Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh make clear to Trump who’s the right-wing boss on immigration

By Ian Reifowitz
Sunday Jan 14, 2018 · 5:45 PM EST
Donald Trump this past Tuesday held a bipartisan meeting in the White House to discuss immigration reform. To clarify, this was before he wondered out loud on Thursday, at another White House meeting, why America had to take people from “shithole countries” like Haiti and those in Africa, and why we couldn’t have more Norwegians instead—we’ll get back to the connection between what he said at the Tuesday meeting and those vile, racist remarks in a bit.

At the Tuesday meeting, Trump made a statement in support of passing comprehensive immigration reform. Now, if he actually understood what that meant, this would have demonstrated some significant political courage. His level of understanding of the issue is, to put it mildly, open to question, as evidenced by the Trump-whispering role Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had to play during the meeting whenever the titular leader of the free world got his own position on immigration wrong. So, here’s the aforementioned statement:

“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care,” Trump told lawmakers about a broad immigration bill. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you wanted to go that final step, I think you should do it.”
It was a nice sentiment. It reminded me of when Ferris Bueller’s best friend Cameron Frye destroyed his father’s classic car (a 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spider), and Ferris offered to “take the heat for it.” Cameron, finally showing some backbone to the man who had intimidated him for years, replied: “No, I’ll take it.” Was this a Cameron Frye moment for Donald Trump? Would he actually be willing to risk angering his nativist, racist base by supporting a long-term solution to the immensely complex immigration issue? Would he be able to succeed where George W. Bush and Barack Obama were unable to?

If Trump intends the answer to that question to be yes, he’s got a funny way of showing it, and not funny like how John Hughes movies are funny. At first, he reacted positively on Thursday morning to Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) when they presented a compromise on immigration negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, but then dumped on it when they met at the White House that afternoon, the same meeting where he made the “shithole” remark:

The reactions from right-wing media voices like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh—each of whom laid down the law in a different way—tell me that the chances of Mr. 46 Percent of the Popular Vote ever supporting comprehensive immigration reform are about as likely as the chances he’ll release his tax returns.
On Coulter, Jeet Heer at the New Republic described her relationship with Trump thusly: “Trump has had no bigger media boaster, not even the lick-spittling Sean Hannity, than Coulter.” Bearing that in mind, here’s what she had to say about Trump’s supportive remarks on Tuesday about immigration reform:

Amnesty is the word that signifies surrender. Amnesty makes a politician dead to the nativist right. Another right-wing bigwig, Mark Levin, used that word as well this week and added that Trump’s remarks amounted to “complete surrender.” To return to Coulter, she had previously noted in her book In Trump We Trust: “There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.” In other words, if you want to keep your base, don’t do it, Donnie.

You’ll also notice Coulter’s reference to Michael Wolff. Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to Trump’s statement on immigration reform put Wolff and his Fire and Fury book front and center:

I think the meeting about immigration was the thing, not immigration. I think this was a calculated move. It was a brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed rebuttal to this stupid Wolff book.

The pictures tell the tale. Trump is in the room dominating it, controlling it. He is cooperative. He is open. He’s tolerant. He’s understanding. He’s in total command of over 45 minutes of televised meeting on immigration. He is totally informed on the issues. He’s going back and forth with the Democrats on whatever mundane aspect of it they bring up. He is in total command of his position on this.

[snip] So after you watch this, how would you react to anything in the Wolff book characterizing Trump as just the opposite of this? And this was the purpose of this today.
Leaving Limbaugh’s lies about Trump’s command of the issue aside for a moment, we see him talking to the nativist base about Trump, whereas Coulter spoke for them to Trump. As the segment drew to a close, Limbaugh took the nativists by the hand, patted them on the head, and told them everything would be all white—I mean alright:

Just look at it this way, folks, if you’re nervous. What happened today really had nothing to do with immigration. He didn’t say anything today that he can’t walk back. He didn’t say anything today that he’s gonna have to walk back, either.
Between Coulter telling Trump to get back in his little box, and Limbaugh reassuring his listeners that he wouldn’t actually be leaving that box, the message was clear enough: Trump had better not betray his base. And really, how could he, given that his racist message on immigration is what he started his campaign with, and it’s what truly differentiated him from the rest of the Republican field in 2015 and 2016.

