The Republican health-care proposal is breathtakingly unpopular

Philip Bump, reporting for The Washington Post:

We’ll start with the bad news for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows that the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill championed by Ryan and due for a vote any minute now, is severely unpopular. Stunningly unpopular.

It is, amazingly enough, less popular than Congress itself.

According to Quinnipiac, only 17 percent of Americans approve of the bill — and only 6 percent of the country supports it strongly. (Congress is approved of by 21 percent of the country.) By contrast, well over half of Americans disapprove of it, 43 percent of them strongly. In other words, more than twice as many people have strongly negative views of the bill than have any positive feelings for it.

Broken down by demographic, the data are grim for Ryan and Republican leaders — including President Trump, who has embraced the plan.

Some things to note:

• A lot of people aren’t very familiar with the legislation, as indicated by those gray bars. But those who are familiar with it are heavily stacked against it, by a 3-to-1 margin.
• Among no demographic group does a majority approve of the bill.
• Among only three groups — Republicans, older Americans and whites without college degrees — does less than half of the population disapprove.
• Only among Republicans and those 65 and older does more than 10 percent of the population approve of the bill strongly.
• In every group except Republicans, more than a third of the population views the legislation strongly negatively.

The three groups that are below 50 percent disapproval are, as you likely noticed, groups that backed Trump strongly in the 2016 election. Across the board, Trump’s approval rating from each demographic group was much higher than the legislation’s approval rating — generally about twice as high.

More here.

Trump loyalists sound alarm over ‘RyanCare,’ endangering health bill

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, reporting for The Washington Post:

A simmering rebellion of conservative populists loyal to President Trump is further endangering the GOP health-care push, with a chorus of influential voices suspicious of the proposal warning the president to abandon it.

From headlines at Breitbart to chatter on Fox News Channel and right-wing talk radio, as well as among friends who have Trump’s ear, the message has been blunt: The plan being advanced by congressional Republican leaders is deeply flawed — and, at worst, a political trap.

Trump’s allies worry that he is jeopardizing his presidency by promoting the bill spearheaded by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), arguing that it would fracture Trump’s coalition of working- and middle-class voters, many of them older and subsisting on federal aid.

Vice President Pence and administration officials scrambled Tuesday to salvage the plan amid widespread dissatisfaction in both the Senate and House over the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that 24 million fewer people would be insured in a decade under the Ryan proposal, titled the American Health Care Act.

Trump — who has not yet fully used the bully pulpit of the presidency to rally support for the plan — spoke privately with Ryan on Tuesday afternoon. They discussed the various factions, the opinions of several key lawmakers and developing a closing strategy, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

Trump loyalists warned that the president was at risk of violating some of his biggest campaign promises — such as providing broad health coverage for all Americans and preserving Medicaid and other entitlement programs — in service to an ideological project championed for years by Ryan and other establishment Republicans.

“Trump figures things out pretty quickly, and I think he’s figuring out this situation, how the House Republicans did him a disservice,” said Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend. “President Trump is a big-picture, pragmatic Republican, and unfortunately the Ryan Republican plan doesn’t capture his worldview.”

Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, published a column Tuesday urging Trump to “ditch” the current bill.

Inside the White House, senior officials said they are taking note of the mounting opposition. “You can’t be so blind that you’re not seeing the outside noise,” said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the adviser was not authorized to speak publicly.

A second adviser, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly, said, “We take their views seriously and we’re listening, but we do appreciate when those concerns are shared privately and with a smaller megaphone.”

Much more here.

The Trump administration dons a tinfoil hat

Catherine Rampell, reporting in the Washington Post:

Time to trade in those red #MAGA caps, Trumpkins. If you want your headgear to fit in with the latest White House fashions, invest in some tinfoil.

From top to bottom, this administration has been infested with conspiracy theorists. Most appear to be true believers. Take Stephen K. Bannon and his anxieties about the “deep state,” or the recently ousted Michael Flynn and his propagation of suggestions that Hillary Clinton was tied to a child sex ring run out of a D.C. pizza parlor.

