Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: The great American roundup

deportation pic

So now it’s official. We can make America great for Americans again. The new rules for ridding our shores of undocumented immigrants are in place, and there’s no telling how many of the undocumented 11 million will be deported. It could be millions.

Let’s forget the argument about whether to take Trump literally or seriously. This is as serious as the handwriting on that great big ridiculous wall.

Read it and weep.

The new rules define Donald Trump’s America, which somehow reminds me of Tom Tancredo’s America. Those who will now be prioritized for deportation are basically any and all without papers. Once upon a time (I think it was last month), the Obama administration prioritized convicted criminals or those who were caught just crossing the border.

Under Trump’s executive order — and the guidelines released today — you don’t have to be convicted. You just have to be charged. Or, if not charged, have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” For those keeping score, that doesn’t mean, as Trump might say, Mexican rapists. That means anyone, say, driving without a license. And this is a rule for civil libertarians to ponder: agents can target anyone without papers whom they believe to be dangerous, meaning anyone they choose.

The Dreamers are apparently exempted because, as Trump says, he has a great heart, although during the campaign, he had said he would end the “amnesty” provision immediately. But, under these new rules, parents who pay a smuggler to bring their children to the U.S. should be considered accomplices to human trafficking, meaning the whole family gets deported. So maybe not that great a heart.

The list goes on. The category of people who can be returned to their country of origin with expedited deportations – limited during the Obama administration to those picked up within 100 miles of the border who have been here for less than 14 days – has been expanded to those found anywhere who have been here for less than two years. And, as a bonus, the rules make it easier to deport those seeking asylum from gang- and violence-ridden Central America countries and harder for those asylum seekers to prove their case.

If America’s first, it seems, the Statue of Liberty may have to go to the back of the line.

This will cost us, of course, just like the $20 billion (and counting) wall that Mexico won’t pay for. There are the additional 10,000 ICE agents to be hired and the 5,000 border patrol officers. And the detention centers to be built. And — this is a Trump special to appeal to the hardliners — an office within ICE to assist families whose relatives have been killed by undocumented immigrants, as if those deaths are more traumatic than any other. And, we’ll assume, there will need to be more buses for the roundups, although, as reported in The Washington Post, senior Homeland Security officials said that now is not the time for anyone to “panic.”

No, they really said that. They said it anonymously, of course, while briefing reporters on the new rules. And if you stop to recall hearing all those people in the Trump administration complaining about anonymous quotes, be assured that they meant only anonymous quotes critical of their policies.

Here’s the money quote from a presumably unpanicked official: “We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination. This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”

All he/she needed to do was add “believe me,” and you’d know what to do. If the plan isn’t intended to produce mass deportations, what it is intended for? Is it intended to frighten people? Is it intended to push the millions of undocumented immigrants further into the shadows? Is it just a bone to throw to the Republican base? Or is it a precursor to the detention forces? And, in any case, does Trump agree with this assessment any more than he agrees with his national security adviser’s assessment of our relationship with Russia?

You might also note that the anonymous official said he/she didn’t have the “personnel, time or resources,” but didn’t say Trump/Sessions/Kelly etc. didn’t have the desire to do it or intention to make those resources available.

And that’s where the rest of us come in. Because the new rules will also amp up the coming Trump v. “sanctuary city” wars, the ultimate red-blue battle. Trump tweeted out a poll today showing that Americans overwhelmingly oppose sanctuary cities. He didn’t mention that people overwhelmingly don’t have any idea what it actually means to be a so-called sanctuary city. Or that the same poll shows that what Americans do overwhelmingly support is immigration reform, which doesn’t necessarily mean rounding folks up and sending them out of the country. At least last time I checked.

Under the new rules, ICE agents would revive a program that basically deputizes local law enforcement officers to assist in deportation efforts. The problem with the plan is that a large percentage of those who could be deported live in cities like, say, Denver where they severely limit cooperation with federal immigration agents.

Of course, Trump has threatened to take away federal grant money from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate. This will end up in court. San Francisco has already sued. Denver has sought a legal opinion which says the order is probably not enforceable.

Meanwhile, undocumented immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra, who has lived in America for 20 years, made national headlines when she took residence in the basement of a Denver church where she had sought sanctuary. As of today, Vizguerra may have to make room for many more.

Flickr photo by Fibonacci Blue





















jeanette vizguerra

At least at one point in his unsurprisingly unhinged news conference Thursday, Donald Trump told the truth. This is headline stuff, because generally, as we know, Trump prefers to traffic in either alternative truths, gross exaggerations or outright lies.