Either way, Trump this week needed to deal with real anger on the right (seen in what Coulter said) and fear on the right (demonstrated by what Limbaugh needed to say). What better way to deal with this than to remind his base that he thinks just like they do? Hence, the “shithole” remarks. Denying he said them is only for public relations purposes—in private he bragged about it. But the real Trumpers know better, and they are the ones he was talking to. Don’t believe me? Here’s what Trump’s own people inside the White House had to say:

Trump knew exactly what he was doing. He made a strategic decision to use racist language about Haitians and Africans as a dog whistle to reassure his racist base. He and his advisers seem to believe it will work. White nationalist Richard Spencer and the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer loved the remark as well, with the latter triumphantly proclaiming: “This is encouraging and refreshing, as it indicates Trump is more or less on the same page as us with regards to race and immigration.” Ann Coulter herself said that the “shithole” line was a direct attempt to “win [her] back,” and showed her support in the following tweet, which speaks for itself in terms of moral value:

Other right-wingers—in the media and in Congress (did you expect any less from Rep. Steve King (R-IA)—also defended the “shithole” remarks, although some other Republican elected officials did actually condemn them. In particular, Lindsey Graham showed some real principle and backbone by telling Trump to his face, right after he made the comments, that they were unacceptable. Graham added: “America is an idea, not a race,” and pointed out to Trump that the Senator’s own ancestors had come from “shithole countries with no skills.” This righteous act does not undo or mitigate what Graham, in concert with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), did in the matter of the Steele dossier a week earlier, or his general support of Trump and Trumpism—something that represents a 180 degree turn from the opinion of Trump he expressed during the presidential campaign. Nevertheless, it’s important to note when a Republican does something worthy of praise.

Two other Senators who had also attended the Thursday White House meeting failed to meet the bar Graham set. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) stated afterward that they “do not recall the President saying these comments specifically,” and then went on to defend Trump in general on immigration. However, not even that mealy-mouthed support of Trump’s false denial sufficed for those who desire the Orange Julius Caesar Seal of Approval,TM because Sunday morning both Cotton and Perdue stated unequivocally that their Dear Leader did not make the “shithole” remark.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Cotton was unable to resist adding that Durbin—who had vociferously denounced the remark—“has a history of misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings.” Although they didn’t mention Graham’s name, they essentially branded him a liar as well. Finally, under the category of always meeting low expectations, we have Fox News’ Jesse Watters, who offered this nugget of wisdom: “this is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar.” This is what Trump has made of Republican politics here in good old 2018.

Forrest Gump said, “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” Donald Trump wouldn’t admit to this, but although he is not a smart man, he knows what hate is. After Trump heard from Limbaugh and Coulter, he spewed forth words from his shithole that demonstrated exactly that.

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Trump softens on NAFTA

Trump at a rally in Iowa. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The White House will never admit this publicly, but the president is developing a softer attitude towards the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Five sources who’ve spoken privately with Trump about NAFTA say he’s taking more seriously the risks of withdrawing the U.S. from the trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

A conga-line of Republican senators have met with the president and explained to him why they consider NAFTA so important to their states. Two arguments have helped change Trump’s thinking:

Withdrawing from NAFTA might interrupt the stock market’s record-breaking run under his presidency. When it comes to bragging rights, Trump views the Dow Jones Industrial average as a useful substitute for his poll numbers. Though he told the WSJ that he thought U.S. markets would go up if he terminated NAFTA, sources who’ve spoken with the president say that privately he’s less certain of that — and is loathe to jeopardize the stock market’s record-breaking streak.
Withdrawing from NAFTA would harm farmers and agricultural communities — whom Trump considers “my people.”
Trump made two telling comments this week, which were buried under the deluge of porn star and “shithole” news:

