April 15, 2019

President Trump's White House has a historically high turnover rate, "but there are a few survivors," Peter Nicholas writes at The Atlantic. He took a closer look at three people who have "flourished" in Trump's White House — policy adviser Stephen Miller, counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Vice President Mike Pence — and how they've managed it.

There are some unsurprising key techniques, Nicholas found: "Praising Trump, mastering skills that he values, and forging alliances in a rivalrous West Wing. If none of that works, plant yourself in front of a TV camera and impress the boss." Miller excels at the praise and mastering Trump's feel for their shared pet issue, immigration, and Conway nails defending Trump on TV. But "perhaps the most obsequious of all the president's men and women is his No. 2," Vice President Mike Pence, Nicholas reports, citing present and past White House staff members. He elaborated:

In public, Vice President Mike Pence has likened Trump to towering historical figures. ... Behind closed doors he is no less gushing, taking pains to ensure that Trump has no cause to turn on him, people familiar with the matter said. "I'd like my wife to look at me just for one day the way Mike Pence looks at President Trump every day they're together. That would be special," Kenneth Adelman, an official in Reagan's administration, told me. [The Atlantic]

Trump appreciates Pence's loyalty and servility, but he doesn't reciprocate, Nicholas notes, citing Trump's version of the one-on-one lunches presidents have traditionally shared with their vice presidents. "Trump ditched that tradition," inviting in "both his and Pence's top aides," he reports. "At the meals in the small dining room off the Oval Office, Trump keeps a big-screen TV tuned to cable news. Aides who have walked in have seen Trump yelling at the TV as he sits with Pence and their deputies over plates of chicken and cheeseburgers." Read more at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

April 9, 2019

President Trump did not just clash with outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over the legality and effectiveness of reinstating the migrant family-separation policy he ended last summer amid bipartisan outrage, as NBC News reported Monday morning. He wanted to expand "zero tolerance" to all migrant families who traveled over the U.S.-Mexico border, legally or illegally, in the U.S. or at the border, CNN reports, citing multiple sources.

Nielsen noted that federal courts had blocked family separation and White House staffers argued it would be another unmitigated PR disaster, CNN reports. But Trump said he thinks separating families is an effective deterrent. "He just wants to separate families," a senior administration told CNN.

At a meeting two weeks ago, Trump also ordered Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to close the border at El Paso, Texas, the next day, with more ports of entry to come, CNN says. Trump was "ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue," one attendee recounted. Nielsen reportedly listed a bunch of practical and political objections to that decision, offered some alternatives, and was told by Trump, "I don't care." Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney apparently talked him out of closing the El Paso port of entry. Peter Weber

April 8, 2019

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's annual brunch in Washington on Sunday, and he opened up about his struggles coming to terms with being gay. He also shared a message for Vice President Mike Pence, who was governor of Indiana when Buttigieg came out in 2015. Buttigieg, 37, is now married and exploring a bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

"It's hard to face the truth that there were times in my life when, if you had shown me exactly what it was inside me that made me gay, I would have cut it out with a knife," Buttigieg said. "If you had offered me a pill to make me straight, I would've swallowed it before you had time to give me a sip of water." Thankfully there was no knife or pill, he added, and now he understands believing there's something wrong with being gay "puts you at war not only with yourself, but with your maker."

"My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man — and yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God," Buttigieg said. "And that's the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand, that if you've got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator."

Pence is a conservative evangelical Christian who opposes same-sex marriage; Buttigieg's Episcopalian. "It's unusual for Democratic presidential candidates to talk about faith as often as Buttigieg does," USA Today notes. "It's groundbreaking that he uses his marriage to another man to illustrate his personal relationship with God." The LGBTQ Victory Fund audience appeared appreciative of his Christian left beliefs, even if they don't share them.

"He talked about God in a room that's probably full of atheists — that's what I am," said Jack Jacobson. "He does it unabashedly and in a way that doesn't come across as threatening, dismissive, or negative."

