Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

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

It is very easy to mock Cory Gardner’s unwillingness to give a straight answer to a straight question or, in many cases, to give any answer to any question.

But let’s agree, Gardner is in a bind.

He’s got a buffoon for president — the same one the rest of us have, by the way, but not all of us are in the U.S. Senate and in the same party as the president and on record as having called that president a buffoon. This is not the best place to be when you are an ambitious politician whose go-to move is to suck up to those who hold more power than you do. And it’s also a bad place to be if you’re in charge, as Gardner is, of getting fellow Republican senators re-elected in 2018.

The problem for Gardner is that every so often, you’re faced with a basic yes-or-no question and your usual choice of going with “maybe” just gets you into further trouble.

We watched it happen with the Jeff Sessions recusal story. It became obvious where this story was headed. The dishonest press — in this case, the Washington Post — had broken the story that the now-attorney general had met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. This would not be a big thing except, of course, that during Sessions’s confirmation hearing, he said he hadn’t met with any Russians.

So, you’ve got either a misunderstanding (that’s Sessions’s take) or you’ve got something not unlike perjury.

The facts were plain. They were plain before the Post story. Sessions was a key figure in the Trump campaign, the first senator to support him and, for a long while, the only senator to support him. How could Sessions, regardless of which Russian he had or hadn’t met, impartially lead an investigation as to Russian influence in a campaign in which he was a key player?

While many of Gardner’s GOP colleagues were quickly jumping off the Sessions bandwagon — see: Coffman, Mike — Gardner didn’t know where to jump. Or, for that matter, how high.

This was a no-brainer, but still too much of a brainer for Gardner, who went on NPR that morning to, well, not answer the question.

NPR’s question began with Sean Spicer’s not exactly surprising assessment that there was nothing to see here and that it was all just a sad case of Democrats and dishonest media trying to create a scandal from nothing. And then Gardner was asked if he agreed with that assessment.

The very Coryish response: “Well, again, I think the investigation will show us that. So if that’s the direction that the investigation concludes with, then we’ll know that Sean Spicer was right. If there’s different information or a different conclusion from the FBI or the intel committee, then clearly he was wrong.”

So, there you have it. Gardner’s answer was that we needed more time to see the obvious.

I wonder if on Tuesday night, when Trump was being praised for briefly acting like a grown-up,  Gardner had allowed himself to dream that, although this had been a nightmare so far, maybe things would get better.

The next day, remember, Gardner did his tele-town-hall excuse for a real town hall and escaped pretty much unscathed. He left early to do a photo-op luncheon at the White House. If you saw the photo, he was seated three chairs down from the president and was shamelessly smiling, of course, at what looked like a bit of photo-op Trumpian humor.

It was all going so well, until it wasn’t. That’s when the dishonest media did its nightly dump of bad Trump news, except this time the news was really bad. It wasn’t just the Post story. The New York Times reported that Obama aides had desperately tried to preserve evidence of a Russian connection that they feared the Trump administration might want to destroy.

And it was especially bad for Gardner, who is a well-known Russian hawk who has tried to say some tough things about Russian interference in the election — if you watched Sessions on Fox Thursday night, he said he had no idea whether the Russians had favored Trump  — without directly criticizing Trump. (My favorite campaign take about Trump and Putin came from Gardner when Trump was complaining that the Colorado GOP convention was rigged. Gardner asked in a tweet how Trump was going to handle Putin if the convention directions were too confusing for him. We now have a better idea of the answer.)

The Russian story isn’t going away. If you missed the Carter Page story — one of the stranger ones in this saga — he was an unpaid foreign policy adviser who also met with the now famous and ubiquitous Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the GOP convention in Cleveland, just days before the story of the DNC hacking broke. Again, that wouldn’t be much of a story if Page hadn’t also denied that he’d met with Russians.

So, we have Paul Manafort who had to quit the Trump campaign after revelations of his support for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. We have Mike Flynn who had to quit as national security adviser for lying to Mike Pence about whether he had discussions with Kislyak. The list goes on. And now we have Sessions having to recuse himself after lying — and failing to correct the record — about his conversations with Kislyak.

In his news conference, Sessions went with the I-can’t-recall line about what was talked about during his meeting with Kislyak, but it couldn’t have been the campaign because, well, it just couldn’t have been. I mean, why would the Russian ambassador want to know inside news on the campaign and Trump’s views on Russia when, as Sessions did recall, they could talk about religion instead?

I don’t know where this story ends, or how damaging the Trumpist-Russian connection might be. At this point, no one does, unless it’s James Comey. But what I do know from having watched a million other scandals unfold is that we’re at the point where the questions will only get tougher from here. If you don’t believe me, just ask Cory Gardner at his next live town hall.

 

Photo of Cory Gardner (with John McCain) by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

 

For an hour or so, Donald Trump acted like a normal adult. The nation was shocked, and much of the media was all aswoon. It was almost as if Trump were not just presidential, but, you know, the president.

