DeVos lied yesterday at her confirmation hearing

Via The Intercept:

During Tuesday’s hearing, the Democratic senators protested Republican chair Lamar Alexander’s unprecedented ruling that senators would only be permitted one round of questioning. Nonetheless, several senators pressed DeVos on the contributions made by her and other family members through their foundations. DeVos, clearly prepared for such questions, assured the committee that she has nothing to do with the contributions made by her mother’s foundation, the Prince Foundation (formerly known as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation). DeVos said that her immediate family — presumably meaning her husband and children — had nothing to do with the financing of anti-gay causes and groups and that she has never supported “conversion therapy” for gay people.

Newly elected Democratic Sen. Margaret Hassan pressed DeVos on these claims. She asked DeVos directly if she was on the board of her mother’s foundation during the period in which large donations were made to Focus on the Family. DeVos said that she was not on the foundation’s board.

When I heard that, I pulled up the 990 tax documents of the Prince Foundation, which I investigated for my book “Blackwater.” Betsy DeVos was clearly listed as a vice president of the foundation’s board, along with her brother Erik, for many years, at least until 2014. DeVos was a vice president during the precise period Hassan was referring to. I then began a tweet storm about this lie:

At the very end of the hearing, Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the committee, allocated the small time she had left to Hassan, who proceeded to reference the 990 tax forms. DeVos then made an astonishing claim. These government tax forms, filed by her own mother’s foundation, were incorrect. For years. Many years. “That was a clerical error. I can assure you I have never made decisions on my mother’s behalf on her foundation’s board.”

The idea that her own mother’s foundation would accidentally list her as a vice president for years as result of a clerical error is just not believable. The Democrats should go to town on this obvious attempt to mislead the Senate. This alone should disqualify DeVos, though there is a vast ocean of other reasons they could fish from.

George F. Will on Donald Trump as the waterbeetle of politics

George F. Will, writing in The Washington Post:

He flabbergasts the Human Race

By gliding on the water’s face

With ease, celerity and grace;

But if he ever stopped to think

Of how he did it, he would sink.

Hilaire Belloc, on the waterbeetle

Leaving aside the missing element of grace and the improbability of his ever stopping to think, Donald Trump is the waterbeetle of politics. His feral cunning in manipulating the masses and the media is, like the waterbeetle’s facility, instinctive. The 72 days of transition demonstrated a stylistic seamlessness with his 511 days of campaigning, which indicates that the 1,461 days of his term that begins Friday will be as novel as his campaign was.

Its theme was often a pronoun without an antecedent, his admirers explaining their admiration by saying that “he tells it like it is.” Fortunately, a theme of his transition has been a verbal shrug: “Oh, never mind.”

He won by stoking resentments that his blue-collar base harbors about the felt condescension of elites. He has, however, transitioned with ease and celerity away from the most vivid commitments that made his crowds roar (prosecuting Hillary Clinton, making Mexico pay for the wall, banning Muslims from entering the country, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants within two years, restoring torture because “it works” but even “if it doesn’t work,” etc.). He shows an interesting disinclination to disguise his condescension toward those he effortlessly caused to roar by giving verbal prompts that he has now abandoned.

Candidate Trump intimated a foreign policy less reliant on military measures than the policies of some recent presidential predecessors. But the most riveting moment of the transition received less attention than did Trump’s tweet snit about Meryl Streep. The moment was when Rex Tillerson, Trump’s designated secretary of state, told the Senate that China’s policy of building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea is “akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea” and that America should tell China that “your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” China might not quietly accept this U.S. Navy blockading of the islands.

Tillerson might be right: China is directly challenging the fundamental U.S. interest in freedom of the seas. And Lord Curzon’s reported axiom for diplomacy is often correct: Know your own mind and make sure the other fellow knows it, too. But combined with Trump’s tweeted promise to prevent North Korea from making good on its vow to test a ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States (“It won’t happen!”), Tillerson’s statement indicates that the Trump administration might soon be militarily active.

A Trump campaign pledge that has survived the transition is his promise to revive manufacturing by imposing protectionism. Michael Froman, Barack Obama’s trade representative, notes that “95 percent of consumers, 80 percent of purchasing power and the fastest-growing markets for our products are outside the United States,” so if other nations reciprocate U.S. protectionist measures, there could be “an outflow of manufacturing from the U.S.”

Much more here.

