Senators from both parties pledge to deepen probe of Russia and the 2016 election

Via The Washington Post:

Top Republican and Democratic senators pledged Tuesday to deepen their investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election in the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as President Trump’s national security adviser, opening a new and potentially uncomfortable chapter in the uneasy relationship between Trump and Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said such an investigation is “highly likely,” and the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), stood side by side Tuesday to announce that the committee’s ongoing probe must include an examination of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.

Flynn resigned late Monday after revelations of potentially illegal contacts with Russia last year and misleading statements about the communication to senior Trump administration officials, including Vice President Pence.

“We are aggressively going to continue the oversight responsibilities of the committee as it relates to not only the Russian involvement in the 2016 election, but again any contacts by any campaign individuals that might have happened with Russian government officials,” said Burr, the chairman of the intelligence panel.

Added Warner, the vice chairman, “The press reports are troubling, and the sooner we can get to the veracity of those press reports or not, then we’ll take the next appropriate step.”

The consensus among lawmakers came at a tense moment, when congressional Republicans were already finding it difficult to defend Trump as the tempestuous start to his term has stoked frustration, fatigue and fear on Capitol Hill.

Many congressional Republicans have endured Trump’s unpredictability — including his criticism of the federal judiciary, and an immigration order that caught them by surprise and drew intense national blowback and a legal rebuke — because they think he holds the key to passing laws they have talked about for years.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of House members, put it this way: “I would rather accomplish something with distractions than not accomplish anything with smooth sailing.”

Burr and Warner’s agreement is also striking given the partisan feuding that has characterized investigations into Russia and the election — and relationships on Capitol Hill generally. The two senators were initially at odds over whether the committee’s probe should include potential ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, with Burr suggesting that it was outside the panel’s purview.

On Tuesday, Burr defended the committee’s right to look at those potential contacts, including any that may have occurred before Trump’s inauguration. And he has the support of Senate GOP leadership; in addition to McConnell, Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the majority whip, and Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the GOP conference vice chairman, also called for investigations into Flynn’s actions.

Their pronouncements contrasted sharply with remarks by Republicans in the House, who applauded Flynn’s resignation but for the most part stopped short of calling for further investigation.

“I’ll leave it up to the administration to describe the circumstances surrounding what brought [Flynn] to this point,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters.

Some took aim elsewhere. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said the most significant question posed by Flynn’s resignation is why intelligence officials eavesdropped on his calls with the Russian ambassador and later leaked information on those calls to the news media.

“I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer,” Nunes said. “The big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded.”

Democrats cautiously applauded plans to expand the Senate investigation, even though several of them had called for an independent probe run by a special prosecutor. McConnell and Republicans will certainly have more control over an in-house investigation, but even Warner said he favors that approach.

“Not only do we have oversight over intelligence and counterintelligence, but it works in a bipartisan basis,” Warner told reporters.

Many Democrats think the slow, painstaking but largely public process of an independent commission, such as the 9/11 Commission, is preferable to leaving the investigation in the hands of committees that work in secret, giving leaders more latitude to pull political strings.

More here.

Democrats Demand Inquiry of Russian Role in U.S. Affairs; G.O.P. Concern Grows

Via The New York Times:

The stunning resignation of Michael T. Flynn as White House national security adviser has emboldened congressional Democrats to demand a broader investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia — and compelled a small group of leading Republicans to acknowledge growing concerns over the episode.

“It’s dysfunctional as far as national security is concerned,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the Trump White House. “Who’s in charge? Who’s in charge? Who’s making policy? Who’s making decisions?”

While many Republican lawmakers remained largely silent on Tuesday about the deep turmoil in Mr. Trump’s national security apparatus, some allowed that further inquiry might be necessary, to a point.

Republican leadership in the Senate said that it was likely that Mr. Flynn would be asked to speak to the Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, and that his discussions with the Russian ambassador would probably be folded into the review.

But there still appeared to be little momentum for a select committee to investigate Russian interference — an idea that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has long resisted.

Few Republicans in Congress lamented Mr. Flynn’s departure from the administration, crediting Mr. Trump for hastening his resignation, despite reports that White House officials knew for weeks that Mr. Flynn had misled colleagues.

“I think it’s pretty obvious why he decided to make the decision he did,” Mr. McConnell said of Mr. Trump.

