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Inside Roseanne Barr's explosive tweet

By Geoff Edgers
Inside Roseanne Barr's explosive tweet
Actress, comedian, writer, and television producer Roseanne Barr took a two-week trip to Israel in January. Barr had big aspirations for the Roseanne reboot until an explosive tweet ended it all. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

JERUSALEM - Two questions into Roseanne Barr's packed appearance at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in late January, it happens: A reporter goes right for the Valerie Jarrett.

Last May, Roseanne tweeted 11 words that managed to reference the Obama adviser, the science-fiction film "Planet of the Apes" and the Muslim Brotherhood. Within hours, ABC killed the most popular show of 2018. And Barr went from beloved sitcom star to spreader of hate.

"You are a sorry excuse for a human being," actress Rita Moreno tweeted at the time.

"Roseanne made a choice. A racist one," added "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes.

"There is not any room in our society for racism or bigotry," tweeted civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis.

Now, from the third row of the auditorium, Sagi Bin Nun of the news website Walla takes his own shot.

"Israel is the place where people ask to be forgiven by God," he says. "Would you like to take this opportunity to apologize for your racist tweet?"

Boos rain down on Bin Nun, and some guy yells, "You're a jerk." For two days, Barr has been telling anybody in Israel with a camera that she's a "Jewy Jew," a warrior for their homeland and disgusted with "repulsive" Natalie Portman and other so-called Hollywood hypocrites.

During her two-week excursion to the Holy Land, she will pray at the Western Wall, tour the West Bank, huddle with government officials, serve on a panel with spoon-bending illusionist Uri Geller and, when she's worn out, crash back at her suite at the Inbal Hotel.

But right now, she can't let Bin Nun go.

"You're a mean person who just wants to insult people for no reason whatsoever," Barr says in front of everyone. "I pray to God to raise the sparks in you so that you'll become a decent person."

What to make of this. It's uncomfortable and entertaining and weird, particularly with Barr sitting between an Orthodox rabbi and the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset. Last March, Barr was on the cusp of one of the great comebacks in television history. Twenty years after wrapping her groundbreaking sitcom "Roseanne," Barr, 66, had signed to return with the entire cast. The reboot premiere reached more than 27 million viewers. Three days later, ABC renewed the revived "Roseanne" for another season.

There was a problem, though: Barr had Twitter, and she wasn't afraid to use it.

Just after Christmas 2017, a few months before the reboot's premiere, she tweeted: "i won't be censored or silence chided or corrected and continue to work. I retire right now. I've had enough. bye!"

The tweet did not slip by network brass.

"Sorry to bother you with this at the holiday, but wondering if you know what spurred this tweet from Roseanne," Channing Dungey, then ABC Entertainment Group president, wrote in an email to the show's executive producer, Tom Werner, on Dec. 29.

Thus began an unusual, behind-the-scenes battle, as ABC and Barr's producers tried to protect their TV property, and Barr continued to speak out on Twitter, her preferred medium for pushing tales of Pizzagate and George Soros as well as profane blasts at TV personalities such as Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow. The network didn't propose a no-tweet clause in Barr's contact. Instead, as revealed by interviews with people close to the show and messages shown to The Washington Post, they spent months nudging her to stop while also trying not to offend her.

"It was always this back and forth of ABC not wanting to appear they were censoring Roseanne but also not quite pulling out the big guns," says James Moore, Barr's longtime publicist. "Going, 'You're one tweet away from us canceling the show.' Something that would jar Roseanne."

Despite repeated warnings - and even after her youngest son briefly hid her Twitter password - Barr stayed online.

"I admit it," she says, in her hotel room. "I'm a troll. I'm the queen of the [expletive] trolls."

---

By all counts, Barr, whose 1990s network go-round had been surrounded by chaos - whether it was firings on the set, the "Star Spangled Banner" debacle or that whole Tom Arnold thing- was a model citizen during the reboot, hugging audience members after tapings, hustling to news conferences and baking chocolate chip cookies for a get-to-know-you-again lunch with Disney Chairman Bob Iger.

Online, though, she remained as polarizing as ever.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. Comedy is full of misfits and oddballs obsessed with disruption. They roam stages, television sets and the Internet, teetering between the sort of shock that sparks deep reflection and that other kind, which leads to groans, backlash or, at worst, a public retraction.

Wasn't that President Donald Trump's bloody, rubber head that Kathy Griffin offered to the masses? Didn't Samantha Bee call Ivanka a "feckless" four-letter word that rhymes with bunt? And why did Trevor Noah make that joke about Aboriginal women? Of course, they apologized - or, in Griffin's case, apologized and then retracted the apology - and were forgiven.

Barr and her family contend there's a simple reason she has been treated differently: her support of Trump.

"I'm not saying any of the others should be fired," says Jake Pentland, Barr's 40-year-old son who runs her studio and voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016. "I'm a free speech absolutist. But you can pretty much say whatever you want as long as you supported Hillary Clinton. Soon as Mom donned that MAGA hat, she was an enemy."

As a comic, Barr has always ignored the typical standards of subversion. Her freewheeling attacks seem almost designed to score her enemies in high places. It's as if she's not just playing for laughs, she's trying to blow up the entire system - even if that means blowing up herself.

After the Jarrett tweet, daughter Jenny Pentland's first words to her mother were to accuse her of self-sabotage.

"You did this on purpose," she told her.

The pre-Internet Barr had been the most headline-grabbing comic of her time. At her 1990s peak, she blasted the women harassed by Sen. Bob Packwood, saying "they should have just kicked his balls in." In a sprawling New Yorker profile, she called Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster and Susan Sarandon "castrated females." Her Twitter feed would go even further.

In 2012, she tweeted the home address of George Zimmerman's parents after the Trayvon Martin shooting. The Zimmermans sued, but the case was dismissed. As the 2016 election heated up, and she completed her shift from lefty agitator to Trump booster, Barr was distributing deep-state conspiracy theories like a UPS driver on Christmas Eve.

"Her tweets, before the one that got her in trouble, were absolute nonsense," says Doug Stanhope, a comedian and friend of Barr's who had a bit part on the "Roseanne" reboot. "Zionist things, a Palestinian thing, none of it made sense. The idea that a network would give her a show . . . they had to know what they were getting into."

Whitney Cummings, the "2 Broke Girls" co-creator and an executive producer for the reboot, says Barr was her "hero" back in the day. But she signed onto the show, she admits, without looking closely at Barr's social media: "I had not gone through the years of past tweets, and that was my mistake."

