With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: Sen. Al Franken writes about “The Funny” like it’s a dangerous disease his political career has been perennially at risk of falling victim to.
Launching his first campaign 10 years ago, the Minnesota Democrat needed to convince party leaders, donors and activists that his career as a comedian was not a fatal liability. After he won, he needed to convince fellow senators that he was not the caricature they remembered from “Saturday Night Live.”
Pollsters, consultants and D.C. fixers urged him to act as serious as possible to disabuse such notions.
Franken confesses in his new book that he struggled to keep “The Funny” in a box much more than he’s ever let on publicly. He recounts in vivid detail an inner-dialogue during a 2009 hearing of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about a proposed Employee Non-Discrimination Act. The room was packed with LGBT advocates, but no Republican senators had shown up.
As others made opening statements, a joke occurred to the then-freshman: “Wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, if, when I was called on, I said, ‘I think it’s a shame that none of the gay members of the committee showed up today’? I knew, of course, that telling the joke was a really bad idea. It would undermine everything I had been working toward: to be seen as a workhorse and not a showhorse, and yada yada. The ‘yada yada’ came from the Devil as he popped up on my right shoulder. ‘C’mon!!!’ the Devil yelled. ‘Tell the joke! It’ll kill!!!’
“‘Now, Al,’ the Angel appearing on my left shoulder said calmly, if a bit sanctimoniously, ‘you worked way too hard for far too long to do this, and you know it.’ ‘It’ll kill!!!’ the Devil screamed, hopping up and down. ‘It’ll get a HUGE laugh!!!’ … The Devil was positively vibrating with excitement. … ‘Screw the press!!!’”
Franken devotes seven pages to the protracted debate between the angel and the devil in his head:
“The other side will accuse you of saying that all the Republicans on the HELP Committee are gay,” the angel tells him.
“It’s a joke!!!” the devil snarls. “Everyone will know it’s a joke!”
“Of course they will, Al. But you know how this works,” warns the angel. “They will all pretend they’re deeply offended.”
“The cacophony coming from my left and right trapeziuses was making it hard for me to pay attention. And, frankly, both the Angel and the Devil were making valid points,” the senator recalls. “I started experiencing a kind of vertigo. You know that feeling you get when you’re on the balcony of a very tall building and start to panic because you realize you could just throw yourself off?”
Franken decided to not make the joke: “As I read my opening statement, I thought of my actual staff up in our office blithely watching their boss on TV with no inkling of the anguished psychodrama I had endured and how, for the moment, anyway, my reputation, and their jobs, were secure.”
The fact that Franken includes this anecdote midway through “Giant of the Senate,” in chapter 28 of 47, demonstrates that he’s gotten over many of his earlier trepidations. He made a deal with himself: “From that day forward, it was okay for me to be mildly funny. In spots.”
-- Happy Independence Day Eve from the Florida Panhandle. Franken’s 406-page book was published on May 30, but I finally got around to reading it on the beach this weekend. It is the most candid memoir I can recall by a sitting senator, tracing his trajectory from comedy to activism to politics. It’s also the funniest, with humorous vignettes about groups giving him awards just so he’d agree to come speak at their events and hitting up rich people for money during call time.
Most coverage of the book during its rollout focused on the chapter in which Franken laces into his colleague Ted Cruz, but the most interesting chunks are about how he learned to become a polished politician. Often, that is a narrative of biting his tongue. There’s certainly something President Trump, who seems to hold nothing back, could learn from his liberal critic’s self-discipline.
Franken won his Senate seat eight years ago by 312 votes and only came to Washington after a legal battle that dragged on for eight months. “I learned something very important during the recount: not to trust my instincts,” he writes. “For example, when I heard (Norm) Coleman suggest I step back and let the healing begin, my instinct was to respond with something biting and sarcastic. But, wisely, my team told me to shut up. Which I did.”
The 66-year-old was hypercautious and largely inaccessible during his first term. His office often declined to weigh in on the biggest stories of the day, preferring to pick his spots. The reporters who roam the hallways of the Capitol disliked him because they found him brusque when he refused to ever answer their questions.
This was all part of the plan, and it paid off when he got reelected handily in 2014. He has opened up more and more since then, and now he’s (mostly) unplugged. He appears to have concluded that he’s proven himself and will be well positioned to secure a third term in 2020 — which more likely than not will be a good year for Democrats, especially in Minnesota.
He’s honest about drug use at “SNL” in the new book: “I used to say, ‘I only did cocaine so I could stay up late enough to make sure nobody else did too much cocaine,’ which was a joke, but not too far from the truth. For whatever reason, I never became addicted.”
-- Franken writes about adjusting to his late-in-life career switch. When he started thinking about running for office while working as a talk radio host, Franken’s first coffee was with Jeff Blodgett, who had managed the late Paul Wellstone’s Senate campaigns: “The one piece of advice that I remember most vividly was Jeff’s suggestion that, as an exercise, I write a five-minute speech without any jokes in it. ‘Why,’ I thought, ‘would anyone would to do that?’ I was a comedian. All the validation I had received in my career had been for making people laugh, even if I was talking about something serious. Clearly, I had a lot of learning to do.”
The senator writes that, soon after he launched his campaign, a political writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune requested an interview on the topic of how his comedy past was relevant to his run for office. “I was thrilled,” Franken writes. “My team was horrified. … The campaign was trying to get the media to focus less on my career in comedy and more on my public policy positions. … There was no guarantee that (the Star Tribune) story would end up being helpful.”
