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Washington Report February 24, 2017
24 Feb 2017

Washington Report February 24, 2017

A Tale As Old As Political Time … Raucous Town Halls … It’s What’s In the Leaks, Not the Leaks … Cool Tool … Nothing to See Here … Islamaphobes Worried … Agency Staffing Tug-of-War … At C-PAC … Why Fact Checking Doesn’t Change People’s Minds … Dictionarys are Timely and Relevant … Matt Damon Could Grow Alot of Potatoes … Horror in Kansas … and other news of the week.
Congress will be back from recess on Monday.


Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners


THE OSCARS (Sunday, 7pm ET). Jimmy Kimmel is warming up his opening monologue.
Are things going to get political? Definitely.





THE STATES TO DECIDE WHERE TRANSGENDER STUDENTS SHOULD PEE theSkimm “REMIND ME Last year, North Carolina passed “HB2″ aka the ‘bathroom bill’ that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate. Translation: a person born as a boy has to use the boys’ bathroom. Cue a lot of backlash. Then the Obama administration stepped in. The feds said HB2 goes against Title IX (psst: the education law that protects students from discrimination based on sex). So they put out guidelines that said public schools should let transgender kids use the bathroom of their choice, or else risk losing federal funding. Wednesday, the Trump administration got rid of those Obama-era rules, saying they didn’t go through extensive legal analysis and have led to too much back and forth in court. Team Trump didn’t replace the rules with anything new. Meaning the bathroom debate will now be hashed out at the state level. This comes just weeks before the Supreme Court is supposed to hear a case about a transgender boy from Virginia who is suing his school for not letting him use the boys’ bathroom. A lower court used the Obama-era rules to side with the boy. Now, without those rules, it’s TBD where the Supremes’ gavel will fall. THIS IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST BATHROOMS IN NC It’s a showdown between states’ rights and civil rights — a textbook GOP vs. Dems fight. And it’s a tale as old as political time that’s not going away anytime soon.”


ORDER TO AGENCIES: CREATE REGULATORY REFORM TASK FORCES PoliticoPro “President Trump on Friday ordered federal agencies to begin identifying rules for elimination — a move he presented as part of his larger assault on regulations he said damage the economy. Trump’s move may not have much immediate effect, but it continues an anti-regulatory push that began on the first day of his administration. …The task forces in particular will be directed to “focus on eliminating costly and unnecessary regulations,” according to a White House official.”


TAKEAWAYS FROM A WEEK OF RAUCOUS TOWN HALLS Politico “Republicans stepped away from the Capitol this week and into a P.R. mess. Aggrieved constituents packed lawmakers’ district events in protest of GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Politico reporters attended nine town halls and interviewed more than 60 attendees, including supporters and skeptics of the hosting lawmakers. At each event, Republican lawmakers wrestled with how to handle hecklers, rabble-rousers and genuinely distressed residents. Here are some takeaways from the week’s unrest:

1. The angst is real: “I want to make clear: It’s all legitimate,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) after facing critics at a string of Iowa town halls.”
2. The surest applause line: Break with the GOP
3. Moscow on their minds
4. Growing fear of a viral moment … if MOCs don’t show up.


IT’S WHAT’S IN THE LEAKS, STUPID The Fix “On Thursday night, CNN broke the news that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had reached out to a senior FBI official to encourage him to talk without attribution to reporters about recent allegations that the Trump campaign had been in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials during the course of the 2016 race.

On Friday morning, President Trump took to Twitter to respond.

@realDonaldTrump …the FBI is totally unable to stop the national security “leakers” that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even……
…. find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW

This is standard operating procedure from Trump when it comes to leaks out of the federal government. Amid the controversy over former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s deceptions regarding the nature of his conversations with Russia, Trump focused exclusively on how leaks within the intelligence community were damaging national security. Sure, leaks that endanger national security should be investigated. But, what’s really going on here is that Trump is totally missing the point.

The most important element of that story is that it’s against the rules for the White House to contact the FBI for matters like that, not that someone at the FBI leaked out the fact that it happened. By making the conversation all about leaks — rather than the veracity of the information that the leaks contain — Trump is turning the conversation more in his favor. He knows his base thinks the media is terrible and therefore anyone who willingly co-operates with them — leakers — must be even worse. HERE’S THE THING: While plenty of leaks are frivolous attempts by junior staffers to puff themselves up, there are some that are a necessary part of democracy. Leaking out information that exposes wrongdoing is often a courageous act of citizenship. To put a blanket over all leaks as bad is to oversimplify. And, again, the most important thing in these leaks is to ascertain whether the information is true, not hunt down the leakers. Trump’s tweets this morning seem to confirm that the CNN report is right, meaning that Priebus clearly broke the rules. That Trump doesn’t get that suggests a deep tone-deafness. … ”


