Wall Street Journal Editorial Harshly Rebukes Trump

Sydney Ember, reporting from The New York Times:

The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is known for its conservative tone, but an editorial the newspaper published online Tuesday night would stand out even in the pages of its left-leaning peers.

The editorial was an extraordinarily harsh rebuke of President Trump, calling him “his own worst political enemy” and asserting that he was damaging his presidency “with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.”

In particular, the editorial board pointed to Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones. “The President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the editorial said, even though senior intelligence officials, as well as Republicans and Democrats, have said they have seen no evidence to support Mr. Trump’s accusations.

The paper’s editorial and opinion writers have been critical of Mr. Trump in the past, although the language of this editorial, which ran in Wednesday’s paper, seemed intended to remind the president to focus on his stated goals rather than distractions. And the timing of the editorial — during a week in which Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, is testifying at confirmation hearings and the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Republican health care bill — is almost certainly not a coincidence.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for The Journal said, “The editorial speaks for itself,” and declined to make Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor, available for an interview.

The editorial, headlined “A President’s Credibility,” criticized President Trump for “rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims” — namely, repeating an unsupported allegation by a Fox News commentator that British intelligence had wiretapped Mr. Trump on behalf of the Obama administration. Like The Journal, Fox News is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who has ties to the president.

The editorial concluded: “Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.”

When the editorial went online, it immediately garnered attention on social media.

The editorial comes at a particularly sensitive time for Mr. Murdoch’s media empire. Last week, Andrew Napolitano, the senior legal analyst for Fox News, ignited a firestorm when, citing unnamed sources, he said Mr. Obama had used British intelligence to spy on Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, later cited Mr. Napolitano’s claim from the White House lectern, infuriating British officials and prompting Fox News to disavow Mr. Napolitano’s comments.

Mr. Napolitano, who likes to be addressed as “the Judge,” has since been temporarily sidelined by Fox News.

Against this backdrop, British regulators have been asked to investigate a deal between Mr. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and the British satellite television company Sky. The deal, for the 61 percent of Sky not already owned by 21st Century Fox, has prompted concern in Britain about Mr. Murdoch’s control over the media there. Mr. Murdoch has coveted Sky for years — in 2011, his company News Corporation withdrew a $12 billion offer for Sky in the face of a phone-hacking scandal in Britain — and he already holds a number of British media properties.

As Trump takes ownership of GOP health bill, support for it drops

Greg Sargent, reporting for the Washington Post:

THE MORNING PLUM:

The fate of the GOP health plan appears to hang in the balance, with GOP leaders still struggling to find the votes to pass it in the House. There is widespread disagreement both about the bill and its prospects for passage. But one thing appears to be widely agreed upon: President Trump has now “taken ownership” of this bill.

Yet Trump’s ownership of the GOP plan is not having the desired effect. It doesn’t appear to be moving many Republicans — indeed, GOP critics of it appear to be hardening in their opposition — and a new poll out this morning finds that support for it is dropping.

Trump’s ownership of the bill is being widely praised by some Republicans. “He’s all in,” gushed Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “It was the right thing for the president to take ownership of it,” enthused Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). Meanwhile, other Republicans report that Trump has made an aggressive pitch to them for the bill, arguing that they will face a voter backlash in 2018 if they don’t deliver on their promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But NBC News reports that House Republicans are moving away from the bill:

Yesterday morning, we wrote that 17 House Republicans opposed or leaned strongly against the GOP health-care plan that’s scheduled for a vote Thursday. Then President Trump visited Capitol Hill and appeared to threaten GOP lawmakers …

After that visit, the number of Republicans opposing or leaning strongly against the legislation grew to 27, per NBC News’ count — when Trump and GOP leaders can’t afford more than 21 defections.

As the NBC First Read crew observes, it’s “clear that Trump’s arm-twisting hasn’t paid dividends — at least not yet.”

Meanwhile, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll finds that support for the bill has dropped six points among American voters nationwide, and more voters approve of Obamacare than of the GOP replacement:

Since the Congressional Budget Office released its cost estimate of the Obamacare alternative last week, showing steep coverage losses, the legislation’s approval rating has dipped six points, from 46 percent to 40 percent. Obamacare’s approval rating, on the other hand, sits at 46 percent, as it did in February.