At the same time, in a striking role reversal, the party long known for its universally hawkish stance toward Russia is now ceding some of that ground to Democrats.

On Tuesday, Democrats tried to make it clear that Mr. Flynn’s resignation must be only the first chapter in the story of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

“The crisis here rises above party,” said the Democratic leader in the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, calling for an “independent, nonpartisan” investigation and insisting that Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general who was active in Mr. Trump’s campaign alongside Mr. Flynn, recuse himself from any review.

* * *

Mr. McCain, one of the most vocal critics of Mr. Trump’s approach and tenor toward Russia, was among the earliest to speak out forcefully on Tuesday.

General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.

However, Mr. McCain did not restate his earlier calls for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, which has not been supported by Mr. McConnell, who said any such investigations should be the purview of the relevant Senate committees. Mr. McCain has vowed that his committee will conduct a thorough inquiry and that he had full confidence in Mr. Trump’s defense and homeland security secretaries, calling his partnership with them “excellent.”

Most Republicans pursued similar arguments, deflecting questions about the need for further investigations into the administration’s ties to Russia. But a handful expressed concern about the pace of progress.

“It is frustrating to understand how we’re going to get a full, in-depth look at all the things that have happened,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think this episode does heighten the intensity around wanting to make sure that it’s fulsome and that we understand all aspects of what’s occurred.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, identified a possible silver lining.

“I just think it makes it almost impossible for them to lift sanctions now,” said Mr. Graham, who introduced bipartisan legislation last week that would require congressional approval for Mr. Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. “That’s sort of the good news.”

Mr. Graham suggested, gently, that Republicans should take care to avoid any appearance of hypocrisy.

“I think it’s important for us to be informed about the phone call. Did he do it by himself? Did he kind of go rogue or did somebody suggest to him to call the Russians?” he said. “I know we would be upset as Republicans if the Obama administration had done this.”

In A White House where no one is in charge

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post:

In early January, House Speaker Paul Ryan met on the issue of tax reform with a delegation from the president-elect. Attending were future chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, future chief of staff Reince Priebus, future senior adviser Jared Kushner, future counselor Kellyanne Conway and future senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. As the meeting began, Ryan pointedly asked, “Who’s in charge?”

Silence.

It is still the right question. Former officials with deep knowledge of the presidency describe Donald Trump’s White House staff as top-heavy, with five or six power centers and little vertical structure. “The desire to be a big shot is overrunning any sense of team,” says one experienced Republican. “This will cause terrible dysfunction, distraction, disloyalty and leaks.”

Trump has run a family business but never a large organization. Nor has he seen such an organization as an employee. “Trump,” says another former official, “is ill-suited to appreciate the importance of a coherent chain of command and decision-making process. On the contrary, his instincts run instead toward multiple mini power centers, which rewards competing aggressively for Trump’s favor.”

This seems to be the dynamic unfolding on the weekend political talk shows. These have traditionally been venues for an administration to communicate with media and political elites (whose religion dedicates Sunday morning to the gods of policy, scandal and pith). But Trump surrogates are clearly appealing to a different audience: an audience of one, who may well tweet them a nice pat on the back. The goal — as Miller demonstrated over the weekend — is not to persuade or even explain. It is to confidently repeat Trump’s most absurd or unsubstantiated claims from the previous week. This time it was electorally decisive voter fraud in New Hampshire (for which there is no evidence). Next weekend it could be the harm done by vaccination, or the possible murder of Antonin Scalia (both of which Trump has raised in the past). It is the main function of Trump surrogates to restate Trump’s “alternative facts” in a steady voice.

It is hard for me (and everyone else outside the White House) to know exactly what is going on in the West Wing. Leaks may provide a distorted picture. But, in this case, there have been an awful lot of them, clearly from the highest levels. And they uniformly reveal a management structure and culture in which the highest goal is not to display competence or to display creativity but to display loyalty, defined as sucking up. The philosophy of competing power centers has, indeed, produced terrible dysfunction, distraction, disloyalty and leaks. Trump’s failed and frightening executive order on immigration is exhibit A. But now the National Security Council seems to be in a full-scale crisis of purpose, thoroughly demoralized and trying to discern American policy from presidential tweets. With the real NSC badly weakened by the travails of the national security adviser, it seems that Bannon is developing a shadow NSC to serve his well-developed nationalist agenda.

