Isn't it interesting that — almost apropos of nothing — Monica Lewinsky suddenly reemerged with a piece in Vanity Fair this week? The development was surprising enough that it prompted blogger and law professor Ann Althouse to wonder, "Who lured Monica Lewinsky out of her 10-year silence?"
Althouse posits five theories, including the possibility that Vanity Fair simply thought it would sell copies. But if the answer comes down to cui bono — who benefits? — then, as Dave Weigel notes, "The Lewinsky scandal was fantastic for [Hillary] Clinton. You can see in the Gallup poll's comprehensive chart that opinions of the first lady surged through 1998 and peaked after Bill Clinton was impeached."
But, putting aside the question of why Lewinsky is suddenly talking, there's another angle worth exploring, and that is the surfeit of speculation about how Republicans might now react.
It's kind of folks to worry about Republicans, but — as MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and CNN's Ashleigh Banfield both noted today — so far, at least, the criticism has mostly come from female columnists, not from Republican politicians.
This may be a sign the GOP has learned its lesson. No matter what the explanation is for Lewinsky's return, Republicans would be well served to take the advice of Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post and not take the bait this time. Matt K. Lewis
Before America elected Donald Trump, Samantha Bee interviewed Russian author and dissident Masha Gessen about a potential Trump presidency. She interviewed Gessen again for Wednesday's Full Frontal, and Gessen's thoughts on Trump's America were not reassuring. "What is the recipe for successfully resisting an autocracy?" Bee asked Gessen, in a subterranean bunker inside a SoulCycle gym. "I get asked that a lot," Gessen said. "You know, I had to flee my country. Most efforts to successfully resist I know of failed."
Things got darker when Bee asked for Gessen's biggest concerns about President Trump, based on her experience with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Oh, my biggest worry is a nuclear holocaust," she said. "If miraculously we avoid that, then, you know, he's certain to do irreparable damage to the environment that will make survival of the human species impossible." Bee took out pen and paper and tried to get Gessen to map out how things will go down, and she plotted out a downward course from Trump lifting Russian sanctions to getting Americans to inform on each other — and that wasn't the low point. "So there's a Russian joke," Gessen said. "We thought we had hit rock bottom, and then someone knocked from below." Bee said maybe some part of the humor was lost in translation.
Like Putin, Trump "uses language to assert his power over reality," Gessen said. "What he's saying is: 'I claim the right to say whatever the hell I please, and what are you gonna do about it?'" Bee said she couldn't believe Trump had that level of "cunning," and Gessen made a plausible analogy between Trump's instinctual verbiage and a playground bully. Bee asked for advice. "The thing, I think, to do — and this is my recipe," Gessen said calmly, "is to actually continue panicking." Watch below — it is mildly NSFW in some place, and funnier than it sounds. Peter Weber
One of Donald Trump's two platforms when he ran for president was #DrainTheSwamp, Samantha Bee noted on Wednesday's Full Frontal (the other being, cruelly, Chris Christie). Trump specifically railed against the influence of Wall Street and, in particular, Goldman Sachs. Everybody loved the swamp-draining idea, except some alligator-loving environmentalists (and Trump himself). "Well, good news, gator-huggers," Bee said. "Trump was lying!" Of the five Goldman Sachs alumni Trump has picked for his inner circle, Bee focused on Steven Mnuchin, the nominee for Treasury secretary. His Senate confirmation hearing is Thursday, she noted, though he has already given himself the job on his Yale alumni directory profile.
After getting rich on Wall Street, Mnuchin went to Hollywood and bankrolled movies like Suicide Squad. But the most problematic title on his résumé is "foreclosure king." During the great recession of 2008, "Steve Mnuchin took a crash and turned it into a crash-ortunity," Bee said. The bank he bought and renamed OneWest subsequently foreclosed on 36,000 people, specializing in "widow foreclosures" on reverse mortgages. Bee showed a few of the sadder foreclosure tales from OneWest's rampage. The bank's future now lies in the hands of the Housing and Urban Development Department — and thus, probably, Dr. Ben Carson. Bee despaired.