Meanwhile, disapproval of the GOP bill has ticked up two points, for a total net swing against the bill of eight points. What’s more, the new Morning Consult poll shows that only 1 in 5 voters thinks it will decrease their health-care costs, while a plurality of 39 percent think they will increase. And note this:

Fifty-three percent of voters said they were less likely to support the legislation when taking into account the CBO estimate that it would lead to 24 million fewer people having health insurance in the next decade. And 59 percent of voters, including almost half of Republicans (49 percent), said they were less likely to support the bill because the CBO projects it could increase average premiums by 15 to 20 percent in its first two years after becoming law.

Majorities tilt against the legislation when told it would result in millions without coverage and would drive up costs, as the Congressional Budget Office has concluded.

More here.

Reality is creeping into the Trump show

David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post:

The House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday marked the end of the opening installment of “The President,” the must-watch reality/horror show that has transfixed the nation and the world. Now the plot gets more serious, perhaps darker, with some new characters likely to emerge in key national-security roles.

President Trump should be less of a stage hog going forward, and his Twitter storms less intense. He is often described as a narcissist, but he’s not suicidal. He knows he has been rebuffed in a public hearing that he can’t ridicule as “fake news.” With his approval rating below 40 percent, he needs to broaden his base. Trump wants to disrupt, but he also wants to succeed.

Trump and the nation would be well served if his two leading Cabinet secretaries, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, played more prominent roles. Trump needs the solid outriggers that Mattis and Tillerson can provide. This presidency is wounded at a time of potentially serious crises.

Mattis and Tillerson are stabilizers. They have both led big organizations under pressure, and they know what command is. Both have been moving cautiously in the early weeks, feeling their way and mostly keeping their mouths shut in public. They don’t like talking to the press, but in that they’re hardly alone among former chief executives and military leaders.

Mattis and Tillerson aren’t communicating much with the public, but they’re talking to Trump and to each other, while they figure out the strategic positions this administration will take on key issues. The two Cabinet secretaries try to have breakfast once a week, talk frequently by phone, and hash out common positions before each big meeting in the Situation Room.

These two know how to say no to Trump. Mattis famously did so on torture, and Tillerson did the same rebutting a presidential musing about abolishing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Mattis and Tillerson have three paramount tasks — matters of war and peace on which their advice will be crucial for a beleaguered president with big ideas but limited experience.

The first test is “eradicating” the Islamic State. Trump claimed during the campaign he had a secret strategy, but in office he has sensibly expanded the approach recommended by Gen. Joseph Votel, the Central Command leader, which focuses on capturing Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria. Centcom favors using a militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is multiethnic but led by Syrian Kurds from a group known as the YPG.

U.S. commanders rightly argue that while the Kurdish warriors are anathema to Turkey, they’re the only hope for quickly seizing Raqqa. Turkey’s claims about an alternative Sunni militia known as the “First Corps” aren’t credible. Raqqa is an urgent priority: Terrorists there are hatching plots targeting Europe and the United States.

The message to Turkey should be blunt: Let the United States work with the Kurds to clear Raqqa now (and get them out afterward), or Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime will seize the initiative.

Much more here.

Eyeing Trump’s Budget Plan, Republican Governors Say ‘No Thanks’

Alexander Burns, reporting for the New York Times:

Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky was unrestrained in his praise for President Trump: Opening for him at a rally on Monday, Mr. Bevin, a conservative Republican, echoed Mr. Trump’s “America First” slogan and only gently noted the nagging divisions in their party.

“We now have a president and a Congress that are united in party, and yet we still have disagreements among us,” Mr. Bevin said, insisting, “This is healthy and good.”

In private, Mr. Bevin has been blunter about the party’s disagreements. Just days before appearing with Mr. Trump in Louisville, he joined a conference call with the president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to protest a White House proposal to defund the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency that spans 13 states and steers millions of dollars in federal money to Kentucky.

Mr. Bevin was not alone in his dismay.

As Mr. Trump and his advisers press for bone-deep cuts to the federal budget, Republican governors have rapidly emerged as an influential bloc of opposition. They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them.

Of acute concern to Republicans are a handful of low-profile programs aimed at job training and economic revitalization, including regional development agencies like the Appalachian commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which serves eight Southern and Midwestern states, seven of them with Republican governors. They are also protective of grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $3.4 billion job-training program funded through the Labor Department.

Mr. Trump’s budget office has proposed to eliminate or deeply slash funding for all of those programs, along with dozens of others.