Sara Gilbert, who was 13 when she starred in the first "Roseanne" and was a driving force with Werner in reviving the series, felt reassured about the reboot after talking with Barr. "I knew that Roseanne, the person, was unpredictable at times, but she told me this was her redemption," says Gilbert, now 44. "I chose to believe her."

It didn't take long for Barr's tweets to create tension within the show's production team. In August 2017, Barr tweeted to defend Trump's handling of the violent conflict in Charlottesville, Virginia, and attack the Antifa movement. Gilbert and Werner called Moore to set up a conference call. "I don't want to talk about it - it will be gone," Barr emailed Moore, before deleting the tweet.

That fall, Gilbert and Werner set up a meeting with Barr and Kelly Bush Novak, the powerful press agent they had hired to represent the show. Novak, who had read an upcoming script involving the grandson's curiosity about girl's clothes, was concerned the plot would lead the LGBTQ community to examine Barr's online comments.

So Novak asked GLAAD, which had once lauded Barr as a champion of gay rights, to prepare a report called "Roseanne Barr's Anti-Trans" record. The private, 27-page document called her out for such acts as "Tweeted story that Obamas killed Joan Rivers for saying Michelle Obama is a tranny."

"I said, 'I've already apologized' " Barr said, recounting the meeting with Novak. "And I did. Over days on Twitter. You know I understand that there's a real serious issue with trans lives and trans rights for trans people. They want to be safe. But you know we tell our little girls to watch out for penises basically to stay safe. So what a mixed message this is. And I think it really needs more analysis and a lot more conversation, and I said that 400 [expletive] times."

Ultimately, there was only one way to keep Barr off Twitter. In December 2017, Buck Thomas, 23, the youngest of Barr's five children, saw her phone open on the table and grabbed it. He reset her password and signed her out. He had grown weary of her online presence. "And I didn't want her to get in trouble before the show even started."

In January, Barr complained about losing social-media access at a huge ABC press event. At some point, the badgering worked. Thomas turned over the password.

A month later, Barr questioned whether the Parkland, Florida, shooting survivors were actors. Co-showrunner and executive producer Bruce Helford texted Barr, suggesting she take her tweets down before ABC saw them.

"I'm really sorry to ever ask you to hold your voice," he wrote, "but I think there are even more powerful ways to put ideas out there through the show itself, which I hope we have the opportunity to do many, many more episodes of together."

---

Barr's trip to Israel is a lot of things. A chance to return to a country that in previous visits has renewed her spirit. A way to raise awareness of what she views as the rise of anti-Semitism and the threat of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. A paid-for vacation.

She's been brought here by Shmuley Boteach, who calls himself "America's Rabbi" and runs the World Values Network, a New Jersey-based organization funded largely by the Trump-boosting, casino-owning billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Pentland, Barr's daughter, views Boteach as one more in a line of men who cozy up to her mother to get attention.

"At least," she says with a laugh, "she didn't marry him."

Barr considers Boteach a great friend. When ABC canceled her show and she was holed up in her mom's basement in Utah, chain-smoking and in tears, it was Boteach - not her co-stars - who called to check on her.

"Shmuley saved my life," Barr says. "I was suicidal. He was the only person who stood by me and said they were going to destroy me because I love Trump and Israel."

Boteach also helped Barr deliver what remains the closest thing to a heartfelt apology. He recorded the raw exchange with her two days after the cancellation and aired it, a month later, as a podcast. Barr has never listened to it. On the call, she tries to explain herself. That she didn't know Jarrett, the Obama adviser, was black. She just knew Jarrett had played a part in the Iran nuclear deal, which she hated. And even though few may believe her, she insisted that she would have never used the "Planet of the Apes" reference if she had known Jarrett's race.

"I'm a lot of things, a loud mouth and all that stuff," Barr said on the podcast. "But I'm not stupid, for God's sake. I never would have wittingly called any black person, I never would have said, 'They are a monkey.' I just wouldn't do that. And people think that I did that, it just kills me. I didn't do that. And if they do think that, I'm just so sorry that I was unclear and stupid. I'm very sorry."

As she tells the story now, from a couch inside her hotel room, Barr is completely unguarded. She doesn't have a publicist or an agent to watch over her. (Her previous agency, ICM, dropped her after the tweet.) With no makeup or jewelry on, she nibbles at a hummus plateas the Jerusalem sun descends over the eighth-floor balcony.

She's not an unreliable narrator so much as a complicated one. There are moments, now that it's over, when she'll insist she never had a chance. The lefty narcissists were always going to get her. There are other moments when she concedes she should have been smarter. Nobody wanted her on Twitter, not even her kids.

It feels like forever since she had nothing at stake, when a short set on "The Tonight Show" on an August night in 1985 introduced the world to her glorious, spontaneous laugh and marked the rise of the self-appointed "domestic goddess." Gum-chewing. Overweight. That dry, nasally, Midwestern voice. Acting like she was about to say something so boring you might as well change the channel. Except you couldn't.

She grew up in a family haunted by a generation wiped out by the Nazis. At 16, Barr was badly injured when she got hit by a car and, as a result, spent months in the state's psychiatric hospital. As she found success, she didn't hide her battles with mental illness. She revealed her multiple personality disorder, her compulsions with food, cutting herself and sex, and the years she spent in counseling.

In 1988, Werner and Marcy Carsey, the producers behind "The Cosby Show," brought her to ABC as Roseanne Conner, the central figure of a sitcom that included husband, Dan (John Goodman), sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert). The show went where other sitcoms hadn't - into working-class Middle America. It rose to No. 1 on the way to a nine-year run.

"People forget how groundbreaking and how good that show was," says David Mandel, an executive producer on "Veep" and a former "Seinfeld" writer. "The notion of the house that wasn't perfect and the multiple jobs and the factory line work. Things we had never seen before or in this exact way."

Feminist activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich proclaimed Barr "the neglected underside of the American female experience, bringing together the great themes of poverty, obesity and defiance."

"Roseanne" was daring - not only for the famous lesbian kiss episode, but also for the honest way it portrayed gay characters. (Barr's brother and sister are gay.) There was also the 1994 episode centered on her son's refusal to kiss a girl in the school play because she was black.

"I didn't raise you to be some little bigot," she snaps at D.J.

Most sitcoms would have ended there, with the star as the hero. Except "Roseanne" adds a scene. A black man approaches her diner one night. Roseanne flips the door's sign from open to closed. It isn't until the man identifies himself - he's the father of the girl D.J. wouldn't kiss - that Roseanne lets him in. He tells her he's not surprised her son is prejudiced.