More here.

Voter Fraud in New Hampshire? Trump Has No Proof and Many Skeptics

Katharine Q. Seelye, writing in the New York Times:

During a closed-door meeting with a bipartisan group of senators last week, President Trump said he would have won New Hampshire in November if not for thousands of people who he says, without any evidence, were bused in from Massachusetts and voted illegally.

He said the same was true of former Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, who was seeking re-election and lost the state by an even narrower margin than Mr. Trump. Ms. Ayotte is shepherding Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil M. Gorsuch, through the confirmation process, which was the subject of the meeting.

But is there any truth to the president’s assertion, which was first reported by Politico? Lots of prominent Republicans in New Hampshire say it is absurd, one even offering cash to anyone who can produce evidence of a single out-of-state voter.

What is the context for this claim?

Mr. Trump has claimed falsely many times, starting with a Twitter message in November, that he would have won the popular vote if not for the “millions” of undocumented immigrants who voted against him. He has alleged “serious voter fraud” in Virginia, California and New Hampshire. But his remarks last week appear to be the first time as a sitting president that he has claimed the vote in a specific state was fraudulent.

And on Sunday, Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, said on ABC’s “This Week”: “I can tell you that this issue of busing voters in to New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It’s very real, it’s very serious. This morning on this show is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence.” To that, Mr. Trump sent out a message on Twitter saying, “Great job!”

What is their evidence?

Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Miller has produced any evidence.

Has anyone outside Mr. Trump’s circle made the same allegation or offered evidence to back it up?

No.

What do state officials say?

While election officials have unearthed isolated instances of voter fraud or people voting improperly in New Hampshire, neither the secretary of state nor the attorney general has found any evidence of fraud on the scale alleged by Mr. Trump.

The Boston Globe reported that the secretary of state, William Gardner, was told on Election Day that the parking lot of a busy precinct was filled with cars with Massachusetts license plates, but when he arrived, he found that the cars belonged to people who were campaigning, not trying to vote.

Much more here.

From Trump’s Mar-a-Lago to Facebook, a National Security Crisis in the Open

Via The New York Times:

President Trump and his top aides coordinated their response to North Korea’s missile test on Saturday night in full view of diners at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — a remarkable public display of presidential activity that is almost always conducted in highly secure settings.

The scene — of aides huddled over their computers and the president on his cellphone at his club’s terrace — was captured by a club member dining not far away and published in pictures on his Facebook account. The images also show Mr. Trump conferring with his guest at the resort, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister.

Shortly before the club member, Richard DeAgazio, who joined Mr. Trump’s club recently, took the pictures, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile into the sea off its eastern coast. Mr. DeAgazio posted his photographs to Facebook as the two leaders and their staff members reviewed documents and worked on their laptops, using cellphones as flashlights.

“HOLY MOLY !!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan,” Mr. DeAgazio wrote later on Facebook, describing how the two leaders “conferred and then went into another room for hastily arranged press conference.”

“Wow…..the center of the action!!!” Mr. DeAgazio wrote in the post. The scene at Mar-a-Lago was first reported by CNN. Mr. DeAgazio did not respond to a call seeking comment.

President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Saturday. He and his aides coordinated a national security response there in full view of diners instead of moving to a private location.

The fact that the national security incident played out in public view drew swift condemnation from Democrats, who said it was irresponsible for Mr. Trump not to have moved his discussion to a more private location.

“There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater,” Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House, wrote onTwitter.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Tom Udall of New Mexico, Democrats who have called for Mr. Trump’s club to release a list of its members, denounced the president on Monday for discussing the North Korean missile launch in the open.

“This is America’s foreign policy, not this week’s episode of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” the senators said in a statement. “We urge our Republican colleagues to start taking this administration’s rash and unprofessional conduct seriously before there are consequences we all regret.”

Republican senators also seemed puzzled by the president’s actions. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said, “Usually that’s not a place where you do that kind of thing.” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, could barely find words. “Can’t make it up,” he said.

Michael J. Morell, a former acting C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, said, “Every president with whom I have worked would have gone to a private room to have what was potentially a classified discussion.”