Kim S. Rueben, a budget expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, said the retrenchment in Mr. Trump’s spending plan appeared to be significantly out of step with his campaign promises to use the federal government as a machine for creating jobs, especially in distressed Midwestern and rural areas.

“It just seems like you’re going after places that are so pivotal to what you are arguing you wanted to do for your base,” Ms. Rueben said of Mr. Trump’s budget. “They’re cutting all sorts of infrastructure projects and economic development projects at the same time that the president is still talking about how much of an investment he’s going to put into infrastructure.”

Much more here.

Sean Spicer’s laughable effort to distance President Trump from Paul Manafort

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

To hear Sean Spicer tell it, Paul Manafort was a bit player in getting Donald Trump elected president. At a briefing Monday, the White House press secretary actually described Manafort as having “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Except that Manafort was Trump’s de facto campaign manager, his top aide. And he held the position of chairman of Trump’s campaign for several months.

Trump hired Manafort in late March 2016 to lead his delegate effort with an eye on a contested national GOP convention. Toward the end of the primary calendar, in mid-April, Manafort and Rick Wiley were reportedly given control of the campaign, as campaign manager Corey Lewandowski took on a smaller role. Wiley left the campaign in late May, and on June 20, Lewandowski was fired. Manafort at that point became the clear leader of the campaign.

That was the case until mid-August, when Trump brought on Stephen K. Bannon as his campaign chief executive and elevated Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. Then, on Aug. 19, Manafort resigned over  questions about the direction of the campaign and — more important — increasing scrutiny over his ties to Ukraine’s pro-Russian former leader.

You could argue that Manafort wasn’t the unquestioned leader of the campaign for his entire tenure, but it’s completely nonsensical to say that he played a “very limited” role for a “very limited” time. He was guiding the campaign’s strategy while the primaries were happening, and he was in charge of ensuring that Trump’s delegate lead resulted in him being awarded the nomination at the Republican National Convention.

There were at the very least two months when Manafort’s power within the campaign was clearly without equal. And there’s a pretty convincing argument to be made that he guided the campaign for about four months’ time.

It’s clear as day what Spicer is doing here. Manafort’s ties to Russia continue to be a huge headache for the White House’s efforts to play down Russia’s alleged assistance in the 2016 campaign. Just a few days ago, CNN reported that Manafort was wanted for questioning in a Ukrainian corruption case.

But to argue that he wasn’t a major player in the effort to elect Trump is just laughable.

Comey’s Haunting News on Trump and Russia

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

The acknowledgment by James Comey, the F.B.I. director, on Monday that the bureau is investigating possible connections between President Trump’s campaign and Russia’s efforts to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s chances is a breathtaking admission. While there has been a growing body of circumstantial evidence of such links, Mr. Comey’s public confirmation ought to mark a turning point in how inquiries into Russia’s role in the election should be handled.

The top priority now must be to ensure that the F.B.I.’s investigation, which could result in criminal prosecutions, is shielded from meddling by the Trump administration, which has shown a proclivity to lie, mislead and obfuscate with startling audacity. Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Comey said the bureau is conducting its investigation in an “open-minded, independent way” and vowed to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”

There is no reason to doubt Mr. Comey’s commitment. But it is far from certain that senior officials at the Department of Justice, who normally decide whether there is enough evidence to file criminal charges in politically sensitive cases, will be able to avoid White House interference. Before Monday’s hearing began, Mr. Trump issued a remarkable set of tweets calling the possibility of collusion with Russia “fake news” and urging Congress and the F.B.I. to drop the matter and instead focus on finding who had been leaking information to the press.

These brazen warning shots from the president do enormous damage to public confidence in the F.B.I.’s investigation. The credibility of the Justice Department in handling the Russian matter was already deeply compromised after Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived in the job refusing to recuse himself from any investigation. He was forced to step aside only after it was revealed that, contrary to what he told senators under oath, he had met with the Russian ambassador to Washington twice during the campaign. Even with his recusal, it would still be his deputies and staff directing and managing any potential prosecution — which raises serious questions of conflict.

F.B.I. Is Investigating Trump’s Russia Ties, Comey Confirms

Via The New York Times:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, took the extraordinary step on Monday of announcing that the agency is investigating whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Mr. Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee created a treacherous political moment for Mr. Trump, who has insisted that “Russia is fake news” that was cooked up by his political opponents to undermine his presidency. Mr. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said officers would pursue it “no matter how long that takes.”

