Open Thread

The Open Thread for January 14, 2017

“Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said late Friday that his committee will investigate possible contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, reversing himself one day after telling reporters that the issue would be outside of his panel’s ongoing probe into Moscow’s election-disruption efforts,” Politico reports.

Burr and the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), said in a joint statement that the committee’s probe would touch on “intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns” as well as Russian cyberattacks and other election meddling outlined in an intelligence report released last week.

According to a senior U.S. government official, incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking, the Washington Post reports.

“What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.”

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Kathleen Parker on the difference between how Obama was treated and how Trump is being treated.

Respecting others despite differences is, generally speaking, the hallmark of an enlightened soul, as well as a desirable disposition in a leader. Yet, those who sided with Trump interpreted Obama’s gentle touch toward the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims as evidence of a hidden agenda to advance Islam in the United States … Noteworthy is that these same Obama doubters weren’t bestirred to suspicion when then-President George W. Bush visited a mosque immediately after 9/11. Nor, thus far, have they expressed any concern about Trump’s cavalier approach to Russia’s cyberattack on the United States. […]

Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?   Seconds. […]

In sum, when the president-elect persists in a state of denial, siding with the enemy against his own country’s best interests, one is forced to consider that Trump himself poses a threat to national security.  In Russia, they’d just call it treason.

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Dara Lind says Trump’s team wants to get the wall built quickly — and force Congress to get on board

Again, it’s still not entirely clear that the “wall” Congress plans to appropriate money for this spring will actually be a brick-and-mortar (or marble-and-gold) wall. It might be a double-sided fence that gets called a “wall.” It might be something flimsier still.

But it sure seems something along those lines is going to become reality.

This wasn’t readily apparent before this week. Even many Trump supporters (like Peter Thiel) and immigration hawks like the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Dan Stein have implied that “we’re going to build a wall” was just rhetoric; Thiel called it a “metaphor” for enforcing existing immigration laws.

The incoming administration, though, is not proposing to build a metaphor. It’s proposing a physical barrier. And physical barriers have massive policy consequences. The buildup of border security in the late 1990s and 2000s led millions of unauthorized immigrants to settle in the UShundreds of people have died trying to avoid fenced-off regions of the border by crossing inhospitable desert instead.

The implications of the wall — demographic, environmental, symbolic — are huge. That’s why Mexico is so worried about it. It’s why Thiel and other Trump defenders dismissed it as an exaggeration to avoid having to answer for the consequences.

All of this is true no matter who pays for the wall. It’s true, to a certain extent, even if the wall is simply a fence.

The Trump administration wants to make sure this happens. It’s making it much more likely. Even if Mexico doesn’t pay for it, there is, almost certainly, going to be something called a wall.

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“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

— Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), in an interview on Meet the Press.

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Former Miss Hungary Kata Sarka says that she was once courted by Donald Trump, BuzzFeed reports.  She first made the claim in May 2016 during an episode of Kasza Taxi, a Hungarian interview show.

Said Sarka: “He gave me his business card with his private number, and he told me in which hotel, which room he was staying in, and that his name is Donald Trump.”

“The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the claim. But Trump indeed was in Moscow for the pageant, whose managing company he owned from 1996 to 2015, a fact that he tweeted about at the time.”

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“Embattled FBI director James Comey has refused to clarify whether his organization is investigating Donald Trump’s ties to Russia in a closed briefing on Friday for members of Congress, angering legislators who recall his high-profile interjections about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign,” the Guardian has learned.

“Comey’s lack of candor in a classified setting, intended to brief members on the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump, follows a public rebuff this week to senators seeking clarification.”

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Playbook: “President-elect Donald Trump, who has mostly been holed up in a well-fortified Trump Tower for the last two months, is planning lots of socializing with members of Congress at the White House, according to people familiar with his plans. Think barbecues and other gatherings to allow Trump to develop personal relationships with elected officials. Trump likes human interaction — hence the parade of everyone from high-level CEOs to media figures and friends to the Tower.”

“There are 241 members of the House Republican Conference, 52 GOP senators and a smattering of Democrats willing to do business with Trump, so he’ll be busy. To state the obvious, love from the White House will breed loyalty. Expect this to start soon after Trump arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania.”

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A new Gallup poll finds 51% of Americans disapproving of Donald Trump he is handling the presidential transition with 44% approving.

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“Republican governors who reaped the benefits of Obamacare now find themselves in an untenable position — fighting GOP lawmakers in Washington to protect their states’ health coverage,” Politico reports.

“This rift between state and federal GOP officials is the real battle on Obamacare at a time when Democrats have only marginal power in Congress. The voices of even a handful of Republican governors intent on protecting those at risk of losing coverage could help shape an Obamacare replacement and soften the impact on the millions who depend on the law.”

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Jonathan Chait: “Donald Trump’s first press conference since the summer was a surreal exercise in the assertion of immunity from accountability. He either ignored questions about his behavior, or dismissed the questions as illegitimate. He painted a chilling depiction of politics not as an ongoing process but as a one-time event, settled in his favor by the presidential campaign, once and for all.”

“It is abnormal, to say the least, for a president-elect to defend his behavior by pivoting to a contrast with the candidate he defeated. But invoking Clinton served a purpose that became clear as the press conference drew on. It defined any question he disapproved of as a challenge to his legitimacy, and thus a campaign matter, and thus by definition moot.”

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Charles M. Blow  writes an Ode to Obama:

The dark clouds of the coming administration rolled in this week with a fury, producing a flood of strange and worrisome news. […]

But there was a calm in the midst of the storm, a rock of familiarity and stability and strength: On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his farewell address in his adopted hometown, Chicago, as a forlorn crowd looked on, realizing the magnitude of the moment, realizing the profundity of its loss.

As the old saying goes: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. […]

But none of those differences in opinions about strategy injured in any way my profound respect for the characteristics of the man we came to take for granted: bracingly smart, exceptionally well educated, literate in the grand tradition of the great men of letters. He was scholarly, erudite, well read and an adroit writer.

And he was an orator for the ages.

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