Others, such as Kellyanne Conway, appear to just be paranoiacs for pay.

Conway seems convinced that the best way to stay in her boss’s good graces is to spread parody-defying crackpot theories, or at least add a dash of color to President Trump’s own crackpottery.

You may recall that Trump, with zero evidence, accused President Barack Obama of having the “wires tapped” at Trump Tower. Trump then called for a congressional witch hunt to find proof that the unfounded allegation is true. Over the weekend, Bergen Record columnist Mike Kelly asked Conway point blank, “Do you know whether Trump Tower was wiretapped?”

Conway’s response: “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately. . . . There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their — certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.”

Yup, Conway suggested that Team Trump may have been surveilled via microwaves and televisions. To be fair, though, if one were to spy on Trump, through the TV would be a good place to start.

In subsequent interviews, Conway acknowledged that she had “no evidence” for this claim and that she is “not in the job of having evidence” and is “not Inspector Gadget.”

* * *

It’s hardly just coincidence that the Trump executive branch is rife with beliefs that are wholly disconnected from reality. Such beliefs were a foundation of his campaign. Of course this would be the talent he attracts. Not scientists, experts or others who believe in weighing evidence, but people who heard Trump’s many malicious lies and reckless insinuations — that vaccines cause autism, that Ted Cruz’s dad was connected to the JFK assassination, that Mexicans are flooding over the border to rape and kill, that Antonin Scalia and Vince Foster may have been murdered, that 3 million people voted illegally, that our first black president was born in Kenya — and said: “Sign me up!”

That includes people such as Curtis Ellis, a Labor Department appointee who previously argued that Democrats were engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of working-class whites. Or Sid Bowdidge, the massage therapist with no relevant experience who landed a job as a political appointee at the Energy Department, despite tweeting that Muslims ought to be exterminated and Obama was related to radical Islamist terrorists.

As Conway has demonstrated, the darker and more sensational your conspiracy theories, the better. For this administration, only one political premise is beyond the pale: that the Russians maybe, just maybe, intervened in the 2016 election to help put Trump in the White House.

Whoa, let’s not get carried away.

White House offers no evidence, seeks probe of ‘politically motivated investigation’ during 2016 campaign

Abby Phillip, reporting in the Washington Post:

A day after President Trump alleged — without offering any evidence that President Barack Obama had ordered the wiretapping of the Republican’s campaign headquarters, the White House said it won’t comment further until congressional oversight committees investigate the matter.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited unknown “reports” of “potentially politically motivated investigations” during the 2016 campaign, calling them “troubling.”

“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” Spicer said. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”

* * *

Speaking on NBC News on Sunday morning, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who served in that post in the Obama administration, flatly denied that a wiretap was authorized against Trump or his campaign during his tenure.

“There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign,” Clapper said on “Meet the Press.”

He added that he would “absolutely” have been informed if the FBI had sought or received a warrant to wiretap Trump or his campaign.

“I can deny it,” Clapper continued.

The White House’s escalation of Trump’s claims were kept at arm’s length by congressional Republicans appearing on Sunday morning news broadcasts.

When asked about Trump’s allegations, Senate Intelligence Committee member Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) declined to comment on the president’s tweets but said he has “seen no evidence of the allegations.”

“Whether that’s a FISA court application or denial of that application or a re-submission of that application, that doesn’t mean that none of these things happened. It just means we haven’t seen that yet,” Cotton added, speaking on Fox News Sunday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he is not aware of evidence to back up the president’s claim.

“I have no insight into exactly what he’s referring to,” Rubio said on “Meet the Press.” “The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer for exactly what he was referring to.”

Obama’s allies were more blunt, denying flatly that the former president had ordered a wiretap of Trump’s campaign.

More here.

It’s now political suicide for Republicans if they don’t call for deeper investigations on Russia

Chris Cillizza, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump’s Russia problems just got a whole lot worse.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak twice in 2016, according to The Washington Post, conversations that run directly counter to Sessions’s assertions during his confirmation hearing to be the nation’s top cop.

