Chris Christie has shifted from being Trump’s man servant to being his whipping boy.

Once upon a time, Christie—the first Republican presidential candidate to endorse Trump—thought he was headed towards a plum cabinet appointment. Attorney General Chris Christie. Secretary of State Chris Christie. Vice President Chris Christie! By endorsing Trump he had turned lemons—in this case, Bridgegate and crushing unpopularity in his home state—into lemonade. But then he was outmaneuvered by Jared “Count of Monte Cristo Jr.” Kushner and was betrayed: First subjected to a number of humiliations by Trump that were subsequently leaked to the press, then exiled back to New Jersey, where he may or may not serve out his final year in office.

But Christie still held out hope. A week ago, Politico reported that Christie liked the way things were shaping up. “I think he’s one who feels that there will be a good amount of turnover and so Trump will be looking for a range of different people and talents as time goes on,” a New Jersey Republican said.

But, alas, Christie’s hopes appear to have been dashed again. The Trump transition is going very poorly and its leaders are blaming Christie, who was shitcanned as transition leader shortly after Trump won the presidency. Per Axios Presented by Bank of America:

Trump’s advisers tell us privately that many parts of the operation remain messy — in large part, they say, because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left them with virtually no preparation for a transition. Advisers told us horror stories of struggles to fill key roles — including getting handed files of candidates, most of whom were Democrats. This is only adding to the confusion and slowed policy-making discussions.

As badly as things have gone for Trump, he’s always had Chris Christie to blame. That may ultimately be Christie’s saving grace. Eventually, Trump may need to bring him back into his orbit, if only to use as a scapegoat.

April 26, 2017

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Trump’s new crime victims hotline has one goal: criminalizing immigrants.

Today the Department of Homeland Security officially launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, thus fulfilling one of the more alarming clauses of an executive order that promised to track crimes committed by immigrants. VOICE appears to offer just two services: a hotline for victims of crimes committed by suspected immigrants, and automated updates about the status of an immigrant in custody. ICE tweeted that this was part of a “measured” approach to immigration enforcement, and that “it intends to expand the services VOICE offers in the future.” But what additional services would be required of an office that is hardly justified in the first place? 

When Trump announced the establishment of VOICE in his first joint address to Congress in early March, it brought the most pernicious aspect of his anti-immigrant rhetoric from the campaign trail to government office, one that equated undocumented immigrants with “bad hombres,” rapists, and murderers. It doesn’t seem to matter that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes or engage in domestic terrorist acts than U.S. citizens. To add further insult to injury, DHS Secretary John Kelly ordered that any department resources that might go to supporting undocumented immigrants should be re-routed to this office. 

In an administration dogged by bungled and thwarted bills, with hundreds of vacancies yet to be filled and pet projects, like the border wall, indefinitely stalled, Trump desperately needs to show that his young presidency hasn’t been a total wash. Naturally, according to a DHS spokesperson, this is one of the top accomplishments of Trump’s first 100 days.  

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Oh cool, Ivanka Trump is setting up a bribery fund in the White House.

Axios’s Mike Allen rather nonchalantly passes along what should be a red-flags-everywhere disclosure from first daughter/business woman/conflict-of-interest-ridden White House adviser Ivanka Trump that she’s setting up a “massive fund” to “invest in women and girls.”

That this story pokes its head up as the political press scrutinizes the verb tense of every squirrelly Chelsea Clinton utterance about her future political ambitions, and debates the ethics of President Obama’s (admittedly poor) decision to accept a $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee, recalls the summer of 2016, when the media dynamic that ultimately allowed Donald Trump to become president took hold.

During the post-convention lull, the press strained hard to create the impression that Hillary Clinton had used (and would use) the Clinton Foundation as a vehicle for pay-to-play corruption, while Trump ran the most deviant and corrosive campaign in modern history and his far more well-documented corruption received relatively scant attention.

At the moment, Trump needs Congress to fund the government, which gives Democrats some leverage, at least in theory, to demand that Ivanka Trump’s fund be dismantled, or custody of it transferred to an outside charity with no White House or Trump family connections. The fact that Donald Trump, with media complicity, used the specter of pay-to-play corruption to abnormalize and disqualify Hillary Clinton should make the fact that Trump is now bringing the specter to life in his own White House a paralyzing scandal.

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Trump is cementing his 100 days of failure.

Trump is set to release his tax reform plan on Wednesday, a last-ditch effort to demonstrate momentum ahead of his 100th day in office this Saturday. But Politico reported on Wednesday that “the hastily written plan could wind up alienating critical Hill Republicans while offering little or nothing to entice Democrats.” Trump looks likely to offer his plan without a border tax or other means of actually funding his tax cuts, and sources close to House Speaker Paul Ryan are calling this a “magic unicorn” approach that won’t pass the House.