April 4, 2019

President Trump went on a several-minute rant against wind power at a Republican National Congressional Committee fundraiser Tuesday night, claiming among other things that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday that Trump's line about cancer was probably "tongue in cheek," but his "comments on wind energy — not only as a president but when he was a candidate — were, first of all, idiotic, and it didn't show much respect for Chuck Grassley as the grandfather of the wind energy tax credit."

Iowa was the first state to generate more than 30 percent of its electrical power though windmills, the Iowa Environmental Council says, and Grassley chalked up Trump's wind energy attacks to ignorance about the energy crisis of the 1970s. "I've lived through it, he never has, so I'm going to give him some leeway when he criticizes alternative energy," Grassley said. About 85 percent of new politicians in Washington "think it's stupid that we have wind and solar and everything else, except for a few progressives," he added. "I'm not a progressive but I'm in favor of alternative energy."

White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp shrugged uncomfortably when reporters asked her about Trump linking wind turbine noise to cancer, saying she doesn't "have an answer" for why the president said that.

Also unwilling to contradict Trump was Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who told reporters Wednesday that it's "not my place" to offer an opinion on wind turbine noise causing cancer, though she didn't rule it out. "You know how those things change," she said. "One year, coffee’s good for you. The next year, coffee causes cancer." There is no evidence that noise causes cancer. Peter Weber

March 27, 2019

"Barbara Bush blamed Donald Trump for her heart attack," Susan Page writes at USA Today, excerpting her upcoming book on the former first lady, The Matriarch. "It wasn't technically a heart attack, though she called it that. It was a crisis in her long battle with congestive heart failure and chronic pulmonary disease that hit her like a sledgehammer one day in June 2016," when Trump had secured the Republican nomination after repeatedly humiliating her son, Jeb Bush.

By February 2018, when Page asked Bush if she still considered herself a Republican, she answered, "I'd probably say no today." Page called that "a stunning acknowledgment" from "one of the most recognizable faces of the Republican Party through two presidencies," two months before her death.

Still, "Barbara Bush's negative opinion of Trump dated back decades," Page writes. In 1990, Bush wrote in her diary that Trump is "the real symbol of greed in the '80s" and "Trump now means Greed, selfishness, and ugly. So sad." Two years earlier, Trump had volunteered to be her husband's running mate, an idea he'd dismissed as "strange and unbelievable."

Bush was horrified when Trump won, and "she didn't hide her horror from those close to her," Page writes, adding:

After Trump was elected, a friend in Kennebunkport gave her a Trump countdown clock as a joke. The red, white, and blue digital clock displayed how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds remained in Trump's term. She parked it on the side table in her bedroom, next to the chair she would sit in to needlepoint or watch television. She liked the countdown clock so much that when the Bushes returned to Houston that October, she brought it with her. It sat on her bedside table, where she could see it every day. It was there to the day she died. [Susan Page, USA Today]

You can read more about Barbara Bush's disdain for Trump at USA Today. Peter Weber

March 12, 2019

The night she defeated 10-term Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley last year, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) became an instant celebrity. "At first, it was really, really, really hard," she told Vanity Fair. "I felt like I was being physically ripped apart in those first two to three months." She started out as a star among young progressives, "but now, she's one of the most visible Democrats in the country, along with Nancy Pelosi," Vanity Fair's Abigail Tracy writes, "and she's eclipsing Pelosi, and even Hillary Clinton, as a Republican target."

Ocasio-Cortez considers the right's obsession with her a sign of her strength, she told Tracy in her unassuming Bronx apartment, and she doesn't expect it to abate anytime soon. "The whole goal is to dehumanize," Ocasio-Cortez said. Still, "it can be very empowering to say, 'Make fun of me. Do it. Draw the little insults on my face .... Do what you're gonna do. Act more and more childish. Just do it, because you're not gonna stop, you're just not gonna stop this movement.'"