He told a group of farmers in Nashville — an audience adorned with “I support NAFTA” pins — “On NAFTA, I’m working very hard to get a better deal for our country and for our farmers and for our manufacturers…It’s not the easiest negotiation, but we’re going to make it fair for you people again.” That’s a much gentler tone than Trump usually uses to discuss the deal.
He told the WSJ this: “I would rather be able to negotiate [NAFTA]. We’ve made a lot of headway. We’re moving along nicely. Bob Lighthizer and others are working very hard, and we’ll see what happens.”
Why this matters: The White House will never publicly admit Trump is shying away from terminating NAFTA because a key part of his and Lighthizer’s negotiating strategy is to convince Canada and Mexico that he’s about to withdraw. Trump has even discussed issuing a six-month NAFTA withdrawal notice as a way to gain leverage. But from our vantage point — at least under this president — NAFTA has never looked safer.

One cautionary note: With this president, nothing is ever off the table. And nobody close to Trump ever feels 100 percent secure when it comes to trade.

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Republicans are why we can’t have anything nice. Not even Oprah.

By Susan Grigsby
Sunday Jan 14, 2018 · 11:30 AM EST
Republicans seem to specialize in ruining everything they touch, from bipartisanship to the norms of governance and impeachment. They have also managed to ruin the prospects for any responsible Democratic celebrity who wishes to run for the presidency.

It was the Republicans who destroyed the ability of the two political parties to work together on bipartisan budget negotiations. All because Newt Gingrich had to take the rear exit of Air Force One in 1995. Really.

Gingrich had been invited aboard Air Force One last week to fly to the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. With a budget crisis pending, he expected Clinton would take time out during the flight to talk about a possible solution.

But Clinton, who seemed to be genuinely grieving over Rabin’s death, stayed up front in a cabin with former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush on both the outward-bound and return trips.

Then, when the plane landed at Andrews Air Force base outside Washington, Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole were asked to deplane by gasp! the rear door. […]

To Gingrich, the professor of history, this was one of the snubs of the century, ranking, he said, with the time Charles Evans Hughes stiffed Hiram Johnson of the California Progressive Party back in 1916, a slight that cost Hughes the California vote and the presidency. And it was this disrespect, Gingrich continued, that caused him to send the President two temporary financing and spending bills he knew that Clinton would have to veto thus shutting down the federal government.
Now, Gingrich can, and did, dress it up with all of the insignificant historical references (Charles Evans Hughes??) that he chooses, but basically, he did not get the respect and adulation to which he felt his honored position entitled him.  And so he felt free to shut down the United States government.

Granted, Gingrich was the first Republican speaker in forty years, so perhaps his understanding of the position was somewhat limited, but Democratic speakers had successfully worked with Republican presidents for decades before he took over the House. After lying to the House Ethics Committee which was investigating his use of a tax-exempt organization for political purposes (back when it was illegal) he resigned the speakership and then his House seat.

He was replaced by a man described as “amiable” and “avuncular,” who proceeded to destroy the regular order of Congress and whose judge referred to as a “serial child molester.”
Dennis Hastert leaving the federal courthouse in October 2015, after pleading guilty to covering up the hush money he paid to one of his victims.
I am old enough to remember the Congress before the Hastert rule, which requires a majority of the Majority Party’s votes before bringing any legislation to the floor, excluded the voices of the minority party in the House. The tenure of Dennis Hastert as Speaker of the House, set us on the road to where we are now and allowed the GOP, under John Boehner, to refuse consideration of any Democratic proposal made by the sitting president or other members of his party. According to Norm Ornstein, among Hastert’s other destructive measures, was the fact that he “blew up” the regular order of the House.

The regular order—a mix of rules and norms that allows debate, deliberation, and amendments in committees and on the House floor, that incorporates and does not shut out the minority (even if it still loses most of the time), that takes bills that pass both houses to a conference committee to reconcile differences, that allows time for members and staff to read, digest, and analyze bills—is a mainstay of a functional legislative process. To be sure, it is frequently subordinated to larger political exigencies, under the majorities of both political parties, especially in recent decades. No speaker has entirely clean hands.