Joined by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, Mr. Comey also dismissed Mr. Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign, a sensational accusation that has served as a distraction in the public debate over Russian election interference. Taken together, the two provided the most definitive statement yet that Mr. Trump’s accusation was false.

The New York Times and other news organizations have reported the existence of the investigation into the Trump campaign and its relationship with Russia, but the White House dismissed those reports as politically motivated and rallied political allies to rebut them. Mr. Comey’s testimony on Monday was the first public acknowledgment of the case. The F.B.I. discloses its investigations only in rare circumstances, when officials believe it is in the public interest.

“This is one of those circumstances,” Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Comey said the F.B.I. was “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

* * *

Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, has acknowledged communicating with Guccifer 2.0, an online persona believed to be a front for Russian intelligence officials involved in disseminating hacked Democratic emails. Mr. Stone has denied that there was anything improper about the contact, and he was one of many, including political operatives and journalists, to communicate with the hackers.

Last July, the month that WikiLeaks began releasing the hacked emails, Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump, visited Moscow for a speaking engagement. Mr. Page has declined to say whom he met there, but he has said they were mostly scholars.

Michael T. Flynn, a Trump campaign adviser who went on to be his national security adviser, was paid more than $65,000 by companies linked to Russia in 2015, including an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have connections to Russia’s intelligence services, according to congressional investigators. Mr. Flynn was forced to resign after misrepresenting his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

* * *

Mr. Comey, testifying for more than five hours, said there was no evidence that Russian hackers had changed any votes in the election. The statement was quickly spun by the White House, which posted that clip of Mr. Comey’s testimony on Twitter.

But later in the hearing, when Mr. Comey was read the tweet by Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, the F.B.I. director made it clear that that was not what he had said.

“We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s not something we looked at,” Mr. Comey said, clarifying that the intelligence community is examining what Russia did to interfere with the election, not the effect of that interference.

Much more here.

Sean Spicer had another very bad week

Chris Cillizza, reporting for the Washington Post:

Look, Sean Spicer has a really hard job. His boss is an avid consumer of media who thinks he always knows better how to sell stories and deal with reporters. His boss is also the president of the United States.

Spicer is forever caught between two constituencies: Donald Trump and the White House press corps. And, time and time again, he sides with Trump — often at the expense of those pesky things called facts.

Thursday’s news conference was a prime example.

Amid mounting evidence — and that’s an understatement — that Trump has simply made up the notion that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration in the 2016 campaign, Spicer delivered an angry and confrontational performance. He repeatedly accused the assembled press corps of “cherry picking” news stories and purporting to have knowledge it didn’t about the wiretapping story.

All of which is, sort of, okay. Spicer got into real trouble when he offered what he suggested was proof (it wasn’t) of why Trump just might be right about the alleged wiretapping. Spicer cobbled together clips from conservative websites and columnists to make the case. In his coup de grace, he cited conservative commentator Andrew Napolitano‘s suggestion that British intelligence could have tapped Trump Tower at the behest of the Obama administration.

Cue international incident. The British national security agency called the claims “utterly ridiculous,” and national security adviser H.R. McMaster had to do a bit of late-night diplomacy to paper over the problem.

What Spicer seems to not get — or what Trump won’t allow him to get — is that when he is standing behind the podium in the White House briefing room, he is a spokesman for the entire United States, not just the president. And when facts get such short shrift, it has real-world effects — on our allies and our enemies.

I’ve written before that Spicer deserves some level of empathy given the impossibility of his situation. But he knew what he was getting into when he took the job, and his repeated inability to find a sweet spot between the demands of his boss and the needs of the press corps means that he had the Worst Week in Washington. Again.

Trump, Working-Class Zero

Maureen Dowd, writing in The New York Times:

It’s not unknown, of course.

In ancient Egypt, there was the symbol of the ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. Nerve-addled octopuses sometimes consume their own arms.

But we’ve never watched a president so hungrily devour his own presidency.

Soon, there won’t be anything left except the sound of people snickering.

Consumed by his paranoia about the deep state, Donald Trump has disappeared into the fog of his own conspiracy theories. As he rages in the storm, Lear-like, howling about poisonous fake news, he is spewing poisonous fake news.

The Hirshhorn has a sold-out exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s stunning infinity mirror rooms. But they are nothing compared to the infinity mirror room of Trump’s mind, now on display a mile and a half away at the White House.