He declined the interview request, but Franken wound up arguing with the reporter at a subsequent event about a blog post he disliked. He said his spokespeople “learned never to let me out of their sight again, not even for one second.” “I learned that in politics, unlike in show business, being right doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk,” Franken explains.
-- The senator said he needed to learn “a set of weird and occasionally sociopathic Politician Skills,” from how to avoid giving trackers embarrassing footage to pretending to remember someone’s name: “Possibly the most ridiculous Politician Skill I had to learn, though, was how to ‘pivot,’ which basically means ‘not answer questions.’”
If a reporter asked him about trailing in the polls, for instance, he practiced with his spokespeople how to dodge: “My instinct would be to answer the question. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to say, ‘When I go around the state, Minnesotans don’t talk about polls. They talk about their kids’ education…’ And so on. … I had always been taught by my parents and my teachers to answer questions directly and completely. Which I did for the first ten months of my race, driving my team nuts. But of course, my team was right. Reporters would just use the most interesting (and, usually, unhelpful) sound bites in my lengthy responses to their questions, instead of writing about the message we wanted to get out that particular day.”
Franken finally learned his lesson after an unhelpful New York magazine story, and he still marvels that in-state journalists let him get away with it: “A couple of days later I had a sit-down interview with a Minnesota print reporter who had interviewed me a number of times before. I have no recollection of the actual content of the interview, but I distinctly remember the thrill of using a new skill. Right out of the box, I pivoted to avoid answering a perfectly valid question so I could instead talk about whatever it was I was supposed to talk about that day. And the reporter seemed just fine with it! So I did it again on the second question. Again, the reporter seemed to have absolutely no problem. On the next question, just for the hell of it, I really overdid it, pivoting gratuitously. Again, I completely got away with it. The rest of the interview involved a string of egregious pivots followed by hammering home some point or other. When the interview ended, the veteran reporter turned to (Franken’s communications people). ‘Hey, he’s getting a lot of better!’ he said with a smile. ‘I think he’s got a real shot!’”
-- Franken’s pollster, Diane Feldman, conducted focus groups to shape how the campaign would message about his past as a satirist: “They didn’t think the fact that I had been a successful comedian meant that I was intelligent. So it turned out that telling people I went to Harvard was a good thing, because it reassured them that despite having no experience in politics and having called some people some bad names, I was probably at least smart enough to handle government work. It was the first recorded instance of it being a good idea to tell people you went to Harvard.”
The first-time candidate also learned how opposition research works. The team he hired for “self-research” failed to find an article that nearly derailed his campaign because the byline in Lexis Nexis was “Franken, Al,” instead of “Al Franken.” It was a piece he’d written in 2000 for Playboy Magazine about the future of virtual sex.
The senator notes that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tested alternative candidates even after he had locked down the state party’s endorsement because Chuck Schumer was still worried he couldn’t win. Franken also laments that Barack Obama refused to campaign with him in 2008 because he feared the association.
-- Looking back, Franken identifies a few teachable moments from his first months in the world’s greatest deliberative body. One wake-up call came during the confirmation hearing for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She said she’d been inspired to go into law by watching “Perry Mason” as a kid. Franken wondered how a television show in which the prosecutor always lost would inspire someone to become a prosecutor. She noted that Perry Mason actually lost one case. It turned out to be two cases, but Franken was upset that reporters focused on the Mason back-and-forth and not his substantive points about the activism of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Actors often claim not to read their own reviews. I don’t know much about actors, other than that they are all liars, but I can say that most senators do look closely at their press coverage,” Franken writes. “In the wake of the Perry Mason incident, (my staffers) became what I can only describe as hypervigilant, a concerned Paul Drake or fretful Della Street, if you will, to my cavalier Perry. … Thus, new rules: I could be funny in the office, but only with members of the staff, not in meetings with visitors. It was also okay to be funny on the floor with my colleagues, as long as I wasn’t loud enough to be picked up by the C-SPAN microphones. And, for God’s sake, no physical humor! … After a couple of months, this was all driving me kind of nuts.”
-- Franken writes about his rude introduction to what he likes to call the “DeHumorizer,” in which Republicans stripped away the context that made his jokes funny and presented them as deeply offensive: “I’ve come up with a strategy to avoid falling prey to the Republicans’ DeHumorizer. I built one of my own. It’s called my staff. … Any staffer driving me, for instance, is encouraged to respond to things I say with, ‘Okay, that’s for inside the car.’ Or the oft-used, ‘Fine. Get it out of your system.’”
The senator depicts himself almost like a baby rattlesnake at times, learning to control his venom as he cross-examines Republican witnesses. Questioning a conservative scholar from a think tank during a 2011 hearing, his health-care staffer slipped him a note: “You’re being an a—hole.” Franken thanked her and immediately called an all-staff meeting to relay what happened. “I don’t want anyone in this office ever to be afraid to call me an a—hole,” Franken writes that he told his aides.
He writes that one of his worst days in office was when he rolled his eyes at Mitch McConnell while presiding over the Senate during the floor debate over Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court: “As soon as Mitch had finished his speech, he marched up to the podium and let me know he was furious, as he had every right to be. ‘This isn’t ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al!’ he said … Mitch is very smart, and for his purposes that was exactly the right thing to say — after all, the political press had been itching to write something about Senator Yuk-Yuk causing trouble by reverting to his old ways. … I handwrote a note of abject apology to Mitch and walked back over to his office to deliver it personally.”
