Maria Bartiromo is unbelievable in this interview with Donald Trump.

The Fox Business Network anchor on Wednesday gave a master class in how to butter up the president, who reciprocated by divulging intimate details of what it was like to order last week’s strike against a Syrian airfield. (“I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long,” Trump said, making the transactional nature of the conversation explicit.) The press has already praised the beauty of the missiles raining down on Syria and informed us of Trump’s overwhelming compassion for Syria’s children, so Bartiromo had to dig a little deeper to unearth new information that would allow Trump to bask in this glorious moment a little longer. She homed in on his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, which was when the strike was ordered.

Here is a breakdown of how Bartiromo got the goods.

1. Bartiromo: When you’re with the president of China, you’re launching these military strikes. Was that planned? How did that come about? Because right there you’re saying: A reminder, who the super power in the world is.

A perfect opening move. Trump is a notoriously insecure man, and it’s hard to imagine a more ego-stroking remark, one that sets Trump up as the big boy to Xi’s little wimp. Also, Bartiromo’s facial expression is at a 7 on the sycophancy scale.

2. Bartiromo: When did you tell him? Before dessert or? ...

It’s not the substance of the question so much as the schoolgirl giddiness with which she asks it. Facial expression at a 9 on the sycophancy scale.

3. Trump: We had finished dinner, we’re now having dessert, and we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen [indicates size with hands: it’s a big cake], and President Xi was enjoying it, and I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded—what do you do? And we made a determination to do [it]. So the missiles were on the way. And I said, “Mr. President, let me explain something to you.” This is during dessert. “We’ve just fired 59 missiles,” all of which hit by the way, unbelievable, from hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing...

Bartiromo: Unmanned.

Trump: So incredible. It’s brilliant, it’s genius, our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody’s by a factor of five. What we have in terms of technology nobody can even come close to competing.

Trump’s digression about the chocolate cake is what has received the most attention this morning. But Bartiromo’s subtle goading allowed Trump to wax poetic about the military as if it were one of his hotels—the best, the biggest, etc.—which in turn allowed Trump to condemn Barack Obama for cutting defense spending and George W. Bush for invading Iraq. Also, yes, missiles are generally “unmanned.”

4. Trump: We’ve just launched 59 missiles, heading to Iraq.

Bartiromo: Well, you, ah, headed to Syria.

Trump: Yes, heading toward Syria.

This is the best part. Trump can remember the size of the chocolate cake he was eating and how good it felt to squeeze off a few missiles at the hazy area off the coast of his mind known as the Middle East, but he can’t remember the actual country he bombed. Bartiromo swooped in to help, but her face registered a 2 on the sycophancy scale.

5. Bartiromo: How did he react?

Again, it’s not the question itself, but the unctuous eagerness with which she asks it. A 10 on the scale.

6. Trump: He said to me, “Anybody that uses gasses”—you could almost say, “or anything else”—but “anybody who was so brutal and uses gasses, to do that to young children and babies, it’s OK.”

Bartiromo: He agreed.

Trump: He was OK with it.

Never mind the almost childlike use of the word “gasses” to describe chemical weapons. Never mind that strange aside “you could almost say, ‘or anything else,’” which seems to imply Trump believes retaliation is warranted whenever children are killed. We’re talking about Xi Jinping, whose government has tortured and imprisoned dissidents and repressed civil society groups. All hopes that China would move in a more liberal direction have been dashed under his rule. And Xi is the arbiter of whether a humanitarian strike is justified? But Bartiromo doesn’t question, she merely puts Trump’s word salad into a succinct phrase: “He agreed.”

April 27, 2017

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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 e 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.

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.