Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Liberals are teed off over Trump golfing

(govt. of Japan/Wikimedia)
In a sign that things have come full circle since Barack Obama left the White House, some journalists are now pointedly noting how often President Trump has hit the links. President Obama was heavily criticized by Republicans – including President Trump – for spending too much time on the golf course.

Zeke Miller of “Time” got the ball rolling over the weekend with, appropriately enough, a tweet on Sunday. “[White House Deputy Press Secretary] @SHSanders45 confirms POTUS played ‘a couple of holes’ today and yesterday,” Miller informed the twitterverse.

Next, The Hill teed up a round that looked at Trump’s golfing as president more closely, noting that Trump had played golf “for the third weekend in a row.” Two of those weekend golf outings were at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort while one was at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Donald Trump has been president for five weekends.

The Hill does note that last weekend, Trump played with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in what could be termed as a business meeting on the golf course. President Trump is undoubtedly practiced in the art of closing deals on the golf course, a time honored business tradition.

Over the past few weeks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and NPR have all run articles pointing out the inconsistency between campaign rhetoric and presidential behavior. Windsor Mann of USA Today saw the glass as half full: “This is great news, particularly if you hate Trump’s politics. The more time he spends playing golf, the less time he has to play president.” Trump responded to the critics with another round of golf.

Data was unavailable to handicap the golfing habits of Trump and Obama at only a month into his presidency, however Golf Digest did analyze the previous duffer-in-chief’s golf habits. Barack Obama played 306 rounds as president, which translates into 38 rounds per year or about 13 holes per week. While this sets a high bar for Trump to beat, it falls far short of the estimated 1,200 rounds played by President Woodrow Wilson or the 800 by President Eisenhower.

The Resurgent has noted in the past that Donald Trump and Barack Obama have many similarities. The love of golf and the desire to hit the links in Golf Cart One seems to be another thing that the two men have in common. Hopefully, President Trump will learn from the mistakes that so often put his predecessor in the rough.

As with much of the partisan criticism of President Trump, it mirrors critiques of President Obama from the right. That the two parties are reversing many of their opinions on presidential behavior is par for the course.

Originally published on The Resurgent          

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trump approval is 21 points below presidential average - and falling

President Trump has had problems with his approval rating ever since entering the race for president. After almost a month in office, the situation remains unchanged. In fact, Trump’s approval rating at this point in his administration is lower than that of any other president of the modern era.

Gallup’s daily tracking of the presidential approval rating found that Trump is currently at 40 percent approval. This puts Trump 21 points below the average for presidents since polling began in the Eisenhower era. He is 11 points below the lowest previous mid-February rating, Bill Clinton in 1993 at 51 points. Jimmy Carter had the highest one-month approval at 71 percent.

President Trump is the first president since Eisenhower to start with approval below 50 percent and has already moved further into negative territory. As he was inaugurated, Trump had 45 percent approval, five points above his current level. On average, presidents have gained one percentage point by mid-February, but Presidents Eisenhower, Obama and Clinton also saw their ratings decline. At seven points, President Clinton had the largest decline.

So far, only Bill Clinton has fallen below 40 percent approval in his first year. Trump stands one point away from the dubious distinction of being the second to do so.

Trump’s approval is concentrated within the Republican Party. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans approve of the president while only 35 percent of independents and eight percent of Democrats approve.

At less than a month into his presidency, Trump has plenty of time to win over the American public, but this may require a change of style. Such a change is something that Trump seems very unlikely to do. His approval may also benefit if his policies lead to a dramatic improvement in the economy.

Although it is still much too early to make predictions, the president’s prospects for re-election seem dim unless he can appeal to a broader range of voters. Or unless the Democrats nominate another historically unpopular and incompetent candidate.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Is Repeating Obama's Mistakes

After only a few weeks, it is far too early to judge the eventual outcome of the Trump Administration. Nevertheless, there are disturbing signs that, in some ways, President Trump is following in the footsteps of none other than Barack Obama and may be repeating some of his predecessor’s worst mistakes.

