Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the March 3, 2017 edition:
Sessions’ Russian Session
The biggest non-story of the week resolved itself neatly yesterday: Jeff Sessions’ Russian connections. In one news cycle, media outlets contrived a story that, for some reason, it was improper for a sitting Senator to meet with a foreign diplomat (it’s not) and that Attorney General Sessions should resign from the Department of Justice because of it (he didn’t).
There’s a completely irrational fear going around DC about “Russia,” or, more cynically, the left and the media know they can fundraise/get clicks off of reporting about connections between Trump and Russia. It started from Democrats’ failure to understand how Hillary Clinton could lose the election. It wasn’t because she was an unlikable, flawed candidate who didn’t even campaign in Wisconsin. It wasn’t because her campaign was focused on identity politics and alienated the Democratic base. It wasn’t because she didn’t take Trump seriously. It wasn’t because Democratic voters born in the 1990s had no loyalty to her brand. No, it was because Trump cheated. How? Russia, of course.
It helps that the Russia story gets play in the media and has been pushed by Obama loyalists who still infect Mr. Trump’s government. It’s unclear whether anyone actually believes the Russian narrative or whether they just realize that it’s politically expedient. Perhaps a little of both. Regardless, Mr. Trump’s enemies watched as Russian allegations brought down Mike Flynn, the President’s first National Security Advisor (the fact that it was because he lied to the Vice President totally flies over the head of these folks), so, the rationale goes, why not try it again?
During his confirmation hearing, then-Senator Sessions was asked if he knew about any coordination or leaks by Trump campaign surrogates and Russia. He said there weren’t. The problem was that he had met with the Russian Ambassador a few months before the election. While this sounds like a lie, it’s a question of framing. At the time, Sessions met with the Ambassador as a Senator on the Armed Services Committee (Claire McCaskill, another member of the Committee got burned yesterday for claiming she would never meet with a Russian Ambassador before it was quickly discovered she had—on multiple occasions). So, of course, the combination of “the lie” and “Russia” quickly made its rounds in the media. Democrats called for Sessions’ resignation. Etc. Etc. Rinse. Repeat.
The Attorney General had a press conference in the afternoon where he dismissed the criticism and made it clear that he would recuse himself from any investigation of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. He had already made it clear that he intended to seek input over whether to make this recusal. This story simply accelerated that decision. Now, the Chief Deputy Attorney General (who still has to be confirmed by the Senate) will make any investigative decisions and the Democrats are left with a big “nothing-burger” back at square one.
Now let’s count down the hours before the media runs with some other Russia story to pad out a slow news cycle.
Obamacare Repeal Status
It was a fairly slow news day in Washington, yesterday. Sure, there was the manufactured crisis over Jeff Sessions, but most people with their fingers on the pulse of what was going on realized it for the media drama that it was and paid it little mind. On this slow news day, there was time for some political theater over the status of the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
At some point early in the day, a Republican staffer in the House had mentioned that there was a draft bill that was being circulated for comment among some Republican members, but that it was being kept under lock and key in an undisclosed location. Of course, this kind of over-the-top secrecy baited the media into a hunt for where the bill could be hiding. House Minority Whip, Maryland Democrat, Steny Hoyer, who apparently has nothing better to do, led a posse of journalists on an ill-fated attempt to search the bowels of the Capitol for this draft bill. He ended his search by publicly addressing a bust of Abraham Lincoln and talking about Republican shame.
Around the same time, Republican Senator Rand Paul, who has already put out a repeal and replace package along with members of the House Freedom Caucus, decided to get in on the action and marched over to the House side of the Capitol with journalists and a portable copy machine in tow looking for the bill. Paul, a libertarian-leaning Senator, has been a fierce critic of the waffling Republicans who appear ready to keep much of the Obamacare superstructure. The move from “repeal” seems to be looking like “repair.” This is something that Paul stridently opposes (for good reason). Paul, who is a doctor himself, understands the long-term implications of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the fact that the law could easily collapse into a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system (this, as we’ve discussed here before, was likely the plan by Obama and lift-leaning Democrats in 2008—remember, while they did have the majority, there were enough “blue dog” Democrats that opposed a single-payer system in 2008. This meant that the architects of Obamacare simply frontloaded the “goodies” with full knowledge that the law would later spiral into a single-payer system).
In the end, Senator Paul did not get to see the bill. As one Republican Congressman put it, Senator Paul doesn’t have carte blanche to invade the House of Representatives. And, yes, we understand that Senator Paul is great at theatrics. However, despite their comical nature, both Representative Hoyer and Senator Paul are underlining a growing concern: what’s the House bill going to look like. From the left, they think it’s going to completely dismantle Obamacare and kill proverbial grandmas, from the right, anything short of dismantling could be seen as politicians betraying the base.
The parent company of “Snapchat,” the video and picture messaging social media application, had its long-awaited IPO yesterday on Wall Street. In a matter of minutes, the stock soared to and made its 20-something founders into instant billionaires. By the end of trading, Snap’s value had risen 44%.
Snap’s IPO comes after other major social media companies Facebook and Twitter made their move to being publicly traded. It’s still not clear which direction Snap will take: consistent growth like Facebook (that has roundabout doubled its share price in four years) or like Twitter (which is now worth a quarter of what it was three years ago). However, it does prove the trend that popular media platforms are looking for market capitalization and are clearly fixtures along with long-standing market-movers on Wall Street. It’s an interesting reality where you can watch an app start up and, just a few years later, see it be worth billions of dollars. Now, it’s a question of savvy business dealings, satisfying shareholders, and improving the brand. Will Snap surge like Facebook or tank like Twitter?
Zinke, Carson Confirmed
Both Ryan Zinke (Interior) and Dr. Ben Carson (HUD) have been confirmed for their respective cabinet posts this week. Like all of the President’s Cabinet nominees, there was no real chance that the nominations would fail because of opposition from Democrats (note that, like all Administrations, there have been a few nominees who have withdrawn over finances).
Zinke, who was Montana’s lone Representative in the House, made a particularly interesting splash yesterday when he rode a horse through downtown Washington DC on his way to his first day on the job. The Park Police, who now are Zinke’s employees, had made the offer before his confirmation and he had decided to take them up on it. So, the Secretary of the Interior, flanked by Park Police, rode a horse to work.
Dr. Ben Carson’s confirmation starts the world-renowned-physician-turned-politician on a new journey in his already storied career. As the President noted when he visited the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History, there was already an exhibit about Dr. Ben Carson (Trump had noted how interesting it was being there with Carson and Carson’s wife as they saw the exhibit for the first time).
Some of the President’s nominees continue to wait their turn for Senate approval, and, almost more pressing, senior deputy officials are backlogged on confirmations already.
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.