In that Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 1o, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Sessions whether he was aware of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence officials. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions replied.

It does not take a political genius to understand how big a problem this is for Sessions, Trump and congressional Republicans more broadly. (Sessions’s response — I talked to a lot people! — isn’t going to cut it.)

Before this report, most congressional Republicans were resistant to the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials and surrogates — insisting that the ongoing FBI investigation and congressional committees looking into the issue were more than enough.

That’s going to become an untenable position for Republicans — starting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — in light of this new information about Sessions. Not only is there a very serious question about whether Sessions misled — purposely or accidentally — his colleagues while under oath, but this is only the latest incident involving unanswered questions about the ties among Trump, his top advisers and Russia.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn lost his job last month after lying to Vice President Pence — and lots of other people — about the nature of his conversations with Kisylak. Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin while insisting that stories about his ties to Russia are “fake news.”

In short: Where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, most reasonable people will assume there is fire — or that there should be an independent investigation to determine whether there is fire. Arguing that “there’s nothing to see here” is simply not a tenable position for Republicans at this point.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R), who has been outspoken in raising doubts about Trump and Russia, was blunt about what needs to happen if Sessions spoke to Kisylak.

I suspect lots of Republicans will follow Graham’s lead over the next 24 or 48 hours. The details here — particularly given the Flynn resignation — almost certainly will force an act of political triage from GOPers. They need to find a way to wall themselves off from what, with each passing day, is becoming more and more toxic. Otherwise, the spillage could leak all over them.

More here.

These Iowans voted for Trump. Many of them are already disappointed.

Jenna Johnson, writing in The Washington Post:

Tom Godat, a union electrician who has always voted for Democrats, cast his ballot for Donald Trump last year as “the lesser of two evils” compared to Hillary Clinton.

He’s already a little embarrassed about it.

There’s a lot that Godat likes about President Trump, especially his pledge to make the country great again by ignoring lobbyists, challenging both political parties and increasing the number of good-paying jobs.

But Godat was surprised by the utter chaos that came with the president’s first month. He said it often felt like Trump and his staff were impulsively firing off executive orders instead of really thinking things through.

“I didn’t think he would come in blazing like he has,” said Godat, 39, who has three kids and works at the same aluminum rolling plant where his father worked. “It seems almost like a dictatorship at times. He’s got a lot of controversial stuff going on and rather than thinking it through, I’m afraid that he’s jumping into the frying pan with both feet.”

Of the six swing states that were key to Trump’s unexpected win in November, his margin of victory was the highest in Iowa, where he beat Clinton by 9 percentage points. Yet at the dawn of his presidency, only 42 percent of Iowans approve of the job that he’s doing and 49 percent disapprove, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll this month.

That support varies across the state: Here in eastern Iowa, it’s in the low 40s. It’s highest in northwest Iowa, where 55 percent of Iowans approve of the president’s performance thus far, and it’s lowest in the southeast corner of the state and the Des Moines area, where only 31 percent of Iowans approve, according to the poll.

* * *

While Iowa is still home to many strong supporters who say it’s too early to judge him, there are others who say they voted for Trump simply because he wasn’t Clinton. Many Iowans worry Trump might cut support for wind-energy and ethanol programs; that his trade policies could hurt farms that export their crops; that mass deportations would empty the state’s factories and meat-packing plants; and that a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would yank health insurance away from thousands. While the hyper-simplicity of Trump’s campaign promises helped him win over voters, they are no match for the hyper-complexity of Iowa’s economy and values.

As the temperature hit 73 degrees last Wednesday afternoon, Godat took his two sons — ages 3 and 15 — to a playground near the Mississippi. He has lived for most of his life in Clinton, a town of nearly 27,000 that is home to a major corn-processing plant and other manufacturers.

Hillary Clinton won the city by more than 2,000 votes — but Trump won Clinton County, which was one of more than 25 counties in eastern Iowa that flipped from voting for Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. That shift here and in other Midwestern states was largely driven by white working-class voters like Godat.