Mr. Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. — known casually as the Winter White House — for a get-to-know-you weekend with Mr. Abe, including time with the prime minister on the golf course and dinners with their spouses.

Around 8 p.m. on Saturday, the two leaders appeared for a brief photo-op together at the main entrance to the resort. Mr. Trump ignored a shouted question from a reporter about the North Korean missile test, which had occurred about an hour earlier.

The president and his guests dined at the resort’s restaurant during the next two hours, eventually providing the flurry of national security activity that Mr. DeAgazio captured.

Around 10:30 p.m., Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe made short statements to a small group of reporters brought to a separate room in the resort.

Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary, told reporters at the White House that Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe had not reviewed classified material on the resort’s patio.

Mr. Spicer said the president was briefed about North Korea in a secure location on the property. It is against the law for officials to be handling classified materials in a nonsecure setting.

Mr. Spicer said Mr. Trump and his aides were reviewing “news conference logistics” about the North Korean missile test.

But national security veterans of past administrations still expressed surprise that Mr. Trump and his staff would not have excused themselves to be able to have candid conversations about the North Korean situation and to review sensitive or classified documents.

Discussions about how to respond to international incidents involving adversaries like North Korea are almost always conducted in places that have high-tech protections against eavesdropping, like the White House Situation Room.

When presidents are away from the White House, they often conduct important business in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, a location that can be made temporarily impervious to eavesdropping.

Much more here.

Stephen Miller’s bushels of Pinocchios for false voter-fraud claims

Glenn Kessler, writing in The Washington Post:

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller appeared on ABC’s “The Week” on Sunday, spouting a bunch of false talking points on alleged voter fraud. (He also repeated similar claims on other Sunday talk shows.) To his credit, host George Stephanopoulus repeatedly challenged Miller, noting that he had provided no evidence to support his claims. But Miller charged ahead, using the word “fact” three times in a vain effort to bolster his position.

Here’s a guide through the back and forth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on, though, to the question of voter fraud as well. President Trump again this week suggested in a meeting with senators that thousands of illegal voters were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and that’s what caused his defeat in the state of New Hampshire, also the defeat of Senator Kelly Ayotte.

That has provoked a response from a member of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, who says, “I call upon the president to immediately share New Hampshire voter fraud evidence so that his allegations may be investigated promptly.”

Do you have that evidence?

Stephanopoulus is referring to a Feb. 10 Politico report of a closed-door meeting Trump held with senators to discuss the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court: “The president claimed that he and Ayotte both would have been victorious in the Granite State if not for the ‘thousands’ of people who were ‘brought in on buses’ from neighboring Massachusetts to ‘illegally’ vote in New Hampshire. According to one participant who described the meeting, ‘an uncomfortable silence’ momentarily overtook the room.”

Ayotte lost her Senate race by about 1,000 votes but did not challenge the results; Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in New Hampshire by nearly 3,000 votes.

MILLER: I have actually, having worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire, I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It’s very real. It’s very serious. This morning, on this show, is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence.

This is false. PolitiFact New Hampshire in November gave the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, a “Pants on Fire” for claiming that voters were bused in — and Sununu quickly retreated from his comment. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said voter fraud was not widespread problem, largely because the law requires voters to show a valid identification at the polls. If an ID is lacking, the voter’s photo is taken, they have to sign an affidavit affirming their identify and then state officials follow up.

Sununu later said he did not mean to imply that “I see buses coming over,” saying it was more of a figure of speech. “Sununu said he was referring to an incident over Portsmouth state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark allowing Democratic staffers to live at her house in the 2008 and 2012 elections,” PolitiFact reported. “Those staffers voted in New Hampshire elections using Fuller Clark’s address, which is not illegal, as they were living in the state at least 3 months before the election, the Attorney General later ruled.”

Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general and prominent Republican in the state, tweeted this after Miller’s comments:

Much more here.

A Rare Republican Call to Climate Action

By The Editorial Board of the New York Times:

The most important thing about a carbon tax plan proposed last week may be the people behind it: prominent Republicans like James Baker III, George Shultz and Henry Paulson Jr. Their endorsement of the idea, variations of which have been suggested before, may be a breakthrough for a party that has closed its eyes to the perils of man-made climate change and done everything in its power to thwart efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This gang of Republican elder statesmen — they call themselves the Climate Leadership Council — is not made up of the usual environmentalists, which is why their proposal might gain traction, though probably not right away.

