“Just hours after President-elect Donald Trump said he would not sell his vast business empire and would instead hand it over to a trust controlled by his two oldest sons, the government’s top ethics monitor said his plan was wholly inadequate and would leave the president vulnerable to ‘suspicions of corruption,” the New York Times reports.
“The unusual public criticism from Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, followed Mr. Trump’s most detailed explanation yet of his plans to distance himself from the global business operations of the Trump Organization. No modern president has entered the White House with such a complicated array of holdings.”
James Hohmann: “The Congressional Review Act is such an incredibly powerful tool that it has only been used once in the two decades it has been on the books. In the next couple months, it will probably be used about half a dozen times… Somewhere around 150 rules finalized by the Obama administration – going as far back as last June – could be overturned under the CRA, if Congress passes a ‘joint resolution of disapproval’ and the new president signs off.”
“High on the chopping block: Regulations which would curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, prohibit coal-mining companies from engaging in activities that permanently pollute streams used for drinking water and increasing the salary threshold below which employees are entitled to overtime pay…”
“But here’s the rub: the executive branch may never again be allowed to regulate on these subjects if the Congressional Review Act is employed. It is hard to overstate what a big deal that is and how much it raises the stakes. If the overtime rule gets rescinded, for example, any new overtime requirements would need to pass Congress. If you know anything about the Hill, you know that will happen – when pigs fly…”
Frank Rich does a good job of summing things up.
Let’s not pretend we don’t know what is happening here. There is evidence that Donald Trump and his administration-in-formation are partially, perhaps wholly, beholden to the Kremlin and/or those Russian oligarchs in its thrall. This is why Trump refused to answer that question about contacts with Russia during the campaign — and why he’ll lie about it when he finally feels he must muster some kind of answer. His symbiosis with Russia is also why he will never release his tax returns, for what other reason could there be at this point except that they reveal the Russian financial ties he denies? After all, we already know the other embarrassments contained in those returns — that he hasn’t paid taxes for years, that he practices no actual philanthropy, and that his businesses are in a perennial waltz with bankruptcy, fraud, and failure.
No, Russia is the big story here. The elephant in the room is a bear.
Matt Yglesias says that, in many crucial ways, Donald Trump is the second coming of George W. Bush. Just this time, more preverse, more fascist, more evil.
James Hohmann: “For the first time in American history, both the president and the nation’s chief diplomat are poised to have no prior government, military or legislative experience. This is a recipe for trouble. Rex Tillerson’s shaky performance yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee underscored why.”
“The world was already a tinderbox, and Donald Trump has only contributed to the instability in the two months since he won the election. Russia, which got the outcome it wanted, is emboldened. China is on the march. Democracy is in retreat. The already-wobbly western alliance is in danger.”
Max Boot: “There is only one way to get to the bottom of this tawdry affair: Appoint a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate all of the allegations and issue a public report. The former C.I.A. directors Leon E. Panetta and Michael V. Hayden, among other possible choices, would provide instant credibility if they were appointed to lead such a panel.”
“If Mr. Trump is genuinely innocent of any untoward connections with the Kremlin, wouldn’t he want a full investigation to clear his name? That he so adamantly opposes any such inquiry speaks volumes.”
“Yet the speculation, which was gaining currency even before the publishing of the dossier by BuzzFeed, isn’t going away. The reason is obvious: Mr. Trump appears to be infatuated with the autocrat in the Kremlin.”
Amy Walter: “Most important, both parties are built upon unstable coalitions. For Democrats, it is a coalition driven by demographics. The Democratic mantra for the last eight years has been built around the idea that an increasingly diverse and urbanizing electorate was going to build them a permanent Electoral College majority. But, as we saw in 2016 and every midterm election since 2008, the only Democrat who was able to mobilize the ‘Obama coalition’ was Barack Obama himself.”
“Republicans, meanwhile, have a shaky coalition of their own. As we saw throughout the Obama years, the House GOP leadership had very little capacity to rein in its rogue members. Having a GOP controlled Senate and White House will help heal some rifts (winning is the greatest unifying force in the world). However, there’s a new wrinkle for the GOP to grapple with this year: the fact that the Trump coalition and the traditional Republican coalition aren’t necessarily on the same page.”