But he was up there for 77 minutes, so it was bound to happen. Not, of course, when he said his administration was a “fine-tuned machine” or when he asserted that the rollout of his immigration executive orders was “very smooth.” No, it came when he explained that he wasn’t ranting or raving — as he was sure his erratic performance would be described  — but insisted, instead, that he was enjoying himself and that he loved mixing it up with the dishonest media.

And it was clearly true because, let’s face it, this was a rare opportunity for Trump to be Trump, who has the press at the top of his enemies list. For most of the hellishly long four weeks he has been on the job, Trump has been a disaster — true news that he tries to explain away with his morning tweets or with his afternoon Spicer. Neither is working. The tweets are starting to be ignored and Spicer has been Melissa McCarthyed into a late-night punch line.

The news conference was his way toward a Trump reset, in which he’d be the Trump everyone remembered before the job started — you know, back when he was an authoritarian in training. We guessed he’d be a disaster but couldn’t know just how chaotic and dangerous that would be.

It doesn’t have to be said that there has been no president like Trump. No president who claims, as if he’s a college freshman bragging about college board scores, that he had the biggest electoral win since Reagan. (Fact: It was the sixth biggest since 1984; that’s sixth out of eight.) And when asked to explain, he said he’d “seen that information around.”

Real presidents don’t call the Michael Flynn/Russia scandal a “ruse” and “fake news” promulgated by the media to divert our attemption from, yes, Hillary Clinton’s November defeat, as if anyone other than Trump is thinking about Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, he blames leaks and fake news for Michael Flynn being fired when, of course, it was Trump who fired him. And as to why the news was fake: “The leaks,” he explained, “are real. You know what they said, you saw it, and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

And in maybe the highlight moment, out of dozens, he asks a black reporter if she knows the people at the Black Congressional Caucus — because, well, they’re all black — and could set up a meeting with them for him. Or maybe it was when he said he was “insulted” by a softball question from a reporter wearing a yarmulke about rising anti-Semitism.

I could go on, but I won’t because that makes it seem as if Trump is just a joke. He’s not just a joke. The unfunny moment that stuck with me — and I’m guessing the moment that stuck wth Jeanette Vizguerra, the undocumented immigrant and mother of three American-citizen children who has taken sanctuary from ICE agents in Denver’s First Unitarian Society church — was Trump’s answer to a question about immigrants: “We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.”

It’s not clear whose lives he saved when ICE agents were set to deport Vizguerra. Her crime is that she came to the United States illegally 20 years ago and was arrested in 2009 for using a fake ID to get a job. That’s it. Not a gang member. Not a drug dealer. Not a rapist. It was time for her annual check-in appointment with ICE, but she knew about the Dreamer who had been arrested in Seattle and the woman taken from the battered shelter in El Paso, and she thought better of it. And so she called in the dishonest press to tell them the truth, that the church was her sanctuary, basically daring Trump to come get her. He won’t. It’s a church, and Trump might take on a pope, but not a church.

It was under Obama that Vizguerra got her deportation papers, but it was also under Obama that the orders were annually delayed because, well, she’s not a danger. She’s an undocumented immigrant who chose not to return to the shadows, where millions are consigned. This refusal to deal with our large and often desperate undocumented population is an ugly chapter in America history and part of the ugly reason that Donald Trump is president.

But there’s more to it than that. Vizguerra, a community activist, has the direct support of Rep. Jared Polis and Mayor Michael Hancock, and her retreat to the church also gives lie to the whole sanctuary city ruse. In Denver, we’re arguing about whether to defiantly proclaim in writing that we’re a sanctuary city, with the rules put down on paper.

The sad truth is that whatever local laws are passed, Denver can’t protect Vizguerra. Police can refuse to cooperate on detainers. Sheriffs can refuse to provide more information than the law requires. ICE can be forced to get actual warrants. And the threat to cut off funds from cities like Denver can rightly be seen as a hollow threat, just as the reported memo of the National Guard’s use as a deportation force is almost certainly a hollow threat.

Trump may be president, but this is still America.

But in Trump’s America, he can take the podium to thrill his base and simultaneously leave the rest of the nation slack-jawed. It is funny in that funny/sad way. Unless you’re one of the millions like Vizguerra. Living in a church basement. Facing the most uncertain of uncertain futures, for her and her children. With nowhere else to turn. And for whom it’s not a joke at all.