Many voters who took a chance on the real estate mogul and reality TV star hoped he would grow more mature and centered when confronted with the august surroundings of the White House and immensity of the job. But instead of improving in office, Trump is regressing. The office has not changed Trump. Trump has changed the office.

He trusts his beliefs more than facts. So many secrets, so many plots, so many shards of gossip swirl in his head, there seems to be no room for reality.

His grandiosity, insularity and scamming have persuaded Trump to believe he can mold his own world. His distrust of the deep state, elites and eggheads — an insecurity inflamed by Steve Bannon — makes it hard for him to trust his own government, or his own government’s facts.

Angela Merkel did not get a surprise shoulder squeeze from this president. He ignored the chancellor’s request to shake hands. But Merkel still looked jittery.

Many who meet with Trump — from foreign leaders to our own lawmakers — look like cats on a hot stove. One Democratic senator told me he was determined not to smile in a session with the president in case Trump suddenly said something offensive or batty while the senator was politely grinning for the cameras.

Everyone is tiptoeing around the mad king in his gilded, sparse court. His lieges make fools of themselves trying to justify or interpret his transcendentally nutty tweets and willfully ignorant comments.

For two weeks, he has refused to back off his unhinged claim that his predecessor tapped his phones during the election.

G.O.P.’s Health Care Tightrope Winds Through the Blue-Collar Midwest

Via The New York Times:

James Waltimire, a police officer on unpaid medical leave, has been going to the hospital in this small city twice a week for physical therapy after leg surgery, all of it paid for by Medicaid.

Mr. Waltimire, 54, was able to sign up for the government health insurance program last year because Ohio expanded it to cover more than 700,000 low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. He voted for President Trump — in part because of Mr. Trump’s support for law enforcement — but is now worried about the Republican plan to effectively end the Medicaid expansion through legislation to repeal the health care law.

“Originally the president said he wasn’t going to do nothing to Medicaid,” Mr. Waltimire said the other day after a rehab session. “Now they say he wants to take $880 billion out of Medicaid. That’s going to affect a lot of people who can’t afford to get insurance.”

As Republicans in Washington grapple with how to meet their promise of undoing the greatest expansion of health care coverage since the Great Society, they are struggling with what may be an irreconcilable problem: bridging the vast gulf between the expectations of blue-collar voters like Mr. Waltimire who propelled Mr. Trump to the presidency, and longstanding party orthodoxy that it is not the federal government’s role to provide benefits to a wide swath of society.

If they push forward the House-drafted health bill, which could come to a vote as early as this coming week, Republicans may honor their vow to repeal what they derided as Obamacare, but also risk doing disproportionate harm to the older, working-class white voters who are increasingly vital to their electoral coalition.

Many of those voters live in small Midwestern cities like Defiance and neighboring Bryan, home of a candy company that makes Dum Dum lollipops but has moved many of its jobs to Mexico. Though unemployment is low in the region, where farmland stretches for miles between towns, the slow erosion of manufacturing has taken a toll, and “what’s left in our communities are lower-paying jobs,” said Dr. Neeraj Kanwal, the president of Defiance Regional Hospital.

The region has voted Republican in presidential contests for decades, but its support for Mr. Trump — he took 64 percent of the vote in Defiance County and an even larger share in most of the surrounding counties — was more resounding than for any candidate since Ronald Reagan. Yet many people here tend to have conflicting values that make repeal of the health law appealing on its face but ultimately hard to swallow.

“People in this community are very conservative. They struggle with the federal budget deficit, and they like the idea of personal responsibility,” said Phil Ennen, the president and chief executive of Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers, which has a 75-bed hospital in Bryan. “But at the same time, we have a lot of friends and family and neighbors who just don’t have a lot going for them. There is a population out there that needs Medicaid. That’s the dilemma.”

It is a daunting paradox for a party that, at least in theory, was once unified around a belief that Washington should be tamed, not empowered. But by winning the White House under the banner of economic nationalism, and carrying a series of Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states, Mr. Trump has left his adopted party struggling to come to terms with the reality of who are now voting for Republicans — and what they expect from their government.

Nearly a million Ohio residents gained coverage under the health care act, either through expanded Medicaid or via the new marketplaces created by the law.