Their proposal would tax carbon emissions at $40 a ton to start and would be paid by oil refineries and other fossil fuel companies that would pass costs on to consumers with higher gas and electricity prices. The money raised would be returned to Americans through dividend checks; a family of four would get about $2,000 a year to start. This would help people adjust to higher energy prices and give them an incentive to reduce consumption or switch to renewable sources of energy. Most lower-income and middle-class families would get back more than they pay in taxes. To avoid placing American industry at a disadvantage, imports from countries that do not impose a comparable tax would be subject to a per-ton tax on the carbon emitted in the production of their products, while exports to those nations would not be.

Scientists and economists have long argued that putting a price on carbon would encourage conservation and investment in renewable energy. Ireland, Sweden and British Columbia already have carbon taxes. The European Union, Quebec, California and Northeastern states like New York and Massachusetts have adopted cap-and-trade systems that use emission permits to lower emissions over time.

The last serious effort to impose a national price on carbon came in 2009 with cap-and-trade legislation by Edward Markey and Henry Waxman, both then Democratic House members. The bill passed the House, but never received a vote in the Senate. Since then, Republican control of one or both houses of Congress has thwarted ambitious climate legislation. As a result, President Obama turned to administrative actions to reduce emissions, including the Clean Power Plan and higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. Those regulations and standards are now on the chopping block under the Trump administration.

More here.

Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down

Via The New York Times:

These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president’s dealings with an uncertain world.

Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.

The national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has hunkered down since investigators began looking into what, exactly, he told the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration, and whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. His survival in the job may hang in the balance.

Although Mr. Trump suggested to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday that he was unaware of the latest questions swirling around Mr. Flynn’s dealings with Russia, aides said over the weekend in Florida — where Mr. Flynn accompanied the president and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — that Mr. Trump was closely monitoring the reaction to Mr. Flynn’s conversations. There are transcripts of a conversation in at least one phone call, recorded by American intelligence agencies that wiretap foreign diplomats, which may determine Mr. Flynn’s future.

Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser, was circumspect on Sunday about Mr. Flynn’s future. Mr. Miller said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that possibly misleading the vice president on communications with Russia was “a sensitive matter.” Asked if Mr. Trump still had confidence in Mr. Flynn, Mr. Miller responded, “That’s a question for the president.”

This account of life inside the council — offices made up of several hundred career civil servants who advise the president on counterterrorism, foreign policy, nuclear deterrence and other issues of war and peace — is based on conversations with more than two dozen current and former council staff members and others throughout the government. All spoke on the condition that they not be quoted by name for fear of reprisals.

* * *

A number of staff members who did not want to work for Mr. Trump have returned to their regular agencies, leaving a larger-than-usual hole in the experienced bureaucracy. Many of those who remain, who see themselves as apolitical civil servants, have been disturbed by displays of overt partisanship. At an all-hands meeting about two weeks into the new administration, Ms. McFarland told the group it needed to “make America great again,” numerous staff members who were there said.

New Trump appointees are carrying coffee mugs with that Trump campaign slogan into meetings with foreign counterparts, one staff member said.

Nervous staff members recently met late at night at a bar a few blocks from the White House and talked about purging their social media accounts of any suggestion of anti-Trump sentiments.

Mr. Trump’s council staff draws heavily from the military — often people who had ties to Mr. Flynn when he served as a senior military intelligence officer and then as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before he was forced out of the job. Many of the first ideas that have been floated have involved military, rather than diplomatic, initiatives.

Much more here.

A gift and a challenge for Democrats: A restive, active and aggressive base

David Weigel and Karen Tumulty, writing in the Washington Post:

A super PAC formed to reelect Barack Obama in 2012 is driving activists to congressional town halls. Veterans of Bill Clinton’s administration are joining marches and plotting bigger ones for the spring. Democratic senators who had befriended Jeff Sessions in the Senate voted — 47 to 1 — against his nomination for attorney general.

Three weeks into President Trump’s term, the Democratic Party and progressive establishment have almost entirely adopted the demands of a restive, active and aggressive base. They are hopeful that the new activism more closely resembles the tea party movement, which embraced electoral politics, than the Occupy Wall Street movement, which did not.