WHAT NOW DEMS? NYTs Reduced to their weakest state in a generation, Democratic Party leaders will gather in two cities this weekend to plot strategy and select a new national chairman with the daunting task of rebuilding the party’s depleted organization. But senior Democratic officials concede that the blueprint has already been chosen for them – by an incensed army of liberals demanding no less than total war against President Trump. “Immediately after the November election , Democrats were divided over how to handle Mr. Trump, with one camp favoring all-out confrontation and another backing a seemingly less risky approach of coaxing him to the center with offers of compromise. Now, spurred by explosive protests and a torrent of angry phone calls and emails from constituents – and outraged themselves by Mr. Trump’s swift moves to enact a hard-line agenda – Democrats have all but cast aside any notion of conciliation with the White House. Instead, they are mimicking the Republican approach of the last eight years – the ‘party of no’ – and wagering that brash obstruction will pay similar dividends.”


BUDGET OUTLINE BY MID-MARCH Politico “The Trump administration plans to release its fiscal 2018 budget outline by the second week of March, offering the first detailed look at priorities for the president’s first year. White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed to reporters Wednesday that the administration plans to release its budget by ‘March 13-ish.’


LEAKED AFFORDABLE CARE ACT REPLACEMENT “A draft House Republican repeal bill would dismantle the Obamacare subsidies and scrap its Medicaid expansion, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by Politico.The legislation would take down the foundation of the ACA, including the individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020.The replacement would be paid for by limiting tax breaks on generous health plans people get at work — an idea that is similar to the ACA’s “Cadillac tax” that Republicans have fought to repeal.

Speaker Paul Ryan promised that Republicans would begin marking up a repeal bill next week. But the GOP has been deeply divided about how much of the law to scrap, and how much to “repair,” and the heated town halls back home during the weeklong recess aren’t making it any easier for them. The exact details of any legislation will also be shaped by findings from the CBO about how much it will cost and what it will do to the federal deficit. But the draft shows that Republicans are sticking closely to previous plans floated by Ryan and Price in crafting their ACA repeal package. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE GOT TILL IT’S GONE Recent polling has shown that the ACA is increasingly popular.


GIFT TO PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY Fusion “On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice officially rescinded its policy barring the use of private prisons—an order that had been put in place by the Obama administration last year. At the time initial order was given, the deputy attorney general Sally Yates (who would later be fired over an unrelated matter) wrote that private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. While the Obama administration’s decision to end the relationship between the DOJ and the for-profit prison industry did not include Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detention centers—and didn’t effect the majority of private prisons in America, which operate on the state level—it was heralded at the time as a poisitive step toward reforming the American penal system.”


COOL TOOL Bloomberg’s Trump Tracker: Daily Guide to everything Trump


GOOD ONE, STEVE WSJ “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin laid out ambitious goals to secure a U.S. tax-code overhaul by August and to deliver economic growth at rates not seen in more than a decade (3%). … The plan is projected to generate about $1 trillion over a decade. The border adjustment provision has run into criticism from large retailers and other importers. U.S. senators have piled on, too, leaving the idea in trouble without a major presidential push that hasn’t happened and might never come. JUST IN Trump says Republican border tax could boost U.S. jobs.” President Donald Trump’s remark that the border-adjustment tax “could lead to a lot more jobs in the United States” perked up many an ear in the House GOP leadership, which has been pushing the proposal for some time and believes it’s the only way to get tax reform done. This looks like a smart move by Trump and could show he understands the legislative game. Either he likes the plan — which taxes imports instead of exports — and is going to become the vocal supporter he needs to be to get it through. Or he’s showing its chief supporter Speaker Paul Ryan that he’s trying his way first, and if it fails, he at least gave it a shot. THE QUESTION REMAINS: Is it too little, too late? Retailers opposed to the package have focused squarely on Senate Republicans to serve as the backstop to blocking the plan. Many top Senate Republicans have already come out against the proposal

COME ON MAN! Politico “This is the most ambitious timeline envisioned by the biggest optimists on Capitol Hill. Congress isn’t planning to turn its focus to tax reform until the summer, and this deal won’t get done in a few months — mark our words. The 1986 tax reform bill was introduced in December of 1985 and didn’t get to Ronald Reagan’s desk until October of 1986. That was a much less partisan time, a simpler business climate and a world without Twitter and cable television.”