The governor, John Kasich, who has become one of his party’s leading pragmatists, was one of several Republican governors who carried out the Medicaid expansion. Late this past week, he joined some of them in a letter to the congressional leadership requesting that the new health care bill be changed so that the Medicaid expansion is not ended entirely. The state’s Republican senator, Rob Portman, has been among the most outspoken Republican lawmakers expressing concern over any attempt to quickly end the expansion. But the Republican congressman who represents Defiance and the surrounding area, Bob Latta, is an ally of the House leadership and has supported the replacement bill.

Much more here.

The GOP has backed itself into a corner and really has no where to go. Many of Trump’s backers are just coming to realize that they may not be able to secure healthcare if the GOP healthcare plans proceed. This should be very interesting to watch.

White House Budget Bombs on Front Pages of Red State Newspapers

Zaid Jilani, reporting for The Intercept:

THE WHITE HOUSE BUDGET proposal released on Thursday produced harsh, highly critical headlines in local newspapers based in states that President Trump carried in his election in November.

Papers highlighted the cuts to spending on infrastructure, the environment, the impoverished, and arts and culture.

The Columbus Dispatch — based in Ohio where Trump won 51.3 percent of the vote — ran a front page story on Friday titled “Unkind Cuts to Ohio?” The story noted that the budget eliminated funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, “a $300 million undertaking to clean up and keep invasive species from the world’s largest single source of fresh surface water,” which “directly benefits the same upper industrial Midwestern states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — that elevated Trump to the presidency in November.”

Trump’s budget slams West Virginia,” was splashed across the front page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Friday. The paper noted the cuts to education spending and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which supports infrastructure in the state. The state gave Trump 68.7 percent of the vote.

In Florida, where Trump won with 48.6 percent of the vote, the Orlando Sentinel warned that the White House budget would “slash research, EPA, DOT, job training, libraries.”

Much more here.

So far, Trump has been mercifully incompetent

Dana Milbank, reporting for The Washington Post:

“The world is laughing at us. They’re laughing at the stupidity of our president.”

Donald Trump, October 2016

Stupid is as stupid does.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump remarked often on the stupidity of our leaders. He was under the impression that the rest of the planet was indulging in some sort of global guffaw at our expense. “How stupid are we? The world is laughing.” If so, what must the mirthful world think of our current state of affairs? This past week alone:

The House and Senate intelligence committees said they saw no evidence for President Trump’s wild claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, and Britain protested that the White House falsely alleged that British intelligence was involved. White House press secretary Sean Spicer has been arguing that Trump didn’t mean wiretapping when he said Obama had Trump’s “wires tapped.” Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested that eavesdropping could have been accomplished using microwave ovens.

Trump’s fellow Republicans pronounced his budget dead on arrival in Congress — “draconian, careless and counterproductive” were the words used by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), former House Appropriations Committee chairman — because it recklessly cuts (slashing the State Department by nearly a third and targeting Meals on Wheels for the elderly) yet still adds to the debt Trump promised to eliminate.

Legislation to replace Obamacare stalled in Congress and had to be rewritten because of a rebellion within Trump’s own party.

A judge halted Trump’s second attempt at a ban on travel from several Muslim countries.

And Republican lawmakers probing Trump’s ties to Russia threatened subpoenas over the executive branch’s stonewalling.

In one of the presidential debates, CNBC’s John Harwood asked Trump if he was running “a comic book version of a presidential campaign.” Now Trump seems to be running a cartoon version of a presidency, and he’s Elmer Fudd. His proposals could, if successfully implemented, be ruinous. But so far, at least, Trump has been mercifully incompetent.

He and the GOP-controlled Congress have been on the job two months, but he has signed only nine bills into law, none major. The only law so far this month: a bill naming the Veterans Affairs facility in Butler County, Pa. A McClatchy-Marist poll last month found that a 58 percent majority of Americans reported being “embarrassed” by Trump. For good reason:

Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, lasted just 24 days on the job after misrepresenting his contacts with Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions falsely testified that he’d had no contacts with the Russians, forcing his recusal from Russia investigations once the truth came out.

Trump’s nominee to be labor secretary withdrew in the face of broad opposition. His education secretary, who suggested that schools need guns to defend against grizzlies, was confirmed only when the vice president broke a tie vote.

Trump blamed a “so-called” judge for striking down his first travel ban and proposed blaming the court system if there was a terrorist attack; his own Supreme Court nominee called such remarks disheartening.

Trump conducted sensitive diplomacy over a North Korean missile launch with the Japanese prime minister surrounded by diners at his Mar-a-Lago country club, one of whom posted online a photo of the man carrying the nuclear football.

