Political Update

My prediction of a few months ago that nothing much was going to happen in Washington until Mueller released his report is holding up however much cable news and national newspapers continue to press the stories of Congressional attempts at legislation and the Russia scandal. You can demonstrate the fact that nothing is happening by consulting the local tabloids. They have pushed those stories off the front page. The Daily News today had on its front page O. J. Simpson’s bail hearing, which is soon to come up. Now that is a blast from the past. But there is still the need to clear out the underbrush created by cable news and national newspapers.

Chuck Schumer was not just putting a glossy face on Republican control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency when he said at the beginning of the Congressional session that the Democrats were not in as bad shape as people were saying. He thought that if he could hold the Democratic caucus together, which he has, the Republicans would not be able to turn their fractious majority caucus into legislative accomplishments, and that has turned out to be the truth of the matter. The repeal and replace of Obamacare bill was doomed from the start because there was no way to both retain its advantages and satisfy those who wanted to get rid of it entirely because they just do not believe in any federal health insurance, given that there are many, like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan, who think that the entire entitlement package-- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid-- should be dismantled so that the country can return to its old, pre-New Deal ways when capitalism was unbridled by regulations or programs. I assume they would also undo Theodore Roosevelt’s Square Deal programs, such as the FDA and the national parks and Woodrow Wilson’s Federal Reserve System because those are not mentioned in the Constitution though the Constitution does not bar them and they are part of what every industrial nation in the world now does. I don’t understand  Republican ideology. Could even Rand Paul give a rational defense of what he advocates?

Repeal and replace was also the easy part of the Republican agenda. They have to get through a raising of the debt ceiling or else they will be required to close down their own government. Now, there are some Republicans who are perfectly willing to do that, not just Ted Cruz, and so moving up the debt ceiling will require some Democratic votes, which Chuck Schumer will be perfectly willing to supply--that is, if he gets some of what he wants on budget issues so that he can protect entitlement and other programs. So Schumer is in the driver’s seat because he has managed not to lose a single vote to the Republicans on healthcare. Not that a single vote would have mattered. The pundits had at least ten  Republican Senators who would probably have voted against the repeal and replace bill had it ever reached the floor. That is not a shabby percentage of the Republican majority, and the two Senators, from Kansas and Utah, who declared they would not vote for it and so got it killed a few hours later by the Majority Leader, weren’t even in that twenty percent of the Republican caucus. There is no way the bill would have passed and so unless McConnell has gone dumb, which is unlikely, he did not expect it to pass and so was simply trying to show his base that he was trying before turning his attention to other things that are even less likely to be pulled off. The Democrats are in the position of running in 2018 on both the fact that the Republicans can’t get anything done and that what they wanted to get done was awful. It is the basis for a Democratic landslide but you can’t trust the electorate to get anything right.

News outlets have been concerned for the past few weeks about the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. took with some Russians. They focus, with some exceptions, on the fact that it is a crime to take contributions in any form, and that includes opposition research, from a foreign power, even though you are allowed to take it from a domestic source. Defenders of Trump say that everyone does oppo research, so why the fuss? And, anyway, the Trumps were naive about Washington ways and so can’t be blamed for not knowing all the p’s and q’s. Well, if you are that naive, maybe you shouldn’t run for President unless you are an exceptionally fast study who can pick up everything that needs to be known between the Election and Inauguration Day. Trump can’t have it both that he is the outsider who knows how to negotiate (which he hasn’t been able to do for his healthcare bill) and the outsider who just doesn’t know his way around the park.

The thing about that meeting with the Russians was that it was more than an agreement to accept or perhaps coordinate the disclosure of information about Hillary Clinton. There were two major topics of the meeting. The first was the information about Hillary and the second was the Magnitsky Act, which is a piece of American legislation that punishes a number of Russians, including some important backers of Putin, for human rights violations, and which was answered with Russian legislation to bar American adoptions of Russian children. The experts on adoption were there at  the Donald Trump, Jr. meeting to insist that the Magnitsky Bill gets repealed. If these were the two topics of the of the meeting then it is fair to say that there was a quid pro quo, an exchange of information for the repeal of a piece of legislation. That is not just collusion; it is a bribe by a foreign power to influence the legislative process. A lawyer tells me that whether what I take to be an exchange amounting to an implied contract is a point of fact that is settled by a jury. But my view is that you don’t need a jury to tell you that two things mentioned in the same meeting were an exchange even if no one said “If I do this, then you will do this”. And that would make this an impeachable offense if Trump knew about it or learned about it and did nothing about it, and a criminal offense, possibly a treasonable one, even if the President had not been in on the matter.

This meeting, however, is just one strand of the many strands that make up what I think to be the probable collusion between the Trump camp and the Russians. It just happens to be the strand that unravelled first and so came to public attention through the media. There are other strands that will doubtlessly unravel, particularly when Mueller gets going and people start turning on one another. That happened at Watergate and it will happen here, or so I predict. But it is nice to have this one in the bank, the inescapable fact that the Trumps were playing footsie with the Russians, and now we wait for the other chickens to come home to roost, it increasingly unlikely, certainly unlikely, that there is no there there. It will not be a happy time and even if Trump is removed it does not bode well for the future of the country. We survived Nixon but there was a broken trust with the American people that was, maybe, repaired by Ronald Reagan, but still seems to be to be there. The default sentiment remains that the people in Washington are crooks and what they do time and again, at least the Republicans, is prove that sentiment correct.