One of the most obvious parallels between Presidents Trump and Obama is their tendency to go it alone. President Trump started his administration with a flurry of Executive Orders, some rolling back Obama’s executive actions and some starting his own initiatives. Some of this was to be expected since Trump promised to end several of Obama’s executive actions. More disturbing to those who support the rule of law, during the campaign Donald Trump said that President Obama “led the way” on Executive Orders, hinting that he may use them to bypass Congress as Obama did.

When President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration lost several prominent court cases, the president’s reaction was similar to what one might expect from President Obama. Trump attacked the judges who ruled against him on Twitter.

Trump’s attacks hearken back to President Obama’s own antagonism against judges. In 2010, Obama attacked the Supreme Court, not on Twitter, but in his formal State of the Union Address. The remark in the wake of the Citizens United decision was Obama’s most famous attack on the bench, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Obama frequently criticized the Court and tried to influence its decisions on cases, including the challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The fact that Obama’s challenges to the independence of the judicial branch were not delivered via Twitter does not make them any less problematic.

Even after losing in court, President Trump’s response is to craft a new Executive Order rather than work with Congress in an attempt to find a bipartisan solution to the immigration problem. This echoes President Obama’s strategy of circumventing Congress after Republicans won control of the House. Reports from Republicans indicate that Mr. Trump has been uninvolved in the process of crafting a replacement for Obamacare even though his own party controls both houses of Congress. Voters have indicated that their preference was for both presidents to work with Congress, rather than go it alone.

The two presidents also tend to personalize any criticism of their administrations or their policies. President Obama typically refused to consider that his opponents were patriotic Americans who had genuine disagreements on policy. According to Obama, his Republican opponents were anti-science, warmongers, and prejudiced against minorities and immigrants. He called Republicans “hostage takers,” saboteurs and “deadbeats” to name a few insults. Largely forgotten now, President Obama even had problems with the press and was accused of trying to censor the media.

President Trump has done nothing to elevate the level of political discourse. President Trump’s numerous insults to anyone who criticizes him, from Khizr Khan to Ted Cruz, are numerous and well known. Even after taking office, Mr. Trump’s penchant for insulting his critics has continued and even gone international as he engaged in tiffs with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. Trump also frequently attacks the press and, of course, a wide variety of Democrats.

The insults form a part of the strategy of division and victimhood of both presidents. President Obama marshaled his supporters against the “bitter clingers,” the wealthy and any hint of racism. For his part, President Trump focuses his supporters against the establishment, the press and foreign influences of trade and immigration. In both cases, the strategy is one of unifying the base against ideological bogeymen, rather than attempting to unify the country as a whole. Rather than bringing people together, both presidents stir up factions against each other.

Further, the two presidents share an affinity for campaigning, even after the campaign is over. President Obama was often criticized for his frequent fundraising and political rallies. This weekend, a month into President Trump’s term, he returns to the campaign trail with a political rally in Florida. The coordinator of the rally told Fox News that the event was Trump’s “first re-election rally.” The election is 44 months away.

The love of partisan audiences may reflect the need of both men for adulation and affirmation. It is much easier and more rewarding to deliver a stump speech to throngs of admirers than to engage in the gritty work of legislative “sausage making.” It is this work of governing that determines the success or failure of a president, however.

All this leads to the most serious mistakes that President Obama made for his party: Overconfidence and overreach. In January 2009, President Obama told congressional Republicans, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” By that he meant, I get what I want. Obama quickly poisoned the well and made future cooperation with Republicans difficult, if not impossible.

