Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

D.C. Memo: Trump officially creates longest year in history

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Trump fed koi in Tokyo this week

This week in Washington, Americans marked the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election victory by voting for seemingly anyone with a (D) next to their name and signing up for Obamacare in record numbers. Following in the footsteps of many a recent college graduate, the president celebrated the major achievement by traveling to Asia.

This week in Washington

A year ago Thursday, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. If you feel like revisiting Election Day 2016, I highly recommend this package from Esquire, where key players in the campaign gave their behind-the-scenes stories from that fateful day.

Trumpaversary odds and ends: the Washington Post has a smart piece on Trump’s election night promise to be a “president for all Americans” and takes a look at how that whole thing panned out. Politico on what the alums/casualties of the Trump administration are up to: golfing, getting heckled at the Apple Store, being investigated by the FBI, and, uh, leveraging their distinguished service to our nation in paid speeches and TV contracts.

Out with the old, in with the new: there was an election this week! My colleagues have you covered on what went down in Minnesota. Elsewhere, voters headed to the polls for big elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere. The results are in, and it was a great night for Democrats — and a loud alarm bell for the GOP.

In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, defeated career Republican politico Ed Gillespie by a wider-than-expected nine-point margin. Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general also prevailed in the Old Dominion.

The Northam-Gillespie race was nasty, filled with personal attacks. The consensus out of D.C. is that Gillespie — a repeat failed candidate and an avatar for the GOP establishment — ran a Trumpist campaign without Trump, and that his defeat is a clear sign for other Republican candidates of the limits of such a strategy.

I’m more intrigued by what happened in Virginia’s state legislature races. On Election Day, the GOP held a 66-34 advantage in the state’s House of Delegates, and virtually no one anticipated that control of the chamber would be in play.

Yet, one GOP incumbent after the other fell to defeat on Tuesday night — including the Republican House Majority Whip, who lost his re-election to an underfunded challenge from a socialist Navy veteran. (You read this correctly.) As of now, Democrats picked up at least 15 (!) seats, leaving the GOP with just a two-seat advantage. Recounts are expected, as multiple races remain really close.

Republican candidates just got clobbered in Virginia’s suburbs, from the blue territory around D.C. to traditionally right-leaning communities around Richmond. Meanwhile, turnout was way up in Democratic strongholds. That reliable Democrats and swing voters showed up in historic numbers to deliver big wins for Democrats is extremely bad news for the GOP’s prospects in the 2018 midterm elections, lots of folks are saying. Dave Wasserman, a respected Beltway electoral prognosticator, said the Virginia results portend a 2018 “tidal wave.”

“It’s hard to look at tonight’s results,” he wrote, “and to conclude anything other than that Democrats are the current favorite for control of the House in 2018.”

That’s a big statement. But to win back the House — or make a dent in the GOP’s 23-seat majority — Dems will need to pick up districts like the affluent, well-educated Virginia 10th, repped by Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock. Northam won Comstock’s district by 13 points on Tuesday; a year ago, VA-10 went for Hillary Clinton by 10 points, a similar margin to MN-3.

To that end: some folks saying the suburban tide is bad news for Rep. Erik Paulsen. The NYT’s Nate Cohn listed Paulsen in a group of four House Republican incumbents he believes are in “more danger” after this week’s results.

Assorted links on Election Night: the Atlantic on Dems’ viable-but-narrow path to the House majority, WaPo on the new #Resistance heroes minted this week, and Maine’s vote to expand Medicaid. My colleague Eric Black with the view from Minnesota.

A bombshell story with potentially major political implications: a team of WaPo reporters found that Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, is accused of pursuing sexual relationships with minors, including a 14-year-old girl, while he was in his 30s.

Moore is a far-right social conservative and former judge who has advocated for criminalizing homosexuality; he once ruled in a divorce case that a child shouldn’t be left alone with a gay or lesbian parent. He has denied the allegations and blamed them on the “National Democrat Party.”

The special election for this Senate seat, which was vacated by Jeff Sessions, is on December 12. Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the KKK. GOP senators, including Mitch McConnell, have called on Moore to leave the race “if” the allegations are proved true. Invites a question: what more could be done here to prove this? It’s Moore’s word versus that of several women and multiple other sources, backed up by corroborating reporting. 

Other senators, such Sen. John McCain, were unequivocal in calling for Moore to step aside. Problem: some initial reporting indicates it may be hard for Moore to get off the ballot.

Another mass shooting, this time, at a Baptist church in tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas, 26 dead. You can read about the victims here. The shooter, in purchasing firearms, reportedly slipped through some regulatory cracks: the Air Force (in which he served) was supposed to notify federal authorities about the shooter’s domestic violence conviction, which should have barred him from buying a gun. It didn’t.