But no speaker did more to relegate the regular order to the sidelines than Hastert. As Tom Mann and I describe in detail in our 2006 book “The Broken Branch,” Hastert presided over one of the worst moments for a deliberative body in modern times, the nearly three-hour vote in the dead of night to pass the Medicare prescription-drug bill—a vote that under the rules was supposed to last 15 minutes. The arm-twisting on the floor turned to something close to outright extortion, resulting in yet more admonitions for Tom DeLay. Under Hastert, amendments from Democrats and Republicans alike were squelched by a strikingly pliant Rules Committee; conferences were rarely held, and if they were, it was late at night and they were closed to input from all except loyal lieutenants; and provisions were sometimes added to conference reports that had never been in either House or Senate bills without notice to other lawmakers, among other indignities. And, of course, Hastert presided over the informal “Hastert rule,” doing whatever he could to avoid input from Democrats, trying to pass bills with Republicans alone. The House is a very partisan institution, with rules structured to give even tiny majorities enormous leverage. But Hastert took those realities to a new and more tribalized, partisan plane.
Norm Ornstein wrote that in 2015. Today, actions like the prescription drug bill’s passage, which were so shocking when they occurred, have become normalized.

In addition to ruining regular order in the House, Dennis Hastert was speaker when the impeachment procedure became a purely political and partisan tool. There will always be some political aspect to any impeachment proceeding, there always has been. But never before was it so blatantly political. There was no threat, real or imagined, to our government or to our democracy because Bill Clinton had a sexual affair with a White House intern. Nor did his lie about it within a deposition for a case that was dismissed as without merit, qualify as an egregious case of perjury or obstruction worthy of impeachment.

But so thirsty for partisan scalps were the members of the Republican caucus, so great was their hubris, that they laid claim to this as a high crime and misdemeanor. No matter that so many of them, Bob Livingston, proposed as speaker to replace Gingrich (also an adulterer), Dan Burton, Helen Chenoweth and Henry Hyde, the chief manager of the Senate trial were all guilty of infidelity as well. And Hastert himself knew he was guilty of far greater sexual crimes. But this was their opportunity to destroy a Democratic president and they gladly took it in order to take what they could not win at the ballot box.

However, worse than their attempt to destroy a man, was that their actions severely damaged the impeachment process, making it more difficult to use in the future. Impeachment should be a serious step, taken only in response to the most grave actions by a president that threaten our democracy. The Constitution dictates that it be used only for acts of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It should never have been used to settle a political score. The result was that a few years later, the threat of this tool could not be used to rein in George Bush’s war-making ability or to prevent his office from further exposing serving CIA operatives. Nancy Pelosi knew her caucus and the nation’s mood when she took impeachment off the table in 2007.

“The question of impeachment is something that would divide the country,” Pelosi said this morning during a wide-ranging discussion in the ornate Speaker’s office. Her top priorities are ending the war in Iraq, expanding health care, creating jobs and preserving the environment. “I know what our success can be on those issues. I don’t know what our success can be on impeaching the president.”

Democratic Party leaders do not have the votes to pass an impeachment resolution. And Democrats could be judged harshly for partisan gridlock, just as the American people turned on Congressional Republicans in the 90s for pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton.
Now we are faced with an even greater threat to our democracy and a majority party that frankly does not care about our national security when the sitting president acquiesces to their fondest dreams of dismantling the federal government and siphoning off as many tax dollars into the pockets of their donors as possible. The threat posed by Donald Trump (“treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”) and the refusal of the GOP to act against him makes clear the highly politicized nature of impeachment and the destruction of it as a tool by the Republicans. The refusal of the House to even hold a hearing about the charges of sexual assault levied against Mr. Trump make even clearer their partisan hypocrisy.