"If he was a white guy with the exact same build in those exact same clothes, you would have done the exact same thing," sister Jackie says.

"Yeah, well, I'm glad one of us is sure," Roseanne responds, as the credits begin to roll.

---

Barr had high hopes for the reboot when she signed on in early 2017. Her politics had shifted hard to Trump. But the country was deeply divided. The reboot would show that American families, like her own, could disagree politically without hating each other.

"She really wanted to bring people together and get them talking about it," Goodman says.

The first episode, which premiered March 27, found Roseanne, a Trump supporter, re-connecting with Jackie, who wore a pink pussy hat and "Nasty Woman" T-shirt to dinner.

It also tackled racial issues. Roseanne had a black granddaughter, and there was the Muslim couple moving onto the street. At first, Roseanne snickered that they were "a sleeper cell getting ready to blow up our neighborhood" - until she met them and realized that she had been unfair.

Off screen, Barr's politics were harder to resolve. At a January news conference in Los Angeles, reporters pressed Barr about Trump. She mostly deflected them. Then she took a question from Soraya Nadia McDonaldof the Undefeated, an ESPN website.

McDonald, a former Washington Post reporter who is African-American, told Barr how much she appreciated as a child watching Roseanne Conner blast her son for refusing to kiss a black classmate. But wouldn't that same Roseanne find "candidate Trump's xenophobia or racism to be a disqualifying trait for the office of the presidency?"

Barr: Well, that's your opinion.

McDonald: But he said Mexicans were rapists.

Barr: Well, he says a lot of crazy [expletive].

"It was a trial," Goodman says now. "I just thought we were going to do this dumb [expletive] 'Entertainment Tonight' [expletive] but it just got heavy quickly. I can understand that there was still a lot of residual anger about Trump. . . . But she's entitled to the way she voted."

For Barr, already a conspiracy theorist, the message was clear. Everybody was in on it: ABC, the producers, even the press. They couldn't sit idly as a Trump crazy took over their television sets.

She felt betrayed in May when the ABC entertainment president, Dungey, in a conference call with reporters, said the next season of "Roseanne" would move away from politics.

Who told her that? Barr had been planning to cast Luenell Campbell, a comedian and a good friend, and dig deeper into race.

Helford, the co-showrunner and executive producer, was as baffled as Barr when Dungey talked about the show's new direction. During "Roseanne's" first run, Barr had considerable clout, forcing out the show's co-creator, Matt Williams, only 13 episodes in. This time, she began to feel powerless. When she learned the writers were starting work on the reboot's second season without her involvement, she thought, "Oh, they took my show."

Helford takes issue with that. "We didn't do anything without consulting her," he says. "One of the agreements was that Tom, her, Sara Gilbert and I would work as a group and whoever had the best idea would be the one who would win. She was very much a part of everything we were doing."

But now, as he hears her take, Helford can see how Barr may have grown wary. There were the constant nudges from the producers over her tweets, the knowledge that her colleagues differed so much politically and that jarring statement from Dungey.

"I understand why she was paranoid and why she would feel the network wasn't in sync with her," he says. "But no one came to us and said 'You've got to do it our way,' and not what Roseanne wants."

That evening in May, while Barr was visiting her mother in Utah and feeling down about the show's direction, she says she took an Ambien and dozed off next to her laptop. In the middle of the night, she woke up and saw a thread started by SGTreport, whose tag is "the corporate propaganda antidote." SGTreport referenced a WikiLeaks "bombshell," which would apparently reveal that the Obama CIA had been spying on the French government.

@MARS0411 responded by bringing up the Obama aide: "Jarrett helped hide a lot."

It was 2:45 a.m. when Barr replied to the thread: "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj."

Barr has continuously repeated that she was comparing the movie to Iran's repressive regime. But even she understands it's a leap to interpret that from those 53 characters.

That morning, people who didn't know Barr slammed the tweet as racist. Her friends figured it was another perplexing online blast.

In the morning, ABC held an emergency call with Barr, Werner and Disney/ABC Television Group President Ben Sherwood.

Why did you do that? Sherwood asked her.

"I'm a comedian," Barr told him. "We step in [expletive] all the time. I already took it down. What else can I do?"

At 1:48 p.m., only hours later, ABC canceled "Roseanne," after Iger called Jarrett to personally apologize. (Jarrett declined to speak to The Post.) In a statement that morning, Dungey called the tweet "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values." Werner would eventually negotiate a settlement with Barr - neither party will say for how much - so ABC could launch a spinoff. When the network announced "The Conners" on June 21, the release made sure to note that Barr would have "no financial or creative involvement."

That deal now infuriates Barr. She says Werner told her she would be a hero if she signed over her rights and saved so many jobs. He would go out and say Barr was not racist. She had even hoped to perhaps return to the show. Instead, "The Conners" killed off Roseanne with an opioid overdose in the first episode. And Werner remained virtually silent.

She also can't forgive Gilbert. On May 29, 27 minutes before ABC announced the cancellation, Gilbert tweeted that Barr's comments were "abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show."

"She destroyed the show and my life with that tweet," Barr says. "She will never get enough until she consumes my liver with a fine Chianti."

Gilbert, in a brief interview with The Post about Barr, said that "while I'm extremely disappointed and heartbroken over the dissolution of the original show, she will always be family, and I will always love Roseanne."

Like Gilbert, Werner reluctantly agreed to an interview with The Post after first declining several times. He said his focus has been on keeping the cast and crew working. He also acknowledged that, after the cancellation, distributors had briefly taken the show's original nine seasons off the air, with deep financial implications for him and Barr. The original series is available again. ABC, though, has pulled the "Roseanne" reboot from all platforms. (Iger, Sherwood and Dungey declined interview requests.)

"The process has been difficult for me," Werner says. "I did not want the last note of the series to be such a sour one."

When asked about Barr's complaint that he had not defended her, Werner said he has always found "her to be tolerant of others and inclusive."

"It's my belief that Roseanne is not a racist person," Werner said, "although I find the tweet to be repugnant and racist."

Goodman calls Barr's tweet "stupid" and "incoherent," but also says she isn't racist. He believes that defending her will probably to turn people against him. But he feels terrible for her. He texted her last May but didn't press when she didn't write back.

Luenell, the comedian Barr planned to cast on the show, remains torn. Barr had been one of her supporters and heroes, someone who "represented hope" for outsiders who didn't fit into Hollywood culture. But she remains unhappy with how Barr handled herself after her tweet.

