estate.”