In addressing a joint session of Congress, Trump delivered the long-awaited reset, and normally tough-minded Chris Wallace turned into one of the swooners, calling it “one of the best speeches” he had ever seen in that setting. It wasn’t, of course. It was a soon-forgotten, middling speech, which, by Trump standards, was Churchillian. I mean, it looked as if the president had actually practiced the speech before delivering it. Who knew?

In this State-of-the-Union-like speech, Trump wanted to say, amid the unrelenting chaos of his first 40 days, that the state of the Trump was actually strong. It was so strong that Trump postponed the executive-order reset on the travel ban — once needed immediately to stop the onrushing bad hombres, or whatever they’re called in Arabic — so he could bask in the praise of the enemies of the people.

The praise was not for anything Trump said or did, although he did finally, boldly, come out against anti-Semitism and hate-crime killing.

The praise was for what he didn’t say or do. For an hour, reading from the once-reviled teleprompter, he didn’t call anyone a rapist or crooked or a clown or a disaster or dishonest or a loser or fake or goofy or sleazy or wacky. He didn’t say he wanted to punch someone or have the Second Amendment boys weigh in. He didn’t mock a disabled reporter or mock the media much at all.

It was a relaunch from his American Carnage inauguration speech. It was a reset from his I-alone-can-fix-the-disaster-that-is-America convention speech.

But it was not a pivot. In this speech, he still talked of wide-open borders (so why do I have to always wait in those damn lines when I cross?) and of the bogus 94 million Americans out of the workplace. He insists that crime is up (it isn’t).  He gave much of his speech to those killed by undocumented immigrants as if there were such a crime wave (there isn’t; immigrants, in fact, have a lower crime rate.)

It was a campaign-style speech — the only kind Trump knows how to give — but with the expletives deleted. And, in place of the expletives, he said “the time for trivial fights is over,” as if he weren’t the most trivial fighter (remember the weeklong battle over the size of his inaugural crowd) since George Costanza (Moops).

No wonder we’re swooning. This has to be the first post-election speech in which Trump didn’t mention the size of his Electoral College win.

So, what did he say?

He said a lot. He spoke for an hour. He hit most of the Trump greatest hits with all the usual Trump vagueness. He still wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, even if he said just the other day that he didn’t understand how complicated that would be. So even as he laid out five health-reform principles, he didn’t lay out anything resembling an actual plan or the timing for a plan or how he would pay for the plan. It was pretty much the same with the big infrastructure plan — cheered by the Republicans in the room. And the great tax reform plan, which apparently needs no math to explain it. And the America-first trade agreements to come.

He talked of the “great, great wall,” beating the original wall by at least one great. He didn’t say — this is news — that Mexico would pay for it. He also didn’t say — this is not news — who would.

He said we would work with our allies, including our Muslim allies, to destroy ISIS, even though many of the same Muslims fighting and dying in a war against ISIS would not be welcome in Trump’s America.

On the other hand, he said our NATO allies were stepping up with their fair share of defense spending and the “money was pouring in.” Pouring in where? The United States isn’t going to collect any money. If the allies step up, it is to spend more of their own money on their own defense budget.

Great speech?

Well, he didn’t launch any trade wars. He didn’t launch any real wars either. In fact, unless I missed it, he never even mentioned North Korea. Or, um, Russia.

The biggest news of the day came before the speech in an off-the-record meeting with news anchors in which an anonymous White House source (clearly, Trump himself) said that Trump was ready to deal on immigration  reform and was even open to considering legal status, although not citizenship, for undocumented immigrants who had not committed serious crimes.

That’s headline stuff. It’s also, well, unbelievable stuff. Trump was elected as the no-amnesty Trump who would send everyone back where they came from and allow “the good ones” to return. Now, he’s offering legalization? Now, Mexico is not paying for the wall? Will his supporters care? What do you think?

The moment of the night — and it was a truly moving moment — came when Trump paid tribute to Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL who had been killed in the raid on Yemen. As Owens’s widow, Carryn, cried in the audience, Trump thanked her and said, “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”

What Trump didn’t say is that, just the day before, he had blamed his generals for whatever might have gone wrong on the mission or that John McCain had called the mission a failure or that Owens’s father had called for an investigation.

Being president, like life and like health-care reform, is complicated. Still, Trump did show he had the self-discipline, for an hour, to act like a grown-up. And now we wait to see how long it takes for him to step all over that message.

 

Photo by Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

 

So now we know the answer to that oft-posed question: What if they held a Cory Gardner town hall and everyone but Cory Gardner showed?

OK, it wasn’t exactly headline news that Gardner ducked the packed Byers Middle School event. He had ducked a similar one in Fort Collins the other night, and his office had said he wouldn’t be there. And let’s be honest, Gardner must be the least likely politician in America to voluntarily show up for a sure-to-be-confrontational night on the town.

