A new CNN-SSRS poll finds that 48% of Americans who watched President Trump’s first State of the Union address say they had a “very positive” impression of the speech, down from 57% of speech-watchers after his first address to match Barack Obama’s rating after his first State of the Union address.
“It’s the lowest net positive rating for a State of the Union address since at least 1998, when CNN first asked the question. There is no equivalent poll for addresses before 1998.”
A USA Today focus group rated the speech “on the plus side of mediocre.”
— Daily Intelligencer (@intelligencer) January 31, 2018
TAKING CREDIT FOR OBAMA’S ECONOMY. Jonathan Chait: “After depicting the American economy as a bleak wasteland before his election, Trump has rebranded it as unimaginable prosperity, fueled by the hope inspired by his brilliant reforms. In fact, nothing has yet changed. Economic growth and job gains are running slightly behind the pace of Barack Obama’s second term. (The economy created 214,000 jobs per month in Obama’s second term, and 174,000 in Trump’s first year.) Wages have risen at approximately the same level they did in 2016. It is possible that tighter labor markets will produce faster wage gains, or that the deficit spending Trump has enacted will help short-term growth accelerate. But his rhetoric of economic success is based on absolutely no actual accomplishment.”
TRUMP’S SPEECH WAS NOT ABOUT UNITY. Taegan Goddard: “The White House promised that President Trump’s State of the Union address would include bipartisan themes and stress unity. That wasn’t close to the truth. Trump’s political strategy since the moment he was sworn in has been simple: Keep the base energized with red meat on immigration and trade and keep 80% to 90% of Republicans unified around more traditional policy goals such as tax cuts and conservative judges. […] But more than anything else of substance, it’s most interesting that the speech followed the same political strategy Trump has used from the beginning. He may never win the majority of support from voters. But it may never matter either.
Josh Marshall: “As Trump has done for more than two years, he calls on us to see undocumented immigrants through the prism of horrifying and vicious murders. This is nothing but the most elemental kind of incitement. If you did the same – and you could – with any racial or ideological or regional identity the horror of this would be clear. But we treat it as normal now. […]
The rest of the speech was in this thematic path, aggressive ethno-nationalism. It wasn’t more or less outrageous than the things the President says all the time. It just stacked them together. The key theme is the extreme valorization of soldiers, police officers and immigration patrol officers as the central element of patriotism. Each of these are merited as part of a range of beliefs and values and commitments that make us American. Trump makes them central and almost sacral in a way that is at war with elemental American traditions, though we would be naive and dishonest to say his reactionary posture doesn’t also have deep roots in our history. We must remember both realities.”
MELANIA AND DONALD TAKE SEPARATE CARS. “In a break with longstanding tradition, Melania Trump opted to ride with the guests she invited to share her first lady’s box during President Trump’s State of the Union address,” CNN reports.
“The motorcade ride, from the White House south lawn to the Capitol building, is just a handful of minutes, but for a first couple who has not been publicly seen together since New Year’s Eve, the separate cars were another in a string of isolated movements from a very independent first lady.”
“President Trump’s job approval rating averaged 38% throughout the U.S. in 2017, but at the state level it ranged from a high of 61% in West Virginia to a low of 26% in Vermont,” according to Gallup. “Trump averaged 50% or higher approval in 12 states in total, primarily in the states where he received the most votes in the 2016 election. In addition to West Virginia, the states where at least half the respondents approved of Trump included several western states (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska), several southern states (Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas) and two Midwestern states (North and South Dakota).”
“Fewer than 40% of respondents approved of Trump in the remaining 18 states, 14 of which are located in the East and West — his worst performing regions in the election.”
RONNA KEEPS THE WYNN MONEY. RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told Fox News that donations made by former finance chair Steve Wynn, who has been accused of sexually assaulting his employees, will only be returned if he’s found guilty.
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) January 30, 2018
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) “refused to answer when a colleague asked him if he had coordinated his incendiary surveillance memo with the White House,” the Daily Beast reports. Silence equals consent. So that’s a yes by Nunes.
“Top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing a memo alleging abuses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the Washington Post reports.
“Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public… Rosenstein was joined in the meeting at the White House by FBI Director Christopher Wray.”
RYAN GOES FULL FASCIST. Speaker Paul Ryan called to “cleanse” the FBI as he openly backed the release of a controversial memo that purportedly details alleged surveillance abuses by the U.S. government, Fox News reports. Said Ryan: “Let it all out, get it all out there. Cleanse the organization.” He added: “I think we should disclose all this stuff. It’s the best disinfectant. Accountability, transparency — for the sake of the reputation of our institutions.”
Jay Hulling (D), who is running for the House on the Texas-Mexico border, has a new ad criticizing President Trump’s plan for a border wall, while tying incumbent Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) to the president. Playbook: “The ad is a neat encapsulation of a pair of themes Democrats are trying to capitalize on in 2018. They’ll attempt to use Trump policies — in this case, the wall — as a political cudgel in a tough district. And they are seeking to boost candidates with strong, and at times nonpartisan, resumes and personal stories.”
YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS SHIT UP. “The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed,” Politico reports.
“The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the CDC, made after she took over the agency’s top job.”