Steven Mnuchin fails to disclose more than $100 million in personal assets

Via The Washington Post:

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department initially failed to disclose his interests in a Cayman Islands corporation as well as more than $100 million in personal assets, according to a memo  by Democratic staffers on the Finance committee that was obtained by The Washington Post.

“The reason nominees are allowed to amend their disclosure forms is to ensure that all the information provided is correct,” said Mnuchin spokeswoman Tara Bradshaw. “That is why we have provided  the appropriate amended forms to the committee.”

Steven T. Mnuchin is slated to face lawmakers Thursday in what is expected to be a testy confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance committee. Mnuchin has already come under fire for his management of a controversial California bank accused of aggressively foreclosing on homeowners and discriminating against minorities — charges that he denies. Democrats have also sought to highlight the former Goldman Sachs executive’s deep ties to Wall Street in hopes of undercutting Trump’s populist appeal, and the new details of his financial holdings are likely to provide them more ammunition.

According to the memo, Mnuchin submitted answers Dec. 19 to a standard committee questionnaire seeking information about his financial and business interests. At the time, Mnuchin verified that those responses were accurate and complete.

However, Mnuchin had left out $95 million in real estate from his initial disclosures, according to the memo. Those assets included a co-op in New York City and homes in Southampton, New York, and Los Angeles. In addition, the memo revealed Mnuchin possesses about $15 million worth of real estate in Mexico.

Mnuchin also at first failed to disclose his role as director of Dune Capital International, which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the document shows. He also holds positions in nine other business entities and three trusts, including one connected to Sears Chief Executive Edward Lampert, Mnuchin’s former college roommate.

Much more here.

The worst cabinet picks of all time

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Viewers have been able to watch live as Senate Republicans indulge, and Democrats cross-examine, Donald Trump’s nominees for his cabinet. Within a 24-hour period Tuesday and Wednesday, three of the most controversial and quite possibly the least qualified of these nominees paraded across the screen in a cavalcade of misstatements, lapses of judgment, conflicts of interest and from time to time spectacular displays of ignorance and insensitivity.

Where to begin? Our pick is Betsy DeVos, the nominee to be education secretary, whose energies and considerable family wealth have been devoted to promoting privately run charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools in her home state, Michigan. She refused multiple times to agree that traditional public and charter schools should be held to the same level of accountability. She seemed unaware of some of the basic functions of the education department. She seemed surprised to learn, when Senator Al Franken brought up the matter, of a long-running debate over whether and to what extent to use test scores to measure student achievement or student growth.

She also won the tin ear award hands down. When Christopher Murphy asked whether she would agree that schools are no place for guns, she did not give the obvious right answer to a Democratic senator whose state suffered the horrendous Sandy Hook massacre (“Senator, there is no place for guns in schools”). Instead she said that localities should decide, and — in a transcendently odd moment — suggested that schools in places like Wyoming might need a gun “to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Next up, Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general initiated endless lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency, which he’s been asked to run, and who very nearly matched Ms. DeVos in the wrong answer department. One Democrat after another asked whether he would recuse himself in cases involving those lawsuits and cases involving companies that contributed copiously to his campaigns. The obvious response was, “Of course I will!” Instead, Mr. Pruitt would only say that he would do so if the agency ethics officer tells him to. Mr. Pruitt’s answer to climate change questions was equally depressing. Nearly all mainstream scientists say that human activities have been largely responsible for the rise in global atmospheric temperatures. Mr. Pruitt’s response was that the jury was still out.

Lastly, there was Mr. Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a representative from Georgia. Mr. Price made the preposterous claim that repealing the Affordable Care Act really wouldn’t hurt people as long as they had bare-bones insurance policies that paid for treatment only in catastrophic circumstances. He couldn’t offer any convincing defense of his proposals to strip hundreds of billions of dollars from the budgets of Medicare and Medicaid. In response to questions by Senator Elizabeth Warren, he said that spending on the programs was the “wrong metric” to judge them by and argued that lawmakers should instead focus on the “care of the patients.” Quality of care is certainly the most important standard, but why would drastic cuts to those programs magically result in people getting better medical treatment?

More here.

Earth sets new highest temperature on record in 2016

Via The New York Times:

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016 — trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.

The findings come two days before the inauguration of an American president who has called global warming a Chinese plot and vowed to roll back his predecessor’s efforts to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.