Dan Balz: “No president in memory has come to the brink of his inauguration with such a smorgasbord of potential problems and unanswered questions, or with the level of public doubts that exist around his leadership.”
“Has he been compromised by the Russians, the most explosive and newest of allegations? (He denied all as fake news.) Are he and his party in conflict over U.S.-Russia relations? Will he truly separate himself from his sprawling business empire in a way that avoids conflicts of interest? Can he and Congress find common ground on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? Will he live up to the promises he made as a candidate?”
“All presidents come to the Oval Office with questions about their ability to handle the complexities of the job. Obama arrived with limited experience on the national stage. George W. Bush took the oath after a contentious recount and controversial Supreme Court decision. Trump makes those situations look mild in comparison.”
Politico: “Rex Tillerson will only need Republican votes to become secretary of state — and the GOP was largely kind to him during Wednesday’s audition to be Donald Trump’s top diplomat. Everyone, that is, except for Marco Rubio. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is narrowly divided, with the GOP holding just a one-seat advantage. And most Democrats, if not all, sounded skeptical about Tillerson’s performance before the panel.”
“So Rubio may determine whether Tillerson’s nomination can successfully win committee approval — or come to a floor vote after being given an ‘unfavorable’ recommendation by the panel.”
Associated Press: “Only one seat was saved by a Republican National Committee aide, a front-row spot for a reporter from Breitbart, the conservative news outlet until recently run by Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon. Other reporters scrambled to save their seats. Reporters shouted and waved their arms at Trump to get his attention, rather than the president calling on questioners from a list, as is often the practice.”
Rick Klein: “‘He’s a chaos candidate,’ Jeb Bush said of Donald Trump 13 months ago. ‘And he’d be a chaos president.’ Even Jeb couldn’t have conjured a day as wild and unconventional as Wednesday. Trump used a rambling news conference to equate the intelligence community to the Nazis and pronounced himself a germaphobe; men in dinosaur outfits roamed the hallways outside rocky hearings for Trump’s secretary of state pick; the president-elect’s promise of a ‘blind trust’ for his assets was announced to be neither blind nor a trust; and the Senate started to repeal Obamacare, in the middle of the night.”
“It was a dizzying day, though it’s worth noting that the Trump team seemed to control the terms of the chaos – sometimes literally. Trump’s declaration that news organizations – specifically, Buzzfeed and CNN – are ‘fake news’ is an appropriation of that term for his own means. It’s in league with a Trump marketing style that’s morphing into a Trump governing style. When the distractions are intentional, they are part of the strategy. That might not be chaos at all.”
Brendan Nyhan: “The bar for scandal in the Trump administration keeps being raised. Every week brings potentially damaging developments that in other contexts could have generated weekslong controversies. With so many competing stories, however, they are frequently ignored or forgotten.”
“As a result, even negative coverage can sometimes benefit President-elect Donald J. Trump by displacing potentially more damaging stories from the news agenda.”
“Scandals need time and space to develop. When the news cycle is congested, potential scandals are deprived of attention, causing the media to move on to other stories and the political opposition to anticipate that any criticisms will probably have little effect.”
Ron Brownstein: “Most analyses overstate the Democrats’ down-ballot losses under Obama because they only start counting after he took office in 2009. That denies him credit for the candidates he helped elect during his resounding first win in 2008. As I’ve written before, the fairest way to measure a president’s impact on his party is to compare its electoral position just before he first appeared on the ballot with its position just after the election to succeed him. That gives the president responsibility for any other officials initially swept in with him, the outcomes during his tenure, and the shadow he casts over the election to replace him.”
“Under that approach, we would measure Obama by comparing the Democrats’ standing after the 2006 election—just before his first race—with its position after November’s contest. Using that standard, Democrats will end the Obama era with 39 fewer House seats (233 to 194), three fewer Senate seats (51 to 48), and 12 fewer governorships (28 to 16).”
“Those losses are formidable, but hardly unique. Parties almost always lose ground elsewhere while they hold the White House.”