The pace of the activists, and the runaway-train approach of Trump’s administration, have given them little time to puzzle it out.

“He has a strategy to do so many things that he overwhelms the opposition,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said of Trump, “[but] he’s creating the largest opposition movement I’ve seen in my lifetime in the United States.”

After previous defeats, the modern Democratic Party typically plunged into a discussion between a moderate wing and a liberal wing. George McGovern’s 1972 loss led to an internal party battle against the New Left. After Walter Mondale’s 1984 defeat, a group of moderate strategists formed the Democratic Leadership Council. After the 2004 defeat of John F. Kerry, a new generation of like-minded strategists launched Third Way, with a focus on lost moderate voters.

There is nothing like that in 2017. Democrats, taking cues from their base, have given Trump’s key Cabinet nominees the smallest level of support from an opposition party in history. They have joined and sometimes led protests, organizing more than 70 rallies against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and joining activists at airports to help travelers affected by Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees. The scale has even impressed some Republicans.

“The march the day after the inauguration probably exceeded any of the tea party marches,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told The Washington Post in an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” series. “But like Occupy Wall Street, it’s not real focused, as far as what exactly they want.”

Moderating forces, increasingly, are being held at arm’s length. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), seen as the most potentially endangered senator in the upcoming midterm elections, is derided on social media for meeting with Trump. Manchin was the sole Democratic senator who voted to confirm Sessions for attorney general. Progressive groups protested the very presence of Third Way at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore. At a briefing with reporters, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that Third Way was only attending to give a “data analysis” presentation — and denied a well-traveled rumor that progressives had walked out.

“What’s organizing people is that they’re fearing for the country they grew up in,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, which was founded by Clinton administration exiles to emulate the successful think tanks of the right. “People are definitely seeing the purpose of working through the political process to oppose him. . . . It’s a primal scream, but the truth is, since Election Day, it has been growing.”

CAP Action, the political arm of Tanden’s think tank, is one of several progressive and center-left groups urging activists to attend congressional town halls. Elected Democrats, while stopping short of that, have egged on activists in person and on social media. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the youngest member of the party in the Senate, has also led a brusque change of tone in messaging, from defending his colleague Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) from Trump attacks (“As a prosecutor, Dick used to put guys like u in jail”) to mocking the president’s Cabinet picks (‘The chances you will be watching [C-span] are bested only by the chances a grizzly bear walks into your kid’s school today”).

“We lost. Now we fight,” Murphy tweeted after Sessions was confirmed. “Nothing is inevitable. Any anxiety or fear you feel can be cured by political action.”

Less clear is how Democrats will convert political action into electoral results. Much has been said about the failures of 2016 — chief among them the flawed belief that bashing Trump was enough, and the absence of a coherent economic message.

Yet even now, at every level of national Democratic politics, the discussion of how the party can win back voters it lost is subsumed by the argument about how to oppose Trump. The answer is always: as much as possible. And for the moment, that does seem to be engaging a broad, new population of activists. In the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, even Thomas Perez, the former secretary of labor viewed skeptically by some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has said that Democrats should hit Trump “between the eyes with a two-by-four and treat him like Mitch McConnell treated Barack Obama.”

That tone is widespread among Democrats, who were bitter about the rise of the tea party — a combination of grass-roots energy and well-funded conservative organizing — and are enamored with the idea of their own version. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is term-limited out of office early next year, said that the new energy was manifesting in the recruitment of candidates ahead of schedule — a reversal from previous years when Republican primaries were packed with candidates, while Democrats left some state legislative seats uncontested.

Much more here.

Can This Presidency Be Saved?

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times:

THE peak of Donald Trump’s presidency, so far and perhaps forever, happened before he became the president. It was the deal he struck with Carrier, the Indiana air-conditioning company, to keep a factory open and jobs in the United States. No moment was so triumphantly Trumpian; nothing has gone as well for him since.

Was the Carrier deal sound economic policy, a sober and restrained use of the presidency’s powers? Not precisely. But it featured Trump following through on his most basic campaign promise: the pledge, delivered in rallies across the country’s stagnant reaches, that he would focus on good-paying jobs for people both parties seemed to have forgotten.

