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Archive | February, 2017

Schumer on Trump’s Speech Tonight

Here’s Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the Senate floor this morning talking about what to expect from Trump’s speech before a joint session of Congress tonight. An excerpt:

“He talks like a populist, but governs like a pro-corporate, pro-elite, hard-right ideologue. He promised to be a champion for working people in his inauguration and then one hour later signed an executive order making it harder for working people to afford a mortgage. He told raucous crowds that he would tear down the power structure in Washington and drain the swamp, but he spent his first month in office appointing bankers and billionaires and titans of Wall Street to fill his administration.”

And the full video:

Ross Confirmed as Commerce Secretary

By a Senate vote of 72-27, Wilbur Ross was just confirmed as Trump’s Commerce Secretary. This ensures that even if one or two of Trump’s other cabinet members leave, we will still have an endless supply of Trump administration officials with financial ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia.

In the Democratic Caucus, 27 Senators voted against Ross and 21 voted to confirm.

Warren Persists Again – Goes After Trump and Commerce Nominee

Well, at least nobody told her to sit down this time.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who was a driving force in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before being elected to the Senate, was expected to be among the most informed and vocal of Wilbur Ross’s critics in confirmation debates and she did not disappoint earlier today.

“Mr. Ross is a Wall Street billionaire with a long history of profiting from the suffering of others,” said Warren, opening her remarks on the Senate floor. “He also has shady ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. That’s just his record. And because of that record, I do not have confidence that he will protect the interests of the American people as Secretary of Commerce.”

Warren then read chapter and verse on everything we know about the Trump Administration’s seemingly endless ties to Putin and listed Ross as one of the primary players in those cozy relationships.

“In this context, Mr. Ross’s connections to Russia raise dangerous issues. We know that Ross installed a former KGB official and close associate of Vladimir Putin as the vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a bank that Mr. Ross controlled and a bank that was flooded with Russian money.

“How closely connected was this former KGB official to Vladimir Putin? Here’s one hint: He was so closely connected to Putin that he was given $100 million dollar payout by a Russian-controlled mining company as a golden parachute. And he wasn’t even the only Putin pal on Mr. Ross’ board. That’s right. Mr. Ross wanted the bank he controlled to have multiple board members from Putin’s inner circle.”

The Massachusetts Senator then reviewed how normal this has all become with Trump’s cabinet nominees.

“We’ve never seen a cabinet like this in history. Like many of President Trump’s other nominees and like President Trump himself, this nominee seems to see his time in public service as a chance to increase his own wealth. In other words, on any given deal, he might be working for the American people or he might just be working for himself. We will have no way to know.

“There is significant reason to believe that the President of the United States has substantial financial ties with Russia, but nobody actually knows any of the details because he has failed to reveal his tax returns. And now President Trump expects the Senate to rubber stamp his nomination of a top banker to Vladimir Putin’s buddies to run the Commerce Department of the United States.”

Warren saved the best for last by revealing that Ross has long been the leader of a Wall Street “Secret Society” — his official title within this little fraternity is the “Grand Swipe” — that gathers to both commiserate on their shabby public image and to poke fun at the very people they routinely victimize.

“Ross ran a secret club of top Wall Street tycoons called Kappa Beta Phi. I am not making this up. It is actually true,” said Warren. “So he runs this secret club which apparently gathers every year to get drunk and entertain themselves by putting on off-color skits that make fun of the millions of Americans they’ve swindled over the years.”

I can’t believe that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t jump up and protect his buddies after that one. But even if he had, Warren would undoubtedly have persisted. Here’s the full video of her floor speech.

Schumer on Poor Quality of Trump Cabinet Picks

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went to the Senate floor just a few minutes ago to discuss the ongoing poor quality of Trump’s Cabinet of Deplorables and the extent to which they seem to come in loaded down with ethical and conflict of interest issues.  An excerpt:

“Just yesterday the nominee to be the Secretary of the Navy withdrew his name from consideration because he couldn’t disentangle himself from his massive personal business interests. He may have more integrity than some of the others who continued through the process with conflicts of interest hanging over their heads.

“The Navy Secretary nominee is one of 14 relatively high-level administration officials who have left, resigned or withdrawn their nomination in just the first month of this presidency. That list includes the nominee for the Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, and principal National Security Advisor. It is clear the Trump administration did not carefully vet or select these picks.”

The Senate will vote today on Wilbur Ross to lead the Department of Commerce and Tuesday or Wednesday on Ryan Zinke for Secretary of the Interior. Confirmation votes could also happen later this week on either Ben Carson (Housing and Urban Development) or Rick Perry (Energy Department).