Donald Trump is heading down that road as well. Like Barack Obama, President Trump currently has majorities in both houses of Congress. It is easy to imagine that the Trump Administration has a blank check to enact whatever initiatives President Trump deems appropriate. However, the president and the Republicans must realize that, unless Mitch McConnell eliminates the filibuster, bipartisan cooperation is going to be needed to advance any bill past a cloture vote in the Senate. The withdrawal of Andrew Puzder should serve as a warning that the president does not get everything he wants.

President Obama’s eight years are over. His legacy is being erased and he will be judged a failure, largely because he was unable to build a consensus and compromise. After Republicans took control of the House in 2011, President Obama never passed any significant legislation. All of his landmark laws were passed with Democratic majorities in both houses.

 The question is whether President Trump will repeat his mistakes or will use the historic opportunity that he has been given to make America great again. To do so, the new president will have to drop the role of the victim and look beyond his base to build a majority. To be successful and build a lasting legacy, President Trump must win over at least some of the voters who didn’t vote for him. He must work with Congress to pass legislation that is more durable than an Executive Order. President Trump needs to stop preaching to the choir and start working on converting the masses.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spies Don’t Trust Trump with Intelligence

In what may be an unprecedented move, America’s intelligence community is reportedly keeping the country’s most sensitive intelligence information from its president. A Wall Street Journal report cited both current and former intelligence officials who said that concerns that the information might be leaked or compromised had prompted the agencies to withhold certain information.

Even before the forced resignation of Gen. Flynn due to his lack of forthrightness about his contacts with Russia, the Trump Administration was at odds with the intelligence community. President Trump was one of the few to deny the findings of the FBI and the CIA that Russia interfered in the presidential election. In January, Trump hinted at a restructuring of the intelligence community in what some thought was retribution for the investigation into Russia’s role in the election. Also in January, Russia was rumored to have compromising information on Donald Trump himself.

Flynn was also not the only member of the Trump camp to have suspicious ties to Russia. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was fired during the campaign for his connections to Russia. CNN reported that “high-level advisors” to the Trump camp were in “constant communication during the election with Russians known to US intelligence” according to “multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials.” Manafort was named by CNN in the article, but it may also refer to Carter Page, Roger Stone and others.

Manafort denied the accusation. “I have knowingly never talked to any intelligence official or anyone in Russia regarding anything of what's under investigation," he said. "I have never had any connection to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or the Russian government before, during or after the campaign.”

According to the Journal, intelligence information is sometimes sanitized to protect sources before it is given to government officials, but there is no known precedent for restricting the president’s access due to fears about “trustworthiness and discretion.” The report said that there was no known instance in which vital information relating to security threats or plots had been restricted.

The Journal’s sources cited two specific reasons for restricting Mr. Trump’s access. The first is the general statements of admiration that Trump made for Vladimir Putin at numerous times. The second is the specific request that Mr. Trump made for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

Officially, the intelligence community denies the Journal report. ““Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true,” said a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Likewise, the White House also disputes the account. “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”

Regardless of whether information is being withheld, there is clearly a strained relationship between the Trump Administration and the intelligence community. “It’s probably unprecedented to have this difficult a relationship between a president and the intelligence agencies,” said Mark Lowenthal, a retired senior intelligence official. “I can’t recall ever seeing this level of friction. And it’s just not good for the country.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Doubt about repeal grows as Obamacare enters death spiral

According to the CEO of Aetna, Obamacare is in a “death spiral.” Mark Bertolini predicted that, as bad as Obamacare’s problems of declining enrollments and fewer insurance companies are this year, next year is likely to be worse. By 2018, some areas of the country may not have a single insurance company in their health insurance exchanges.

“It’s not going to get any better; it’s getting worse,” Bertolini said in an interview with Politico.

Last year, Aetna announced that it would pull out of most insurance exchanges for 2017. Earlier this week, Humana announced that it was withdrawing from the program for 2018. The withdrawal of the two large insurers means that Blue Cross Blue Shield is largest remaining company in most insurance markets. If Blue Cross elects to exit the exchanges, it would be catastrophic for Obamacare.