But perhaps even worse, the Republicans have completely ruined the opportunity for any celebrity to run for the presidency. Because they have no moral center or an over-riding political philosophy, it has been easy for the Republicans to turn to celebrity name recognition to gain votes. Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump, for instance.

When America put Donald Trump into the Oval Office, it destroyed the chances of any Democratic celebrity reaching the White House. Just as we don’t tolerate sexual predators within our ranks, we are unlikely to nominate any celebrity to represent our party in a presidential election. Because Donald Trump has filled that well with the poison of his avarice and incompetence.

I can argue both sides of the question of Oprah Winfrey running for the Democratic nomination. I can see the value of having someone who appeals to the demographics that we need to retake the White House, namely, white women, as well as having a candidate who looks like the base of the Democratic Party which is largely black women. It is hard to deny her intellectual curiosity, her executive ability and her faith in the principles of the Democratic Party platform. But most of all, she offers positive name recognition. And a lot of it.

On the other hand, I appreciate the viewpoint of Kelly Macias who wrote last week:

But we can’t afford to let our obsession with fame and wealth be a substitute for experience. We cannot afford to be distracted by a shiny new toy (or in this case, a shiny new idea). Leading in business is one thing, making millions upon millions and making an indelible mark on our culture is one thing. Yet leading a complex bureaucracy with multiple agencies and departments, agendas, budgets, priorities, and interests for more than 300 million people and our interests around the world is quite another. […]

Finally, it needs to be said that we have to stop expecting black women to clean up everyone’s mess. Oprah may give us comfort but she isn’t our mammy or wet nurse. There’s this strange fetishizing of black women that happens in our culture, which positions us as saviors and sacrificial lambs instead of full human beings with agency. In the last two months, many Democrats have bought into this narrative as they suddenly have seen the light about how black women are the heart and soul of the party, mostly because black women have been key to some electorally important wins in Trump’s America. Now its all “Rah Rah black women!”
The objections of those who feel we need an experienced political operative to clean up the mess being created by the idiot who currently is busily destroying the institutions that comprise the Executive Branch are valid. We need a grown-up in the office.

But to disqualify all celebrity candidates because they don’t have what we consider to be the necessary experience to govern gives the GOP yet another advantage, in addition to the Electoral College, during presidential elections. Because they only care about winning, not governing, they can propose any candidate they like, including a reality television star with the intellect of a flea and the curiosity of a pile of rocks, because he has huge name recognition. They have the donors who will foot the bill in order to buy the government they want.

As Democrats, we can only lay claim to thoughtful, well-read, intelligent celebrities. Men like George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Don Cheadle (co-founders of Not on Our Watch), Mark Ruffalo, or Jon Stewart. Women like Shonda Rhimes, Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Natalie Portman, Rashida Jones, Emma Stone, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon. And even though this is their nation too, and they have very right to mount an election bid, they will find resistance within the Democratic Party.

Can we afford to ignore the growing appetite for celebrities, like Oprah, to run for elective office and to create Hollywood happily-ever-after solutions? Peter Grier, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor, asks:

Is America developing into a nation where fame becomes a prerequisite for high political office? That’s unlikely, but possible. The mixture of celebrity and power – common in some other countries, such as Italy – is entirely new in the US.

Perhaps the problem now is that many Americans view the established party structure as corrupt, or ineffective, or hard to get through to, says Steven White, an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University in New York.

“They see celebrities as something that can break through that,” he says.

It’s also possible that voters are less interested in the policy aspects of the presidency and more focused on its performative aspects. Under Trump, the Oval Office is indisputably more dramatic and showy.
The 2016 charges of a corrupt establishment and rigged elections likely still echo in the public’s consciousness. And Donald Trump is definitely engaging in some performance art, mostly as a distraction from his overwhelming personal incompetence and his tiny hands in the till.

A president with the intellect, ability, ethics, grace and poise of Barack Obama is a once in a lifetime occurrence. But, even he, during his 2008 campaign, was accused of being a celebrity. Remember? Turned out in fact, that even if a celebrity, he was ready to lead.

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