THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump’s new efforts to dramatically roll back our current climate change policies — which will effectively end the United States’ leadership role in securing science-based international cooperation against global warming — constitute perhaps the clearest sign yet that his administration will be animated by contempt for science and fact-based governing.
We are now learning that this contempt may also apply to the very role that scientists themselves will play in the Trump administration. The New York Times has a remarkable new report revealing that scores of science and technology officials under former president Barack Obama have departed but have yet to be replaced, which is leading scientists to worry that they may be held in very low regard by the new White House:
Critics see the empty offices as part of a devaluation of science throughout the Trump administration, including the reversal of Mr. Obama’s climate change policies and proposals to sharply reduce spending for research on climate change, science and health.
What’s more, the Times report notes that those deeply consequential decisions — the rollback of climate policies, and the Trump budget’s deep cuts to health and scientific research and to the Environmental Protection Agency — were done without input from administration scientists:
Those actions have been taken without advice or guidance from scientists and engineers inside the White House. The few remaining policy advisers have ceased distributing daily memos on policy issues like climate change, machine-learning regulation, or the ethics of big data collection.
The administration insists that this is a consequence of slow hiring across the board. Perhaps scientific hiring will pick up, or perhaps the administration will make a substantive case for the elimination of those scientific positions.
But for now, it is hard to avoid viewing all of this in its larger context. As I’ve argued, the Trump White House has been infected from the outset with a kind of deep rot of bad faith — a contempt for legitimate process, fact-based debate and reality-based governing — that has bordered on all-corrosive. This low regard for science may well prove to be another data point illustrating this pattern.
Indeed, the administration has regularly shown contempt for the very idea that consequential policy decisions require serious justification or a weighing of their consequences. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports that in justifying the rollback of the Clean Power Plan — which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants — the administration is citing questionable data furnished by an industry group, rather than by government agencies. This reinforces the Times’s similar conclusion above. Trump has also scrapped a moratorium on the leasing of federal land for coal mining, claiming this will create jobs. But as David Roberts reports, all this does is lift a hold that was designed to be temporary, while our leasing policies are reviewed to see if they are good for taxpayers, and coal companies already have access to years of reserves in any case. The rationale is very thin.
We’ve seen numerous examples of this. It was obvious that the potential human toll of the GOP health bill did not weigh seriously on Trump, who only wanted the “win” of wiping out his predecessor’s signature achievement. When told it would hurt untold numbers of his voters, Trump replied offhandedly, “oh, I know,” then claimed implausibly that this could somehow be dealt with later. The White House tried to delegitimize the Congressional Budget Office in advance, and showed no inclination to change course — let alone learn anything from new evidence and data — when it revealed that 24 million would lose insurance, even though Trump himself had previously vowed “insurance for everybody.”
But the facts about the GOP health bill and its real-world consequences could not be made to disappear. They helped sink it, by driving away moderate Republicans. Meanwhile, Trump today lashed out at the conservative Freedom Caucus for opposing it, but he never bothered seriously responding to their concerns, which — agree or disagree — were at least based in a substantive argument.
Still more: Trump continues to promise the formation of “a committee” to investigate his claim that millions voted illegally, in effect promising the use of government resources to validate his absurd lie, which itself undermines faith in our democracy. And after Trump falsely claimed based on conservative media that Obama wiretapped his phones, the White House called on Congress to investigate it (i.e., pretend it has some validity). Beyond all this, there is the constant effort to undermine the news media’s legitimate institutional role in our democracy and the regular use of the power of the White House to promote Mar-a-Lago and steer more cash into Trump’s pockets, which will happen again when the president of China visits.
* THE CONTEMPT FOR GOVERNING IS BACKFIRING ON TRUMP: A Hawaii federal judge has extended a broad block on Trump’s new travel ban, and Politico notes that the judge explicitly cited a public statement from Trump that revealed the new version is basically a repackaged version of the old one, designed to get around the courts. The judge’s ruling also cites a statement to this effect by top adviser Stephen Miller.