She ended her look at the likely next Treasury secretary by showing him talking about wanting to scrap the financial regulation put in place to prevent another big banking collapse. "Lets hope and pray that the next four years will be like Steve's film Suicide Squad, where the group of bad guys end up actually saving the day," Bee said. "But it will probably be like Steve's film Entourage — most people didn't want it, it disappointed those who did, and it only helped those who were directly involved in it." Watch below — and be warned, there is some NSFW language. Peter Weber
President-elect Donald Trump wants you to know that he's been working really hard on his inaugural address, to be delivered on Friday. He posted a photo on Wednesday to prove it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2017
It is a nice desk, in front of a lovely and distinctive tile pattern. It also appears to be one usually occupied by the Mar-A-Lago club receptionist:
You can also spot the desk, in what appears to be a public hallway, in the Mar-a-Lago photo gallery, and the hallway in historic photographs of the estate Trump purchased in 1985. New York's Madison Malone Kircher suggests, politely and with more documentation, that maybe the photo isn't all that it seems to be. "We're not saying that Trump didn't write his speech, in Sharpie, on a legal pad, at this desk, with its magnificent and inspirational eagle statue," she wrote, dryly. "Obviously he did; why would the president-elect stage such a photograph? It seems clear the Secret Service cleared out Mar-a-Lago, to give Trump the privacy and quiet he needed, and he chose that particular hallway desk to begin writing his speech." We'll get to hear the fruit of his purported work on Friday. Peter Weber
There are nearly 60 seniors at Cincinnati's DePaul Cristo Rey High School, and every single one has received at least one acceptance letter from a college.
— DePaul Cristo Rey (@DePaulCristoRey) January 17, 2017
"It makes me feel proud," principal Andy Farfsing told WLWT Cincinnati. "We work hard with these students. We welcome them in as freshmen with a promise that all students will graduate from high school and college and we will do it together." On Tuesday, the school held a celebration for the college-bound seniors, who have also earned $3.8 million in merit-based scholarship money. This is the third straight year that the high school has had 100 percent college acceptance, and the letters are still arriving. "We know that we did this together and all the students who are under us are looking up to us," senior Joseph Whittle said. "They're going to be in our seats one day." Catherine Garcia
If all of Donald Trump's top nominees are confirmed, his Cabinet will be the first since 1988 to not have any Hispanic members.
On Wednesday night, transition officials said that Trump has tapped former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to head the Agriculture Department. There were several Latinos under consideration for the position, including former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas); Abel Maldonado, who briefly served as California lieutenant governor; and Elsa Murano, a former undersecretary for food safety. Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, told The Dallas Morning News that considering Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, this underrepresentation is unacceptable: "By not including Latinos in the Cabinet, he is just showing how he is planning to govern." Trump, who started his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and promising to make Mexico pay for a border wall, received only 18 percent of the vote among Hispanics.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan picked Lauro Cavazos, a Democrat from Texas, to be education secretary, making him the first Latino Cabinet member. Every president since has had at least one Hispanic Cabinet member at all times. There is some diversity among the Cabinet picks — Ben Carson (housing secretary) is black, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (U.N. ambassador) is Indian-American, and Elaine Chao (transportation secretary) is Taiwanese-American. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump is more concerned about seeking out "the best and brightest to fill out his Cabinet." Catherine Garcia
Rick Perry reportedly agreed to be energy secretary without checking what the Energy Department does
Maybe this is why Rick Perry forgot that he wanted to eliminated the Energy Department in his famous "oops" moment at a 2012 debate.
When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.
In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States' nuclear arsenal. [The New York Times]
As Perry could have learned by reading the Energy Department's website — or Wikipedia — the lion's share of the Energy Department budget goes toward maintaining, protecting, and updating the U.S. nuclear arsenal; financing a clutch of prestigious national laboratories; monitoring and countering nuclear proliferation; and managing America's aging nuclear production facilities. "If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, 'I want to be an advocate for energy,'" said Michael McKenna, a GOP energy lobbyist close to Perry who worked on Trump's transition team. "If you asked him now, he'd say, 'I'm serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.' It's been a learning curve."
Perry's confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy Committee is Thursday, and he can expect some tough questions to test his quick education. Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal sciences, holds the record as the longest-serving governor of Texas, and his 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns were based on the economic success the Lone Star State had under his low-tax, low-regulation policies. His management experience would undoubtedly be a useful asset at any federal agency.
Obama's two energy secretaries had doctorates in physics — the first, Steven Chu, won a Nobel Prize, and outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was chairman of the MIT physics department and director of the university's Laboratory for Nuclear Science. You can read more about Perry's learning curve at The New York Times. Peter Weber
President-elect Donald Trump quietly paid out $25 million on Tuesday night to settle litigation against his now-defunct Trump University, one day before the deadline and three days before he is set to be inaugurated.
The funds were deposited into an escrow account by the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative (Trump University had to change its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after New York officials told it to stop using the word "university"), and the $25 million will settle three lawsuits that said Trump University misled students into thinking they would learn actual useful tips about real estate by instructors handpicked by Trump. The settlement was reached on Nov. 18; $21 million will go to thousands of class members in two cases out of San Diego, and $4 million will take care of a suit filed by the New York attorney general. A final approval hearing is set for March 30 in San Diego federal court. Catherine Garcia