Godat commutes more than 30 miles south to Bettendorf, where he gets paid a base wage of $34 per hour to help prepare aluminum used for airplanes and cars. There’s a shortage of trained electricians, and last year Godat said he worked 600 overtime hours, bringing his total pay to about $110,000. His wife provides in-home care for the elderly.

Much more here.

Nixon’s former attorney sees ‘echoes of Watergate’ in President Trump’s first month

Cleve R. Wootson Jr., writing in The Washington Post:

In 1973, attorney John Dean sat before the Senate Watergate Committee and recounted the grimy details of the scandal that brought Richard Nixon’s presidency to a premature end.

Dean had pored over 600 hours of secretly recorded White House tapes and admitted he had been involved in strategic conversations about illegal activity. During the final months of Nixon’s presidency, Dean testified against the commander in chief — words that helped end a presidency and landed Dean in prison.

Now, 44 years later, the man who experienced presidential scandal up close says he has a case of deja vu.

Dean said in an interview aired Friday that President Trump’s first month in office — with its anti-media tirades and efforts to use intelligence agencies for political purposes — has “echoes of Watergate.”

“What I see and hear … are echoes of Watergate,” he said in the interview with Democracy Now. “We don’t have Watergate 2.0 yet, but what we have is something that is beginning to look like it could go there.”

Dean is no stranger to criticizing presidents. He has been a longtime Trump critic. And he has said that President George W. Bush should have been impeached. In fact, the title of Dean’s 2004 book is “Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.”

But Dean said he sees a Nixonian patina in how Trump’s administration has tried to get the U.S. intelligence community to play down alleged ties with Russia. This week, several news agencies reported that the administration asked senior members of the intelligence community to counter stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

According to The Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Adam Entous, the calls were made after FBI officials refused to do that.

Dean isn’t the only Trump critic who has made this comparison.

Much more here.

After delay and amid pressure, Trump denounces racism and anti-Semitism

Abby Phillip and John Wagner, writing in the Washington Post:

President Trump on Tuesday denounced racism and anti-Semitic violence after weeks of struggling to offer clear statements of solidarity and support for racial and religious minorities.

During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump read carefully from prepared remarks decrying bigotry and specifically condemning a wave of recent threats against Jewish centers across the country.

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Scanning the piece of paper with his finger as he read, Trump praised the museum on the Mall for its popularity and said the exhibitions had left their mark on his wife, Melania, who had visited the museum a week earlier.

For a president who prides himself on a freewheeling approach to leadership, Trump’s demeanor on Monday was notably somber and disciplined. The appearance stood in stark contrast to the flashes of irritation he showed at a news conference last week at the White House, when he dismissed questions from reporters about his outreach to African American political leaders in Washington and his lack of response to a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country.

The differing responses come as calls have been growing for Trump to respond to a wave of bomb threats directed against Jewish community centers in multiple states on Monday, the fourth in a series of such threats this year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. More than 170 Jewish gravestones were found toppled at a cemetery in suburban St. Louis, over the weekend.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called Trump’s statement “as welcome as it is overdue.”

“President Trump has been inexcusably silent as this trend of anti-Semitism has continued and arguably accelerated,” Pesner said. “The president of the United States must always be a voice against hate and for the values of religious freedom and inclusion that are the nation’s highest ideals.”

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the idea that Trump has been slow to address anti-Semitism and racism.

“I think it’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this, that it’s never good enough,” Spicer said.

Much more here.

 

How could things get worse for Trump?

Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post:

President Trump is flailing like a man who fears he’s about to go under, and he hasn’t even been in office a full month. His instinct is to flee to the warmth and comfort of his political base — but he will learn that while presidents can run, they can’t hide.

Trump’s administration faces two acute, interlocking crises: serious questions about his campaign’s contacts with official and unofficial representatives of the Russian government, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe made concerted efforts to help Trump win the election; and appalling levels of dysfunction in the White House that make self-inflicted wounds the rule rather than the exception.