Bertolini expressed support for a number of ideas that are being considered by Republicans. Less expensive major medical plans linked to health savings accounts would help encourage younger, healthier consumers to buy health insurance. He also supports a risk pool for insurance companies who have high losses due to large numbers of sick policyholders.

“The repeal is easy. They can do that tomorrow if they want to,” Bertolini said. “The question is what does the replacement look like and how long does it take to get there.”

But Republican divisions over what the replacement will look like seem more and more likely to derail the repeal entirely.

“I hear things that are unacceptable to me,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in Politico after a meeting in which Republicans discussed keeping the Medicare expansion and creating a system of tax credits. “If they don’t seem to care what conservatives think about complete repeal of Obamacare, they’re going to be shocked when they count the votes.”

The initial division between Republicans was whether to repeal and replace Obamacare simultaneously or repeal immediately and craft a replacement later. President Trump intervened on behalf of the simultaneous action, but has since failed to offer clear guidance on the Administration’s strategy.

“Right now, I would say it's not that easy to repeal it. I don't know if it's a guarantee,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). “I don't know where the White House is. The president has said he's not going to be kicking people off the program, off the rolls. He's not going to do that.”

Currently, one faction of Republicans favors crafting a repeal bill that will avoid Democratic filibusters by bundling the repeal and replacement together in a budget reconciliation. Such a strategy would prevent the Senate’s 48 Democrats from blocking cloture votes on individual replacement bills. Speaker Paul Ryan set a timeline for repeal that would pass a bill by the end of March.

That isn’t quick enough for the House Freedom Caucus. CNN reports that the group is seeking a vote on the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by President Obama. “For goodness sake, we should be able to put something on President Trump's desk that's at least as good as what we put on President Obama's desk. Not something watered down," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). "Let's repeal it. Let's do what the voters sent us here to do.”

Medicaid is proving to be a sticking point for some Republicans from states that approved the Medicaid expansion. The Freedom Caucus plan would give a two-year transition period, but many Republican senators want more time for their constituents to find replacement coverage.

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t seem to have a specific plan. “Statements from the White House about it, frankly, would be helpful,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fl.) told Politico.

President Trump’s bully pulpit would be valuable in unifying Republicans to a single bill and winning public support. Unfortunately, several GOP officials say that Trump’s shifting positions and public statements that often differ with what they are told behind closed doors have caused them to tune the president out.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Russia Challenges Trump with Missile Deployment That Violates Treaty

Sources in the Trump Administration say that Russia has deployed a new cruise missile system that violates the terms of a decades-old arms treaty. The SSC-8 cruise missile falls under a category of weapons banned by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty signed by the Reagan Administration in 1987.

The New York Times reports that two battalions of SSC-8 missiles have already been deployed in violation of the INF treaty, which banned the deployment of land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles. One battalion was reportedly still located at the missile test site near Volgograd in southern Russia while the second had moved to an operational base. The Times’ source in the Trump Administration did not provide the location of the second battalion. One battalion of the missiles reportedly includes four mobile missile launchers with about six missiles each.

The estimated range of the SSC-8 is between 300 and 3,400 miles according to GlobalSecurity.org. This is the class of missile that was banned by the INF treaty. The group points out that the weapon system may be intended to generate parity with the China, which was not a party to the INF treaty, and which also falls within the SSC-8 range. Nevertheless, deployment of the missile in Europe would also threaten NATO countries.

First reports of the new missile date back to 2007 according to Popular Mechanics. In 2014, the US government gathered enough evidence to accuse Russia of violating the INF treaty by testing the SSC-8. The Obama Administration attempted to pressure the Russians into stopping development of the missile to no avail.

“Nobody has formally accused Russia of violating the treaty,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC. “Russia has been and remains committed to its international commitments, including to the treaty in question.”

