THE MORNING PLUM:
Donald Trump is again tweeting angrily at Sen. Bob Corker. That’s because Corker just moments ago went on national television and reiterated his view that Trump is unfit to serve as president. Yet Corker (R-Tenn.) also inadvertently highlighted the fact that his own party continues to enable the president in dangerous and reckless fashion — something that Trump would be grateful for, if he did not harbor megalomaniacal delusions about the appropriate level of loyalty Republicans should show toward him.
When Corker told the New York Times this month that he worries Trump might trigger World War III and that most Senate Republicans know Trump must be regularly constrained by his inner circle from unleashing large-scale global damage, Corker revealed two things. Corker didn’t just unmask the fact that Trump’s temperament and character pose an ongoing danger to the country and the world. Corker also revealed that Republicans are fully aware of this threat and that their failure to testify to it constitutes a massive abdication that could have unthinkable consequences.
On NBC’s “Today Show” this morning, Corker was pressed on precisely this point, and he punted badly. Corker was asked directly: “Left to his own devices, do you think the president is a threat to national security?” Corker did not answer this question in the negative, instead reiterating that “there are people around him that work in an effort to contain him.”
That constitutes useful, if alarming, confirmation of Trump’s unfitness to serve. But then Corker was pressed directly on the fact that his fellow Republicans did not similarly sound the alarm after his earlier comments. “There was this thud, and a kind of eerie silence,” his questioner pointed out. “Are you disappointed that more of your colleagues didn’t speak their minds?” Corker then stammered and equivocated, mumbling that “other senators may have issues they’re dealing with.”
If Corker genuinely believes Trump poses such a severe danger, then surely it is a serious abdication on the part of his colleagues that they are not also sounding this warning. What “issues” could possibly justify this silence by Corker’s own lights?
In fairness, Corker is (rhetorically) leading by example, and it is hard to criticize fellow senators. So here’s a middle ground solution for Corker, who happens to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There is a way in which he could gently prod his fellow Republicans to do more to protect the country from a specific threat Trump poses: his insistence that Russian interference in our election constitutes nothing but a hoax.
The New York Times recently reported that “hopes” for the congressional probes into Russian sabotage, and possible Trump campaign collusion with it, have grown “dim.” As the Times put it: “Any notion that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy appears to be dwindling.”
The culprit for this looming failure, the Times informs us, is “partisan fighting.” But the details of the article carefully reveal the real story: Democrats want a full accounting of what happened, and Republicans (some, anyway) do not. The probe in the House (the Senate probes could still bear fruit) has been frustrated largely by procedural shenanigans performed by Republicans. The larger context for this, described here by Brian Beutler, is that Republicans — supported by their faithful media apparatus — have proved willing to weaponize Congress’s investigative machinery and game their oversight role with a total-saturation-level of bad faith that many mainstream media figures are unwilling or ill-equipped to acknowledge.
This Corker dust-up, and the ongoing battles over the Russia probes, together showcase this problem well. Trump’s sneering dismissal of Russian undermining of our democracy in the face of the intelligence community’s uniform conclusion otherwise reflects both his staggering bad faith and poses a genuine threat to the country, making this one of the most glaring examples of his unfitness to serve we’re currently seeing. Trump continues to cast the Russia probes as being only about him, when they are also about determining what happened in 2016, regardless of whether it implicates him, and about what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Our intel services have repeatedly predicted it will happen again.
Thus, any Republican hamstringing of a full accounting raises the risk of another successful attack on our democracy — perhaps a worse one. But when the press treats such a looming failure as a consequence of “partisan fighting,” the true nature and stakes of what Republicans are doing on Trump’s behalf get obscured. Corker has been forthright about the true nature and stakes of the threat Trump poses. But in so doing he has also revealed the risk posed by his party’s refusal to do the same. If calling out his party’s enabling of the Trump threat is too dicey for Corker, he can at least prod his party to treat the threat of outside sabotage of our democracy more seriously.
* TRUMP MAY UNDERMINE PUSH FOR TAX CUTS: Trump recently used Twitter to kill the idea Republicans were discussing of paying for tax cuts by slashing the amount people can save in 401(k) accounts. The New York Times reports that Republicans are worried:
The directive, issued via Twitter, underscored a growing fear among Republicans and business lobbyists that Mr. Trump’s bully-pulpit whims could undermine the party’s best chance to pass the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in decades. … Publicly and privately, supporters of the Republican tax effort say they are concerned that Mr. Trump will make a hard task even harder.
