Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the February 3, 2017 edition:
A specter is haunting Washington—the specter of clickbait. The fact that there are too many media outlets, discerning consumers, and journalists who think they’re only moments away from persecution has led to a culture of “tweet first, fact check later.” The “scandalous” headlines usually get more attention than a single-line retraction later on. Hence, the clicks are registered on the false reporting and everyone can go about their business.
A few examples, just from yesterday, include a headline that Donald Trump changed the name of “Black History Month” to “African American History Month” this was fact-checked and found that the proclamation was consistent with the ones issued by President Obama. No, Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch didn’t write an anti-gay op-ed in college, rather, there was a clear formatting error in the college newspaper. No, the House didn’t repeal gun laws but rather a poorly-worded regulation that would prevent people on Social Security from buying guns. No, the White House didn’t repeal sanctions against Russia, these were Obama-era planned grammatical tweaks to make sure Russia wouldn’t be able to have cyber reprisals against US interests. Again, those were just three examples from yesterday.
These are added to the growing pile of demonstrably fake reporting like “Judge Hardiman rushes to DC for Apprentice-style SCOTUS announcement” (no, he never left PA), “Trump to get rid of LGBTQ protections” (he kept them), “Trump to re-open black site CIA prisons” (nope, didn’t happen), “Trump set to immediately deport dreamers” (nope), “Trump rushed ahead with Yemen raid” (nope, Defense and Obama okayed it but they needed to wait for a moonless night and that would only come after Obama had left office), etc. These disinformation (or, more charitably, un-fact-checked) headlines announce a scandal (which people believe because the media has been working to undermine the President’s legitimacy), and then the media gets their much-craved retweets and clicks.
If you ever have the time and look at the verified Twitter accounts of journalists, you can see the obvious reason why they rush out without checking the facts: they’re vehemently anti-Trump (is this a broad over-generalization? Sure. However, given the reality that the problem of promoting false stories is being created by those same journalists, the ball is firmly in their court to correct it).
MiniSips: Foreign Policy
There’s a bunch of things going on around the world, so here’s a very brief rundown:
Louvre Attack Thwarted: Several news outlets reported that a man shouting “Allahu Ackbar” and wielding a knife was shot by soldiers and injured at the Louvre in Paris. France has suffered from several Islamic radical attacks in the past few years fueling political backing for politicians like Marine LePen who have made French national security a top priority. France’s Presidential election is later this year.
Backing off of Settlements: The Administration appears to have backed off of unconditional support of Israeli settlements. While Mr. Trump remains a committed ally of Israel, it appears that Washington may want Netanyahu to at least “pump the brakes” on planned rapid expansion.
Possible new Iranian sanctions: After a cruise missile test, the Administration is weighing new sanctions against Tehran.
Ukrainian Fighting: In what appears to be defiance of the Minsk Agreements, hostilities are on the rise again in Eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed rebels. The resumption of hostilities comes at an awkward time for both Moscow and Mr. Trump and may put the new President in the difficult position of having to condemn Russia despite his desire to pursue rapprochement with the Kremlin.
Mattis Overseas: Secretary of Defense Mattis is already overseas visiting America’s allies in Asia. Today he met with leaders in South Korea and he will also travel to Japan. Mattis made it clear that the United States would not be tolerant of any provocations from North Korea (which has threatened to test a ballistic missile).
Advancing the Nominees
In an early-morning vote, the Senate invoked cloture on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ nomination. The final vote on confirmation looks set for Monday. The vote will leave no room for error for Ms. DeVos who faces two Republican defections and a 50-50 outcome. This will mean Vice President Pence will cast the deciding vote in favor of Ms. DeVos in order for her to be confirmed. It should be noted that the two Republican Senators, Collins and Murkowski, who plan to vote against DeVos in the final vote, did vote in favor of advancing the nomination out of committee and then for scheduling and cloture. In effect, they made sure that DeVos would get a vote from the full Senate despite their plans to eventually vote against confirmation. (Is there a chance that Democrats could pull away one other Republican? Sure, anything could happen. But, right now, the whip count is 50-50 and looks to stay that way).
Senator Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General, is needed in the Senate to confirm Ms. DeVos, and, as such, his confirmation has been pushed back. There’s also a looming vote on Representative Mulvaney’s confirmation as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. While this nomination hasn’t drawn the media attention like DeVos, it looks like Senator McCain, who did vote to send Mulvaney’s nomination out of committee, may be leaning towards voting no in the full Senate. While McCain, alone, would not be enough to tank a nominee, he could probably sway at least one other Senator (looking at you, Lindsey) away from the majority. This would require Sessions and the Vice President, once again.
Don’t let the talk about Republican obstruction under Obama forgive the current levels of obstruction from Democrats in the Senate. Mr. Trump currently has the fewest number of cabinet officials confirmed in at least 50 years. Added to that, as we discussed yesterday about the Finance Committee, the Senate Environmental Committee’s Democrats (including Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen), declined to attend a meeting of the Committee. Rather than allow for the obstruction, and on advice of the Senate Parliamentarian, the EPW Committee suspended the rules (allowed under the rules) and voted to advance EPA nominee Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to the full Senate. Expect Mr. Pruitt’s nomination to be a big fight with Democrats (though there do not appear to be any Republicans willing to break from the majority).
The House and Senate have been active legislatively. In a major procedural move, both the House and Senate voted to strip several onerous Obama-era regulations from the energy sector and from gun ownership. Effectively, under the Congressional Review Act, the Congress can vote to disapprove of regulations promulgated by an Executive Branch agency and scrap them. It’s part of the legislative oversight that Congress is expected to perform. Of course, this doesn’t happen very often, but, given the fact that the White House has signaled that it is ready to slash regulations, the Republican House and Senate jumped at the opportunity.
Under the Congressional Review Act, more importantly, there’s a provision that prevents Democrats in the Senate from forcing a 60-vote threshold for repeal of regulations. Therefore, the Republican 52-vote majority is sufficient to strip regulations. Notably, on the first use of the CRA yesterday, several Democrats joined with Republicans in getting rid of a regulation on coal production.
It’s important to note just how poorly these regulatory repeals have been covered by the media. In particular, the rollback of a regulation that would restrict gun ownership for people receiving Social Security and disability payments (a regulation roundly condemned by doctors as well as Second Amendment advocates) was reported by major news outlets as “Republicans allowing severely mentally ill to buy guns.” Always remember when you’re reading current news to check where these headlines are coming from and to read the actual story.
It’s also important today that the President will sign an Executive Order that begins to roll back some of provisions of the Dodd-Frank law that held back significant growth in the financial sector over the past eight years.
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.