The president’s response has been to rant on Twitter and schedule a campaign-style rally Saturday in Florida — both of which may boost Trump’s morale but will do nothing to make his problems go away.

It is unclear whether Trump is trying to fool the nation or fool himself. Witness one of the angry tweets he sent out Thursday morning: “The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story — RUSSIA. Fake news!”

Let me take a moment to unpack the misinterpretations, distortions and contradictions jammed into those two sentences.

“The Democrats had to come up with a story” refers to Trump’s claim that the Russia allegations are nothing more than a tantrum by Democrats upset that Hillary Clinton did not win as they had expected. That is ridiculous. The Democratic Party is focused on rebuilding at the grass-roots level and finding new leadership. Democrats I’ve spoken to have as much criticism as praise for Clinton and the campaign she ran.

Trump’s phrase “they lost the election, and so badly” ignores the facts. Clinton did comfortably win the popular vote, after all. And Trump’s electoral margin was historically quite modest.

The part about how Democrats “made up a story — RUSSIA” is absurd. It was U.S. intelligence agencies, not the Democratic Party or the Clinton campaign, that made the finding that Russia meddled in our election with the aim of boosting Trump’s prospects. If anything, the chief Democrat at the time — President Barack Obama — reacted too mildly.

And the tweet ends with what has become Trump’s favorite way to dismiss anything he’d rather not hear: “Fake news!” But why would his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, step down over inauthentic news reports? In other tweets Thursday morning, Trump attacked “low-life leakers” in the intelligence community — thus essentially confirming that leaked information about the Russia connection is genuine, not “fake.” Not even a president can have it both ways.

More here.

The Trump brand was built on winning. So what happens when it starts to lose?

Christine Emba, writing in The Washington Post:

The White House is perhaps the best imaginable venue for product placement. But despite the fact that it now commands a presidential seal, the Trump brand seems less attractive than ever.

Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and even discount retailers such as Kmart are dropping daughter Ivanka’s fashion line. Companies such as Uber face backlash for merely giving the impression of being pro-Trump. Professional athletes, those traditional arbiters of cool, are turning their backs: So far, six of the New England Patriots have declined to meet the president, and beloved Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry mockingly described President Trump as an asset — “if you remove the ‘et.’ ”

The “brash business mogul” brand just hasn’t translated well from the campaign trail to leadership of the country. In fact, the move to D.C. seems to have deflated it completely.

Overexposure hasn’t helped. Even under the harsh lights of the campaign, Trump operated under, if not a veil of mystery, at least a level of remove. Watchers certainly saw enough of him to stick in their minds, but the barrage only became unrelenting late in the game.

Today, however, we’re seeing far more of Trump than we would like — and it’s rarely a flattering view. The constant, unnecessary tweets! The manifold White House leaks! The confoundingly public bathrobe discussions! The tweets again!

It’s one thing for a provocateur to make an effort to stay in the public eye: Think of Madonna’s ever-changing looks. But at a certain point — perhaps after the presidency has been achieved, or your 13th studio album — it ceases to impress. Remember when a negative Trump tweet had the power to make a company’s stock drop? His latest swing at Nordstrom did the opposite . Over time consumers have become numb to Trumpisms, or worse, they’ve begun to find them grating.

But there’s another problem more damaging than overexposure: The narrative beneath the Trump brand is crumbling.

A brand is a promise to a customer. On the campaign trail, and throughout his career, Trump built his brand on getting things done that no one else could. Using the element of surprise. Making the best deals. Winning, first and foremost. Improbably, the election bore this story out. But what happens when a brand built on winning starts to lose?

Trump’s first major gambit was his executive order on immigration, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s swift ruling against it was an undeniable, and justified, loss. The bluster and bravado of his all-caps response — “SEE YOU IN COURT” — didn’t make that failure any less apparent (in no small part because, well, we did just see him in court, didn’t we?).