He also learned that you can’t tell jokes in Senate floor speeches because there’s not really an audience, so viewers would hear no reaction.
Sometimes Franken is self-conscious that he’s not a natural politician. After roundtables around the state, he said it became a ritual to joke with his driver when they were safely ensconced in the car: “Fooled ‘em again!”
-- Franken has clearly been keeping a diary for years, so the book includes many jokes he wished he could have told in the moment — but his staff wouldn’t let him.
A few involve handwritten notes. He wanted to congratulate a constituent on her 110th birthday by quipping, “You have a bright future.” He wanted to wish John McCain a happy birthday this way: “Hope you have a great year. Of course, any year would be better than the five you spent in the Hanoi Hilton.” Aides blocked both drafts from being sent out.
When Antonin Scalia opposed the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages, Franken wanted to facetiously refer to the late justice’s dissent as “very gay” in his statement. “My staff said no,” he writes. “But they didn’t say I couldn’t put it in a book someday!”
-- A breakthrough for Franken came when someone overheard him joking with his bodyman on the Senate subway about the Tiger Woods cheating scandal. “I’m thinking of introducing some kind of Tiger Woods stamp,” Franken said. Later that day, his press secretary Jess McIntosh stepped into his office to say a tipster had passed the comment along to a reporter. The senator admitted he said it. “Ugh,” said McIntosh, her shoulders slumping. “Then I just won’t return the call.” She turned to head back to her desk, in Franken’s telling, when he called her back in. “Tell them I was citing it as an example of a bad idea,” he instructed her. “Which she did.”
“The student had become the master,” Franken writes.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The Washington Nationals will be well represented in the 2017 All-Star Game. Chelsea Janes reports: First baseman Ryan "Zimmerman, it was announced Sunday night, will join teammates Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy in the National League’s starting lineup, which was chosen by a fan vote. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg will also head to Miami for the July 11 exhibition, where Scherzer will be a strong candidate to start the game, something the Nationals are willing to let him do if Cubs Manager Joe Maddon selects him for the honor. The Nationals’ five all-star selections ties a franchise record and are tied with the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians for most selections for the 2017 All-Star Game. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose numbers suggest he is one of the top offensive and defensive third basemen in baseball this season, will be a candidate for the annual ‘Final Vote’ competition, in which fans vote one more player onto each league’s team.”
GET SMART FAST:
- New Jersey’s state government has been shut down since Saturday, shuttering public parks and beaches during the holiday. Lame-duck Gov. Chris Christie (R) further incited public anger over the situation when he was photographed lounging on one of the closed beaches. (Michael Catalini and Bruce Shipkowski)
- The DHS exempted an Emirati airline from a ban on laptops and other electronics on U.S.-bound flights from Abu Dhabi, issuing a partial change to the three-month old Trump administration policy that affects travelers from eight Muslim-majority countries. The laptop ban was removed after TSA inspections verified that newly announced security measures were correctly implemented at the airline. (Aaron Gregg and Ashley Halsey III)
- A U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea, the second freedom-of-navigation operation since Trump took office. U.S. defense officials said the ship, which sailed within 12 miles of Triton Island, was tailed by a Chinese warship. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
- Eight people were injured in a shooting outside a mosque in southern France. Authorities are not treating the incident as a terrorist attack. (BBC)
- The number of fatal shootings by police is on track to approach 1,000 for the third year in a row. The police shot and killed 492 people in the first six months of 2017. (John Sullivan, Reis Thebault, Julie Tate and Jennifer Jenkins)
- Dozens of protests were held across the country to call for the president’s impeachment. Several thousand people turned out in Los Angeles. (LA Times)
- An all-girls robotics team in Afghanistan was denied U.S. visas, prohibiting them from attending a highly competitive international robotics competition in D.C. For months, the girls had faced daunting obstacles to build the machine — improvising with household materials after a competition-issued box of equipment was held up for security reasons. They twice journeyed to the U.S. embassy some 500 miles away in hopes of getting approval. (Amanda Erickson)
- Germany passed a law stipulating harsh fines for social media companies that fail to swiftly remove “hateful” content, threatening payouts of up to $57 million if companies including Facebook and Twitter do not delete posts containing racist, defamatory or otherwise illegal speech within 24 hours. The law will begin taking effect in October. (Isaac Stanley-Becker)
- During a speech in his childhood home of Jakarta, Indonesia, Barack Obama offered advice on taking the news cycle in stride. “I wasn’t worried about what was in the newspapers today,” he said. “What I was worried about was, ‘What are they going to write about me 20 years from now when I look back?’” (Margie Mason)
-- Several hard line Republican senators called for repeal-and-delay on the Sunday shows. Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘I want repeal to work, and the way you do it is you separate into two bills and you do it concurrently,’ said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who declared on ‘Fox News Sunday’ that ‘we are at an impasse’ with the health-care bill on offer before the Senate. ‘We should do repeal with a delay,’ Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said on CNN Sunday, saying that he was still willing to give the Senate bill another week before declaring it dead. In an appearance on ‘Face the Nation,’ Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also endorsed repealing Obamacare with a ‘delayed implementation’ that would give lawmakers time to craft a replacement, noting that approach might be ‘easier.’”
-- Senate leaders continue to tinker with the underlying bill. “Likely changes that could be worked on over the recess include increasing the tax credits in the bill to provide more assistance to low-income and older people in affording coverage,” The Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports.
