News Sips 1/30: The Reality Behind NSC Changes, SCOTUS Pick Inbound, Immigration Kerfuffle, and Spineless Republicans
Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the January 30, 2017 edition:
The Reality Behind NSC Changes
The President signed an Executive Order that restructured the principals on the National Security Council. Every President has changed the makeup of the Council (which grew to its height under the Obama Administration). The President’s decision to shake up the principals structure seems to reflect this prerogative. Up until Saturday, there were 19 principals of the Council that includes the President, attendees mandated by law, regular attendees and additional participants. There were also two jobs “military adviser” and “intelligence adviser,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence, respectively. These seats were eliminated and an “additional participant” slot was added for the White House Chief Strategist, in this case, former Brietbart CEO Steven Bannon.
Of course, as is custom now, the left and the hawkish right are up-in-arms about the appointment of the boogeyman, Bannon, to a position of influence and are fretting over the apparent demotion of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the DNI. However, the real explanation is, likely, far less exciting than the palace intrigue suggested.
The NSC’s principal members include both the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General (as well as the Homeland Security Adviser and both the National Security Adviser and his Deputy). Thus, the Chairman and the DNI are redundant (their bosses are already in the room). Outside of the deputy National Security Adviser, all of the attendees are principals of their respective agencies and departments (the Deputy Secretary of Energy, for instance, doesn’t take part, but the Secretary of Energy does.
Likewise, the NSC routinely meets on a host of issues that are not directly tied to the military, like energy policy and economic matters, and Trump’s decision to change the principals on the committee may be an acknowledgement of that fact. Moreover, given that both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as well as the Director of National Intelligence have been retained in an advisory role by the panel seems to indicate that they will, indeed, be present at major meetings.
In adding Bannon to the NSC, the President is clearly, as we all have known since the beginning, setting him on the same level as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (the CoS is on the NSC). It’s been completely clear since the first days of the transition that Mr. Trump wanted both Priebus and Bannon to have overlapping jobs. While this would appear to cause friction, it’s an obvious management decision on the part of the President so as not to limit the people who are giving him advice. The President respects the opinions of both men and is not falling into the traps of previous administrations where the Chief of Staff was the sole gatekeeper for information getting to the President. Putting Bannon on the NSC makes sense given the fact that the President wants to maintain a “rivalry” between the two positions (the media has run with an antagonistic storyline here that may not exist, but, what is apparent is that the President does intend to have more people “in the know” than in previous Presidencies.”)
SCOTUS Pick Inbound? [UPDATED]
The President will announce his pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court tomorrow at 8pm at the White House. The news was set to break on Thursday, but, given the press’ manufactured outrage over the President’s immigration order over the weekend, the Administration seems willing to change the narrative quickly rather than let the issue fester.
This decision certainly stands in contrast to the public relations decisions of previous Administrations. The usual go-to response to criticism was to engage with the critics, send out surrogates to talk on television, and walk back unpopular policies. This is not what the Administration is doing. Rather, without modification to the immigration policy, the President is moving up the timeline for a major news story in an attempt to counteract the media narrative.
We’ve seen through the better part of the last two years that Donald Trump is able to generate massive media waves through his control of the narrative and reporting cycle. Whether these have been negative or positive stories, the rapidity with which Mr. Trump generates stories has kept the populace enraptured in the unfolding and kept media outlets bathed in clicks.
The most-likely candidate at this point to get the nod to the Scalia Seat is Judge Neil Gorsuch. There are several others apparently under consideration, and, knowing the President, the decision may change at the last minute as he reevaluates his options. However, Gorsuch, who has a solid judicial resume and similar philosophy to the Justice he’d be replacing, will likely have enough support to get through to confirmation (though, with any of the President’s judicial appointments, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to get rid of the filibuster rule on judges—Democrat leader Chuck Schumer has vowed not to allow a vote on any 60-vote-cloture nominee, effectively forcing McConnell to eliminate the rule).
Over the weekend, we watched as the media continued to embrace the “boy who cried wolf” response to Donald Trump. Everything is a crisis. The world is ending. Rinse. Repeat.
There were large protests of people who clearly bought the Leftist rhetoric hook, line, and sinker, and reporters across Twitter took to social media to condemn the Administration without any regard for objectivity. It’s only been a week, and, really, this is going to get very old, very fast.
Regardless, here’s the story: on Friday, the President temporarily suspended granting visas to immigrants from seven terror-hotspots including Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq for 90 days. He also suspended taking in Syrian refugees and put a cap on total refugees. The policy changes weren’t announced broadly and only security officials were briefed and put the plan into action.
In explaining the lack of public comment, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus noted that if the restrictions were announced and then took effect at a later date, people wishing to use the immigration system to do harm to Americans would have simply accelerated their timetables and gotten in before the implementation of new vetting procedures.
The rollout was not without its hiccups including some confusion about whether people already granted green cards and visas would be allowed into the country. Of the 109 people detained (out of nearly 325,000 immigrants who arrived in the United States from across the world), the vast majority were released from detention.
Of course, the implementation of any travel restrictions triggered unfounded fears that the President was imposing a “Muslim ban” on the United States. While this wasn’t true, and that the restrictions were far less than those imposed by President Obama in 2011 when he banned visas for Iraqis for six months (and the refugee cap is higher than it was during the Bush Administration), low-information-liberals looking for a reason to protest the new Administration took to the streets. However, unlike the hashtag diplomacy of the past, the Administration has refused to back down in the face of agitators. In fact, for a White House whose top staff sometimes appears to be a team of rivals, the messaging from all “sides” was one that was resolute: we are protecting Americans and we’re not going to apologize for keeping the nation safe.
The President has made it clear that he will be implementing a process of “extreme vetting” for refugees and immigrants. This order is a clear prelude to these changes being made. Mr. Trump also will be rolling out what appears to be a priority path to refugee status for persecuted Christians from the Middle East (of course, this made liberals even more angry). This story is still developing, but it appears that the “fears” of journalists who have been screeching on Twitter are wholly unfounded.
Any principled conservative or libertarian who follows politics knows one thing about Congressional Republicans: leave them in the spotlight for too long and they wilt. Despite the fact that they have near-record-setting control of government, Congressional Republicans now appear to be turning over their spines and punting on important issues. The big question is whether the President will let them.
The first issue is the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Despite workable plans from the likes of Senator Rand Paul, there does not appear to be sufficient political will on the part of Republicans to stand up for what the people want. Rather, one of the Congressional Republicans at last week’s retreat, lamented that defunding Planned Parenthood would result in protests in his district. The Republicans are fearful of bad narratives and storylines that will cause leftists to take to the streets. This is interesting given the fact that Mr. Trump won despite huge Republican opposition, leftists in the streets, and a media narrative that was full of terrible portrayals.
Another issue where Republicans may be looking to punt is on the issue of tax reform. Despite having a President who stands willing to sign a conversion of the tax code, it appears that the Republicans in Congress are getting cold feet and may kick the proverbial can down the road until around the August recess (translation: they’ll do something that sounds good but changes nothing).
The President, who has already made himself out as a doer rather than a talker in his first week in office, is unlikely to accept this mealy vacillation from Congress. Mr. Trump has set a pace that clearly does not want to encounter Republican roadblocks. Expect the President to force the hand of the Republicans in Congress and work to implement solutions despite GOP hand-wringing.
Obviously, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.