The Trump Administration has already been challenged by missile testing from Iran. When the Iranians tested a missile in January in violation of President Obama’s nuclear deal, the Trump Administration responded by enacting new sanctions on people and companies related to the missile program and the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.

In 2014, Gen. Phillip Breedlove, then commander of NATO, warned against ignoring the development and deployment of the SSC-8. “A weapon capability that violates the INF, that is introduced into the greater European land mass is absolutely a tool that will have to be dealt with,” he told the New York Times. “I would not judge how the alliance will choose to react, but I would say they will have to consider what to do about it. It can’t go unanswered.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Cruz Strip citizenship of American terrorists

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation to strip the citizenship of Americans who knowingly fight for or support terrorist groups. Cruz argues that his Expatriate Terrorist Act, which is cosponsored in the House by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), is a vital step in the war against Islamic terror. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) are also cosponsoring the bill.

“The Expatriate Terrorist Act will ensure that any American who forfeits their country to intentionally join ISIS will have their citizenship stripped and won’t be able to use a U.S. passport to come back and murder American citizens," Cruz said in a statement.

The bill would amend the existing law that details the conditions under which a US citizen can renounce his citizenship. Current law forfeiting citizenship would be amended “to include becoming a member of, fighting for, or providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.” It would also allow the government “to deny or revoke passports to anyone who is a member, or attempting to become a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

“Provided the requirements of due process are observed, if a United States citizen undertakes these acts with the intent of supplanting his United States citizenship with loyalty to a terrorist organization, that person can be deemed to have forfeited his or her right to be a United States citizen and return to the United States,” Cruz’s statement said.

There have been a number of American citizens who have joined terrorist groups. John Walker Lindh was an American member of the Taliban who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. About a dozen Americans are known to have joined ISIS. A number of terrorist attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing, the Orlando nightclub shooting and the San Bernardino rampage, were carried out by US citizens.  

This is not the first time that the Expatriate Terrorist Act has been proposed. In fact, the bill has been introduced to Congress at least twice. In 2014 and 2015, Cruz and King introduced versions of the legislation that died in committee. A similar bill proposed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) died in 2010.

Critics of the bill argue that it is not necessary or constitutional. Writing in National Review in 2015, Gabriel Malor said, “Citizenship is not a mere privilege. It is a right specifically protected by the Constitution. Congress cannot simply decide that individuals lose their citizenship when they commit certain acts. Rather, to strip a person’s citizenship requires that the government prove not only that he committed an act deemed expatriating by Congress but that he did so knowingly and voluntarily and with the intent to relinquish his citizenship.”

Malor continues, arguing that the Supreme Court has ruled on the question, “In the words of Justice White, writing for the Supreme Court when this issue was settled decades ago, ‘in the last analysis, expatriation depends on the will of the citizen rather than on the will of Congress and its assessment of his conduct’” (Vance v. Terrazas, 1980).

In Reason, Shikha Dalmia wrote, “If the government has evidence that these folks are indeed terrorists, then why should it merely strip them of their citizenship and stop them from returning home (or leaving if they are already here)? Why shouldn't it also prosecute them? And if it doesn't have evidence, then why should they face any consequences at all?”

The danger, Dalmia wrote, was that the language of the bill gives “government the power to take away the citizenship not of Americans against whom it actually has hard evidence—but against whom it doesn't. In other words, the point is to revoke the citizenship not of known but merely suspected terrorists.”

If revocation of citizenship is to only be applied punitively to convicted terrorists, there are different issues. “If the courts were to decide that the expatriation of terrorists was intended to be a punitive act rather than a security measure,” Malor wrote, “a different and more stringent series of constitutional prohibitions come into play, including the Fifth and Sixth Amendment protections for criminal defendants.”

On the surface, stripping the citizenship of terrorists seems to be a common sense idea. Upon closer examination, however, there are many questions of practicality and constitutionality that must be addressed. Those lingering questions mean that the bill probably has little chance of becoming law in the near future.

Originally published on The Resurgent