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Sunday, March 5, 2017

HOLLYWOOD IN WASHINGTON: "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY"

At the latest gathering of notables and celebrities, this time there was no mistake, no surprise winner.  The losers, Democrats hungry for more fodder for their hate based “resistance” campaign knew within the first ten minutes of the President’s hour long speech that the “Oscar” for the best performance by a sitting President” was going the other way.  House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi sat dumbfounded and confused like someone who was woken unexpectedly from a deep sleep and didn’t know where they were. Liberal Democratic heroine, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who is perpetually up for “Best Supporting Actress in a Science Fiction-Political Comedy” seemed to also be locked into a Pelosiesque state of confusion, asking her neighbor something like, “Should I applaud what he just said or not?”  And of course there was the far Left ex-comedian Al Franken (D-MI) slumped in his seat apparently with eyes closed, hoping not to wake up to reality at all.  

The award for “Best Costumes for a Ridiculous Political Protest”obviously went to the members of the House Democratic Women's Working Group who came in white smocks looking like attendees at a convention of sous-chefs who had wandered into the wrong building.

Trump spoke articulately and calmly for an hour, outlining the progress he had made in upholding his campaign promises to the voters who chose to reject four more years of Obama-like “leading from behind” and social divisiveness.  These voters decided to take a chance on a political outsider unencumbered by the political baggage which more traditional new President’s bring with them.

Like all President’s who make such speeches to the joint houses of Congress and the wider domestic and international audiences, Trump’s message was in some ways a typical “rosy scenario”, but it was more focused on the future than the present, with specific goals, some of which are decidedly bound by political partisan preference.  The “wall” on the southern border, repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”), reductions in U.S. foreign aid, and an increase in the defense budget, found hearty support on the Right side of the chamber but stunned silence on the Left. President Trump knows that like all presidential game plans, the reality of the legislative process will provide many obstacles to the implementation of his goals but he provided an important outline for what as President, he will support.  

But the character of the speech was the most important element politically.  Gone were the angry attacks on the “establishment”, the media, and Trump’s many political enemies. Without mentioning the “resistance” movement, Trump called for “an end to petty fights” and for both parties to come together to solve the nation’s problems.  Media pundits on the major television networks from both sides of the political divide seemed relieved at the un-Twitter-like tone of the speech and the several examples of bi-partisan outreach that it contained.  Even the ‘sous chefs” felt compelled to stand and meekly applaud Trump’s assertion that with the cooperation of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, he would implement a program to incentivize and facilitate access to women’s entrepreneurship. He also went on to support “paid maternity leave and affordable child care” for working mothers. 

Thus the speech was potentially pivotal.  The constant personal attacks on the President by the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party, won’t diminish but should lose credibility with independent voters who supported Trump but were wary of his aggressive bluster and overstatements, both before and after the election.  

Should he abandon the “new Trump” and return to the “campaign Trump” this progress will be lost.  But if he maintains the policy orientation and positive demeanor demonstrated in his speech, the hate, discord and “resistance” wing of the Democratic party and their clones in the Left wing media will be left “preaching to the choir” and continue their march towards irrelevance.  

Now however the goals outlined by Trump must start to become reality. The Republican controlled Congress must come together and while they can’t do everything on the agenda at once they should prioritize the most “doable”.  That short list should include tax reform. The Freedom Caucus which is the conservative heir to the Tea Party Caucus will hold to their position of spending cuts to go along with any tax reductions but Trump has given them a list of possible targets including major reductions in the size of the federal bureaucracy, cuts to foreign aid, cuts or repeal of grants to the National Endowment of the Arts, and National Public Radio, and Planned Parenthood. 

While tax cuts to corporations always stimulates a class warfare scenario from liberals i.e . “tax cuts for the rich”, besides being a false narrative since corporate tax reductions stimulate corporate profits which benefit the share holders which include university endowments, union pension funds and millions of individual investors.  When accompanied by “middle class tax cuts”, tax code simplification, and regulations to encourage U.S. based industries from moving jobs abroad, the program can achieve wide support.

Also on the list should be the much talked about infrastructure program.  The Democrats made this a campaign issue in 2016 and it would be politically difficult to walk back from it now even though it has become a Republican agenda item.  Republicans should tout the job benefits and positive tax revenue aspects that would result from such a program to offset the enormous multi-year cost.

Other campaign promises which were renewed in Trump’s speech will need to be addressed but the repeal and replacement of the ACA needs careful study and must be done correctly to avoid a health care and political disaster. There are reports that the House is nearing completion on a repeal/replace bill but details have not been revealed. 

