Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the Groundhog Day edition, Groundhog Day edition, Groundhog Day edition, Groundhog Day edition (get it?!):
The Milo Riots
Last night, leftist students and rioters stopped gay, Jewish Breitbart Technology Editor Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at California’s Berkeley University. Milo is a British provocateur and certainly one of the most outspoken members of the “new right.” He’s famously described feminism as a cancer and proceeded to, unapologetically, tear down the left and “safe space” culture. He’s a hero to some conservatives, especially those in college, who see him as being someone who finally has a spine and is standing up to the ideological totalitarianism on college campuses by the left.
Obviously, Milo’s stances have drawn criticism. He’s banned from Twitter after ripping one of the left-wing actresses in the terrible Ghostbusters reboot and his talks have sparked protest and rage from the social justice warrior culture of the left.
Last night’s riot at Berkeley saw supporters who wanted to come to a speech by Milo attacked, pepper sprayed, and beaten by rabid leftists. The leftists then set a massive fire and broke windows. How tolerant.
This morning, in the wake of the violence against a conservative, gay, Jewish, foreigner’s exercising his right to free speech, President Trump mused on Twitter that, perhaps, if Universities like Berkeley failed to be open to all ideologies, they may lose federal funding.
Personal note: as someone who went to a college where conservative thought was relegated to the underground and the totalitarianism of leftist progressivism was rampant (and Loyola has, apparently, only gotten worse since), perhaps President Trump’s call for ideological diversity on campus wouldn’t be that bad.
Iran “On Notice”
In the past week, the Iranian military test fired a medium range missile. Despite the test failing because of a re-entry malfunction, Tehran’s insistence on moving ahead with weapons testing looks to be in violation of a UN Resolution 2231 (one of the enabling resolutions related to the Iran Deal). While there does not appear to be a violation of the Iran Deal, itself, the testing of a missile system immediately triggered backlash from the Trump Administration.
National Security Adviser Mike Flynn gave a curt assessment of the test, the violation of the UN Resolution and officially put Iran “on notice.” Now, there’s no real guidance over what “on notice” means. Certainly, given the fact that Mr. Trump and his team seem far more serious about Iran’s flaunting of international norms than the previous Administration, “on notice” does seem to be a direct threat that the United States will take action over the next violation.
The question is: what does that action look like? For the past eight years, Washington has only issued empty threats as enemies of liberty advanced around the globe. Now, “on notice” could, simply, be a platitude like Obama’s “red line” in Syria or John Kerry’s idle threats over Russian intervention in Ukraine. However, it could also be the herald of something more. Notably, given the hawks in the Republican Party, there is a strong likelihood that the new Administration may use Iranian defiance as a justification for slapping sanctions back on Tehran. Certainly, beyond this, there is the concern that the Trump Administration may decide it is prudent to destroy missile launch pads or destroy a test-fired missile in the future.
Now, remember, this may be the exact reaction the White House wants: is Mr. Trump really serious about his threats? Such a question could lead the Iranian government to be more hesitant in the future. It also reassures Saudi Arabia, another nation whose ties with the United States soured under President Obama. Just last week, a Houthi rebel terrorist group in Yemen linked to Iran detonated a bomb against a Saudi warship (the video indicates the rebels may have thought the vessel was American, so, that raises a whole host of additional issues).
Mr. Trump prided himself in the campaign as not forecasting his military decisions and declining to engage in American adventurism abroad. However, given the regional instability caused by a resurgent Iran, it looks like the President is going to be faced with foreign policy test in the next few months over how to deal with Iran.
Note: while it would be unlikely that the UN would support additional action against Iran (given Russian interests in the nation), it could be part of a grand-bargain between Trump and Putin that may de-escalate tensions in Ukraine and in the Middle East. We’ll be waiting to see if such a deal could be reached.
Leaking Trump’s Calls
Apparently, someone in or close to the White House is leaking the text (or at least the substance) of the President’s calls with foreign leaders with the intent of harming the President’s reputation.
The first story to break yesterday was that Mr. Trump, in a call with the President of Mexico, had made a veiled threat to send troops into Mexico to take care of the drug cartels if the Mexican President was unwilling, or if his military was too scared, to get it done himself. The authenticity of this claim has been cast into doubt by a statement from the Mexican government and from the Administration. However, in the era of anonymous sources, the White House press corps rushed to print and retweet the story without checking the authenticity.
Another story, which at least on its face appears to have been confirmed by the President, is that the President and the Prime Minister of Australia had a tense conversation that Mr. Trump cut off after a mere 25 minutes of the planned hour-long call. The leaked information was that the Prime Minister insisted that the President honor President Obama’s commitment to take 1,250 detainees from Australia. Mr. Trump was not thrilled about this. Mr. Trump has tweeted this morning that the 1,250 detainee deal is a bad one (which seems to confirm the contentious discussion).
The big problem here is that the press is rushing to publish the President’s conversations with foreign leaders. Even more, there’s clearly a leak in the White House. According to news stories this morning, the only people in the room for the President’s call with the Australian Prime Minister were Steve Bannon, General Flynn, and Sean Spicer. One of these men then, apparently, briefed staffers, one of whom then ran to the press. (Either that or one of the agencies that monitors the calls from the President’s phone).
A tiff with the Prime Minister of Australia isn’t going to cause a war. However, candid conversations between leaders really shouldn’t be divulged. The problem is obvious: if they think that the substance or text of a conversation are going to be on news headlines, they may be less-willing to be frank with one another and discuss critically important issues.
Nominee Fights Continued
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State after all Republicans as well as three Democrats and an Independent voted for the President’s nominee. Mr. Tillerson was later sworn in by the Vice President.
During the day, the Senate advanced the nomination of Jeff Sessions out of the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.
In a strange procedural twist, because Democrats refused to show up to the Senate Finance Committee, Republican Chair Orrin Hatch took an arcane parliamentary track to advance the nominations of both Steve Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary and Tom Price for Health and Human Services. In effect, the Committee has a rule to suspend the rules (Rule 19). Normally, in order to have a voting quorum, you need at least one member of the minority Party present to call for a vote. However, because the Democrats were boycotting, there was no official quorum. Therefore, Senator Enzi moved that the Rules (notably Rule 4 that required the quorum on voting) be suspended. Chairman Hatch ruled this out of order, but then challenged his own ruling, and, since all of the Republicans were present, there were sufficient votes to overturn the ruling, making the Rule 19 motion in-order and the rule on the quorum were suspended. Then a vote was held on each nominee. Sure, this is a bit underhanded, but, Senator Hatch checked with the Senate Parliamentarian in advance and was assured that it was an acceptable thing to do. Likewise, despite its bad taste, the fact that Democrats refused to come to the Committee was probably the bigger sin here.
Democrats also boycotted the hearing on advancing the nomination of Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator. Chairman Barrasso didn’t take the same track as Senator Hatch. Instead, another hearing is scheduled for today.
In a bit of intrigue, two Republican moderates, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have defected over the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ms. DeVos now has no room for error on her confirmation, which, by the whip count looks like 50-50. She will need the Vice President to cast the tie-breaking vote in her favor. It also means that Senator Sessions (up for Attorney General) can’t be confirmed first (as it would leave a vacancy—Alabama knows this and the Governor will speedily appoint a replacement, but even the most expeditious appointment may not get to DC in time).
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.