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E.g., 7/22/2019
E.g., 7/22/2019
Image: Donald Trump, William Barr, Wilbur Ross

Wilbur Ross' cabinet agency reaches 'new heights of dysfunction'

07/22/19 10:00AM

After the Jeffrey Epstein scandal forced Labor Secretary Alex Acosta out of the cabinet, the political world pondered which member of Donald Trump's team would be the next to go. The smart money appears to be on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

NBC News reported a week ago that the president has told confidants that he's considering forcing Ross out, which would make sense given that the Commerce chief was largely responsible for derailing the White House's census scheme. The report added that some members of Team Trump expect Ross to depart "possibly as soon as this summer."

What's less clear is whether the Commerce secretary would be missed. Politico reports today on the cabinet agency becoming "chaotic" and reaching "new heights of dysfunction."

Constant infighting among top officials. Sudden departures of senior staffers without explanation. A leader who is disengaged and prone to falling asleep in meetings.

The Commerce Department has reached its apex of dysfunction under Wilbur Ross, according to four people with knowledge of the inner workings of the department. The 81-year-old Commerce secretary, who has for months endured whispers that he is on the outs, spends much of his time at the White House to try to retain President Donald Trump's favor, the sources said, leaving his department adrift.

He's hardly the only top Trump official to seek the president's approval. But department insiders say they've rarely seen Commerce so rudderless -- and they say Ross's penchant for managing upward at the expense of his staff is leading to what one plugged-in observer described as "a disaster over there."

The article characterized Ross as basically clueless and reluctant to hold routine meetings with senior staffers.

One source added, "Because he tends to fall asleep in meetings, they try not to put him in a position where that could happen so they're very careful and conscious about how they schedule certain meetings."

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Donald Trump

Behind the scenes, Trump feared resolution condemning racist message

07/22/19 09:20AM

On occasion, Congress can move quite quickly. It was eight days ago, on July 14, when Donald Trump, inspired by a Fox News segment, published a series of tweets urging four American congresswomen of color to "go back" to "broken and crime infested places from which they came."

One day later, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) introduced a resolution condemning the president's racist missive. The day after that, it passed. The New Jersey Democrat spoke with Rachel the night of the vote and she noted that the White House lobbied congressional Republicans on the resolution, suggesting he cared about the non-binding outcome.

"Of course he cares," Malinowski replied. "He wants us to think he doesn't, but of course he does."

The Washington Post published an interesting behind-the-scenes report over the weekend, and it left little doubt that the author of the resolution was right.

The White House vote-counters initially feared as many as 50 Republicans might defect to support the resolution, and Trump ordered an all-hands White House effort to keep the GOP caucus together. White House aides told allies on the Hill that it was okay to criticize Trump, as long as they didn't vote with Democrats.

Trump was obsessed with the vote tally and received regular briefings. Aides fed him a constant stream of lawmaker reactions and put him on the phone with several lawmakers. He told his team to tell any wafflers that he loves America and that they needed to pick sides. Trump called McCarthy to cancel an immigration meeting planned at the White House on Tuesday.

"Stay there and fight," he told McCarthy.

Remember, Trump invested this time and effort in opposition to a symbolic measure that he knew would pass anyway. In the process, he made a few things abundantly clear.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans, at the U.S. Capitol, May 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Why Rand Paul probably won't be able to clean up Trump's Iran mess

07/22/19 08:41AM

At a cabinet meeting last week, Donald Trump made the case that his policy toward Iran is on the right track. "You know, a lot of progress has been made," the president claimed, pointing to nothing in particular. For good measure, he added, "A lot of progress has been made."

Reality suggests otherwise. Iran has recently been accused of shooting down an American drone, seizing a British oil tanker, and expanding its uranium enrichment. As of this morning, as NBC News reported, Iranian officials have also claimed to have captured 17 people who were allegedly spies working for the CIA.

Those looking for "a lot progress" will be searching for a very long time.

It's against this backdrop that Politico reported last week that the president played a round of golf with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who volunteered for a diplomatic mission. According to the article, the Kentucky Republican, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that he sit down privately with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during his trip to New York for U.N. meetings.

The day after the Politico piece ran, a reporter asked Trump whether the GOP senator would serve as his emissary to Iran. "No," the president replied. "I don't know anything about that."

And the day after that, Trump switched gears. A reporter asked the president what he expects Rand Paul to do for the administration with respect to Iran. Trump said:

"Well, Rand is a friend of mine, but I have, really, 53 very good friends, and they're in the Senate.

"I also have a lot friends -- you saw that the other day when they brought a ridiculous vote up, and only four Republicans out of hundreds voted against. So I have a lot of great friends. I'm 94 percent in the Republican Party approval rating.

"Rand is a friend of mine. And Rand asked me if he could [get] involved. The answer is yes.... We'll see what happens. But I have many people involved. And Iran is going to work out very nicely. Iran is showing their colors. It's going to work out very nicely."

It's difficult to understand where the president's optimism is coming from.

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Trump says Dem congresswomen 'can't get away' speech he doesn't like

07/22/19 08:00AM

In theory, if Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were as awful as Donald Trump claims, he wouldn't have to lie about them. If the president were right, and the progressive congresswomen of color had extensive records of ugly rhetorical attacks against the United States, the Republican would go after them by pointing to things they actually said.

It's just not working out that way. The more Trump targets the members of "the squad," the more fact-checkers point out that his attacks are rooted in fiction.

Under the circumstances, shouldn't the truth be good enough? Doesn't the president's dishonesty fundamentally undermine the rationale behind his entire offensive?

Complicating matters, Trump added a new twist to his campaign during brief remarks to reporters on Friday afternoon.

"You can't speak about our country the way those four congressmen -- they said, 'garbage.' They say things about Israel that's so bad I'm not even going to repeat them right now.

"They can't get away with that act."

First, the "garbage" quote has obviously been wrenched from context and was never directed at the country or its people. Second, no American president has ever been as deeply critical of the United States as Donald J. Trump.

But what I got stuck on was the assertion that the president doesn't think members of Congress can "get away with" speech he disapproves of.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.19.19

07/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Seems reasonable: "House Democrats are demanding answers from former Trump aide Hope Hicks after newly unsealed documents showed 'apparent inconsistencies' with her congressional testimony about hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign."

* Iran: "Two British-operated oil tankers were seized and being guided toward Iran in the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian forces, the British foreign minister confirmed Friday."

* Here's hoping Trump doesn't fire them: "The nation's top spy has created a new job to coordinate the U.S. response to election security threats. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced Friday he has established the position of intelligence community election threats executive -- and appointed a career official, Shelby Pierson, to serve in this new role."

* Another discouraging choice: "President Trump said Thursday that he would name Eugene Scalia as his next secretary of labor, tapping the longtime labor lawyer and son of the former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia for a position with vast responsibility over the American work force."

* A Bush-appointed judge: "A federal judge on Friday upheld the Trump administration's expansion of health insurance plans that don't meet ObamaCare's coverage requirements. "

* His hatred for Amazon is a little weird: "President Trump said on Thursday that he was looking 'very seriously' at intervening in the hard-fought commercial battle for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract for which Amazon, a company he has frequently attacked, is seen as the leading contender."

* A good piece explaining Puerto Rico's political crisis.

* Priorities: "Sitting amid several plastic fast-food cups, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the so-called Save Chick-fil-A bill into law on Thursday."

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