The data show that politicians cannot wish the problem away. The Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling. Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization.

In 2015 and 2016, the planetary warming was intensified by the weather pattern known as El Niño, in which the Pacific Ocean released a huge burst of energy and water vapor into the atmosphere. But the bigger factor in setting the records was the long-term trend of rising temperature, which scientists say is being driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” said Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

The heat extremes were especially pervasive in the Arctic, with temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice in that region has been in precipitous decline for years, and Arctic communities are already wrestling with enormous problems, such as rapid coastal erosion, caused by the changing climate.

“What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a unit of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that tracks global temperatures.

But Arctic people were hardly alone in feeling the heat. Drought and starvation afflicted Africa. On May 19, the people in the town of Phalodi lived through the hottest day in the recorded history of India, 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Much more here.

Trump at lowest approval rate in the last 40 years

Peter Baker, writing in the New York Times:

In one way at least, President-elect Donald J. Trump has already surpassed all of his recent predecessors. It took Barack Obama 18 months in the White House for his approval rating to slip to 44 percent in Gallup polling, and it took George W. Bush 4½ years to fall that far. Mr. Trump got there before even being sworn in.

Indeed, Mr. Trump will take office on Friday with less popular support than any new president in modern times, according to an array of surveys, a sign that he has failed to rally Americans behind him, beyond the base that helped him win in November. Rather than a unifying moment, his transition to power has seen a continuation of the polarization of the election last year.

Where other presidents used the weeks before their inauguration to put the animosities of the campaign behind them and to try to knit the country together again, Mr. Trump has approached the interregnum as if he were a television wrestling star. He has taken on a civil rights icon, a Hollywood actress, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, European leaders and President Obama. The healing theme common at this stage in the four-year presidential cycle is absent.

“He seems to want to engage with every windmill that he can find, rather than focus on the large aspect of assuming the most important position on earth,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on CNN on Tuesday. “And obviously, apparently, according to the polls, many Americans are not happy with that approach when he has not even assumed the presidency.”

Two polls out on Tuesday — one by CNN and ORC and another by The Washington Post and ABC News — found that just 40 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Trump’s performance heading into the inauguration on Friday. NBC News and The Wall Street Journal put his approval rating at 44 percent, calling it the lowest rating ever for an incoming president.

By comparison, shortly after their inaugurations, Mr. Obama was at 68 percent and Mr. Bush was at 57 percent in Gallup surveys. Both used the time after their initial victories to preach a message of inclusion and to extend a hand to their opposition, even if it did not ultimately last.

More here.

Trump’s support is so low that it is hard to believe he can really ever recover. There are broad gaps in his incoming teams, but he cannot resist offensive, complaining tweets as his favored communications.

Trump vows ‘insurance for everybody’

Via The Washington Post:

President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid.

Trump declined to reveal specifics in the telephone interview late Saturday with The Washington Post, but any proposals from the incoming president would almost certainly dominate the Republican effort to overhaul federal health policy as he prepares to work with his party’s congressional majorities.

Trump’s plan is likely to face questions from the right, after years of GOP opposition to further expansion of government involvement in the health-care system, and from those on the left, who see his ideas as disruptive to changes brought by the Affordable Care Act that have extended coverage to tens of millions of Americans.

In addition to his replacement plan for the ACA, also known as Obamacare, Trump said he will target pharmaceutical companies over drug prices.

“They’re politically protected, but not anymore,” he said of pharmaceutical companies.

* * *

Trump’s declaration that his replacement plan is ready comes after many Republicans — moderates and conservatives — expressed anxiety last week about the party’s lack of a formal proposal as they held votes on repealing the law. Once his plan is made public, Trump said, he is confident that it could get enough votes to pass in both chambers. He declined to discuss how he would court wary Democrats.

So far, Republicans have taken the first steps toward repealing the law through budget reconciliation, a process by which only a simple majority is needed in the Senate. The process would enable them to dismantle aspects of the law that involve federal spending.

The plan that Trump is preparing will come after the House has taken more than 60 votes in recent years to kill all or parts of the ACA to adopt more conservative health-care policies, which tend to rely more heavily on the private sector.

“I think we will get approval. I won’t tell you how, but we will get approval. You see what’s happened in the House in recent weeks,” Trump said, referencing his tweet during a House Republican move to gut their independent ethics office, which along with widespread constituent outrage was cited by some members as a reason the gambit failed.