“Buying shares of tobacco companies raises even more flags than Fitzgerald’s trading in drug and food companies because it stands in such stark contrast to CDC’s mission to persuade smokers to quit and keep children from becoming addicted.”
In a 2016 radio interview, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said Donald Trump would “take, I think, unapologetic steps to use executive power to confront Congress in a way that is truly unconstitutional.” Said Pruitt: “I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama — and that’s saying a lot… I really believe he would use a blunt instrument. This president at least tries to nuance his unlawfulness.”
TRUMP WANTS TO PROSECUTE MUELLER. In his latest, Howard Fineman has two nuggets of information worth digesting. First, “Donald Trump is telling friends and aides in private that things are going great — for him. Some reasons: He’s decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to “flip” and sell him out, friends and aides say. He believes Robert Mueller, who heads the investigation, can be crushed, if necessary, without being fired. Sweeping tax and regulatory cuts will juice the economy and get him re-elected in 2020, he is predicting. He thinks he’s learned how to handle the dysfunction of Congress. And he’s even come to like the White House, the bad plumbing and drafty halls notwithstanding. “I love this place!” he told one friend.”
Second, regarding the Mueller investigation, Trump is adopting a wait and see approach, but he has a back up plan: prosecuting Mueller!
“I think he’s been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller’s hands,” said another friend, “because it would give Mueller the moral high ground.” Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.
“Here’s how it would work: ‘We’re sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won’t be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury,'” said one Trump adviser.”
THE RUSSIA THING IS STILL VERY REAL. First Read: “Here’s an important reminder: The investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election — and its ties to the Trump campaign — is real. And everything we’ve learned over the past year has only confirmed that reality… Indeed, there hasn’t been one development that has lessened suspicion of Russia’s ties and contacts to the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.” Axios: 10 undisputed facts behind the Russia investigation.
To wit, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC that he has “every expectation” that Russia will try to disrupt midterm elections in November. Said Pompeo: “I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that, but I’m confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election [and] that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.”
Further, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told Politico that Congress late last year received “extraordinarily important new documents” in its investigation of President Trump and his campaign’s possible collusion with the 2016 Russian election hacking, opening up significant new lines of inquiry in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of the president. Warner says “end-of-the-year document dumps” produced “very significant” revelations that “opened a lot of new questions” that Senate investigators are now looking into, meaning the inquiry into Trump and the Russia hacking—already nearly a year old—will not be finished for months longer.
The real Trump boom was in our heads.
Or, rather, in the heads of Republicans who refused to see years of slow, steady improvement while Obama was in office. https://t.co/cBrXPZerXO
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 30, 2018
THE PARTY OF LAROUCHE. Rick Wilson: “The Republican Party’s head first dive into breathless conspiratorial fantasies in defense of Donald Trump is a brand-defining moment as the Party of Lincoln morphs into the Party of LaRouche. Listening as members of Congress, the Fox/talk-radio world and the constellation of batshit crazy people drawn to Esoteric Trumpism adopt increasingly baroque theories to protect The Donald isn’t just depressing, it’s tragic. A diseased slurry of fake news, post-Truth Trumpism and Russkie agitprop infects the Republican Party. It’s an Ebola of wild-eyed MK-ULTRA paranoiac raving, spreading to every organ of the Republican body politic. This loon-centric new world of crazy talk has dissolved the old ideological skeleton of the GOP and reduced it from the Conservative Party of Ideas to the Crackpot Party of Infowars.”
“Covering up the connections between Donald Trump, his campaign officials and family members with Russia, and this president’s efforts to obstruct justice and derail Mueller will come at a still-untallied cost to our nation, our institutions, and the dignity and reputation of the GOP. It’s going to get worse as Mueller closes in.”
Depite the events of last night, I still have faith that American institutions can withstand Donald Trump. Here’s why. https://t.co/vqZfe6QhT4
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) January 30, 2018
CODIFYING NORMS. A lot has been written about the fact that Trump is breaking many of the norms that have sustained our democracy. Preet Bharara and Christine Todd Whitman summarize the breaking of these norms, and what they are going to do about it:
“So far, President Trump has refused to divorce himself from his business interests, despite decades of tradition. He has repeatedly tried to influence federal criminal investigations. Policymaking processes have become haphazard. And we now see worrisome attacks on the independent press. All this shows just how easily a chief executive can ignore the unwritten rules that typically constrain presidents. […]
Today, we’re launching an independent democracy task force at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law to holistically review these informal rules, which ones should remain guidelines, and perhaps which ones should be enshrined into law. We’ll examine norms surrounding financial conflicts, political interference with law enforcement, the use of government data and science, the appointment of public officials and any other issues that may arise in the coming months. We will be joined by experts and former officials from both parties. The goal is to issue a set of recommendations, policies that can be enacted that mend the gaps in our system and ensure we have a government that functions ably, competently and with the trust of the American people.”
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) January 29, 2018
A U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane, flying over international waters, was harassed by a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet yesterday. The Russian fighter jet flew within five feet of the American aircraft, in what Navy officials told CNN was an “unsafe intercept.”
Next time, shoot the Russian plane down.