Cabinet of Deplorables Status: February 27, 2017

Here’s your update on Donald Trump’s Cabinet of Deplorables and where they are in the confirmation process as of Monday morning. I will update this with a new post as needed until the cabinet is filled. (Changes since last update are bolded for an easier quick-check.)


Elaine Chao; Department of Transportation – Confirmed by a vote of 93-6 on January 31.

Betsy DeVos; Department of Education – Confirmed by a vote of 51-50 on February 7.

Governor Nikki Haley; Ambassador to the United Nations — Confirmed by a vote of 96-4 on January 24.

Retired General John Kelly; Department of Homeland Security – Confirmed by a vote of 88-11 on January 20.

General James Mattis; Department of Defense – Confirmed by a vote of 98-1 on January 20.

Steven Mnuchin; Department of the Treasury – Confirmed by a vote of 53-47 on February 13.

Representative Mick Mulvaney; Director, Office of Management and Budget — Confirmed by a vote of 51-49 on February 16.

Mike Pompeo; Director, CIA — Confirmed by a vote of 66-32 on January 23.

Representative Tom Price; Department of Health and Human Services – Confirmed by a vote of 52-47 on February 10.

Scott Pruitt; Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency — Approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee by a vote of 11-0 on February 2. Confirmed by a vote of 52-46 on February 17.

Dr. David Shulkin; Department of Veterans Affairs — Confirmed by a vote of 100-0 on February 13.

Rex Tillerson; Department of State — Confirmed by a vote of 56-43 on February 1.

Reported Out of Committee; Floor vote to be scheduled

Dr. Ben Carson; Department of Housing and Urban Development – Approved unanimously by the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on January 24. Floor vote expected week of February 27.

Rick Perry; Department of Energy – Approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee January 31 by a 17-6 vote. Floor vote expected week of February 27.

Wilbur Ross; Department of Commerce – Approved on January 24 by Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Floor vote expected February 27

Representative Ryan Zinke; Department of the Interior – Approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 16-6 vote on January 31. Floor vote expected February 28.

Awaiting Committee Hearing

Alexander Acosta; Department of Labor — Awaiting referral to Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee

Sonny Perdue; Department of Agriculture — Awaiting referral to Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee

GOP’s Collins Wants Flynn Testimony, Maybe Trump Tax Returns

I hear a lot from people these days that Senate Republicans will do nothing to derail the disaster-bound Trump Train and, while I agree with that to a large extent, I think it’s important that we leave room for a few of them to surprise us. We saw hints of that in the cabinet confirmations when Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) went against the GOP by voting ‘nay’ on Betsy DeVos’s nomination as Education Secretary.

Collins was also the lone Republican voting against Scott Pruitt’s confirmation to head the EPA and she’s doing good things again as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee — this time saying that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn must be forced to appear at upcoming committee hearings on Russia corrupting the 2016 presidential election.

(Flynn resigned as Trump’s senior security advisor on February 13 after lying to Mike Pence about discussions he had with Russian officials in December.)

The Maine senator said in a radio interview that she and “many of the members” of the Intelligence Committee will make a formal request compelling Flynn to testify under oath, adding that “We’ve asked all of the agencies and campaign officials involved to preserve all documents, all emails, all text messages that could be in any way relevant to the investigation.”

Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and the senior Democrat on the panel, Mark Warner (D-VA), issued a joint statement last month saying that a full investigation will be done.

Collins also suggested that if it had probative value the committee would subpoena Trump’s tax returns.

“I don’t know whether we will need to do that,” said Collins. “If it’s necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect we would.”

While this is all good news, the Intelligence Committee conducts many of its hearings behind closed doors and we may never know what actually happens in those meetings. This is where we can only count on Democrats to make sure nothing is swept under the carpet. Joe Manchin (D-WV) won’t do much, but I think we can count on Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

But from Collins’ point of view, things are full speed ahead and she says she is committed to getting to the bottom of what happened with Team Trump and Russia.

“This is a broad investigation, and I am confident that since it is a completely bipartisan investigation with full-time staff, that we will get to the bottom of this.”

Media Should Boycott White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Based on the Trump administration’s actions today in which they blocked news organizations they deem especially uncooperative from Friday’s press gaggle — they consider all media “enemies of the people” — I believe all members of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) should boycott this year’s iconic dinner, which is slated for April 29.