"The way she could have got some traction is if she immediately did a news conference and said, 'I have [expletive] up. I am an idiot. I'm going to be seeing somebody to try to get myself together. I apologize to Valerie Jarrett. I apologize to the African-American community and when you see me again, I'm going to be a more sensitive, responsible Roseanne.' If she said that, she might be able to chill and come back."

---

In Jerusalem, Barr meets with attorneys as she considers whether to sue ABC or Werner or everyone involved. She talks about an upcoming gig scheduled for Detroit and other potential projects, including a cartoon show and a Torah-themed program with Boteach.

At the Begin Center, after scolding Bin Nun, Barr calls on another journalist: Jordana Miller, a local television correspondent.

"To be honest, I had kind of a spiritual question about what happened with ABC," Miller says. "Why, looking back, do you think this really happened?"

You can feel the mood shift. Barr walks to the front of the stage.

"Oh my God," Barr says. "I'm so glad you asked that."

She launches into what will effectively be an eight-minute monologue. It's May 29. She's in Utah, so proud to tell her mother she's back at No. 1. That night, she surfs around all this Iran stuff, goes to bed and wakes up to find that, as she puts it, "Roseanne said that black people look like monkeys."

She talks of pleading with ABC - to apologize, to get help, to do anything - and her voice cracks as she recounts how quickly they canceled "Roseanne."

"I can't believe that it takes them a year to get paper towels in the bathroom, but Disney in 40 minutes decided to fire me from my own creation," Barr says.

But she doesn't sound angry. She's in control.

"I was so embarrassed in front of my mother, because she's finally so proud of me that I was not married to any [expletive] . . . You know. You know what I mean?"

She laughs.

"I know you're all bored to death. I'll end quick."

The story ends in her mother's basement. She's terrified that everybody hates her, of the paparazzi gathered outside, when a group of fans knock on the door.

"And they said, 'We don't think it's right what they did to her. We know she's not racist.' And they said, 'Here's some cookies.' ''

Barr chokes up again.

It could be a cheery ending, the comic reconnecting with her fans. Except this is Roseanne Barr - and as soon as she returns to Los Angeles, she's in the news again. Her Twitter remains off-limits. Daughters Jenny, 42, and Jessica, 44, each have part of the password so Barr can't bully one of them into turning it over.

So, Barr finds other outlets.

In a self-made YouTube video posted Feb. 16, Barr calls Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a "Farrakhan-loving . . . bug-eyed [expletive]." On a podcast hosted by Fox News commentator Candace Owens in early March, she calls the creators of the #MeToo movement "hos" and attacks Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford.

On a Saturday night, just after the Owens podcast makes headlines, Barr is askedif there's a part of her that ever considers quieting down, just for a few months, like everybody keeps telling her to. Wouldn't that help? Wouldn't that make things easier?

"I can't," she says in a text message. "Do I look like the kind of woman who obeys?"

Saudis spiral deeper into isolation amid US ire over Khashoggi

By Glen Carey
Saudis spiral deeper into isolation amid US ire over Khashoggi
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is displayed on a screen as he speaks at the Future Investment Initiative conference inside the King Abdulaziz Convention Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 24, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Javier Blas.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's U.S. trip a year ago was packed with the sort of events most world leaders struggle to secure: a meeting at Bill Gates' home, a tour of Amazon.com's headquarters and a private visit to Virgin Galactic's hanger in the Mojave Desert.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi destroyed all that, leaving the 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne shunned, his government unable to repair ties with its most important foreign partner and the crown prince's grand vision for economic development increasingly out of reach.

Rather than melt away, congressional anger at Saudi Arabia's role in killing Khashoggi -- a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist -- has solidified, helping fuel this month's vote by the Republican-controlled Senate rejecting U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The measure awaits House action.

The kingdom still has the crucial support of President Donald Trump and his top aides, who argue that its importance as a strategic ally against Iran and as a buyer of U.S. weaponry outweigh concerns about whether Prince Mohammed approved plans to kill Khashoggi."Maybe he did, maybe he didn't," Trump has said.

But the Saudi rulers find themselves more isolated in the U.S. than at any point since the Sept. 11 attacks, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Members of Congress are calling for a probe into U.S.-Saudi talks on nuclear cooperation while threatening fresh sanctions over Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

"Over and over again, the Saudi regime has demonstrated medieval brutality," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said last week. "This Congress must clearly and unambiguously declare that business as usual is over and that there are consequences for the Saudi government."

McGovern and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy joined Ahmed Fitaihi, the son of a detained U.S.-Saudi citizen, and Walid Al Hathloul, the brother of detained female activist Loujain Al Hathloul, in an event on "Torture in the Kingdom." The family members provided emotional accounts of the treatment they say their relatives have suffered in Saudi detention.

Officials at the Saudi embassy in Washington didn't respond to a request for comment. Saudi officials have denied using torture, and the nation's public prosecutor has said that a group of prominent women's rights activists who have been detained since May "enjoy all the rights that the law guarantees them."

Dismissing the White House talking points about the U.S.-Saudi alliance, members of Congress from both parties regularly describe Prince Mohammed in terms usually reserved for America's enemies. Khashoggi's murder was "so brutal, you might have expected it with Saddam Hussein," Leahy of Vermont said on Thursday.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has described the crown prince as "full gangster," while Leahy added that the kingdom's leadership behaves like a "criminal enterprise" and is "squandering the country's oil wealth while applying the most repressive polices and cruel practices."

A year ago, things were very different.

The prince was riding a wave of international enthusiasm for his promises of reform, including moves to curb the country's notorious religious police, allow women to drive and sell a stake in Saudi Arabian Oil Co. A 35-year ban on public cinemas ended with the debut of "Black Panther" last April. Real change appeared to be unleashed in a country better known for its adherence to a puritanical 18th century version of Islam.

Khashoggi's murder and continuing frustration over human rights violations in the Yemen war -- including the bombing of a school bus full of children -- changed all that.

Making matters worse for the crown prince, the New York Times reported this week that he authorized a campaign to silence dissenters, including kidnapping, detention and torture, more than a year before Khashoggi's killing, according to unidentified U.S. officials who read classified reports.

The continuing hostility in Congress comes at an uncomfortable time for a kingdom that desperately needs foreign investment to meet Prince Mohammed's economic goals. The initial public offering in Saudi Aramco has been put off, and the crown prince's investor summit late last year flopped, with scores of business leaders canceling in the aftermath of the Khashoggi killing.

The Senate's vote against support of the war in Yemen came despite Saudi lobbying efforts, according to Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based group that monitors Saudi lobbying in the capital. The kingdom's outreach efforts were hampered before Khashoggi's death, but the killing made it even harder, he said.

