News Sips 1/13: Mattis, Ryan, Wet Feet, and One Week(!)

Here’s what you need to know before your coffee gets cool on January 13, 2017. Happy Friday the 13th!


Mad Dog in the Senate

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis testified yesterday before the Senate Armed Service Committee (Chaired by Trump critic Sen. John McCain) in his bid to be the next Secretary of Defense. Mattis broke with the rhetoric of the President-Elect on several issues including the way in which the United States should approach its relationship with Russia. (In fairness, Trump has already tweeted this morning that he has encouraged his nominees to speak their minds about important issues and that they should not be in ideological lockstep with how he would answer the questions).

In the days leading up to Mattis’ testimony, Senator McCain had made sure competent experts had briefed the Armed Services Committee on facts about General Mattis and his qualifications to serve as Secretary of Defense. Mattis’ confirmation faces an extra step in that he needs a Congressional waiver of the National Security Act of 1947 in order to serve. This is because he has not been out of the military for more than seven years. The last waiver was granted to General George Marshall (because as General of the Army, he could never, technically, be retired).

The Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly to grant the waiver (only Senators Gillibrand, Blumenthal, and, of course, Elizabeth Warren, opposed the highly regarded military leader’s waiver in committee). The full Senate then approved the waiver 81-17. Unlike other nominations that are solely under the control of the Senate, because Mattis needs a waiver first, the House also needed to vote on the resolution. The House Armed Services Committee voted to grant the waiver and a full vote of the House is expected soon (if not today). Mattis is likely to be confirmed once his waiver is through both chambers.

General Mattis displayed a full and complete knowledge of the issues that are going on in the world today and showed that he was willing to both follow orders from the President, but also to add his expert opinion when it was asked for. He should be confirmed.


Ryan’s Town Hall

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan accepted the invitation of CNN, which is reeling from publishing fake news and suffering declining ratings and credibility, to have a town hall-style event at Washington DC’s George Washington University. Ryan looked calm, cool and collected under the pressure of some planted “gotcha” questions and was able to talk policy in a way that was wholly missing from the GOP Presidential debates.

It was clear that producers at CNN wanted the Speaker to go out of his way to criticize the incoming President and to foment dissent between the two men. Ryan, however, took every opportunity he could to show that he and the President-Elect were seeing eye-to-eye now more than in the past and that they were committed to working together on common issues. Ryan, notably, mentioned how Mr. Trump has put forward certain policy goals and sees Congress as the means of filling in the meat of how to accomplish those directives. Ryan also suggested that the President Elect was open to receiving constructive advice on the way in which he would go about bringing his plans to fulfillment.

There was some hint of the “Speaker doth protest too much” in that Ryan would go out of his way to reassure the public that he and Trump are on the same wavelength. Certainly, as we saw in the days leading up to the Presidential Election, Mr. Trump and Speaker Ryan have their differences in worldview. However, what remains clear is that Speaker Ryan understands his role and sees it as one that can have an influence on Mr. Trump. While that sounds nefarious, it’s likely more that Ryan appreciates a seat at the table. Both men, clearly, would prefer a symbiotic relationship. For Trump, a cooperative Congress can help him get his marquee projects started. For Ryan, a Chief Executive willing to let the policy wonkish Speaker handle the minutiae gives the Speaker tremendous power over shaping institutions.


End of Wet Foot-Dry Foot

As the Obama Administration prepares to get out of the driver’s seat of the nation, they are enacting and changing numerous policies to set landmines for the incoming Trump team. Another of these landmines was revealed today: Obama has scrapped the long-standing US policy that gave resident-status to Cubans who were able to make it to American shores.

For decades, the brutal Castro-led regime has brutalized, tortured, and repressed hundreds of thousands of people. The United States, seen by many Cubans as a bastion of freedom, agreed that it would not send Cubans back to the desolate communist nation if they were able to reach the United States. President Obama, clearly lulled into the idea that his decision to open Cuba to American business and visitors, has reversed this policy. While there is no indication that Cuba has become freer or more tolerant of human rights, it appears Mr. Obama decided he wanted to take action before he lost the power of the presidency.

Even fellow Democrats, like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, roundly criticized Obama’s action noting, as we have, that it will only hurt the Cuban people. Hopefully, with only a week to go, Mr. Trump will be able to take office and secure real, liberal, reforms in Cuba instead of just glossy paint over a murderous regime.


One Week More

In one week from noon today, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as America’s 45th President. Simultaneously, Barack Obama will become a “former President.” Mr. Trump has pledged to use even his first day in office to get to work on behalf of the American people. For the New York billionaire whose personal branding became synonymous with pomp and glamour, Trump has, generally, decided on a more streamlined inauguration. Mr. Trump has reduced the number of Presidential Galas and has reduced the Inaugural Parade considerably. This is, in part, a real demonstration of Mr. Trump’s commitment to making good on his promise to reduce Washington bloat (obviously through optics at the Inauguration) and a chance for him to show that he is not a brash, opulent billionaire. Sure, Mr. Trump could have thrown the biggest party in history, but it would have only reinforced his critics’ concerns that he was just a showman rather than a true reformer.

In a way, Mr. Trump had to decide to lean-down the Inauguration or he would have likely not been taken as seriously. Regardless of how much pomp there is, in just one week, America will have a new President and the Trump Era begins.


As always, there are more things going on in the world, but these are the big stories to get you ready for the day.


Here’s some “other news”: Russians wary as US moves troops to Poland; CSPAN “accidentally” streams Russian propaganda; Husband of Freddie Gray prosecutor recommended to be a legislator in Maryland; and Could MD’s only Republican in Congress be taking a job with the Trump Administration? 

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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