This is another example of bad-faith governing at work. Remember: a laughably slapdash process produced the first travel ban, and the administration delayed the second one to bask in good press from Trump’s speech to Congress, even though it was supposed to be an urgent national security matter. To top it all off, the substantive case for it was undercut by Homeland Security’s own analysts.
* PAUL RYAN DOESN’T WANT ANY HEALTH-CARE DEAL WITH DEMOCRATS: Trump has been claiming he wants a deal with Democrats on health care, but House Speaker Paul Ryan shot down the idea on CBS this morning:
“I don’t want that to happen … I don’t want government running health care. The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your healthcare.”
But one potential deal with Democrats could simply center on shoring up the individual markets, now that the GOP’s repeal push has tanked. The question is whether Ryan opposes that and whether he backs the outright sabotage of them.
* GOP DONORS ANGRY OVER HEALTH-CARE DEBACLE: The Washington Examiner reports that top Republican donors who bankrolled the elections leading to the new Congress are unhappy over the health-care mess:
The GOP donor community’s main concern, notwithstanding a looming healthcare crisis that voters expect the party to address, is what the collapse of the AHCA portends. If Congressional Republicans and the White House can’t agree on healthcare after years of promises and supposed preparation, equally politically complicated initiatives like tax reform are in trouble, and an opportunity to move Washington to the right after eight years of Obama could be squandered.
The health-care failure signals trouble for tax reform (which of course includes tax cuts for the rich). Not a good return on their investment thus far.
* ANOTHER POLL SHOWS TRUMP APPROVAL IN THE TOILET: A new NBC News/Survey Monkey poll finds that only 42 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance as president, while 56 percent disapprove. The polling averages show Trump at 41-55, and Gallup tracking has him stuck in the mid-30s.
As Trump predicted, we are tired of all the winning.
* PRESIDENT OF CHINA IS COMING TO MAR-A-LAGO: It’s on:
.@POTUS will host President Xi Jinping of China at Mar-a-Lago April 6–7, 2017.
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 30, 2017
One thing that is worth keeping an eye on is whether they discuss the Paris climate accord. China is expected to pressure the United States to keep its commitment to the deal.
* REPUBLICANS ON DEFENSE IN 2018: The Hill reports that even some Republican strategists concede that they are on the defensive in the 2018 gubernatorial contests. Here’s the map:
The big prize comes in 2018, when 36 states will hold contests. Twenty-six of those seats are currently held by Republicans, and, critically, 14 of those governors face term limits, leaving open seats in some of the nation’s most populous states, including Ohio, Michigan and Florida.
The stakes are enormous. Governors will have a hand in redistricting House seats in the next decade and could also strengthen state-level climate policies even as Trump weakens them nationally.
* A CREATIVE NEW PUSH TO GET TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS: Richard Hasen highlights an interesting effort that’s underway on the state level to get Trump to release his tax returns, though it has pitfalls:
In at least 24 states, legislators have introduced bills that would force Trump (and all other presidential candidates) to disclose their tax returns in order to qualify for their states’ ballots in 2020. There’s one big obstacle, though: Requiring presidential candidates to release their taxes as a condition of ballot access may not be constitutional.
As Hasen points out, this might not survive the courts, but there’s precedent of sorts for it. The big picture here is that Trump’s unprecedented lack of transparency will require all manner of innovative responses that are worth trying.
* LEFT PRESSURES DEMOCRATS TO ADOPT MEDICARE FOR ALL: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee today is launching a new petition that will call on congressional Democrats — and all Dems running in 2018 — to adopt Medicare for All as a key goal. The petition asks members to sign on to the demand that Dems “publicly support and run on passing Medicare for All.”
As Democrats pressure Republicans to adopt fixes to Obamacare, now that repeal looks less likely, the left will push Dems to make Medicare for All — and true universal health care as a right — a core part of the party platform.