Gun control advocates continue to be outraged with yet another slaughter; see Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy with a distillation of the sentiment. Gun advocates, meanwhile, seizing on the fact that an armed bystander fired back at the shooter, say the shooting illustrates the need for fewer gun restrictions, not more.

The tax battle slogs forward on Capitol Hill: on Thursday, the Senate GOP unveiled its version of tax legislation. It is different from the House’s plan in a few ways: it does not totally eliminate the estate tax, eliminates the state and local tax deduction, leaves the mortgage interest deduction in tact, and delays the reduction of the corporate tax rate by a few years.

The House is wrapping a marathon mark-up session of its tax legislation, which resulted in some changes: the adoption tax credit, initially eliminated, has been restored after lobbying from both sides. The Ways and Means Committee passed the bill Thursday afternoon on a party-line vote, clearing the bill for a vote on the House floor.

In these stressful times, Republicans are beginning to say the things they’re probably not supposed to say out loud about their motivations for tax reform: Rep. Chris Collins of New York said donors are telling him to get tax reform done “or don’t ever call me again,” while South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said “financial contributions will stop” to the GOP if they don’t pass tax cuts. (Related: read Politico on the lobbying blitz that’s beginning in Congress.)

An, uh, unusual Congress story this week: GOP Sen. Rand Paul sustained serious injuries at his home in Kentucky after an altercation with his neighbor. It was initially reported the tussle, which ended in broken ribs and other complications for Paul, was over landscaping issues. But Paul cryptically tweeted some articles reporting on his neighbor’s stridently anti-Trump views, perhaps suggesting another reason for the attack. This is odd.

(Aside: Paul could miss extended time in the Senate, which is meaningful for McConnell, who can only afford to lose two senators on the tax bill — something they’re expected to vote on soon.)

As Congress wades through tax stuff, President Trump is in the midst of his swing through Asia. He is in China was in China Thursday, meeting with President Xi Jinping. In a joint press conference with Xi, Trump was more effusive than usual in his praise for Xi and China, even crediting the country’s leadership for exploiting the U.S. in trade policy, and blaming his predecessors. “We have great chemistry,” Trump said. “I think we’ll do tremendous things, China and the U.S.”

Keep in mind that Trump’s rhetoric on China to this point has been incredibly harsh; he has accused China of “theft,” and he hired an economic adviser so obsessed with China’s rise that he authored a book called “Death by China.Politico has more on Trump’s charm/flattery offensive in Beijing, which reportedly included showing a video of his granddaughter speaking in Mandarin.

Not too many headline-grabbing moments from his stops in Japan and South Korea, aside from attempts to feed some koi in Tokyo and a big speech in front of South Korean lawmakers in Seoul.

Trump didn’t spell out any specific policy to contain North Korea and its nuclear program, or draw any red line that would prompt U.S. military action. But in stark terms, he warned the regime of Kim Jong Un not to test the U.S. and its allies.

Back at home, news from the executive branch. Reportedly, Trump’s Department of Justice, which is overseeing a proposed $85 billion mega-merger between AT&T and Time Warner, has pushed for AT&T to sell off CNN, which it would own, in order for the deal to get approval.

Some have speculated this is a way Trump is aiming to punish CNN, his arch-nemesis. Meanwhile, AT&T has insisted it will not offload CNN, part of the Turner Broadcasting empire, as part of its bid to acquire Time Warner. But it’s also possible DoJ simply is trying to block the creation of a monster media corporation.

Sen. Al Franken is an opponent of the AT&T-Time Warner merger going forward, saying it’d lead to higher costs and worse service for customers. But he did add vis a vis CNN: “Any indication that this administration is using its power to weaken media organizations it doesn’t like would be a profoundly disturbing development.”

A Forbes investigation found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is probably lying about his status as a billionaire. The Wall Street raider and Trump Florida pal has claimed he’s worth close to $4 billion, but is probably worth less than $700 million — thanks to Forbes’ discovery of a non-existent $2 billion claim by Ross.

Forbes: “Ross' machinations helped bolster his standing in a way that translated into business opportunities. And based on our interviews with ten former employees at Ross' private equity firm, WL Ross & Co., who all confirmed parts of the same story line, his penchant for misleading extended to colleagues and investors, resulting in millions of dollars in fines, tens of millions refunded to backers and numerous lawsuits.”

More concerning Ross news: Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Scheck reports with American Public Media that Ross’ chief of staff helped close a major natural gas export deal between the U.S. and China — a deal she carried out while remaining on the board of a shipping company (and one with links to Russia) that could benefit immensely from the deal. Ross is also an investor in that company. Drain the swamp!