The event, in which the president is the guest of honor, is mildly roasted and then gets to target others in his own stand-up routine, is typically a lighthearted affair and an evening the media and the White House get together as almost social friends.

This administration has shown it is anything but a friend — and expressly considers the media an “opposition party.”

The WHCA said today that they are “…protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House” and that “the board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”

In a February 2 statement about the dinner, WHCA President Jeff Mason reinforced that the annual fete acknowledges the media’s importance in our democracy, saying that “… as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic.”

How ironic is that given that President Mini-Mitts and his crew would give anything to exile the entire press to a Siberian gulag?

But can you imagine the humiliation of Trump having to give what I’m sure will be a mean-spirited “comedy” tirade in front of an ocean of empty seats? Of course, he would just tweet the next day that he had the biggest crowd ever.

Spicer Equates Marijuana, Opioid Use

It was a lively give and take in the White Press press briefing yesterday and, in the midst of his usual routine of not answering questions, Press Secretary Sean Spicer fielded and avoided a lot of questions about the Trump administration’s take on medicinal and recreational marijuana use.

Perhaps most surprising in the exchanges was Spicer either not knowing that marijuana is not an opioid or knowing the truth and simply trying to convince Americans that smoking a joint is just like mainlining heroin.

“There is a big difference between that [medicinal use] and recreational marijuana,” said Spicer in answering a question about Trump’s views on enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where recreational use is legal. “And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of the medical — when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

So remember that, people: According to Dr. Spicer, marijuana is right there in the same league with heroin, Vicodin and Demerol.

When the reporter asking that question — Roby Brock of Talk Business & Politics — did not accept that silly response and tried to follow up, Spicer moved on, while lecturing Brock on briefing-room manners.

Spicer: Shannon.

Brock: What does that mean in terms of policy? A follow-up, Sean. What does that mean in terms of policy?

Spicer: Shannon. Glenn, this isn’t a TV program. We’re going to —

Brock: What is the Justice Department going to do?

Spicer: Okay, you don’t get to just yell out questions. We’re going to raise our hands like big boys and girls.

Brock: Why don’t you answer the question, though?

Spicer: Because it’s not your job to just yell out questions.

To her credit, Shannon — sorry, I do not know her last name or affiliation — used her time to follow up on the Trump administration’s stance on recreational marijuana legalized at the state level. Spicer then said only that the Justice Department will be looking into it further.

If Spicer really needs to learn about opioids, he should simply call White House booster Rush “Oxycontin King” Limbaugh. I’m sure he’ll be happy to explain everything.

And Here’s Our Narcissist in Chief

This tweet from yesterday illustrates how the Narcissist in Chief always — always! — finds a way to make everything come back to being all about him. Of all the elements making Trump’s supporters the dumbest people on the planet, first among them is the fact that they still believe he gives a damn about them or, for that matter, anyone but himself.

Wyden Demands Answers on Questionable Phone Searches at Border

In yet another sign of what our country is becoming under the Trump regime, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has sent a letter to Homeland Security chief John Kelly demanding to know why Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have been ordering some people to unlock their cell phones for examination.

Wyden also cited a recent statement by Kelly saying that people visiting the U.S. may be asked to give security officers their social-media passwords so agents can examine their usage of applications like Facebook and Twitter.

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month. “If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”

While Kelly’s comments before that committee were in the context of what will likely happen in the future as immigrants are vetted for admission to the U.S., reports are surfacing that people are already being subject to these searches upon entering the country.

In January, Sidd Bikkannavar, who was born in the U.S. and is an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was detained on reentering the country after a vacation in Chile and asked to give CBP agents the password to his phone. Bikkannavar complied but remains concerned because the phone was issued by NASA, contained sensitive information and he has no idea what agents gleaned from their search.

“I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating,” says Bikkannavar. “I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.”

In his letter, Wyden challenged Kelly to answer five specific questions, including the following:

What legal authority permits CBP to ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person disclose their social media or email account password?

What legal authority permits CBP to ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person turn over their device PIN or password to gain access to encrypted data? How are such demands consistent with the Fifth Amendment?

Wyden also told the Homeland Security Secretary that he intends to introduce legislation to “… guarantee that the Fourth Amendment is respected at the border by requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before searching devices, and prohibiting the practice of forcing travelers to reveal their online account passwords.”

“These digital dragnet border search practices weaken our national and economic security. Indiscriminate digital searches distract CBP from its core mission and needlessly divert agency resources away from those who truly threaten our nation.”

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