Trump keeps doing this. As former Mitt Romney adviser Lanhee Chen told Politico, the tax reform fight is shaping up to resemble the recent healthcare debacle, which was marked by Republican infighting and poor planning by the White House. (The latest on that, by the way, is a new GOP proposal that would gut Obamacare protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions but allow members of Congress to keep those protections.) Yet Trump’s rushed tax plan also looks a bit like his impulsive attempt to jam funding for a Mexico border wall into congressional budget negotiations this week. That swiftly backfired, resulted in a Trump retreat, and allowed Democrats to claim a minor victory.

More than a dozen of Trump’s top advisers and cabinet secretaries will launch a regional TV and radio tour on Wednesday, giving more than a hundred interviews to put a positive spin on the administration’s lack of accomplishment. Ultimately, though, they don’t have much to work with. Trump’s desperation to prove he’s had a productive 100 days is causing only further failures, a vicious cycle of insecurity and ignorance that likely won’t end well for America or the world.

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Republicans are trying to exempt themselves from their own efforts to gut preexisting conditions protections.

Back when Republicans first introduced the American Health Care Act, they were circumspect enough not to exempt themselves from their own law. The Affordable Care Act took members of Congress and their aides out of the health benefit plan most federal employees enjoy and allowed them to purchase subsidized plans on the Washington, D.C. health benefits exchange instead. In their efforts to destroy Obamacare, I thought they might make a craven political error, and restore their own access to the federal employees health benefit plan, while subjecting the broader public to much worse insurance. Trumpcare for thee, but not for me.

To my surprise, they managed to avoid that mistake several weeks ago. But that only makes it harder to fathom why they’re attempting something at least as bad, and far more bizarre, today.

The health law expert, and Obamacare supporter, Timothy Jost, noticed that in the latest iteration of AHCA (aka zombie Trumpcare) Republicans are proposing to exempt themselves from their own efforts to gut pre-existing conditions protections. They want to allow states to waive protections that require plans to offer essential benefits (hospital stays, etc) and that prohibit plans from charging sick people higher premiums than healthy people—unless those plans happen to belong to members of Congress and their staffs.

The politics of this decision will be brutal, but the decision itself is also completely inscrutable. ACA rules require members and aides to buy their plans on D.C.’s small-business exchange. This provision only serves any practical purpose if you worry that the District of Columbia—one of the most liberal precincts in the country—will waive pre-existing conditions protections.

Maybe Republicans worry that the D.C. government would waive these protections to make Congress live with the consequences of its own dirty work, or as part of an escalating brinkmanship with Congress, which controls D.C.’s budget? But that would impose harsh collateral damage on a lot of poor and working class residents of the District. Maybe Republicans worry the D.C. government would seek a waiver for beneficiaries on the small-business exchange, or for Congress specifically? That would at least be congruent with the nature of this exemption. But it also means taking a huge political hit right now—when they’re trying to advance an already-unpopular bill—in order to shield themselves from far-off and entirely hypothetical complication.

Reestablishing congressional access to FEHBP would have been terrible politics, too, but at least it would have made sense, and had a certain pro-ACA-repeal consistency to it. What they’re doing here is more like cornering their own king in a game of chess to gain advantage on an imaginary third dimension.

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Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are both shameful and totally self-defeating.

On Tuesday a federal judge in California declared yet another Trump executive order—this one blocking federal funding for sanctuary cities—unconstitutional. As with the failed travel ban, two things sank the order: The first is that it was incompetently drawn up and the second is Donald Trump’s mouth. The judge in Santa Clara v. Trump cited Trump’s own words to bring the hammer down. The federal government has argued that the order is designed to encourage volunteer cooperation from sanctuary cities, but Trump said this: “I don’t want to defund anybody. I want to give them the money they need to properly operate as a city or a state. If they’re going to have sanctuary cities, we may have to do that. Certainly that would be a weapon.”

On Tuesday evening, the White House released an unhinged statement blasting the deal. “Once again, a single district judge—this time in San Francisco—has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country. This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father’s arms.” (The statement refers to Steinle multiple times—Steinle was also mentioned in Trump’s RNC speech.) “San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.”

And on Wednesday morning, Trump himself got in on the action:

It’s hard to imagine something more destructive than the White House’s attempts to delegitimize the judge, especially following Jeff Sessions’s racist dismissal of a federal judge in Hawaii and Trump’s racist attacks on a federal judge in Indiana during the 2016 election. This is a statement designed to corrode trust in the judiciary branch by insisting that judges in certain (liberal, urban, diverse) places are somehow less authoritative.