WALL STREET LOVES TRUMP Politico “Seen from Wall Street, the Trump presidency is going perfectly. Travel ban troubles? Whatever. Russian revelations? Meh. Staffing woes? Who cares. Stocks continue to shrug it all off and rocket to new highs on the promise of big tax cuts, infrastructure spending and mass deregulation. But analysts now caution that Trumphoria in the stock market could soon crash into a harsh Washington reality. Before even getting to tax reform – where there is little agreement on the way forward – Republicans have to figure out how to repeal and replace Obamacare, win confirmation for a Supreme Court justice and deal with Democrats eager to slam the brakes on anything and everything President Donald Trump tries to do. The result could be that a frothy stock market Trump derided as a ‘big fat bubble’ before the election – but now takes credit for – suddenly plummets back to Earth.”


PRUITT EMAILS NYTs “As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, now the EPA administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday. … Senate Democrats tried last week to postpone a final vote until the emails could be made public, but Republicans beat back the delay and approved his confirmation on Friday largely along party lines. The impolitic tone of many of the emails cast light on why Republicans were so eager to beat the release.”


NOTHING TO SEE HERE Politico “House Republicans next week plan to derail a Democratic resolution that would have forced disclosure of President Donald Trump’s potential ties with Russia and any possible business conflicts of interest, according to multiple House sources. Seeking to avoid a full House vote on the so-called ‘resolution of inquiry’ — a roll call that would be particularly embarrassing and divisive for the right — Republicans will send the Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) proposal to the House Judiciary Committee for a panel vote on Tuesday, two Democratic sources said. The GOP-controlled committee is expected to kill the resolution.”


STATE DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN SIDELINED WashPo “The Trump administration in its first month has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a mostly offstage role. … The most visible change at the State Department is the month-long lack of daily press briefings, a fixture since John Foster Dulles was secretary of state in the 1950s. LOOKING TO RAISE PROFILE “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has asked his aides to find ways to improve his media profile. Meanwhile, several dozen Trump-appointed political staffers have arrived in Foggy Bottom, many of whom are still learning the ropes and are wary of engaging with the civil servants. ‘It’s like high school,’ said the State official familiar with Tillerson’s media request. ‘The Trump people all sit together at the tables at lunch.'”


McMASTER HAS THE ISLAMOPHOBES WORRIED. Politico Magazine “Trumps new national security adviser can be a powerful counterweight to the baleful of influence of Steve Bannon. Full Article.

REORGANIZE NSC NYT: “Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is considering a reorganization of the White House foreign policy team that would give him control of Homeland Security and guarantee full access to the military and intelligence agencies. Just days after arriving at the White House, Mr. McMaster is weighing changes to an organization chart that generated consternation when it was issued last month. One proposal under discussion would restore the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to full membership in a cabinet-level committee, according to two officials who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Another likely change would reincorporate the Homeland Security Council under the National Security Council, the way it was during the administration of President Barack Obama, the officials said.”


HOLDOVERS PLAY KEY PENTAGON ROLES Politico “The White House’s failure to nominate any of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ top deputies poses an unanticipated threat, say top GOP lawmakers: The Trump administration’s bold new ideas for overhauling the armed forces and other military objectives could be stymied by former President Barack Obama’s appointees who are still in key positions. “Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, an Obama official who was kept on temporarily, is now leading the Pentagon’s budget review – which is expected to be completed by April – while dozens of other top positions with authority over war strategy, weapons purchases and business operations are also filled in an acting capacity by Obama holdovers or civil servants.”


AGENCY STAFFING TUG-OF-WAR Politico “The White House’s deep involvement in hiring decisions across the government is frustrating some of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet secretaries, spurring early tussles between the president’s advisers and leaders of federal agencies. White House officials have sometimes rejected candidates who have previously criticized the president — even if they boast sterling credentials or have the endorsement of top Republicans. And they’ve often imposed their choices on agencies, according to more than a dozen people inside and close to the administration. Many Cabinet nominees joined the administration believing they’d have wide latitude to pick lieutenants, but they’re beginning to realize Trump’s powerful advisers are looking over their shoulders. The White House’s approach has already slowed hiring — and the dozens of vacancies at key agencies could make it more difficult to implement some of Trump’s policy proposals.

So far, Trump has nominated fewer than three dozen of the 550 most important Senate-confirmed jobs, according to an analysis by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that advised Trump officials during the presidential transition.”


AT C-PAC The Fix “Reince Priebus and Stephen K. Bannon sang “Kumbaya” at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday and probably succeeded in convincing most observers that President Trump’s chief of staff and his chief strategist don’t hate each other’s guts. But don’t confuse congeniality with consensus. It was glaringly obvious that when it comes to their views of the media, Priebus is mainstream and Bannon is extreme. It was also obvious that Bannon’s view is the one Trump subscribes to.

The reason Reince and I are good partners is that we can disagree [about the media]. It’s not only not going to get better. It’s going to get worse every day.