While every new administration experiences setbacks, Trump’s unpreparedness and lack of organization clearly contributed to this early defeat and others that have come with it: a lackluster inauguration whose underattendance was only highlighted by flagrant falsehoods about crowd size, a botched raid in Yemen, the resignation of a national security adviser over improper contacts with Russia. These fast-mounting failures set an ominous tone. It’s hard to trust the brand going forward.

But all is not lost. Marketing experts and corporate strategists would soothingly point out that setbacks aren’t necessarily the end of the story. A moment of crisis is an excellent opportunity to pivot — try a brand refresh, if you will. It worked for Burberry in the late ’90s. Why not Trump today?

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.

Trump should not demand that the judiciary has no role to play

Via The Washington Post:

“The government does not merely argue that courts owe substantial deference to the immigration and national security policy determinations of the political branches — an uncontroversial principle that is well-grounded in our jurisprudence,” the court’s unsigned opinion said.

“Instead, the government has taken the position that the president’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections.”

That, the court said, “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Much more here.

Federal appeals court rules 3 to 0 against Trump on travel ban

Via The Washington Post:

A federal appeals panel has maintained the freeze on President Trump’s controversial immigration order, meaning previously barred refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries can continue entering the United States.

In a unanimous 29-page opinion, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit flatly rejected the government’s argument that suspension of the order should be lifted immediately for national security reasons, and they forcefully asserted their ability to serve as a check on the president’s power.

The judges wrote that any suggestion that they could not “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The judges did not declare outright that the ban was meant to disfavor Muslims — essentially saying it was too early for them to render a judgment on that question. But their ruling is undeniably a blow to the government and means the travel ban will remain off for the foreseeable future.

Trump reacted angrily on Twitter, posting just minutes after the ruling, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” He later said to reporters that the judges had made “a political decision.”

“We have a situation where the security of our country is at stake, and it’s a very, very serious situation, so we look forward, as I just said, to seeing them in court,” he said.

The Justice Department, which was defending the administration’s position, said in a statement it was “reviewing the decision and considering its options.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who had sued over the ban, said, “Bottom line, this is a complete victory for the state of Washington,” and declared that the judges’ ruling “effectively granted everything we sought.”

The Justice Department could now ask the Supreme Court — which often defers to the president on matters of immigration and national security — to intervene. The Supreme Court, though, remains one justice short, and many see it as ideologically split 4 to 4. A tie would keep in place whatever the appeals court decides. The Justice Department could also ask the full 9th Circuit to consider the matter.

The appeals court opinion was written by Judge Michelle T. Friedland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama; Judge Richard R. Clifton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush; and Judge William C. Canby, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter. It was detailed, but it does not represent a final judgment on Trump’s immigration ban.

Much more here.

Spicer claims he ‘clearly meant Orlando’ after citing mystery Atlanta terrorist attack three times

Katie Mettler, writing in the Washington Post:

On three occasions in two days, White House press secretary Sean Spicer rattled off examples of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil while defending President Trump’s travel ban affecting seven majority-Muslim countries.

All three times, the talking point was nearly identical: We must do more — just ask the victims’ families.

What was puzzling, though, were the cities he invoked to prove this point. Spicer mentioned San Bernardino, Calif., and Boston, both places where the attacks were carried out by people who had self-radicalized in the United States but had foreign ties.

Then he threw in Atlanta, a city whose only terrorist attack were bombings orchestrated by a Florida-born domestic terrorist with no foreign ties. They happened in the 1990s, including one during the 1996 Olympics.

The head scratching commenced.

Reporters scrambled to identify what exactly Spicer was implying with the Atlanta addition. That the travel ban could have prevented a born and bred U.S. citizen from attacking Atlanta? Was this another “Bowling Green massacre” incident, the White House again invoking a terrorist attack that never actually happened?

The Daily Beast was the first to link the three Atlanta references, but when it asked the White House for clarification, it got no reply, the publication reported. CNN followed up with its own version of the story, and Spicer didn’t answer its questions either. Reports from other news media followed.

Then nearly 24 hours after the Daily Beast broke the story, Spicer offered an explanation via email to ABC News: When he referenced the Atlanta terrorist attack, he “clearly meant Orlando.”