House conservatives are vowing obstruction based on reports of the use of tax credits to lower the effect of high premiums. They promise a fight over this part of the policy describing it as “ObamaCare Lite” and they want separate bills on repeal and replace.  It’s imperative that the Republican caucus overcome these major divisions and put out one (or two) bill(s) simultaneously with the support of large majorities to avoid a political disaster.  The two thousand page ACA cannot be replaced with an overly simple bill that does not respond to all the complexities of the original.  This will take time and it would be time well spent.

Of course, Trump’s agenda and legislative progress is now being over shadowed by the “scandal” de jour.  Democrats, desperate to find anything to discredit the administration in the name of “resistance” are hoping to connect the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary’s e-mails to the Trump campaign and to Trump himself. 

A separate but connected issue relates to current Attorney General Jeff Session’s testimony as a cabinet nominee in response to questions by Democratic Senators Al Franken and Patrick Leahy.  He appeared to state under oath,  that he had not had any conversations with Russian government officials but later offered that he had met twice with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  Democrats, not surprisingly, are calling for perjury charges to be filed against Sessions.  

But there are mitigating issues which would have to be explored prior to such a drastic action.  Sessions claims that in the context of the specific questions his answer was truthful since the context was related to Trump campaign officials or surrogates, which he was neither, although he admitted to having been “called a surrogate a few times”.  Then there is the fact that before his confirmation as Attorney General he was a sitting Senator serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as such it was normal for him to come in contact with numerous foreign ambassadors, which wasn’t the subject of the specific questions posed at the confirmation hearing.  

This will all be fodder for the Democrat’s campaign to discredit the Trump administration  whether or not collusion between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives with respect to the hacking interference in presidential election is proven or not.

 But with respect to this broader “scandal”,  so far there has been little scandalous behavior discovered aside from that of the Russians themselves.  
While investigations are on-going, the “facts” available so far are limited to the position of U.S. intelligence agencies that technicians, a part of , or working for the Russian government were responsible for hacking the servers of the DNC and Hillary. 

The Democrats want an investigation by an independent “Special Prosecutor” which would really be a special investigator within, or appointed by, the Justice Department since the Special Prosecutor statute has expired and it is more likely that the Justice Department under the leadership of someone other than Attorney General Sessions who has recused himself, will pursue the investigation as will various committees of Congress. Without Russian cooperation, which is not likely, such investigations will be very difficult.

The essential questions that need to be answered have both political and legal implications.
What was the Russian’s motive?
Democrats insist it was to tilt the election in Trump’s favor but this charge faces certain obstacles in spite of the opinion of U.S. intelligence officials that this was the motive.  First, few people anywhere expected Hillary to lose the election. Polls throughout the campaign showed her with a 3-5 percent advantage and the concept of the “blue wall” of upper mid-western states that were historically Democratic was portrayed as insurance of an Electoral College victory.  
The Russians must have certainly been influenced by these beliefs. The puzzling tactic of trying to change the outcome by exposing thousands of pages of bureaucratic discourse by the DNC doesn’t seem to fit with this alleged motive. 

Hillary’s e-mails might have been a more enticing target but they had been the subject of a long term investigation by the FBI which found insufficient classified materiel to justify an indictment for mishandling such materials. If U.S. intelligence agencies have specific information outlining Russia’s desire for a Trump victory they haven’t released it.  Nor is there any evidence that the release of the DNC’s and Hillary’s e-mails actually affected the outcome of the election.  It seems more likely that the Russians were seeking intelligence data on the expected Clinton Administration.

Did the various communications between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russians relate in any way to the Russian government’s hacking of the DNC’s and Hillary’s servers? Several individuals who were at one time somehow, directly or indirectly involved in the Trump campaign had contact with Russian citizens and/or government officials, in some way before or during the campaign. As yet it is all very tenuous in terms of collaboration with Russian intelligence officials on the subject of hacking.

Theoretically of course, this could all end badly for Trump, but the more likely outcome will be that the investigatory process, which will generate months of political controversy, will cause the most harm, no matter if the outcome is inconclusive.

Now another issue full of political drama has been revealed by Trump himself.  He has “tweeted” that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the presidential campaign.
This should be easy to verify or discredit since tapping domestic phone lines requires a warrant and probable cause, thus specific records would be available.  Without such confirmation, this claim by the President will undo much of the good will he established with his speech before Congress.  

Thus, while President Trump is being true to his voters by pursuing his campaign promises, the first six weeks has been like a Shakespearean era drama; victorious battles (cabinet confirmations); assassinations (political), both successful and attempted ( Flynn, Puzder and DeVos, Sessions); palace intrigue (Obama hold overs and press leaks); “pitchforks and torches” in the streets (women’s march, college campuses); the “court jester and the powerful but demonized monarch combined, (the “old” Trump, the “new” Trump, the “unpredictable” Trump, and the radical Leftist media). 

The prospects of a four year drama of this nature are exhausting to think about but the likelihood
of relief seems improbable in the context of the impending 2018 mid-term Congressional elections.