And it's not just her ideology and star power conservatives are fixated on, Ocasio-Cortez suggested. "I think they saw a woman of color — Latina, no less — that came from a working-class and poor background, that ascended to federal office, and they said: 'We cannot allow this to have credibility, because if people saw that she did it, then maybe others will come — and we cannot let other people like her run for office. We need to make an example out of her.'"

Ocasio-Cortez said she feels the weight of Republicans waiting eagerly for her to slip up, but she also faces a larger, bipartisan problem. "It's really hard to communicate that I'm just a normal person doing her best," she told Tracy. "I'm not a superhero. I'm not a villain. I'm just a person that's trying." Read the entire interview at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

March 11, 2019

President Trump spoke at a Republican National Committee meeting at his Mar-a-Lago club on Friday night, and there is no video or audio because security guards made the GOP donors attending the event wear their cellphones in magnetized bags inside the club, Axios reported Sunday. But Trump still made some comments memorable enough to survive the phone ban, three attendees tell Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Fox example, Trump reportedly denied calling Tim Cook "Tim Apple," claiming that video of his comments did not capture the really fast "Cook" he slipped in between "Tim" and "Apple." ("I just thought, why would you lie about that," one of the donors told Swan. "It doesn't even matter!") He came up with new nicknames for 2020 Democratic challengers. And Trump said that "the Democrats hate Jewish people," according to Axios' sources. Swan paraphrases:

Trump said he didn't understand how any Jew could vote for a Democrat these days. Trump talked about how much he'd done for Israel, noting his historic decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump said if he could run to be prime minister of Israel, he'd be at 98 percent in the polls. [Axios]

Trump's broadside was prompted by arguably anti-Semitic comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and the resolution by House Democrats to condemn anti-Semitism and other hate but not Omar.

Trump's hands aren't exactly spotless when it comes to perceived anti-Semitism, Matt Taylor notes at Vice. The fight over Omar's comments "has broken down along complicated lines," he argues, "but what we shouldn't lose sight of in this thorny debate — about Israel and its government, about Palestine, about anti-Jewish hate, and about lobbying in Washington — is that Donald Trump does not give a sh-t about anti-Semitism," and for him "to suggest the opposition — the party that includes almost every Jewish member of Congress — is 'anti-Jewish' is a new low. Yes, even for him." Peter Weber

March 5, 2019

Ty Cobb, the lawyer who represented the Trump presidency during a critical 10 months of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, says he doesn't agree with President Trump and his personal lawyers that Mueller's Russia inquiry is a politically motivated hoax.

"I don't feel the investigation is a witch hunt," Cobb told the ABC News podcast The Investigation, released Tuesday. Trump was on board with his strategy of cooperating with Mueller, he said, at least "in my first nine-and-a-half months," when "I was able to prevent the president from going on the attack against Mueller." It was when Trump lawyer John Dowd "sent out a critical tweet of Mueller and Rudy [Giuliani] joined the team that the president felt unleashed," Cobb said.

Cobb thinks Mueller will submit his final report "no later than mid-March," he said, but the investigations won't end there. Trump has "found this very frustrating," he continued. "It's particularly frustrated him in foreign affairs. He doesn't like the timing. He, you know, wants this over. But it's never gonna be over. I mean, this is going to go through 2020. And if the president is reelected, it'll go beyond that."

Calling Mueller's an investigation a "witch hunt" has "been effective in a way," as Trump and Giuliani "have ratcheted up the public's concerns about the investigation and its legitimacy," Cobb argued. "I object to that approach. But it's his choice. He's the president."

For his own part, he said, "I never had a bad interaction with Mueller or his staff." And in fact, "I think Bob Mueller's an American hero. ... I've known him for 30 years as a prosecutor and a friend. And I think the world of Bob Mueller. He is a very deliberate guy. But he's also a class act. And a very justice-oriented person." You can listen to the podcast below. Peter Weber

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