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White House

What to Expect This Autumn

President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a motions hearing regarding evidence in his case at U.S. District Court in Washington, May 23, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Coming attractions for the big political news in the weeks to come; why we need to end the era of the celebrity presidential candidates; and football comes back . . . with all of the boring bumbling that preseason promises.

Think of This as a Coming-Attractions Trailer for Autumn’s News Headlines

I head out next week on vacation, and while “August is slow in Washington” is an often-inaccurate cliché, it does feel like the big political news is in a holding pattern.

What will happen in Paul Manafort’s trial? We don’t know, but either way, the charges against him don’t really relate to the 2016 presidential campaign. Lots of folks seem to think that proving Manafort got loans on false pretenses somehow begins the tumbling snowball that will turn into an avalanche that leads to Trump’s impeachment.

Our old friend Elaina Plott is covering the trial and writes bluntly about the gap between the expectations and the trial’s actual events:

Judge T. S. Ellis III adjourned his court just before 5:30 p.m. As I slid into the elevator, a blond woman noticed me holding my notebook. “What do you think the headline is? The secret affair?” she asked. Before I could answer, she said, more quietly, “I wonder if that’s the story of all this.” It seemed to be confirmation that in the end, the day’s trial, like the momentary hint of a “secret life,” had proved unsatisfying. As we descended, I began to wonder whether at the culmination of Mueller’s investigation, we would feel the same.

What does Robert Mueller have? We don’t know, but does this investigation look or sound like it’s ready to wrap up and issue a report anytime soon? It seems like a lot of plates are still spinning. This morning CNN notes that while there’s no official Department of Justice written rule about issuing final reports or making public announcements within 60 days of an election, there is a longstanding custom about not making big announcements relating to elected officials close to Election Day.

(Somewhere Hillary Clinton is wondering why this custom wasn’t honored by former FBI director Jim Comey, and George H. W. Bush and Caspar Weinberger are wondering why this custom wasn’t honored by Lawrence Walsh.)

If Mueller wants to avoid a public announcement in that 60-day window — a factor that is by no means guaranteed — he’s going to have to turn it in very soon. The 60-day window would begin September 6 or 7, and as noted earlier, Mueller turns in his completed report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has to go through and redact anything classified, or sensitive grand-jury discussions. Anything can happen, but it’s probably more likely that the public will see Mueller’s final report after the midterm elections than before them.

What will happen with the confirmation fight over Brett Kavanaugh? We don’t know, but this could very well be the least surprising confirmation battle in recent memory. We can expect just about every Senate Democrat who isn’t in a competitive race to vote “no.” Seven have already announced they will vote “no,” which makes their cries for the release of more documents from Kavanaugh a little cynical. (What, are you looking for some long-lost document that will make you suddenly change your mind and support him?) We can expect just about every Senate Republican to vote “yes.” Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski says she wants to take her time. Maine senator Susan Collins is making it clear that her vote is probably going to hinge on Kavanaugh’s answer to one big question about Roe v. Wade at the confirmation hearing:

“So what is important to me is does Judge Kavanaugh consider Roe to be settled law?” Collins said. “Does he believe it is established precedent on which people have relied that has now been incorporated into the fabric of our society as a recognized constitutional right?”

The Senate’s “state work period” ends the day after Labor Day, September 4. They’re not in session September 10-11. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says the confirmation hearing will be “sometime in September.”

What will happen in the 2018 elections? We don’t know, but a motivated Democratic base and a less-than-fully motivated Trump-Republican base add up to a bad year for the GOP.

It’s Not Too Late to Argue That the Presidency Is Not Meant to Be Entertainment

In a better world, a significant portion of the people who encounter Michael Avenatti, the lawyer best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, would tell him, politely but directly, that he has no business running for president of the United States.

“I think there’s a huge appetite within the party for a fighter,” he said. “I think the party has yearned for a fighter — a fighter for good, if you will — for a significant period of time. And for many, I’m probably seen as that individual.”

See, no. The purpose of the president of the United States is not to be “a fighter.” It’s not about being pugnacious on cable news.

Every day the president of the United States wakes up and, presumably fairly early in the day, gets his daily briefing. Inside it, or during the briefing by intelligence officials, he’s (hopefully) kept up to date on every development and threat that could endanger U.S. interests. He may or may not have to sign off on covert operations, or the decision to put U.S. troops in harm’s way. He has to grapple with a lot of situations with no good options and plenty of bad ones. He has to carry the burden of knowing that some good men and women are likely to die because of his decisions.

He oversees a workforce of about 3 million employees — 2 million civilians, 1.3 million active-duty military. Any given day will bring problems that are complex — an Ebola outbreak, brinksmanship by Chinese or Russian military forces, a school shooting, natural disasters, tumultuous markets, some viral video of a police encounter with a minority stirring up racial tensions in an American city.

Amidst it all, he’s trying to get Congress to pass bills to enact his agenda and get his appointees confirmed. He’s meeting with foreign leaders, both friendly and hostile. There are pardons to consider. Organizations and special interests want attention and action on their agenda. The president’s party wants him to give speeches at fundraisers and rallies. The whole task involves a lot of management and negotiation — which is why for a long while, American voters preferred presidential candidates who were governors, who had run their own little mini-presidencies in Atlanta, Sacramento, Little Rock, and Austin.

There’s something fascinating about presidents who beat the tar out of each other on the campaign trail becoming friends later in life. Many presidents find that their predecessors who seemed so foolish and out of touch when they were mere candidates were doing the best they could in a difficult circumstance — and that they are among the few who really understand the burdens of the job.

And of course, the whole time, there’s relentless media scrutiny — speeches, interviews, press conferences. That last part bleeds into the concept of the president as a celebrity — appearing on late-night comedy shows, making NCAA bracket picks on ESPN, tweets and other social-media content — and it’s the least important aspect of the job in terms of the Constitution and governing . . . and yet somehow, it’s becoming one of the most important aspects of the job in the modern media environment.

A generation ago, a figure like Michael Avenatti announcing interest in running for president would be seen as roughly akin to Pat Paulsen. Now, Avenatti gets invited to Democratic party events in Iowa, has a Hillary Clinton staffer helping out, and gets credulous interviews in the Des Moines Register.

Football is Back! Kind of. Sort of.

It’s that glorious time of the year when fans who have endured a long off-season tune in, cheer “football is back!” . . . and then, after a few minutes, remember what an unbearable, unwatchable slog most preseason football is. False start. Time out. Offsides. Fumble. Pass to empty space, because the receiver who’s not going to make the team ran the wrong route, and the third-string quarterback didn’t look at where he was running.

Still, the year has already brought some surprises. What, were the Cleveland Browns helmets too exciting? It’s bad enough that they’re not, you know, brown, that they have no logo, but now they take off the stripes? They look like a bunch of neon-orange golf balls. Apparently the stripes return for the regular season, when the final roster has “earned their stripes.”

But hey, Baker Mayfield looks good for the Browns, and Saquon Barkley looks like he’ll be exciting for the Giants, and even the Bills’ Josh Allen had some rocket throws against the third (fourth? fifth?) string defenders of the Carolina Panthers. Hope springs eternal for every team who hasn’t already had a critical player get knocked out for the season with an ACL.

ADDENDA: It’s bad enough that Democratic congressman Steve Cohen said, “The big orange president . . . He’s going to come down here and he is going to endorse Marsha Blackburn, because Marsha Blackburn, if he says, ‘Jump off the Harahan Bridge,’ she’ll jump off the Harahan Bridge.”

But to do it at a community prayer breakfast?

Come on, man.

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