That was the plan. Gardner would be invited. He wouldn’t show. The questions would be asked anyway.

Only a Cardboard Cutout Cory, all smiles, would be there to refuse to answer the questions, which, by the way, turned out to be almost uniformly well researched and on point.

So, he’d be embarrassed, and anti-Trumpists would take one more step toward showing that the stakes have changed and that, in part because of their protests, Obamacare would become suddenly popular.

This was Trump-era political theater, harkening back to old-school guerrilla theater. You’ll see more of this (and, just guessing, even less of Gardner) as TrumpWorld continues to be all a-wobble.

But if the point of the empty-chair town hall was to embarrass no-show Gardner, I’m guessing it was a failure. This is no fault of the organizers or of the questions asked or of empty-chair-pioneer Clint Eastwood. The organizers ran a very interesting show, which included a shoutout to journalists, otherwise known as enemies of the people. The crowd went nuts. Who could ask for more than that?

The thing about Gardner — and what makes him the politician that he is — is that he can’t be embarrassed. He’s the master of blush-free politics.

If you can trap Gardner and get him to take a tough question, he will dodge with impunity, as he did in the infamous there-is-no-federal-personhood-bill Eli Stokols interview. Or as he did Friday with Joe St. George, of Fox 31 Denver. St. George asked him four times whether he would hold a town hall as protesters were demanding. And four times Gardner refused to answer the question. It was vintage Cory — all obfuscation, all the time.

We can take pride in the non-alternative fact that the whole GOP duck-and-cover-town-hall phenomenon basically began in Colorado. It was Mike Coffman, you’ll recall, who was caught on video sneaking out of a meeting with constituents, sounding a very un-Marine-like retreat. The 9News video went viral, and nothing has been the same since.

Most Republicans, including Coffman, took the lesson to heart and simply stopped doing town halls, replacing them with what they call tele-town halls, which are working out about as well as repealing and replacing Obamacare. Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas showed how badly it’s going. He said he wasn’t holding town halls because of dangerous protesters, citing the shooting of Gabby Giffords at her 2011 “Congress on Your Corner” meeting.

Giffords, a Democrat who didn’t appreciate Gohmert’s sympathy, hit back hard, saying that town-hall dodgers should show some “courage” while noting that “I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning, my offices were open to the public.”

But Gardner is no Gohmert. And he’s not even a Ken Buck, who did show some courage this week by hosting an invite-only, quasi-town hall in Castle Pines – and not kicking out the Colorado Independent reporter who showed up to cover it.

Meanwhile, Gardner has spent his week in Colorado pretending to meet the people and sending out tweets and news releases about his meetings, headlined like this one: Gardner Meets Coloradans Along the Front Range. He did meet Coloradans, select Coloradans, like the Colorado Space Coaltion and MillersCoors employees and a friendly crowd at an agriculture forum. You get the idea. No questions about, say, Betsy DeVos or Russian interference in the 2016 election or an EPA secretary who doesn’t believe in climate change or, well, the list goes on. And on. And on.

In Gardner’s defense — well, not really, but sort of — he’s in a fix. And the only way to make things right would be to go completely honest. In other words, he has no way out.

You’ll remember that Gardner had slammed Trump during the primary season while serving as a Marco Rubio surrogate. Then there was the twitter war over the GOP caucuses. And, finally, during the general election, there was the, uh, groping video which so offended Gardner — and the pollsters — that Gardner said Trump should step aside and that, if he didn’t, he would write in Mike Pence.

This was a rare piece of Gardner boldness, and I think we know the lesson he learned — right after going with the GOP-sanctioned attack that protesters were being paid. Which was to make as few stands as possible.

Since Trump has been elected, Gardner has voted 100 percent with him. Of course, so have 47 other Republicans. He has criticized Trump on relations with Russia, but not very loudly and not so you’d really notice. And he did say that the immigration ban was overbroad and needed to be fixed. What he hasn’t said, of course, is that Trump lies constantly, that he’s a bully and a demagogue, that Steve Bannon is too dangerous to be anywhere near the White House, that the press isn’t, in fact, an enemy of the people.

I don’t think Gardner is worried so much about what Trump thinks. It’s a little late for that. We know Trump is the unforgiving type and that even begging wouldn’t help Gardner now.

What must worry Gardner more — much, much more — are all the pro-Trumpist Republicans in Colorado. Gardner can’t afford to lose them. At the same time, he can’t afford to be too pro-Trump in a state Trump has already lost. And Gardner’s next race is in 2020 when he’ll be facing angry Democrats and possibly disappointed Republicans in a presidential election year that, as of now, would feature Trump on the ticket.

If you like political theater, and I know I do, this is just the first act.

Photo credit: Kelsey Ray

Littwin: The great American roundup

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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