It was the message that helped win him the Midwest, and with it the Electoral College. It was the message that Steve Bannon spent the transition boasting would lead to a realignment that would shock conservative ideologues as much as liberals. And it’s a message that’s basically disappeared — and with it, the president’s brief uptick in popularity — during Trump’s stumbling, staggering, infighting first few weeks in office.

As a result, right now his presidency is in danger of being very swiftly Carterized — ending up so unpopular, ineffectual and fractious that even with Congress controlled by its own party, it can’t get anything of substance done. The war with liberals and the media may keep his base loyal and his approval ratings from bottoming out. But it does nothing to drive any kind of agenda, or pressure Congress to enact one. And the more the Trump White House remains mired in its own melodramas, the more plausible it becomes that the Trump-era House and Senate set a record for risk avoidance and legislative inactivity.

Obviously, the absence of agenda-setting starts with the compulsively tweeting president. But the role of Bannon in these first few chaotic weeks also distills the White House’s problem.

The former Breitbart impresario has a clearer-than-your-average-Republican grasp of the political promise of Trumpism — the power of a right-leaning populism to speak to voters weary of cultural liberalism and libertarian economics. But instead of spearheading a domestic agenda oriented around these insights, instead of demanding (or making sure his boss demands) an infrastructure bill and a working-class tax cut from Congress the day before yesterday, Bannon has seemingly set out to consolidate power over national security policy — an arena where his ideas are undercooked and his lack of expertise is conspicuous.

In effect, Bannon is trying to be both Dick Cheney and Karl Rove — the Darth Vader of counterterrorism and the architect of a domestic realignment, except with less experience, subtlety and political support than either.

This is not going to work. (In the end, it didn’t work out that well for Cheney and Rove, either.) Liberals can scare themselves about Bannon’s supposed plan for a slow-motion coup and Trumpistas can tell themselves that “disruption” is just what the ossified establishment needs. But a White House run this way will be politically impotent long before it reaches its first midterm.

Is a different scenario possible?

Of course, because the president still has free will. (We can talk about total depravity later, Calvinists.) He has, to his credit, assembled a reasonably competent cabinet. He campaigned, again to his credit, on a reasonably popular policy agenda. He faces no immediate foreign policy or economic crises, no threat that requires him to act sweepingly and instantly.

Much more here.

Maureen Dowd on Donald Trump

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times:

Listen up, haters.

The brief reign of Donald the First has been completely head-spinningly nuts so far. But let’s stay calm and look for the silver lining, or in this case, the garishly gold lining.

Donald Trump has indeed already made some of America Great Again.

Just not the aspects he intended.

He has breathed new zest into a wide range of things: feminism, liberalism, student activism, newspapers, cable news, protesters, bartenders, shrinks, Twitter, the A.C.L.U., “S.N.L.,” town halls, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Hannah Arendt, Stephen Colbert, Nordstrom, the Federalist Papers, separation of powers, division of church and state, athletes and coaches taking political stands and Frederick Douglass.

As Trump blusters about repealing Obamacare, many Americans have come to appreciate the benefits of the law more.

Lena Dunham credited the “soul-crushing pain and devastation and hopelessness” of Trump with helping her get a svelte new figure.

Trump may even have pierced the millennial malaise, as we see more millennials showing interest in running for office.

Every time our daft new president tweets about the “failing” New York Times, our digital subscriptions and stock price jump, driven by readers eager for help negotiating the disorienting Trumpeana Oceana Upside Down dimension rife with gaslighting, trolling, leaking, lying and conflicts.

Similarly, whenever Trump rants about Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him and tweets that “Saturday Night Live” is “not funny,” “always a complete hit job” and “really bad television!,” the show’s ratings go up. They’re now at a 20-year high.

Trump was roundly mocked for turning his Supreme Court announcement into an episode of “The Bachelor,” but it must be said that the president has more talent for devising cliffhangers than anyone since Charles Dickens.

Administration officials told The Times that the White House even got Judge Thomas Hardiman, the runner-up to Neil Gorsuch, to play along and help make the final rose ceremony suspenseful by feinting a drive toward Washington. It was unbelievably schlocky, and yet the end result was a national civics lesson, with a whopping 33 million-plus people tuning in.

Much more here.

Trump’s two-year presidency

Kathleen Parker, writing in the Washington Post:

Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.

My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.

Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media — “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” — and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)

With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.

Aren’t we there, yet?

Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.

To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the Agriculture Department, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.

In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.

Much more here.

A Gift for Donald Trump

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times:

If you could give Donald Trump the gift of a single trait to help his presidency, what would it be?

My first thought was that prudence was the most important gift one could give him. Prudence is the ability to govern oneself with the use of reason. It is the ability to suppress one’s impulses for the sake of long-term goals. It is the ability to see the specific circumstances in which you are placed, and to master the art of navigating within them.

My basic thought was that a prudent President Trump wouldn’t spend his mornings angrily tweeting out his resentments. A prudent Trump wouldn’t spend his afternoons barking at foreign leaders and risking nuclear war. “Prudence is what differentiates action from impulse and heroes from hotheads,” writes the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville.

But the more I thought about it the more I realized prudence might not be the most important trait Trump needs. He seems intent on destroying the postwar world order — building walls, offending allies and driving away the stranger and the refugee. Do I really want to make him more prudent and effective in pursuit of malicious goals?

Moreover, the true Trump dysfunction seems deeper. We are used to treating politicians as vehicles for political philosophies and interest groups. But in Trump’s case, his philosophy, populism, often takes a back seat to his psychological complexes — the psychic wounds that seem to induce him into a state of perpetual war with enemies far and wide.

With Trump we are relentlessly thrown into the Big Shaggy, that unconscious underground of wounds, longings and needs that drive him to do what he does, to tweet what he does, to attack whom he does.

Thinking about politics in the age of Trump means relying less on the knowledge of political science and more on the probings of D.H. Lawrence, David Foster Wallace and Carl Jung.

At the heart of Trumpism is the perception that the world is a dark, savage place, and therefore ruthlessness, selfishness and callousness are required to survive in it. It is the utter conviction, as Trump put it, that murder rates are at a 47-year high, even though in fact they are close to a 57-year low. It is the utter conviction that we are engaged in an apocalyptic war against radical Islamic terrorism, even though there are probably several foreign policy problems of greater importance.

More here.

California farmers backed Trump, but are now afraid of losing workers

Via The New York Times:

Jeff Marchini and others in the Central Valley here bet their farms on the election of Donald J. Trump. His message of reducing regulations and taxes appealed to this Republican stronghold, one of Mr. Trump’s strongest bases of support in the state.

As for his promises about cracking down on illegal immigrants, many assumed Mr. Trump’s pledges were mostly just talk. But two weeks into his administration, Mr. Trump has signed executive orders that have upended the country’s immigration laws. Now farmers here are deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them.

“Everything’s coming so quickly,” Mr. Marchini said. “We’re not loading people into buses or deporting them, that’s not happening yet.” As he looked out over a crew of workers bent over as they rifled through muddy leaves to find purple heads of radicchio, he said that as a businessman, Mr. Trump would know that farmers had invested millions of dollars into produce that is growing right now, and that not being able to pick and sell those crops would represent huge losses for the state economy. “I’m confident that he can grasp the magnitude and the anxiety of what’s happening now.”

Mr. Trump’s immigration policies could transform California’s Central Valley, a stretch of lowlands that extends from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Approximately 70 percent of all farmworkers here are living in the United States illegally, according to researchers at University of California, Davis. The impact could reverberate throughout the valley’s precarious economy, where agriculture is by far the largest industry. With 6.5 million people living in the valley, the fields in this state bring in $35 billion a year and provide more of the nation’s food than any other state.

The consequences of a smaller immigrant work force would ripple not just through the orchards and dairies, but also to locally owned businesses, restaurants, schools and even seemingly unrelated industries, like the insurance market.

Many here feel vindicated by the election, and signs declaring “Vote to make America great again” still dot the highways. But in conversations with nearly a dozen farmers, most of whom voted for Mr. Trump, each acknowledged that they relied on workers who provided false documents. And if the administration were to weed out illegal workers, farmers say their businesses would be crippled. Even Republican lawmakers from the region have supported plans that would give farmworkers a path to citizenship.

“If you only have legal labor, certain parts of this industry and this region will not exist,” said Harold McClarty, a fourth-generation farmer in Kingsburg whose operation grows, packs and ships peaches, plums and grapes throughout the country. “If we sent all these people back, it would be a total disaster.”

More here.

Here is the takeaway: be careful what you ask for.