"Some think tanks stopped accepting money from the Saudis," Freeman said. "Most importantly, members of Congress stopped blindly supporting the Saudis."

In the 12 months before Khashoggi's murder, Saudi Arabia spent at least $10.9 million on influencing the U.S. government and public, according to filings with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Over that period, 28 firms or individuals did lobbying or public relations work for the Saudis. Within two months of the killing, six firms canceled their contracts with the Saudis. Currently, the Saudis have 16 active firms working for them.

Despite the current strains, the kingdom remains an important U.S. partner. Trump made his first visit abroad as president to Riyadh, helping seal the country's role as the largest buyer of U.S. weapons and encouraging the kingdom to bolster efforts to isolate Iran. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia had total trade of $42 billion in 2018, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"It is difficult to imagine a successful U.S. effort to undercut Sunni extremism or keep Iran in check without engaging and partnering with the kingdom," Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Retired Army General John Abizaid, said in his confirmation hearing this month.

Such messages may be reinforcing the crown prince's view that he should hunker down and wait out the controversy, according to Paul Pillar, a former CIA officer who's now a professor at Georgetown University.

"The prince had been led to believe by U.S. policy that he could get away with a lot," said Pillar. "Trump's policies and pronouncements since the Khashoggi murder have not given MBS much reason to change his mind."

Saudi officials have sought to regain what they've lost in U.S. support, pledging to prosecute those responsible for Khashoggi's killing and naming the first woman to serve as the country's ambassador in Washington. Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, who spent much of her youth in Washington as the daughter of former Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, has yet to take up her new post.

Those steps won't be enough, according to James Dorsey, a Middle East scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

"To reverse the tide, they would need to be fully transparent on multiple issues, including a credible version of events, responsibility, and what exactly happened" to Khashoggi, Dorsey said. Short of that, he said, they will "be fighting an uphill battle."

- - -

Bloomberg's Bill Allison contributed.

This photo shows why a border wall won't stop immigration surge

By Nick Miroff and Karly Domb Sadof
This photo shows why a border wall won't stop immigration surge
Migrants are shown lined up outside the wall in El Paso, Texas, on March 7. This group of 127 Guatemalan migrants had waded through the river to turn themselves in to U.S. agents, the first step in initiating the asylum process. MUST CREDIT: Photo courtesy of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Unauthorized border crossings have soared in recent months to their highest level in a decade, largely because of families seeking asylum in the United States. President Donald Trump has declared a "national emergency," calling for billions of dollars in additional border wall funding.

This photo, released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, shows why U.S. border barriers won't stop the families from reaching U.S. soil and exercising their legal right to seek asylum.

The Rio Grande spans about two-thirds of the U.S.-Mexico border, and nearly all of the new border wall the president wants to build is along the river. Border walls are linear and need a solid base, but the river banks are unstable and follow a circuitous course. So the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building new barriers along the river levee. The walls create a strip of U.S. territory between the river and the fencing.

In the photo, migrants are shown lined up outside the wall in El Paso on March 7. This group of 127 Guatemalan migrants had waded through the river to turn themselves in to U.S. agents, the first step in initiating the asylum process. They crossed the border illegally, but they have the legal right to seek asylum because they reached U.S. soil. Border Patrol agents must take them into custody and begin processing their claims.

The barrier in the photo is about 10 years old. Though it is not the steel bollard design that Customs and Border Protection is adding along the river elsewhere, this is considered a relatively modern span of border fencing.

Like the new sections the government is building, there is a gate here to give U.S. agents and others access to both sides of the wall - all on U.S. land.

U.S. Border Patrol agents open a gate in the fence as they check migrants' documents and bring them through. Vans and buses are arriving to take the migrants to a nearby border patrol station for additional processing. They will be transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which in most cases releases families from custody after a few days.

They then wait inside the United States to see an immigration judge - which could take several months or longer.

Homeland Security officials want lawmakers to grant them new authorities to hold families in custody until their asylum claims are adjudicated. They have launched a limited, experimental program to require others to wait for their court hearings on the Mexican side of the border. But in private, they acknowledge that the migration surge is likely to continue with or without a wall, and they fear it possibly could accelerate without changes to the U.S. asylum system.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Trump's 'socialist' rhetoric is lazy name-calling from a lazy thinker

By catherine rampell
Trump's 'socialist' rhetoric is lazy name-calling from a lazy thinker

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

President Trump has made fearmongering about "socialism" a key plank of his reelection campaign. It's more lazy name-calling from a lazy thinker, but this time the lazy name-calling may backfire.

For years, Trump has premised his political pitch on the idea that he alone can protect Americans from the many invaders who wish us harm -- chiefly immigrants, terrorists and globalists. Lately, he's added another boogeyman to the bunch, one that's supposedly homegrown: socialists.

In this year's State of the Union, he declared, "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country," as if that were ever truly a risk. He has ramped up similar comments in recent months and has now enlisted his economic advisers in his fight against the great socialist straw man.

Ever since 1947, the White House Council of Economic Advisers has released its annual Economic Report of the President. This enormous tome is supposed to summarize the trends in the economy and lay out the president's vision for solving ongoing and future challenges. Though the document usually has (BEG ITAL)some(END ITAL) political spin -- the president's economic advisers want their boss to look good, after all -- it usually sticks to legitimate economic concerns facing the country.

Not so this time. When the council released its report this week, it bizarrely included an entire chapter seemingly designed to flesh out cable-news talking points about how Democrats secretly want to turn the United States into a socialist hellscape. Readers of the report -- or of even just the council's slides posted on Twitter -- might reasonably come away thinking that the most pressing economic questions facing the U.S. economy include: Was collective farming under Mao Zedong successful? How much did Joseph Stalin end up shrinking the livestock population?

If these throwbacks seem wholly unrelated to any of the debates we're actually having right now as a country, that's because they are.

The real debate Americans are having -- including those on the far left trying to gain greater control of the Democratic Party -- is about how regulated markets should be and how to make the rules fairer. No one in the 2020 race, not even relative outlier and self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is proposing that we recreate the Great Leap Forward.

Despite what you may have heard from Team Trump -- and despite the many TV interviewers asking Democratic politicians whether they're "capitalist" or "socialist," as if that's a meaningful binary -- all modern countries have elements of capitalism and socialism.

That includes the United States. We have public schools, public roads, subsidized health care for the elderly and other forms of social insurance. Yet we also have private property, and the government does (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) control the means of production -- which is, you know, actually how socialism is defined.