And here’s why: By the way, the internal logic makes sense. They’re corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed — adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has. … Here’s the only — here’s why it’s going to get worse: Because he’s going to continue to press his agenda. And as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they’re going to continue to fight. If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day — every day, it is going to be a fight.
-Stephen K. Bannon


PRETTY DARK Bannon framed the Trump-media dynamic as a fight for control of the country. He told Trump supporters that the media is not “going to give you your country back without a fight,” suggesting that the press currently does control the country and must be overthrown. Bannon went further, claiming that the media will fight against Trump “as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better.” Translation: The media is your enemy, people. Journalists don’t want your lives to improve. When Trump sends tweets like this: @realDonaldTrump The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People! 3:48 PM – 17 Feb 2017… it is clear which top aide he is listening to.


WHY FACT CHECKING DOESN’T CHANGE PEOPLE’S MINDS The Fix “During the 2016 campaign … it is indisputable that The Post — and lots of other media organizations — fact-checked Trump. A lot. What people are [asking] is “Why don’t the fact-checks of Donald Trump change people’s minds?” As in, if two-thirds of what Trump says just isn’t true, how could he have won the White House?

A piece by the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert answers that question detailing through a series of fascinating social experiments, why people believe what they believe — and why facts have very little to do with it.

You should read the whole piece. But these two passages really jump out:

1. “People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people.”

2. “If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views.”

Opinions about everything — including politics — are not made more meritorious or convincing if they are backed by a steady helping of facts. Most often opinions are created and strengthened by affirmation from other people. And, once you and someone else believe something — whether it’s true or not — then you have not just double the assurance that you’re right but exponentially more assurance in your view. … Many of President Trump’s supporters call anything they disagree with “fake news” because to them it is. They don’t know people who agree with what the mainstream media is reporting so, therefore, it must be fake. Of course, news isn’t fake simply because you don’t agree with it. News is fake if it isn’t true in light of all the known facts. Not whether or not it “feels” true or not to you. THANKS JOE Former VP Biden used to like to say “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” Increasingly — and unfortunately — that’s not true.”

THAT SAID: A new project from The Post’s Fact Checker seeks to document Trump’s statements in the first 100 days of his presidency. Check it out. This chart, in particular, stood out to me:


MERRIAM-WEBSTER yes, the dictionary company … took to Twitter on Thursday to school Kellyanne Conway on what being a feminist means. Merriam-Webster tweeted a definition of the word “feminism” — “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” — after the president’s counselor said that being a feminist is associated with being “anti-male” and “pro-abortion.” The tweet was in response to statements Conway made at the C-PAC.

Something similar happened a month ago — when Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to defend false and easily disproved claims that the White House press secretary made about Trump’s inauguration crowd. @MerriamWebster … a FACT is a piece of information presented as having objective reality.

SHOWING HOW TIMELY AND RELEVANT THE DICTIONARY CAN BE The dictionary company, particularly within the past year, has been using humor and pointed tweets to respond to current events and engage with its followers. Conway, it seems, has been the subject of some of Merriam-Webster’s more popular tweets. The one about feminism, for instance, has been tweeted more than 12,000 times as of Friday morning. And that alternative facts tweet has had more than 49,000 retweets.


ET PHONE HOME (now this is cool) and theSkimm “Astronomers at NASA blew everyone’s mind and said they’ve discovered seven Earth-sized planets {EXOPLANET] about 40 light years away that could sustain life (‘nearby’ in space-speak or about 229 TRILLION MILES (369 trillion kilometers). It would take 39 years to get there traveling at the speed of light. But no spacecraft ever built can travel anywhere near that fast. They’re all getting their orbit on around the same star. And these planets could be jusssttt the right temp for liquid water to exist. Meaning Matt Damon could potentially grow a lot of potatoes. Or aliens are real. Researchers want to keep looking into what the planets’ atmospheres are made up of, which could take years. But scientists say this discovery is the best chance yet of finding extraterrestrial life. (The illustration shows an artists conception of what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data.)


‘GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY’ Guardian “An Indian-born engineer was shot dead in a Kansas bar on Thursday by a man reported to have shouted “go back to your country” before opening fire. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and his friend Alok Madasani, both employees at tech company Garmin, were having a drink at a bar on Thursday when Adam Purinton, 51, allegedly shouted racist slurs at the pair and started shooting. Kuchibhotla, who was an aviation systems engineer, died in the hospital. Madasani and Ian Grillot, a third man who had stepped in to defend the pair, were injured. Purinton, a navy veteran, has been charged with murder. Eyewitnesses say he believed the victims were of Middle Eastern origin and shouted “go back to your country” before shooting.” The incident has sent shockwaves through India which provides the US with some of its most skilled and highly educated workers.” Horrifying.

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