As he has developed a replacement package, Trump said he has paid attention to critics who say that repealing Obamacare would put coverage at risk for more than 20 million Americans covered under the law’s insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion.

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” People covered under the law “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

If he can follow through on these plans, without knuckling under to the drug companies, it might be a decent approach.

James Comey is taking serious hits

Chris Cillizza, writing in the Washington Post:

James Comey had hoped to lay low for a while after the election. After all, the FBI director — via his last-minute interjection into the presidential race — had become a major player in the fight between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

A few months in the background, however,was not to be for Comey. The Justice Department’s Inspector General announced on Friday that it would open an investigation into Comey’s conduct in the runup to the election.

“I am grateful to the Department of Justice’s IG for taking on this review,” Comey said in a statement that didn’t just stretch credulity but totally shattered it.

Democrats rejoiced, seeing the probe as proof of what they had insisted since Comey delivered extended remarks on why no indictment would be brought against Clinton last July: That he had broken with protocol and waded deeply into the political process.

While Democrats took issue with the July 5 Comey statement, it was Comey’s letter to Congress in late October — announcing that potentially relevant information to the Clinton email investigation had been found on a computer belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin and former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner — that really sent them over the edge.

The assumption was that Comey had either seen or been briefed on emails from the Abedin-Weiner computer that had the potential to fundamentally alter the investigation into Clinton’s private email server as Secretary of State.

Nope! Turns out that there was nothing new on the computer.  But, that got lost amid the re-focusing by Trump and the rest of the political world on Clinton’s emails, which, strangely, became conflated with the ongoing WikiLeaks released of hacked emails from Clinton’s top staffers. Clinton as well as President Obama have said the focus on emails at the end of the campaign was a factor in her loss. Other Democrats went further — insisting Comey’s intervention was the main factor in her loss.

Now Comey’s conduct will come under scrutiny — even as Trump, no ally of intelligence community, prepares to take over as president. Add it all up and Comey’s future — not even halfway through his ten-year term — is incredibly murky.

What’s far clearer is just how poorly Comey’s plan to blend into the background of political Washington went this week. Jamey Comey, for standing out when you hoped to sit on the sidelines, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Senate Intel chiefs promise investigation of Trump-Russia ties

Via The Washington Post:

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders announced late Friday that they would look into allegations of links between Russia and the 2016 political campaigns as part of a broader review of the intelligence community’s report on Russian hacking.

Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that their investigation, announced on Tuesday, would review “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns” — a scope that includes allegations of ties between president-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

Their announcement came as additional House Democrats called for FBI Director James B. Comey’s resignation, following a closed-door briefing from spy chiefs about Russia’s alleged election-related hacking in which they say Comey stonewalled members about whether the FBI is investigating links between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Democrats accused Comey of being “inconsistent” for refusing to confirm or deny whether or not the FBI was investigating the alleged ties, despite his willingness to frequently update Congress on the status of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. They described the exchange with Comey as “contentious” and even “combative,” while leaders accused him of using a double standard.

“One standard was applied to the Russians and another standard applied to Hillary Clinton,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who one member described as “just outraged” at Comey’s resistance to questions.

Pelosi “really let Comey have it” during the meeting, the member said, who spoke on background because the meeting was classified.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders excoriated Comey for his stubbornness, but stopped short of calling for his head — pressing the FBI director to take up an investigation into what “leverage” Russia might have over Trump, even as they questioned Comey’s integrity.

“I think the American people are owed the truth,” Pelosi said. “And for that reason, the FBI should let us know whether they’re doing that investigation or not.”

Democrats have been leaning into Comey to commit to an investigation of Trump’s alleged ties to the Russian government after new, unsubstantiated allegations emerged suggesting the existence of compromising personal and financial links between the president-elect and the Kremlin.

Earlier this week, Burr had previously expressed doubts that the Senate Intelligence Committee would be able to investigate such allegations, according to reports, because the committee lacks the authority to compel information from the campaigns.

But if the committee investigates potential Trump-Russia ties by probing the information the intelligence community already collected, they can get around that hurdle, a committee aide explained late Friday.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s panel on crime and terrorism, would not say Thursday whether he would also investigate alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia from that perch, deferring that question to the FBI.

“If there were contacts that are unnerving, time will tell,” Graham said.

Much more here.