Trump and his advisers pretend otherwise, in the hopes of confusing and freaking out the public. After all, most people know they're (BEG ITAL)supposed(END ITAL) to be afraid of "socialism," even if they have no idea what the term means.

In fact, in a Gallup poll last year that asked Americans to explain their understanding of the term "socialism," responses were all over the map. The most common answer, volunteered by about a quarter of respondents, was that it had something to do with "equality" -- "equal standing for everybody, all equal in rights, equal in distribution," something to that effect. Smaller percentages mentioned communism, government control of utilities or even "talking to people, being social, social media, getting along with people."

Given this level of confusion, it's not clear that Trump's strategy to smear the Democratic Party as a Socialist Menace will be terribly effective.

Sure, maybe it'll mobilize older people who lived through the Cold War and associate socialism with the evil Soviet Union. But Trump probably already had the old people vote locked up.

Whether it will scare younger people is a separate question. A majority of adults under age 30 already view the term "socialism" positively; about 40 percent of those ages 30 to 49 say the same.

That might be because of dissatisfaction with the results of the existing (predominantly capitalist) economic system. But it might perversely also be (BEG ITAL)because(END ITAL) Republicans have been so relentless in their alarmist attacks on socialism -- or, rather, "socialism."

Over the past 60 years -- since Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would doom the country to the s-word -- the GOP has turned into the boy who cried socialism. If you persist in describing popular and not-all-that-radical policies as "socialist" (protections for preexisting conditions or letting kids stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26), at some point the term starts to lose its negative valence.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Are we entering the age of 'hack back'?

By david ignatius
Are we entering the age of 'hack back'?

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, March 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, March 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 6th graf, 1st sentence: "BlueVoyant, a cyber-security firm" sted "BlueVoyant, a cyber-consulting firm"; 6th graf, last sentence: "He says the latest industry reports estimate" sted "Patel estimates"

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- When the debris settles after special counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation into Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election, America will still be left with the underlying problem that triggered the probe in the first place -- the threat of malicious cyberattacks against political parties, corporations, and anybody else who uses the internet.

Here's a disturbing fact: Even after all the uproar that has surrounded Mueller's inquiry, the U.S. government can't do much to protect most private citizens or organizations against attacks. There's better security now for election systems and critical infrastructure, but that doesn't help the banks, hedge funds, law firms and other companies with sensitive data -- which are basically on their own.

Mueller's findings about President Trump will have their own fiery afterlife on Capitol Hill, which nobody can predict. But Congress should also be thinking about the less-sexy fallout from the investigation, which highlighted the vulnerability of all data to foreign spies, meddlers and information pirates.

U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency have already gone on the offensive against Moscow. Last fall, their joint "Russia Small Group" secretly "hacked back," in effect, against Russia's Internet Research Agency, briefly shutting down some of its computers. The aim was to deter the Russians from meddling in the 2018 midterm elections, and it seems to have worked.

Private companies are going on the offensive in cyberspace, too -- even though the legal terrain is murky and there's a big risk of triggering a tit-for-tat melee.

"Some organizations are conducting active cyber-defense 'hacking back,' but in my experience this will amplify the global cyber-arms race," warns Milan Patel, a prominent former FBI cyber expert who's now with BlueVoyant, a cyber-security firm. "Rather than hacking back, which will only bring a short-term sense of relief, companies need to do a better job at education and training." He says the latest industry reports estimate that 92 percent of attacks originate from spear-phishing, where employees unwittingly click on malicious malware.

American history offers an unlikely lesson in how cyber-offense might be enhanced and also regulated, as explained by Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security, in his recent book "Exploding Data."

At the very beginning of our nation, when America and France were fighting an undeclared war, the U.S. Navy was too weak to protect American vessels from attack. The high seas were an 18th-century version of cyberspace, with attackers lurking everywhere. So, as Chertoff notes, the U.S. Constitution mandated that: "Congress shall have Power ... To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water."

Today, argues Chertoff, the government could grant the equivalent of letters of marque to private cyber-defense companies. "To bolster its capacity to defend and deter cyberattacks, the government should train and license 'privateers' for certain specific operations ... to assist in deterring attacks against U.S. companies and infrastructure," he writes.

But Chertoff cautions in an interview: "Don't try this at home!" Meaning, companies should avoid any retaliatory action that might be illegal under U.S. or foreign law, or that would trigger counter-reprisals that would make the problem even worse.

In the real-world marketplace, cyber consultants are already selling "active defense" tools that push the envelope. Illusive Networks specializes in what its website calls "deception-based cybersecurity." The idea is to create what intelligence organizations call "honeypots" that lure attackers and allow defenders to observe and manipulate them. "To catch an attacker, you must think like one," says the company's website.

Another cyber-deception specialist is Attivo Networks. Its website explains: "Deception changes the asymmetry against attackers with attractive traps and lures designed to deceive and detect attackers." A third prominent player in the active-defense market is Endgame, which promises on its website that its software can hunt and stop exploits, phishing, malware, ransomware and other attacks. Social-media platforms such as Facebook have become increasingly active, too, in defending their networks.

Cyber experts warn that active defense is a slippery slope. A honeypot can identify invaders. But it can also lure them to gobble malicious software that disables the attackers' network, or to steal false documents that deliberately mislead the attackers. And because attackers hide in servers that aren't their own, a reprisal meant to target malicious hackers could take down a hospital or university.

The Mueller investigation has galvanized efforts to protect U.S. elections from future meddling. But the larger American vulnerability to cyberattack remains, and it deserves more attention.

As U.S. companies move to protect their secrets, sometimes using tools once reserved for intelligence agencies, they need better guidance from Washington.

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump isn't the biggest threat to the Constitution. Democrats are.

By marc a. thiessen
Trump isn't the biggest threat to the Constitution. Democrats are.

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, March 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, March 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- Who is the biggest threat to our constitutional order? It is not President Trump.

Ever since Trump took office, Democrats have been telling us he is an authoritarian who threatens our system of government. Well, today it is Democrats who are declaring war on the Constitution. Leading Democrats are promising that, if elected in 2020, they will abolish the electoral college and might also pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices -- allowing them to marginalize Americans who do not support their increasingly radical agenda and impose it on an unwilling nation.

The purpose of the electoral college is to protect us from what James Madison called the "tyranny of the majority." Each state gets to cast electoral votes equal to the combined number of its U.S. representatives (determined by population) and its senators (two regardless of population). The goal was to make sure even the smallest states have a say in electing the president and prevent those with large, big-city populations from dictating to the less populous rural ones.