-- The massive Medicaid cuts in the Senate’s original draft continue to be a hurdle. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn and Rachana Pradhan explain: “(Some Republicans) say it could become another Washington fiscal cliff, where lawmakers go to the brink of radical spending changes only to pull back — or have their successors pull back — just before the point of inflicting real pain in the face of intense pressure. … One Congress can’t stop its successors from changing the laws it passes. And there’s plenty of precedent for postponing pain, especially since one Congress’ attempt at fiscal responsibility may become a political liability to the next … That said, lawmakers may not have many chances to stop the spending reductions before they begin to take effect in 2020, if a bill passes. Trump's term doesn't end for four years, so Republicans would still control at least one branch of government.”
-- The White House legislative director, Marc Short, suggested that the administration was open to a proposal from Ted Cruz to widen the pool of health-insurance plans by including those that may not have all of the ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions. (Axios)
-- As Trump’s attacks on cable news consumed another news cycle, many allies complained that the president has not wielded his influence to tout his party's proposed health-care overhaul. John Wagner reports: “Trump has spoken out repeatedly during his tenure about the shortcomings of Obamacare, which he brands a ‘disaster.’ But he has made relatively little effort to detail for the public why Republican replacement plans — which fare dismally in public opinion polls — would improve on the former president’s signature initiative. The lackluster sales job, combined with recent controversial tweets and public statements targeting the media, has diminished the focus on the president’s leading legislative priority at a key juncture in the Senate.” During an appearance yesterday on “Meet the Press,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price insisted that Trump’s attacks on the media don’t necessarily distract from the health-care negotiations: “The fact of the matter is that he can do more than one thing at a time.”
-- Home for the July 4 recess, Republican senators are also not jumping at the opportunity to address constituents about their health-care plan. Paul Kane reports: “Sen. Susan Collins will celebrate the Fourth of July within view of the Canadian border, at a remote northeastern Maine town’s annual parade. Sen. Lisa Murkowski will appear on the other end of the continent in an old timber town on an isolated Alaskan island … Then again, at least they have released information about where they will be. That’s more than most Senate Republicans have done at the start of a 10-day break wrapped around the nation’s Independence Day celebration. This creates the belief among liberal activists that Republicans are trying to hide, which in turn primes every public moment to become that much more confrontational … This is exactly what McConnell was trying to avoid, a scenario in which Republicans replay the same political summer that Democrats endured in 2009 as they delayed and delayed consideration of what eventually became the 2010 Affordable Care Act.”
-- Of the wavering Republicans, the most attention is being paid to Dean Heller. Jon Ralston writes for The Nevada Independent on the only GOP incumbent up for reelection next year in a state Hillary Clinton won: “The left can’t seem to make up its mind about the Republican whose vote could unlock the GOP health care bill — thrilled that he came out against the measure but convinced he is too weak to hold … The right is apoplectic that Heller came out against the House and Senate bills, furious about his lack of fealty to the president and the party … If he ultimately comes back into the GOP fold and supports a bill, does anyone think all will be forgiven next year? Heller is in an impossible spot, but he dug his own grave.”
-- Senate Democrats are embracing the recent outpouring of activism on the left, hoping that it will be enough to stop the GOP's efforts. Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel report: “After starting the year on the defensive with their own base, party leaders and House and Senate Democrats are finally taking cues from these groups, believing that tactics honed far outside Washington could help scare Republicans into abandoning long-standing promises to upend the Affordable Care Act … Democrats’ willingness to fight, particularly on health care, has not gone unnoticed by progressive activists who say they deserve credit for drawing in even wary moderates. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) — who are all up for reelection in states Trump won handily — have all been eager to speak out.”
-- Case in point: Manchin urged Senate Republicans to work with Democrats on a health-care compromise during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I want [Trump] to know there are Democrats that want to work with him,” the West Virginian said. “But right now, they can't even repeal it. They can't get 50 votes to repeal it because somebody's getting hurt more than what they're willing to sign on to.” He added: “Look at some of us. Work with us Democrats who are willing to meet you in the middle, who have always been willing to meet you in the middle.”
-- The left is looking beyond 2018. Politico’s Kevin Robillard reports: “Democrats and other groups looking to defeat the GOP's plan to repeal Obamacare are looking ahead to 2020 to pressure politically vulnerable senators. Save My Care, a progressive group dedicated to defeating repeal attempts, is out with new surveys from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showing the GOP proposal, which would cut Medicaid funding and repeal Obamacare's tax increases, is deeply unpopular in Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado — three swing states where Republican Senate wins in 2014 helped the GOP win control of the chamber.”
-- Anthony Kennedy didn't retire at the end of this year's term, but he's keeping the door open to doing so next June. NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports: “While he long ago hired his law clerks for the coming term, he has not done so for the following term (beginning Oct. 2018), and has let applicants for those positions know he is considering retirement. Kennedy's position on the court is more than consequential. In the most hotly contested and closely divided cases, his vote often decides the outcome. With every passing day, it has become more clear that (Neil Gorsuch) is probably even more conservative than the justice he replaced, Antonin Scalia.”
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE:
-- “As the Trump administration sets out to overhaul the federal government, a small group of Cabinet secretaries may have the most daunting task,” Juliet Eilperin and Emma Brown report: “They are running departments with missions they have sometimes disparaged, with employees who are secretly — and on occasion publicly — hostile. Across the agencies, these Cabinet members have made very public efforts to court their staff, yet frequently are crafting key initiatives in private. They are forming alliances where they can and skirmishing where they cannot. For the most part they have erected small, secluded citadels within each department, where they can advance policies that reflect the priorities of the president. [Education Secretary Betsy DeVos] has been trying to build rapport with a leery staff, dining at times in the employee cafeteria and convening a group of LGBT employees to talk about hot-button issues … But some employees dismiss her lunches in the cafeteria as photo ops. [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke has sought to boost morale through several initiatives … But he has upset some of his career employees by asking them to brief him on Interior policies [without telling] them that those policies were about to be reversed.”