Imagine if Republicans put up with all of this and don’t even end up getting their lousy tax cut for all their troubles … sad!
* REPUBLICANS STRUGGLE TO FILL TRUMP PROMISES: The Post notes that without the 401(k) option, Republicans are scrambling to figure out how to pay for the enormous tax cuts Trump and Republicans have promised:
Now the tax writers must look for other areas where they can raise money, and their options appear to be dwindling. … Republicans have already promised not to jettison Americans’ ability to deduct their mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and now income for 401(k) contributions, limiting the number of other changes they could make to raise revenue. Party leaders now believe they will only be able to make some of the tax cut changes permanent, and others temporary.
Who knew cutting taxes could be co complicated? At the end of the day, Republicans will probably get their tax cut and claim that economic growth will pay for it. As always.
* REPUBLICANS QUIETLY SEARCH FOR DEAL ON ‘DREAMERS’: Politico reports that Republicans are looking for a way to protect the hundreds of thousands of dreamers that both parties can accept:
Ideas that do remain in contention among this circle of Republicans include beefed-up border security provisions, limiting some chain migration and measures that one senator described as a “down payment” on shifting the U.S. immigration laws into a merit-based system, according to GOP senators.
In other words, Republicans need to create a way for Trump to claim that he is “winning” in some way, perhaps with some gesture in the direction of limiting legal immigration.
* WHY DEMOCRATS MAY STRUGGLE TO TAKE BACK THE HOUSE: House Democratic candidates have posted great fundraising totals, but Nate Cohn notes a flaw in the pattern: They are having recruiting and fundraising struggles in districts with more working-class whites:
So far, nearly all of the biggest Democratic recruiting struggles have been in working-class areas. … Over all, there are 11 districts (out of the 50 districts that ought to be most competitive, by our estimates) where the Democrats don’t have a candidate who raised $100,000. On average, those 11 districts are much less educated than the battlegrounds as a whole; just 31 percent of whites over age 25 have a degree.
As Cohn notes, there’s still time to change this. But in part because of gerrymandering, Democrats need a big wave to take back the House or need to compete truly everywhere.
* ADMINISTRATION TO ALLOW IN REFUGEES: The Wall Street Journal reports that the administration is set to allow refugees to come in again, but under stricter vetting:
Under the new rules, the administration will collect more biographical data, such as names of family members and places of employment … officials who do the screening at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, will be given new guidance and better training aimed at detecting fraud on the part of applicants, one person said.
Refugees are already extensively vetted, and what remains to be seen is whether these new measures have a serious justification or are merely a way to pretend Trump got tougher on them.
* TRUMP’S ATTACK ON TRUTH IS A FORM OF CORRUPTION: A great point from Michael Gerson on Trump’s fundamental unfitness to serve:
This attack on truth is a dangerous form of political corruption. The problem is not just the constant lies. It is the dismissal of reason and objectivity as inherently elitist and partisan. It is the invitation to supporters to live entirely within Trump’s dark, divisive, dystopian version of reality. It is the attempt to destroy or subvert any source of informed judgment other than Trump himself.
As I’ve noted, Trump is not just establishing himself as the declarer of what reality is; he’s giving his supporters a stake in this arrangement, and polling shows GOP voters are eager to go along.
* THE AGE OF TRUMPAL INFALLIBILITY: Paul Krugman marvels at the sight of White House chief of staff John Kelly refusing to apologize for lying about Rep. Frederica Wilson, who spoke for the widow of slain La David Johnson, and adds:
We are living in the age of Trumpal infallibility: We are ruled by men who never admit error, never apologize and, crucially, never learn from their mistakes. Needless to say, men who think admitting error makes you look weak just keep making bigger mistakes; delusions of infallibility eventually lead to disaster, and one can only hope that the disasters ahead don’t bring catastrophe for all of us.
Remember, this comes after Kelly made us all sit through a sermon about the death of basic decency and traditional values. Don’t real men take responsibility for their actions, John?