No wonder Democrats don't like it. Today, they have become the party of big-city elites, while their support is declining in less populous states of Middle America. Just look at a county-by-county map of the 2016 election -- you can actually drive from coast to coast without driving through a single county that voted for Hillary Clinton. Clinton lost in 2016 because millions of once-reliable Democratic working-class voters in the American heartland switched their allegiance to Trump.

Thanks to the electoral college, Democrats have no choice but to try to win at least some of those voters back if they want to win the presidency. But if we got rid of the electoral college, Democrats could write off voters in "fly-over" country and focus on turning out large numbers of their supporters in big cities and populous liberal states such as New York and California. Unburdened by the need to moderate their platform to appeal to centrist voters, they would be free to pursue full socialism without constraint. If voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania oppose spending tens of trillions on a Green New Deal and a government take-over of the health-care, energy and transportation sectors of the economy, tough luck.

The electoral college protects us from this kind of unconstrained radicalism, by forcing the political parties to broaden their appeal -- which is precisely why more and more Democrats want to get rid of it. Fortunately, the framers of the Constitution required supermajorities for amendments -- another wise protection against the tyranny of the majority.

But Democrats would have no such obstacles in dealing with another impediment to their radical agenda: the Supreme Court. Thanks to Trump's electoral college victory, Republicans have been able confirm two Supreme Court justices and secure a conservative majority. Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for their judicial predicament. They were the ones who announced that they would not confirm a Supreme Court justice during George W. Bush's final year in office, setting the precedent for Republicans to block President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland. And they were the ones who eliminated the filibuster for federal circuit courts judges -- setting the precedent for Republicans to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court justices.

Democrats have miscalculated at every turn, and now their solution is to break precedent yet again -- by packing the Supreme Court. There have been nine justices on the Supreme Court for the past 150 years. No matter, Democratic candidates including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke have all said that, as president, they would consider adding justices to the Supreme Court to secure a left-wing majority. The last president who tried this, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was stopped only because members of his own party rebelled. The Senate Judiciary Committee, then controlled by the Democrats, correctly declared his plan "an invasion of judicial power such as has never before been attempted in this country."

It seems unlikely a Democratic president would face such a rebellion today. But unless Democrats win not only the presidency but also a 60-vote Senate majority, they would have to eliminate another minority protection -- the legislative filibuster -- to pass a court-packing bill. I suspect they would not hesitate to do so.

Taken together, the Democrats are proposing what amounts to a systemic assault on the foundations of our federal system. Democrats are freely pursuing a tyranny of the majority. We'll see how it plays in Middle America. But if they do, then spare us the overwrought complaints about Trump. You can't defend the Constitution while trying to tear it up at the same time.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Why should a Republican stay in a party that has gone off the moral rails?

By michael gerson
Why should a Republican stay in a party that has gone off the moral rails?

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, March 22, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, March 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)

By MICHAEL GERSON

WASHINGTON -- A former Republican officeholder -- who was highly effective at his job -- recently asked me if returning to politics in the current atmosphere was worth the effort. Would being a GOP legislator in the Trump era involve too many sacrifices of principle? Does federal office even matter as much as it used to? Wouldn't writing books or running a charity be a better use of time and talent?

I understand the reluctance. Being a public official in 2019 not only requires constant fundraising and family sacrifice, it involves the possibility of being captured by smartphone camera at nearly every public moment and being subjected to constant internet calumny. And it is not possible in much of the country for a Republican to run and win as an anti-Trump candidate. Even Mitt Romney had to pull back from his criticisms of President Trump to win a Senate seat.

These concerns are a concentrated version of a dilemma faced by many citizens. Is politics too damaged to justify our continued engagement as donors, activists and voters? Wouldn't it be more effective and satisfying to improve the community in nonpolitical ways -- giving to a soup kitchen instead of a politician, volunteering at a senior center instead of knocking on doors in a precinct?

These questions have a personal relevance. In a variety of public and private posts over the last 30 years, I have done my part to give the center-right party in America an agenda and message of social justice, rooted in ideals of solidarity with the poor and suffering and a concern for the common good. That project is in ruins. The constituency for compassionate conservatism (as a friend put it) is less of a political party than a dinner party. The main messages of today's GOP are demographic panic, ethno-nationalist pride and a nihilistic destruction of norms, institutions and elites.

So why should a Republican run for office, donate to a candidate or even stay in a party that has gone off the moral rails?

My best answers:

(BEG ITAL)Because the moment is perilous.(END ITAL) The next two years may see a crisis of democratic legitimacy. It is quite possible that the pressures of investigation could further destabilize the president's personality, causing him to lash out in unpredictable and unconstitutional ways. It is quite possible that Trump will question the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election if he loses. In either scenario, responsible Republican figures would be required to defend the integrity of federal law enforcement or the electoral process. And this may determine a great deal about the country's future.

(BEG ITAL)Because the moment is not permanent.(END ITAL) Having left behind a trail of ruin, Donald Trump will one day face his own reckoning -- from federal law enforcement, from the impeachment process or from a disgusted electorate. The essential work beyond that point will be institutional repair. Someone will be charged with restoring honor, integrity and dignity to the office of president of the United States, to the leadership of the House and Senate, and to the Republican Party (if its reputation is not broken beyond repair). Someone will be charged with reaching across jagged divisions and restoring a sense of shared national purpose. Someone will need to reknit the shredded democratic norms of civility, moderation and compromise.

(BEG ITAL)Because the demands of conscience and justice remain pressing.(END ITAL) Bluntly: The argument that citizens should take a break from politics because it is so corrupted and corrupting is often made by relatively comfortable white people. If you lived in a neighborhood where the schools are dysfunctional and the foster system is dangerously broken, there would be no vacation from governmental failure. If you lived in a country where young women are routinely infected with HIV or where children die from malaria, America's global role would matter greatly to you. Those who downplay the importance of politics are generally insulated from the consequences when governing goes wrong. The demands of justice do not go away when citizens are disillusioned with the practice of politics. To the contrary, the scale of injustice tends to increase as responsible citizens abandon the political enterprise.

To my Republican friend thinking about running for office: We are headed into a time of political testing, when the right words from a responsible conservative might turn some crucial tide. It is also a time when some form of a center-right party (whatever it is called) will be reconstituted at the national level. And it is always a time when the suffering and vulnerable need allies.

Our nation was fortunate in the quality of its founders. Soon our political culture may require a re-founding. And this is a high calling.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Does the electoral college spark joy?

By alexandra petri
Does the electoral college spark joy?