-- Much to the chagrin of the corporatists in the administration, chief White House strategist Steve Bannon has begun pushing for a tax hike on the wealthy to pay for tax cuts on lower- and middle-class Americans. Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports: “Bannon has told colleagues he wants the top income tax bracket to ‘have a 4 in front of it.’ (The top bracket is currently 39.6% for Americans who earn more than $418,400.) It's classic Bannon – pushing a maximalist position that's reviled by the Republican establishment … Lobbyists who have met with Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin say they've been struck by how impatient the two appear. Cohn has told associates that if tax reform doesn't get done this year, it's probably never going to happen. … Some top Republicans have come to believe, contrary to conventional wisdom, that tax reform stands a better chance if health care fails — so desperate will Trump and Republican leaders be for a victory.”
-- Trump used a speech at the Kennedy Center this weekend to assure a mostly evangelical crowd that he will push Americans to say “Merry Christmas” later this year. The president said at a “Celebrate Freedom” event: “Our religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights. The American founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleague at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer. I remind you that we’re going to start staying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
TRUMP RAMPS UP HIS WAR ON THE MEDIA:
-- The president shared on Twitter yesterday a doctored WWE video clip showing him bashing in the head of a figure representing CNN, sparking fierce debate over whether the president is inciting violence against journalists. David Nakamura, John Wagner and Aaron Gregg report: “In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him … Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for ‘fraud news network.’” Trump’s latest online provocation earned immediate backlash from Democrats and Republicans, who warned that Trump’s behavior could endanger reporters as he seeks to undermine trust in the news media. 'Violence & violent imagery to bully the press must be rejected,' Nancy Pelosi said Sunday. She was one of many lawmakers to weigh in on the tweet.
“Meanwhile, White House aides and supporters defended the president’s Twitter post as a harmless barb ... Some said the reaction demonstrated the inflated self-regard of reporters and their inability to take a joke. On ABC’s 'This Week,' homeland security adviser Tom Bossert later dismissed the idea that the tweet was intended as a threat, and praised his ability to 'genuinely' communicate with the public. 'He’s beaten up, in a way, on the cable platforms,' Bossert added. 'He has a right to respond.'”
-- Twitter reviewed the tweet at the request of some of its users but ultimately decided that it did not violate any of the platform's rules. (CNN)
-- The GIF is believed to have originated on Reddit, where a user who has previously written about stabbing Muslims claimed credit for the video. “I wake up and have my morning coffee and who retweets my … [post] but the MAGA EMPORER himself!!!,” said the user, who was praised as a “legend” by on a forum dedicated to Trump. Others speculated on the possibility of providing even more inflammatory content: “If we could give him that, imagine what else we could provide the God-Emperor in Chief with?” one moderator added. (Avi Selk)
-- The Committee to Protect Journalists warned in a statement that the White House’s “charged” online rhetoric “emboldens autocratic leaders around the world” and makes reporting more dangerous. Targeting media outlets “creates a chilling effect and fosters an environment where further harassment or even physical attack is deemed acceptable,” it said.
-- Trump has attacked many media outlets over the course of his campaign and beginning of his presidency, but CNN is by far his most frequent target. Callum Borchers notes: “If Trump fixates on television and hates criticism, then why isn't MSNBC his No. 1 target? Probably because criticism from MSNBC is so predictable. Thin-skinned as he is, Trump generally ignores liberal voices who reflexively oppose Republicans. When is the last time you heard him gripe about the New Yorker or HuffPost? Or Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell? Trump knows his supporters don't pay attention to these voices, anyway. In his world, they just don't matter very much. CNN, however, positions itself between MSNBC and Fox News. As a result, Trump seems to perceive CNN as wielding at least some influence over his base.”
-- CNN’s Chris Cillizza says the best way to understand Trump is through the lens of professional wrestling: “At the heart of pro wrestling sits this basic fact: It is fake. The wrestlers are as much actors as they are athletes. But, and this is the really important part, not everyone who is a fan of pro wrestling knows this. Lots and lots of people … who subscribe to the WWE Network believe that this is all real. That the feuds are real expressions of dislike between the wrestlers. This basic divide between fake and real is what Trump capitalizes on, too. Anyone who has followed his career … knows that there isn't a more attentive media consumer than [Trump]. [If] and when Trump ever reaches out to you as a reporter, he is tremendously solicitous; he praises your work and says you are one of the good ones. Most people -- particularly in the media — know this fact. But lots of other people, including many of Trump's supporters, truly believe that he hates the media. They don't get that Trump is playing a role, that he is doing a schtick because he knows there is political gain."
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- “Australia’s urbane prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is trying to revive the fortunes of his unpopular government by borrowing from an unexpected role model: President Trump,” A. Odysseus Patrick reports. “Representing one of the most progressive districts in the country, Turnbull is one of the most left-wing members of the center-right Liberal Party. [But] now, facing what appears to be a guerrilla campaign by a bitter Abbott to undermine his leadership, Turnbull is [copying] elements of Trump’s conservative populist approach … One of the most assertive policy changes is the decision to make it harder to obtain Australian citizenship … Applicants will have to be able to speak English, explicitly pledge allegiance to Australia and meet a vague test that they have ‘integrated’ into Australian society. The criteria could include serving on a parent-teacher association or joining a surf-lifesaving club … Refugee representatives say immigrants will be required to have university-level English skills, which will be impossible for the most disadvantaged: women, refugees and the elderly.”