Trump, after inflating the crowd size at his inauguration and embracing a conspiracy theory that 3 million to 5 million Americans voted illegally, falsely accused the media of not covering terrorist attacks. The White House then produced a badly spelled list of attacks, most of which had been covered. Conway invented one attack, the “Bowling Green massacre.”

Conway pitched Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on Fox News. Taxpayers have subsidized millions of dollars’ worth of expenses related to Mar-a-Lago and the Trump sons’ foreign travel.

Trump marked Black History Month with remarks suggesting he thought abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive.

Trump opened a rift with Australia in an angry phone call with that ally’s prime minister. He provoked the Mexican president to cancel a trip to Washington, and he baffled the Swedes by alluding to fictitious refugee-related violence “last night in Sweden.” Britain postponed a visit from Trump in hopes that anti-Trump protests would cool.

Trump’s closest aides have leaked several accounts of him raging about the White House. His team is frequently caught off guard by his Twitter attacks, which have included shots at Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nordstrom and misinformation Trump heard on Fox News.

This tragicomedy adds irony when you consider that the main character is the same one who campaigned by saying “they laugh at our stupidity” and “we are led by very, very stupid people” and “I have the best words, but there’s no better word than ‘stupid.’ ”

Now the world has reason to laugh at us — because we’re with stupid.

Quotation of the day

Environmental Protection Agency: We absolutely do not need this. Clean rivers and breathable air are making us SOFT and letting the Chinese and the Russians get the jump on us. We must go back to the America that was great, when the air was full of coal and danger and the way you could tell if the air was breathable was by carrying a canary around with you at all times, perched on your leathery, coal-dust-covered finger. Furthermore, we will cut funding to Superfund cleanup in the EPA because the only thing manlier than clean water is DIRTY water.

— Alexandra Petri, in her satirical article, “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why.” (Via The Quotation of the Day Mailing List)

US makes formal apology to Britain after White House accuses GCHQ of wiretapping Trump Tower

Steven Swinford, writing in the Telegraph:

The US has made a formal apology to Britain after the White House accused GCHQ of helping Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump in the White House.

Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s press secretary, repeated a claim on Thursday evening – initially made by an analyst on Fox News – that GCHQ was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower in the lead-up to last November’s election.

The comments prompted a furious response from GCHQ, which in a break from normal practice issued a public statement: “Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitanoabout GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Intelligence sources told The Telegraph that both Mr Spicer and General McMaster, the US National Security Adviser, have apologised over the claims. “The apology came direct from them,” a source said.

General McMaster contacted Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Prime Minister’s National Security adviser, to apologise for the comments. Mr Spicer conveyed his apology through Sir Kim Darroch, Britain’s US ambassador.

Mr Spicer had earlier repeated claims that Barack Obama used GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump before he became president.

“He’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on it,” Mr Spicer said of the intelligence supposedly provided to Mr Obama by Britain.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command – he didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice – he used GCHQ.”

More here.

The Trump administration certainly knows how to upset a critical ally.

Tillerson says ‘all options are on the table’ when it comes to North Korea

Anna Fifield, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Trump administration gave its clearest signal yet that it would consider taking military action against North Korea, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying Friday that “all options are on the table” to deter the threat from Pyongyang.

Tensions are running high in northeast Asia, with North Korea making observable progress toward its goal of building a missile that could reach the United States mainland and China incensed over South Korea’s decision to deploy an American antimissile battery.

Tillerson’s remarks, ruling out diplomatic talks and leaving the door open to military action, will fuel fears in the region that the Trump administration is seriously considering what are euphemistically called “kinetic” options in Washington.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Seoul with Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister. He was referring to the Obama administration policy of trying to wait North Korea out, hoping that sanctions would prove so crippling that Pyongyang would have no choice but to return to de-nuclearization negotiations.

“We’re exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson said, adding that while the U.S. did not want military conflict, threats “would be met with an appropriate response.”

“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” he said.

In a surprise turn of events, Yun appeared to suggest that South Korea would support military options.

“We have various policy methods available,” said Yun, who is unlikely to remain in his position for much longer as elections for a new government will be held in early May. “If imposing diplomatic pressure is a building, military deterrence would be one of the pillars of this building. We plan to have all relevant nations work together more closely than in the past and make sure that North Korea, feeling pain for its wrongdoings, changes its strategy,” he said.

More here.