Trump’s misconduct, Pelosi’s skillful leadership and more

More from Matt Stieb on the Buzzfeed story:

The new report provides another high-profile contradiction between the public statements of the Trump camp and the evidence that Mueller is amassing. Throughout the campaign, Trump denied having business interests in Russia, as he was reportedly working to put a tower in Moscow, a plan that could have brought his company $300 million, and put Vladimir Putin in the building’s $50 million penthouse. Law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed that, during the campaign, Trump had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal.

Meanwhile, Heather Hurlburt at New York magazine looks at a post-Mathis foreign policy:

Syria isn’t the only area where major administration policies appear to be flailing. New satellite-imagery analysis confirmed, again, this month that North Korea has not slowed the development of its nuclear weapons program even slightly since Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un in June. But that didn’t stop Trump from responding to Kim’s reportedly fawning New Year’s missive with a letter of his own, and preparing to welcome North Korea’s senior negotiator to Washington this weekend to make plans for a second Trump-Kim meeting.

On the topic of Nancy Pelosi’s skillful leadership, here’s Joan Walsh’s analysis of how Pelosi is so good at her job and how she’s learned from history:

In the summer of 2011, they let Republicans use raising the debt ceiling, which had traditionally been a bipartisan formality, to cut government spending—a pleased McConnell famously said his new Tea Party caucus showed him that the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth taking.” A raft of bad outcomes cascaded from the 2011 debt-ceiling deal (remember “sequestration”?), including a “fiscal-cliff” deal at the end of 2012 that avoided sharp spending cuts but kept the Bush tax cuts in place for families with income as high as $400,000 (the top rate was supposed to be restored to $250,000). Pelosi mostly opposed the deal, but nonetheless whipped Democratic votes for it, while then–GOP Speaker John Boehner lost two-thirds of his caucus. Never again, she apparently vowed.

That’s why a year later she refused to lift the debt ceiling while keeping the government shutdown—and she happened to be the only leader who saw her approval rating rise during that shutdown: Boehner’s fell 14 points; hers rose by five. “We’ve become enablers. We can’t be that anymore,” Pelosi told me then. She’s making good on that promise now.

More on Pelosi from Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is driving President Trump nuts — a very short drive indeed — by doing something he simply cannot abide: She’s stealing the spotlight.

She is also seizing the initiative in the trench warfare over Trump’s government shutdown and his imaginary border wall, audaciously telling the president that the State of the Union address should be postponed, or perhaps forgone altogether, for reasons of security.  […] Pelosi will go down in history as the first woman to hold the office that ranks behind only president and vice president. But this second tour of duty as speaker may prove even more consequential than the first, given the vandalism Trump is committing against our government institutions. Voters gave Democrats the power to constrain a corrupt, egomaniacal, incompetent, erratic and potentially compromised president. Pelosi has to figure out how.

And here’s Frank Rich’s take:

I can’t resist saying it again: Pelosi is awesome. She knows how to push the levers of government. She knows how to push Trump’s buttons. This is an unbeatable combination. Twenty-four hours after she released her letter declining to play host to the State of the Union, Trump was so flummoxed he still hadn’t tweeted about it and his White House still had not responded. That’s because there is no response. It’s Pelosi’s House, and she’s under no obligation to let Trump commandeer it as a splashy backdrop for his propaganda. Even if there were a president of her own party in power, it would be ludicrous to stage this event, a superfluous (and tedious) political jamboree under the best of circumstances, during a government shutdown.

The New York Times calls out one what should be the other big scandal of the day — the fact the government can’t account for all the children it whisked away from their families:

[T]he inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services released a report revealing that thousands more children than previously disclosed may have been torn from their parents for months before the policy was even announced. The report confirmed that, as the number of families seeking asylum has soared, the true crisis on the border was a humanitarian one that the administration’s actions have made far worse. […] 

In a report released in October, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found its computers had been unable to track family members who had been separated.

Such dysfunction goes beyond mere incompetence. To have so little regard for the damage done to so many children, for the heartache caused to so many parents, is to indulge in callousness, if not deliberate cruelty. President Trump doesn’t need a wall. He needs a heart.

On a final note, The Washington Post editorial board points out the Trump shutdown reinforces the fact that, contrary to what some members of his administration and base think, we need government:

There’s a lesson here, beyond the obvious political one that presidents have many ways to soften the impact of shutdowns on the public, thereby limiting the damage to their own popularity. The bigger lesson is this: We need government. 

The people who make sure tax refunds go out. The Agriculture Department employees who process loans, also ordered back on the job this week. The 8,000 furloughed diplomats who were recalled Thursday. The National Park Service personnel who are, at present, maintaining these key public assets. These much-maligned public workers perform tasks that the people, through their elected representatives, have deemed necessary to the common good. Some in Trump World may see the current furlough of more than 300,000 workers as an opportunity to prove a point about the alleged superfluousness of much of the federal government. Yet the selective reinstatement of the IRS workers and others tends to prove the opposite point.

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