-- “Trump is breaking with tradition by visiting Poland, an ex-communist country in central Europe, before making a presidential visit to longtime allies Britain, France or Germany,” the AP’s Vanessa Gera reports. “The White House has stressed Poland’s importance as a loyal NATO ally and its potential as an energy partner as reasons for Trump’s visit, which he will make Thursday just before attending a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. But there are several other reasons that make Poland a logical early destination for the new U.S. president … Trump will be welcomed in Poland by populist leaders who are closely aligned with his worldview … Trump can probably count on large enthusiastic crowds to greet him in Warsaw.”
-- British officials are planning for a Trump visit — albeit a very impromptu one. The Times of London reports: “Senior government officials say they expect the American president to make an unscheduled stop at his Aberdeenshire golf course as part of his trip to Europe to attend France’s Bastille Day celebrations on July 14. Theresa May’s team are on standby for Trump to visit Downing Street as well. It is understood that any visit would be confirmed only 24 hours in advance so anti-Trump protesters did not have time to disrupt his visit.”
-- As the administration adopts a stricter stance toward North Kora, Trump has been in contact with the leaders of Japan and China. Bloomberg’s Andy Sharp reports: “Trump and [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe agreed on the need for China to be firmer with North Korea … Kyodo News said the chat was a prelude to a planned meeting in Germany between the leaders of the U.S., Japan and South Korea. In his call with [Chinese President Xi Jinping], Trump also repeated his desire for more balanced ties with America’s trading partners … Trump now says China isn’t doing enough to help on North Korea … The biggest danger if Trump runs out of patience with China is that his threats to take unilateral action against North Korea escalate.”
-- CNN’s Stephen Collinson has a preview of Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin later this week: “Both men are well-known for using swaggering machismo at public appearances to intimidate opponents and project an image of strength, aware of the key role of body language in creating a political narrative … Trump is under extreme political pressure to raise the issue of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. He must also avoid any impromptu interaction with Putin that would play into his opponents' claims that he is somehow under the Russian leader's influence … Even without the election question, the meeting between Trump and Putin is key for the future of Europe and the Middle East … In some ways, Trump comes into the meeting at a disadvantage. He is weakened at home … Putin, who doesn't have to worry about the checks and balances on power constraining Trump, has established himself as a major world force.”
-- “‘Love Thy Neighbor?” by Stephanie McCrummen: “[When Ayaz Virji moved to the town of Dawson, Minn., three years ago] he remembered that it ‘just felt right.’ Wholesome. No one seemed to care that he was Muslim, of Indian descent, born in Kenya and raised in Florida. They just needed a good doctor. The whole visit felt like one big welcoming parade. [But after the election], Virjis began feeling differently about the town. They wondered whether the people who had seemed so warm were secretly harboring hateful thoughts or suspicions about them. Musarrat told Ayaz that she noticed more silence from certain friends. Ayaz was stopped on a sidewalk by a woman who said, ‘Jesus loves you,’ and wondered what would happen if he said, ‘Muhammad loves you.’ Another day, he ran into a patient who told him that a lot of farmers had voted for Trump because of sky-high health insurance premiums, not because of ‘anything racial’ … This was Dawson six months after the election, which was how Ayaz most often thought of things these days — before and after.”
-- “‘They are treated like merchandise:’ Inside Libya’s thriving migrant trade,” by Sudarsan Raghavan: “Libya, the biggest jumping-off point for migrants trying to reach Europe, is now home to a thriving trade in humans. Unable to pay exorbitant smuggling fees or swindled by traffickers, some of the world’s most desperate people are being held as slaves, tortured or forced into prostitution. Their deteriorating plight raises questions about European Union agreements to stem the flow of migrants. Under these deals, Libya was promised more than $225 million to enforce stricter border controls and maintain migrant assistance centers [with humanitarian standards] … But instead of getting better treatment, migrants found at sea are being returned to Libya to face more exploitation and violence. Meanwhile, the number of migrants departing from Libya is surging … [and migrants’ accounts] reveal how much more systematic and clandestine the trade in migrants has become.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump's tweet about CNN was condemned by many prominent conservatives:
The editor of the Weekly Standard:
The speed with which we're recapitulating the decline and fall of Rome is impressive. What took Rome centuries we're achieving in months. https://t.co/4TVXc4C5Ex— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) July 2, 2017
George W. Bush's White House communications director:
In defense of America's children please stop calling @realDonaldTrump childish. He's thuggish, crude and tacky.— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) July 2, 2017
A Bush speechwriter:
Trump has brilliantly changed the subject from “Is he a Russian intelligence asset” to “Is he a dangerously violent lunatic?"— David Frum (@davidfrum) July 2, 2017
An Obama speechwriter:
There was a time when Bill Clinton was called unpresidential for playing the saxophone on TV. https://t.co/CzljzbxrKH— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) July 2, 2017
A New Jersey Democratic congressman:
A Colorado Republican:
The co-chair for the European Council on Foreign Relations:
President Trump latest behaviour on social media is just infantile. Not what the world expects from and needs in the Oval Office.— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) July 3, 2017
The president of the Council on Foreign Relations:
