A Whole New World Of Uncertainty

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis outside the Pentagon earlier this month


Updating The Bulletin We Sent You Yesterday Afternoon About The Departure Of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis…


One day after Trump’s announcement he’s pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, the President Tweets his Defense Secretary is going. Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post says Mattis quit Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office. And the Post’s military reporter Dan Lamothe Tweets it was directly related to Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria, and now Afghanistan. What was the last straw? According to Lamothe, “It came down to reneging on promises made to allies in combat. Period.” Turkey is already threatening Kurdish rebels in Syria that the U.S. has been backing. Similarly, the U.S. has been helping Afghan’s military battle the Taliban. Meanwhile, Russia–who’s staying in Syria–is propping up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (According to Bob Woodward’s book, at one point Trump wanted to assassinate Assad. And Trump did order a missile strike on Syrian military targets after he saw photos of a chemical weapons attack Assad ordered against his own people, including children.)

That’s why we found this part of Mattis’ resignation later particularly poignant and telling (you can read the rest rest of it by clicking here):

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”



No further commentary from Trump on Twitter on this topic, at least not at the time of publication of this newsletter.

Now this wasn’t a complete surprise, except for the timing. (In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Trump quipped: “I think he’s sort of a Democrat”). But the move creates a whole new world of uncertainty about who’s next up. Mattis, along with exiting White House Chief of Staff John Kelly have certainly numbered among the “grownups” surrounding Trump. And all of the many former generals Trump somewhat controversially–“my generals”–brought into his administration at the beginning are now gone.



Explaining why he must get money NOW for his wall. Interestingly, the President mainly read from prepared remarks, when this is a subject he normally likes to riff on.



We were going to write about this yesterday, because Trump just seemed so over it; like he really wanted to get away. Even though he’d sworn never again to sign a budget measure that didn’t include “the wall”, and even though this is the last chance to pass anything in the President’s first term with a Republican-controlled Congress.

Then Syria came along, and far-Right politicians, pundits and professional rabble-rousers started kicking up so much dust we figured the President do a last-minute 180…

And that’s where we are at time of publication of this newsletter.

Trump saying he won’t sign a bill to extend funding for the government past Friday unless wall funding is in it. Although he’s apparently suggesting that aides and politicians stop referring to it as a “wall” and instead as “steel slats”, which he thinks will be more popular. You know, a “kinder, gentler” wall. At the same time we can’t picture a rally thronged with Trump faithful chanting “Build those steel slats!”

So the still-Republican controlled Congress Thursday went ahead and added in Trump’s $5-billion wall funding demand and passed it. Now it’s back to the Senate where it needs 60 votes. Which means some Democrats would have to vote for it to pass. Which they almost certainly won’t. Which then means a shutdown. Unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is willing to forever change Senate rules just to get a wall done. Or unless Trump changes his mind again. Otherwise it becomes a pre-Christmas weekend full of finger-pointing and tussling over messaging.

Trump’s already started with that in today’s early morning Tweets: attempting to blame Democrats if there’s an eventual shutdown even though just a few days ago he said he’d be “proud proud to shut down the government” for a border wall. Maybe Trump thinks that would work in his favor… Other early morning Tweets cheerlead Republicans “I am very proud of you!” And the President also somewhat inexplicably asserts “I know tech better than anyone“, which is how he knows a physical wall is necessary. And he threatens he’d be willing to keep the government shut down “for a very long time“.

So what’s ultimately more important to the President? Holding out for the wall–sorry, steel slats–and  almost certainly shutting down the government at the end of Friday? (Terrible optics if the President simultaneously jets as scheduled to his luxury resort in Florida for 16 days of vacation, which the White House says he’s not going to do.) Or signing a “clean” stopgap measure like the one already passed by the Senate, which keeps things funded until February, and doesn’t address “the wall” one way or another? And then he can hit the links right away

Yeah, Trump tried to ameliorate things for his base by half-heartedly looking under the sofa cushions in the Oval Office to try to find enough change to fund his wall, but squeezing money from other cabinet departments, or having the military build it seems a little far-fetched at this point, especially considering it’s Congress, not the President, that determines what money goes where.

And his contention that Mexico would pay for it through its new trade deal with the U.S. makes no sense at all. Because if someone in Mexico buys something from me they wouldn’t have before, for say $10, then I get the $10, it doesn’t go to Trump’s “wall fund”. Yes, I pay income tax on that money, so a percentage of that would go to the government, and a percentage of that could go toward building a wall, but then only if Congress approves it. So we’re back to where we started.

Finally, his threat to Democrats that without wall funding there will be no infrastructure deal is classic Trump: trying to force Democrats to give him something he wants in order to get something he also wants. There is no greater proponent of a giant infrastructure package than Trump himself.

So the President’s really got three options going forward:

  • Shut down the government and see how that goes. Hope Democrats cave under even the prospect of this happening.
  • Give up on the wall/“steel slats” for now. Now that Democrats will control Congress in a few days, wall funding for the President will never happen just by him demanding it, especially because they know how important it is to him symbolically.  More simply, why would it if a Republican-controlled House and Senate never really had the will to pass it? However, Democrats do seem willing to pay for other border security. So figure out a way to communicate that as a victory.
  • Trade wall funding for something Democrats want, that’s not something the President also wants. Perhaps investment in cleaner energy, or the environment. The wall is still a pretty “harmless” item to give in on to get something really great. But if they deal, Democrats better get something really, really amazing.



Just In Case These Political Rifts Are Seeming To Big To Bear…

We bring you this: Trump confidant and Citizens United President David Bossie giving a shout out to President Obama for handing out gifts at a DC children’s hospital.

If you haven’t seen the video yet, that’s what we’ll leave you with today (click on the photo to watch):



Publishers’ Note


With holidays falling in the middle of the week the next couple of weeks, we are going to try to take a few extra days off here and there, Trump permitting. So if you don’t receive a newsletter every weekday morning between now and the end of the year, that’s why.

Thank you for your strong support in 2018!

Have a very Happy Xmas and New Year!