A White House spokesperson confirmed that clarification in an email to The Washington Post Thursday morning.

Orlando, a city located 450 miles south of Atlanta in a different state, is a popular Florida tourist destination and home to Mickey Mouse. It was also, on June 12 of last year, the site of the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history.

Forty-nine people were killed and even more injured when officials say Omar Mateen stormed Pulse, a popular gay dance club, on Latin night and opened fire.

President Trump and his aides, including Kellyanne Conway, have been using the attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino and Boston as talking points during media circuits to defend the ban. But the administration’s use of all three cities — particularly Orlando — remains an odd choice.

Much more here.

The ‘best fortnight in a decade’ for conservatives? Uh-oh.

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post:

Stepping back, cooling off a bit, displaying some strategic patience, taking the long view: The first two weeks of the Trump administration have been the most abso-friggin-lutely frightening of the modern presidency.

President Trump has managed to taunt and alienate some of our closest allies — Mexico and Australia (!) — while continuing an NC-17-rated love fest with Russia. He has engaged in moral equivalence that places America on the level of Vladimir Putin’s bloody dictatorship. “Well, you think our country’s so innocent?” he said — a statement of such obscenity that it would haunt any liberal to the grave. He has issued an immigration executive order of unparalleled incompetence and cruelty, further victimizing refugees who are already fate’s punching bag. He has lied about things large (election fraud) and small (inaugural crowd size), refused to allow facts to modify his claims, and attempted to create his own reality through the repetition of deception. He has abused his standing as president to attack individuals, from a respected judge to the movie star who took over his God-awful reality-TV show. He has demonstrated a limitless appetite for organizational chaos and selected a staff that leaks like a salad spinner. He has become a massively polarizing figure within the United States and a risible figure on the global stage.

All in a fortnight.

And yet, serious, non-Trumpian figures on the right, such as blogger Ed Morrissey, have found it the “best fortnight in a decade” for conservatives. It is a “continuing feast of promises kept,” most obviously concerning Trump’s Supreme Court pick, but also on personnel choices, regulatory policies, the Keystone XL pipeline and the beginnings of the Obamacare rollback. For conservatives, it is a “solid winning streak,” concludes Morrissey. All the more welcome after a long dry spell.

These developments give conservatives much to chew on. Their best of times is a scary period for much of the country. Liberals would say: Of course, because conservatism itself is frightening. But Trump’s most vivid problems concern his character, his view of executive power, and a set of foreign policy instincts that America has not seen since Pearl Harbor caused the original “America First” to close up shop.

I am grateful to Trump for the wise nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the high court. But the trends of the first two weeks are not good for the Republican Party or for the long-term interests of conservatism. Trump is building deep loyalty among hard-line conservatives as his alarming antics and executive boundary-testing are alienating most Americans. (His disapproval is already more than 50 percent in recent polls.)

Republicans are on the horns of a bull in a china shop. Perceptive leaders can see their party eventually physically reduced and morally diminished to a fanatical ethno-nationalist core. But opposing Trump in public risks Twitter attacks and primary challenges. In Trump’s amoral, counterpunching ethic, even the mildest criticisms can result in massive retaliation. Trump has already succeeded in creating an atmosphere of intimidation in Washington.

Several members of the Senate are willing to take on Trump on a case-by-case basis. But almost the whole of the Republican House is riding the populist wave or waiting quietly until it passes. And Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) seems to have embraced the Faustian bargain with open eyes — a chance to legislate if he occasionally ignores his conscience.

Where is the Republican red line when it comes to Trump? It is too early to determine, but not too early to consider. Trump’s theory of governing, as it develops, could be a direct and serious challenge to American institutions. The president views legislative leaders such as Ryan — if the first part of his inaugural address is to be believed — as corrupt, spineless failures. And he believes that court rulings that go against him always represent bad faith on the part of a judge. Trump does not think he needs the support of political and media elites; the only things that really matter in politics are the people and the leader. And it is the leader who interprets the true interests of the people.

More here.