But if the Trump administration is clocking the judiciary, it’s also punching itself in the face. The Trump administration is perpetuating a vicious circle—statements like these contribute to its poor performance in the courts, which leads to more destructive statements.

Trump’s own tweets betray either a deep ignorance of the judicial system or an attempt to launch a preemptive attack. The Ninth Circuit of Appeals is the next court that will hear the case—the judge who blocked the sanctuary city order does not sit on the Ninth Circuit. That court will likely rule that the order is unconstitutional—and Trump will almost certainly respond with another corrosive tirade.

April 25, 2017

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Donald Trump just handed Democrats a victory, and even Rush Limbaugh knows it.

Standing before the cameras at his afternoon press conference on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer touted “a bit of good news, not just for Democrats but for the country, that the president is easing off his demands for a [Mexico] border wall in the government funding bill.”

“Now, we Democrats have been opposed to including the wall in this bill since the beginning of the negotiations,” Schumer said. “There’s no plan to make Mexico pay for it, as the president promised it would. There’s no plan to resolve the eminent domain issues on the border. And the money is better used elsewhere; if the wall is $50 billion dollars, you could use that money to give just about every American broadband.”

As The New Republic’s Alex Shephard wrote Tuesday morning, Trump’s insistence that Congress pass a spending bill with border wall funding was ludicrous negotiating—“an absolute non-starter for Democrats and even some Republicans.” But Trump was bluffing. Now he’s backing down to avoid a highly symbolic government shutdown on his 100th day in office.

Liberals aren’t the only ones reaching this conclusion. “I’m not happy to have to pass this on,” Rush Limbaugh told his audience on Tuesday. “I’m very, very troubled to have to pass this on. And I want to say at the outset that I hope my interpretation is wrong, and I hope this is not the case. But it looks like, from here, right here, right now, it looks like President Trump is caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico.” Limbaugh added that “Democrats seem to have successfully used this stupid, silly threat of a government shutdown to get their way.”

This is an unearned victory for Democrats. All they had to do was stand aside and let Trump overplay his hand. But Schumer knows that Democrats must take what they can get, and run with it.

Does Barack Obama think he’s untouchable?

Obama isn’t exactly hurting for money at the moment—he isn’t leaving the White House “dead broke” like the Clintons claimed they did. He and Michelle signed a $65 million book deal in January and, while he won’t get all of that money right away, the Obamas don’t have to worry about paying for Sasha and Malia’s tuition. This makes Obama’s decision to accept $400,000 from the investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald to speak at a health care conference perplexing.

Yes, it’s easy money—the per hour rate is still much higher than the one that Crown is giving him for the memoir he’ll write. Yes, everybody is doing it—Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches played a role in her doomed presidential run and investment bankers were seemingly the only people who cared what former President George W. Bush had to say after he left office in 2009. But there’s no good reason for accepting the (again, very easy) money—and there’s plenty of reason to turn it down.

As Matt Yglesias wrote in Vox on Tuesday, by declining, “Obama would be suggesting that for an economically comfortable high-ranking former government official to be out there doing paid speaking gigs would be corrupt, sleazy, or both. He’d be looking down his nose at the other corrupt, sleazy former high-ranking government officials and making enemies. Which is exactly why he should have turned down the gig.”

Obama is better-attuned to the mood of the country than Clinton was and, whatever he may think of the response to her Wall Street speeches, Obama is also a politician who has long valued symbolic acts and appealed to a common desire to transcend vulgar politics. Refusing to take a buttload of money from Wall Street would have done both—it would have elevated the political centrism that Obama has come to symbolize and made the case that politicians are listening to the people, not continuing the same crony cliquishness that got us into this political/economic/social/cultural mess in the first place.

Another possibility is that he’s not the barometer that many thought he was, and that this is another sign that the political establishment is out of touch. Obama’s reputation as someone who understands the political currents is partially a result of his carefully cultivated and controlled public image—a public image that will be weathered by the decision to accept a substantial amount of money from a Wall Street investment bank.

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Chris Cillizza’s defense of Ivanka Trump is not just stupid, it’s also condescending.

While speaking at a panel in Germany, Ivanka Trump was booed when she made the absurd case that her father is a feminist hero because his hiring record shows his “belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man.” Even worse, CNN analyst Chris Cillizza jumped in with a singularly dimwitted column attempting to shield her from criticism.