Potus inciting violence vs journalists. Only a matter of time b4 someone actually does it. Expect this in Erdogan's Turkey, not in USA— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) July 2, 2017
The editor of the liberal site Talking Points Memo:
Advice: Accept that Trump is a mentally unstable bad actor who won't change. Note who enables him, who opposes. Organize to save country.— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 2, 2017
A New York Times White House reporter:
Backdrop this against POTUS aides insisting he wants to talk about policy and media isn't interested https://t.co/1eIErAWzL0— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) July 2, 2017
The host of "Meet the Press":
Every day for the last week, there has been bad health care news for WH and each day that bad news was overshadowed by Trump tweets— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) July 2, 2017
Many journalists expressed solidarity with CNN as Trump attacked the network:
On comparisons between Trump and his predecessor:
Things Fox News questioned was "unpresidential" under Obama: Tan suit, playing pool, selfie stick. pic.twitter.com/BeMTNoKNqk— andrew kaczynski 🤔 (@KFILE) July 2, 2017
The one tweet Obama sent a year ago vs the one tweet Trump sent today. pic.twitter.com/0N5VyxDyCH— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) July 2, 2017
Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, the Republican appointed to replace Jeff Sessions, suggested transferring some of sanctuary cities' federal funding to finance the border wall:
Senators returned to their home states for July 4 and faced questions over their health-care bill:
1. Many GOP senators, home for recess, woke up today to front-page stories about the local damage their health bill would cause.— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) July 2, 2017
From the president of the liberal Center for American Progress:
Kentucky's secretary of state offered this caustic comment on the voter fraud panel's request for information on each state's voters:
From the former secretary of state for Missouri:
President who won't release his tax returns wants to publish every registered voter's social security number, DOB, and party affiliation. https://t.co/0nylQdRskC— Jason Kander (@JasonKander) July 1, 2017
Christie came under fire for relaxing on a closed beach during his state's government shutdown:
From a Republican operative:
This is brilliant news-gathering. Also, is Chris Christie trying to get to zero public approval ratings? https://t.co/Wxr8fcW7c6— Tony Fratto (@TonyFratto) July 3, 2017
Christie was widely ridiculed:
Christie: "I didn't get any sun today."— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) July 2, 2017
(Aerial photo shows him on closed beach)
Gov flak: Technically, he didn't get any sun. He had a hat. https://t.co/K0g81zmsS5
From Hillary Clinton's former spokesperson:
shutting down gov't for everyone else, but taking advantage of it for yourself...— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) July 2, 2017
This will make Christie a shoe in for Trump cabinet. https://t.co/6UlgSFsLb2
From a senior editor at The Atlantic:
Amazing stat: By 2040 70% of US pop will live in 15 largest states w/30 Senators. Last 30% of pop will have 70 Sens https://t.co/gt0fXoujf7— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) July 1, 2017
And just before July 4, too:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The Atlantic, “How the Left Lost Its Mind,” by McKay Coppins: “Over the past two decades, an immense amount of journalistic energy was spent exploring the right-wing media ecosystem — from talk radio, to Fox News, to Breitbart and beyond—and documenting its growing influence on mainstream GOP politics. This turned out to be a worthy and prescient pursuit, and if any doubt remains about that, I’d present ‘President Donald Trump’ as Exhibit A. While serious Republicans in the political class spent years scoffing at the ‘entertainers’ and ‘provocateurs’ on the supposedly powerless fringe, the denizens of the fever swamp were busy taking over the party. But 2017 poses the question: Could the same thing happen on the left?”
-- The New York Times, “Deportation a ‘Death Sentence’ to Adoptees After a Lifetime in the U.S.,” by Choe Sang-Hun: “Phillip Clay was adopted at 8 into an American family in Philadelphia. Twenty-nine years later … [he] was deported back to his birth country, South Korea. He could not speak the local language, did not know a single person and did not receive appropriate care for mental health problems … On May 21, Mr. Clay ended his life, jumping from the 14th floor of an apartment building north of Seoul. He was 42. To advocates of the rights of international adoptees, the suicide was a wrenching reminder of a problem the U.S. urgently needed to address: adoptees from abroad who never obtained American citizenship. Mr. Clay is believed to be just one of dozens of people, legally adopted as children into American families, who either have been deported to the birth countries they left decades ago or face deportation after being convicted of crimes as adults. Some did not even know they were not American citizens until they were ordered to leave.”
-- The New York Times, “Trump Foot Soldier Sidelined Under Glare of Russia Inquiry,” by Michael Schwirtz, William K. Rashbaum, and Danny Hakim: “Just over a decade ago, [Trump] was locked in conflict with a group of apartment owners who had taken control of the condominium board at his new glass tower ... Faced with accusations of financial impropriety and an affront to his authority, Mr. Trump turned to Michael D. Cohen … If anyone crossed Mr. Trump or stood in his way, Mr. Cohen, who was known to sometimes carry a licensed pistol in an ankle holster, would cajole, bully or threaten a lawsuit … Since Mr. Trump became president, his need for loyal foot soldiers like Mr. Cohen has never been greater. But instead of helping his longtime employer navigate F.B.I. and congressional investigations … Mr. Cohen now appears to be outside the Trump inner circle, a man on the defensive.”
-- The Trump White House’s report on staff salaries, which was released Friday, reflects $22 million in savings for the presidential payroll. Forbes’ Adam Andrzejewski reports: “Savings come from President Trump’s refusal to take a salary as well as big reductions in other areas including the absence of czars, expensive ‘fellowships,’ and spending on FLOTUS staff.”