Photo of Jeanette Vizguerra courtesy of Vizguerra


Let’s be clear about the latest bit of chaos from the dysfunctional — that’s John McCain’s description — Trump White House. The real Mike Flynn scandal was not the one that led the national security adviser to be fired. The scandal is that he was ever hired.

This is the overtly anti-Muslim Mike Flynn. The lock-her-up-chanting Mike Flynn. The I’ve-seen-signs-in-Arabic-along-the-border-guiding-radical-Muslims-into-the-United-States Mike Flynn. The retweeting-fake-news-Clinton-sex-crimes Mike Flynn. (It was Mike Flynn Jr. who was the #pizzagate Mike Flynn, but it’s easy to get confused.)

You know, the unhinged Mike Flynn.

It’s the same Gen. Flynn who was fired from his last job in the Obama administration for being what Colin Powell described, in a hacked email, as “right-wing nutty.” This the Flynn-Facts Mike Flynn. Flynn Facts preceded alternative facts as the alternative truth we have come to expect from the White House.

Flynn was, of course, hired because he fits right in with the conspiracy-obsessed president and his conspiracy-obsessed men (Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, for starters). So, the scandal is only tangentially about Flynn lies or about Flynn’s relations with Russia or about anything else that even some GOP senators are now saying demands actual investigation.

This is the story of the Trump White House. Flynn was fired only after the Washington Post revealed that then-acting attorney general Sally Yates (remember Sally Yates?) had told the White House weeks ago that Flynn had lied to Mike Pence about discussing sanctions with the Russians. The intelligence community (remember them — the Nazis?) were concerned that Flynn was therefore vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Would Trump have fired Flynn if the Post hadn’t run that story just hours before Flynn turned in his resignation? (Hint: no.) Hadn’t Kellyanne Conway gone on TV that day to say Flynn had Trump’s “full confidence”? What exactly changed Trump’s mind, and what took Trump so long for Trump to “lose trust” in Flynn? Hadn’t you lost trust long before?

And so the inevitable, if cliched, questions begin: What did Trump know and when did he know it? If it turns out that Trump knew about Flynn’s Russian discussions before he got to the White House, we have a whole different story. And even if it turns out that Trump was, uh, clueless, if anyone else on the Trump team know about it, it’s also a different story.

And don’t worry, there will be investigations. This is too big, too volatile, even for the compliant GOP Congress to ignore, even if Paul Ryan, apparently unconcerned about his own credibility gap, did say he was confident the White House would clear this all up. The story won’t go away because everyone knew about Flynn’s close ties to the Russians before he got the job. The story won’t go away because there will be more stories from the dishonest media and more of Trump decrying — as he did today in a tweet — the damaging leaks we see nearly every day.  These leaks happen for a reason — the people with access to the damaging stories from the Trump White House are worried about just how damaging they are.

Don’t look for Watergate-style committees or even Benghazi-style committees, but there will be investigations. I know we’re still waiting for the hearings into whether the Russians interfered with the election, but this is different. Sen. Roy Blunt, a key Republican who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, has already called for an investigation of Flynn’s Russian connections. Mitch McConnell says it’s “highly likely” that the committee will look into it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cory Gardner calls for an investigation next. OK, I would be surprised, but you get the idea. The pressure will continue to grow and not just from Democrats hungry for scandal.

Meanwhile, there is the irony to be considered: Did Donald Trump, of all people, really fire a guy for lying? There had to be more to it, right?

So, here’s where we are. North Korea fires a missile and Trump turns the Mar-a-Lago outdoor dining area into a situation room, with the paying customers there for the show. Trump hangs up on the Australian prime minister. He tweet-dares the Mexican president into canceling a trip to Washington. He creates world-wide chaos with his immigration executive order and then insults the judges who overrule him. The list goes on and on and on, and we’re, at last count, only 26 days into Trump’s presidency.

And now, in the latest, it appears that Trump’s buddy and mentor in authoritarianism, Vladimir Putin,  has secretly deployed a new cruise missile in apparent violation of a critical arms treaty. This would seem to be a test for Trump as to what level of humiliation — maybe we should employ color coding to help keep track — he’s willing to accept from Putin.

I know I’m repeating myself when I say this, but this is just the beginning. It will only get worse. Maybe the most important thing to remember about the level of chaos is that, fortunately, nothing remarkable has happened in the world since Trump took residence (at least on weekdays) at the White House. All the White House crises are self-made. Every wound is self-inflicted.

But stuff will happen. Stuff always happens.

And when it does, Trump will still be president.


Illustration of Michael Flynn by DonkeyHotey via Flickr:Creative Commons








If not for the brothers and sisters of the robe — as Neil Gorsuch described his fellow judges — there would have been no more than the typical chaos at the Trump White House.

If not for the panel of Ninth Circuit judges who forcefully reminded Donald Trump that there are three branches of government — something even a bad high school student should know — it would have been, in fact, a day much like any other confounding day.

If not for the fact that the three-judge panel unanimously blasted Trump’s defense of his executive orders on immigration and refugees as running “contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” we could have safely ignored Trump’s all-caps tweeted reply to the ruling: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

But we can’t ignore it because the judges, in upholding a lower-court stay of Trump’s executive orders, basically determined that Trump had not shown that the security of the nation would be enhanced by the orders, which leaves us, and probably the judges, to wonder why he was actually issuing the orders at all. Of course, there’s so much to wonder about in Trump World.

On our calendar Thursday, the day of the ruling, there were these puzzlers: Kellyanne Conway being “counseled” for her Invanka Trump products sales pitch. Sean Spicer going full Melissa McCarthy on the press. Trump embarrassingly having to embrace the One China policy in a didn’t-sound-like-winning phone call with China President Xi Jinping. National security adviser Mike Flynn caught lying (by the Washington Post and its nine sources) about talking to the Russians about sanctions before Trump took office. Mike Pence having to explain why he had said Flynn never talked to the Russians about sanctions (did Flynn lie to Pence or did Pence lie to us?). Trump’s twitter feuding (again) with John McCain. Trump’s leaked phone call with Vladimir Putin being paused while Trump had to ask advisers what the New START treaty was.

And, of course, there was the ultimate Trump — the once-healthy college-age athlete who escaped the draft by claiming to have had bone spurs, although, years later, he wasn’t sure in which heel — blasting Sen. Richard Blumenthal for lying about his Vietnam-era record (Blumenthal had said he served in Vietnam when, in fact, he had served during Vietnam).

Why call Blumenthal a liar? Because the senator had relayed, apparently with the judge’s permission, that Gorsuch was “disheartened” and “demoralized” by Trump’s so-called critique of so-called judges. Trump said Blumenthal mischaracterized Gorsuch’s words even though Gorsuch’s Senate handlers, who were in the room, said Blumenthal’s words were accurate. In other words, Trump called Blumenthal a liar even though he knew Blumenthal wasn’t lying. The White House later tried to say that Gorsuch’s statements weren’t about Trump at all, but apparently about some other very important person calling judges a “disgrace.” We’ll see if the White House launches a search to find the real judge-basher.

If Gorsuch had been trying to put some distance between himself and the man who appointed him in order to impress Democratic senators with his independence — one theory on why he let Blumenthal take his words public — it failed. Now, as ever, the Gorsuch nomination will be all about Trump. Of course, it’s always about Trump.

Just as the executive orders were all about Trump’s ever-adjusted campaign promise to ban all Muslims (the order settled for temporarily banning Muslims from seven majority-Muslim countries).

Just as the judges’ 3-0 ruling was about Trump’s insistence that judiciary, which usually gives deference to the executive in such cases, had no right to even review the national-security orders.

Here’s from the ruling: “The government does not merely argue that courts owe substantial deference to the immigration and national security policy determinations of the political branches — an uncontroversial principle that is well-grounded in our jurisprudence.

“Instead, the government has taken the position that the president’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections.”

That concept, the judges wrote, “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The experts tell us that Trump’s appeal, which will almost certainly get to the Supreme Court, although the timing may be at question, was shot down at nearly every turn. On standing (the states had the right to sue). On trust (the court didn’t trust that the Trump administration would actually exclude green-card holders from the order). On the possibility of religious discrimination (it was Rudy Giuliani who couldn’t resist bragging that Trump had asked him how to “legally” implement his Muslim ban). On irreparable injury (the government didn’t even attempt to show that the present system wasn’t adequate to protecting the country).

In her New Yorker article, Amy Davidson made the point that the irreparable harm, in Trump’s view, was to his ability to boast about winning. Trump lost, for now. But it’s early. And as for winners, well, we’re just at the temporary-restraining-order stage now. There are, in all likelihood, many rulings on these orders yet to come. Trump is already promising more “extreme vetting,” whatever that means. Let’s hope it doesn’t involve waterboarding.

And at this point, if you’re feeling some real irreparable harm, I can promise it won’t be the last time.














