Y’all Know The Senate Passed Tax Cuts And Flynn Pled Guilty To Lying To The FBI (Rendering The Fact That North Korea Can Now Hit Anywhere In The U.S. Mainland With A Missile A Mere Footnote To The Week). Now We’ll Try To Point To A Few Things To Think About Going Forward…
If you need a quick review here are a couple of good stories: On tax cuts, from Politico. On Flynn, from The New York Times. And the latest on North Korea from Yonhap: where the U.S. today is conducting flashy, unprecedented military exercises.
There’s also the small matter that the government is set to shut down Friday if no new budget agreement is passed this week. Republicans want a temporary 2-week stopgap, and nobody seems to really want a shutdown (except maybe Trump), but there’s still no guarantee that’ll go smoothly.
The Senate and the House now need to reconcile differences between their two versions of the tax bill. And there are many. But since Republicans now know they can get away with almost anything and still get the votes, it shouldn’t be too difficult or take too long. CNN Money has a comprehensive look at what still has to be worked out.
What about that last-minute report from Congress’ own tax economists showing the plan would balloon the federal deficit by $1-trillion dollars even if the bill works the way it’s supposed to?
That put things on ice for a little while. But then Republicans just decided to ignore it. (Except for Tennessee’s Bob Corker who was the only Republican to vote against.)
In fact, those shocking numbers may have spurred Republicans to act with even more urgency and resolve, before they spread too far and wide. So instead of intensifying calls for measures that would reduce the deficit, those were suddenly abandoned. Said Oklahoma Senator Jim Lankford, who’d been a holdout: “It’s walking the tightrope with a net or without a net. You prefer to have a net, but I think it’s going to work”.
The last-minute acceleration also might’ve accounted for scribbled, handwritten changes in the version of the bill delivered to Senators shortly before the vote began. If you haven’t seen this clip from Montana Democrat Jon Tester (yes, Democrats can win in Montana!), demonstrating how inane the entire process was, it’s worth a watch:
The Long Game
The following piece originally appeared in “The Chaos Report” close to a month ago and is why we predicted at the time that the tax plan would pass. We’re still debating amongst ourselves whether this is deliberate on the part of Republicans or merely “fortuitous”. But either way, it does now seem to have been set in motion…
There’s something potentially nefarious about this tax cut bill: a long game being played by Republican leadership that makes this a win-win for them no matter how it plays out.
Trump and Republicans say the public is clamoring for tax cuts. Trump: “they want it, they need it.” Even though polls consistently find it isn’t really at the top of the list of items of importance for most Americans.
But Republicans know their agenda stands to benefit from passing this tax cut package whether people really want it or not. If it ends up being a success, and corporations do the right thing for once and spend their windfall creating jobs, and the economy booms, they’ll be heroes. If it ends up being an astronomical failure it will leave the nation without much of a choice but to start chopping away at Social Security and Medicare. (By then Congressional Republicans hope they will also have “taken care” of Medicaid as part of an Obamacare repeal). Paul Ryan has been itching to do this for years, and he’s made no secret of it. The problem: right now doing so would be wildly unpopular, without obvious economic justification. But pass the tax cuts and wait, and those justifications may grow like weeds through cracks in a decaying sidewalk.
That’s because about 75% of the federal budget goes toward just three broad categories: 24% for the military and veterans benefits, 24% for Social Security, 26% for Medicare, Medicaid and health subsidies.
Here’s a pie chart that slices it up with more specificity:
So if the unprecedented, deep tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals end up causing an equally unprecedented budget crisis, there will be no way out really but to cut Social Security and Medicare (the military will never ever be cut), and it suddenly becomes possible because it suddenly becomes essential. Hence, the sad win-win for the big picture agenda for Ryan and his cronies, whether their tax plan succeeds or not.
Flynn: The “Volume” May Be As Important As The “Song”
There are already all kinds of stories, rumors, innuendo flying around about what Flynn might be telling Special Counsel Mueller. And there are going to be a lot more. And of course you can read and research them and interpret them as you see fit. Just keep in mind that almost anyone who is leaking something about Trump/Russia has some personal interest in getting some specific result. Nobody ever leaks purely out of the goodness of their own heart.
(Simple example: Billy Bush’s piece in the New York Times “Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That”, a beautiful, necessary Op-Ed. At the same time the tone suggests he’s decided now’s a good time to revive his career).
