The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Upside of the Trump Cabinet Shuffle

President Trump with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, May 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

Having offered the pessimistic assessment in the Corner yesterday, let’s contemplate the optimistic assessment of the Trump cabinet shakeup today.

Outgoing CIA director Mike Pompeo understands Trump in a way that Rex Tillerson did not, and perhaps even more importantly, he figured out how to communicate with the president effectively:

Not much is predictable about President Donald Trump’s White House. But around 11 a.m. on any given day, you would likely find CIA chief Mike Pompeo in the Oval Office, briefing the commander-in-chief. For 30 minutes or so, Pompeo would help Trump digest the country’s most closely held secrets about the world’s most pressing conflicts. He used “killer graphics” to keep Trump on point. He carved out time for general “knowledge building” on long-term strategy. He fielded Trump’s questions on any number of topics.

This should lead to a smoother relationship between the White House and the State Department.

Pompeo seemed to work well enough at CIA, but whenever you appoint a figure from outside the agency, there’s potential for tension; remember Porter Goss during the Bush years. The news coverage of the incoming director, Gina Haspel, is focusing on her involvement in the waterboarding program. (Let’s face it, that’s probably what impressed Trump.) But she is a three-decade veteran of the agency, well-known in the intelligence community, and she’s got exactly the kind of varied résumé you would want to see in a director: “several stints as chief of station at outposts abroad, deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.”

The New York Times runs an op-ed from an Egyptian feminist declaring Haspel’s nomination “no victory for feminism” and calling her “a woman with too much experience in cruelty and deception.” (Why, it’s almost as if deception is part of the job for a spy agency.) Someone should send the feminist’s column to Trump; he’ll feel even more confidence in Haspel.

It’s Time for Republicans to Get Really Worried About the 2018 Midterms

The bad news — and it is indeed bad news — in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district is that it appears Rick Saccone lost. The marginally good news is that it was close — about 641 votes, as of this morning. Some Republicans were preparing for the worst yesterday afternoon, a solid win by Democrat Conor Lamb that would indicate that Democrats can win in some of the deepest red districts.

And make no mistake, this is the sort of district that Republicans win easily in normal circumstances. On CNN last night, former Trump adviser Jason Miller made the implausible argument that Saccone “came across as establishment, and I think that was more of the problem,” and that he “very much sounds like he’s already part of Washington.” Never mind that Saccone pledged to be Trump’s “wingman” on the campaign trail, and Trump went to Pennsylvania this weekend to campaign for him. Over in the Washington Examiner, some unnamed Republican consultant is blaming Saccone’s mustache.

Our Theodore Kupfer puts it succinctly: “Saccone is not nearly a poor enough candidate to explain what looks to be a 20-point swing to the Democrats.”

Public Policy Polling surveys special-election voters in the district about Obamacare and finds a lot of support for “keeping what works and fix what doesn’t” (59 percent) over “Repeal it and start over with a new healthcare law” (38 percent). I’m not sure what the value of a question like that is, because “fix what doesn’t” could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Also . . . do voters know that the individual mandate and IPAB are gone? One could argue that congressional Republicans have been “fixing what doesn’t work” already.

It might just be that Lamb is the best current example of Democrats returning to the old Rahm Emanuel playbook from 2006 — finding candidates with a good biography (Lamb is a Marine and former prosecutor) and no legislative record, so Republicans can’t run the traditional “voted to raise taxes eight hundred bazillion times” attack ads. As Kupfer writes:

Lamb has working-class appeal despite being an avowed moderate — his tack toward Saccone and the GOP was not to accuse them of being racists, sexists, or otherwise reactionaries, but rather to call them con men whose overtures to working Americans were lies that benefited only the GOP donor class. Lamb brought in figures such as Joe Kennedy and Joe Biden to campaign on his behalf; he shied away from culture-war issues; he accused Republicans of being the ones to engage in class warfare and waged little of his own. Perhaps his success will give Democrats an alternative path to lurching leftward.

The problem with running centrist-sounding blank slates like the Democrats did in 2006 is that eventually they get to Washington and start voting, and at least under Nancy Pelosi, moderate House Democrats start accumulating a not-so-moderate voting record pretty fast.

The Media Rushes to Defend Senator Warren’s Refusal to Take a DNA Test

The Washington Post strains a muscle or two, trying to defend Elizabeth Warren’s decision to not take a DNA test to prove her claims of Native American ancestry.

A person inherits on average 50% of his or her DNA from a parent, 25% from a grandparent, 12.5% from a great-grandparent, and so on. Along the way, much material gets left out. The further down the line the generations go, the more likely it is that a genetic line will not show up – meaning a bona fide Native American ancestor could well be absent from Warren’s results.

Okay, but Warren didn’t claim that she might have some tenuous, hard-to-detect connection to a Native American tribe several generations back. She said she herself was Native American.

Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.

She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.

And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.

All of the above information is not from some crazed right-wingers, that’s the Boston Globe.

Are we as a society comfortable with someone claiming membership in a particular group — with no DNA connection? How different is a claim of heritage with no proof from the case of Rachel Dolezal, the woman who claimed to be African American but who was, by every discernable piece of evidence, white?

If a Republican senator claimed a connection to a minority group with no discernable proof of that connection, would the coverage be the same? Wouldn’t there be some pretty loud accusations of “cultural appropriation”?

ADDENDA: Man, around 4 p.m. Tuesday, I was weaving a tapestry of profanity to my brother over the NFL Free Agency period and the New York Jets’ strange inertia. It’s not the failure to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins that bothered me so much as the failure to do much beyond re-sign Josh McCown (everybody’s favorite lovable journeyman, on pace to have a complete set of NFL uniforms by the time he retires) and pick up a running back from the Cleveland Browns. When you’ve got $90 million in cap space and you’re a 5-11 team, you can afford to overspend a bit. Unused cap space is a pile of money at the end of the bench where a better player should be.

Then, minutes after I let out a furious Tweet, the Jets reached an agreement with Trumaine Johnson, the best cornerback available in free agency, and they appear to be set to sign former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If Bridgewater’s knee is healthy, and he returns to 2015 form, the Jets picked up a seriously good quarterback for a mere $5 million. If he doesn’t, it’s a one-year deal. They also added a pretty good linebacker from the Titans, getting younger at that position.

Look, I’m a Jets fan, I have to take pleasure where I find it.


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