Cillizza admitted Trump’s long history of contempt for women, ranging from boasting about grabbing female genitalia to his defunding of Planned Parenthood. Despite this, he said, criticizing Ivanka Trump is beyond the pale of decency. “But, it’s important to remember that Ivanka is, first and foremost, her father’s daughter. As such, she is going to defend him—as would almost every daughter in any situation in which her dad is under attack. And, whatever you think of the Trumps, it’s beyond debate that they are a very close-knit family who always sticks together.”

Cillizza’s advocacy on behalf of Ivanka easily shades into condescension. After all, Ivanka is not just Trump’s daughter, she is also a public figure: a White House adviser who has reportedly shaped policy on issues like Syria. Since she’s a public figure, her words deserve all the scrutiny and criticism that are normally given to politicians, cabinet officials, and other notables.

Moreover, it’s not at all true that the Trump clan is “a very close-knit family who always sticks together.” Trump’s first two marriages ended in bitter divorces and during an inheritance battle Trump notoriously cut off medical insurance for the ailing infant son of one his nephews.

Finally, Cillizza has defended treating Chelsea Clinton, who has never run for public office and does not hold any government position, as a public figure:

There is no logical reason for Cillizza to champion Ivanka Trump in this matter, unless of course his goal is to curry favor with the administration and its supporters and to advance CNN’s strategy of parroting Trump talking points.

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Is Michael Flynn about to start singing?

House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz might not be going out Samson-style, but his impending retirement has freed him to admit that the Trump administration is shady as hell.  After reviewing disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s security clearance paperwork, Chaffetz told reporters“I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” suggesting Flynn did not disclose payments from the Russian government he received before joining the Trump administration.

Flynn has offered to testify before congressional committees investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia’s election subversion in exchange for immunity, but so far no committees have accepted. Congress doesn’t investigate crimes, though, and Chaffetz’ declaration that Flynn likely broke the law suggests he may have serious legal trouble and/or be cooperating with the FBI’s criminal- and counter-intelligence probe of the same subversion campaign. 

Trump is, simultaneously, not complying with Chaffetz’s request for documents related to this matter, which is a risky way to treat a congressional investigator of your own party who is on his way out the door and seemingly feels a bit liberated to start putting the squeeze on your administration. This will get fun.

Pool

The Trump “100 Days” website is a hilariously typical own goal.

Two contradictory things are simultaneously true about Trump’s first 100 days. The consequences of Trump’s first 100 days, as my colleague Jeet Heer wrote on Tuesday, will be profound and destructive. He has already done lasting damage to the country and its standing in the world. But at the same time, Trump has also accomplished rather little, blundering from issue to issue in search of points to put on the board. 

Trump has claimed that 100 days is an arbitrary barometer, declaring it a “ridiculous standard” and “not very meaningful.” But, while there is a certain amount of truth in this, Trump’s own words and actions betray that he cares a whole lot about the 100-day marker. In fact, the administration has been on a mad dash for the last two weeks to try to find something to get done. 

First, it returned to health care for (roughly) the 87th time since the American Health Care Act crashed and burned a month ago. It didn’t work. Then it tried to blow up budget negotiations by demanding that Congress allocate funds to pay for The Wall. That hasn’t worked either. With four days left until the 100th day, the administration has only three plays left: lie, obfuscate, and exaggerate. 

The Trump White House unveiled its “100 Days” site on Tuesday, which asserts, “In his first 100 days, President Donald J. Trump has taken bold action to restore prosperity, keep Americans safe and secure, and hold government accountable.” The problem, however, is that the website is thin on details that back these arguments up. Some of the claims—like 500,000 new jobs—arguably are not the result of Trump’s policies, but Obama’s. There’s a lot of talk about executive actions, but only a handful of these have actually done anything. The site boasts about Trump’s military action in Syria, but it has become increasingly clear that the strike was not part of a larger strategy for ending the civil war. 

One of the accomplishments in the “Keeping Americans Safe & Strengthening Security Abroad” section is “advocated increasing military spending by $54 billion,” which is not an accomplishment at all. Only one item in the “Making Government Accountable to the People” section is about government accountability—the five-year ban on administration officials engaging in lobbying. The rest—most notably Trump’s only real accomplishment, the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court—are a grab bag of seemingly random actions. 

Even more damning is another site: The Donald J. Trump Contract With The American Voter, a list of 100-day promises that the Trump campaign unveiled on October 22, 2016. To be fair, this was a desperate push from a campaign that was all but screwed. The Access Hollywood tape had effectively submarined Trump’s candidacy and James Comey wouldn’t emerge to save his skin for another six days. But that doesn’t change the fact that Trump has fulfilled very few of the promises on this  “contract” with the American people—and doesn’t seem close to fulfilling them in his first year, either. In fact, he’s zero for ten on the list of legislative promises.