Mitch McConnell, the wiliest of wily old politicians, made the un-wiliest move imaginable on the Senate floor. And all it did — besides needlessly offending millions of people who weren’t paying the least bit attention — was to breathe life into the devastated opposition party.

You’ve no doubt seen the video. You’ve probably already ordered the “Nevertheless, She Persisted” T-shirt. And you wonder what the hell McConnell, the Senate majority leader, could have been thinking.

To recap, McConnell and fellow Senate Republicans told Elizabeth Warren, the most prominent Trump critic in the Senate, to, in effect, sit down and shut up. In Archie Bunker’s words, to stifle yourself, Edith. They not only made her sit down — “The senator will take her seat” — but they told her she couldn’t talk again that night.

Yes, they put her in the corner, and as we all know, nobody puts baby in the corner.

Strangely — and it was beyond strange — McConnell and company made this outrageous order in the name of Senate decorum. They pulled out the most arcane of the many arcane Senate rules –Rule 19, as it were  — in which senators are not allowed to impugn the motives of fellow senators. By the way, no one can remember the last time Rule 19 was invoked.

More strangely, and absurdly, they did it while debating about Jeff Sessions — a senator — whose confirmation for attorney general was before them. In other words, you couldn’t criticize the person about whom you were debating. That would be not just Rule 19, but Catch-22. Stranger still, they did it while Warren, the liberal firebrand, was reading a letter from civil rights icon Coretta Scott King.

So, here we have it. Warren couldn’t impugn a senator who was once refused a federal judgeship in 1986 by a Republican Senate over what was then seen as racist behavior, as outlined – I’m sure you’re ahead of me — in a scathing 1986 letter from Mrs. King, the late widow of Martin Luther King, Jr.

And what did McConnell accomplish? Aside from encouraging millions to read King’s letter and aside from rallying Warren’s many followers, he energized a demoralized Democratic base. He insulted a woman, and, yes, it was an insult. And he said, during Black History Month, that an African-American’s icon’s letter not only was indecorous and impugned the good senator, but that it wasn’t fit to be read on the Senate floor. (Warren was reading before a nearly-empty chamber and a few C-SPAN devotees. She later read it on Facebook, as viewed by millions. And Sen. Tom Udall read the entire letter on the Senate floor, notably without being censured.)

The Warren putdown led to several votes on the Senate floor, including one on whether to allow Warren to speak again. It went down along party lines, meaning, yes, our own Senator Cory Gardner, whom we were once assured would be a leader in crossing the aisle to find common solutions, voted to shut up and shut down both Elizabeth Warren and Coretta Scott King.

Now, there are some who think that McConnell was playing multi-dimensional chess and that this move was designed to help Warren become the face of the Democratic Party. If so, he maybe went one dimension too far. I don’t know if Warren (full disclosure here: My law professor daughter was a Warren student and protege) plans to run in 2020, but I know that what Democrats need right now is someone to rally the oft-defeated troops and that Warren is exactly the right person for that job.

I mean, Democrats are demoralized, and they should be. They have lost all levers of federal power. They lost a chance to get a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time in many years. They don’t have the votes to stop any of Trump’s more absurd cabinet choices — Sessions being among them.

And so they talk and they stamp their feet and they do all night, not-quite-filibuster talkathons which are followed by losing votes. Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his little White House team are in charge, even as they repeatedly swing wildly from absurd to dangerous to laughable to press-bashing to massacre-inventing to judge-bashing to, yes, Nordstrom-bashing.

This is how bad it is for Democrats. On the night before the Sessions talkathon, Democrats had tried to stop the altogether unqualified Betsy DeVos from being confirmed as secretary of education. DeVos not only embarrassed herself at her brief confirmation hearing with her lack of basic knowledge on public education, she had been an avowed enemy of public education. Education secretary is usually a slam-dunk nomination, but the base — you remember the base — demanded that Democrats fall on their sword for this one.

They fell. They got two Republicans to fall with them. It was a 50-50 tie, one that Vice President Mike Pence dramatically broke in favor of DeVos. It was yet another humiliation.

There are many fights to come. According to my math, Democrats will lose most of them – or, if they don’t lose, will have to compromise for something far less than they want.

Elections, as they say, do have consequences. But it’s also true, as they also say, that words matter. Like these:

From Warren: “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”

And from McConnell: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

And from Hillary Clinton who retweeted McConnell’s words before adding: “So must we all.”


Photo illustration by Elvert Barnes via Flickr: Creative Commons