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Trump’s First 100 Days: Nuclear option, bad phone calls, and Frederick Douglass

Here’s where things stand heading into day 14 of the Trump administration.

“Go nuclear.”

That’s the advice President Trump is giving Senate Republicans should Democrats try to block his new Supreme Court nominee from being confirmed.

The phrase has a double meaning in this context: Trump is urging the GOP not just to embrace extreme measures but specifically to invoke the nuclear option, which would prevent Democrats from filibustering the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch.

What is the 'nuclear option,' and how would it change the Senate? (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

A little background is necessary to explain the bad blood here. Some Senate Democrats want to block Gorsuch to retaliate against the GOP for refusing to undertake a confirmation process for then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, last year. Trump nominated Gorsuch this week for the vacancy created by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — a vacancy that, under normal circumstances, Garland might have filled.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not take lightly the idea of using the nuclear option. As our colleagues wrote, Republicans could take the issue off the table if they secure eight crossover votes for Gorsuch, which for now seems to be their goal.


Wednesday was full of surprises — and Rex Tillerson’s big Senate floor vote ended up being the least dramatic part: The former ExxonMobil chief executive was confirmed to become secretary of state by a vote of 56 to 43.

His fellow nominee, would-be education secretary Betsy DeVos, may not be so lucky: Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), announced plans to vote against her confirmation, saying she lacks experience in public schools. This gives Democrats two out of the at least three Republican votes they would need to block her appointment.

In other Cabinet news, Republicans moved aggressively to push through several Trump nominees Wednesday, suspending rules in the Senate Finance Committee to approve Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) for secretary of health and human services and Steven T. Mnuchin for secretary of the treasury without Democrats present. The Senate Judiciary Committee also advanced the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general.


Trump had quite the call with the prime minister of Australia on Saturday, boasting about his electoral college win, abruptly ending the conversation after only 25 minutes of the allotted hour and calling it “the worst call by far” of his day.

Chatting with Malcolm Turnbull should have been “one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief,” our colleagues wrote Wednesday. Instead, “Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.”


The Trump administration said Wednesday that it was “officially putting Iran on notice” after its test launch of a ballistic missile, signaling that it will advance a “combative and iconoclastic foreign policy that appears to sideline traditional diplomacy,” our colleague wrote. “Iran now feels emboldened,” Trump national security adviser Michael T. Flynn said from the White House podium. His brief statement did not outline any actions the administration intends to take and Flynn did not explain further.


Video: The White House’s vague statements about Frederick Douglass (Video: The Washington Post)

February is Black History Month, so Trump held a listening session with a small group of African American aides and supporters to mark the occasion. The event produced one of the most bizarre quotes of Trump’s presidency — and that is saying something — as Trump spoke about the heroes of African American history.

“Frederick Douglass,” Trump said, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

For reference, Douglass died in 1895.

Follow the author on Twitter @eliseviebeck.