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

Take up the electoral college from your closet. Lay it in a pile. Stare at it. I think you want to keep it. After all, consider:

-- If the electoral college is abolished, people would be forced to stop ignoring Massachusetts during campaign season, and it would be awkward after all those years of pretending not to see it, during which Massachusetts started to build a life and identity of its own that didn't revolve around the attention of presidential candidates.

-- The electoral college is very old, and why would you want to get rid of something very old, even if it did not spark joy? Consider measles, something we thought about getting rid of and then decided to hang onto because of nostalgia!

-- Has it ever steered us astray?

-- Okay, point taken, but if the election of Donald Trump occurred within the guardrails of the electoral college, I can't even picture what might be lurking outside those guardrails?

-- FiveThirtyEight would be forced to change its name.

-- Without access to electors, we would be unable to readily select a Holy Roman Emperor if occasion ever arises.

-- We cherish norms, such as FiveThirtyEight's name.

-- An ambiguous note from James Madison says "NEVER PERMIT YOURSELF TO BE PARTED FROM [SMUDGE]"; the smudge could be "ELECTORAL COLLEGE."

-- Like the appendix, unsure of its function -- maybe just keep it so long as it doesn't rupture the country and flood it with dangerous bile?

-- The only thing that kept the dreaded Samuel Tilden from halls of power; if there is one thing we have learned from time travelers staggering back, gasping and reeling from the 19th century, it is that Samuel Tilden must be stopped at all costs.

-- If not for the electoral college, Andrew Jackson would have been president even sooner? I think?

-- The sneaking terror that with the abolition of the electoral college, no one would ever visit your state again

-- (No, that can't be true. Your state is interesting! You live in a good state.)

-- A change to the electoral college in the wake of Pluto's downgrade to non-planet would further destabilize the foundation of the fifth-grade curriculum.

-- Voting is a big hassle, and without the electoral college, suddenly everyone in every state would feel it was something they were expected to do.

-- If the electoral college is abolished, people who like abolishing things will only be encouraged, and then goodbye, ICE!

-- Electors, released from the college, would rove rampant across America, decimating the crops.

-- It's nice to have at least ONE college not DOMINATED by LIBERAL ELITES.

-- Listen, are we (BEG ITAL)sure(END ITAL) people would still want to visit all the states? Wyoming? Some people -- not saying you, but (BEG ITAL)some people(END ITAL) -- might never think about Wyoming again.

-- (No offense to Wyoming, it is just the state with the highest elector-to-person ratio!)

-- Brave electors frequently turn tide of elections by standing on conscience.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Britain is in turmoil -- but Don Jr. can save the day

By dana milbank
Britain is in turmoil -- but Don Jr. can save the day

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- Britain is in turmoil as the Brexit deadline approaches. But fortunately, that nation now benefits from the services of one of the great intellects of our time, swooping in at the last minute to offer sage advice.

This great thinker is none other than Donald Trump Jr., who most recently distinguished himself with a tweet spelling the initials of "Saturday Night Live" as "S&L."

Prime Minister Theresa May "ignored advice from my father," Trump Jr. scolded in an op-ed published by Britain's right-wing Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday, "and ultimately, a process that should have taken only a few short months has become a years-long stalemate."

Trump Jr. did not specify what the president's "advice" was, but the prime minister is on record saying, with evident mirth, "He told me I should sue" the European Union.

Trump the Younger went on to inform the land of the Magna Carta, John Locke and Oliver Cromwell that, in his expert view, "democracy in the U.K. is all but dead."

This intervention by the young American, dubbed "Fredo" by Trump campaign colleagues for frequently displaying a deficit of business acumen and political skill, gives new meaning to the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain. Junior is, well, special.

Beyond that, it's not clear why anyone affiliated with the president would feel entitled to lecture other countries' leaders about their domestic problems after President Trump, who enjoys a 39 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup poll, provoked the longest government shutdown in history, suffered a string of legal and legislative setbacks and has had his mental health questioned by a top aide's spouse.

"Donald Trump Jr. telling Britain our democracy is dead. Is it a joke?" tweeted Labour Party MP David Lammy. "The same Trump Jr. who met a 'Kremlin-linked lawyer' at Trump Tower in June 2016 after he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton."

If it is a joke, the Trump administration keeps telling it. This week alone, the president and his advisers pulled off a belligerence trifecta, picking fights not just with Britain but also with stalwart allies France and Germany.

In Germany, lectures by U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell prompted a leader in the Free Democratic Party to call for Grenell's expulsion for "interfering" with German sovereignty and acting "like a high commissioner of an occupying power." The ambassador has lectured Germany on NATO funding, a gas pipeline and Iran sanctions, and has touted conservative political factions, earning rebukes and calls for his removal from various German leaders for his "clumsy provocations" and for being a "complete diplomatic failure."

Trump himself offered France an unsolicited lecture on Saturday, ridiculing the French government over arson and looting in Paris. "How is the Paris Environmental Accord working out for France?" the president tweeted. "After 18 weeks of rioting by the Yellow Vest Protesters, I guess not so well!" A similar intervention by Trump in December prompted France's foreign minister to tell French television: "We do not take domestic American politics into account, and we want that to be reciprocated. I say this to Donald Trump, and the French president says it, too: Leave our nation be."

Even the New Zealand mosques massacre left Trump at odds with friends. His declaration that white nationalism is "not really" a growing threat worldwide contradicted, or was contradicted by, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other leaders.

The administration's interventions in other nations' internal affairs comes as fewer are heeding Trump's advice at home. The Senate has voted to reject Trump's border wall emergency, to cut off his military assistance to Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen and to disapprove of his proposed military withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan. The House passed legislation affirming support for NATO, and leaders of both parties invited NATO's secretary general to address a joint session of Congress.

While lawmakers soothe, the president keeps antagonizing. Trump last week said he was "surprised how badly" Brexit had gone, alleging that May "didn't listen" to his negotiating advice.

Then came Trump Jr.'s death pronouncement for British democracy, the latest intellectual product of an American who likened Muslims to Skittles candy, bungled dealings with Russians, mistook one black member of Congress for another and is known for vulgar, error-laced tweets.

Guardian journalist Peter Walker noted that Trump Jr.'s conspiracy theorist "code words" -- "global power brokers," "deep-state operatives" -- belonged in "Infowars rather than a UK newspaper." British businessman Justin King, on CNBC, raised doubts about Trump Jr.'s "capacity" and said receiving a lecture on governance from this president is "a laugh-out-loud moment."

On this, at least, Trump Jr. can offer expert advice: how to be ridiculous.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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