-- But the payroll records also reflect a gender wage gap in the White House. CNN’s Caitlin Ostroff reports: “Women working in the White House earn an average salary of 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male colleagues … That's a gender pay gap wider than the national average of 82 cents on the dollar … The average salary among men working in the White House was nearly $104,000 … For women, it was $83,500. That's $20,500 less on average. The disparity is primarily due to more women filling lower-ranking jobs.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“As Baylor regent, top Austin lobbyist called drinking female students ‘perverted little tarts,’” from the Texas Tribune: “As a Baylor University regent, prominent Texas lobbyist Neal ‘Buddy’ Jones described female students who he suspected of drinking alcohol at parties as ‘perverted little tarts,’ the ‘vilest and most despicable girls’ and a ‘group of very bad apples,’ according to emails … [The emails] were attached to a filing in one of several ongoing Title IX lawsuits against the private Baptist university. ‘It is insidious and inbred,’ [wrote Jones], who spent a decade as a Baylor regent, including two years as board chairman, suggested to the Baylor administrator that one of the women be expelled. [The student was a senior who was of legal drinking age]. [Former] Democratic state Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco — the lawyer for 10 women suing the school for failing to comply with Title IX, a federal statute that bans discrimination against women on campus — said the documents bolster his case.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Crime drops in Phoenix after city drops sanctuary city status, former cops say,” from Fox News: “At the center of national debate, a question remains unanswered: Are sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants safer than non-sanctuary cities? A six-year study published last year by the University of California, Riverside found "violent crime is slightly higher in sanctuary cities." It concluded there was "no statistically discernible difference in violent crime rates, rape, or property crime across" 55 cities studied. And at least one city, Phoenix, saw a drop in crime after it eliminated its sanctuary city status, according to former law enforcement officials. ‘We saw a decrease in crime,’ said [one police official]. ‘It had a deterrent effect on folks because the risk of discovery went up exponentially when we actually enforced the law.’”
President Trump will return to the White House from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., today.
The vice president has no scheduled events.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Mitch McConnell on Trump’s suggestion to repeal Obamacare and replace it later: “It’s not easy making America great again, is it?”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- The weather in D.C. today looks much like it did yesterday. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We’ll have lots of sunshine interspersed with some clouds, especially in the afternoon. High temperatures should reach the low 90s in most spots, with light winds from the west. Humidity levels are moderate.”
-- The Nationals beat the Cardinals 7-2, Jorge Castillo reports.
-- The murder of Nabra Hassanen near a Virginia mosque, not officially considered a hate crime, has local Muslim women wondering whether they can safely wear hijabs. Sharif Hassan reports: “For some Muslim women, the killing of a Muslim girl wearing a hijab and a long dress known as an abaya near a mosque is alarming, no matter the motivation. And the attack has stirred conversations in families about clothing that speaks to faith and identity. Batool Mahmud, 23, a dental hygienist, said her mother is worried about her wearing a hijab while walking. She knows what it feels like to be singled out over the headscarf: In middle school in Delaware a decade ago, she said, a group of teens pulled her hijab from her head.”
-- The existence of a largely African-American community in Prince William County that was begun by freed slaves following the Civil War has been threatened by plans for the construction of a data center, Antonio Olivo reports.
-- A message urging violence against Trump was found outside a Bethesda elementary school, Martin Weil reports.
-- “As Maryland orders an investigation into whether grades were manipulated to drive up graduation rates in Prince George’s County, employees at several of the district’s high schools say they have encountered signs of grade tampering and pressure to pass their students,” Donna St. George and Arelis R. Hernández report.
-- Specialized summer camps, focusing on everything from debate to coding, are thriving in the D.C. area, Michael Alison Chandler reports.
-- Nic Sakurai became the first D.C. resident to receive a gender-neutral driver’s license, Perry Stein reports.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
-- “The best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term wasn’t a Supreme Court opinion,” by Robert Barnes: “It was the ninth-grade commencement address for the Cardigan Mountain School, an elite boarding school for boys grades six through nine. Sitting up front under a large white tent as John Glover Roberts Jr. took the stage was graduating student John Glover Roberts III. … There is nothing about the Supreme Court or the law in the short speech, although each graduating Cougar received an autographed, pocket-size Constitution along with his certificate. Instead, the address was personal, understated and popular probably because it touched on universal themes, such as a parent’s worry about whether he or she is making the right decisions for their child.” Watch all 18 minutes here:
-- The Republican candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Ed Gillespie, promised on the eve of the July 4 holiday that, if elected, he would work to legalize higher-grade fireworks. Laura Vozzella reports: “Democrats did not weigh in directly on the fireworks plan but used it to needle Gillespie … over his reluctance to take a firm stand on Republican health-care bills in Congress. ‘[Democratic candidate Ralph] Northam likes fireworks as much as anyone, but he also wants to make sure you can afford health care in case you accidentally blow your hand off with one,’ said Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel.” Watch Ed's ad:
-- John Oliver ripped into the Sinclair Broadcast Group's widening influence over local news:
-- Trump supporters were escorted out of a New York City rally calling for the president's impeachment by police:
-- India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi played Darth Vader’s “Imperial March” during a speech on corruption:
-- Firefighters rescued a pair of fawns from a wildfire in Arizona:
-- Programming note: We won’t publish The Daily 202 tomorrow, but we’ll be back in your inbox Wednesday morning. Have a great Fourth!