Last week, open enrollment began for Obamacare’s individual insurance markets. The Trump administration seemed eager to do nothing to encourage people to sign up for insurance, so much so that critics alleged they were sabotaging the process.

Some analysts predicted significantly fewer people would sign up for coverage this year — but so far, the system has been flooded with enrollees, reports Politico’s Paul Demko. The pace of enrollment is about double last year’s; currently, about 600,000 have signed up.

This year’s enrollment period is shorter, so it’s possible the final numbers will be less impressive, or on par with past years. Minnesota’s own Andy Slavitt, former Obamacare chief, is bullish on the early numbers. “The ACA is stronger than Trump, he said.” (You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone, or something like that.)

Finally, a (Mc) nugget of news out of the White House: apparently, if the in-house chef doesn’t cook Trump’s burger just so, a staffer is tasked with running to McDonald’s to pick up a quarter-pounder for POTUS. (Extra ketchup, no pickles.) Judge not, lest ye be judged: I’m a fan of the Filet-O-Fish. Come at me.

This week’s essential reads

The tax overhaul that House GOP leaders released last week is, to say the least, complicated: the adjusting of tax rates and the addition and elimination of tax breaks and deductions will affect different taxpayers to different degrees. But one thing the Republicans are saying consistently is that their legislation will ease the tax burden across the board for middle-class families. But that may not be true. The NYT did an in-depth analysis of the tax plan (with charts!) and fact-checked some key claims, and it’s worth your time:

President Trump and congressional Republicans have pitched the plan unveiled last week as a tax cut for most Americans. But millions of middle-class families — particularly those with children — would see an immediate tax increase, averaging about $2,000. Among the hardest-hit under the plan would be some of the most vulnerable taxpayers: those with huge out-of-pocket medical expenses.

By 2026, 45 percent of middle-class families would pay more than what they would under the existing tax system.

The preliminary Times analysis found that, in 2018, the plan would cut taxes for about 68 percent of families in the middle class, broadly defined as those earning between two-thirds and twice the median household income, or between about $50,000 and $160,000 per year for a family of three. For most of those families, the cut would be about $1,300 in 2018. In order to focus on families, the analysis excluded individual filers and households headed by people 65 or older and is adjusted for the size of each household.

A lot happened on Monday of last week: Robert Mueller issued his first set of indictments, Trump responded by denying collusion and shifting the focus to Hillary Clinton, and weather, sports, and sexual harassment news dominated headlines. Ariel Edwards-Levy of Huffington Post set out to answer a question: what do people who get their news from different places remember about what happened last Monday? She sampled 1,000 people from around the political spectrum to find out, and it’s an insightful read:

“In spite of being in the middle of a terrible storm where we lost power, I was tuned to Fox News all day. There was an indictment handed down for Paul Manafort, who turned himself in. An associate, Gates also was involved. I suspect this is another smoke screen to shield Hillary Clinton. An investigation was launched into the death of a soldier, supposedly killed by 2 Navy SEALS.” ― 82-year-old woman, got news from local CBS affiliate news, Fox News, local newspaper, Facebook

“Well, it was revealed that on July 27th Papadopoulos was arrested for lying to the FBI, pled guilty on October 5th. Manafort and his buddy Gates turned themselves in for the arrest warrants for the charges including money laundering, misleading investigators on his contacts with the Russians, not registering as a foreign agent. Podesta stepped down as the head of a lobbying group. And Trump had a super double secret lunch with Pence and Sessions, no media invited, on how they’re going to fire Mueller without Congress immediately starting impeachment hearings for obstruction of justice.” ― 60-year-old woman, got news from local NBC affiliate, MSNBC, NPR, Fark, New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, local newspaper, Twitter

Politics is no different from entertainment, media, or any of the other industries from which stories of sexual harassment and assault have poured out over the last few weeks. Abuse in state capitols has come to light in particular, including St. Paul, as my colleague Briana Bierschbach reported. But even though sexual harassment is just as prevalent in Washington, the capital’s abusers have not seen the consequences others have — due to a culture that keeps them in power and victims fearful of repercussions. A must-read from New York Magazine’s Marin Cogan:

If Ellen’s story were to follow the trajectory of other high-profile sexual-harassment stories that have been in the news for the last month, this would be the part where the serial harasser was named, shamed, and drummed out of his position. But that’s not going to happen. Ellen, who like most of the women in this story asked for anonymity because of fear of retribution, has come to the same conclusion as a lot of women in Washington: It’s not safe to speak up.

“I don’t want publicity. I don’t want trouble,” she told me. “I’m sorry I’m so paranoid. This town is so damned small, and no one can keep a secret.”