In some cases it may not even be about getting to the truth, it may just be about creating a lot of distractions and noise. Because what happens going forward is largely going to be about public perception.
Some other examples of what you might expect to see a lot more of:
• Turning up the heat on trying to get Trump to fire Special Counsel Mueller. Even if Flynn is cooperating, were Trump to fire Mueller, whatever info. he has might never come out, and Trump could then pardon him for lying to the FBI.
• Discrediting specific investigators: Trump’s already hot on this one, in multiple Tweets picking up on reports in the Washington Post (in Trump’s case Fox & Friends), that over the summer an FBI agent was removed from Mueller’s team after he privately exchanged text messages critical of Trump. That same agent had worked the investigation into Hillary Clinton. Note this happened over the summer, meaning whomever came forward with the story today was waiting for the right moment. (This strategy worked for OJ Simpson: it wasn’t really “the gloves” that got him off, it was evidence presented to the jury that a detective on the case was racist).
In later Tweets Trump expanded his critique, ripping into the entire FBI:
• Nothing anyone’s been accused of is illegal, except lying to the FBI. This is the mantra of Right-wing media right now: the “only” bad thing Flynn did (or Papadopoulos before him) was lie to the FBI. Of course this won’t hold forever. And if you come from an administration that says “everybody is lying except us, we’re the only ones you can count on for the truth” then we think we can hold you to a higher standard. There’s also something dirtier here: Trump in the Tweet above says the FBI right now is in “Tatters–worst in History!”, almost implying if that’s the case, lying might not be such a bad thing…
• Hillary, Hillary, Hillary. This is always in the Trump arsenal. Why is Flynn’s life “destroyed”, yet “nothing happens” to Hillary?
• People falling on their swords to try to keep the President in the clear: for instance, Trump’s lawyer taking credit for authoring a potentially incriminating Trump Tweet.
So far, The Flynn fallout as it applies to Trump is at a low simmer; seems to be focused on what Trump knew when. And we don’t really know if it’s even worth trying to follow or just a deliberate attempt to get us lost in a maze of obfuscation. So, as briefly as possible: First, Trump Tweeted he knew his former National Security Adviser Flynn had lied to the FBI. That potentially implicated Trump for obstructing justice since fired-FBI Director James Comey said the President subsequently asked him to let Flynn slide. But then one of Trump’s lawyers stepped forward and said he’d authored that Tweet, not Trump. And then Trump Tweeted he didn’t ask Comey that anyway. And now the Washington Post reports Trump’s lawyer says the President probably did know that Flynn had lied to the FBI.
An extremely comprehensive analysis by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker suggests that even if a “smoking gun” emerges from Flynn or someone else, it’s highly unlikely a President would be indicted while in office, nor is impeachment likely with a Republican Congress. Meaning even if Trump is implicated, it’ll likely ultimately be up to voters to decide what the impact on him will be.
Other Things Trump Is Doing Today
On top of everything else, Trump decided this morning to give a hearty endorsement to Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Trump had previously Tweeted against Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent, but this is the first time he’s directly backed Moore on Twitter, by name. The wording of his Tweet suggests his more direct endorsement at least partly stems from a desire to punish Democrats for not supporting his tax cut bill.
Meaning Trump’s definitively decided one more Republican vote is more important than accusations by multiple women (as Trump pointed out, “mostly Trump voters”) that Moore sexually harassed them when he was in his 30s and they were as young as 14. The special election is next week.
Trump’s also heading out West today, ostensibly to “celebrate” his unraveling of President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Politico reports there’s a 2nd motive. He’ll be accompanied on Air Force One by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, and the 83-year old is thinking about retiring. If he does, Mitt Romney will run for his seat. Trump doesn’t want that.
Aw, c’mon! It’d be fun!
It’s More Important Than Ever To “Be Your Own Reporter!”
As we’ve stressed before: pay close attention to attribution of unnamed sources. For instance, on Friday, as part of our “extra” coverage of the Flynn case, we suggested the attribution in an ABC news piece about Trump/Flynn/Russia seemed odd. Since then, the reporter on the story, Brian Ross, has been suspended for a “serious error”. We are not mind readers, nor are we geniuses. We are not trying to make a political point here. We just don’t trust anything. So if something seems fishy–regardless of where it comes from, and even if it’s something we believe is probably true, or want to be true–we still dig down until we determine whether it’s legit or not to our satisfaction. We urge you to do the same.