The sexual-harassment revolution is coming more slowly to Washington. Even the four female lawmakers who recently told the Associated Press of sexual harassment they faced from their male co-workers didn’t feel comfortable sharing the names of their harassers. “I’m not sure women in D.C. would be rewarded for their bravery [if they came forward], it’s just a different business,” Ellen says. “The thing about this town is that everyone is connected. The people who get ahead keep the peace and angle everything to their advantage.”

We’ve talked a lot in the past year about how baffling Trump is to the international community, to America’s friends and foes alike. That’s prompted an effort from one close U.S. ally, Sweden, to understand the Trump phenomenon — by traveling to parts of the country he won. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe traveled around western Pennsylvania with the Swedish ambassador, Karin Olofsdotter, to talk Trump:

A retired ophthalmologist asked her if she was worried that native Swedes were going to be “out-reproduced” by Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers. Swedes were reproducing just fine, she politely replied. A former schoolteacher pressed her on Russian aggression in the Baltic Sea. “Every day there is uneasiness,” she said.

At the hotel bar after the speech, Olofsdotter, Smith and Guttenberg tried to guess the percentage of Trump voters in the audience. “I saw a few grumpy faces,” Guttenberg said. “No hecklers,” Smith replied.

The discussion turned to particular audience members. The man who had introduced himself to Guttenberg by apologizing for “that idiot who is our president” definitely wasn’t a Trump voter. The ophthalmologist, they guessed, probably backed the president. What about the librarian who had arranged for the cookies? She could go either way, the three concluded.

Takes of the week

Your weekend longread

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a misleading name: sure, it has jurisdiction over farms. But beyond that, it has an almost comically broad portfolio — it manages hundreds of thousands of acres of land, does climate change research, determines what millions of public school kids eat every day. It is a consequential department with a reputation for discipline and nonpartisanship.

Yet, in the Trump era, the USDA has repeatedly been relegated to the back burner, with key jobs vacant, or staffed by people with no relevant experience.  In Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis — he of the Big Short and Moneyball — offers up my favorite read of the year about Washington under Trump: the new regime’s quiet, sad war on the USDA. Pay attention to this one, a story of neglect, mismanagement, and malice, to use Lewis’ words.

Just before the inauguration a Trump representative called the U.S.D.A. and said he wanted the building to remain open, as he was sending 30-something new people in. Why the sudden rush? … A member of the Obama transition team wondered how the newcomers could have been vetted so quickly by the Office of Presidential Personnel. Nine months later, Politico published an eye-popping account about these new appointees. Its reporter Jenny Hopkinson obtained the curricula vitae of the new Trump people. Into U.S.D.A. jobs, some of which paid nearly $80,000 a year, the Trump team had inserted a long-haul truck driver, a clerk at AT&T, a gas-company meter reader, a country-club cabana attendant, a Republican National Committee intern, and the owner of a scented-candle company, with skills like “pleasant demeanor” listed on their résumés. “In many cases [the new appointees] demonstrated little to no experience with federal policy, let alone deep roots in agriculture,” wrote Hopkinson. “Some of those appointees appear to lack the credentials, such as a college degree, required to qualify for higher government salaries.”

What these people had in common, she pointed out, was loyalty to Donald Trump. Nine months after they’d arrived a man I’d been told was the best informed of all the department’s career employees about the haphazard transition couldn’t tell me how many of these people were still roaming the halls. And what fingerprints they left were characteristically bizarre. They sent certified letters to several senior career civil servants, for instance, telling them they were being reassigned—from jobs they were good at to jobs they knew little about. “Too close to the Obama administration is what people are saying,” noted one U.S.D.A. career staffer. They instructed the staff to stop using the phrase “climate change.” They removed the inspection reports on businesses that abused animals—roadside circuses, puppy mills, research labs—from the department’s Web site. When reporters from National Geographic contacted the U.S.D.A. to ask what was going on with animal-abuse issues, “they told us all of this information was public, except now you had to FOIA it,” said Rachael Bale. “We asked for the files, and they sent us 1,700 completely blacked-out pages.”

What to look for next week

President Trump travels on to the Philippines and Vietnam before returning to Washington. What to watch: how Trump interacts with Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte, who he has praised in the past.

In good news for the burgeoning BFF-ship between Trump and Xi, ASEAN is expected to avoid tackling the region’s thorniest geopolitical issue — China’s designs on the South China Sea, something that seriously worries Vietnam, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian nations.  

Back in D.C., the House of Representatives could see a vote on the GOP tax plan next week. Speaker Paul Ryan has said he wants to get it out of his chamber before Thanksgiving, and next week is Congress’ last full one in session before the holiday.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for sticking with me. Until next time, get in touch with your comments, questions, McDonald’s opinions, at sbrodey@minnpost.com.

Like what you just read? Subscribe to the D.C. Memo newsletter to get this column delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author: