January 31, 2017

1 big thing: Trump's wild ride

Republican sources tell us that the Department of Homeland Security may issue "implementation guidance" that would allow for softening, and even policy changes, to President Trump's travel restrictions on migrants. The White House insists that any further guidance wouldn't constitute a walk-back.

But the internal conversation, led by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, reflects the widespread view among top Republicans that the current chaotic situation -- beset with blame-casting, backstabbing and unintended consequences -- is untenable.

An official at one of the top firms in corporate America emails: "The pressure from inside these companies is intense. One of my deputies spent all day with a relative who needs to go back to Iran to see her mom who is dying. Worried she might get stuck but had to go. Lots of needless worrying. They have been Americans since the Shah left" 38 years ago.

Yesterday was a day that'll be dissected by historians and political scientists forever:

  • A made-for-the-movies twist came at 9:16 last night, after a day in which corporation after corporation had condemned the policy, helping produce the worst stock-market day of 2017. A White House statement announced that the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, had been fired because she "has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States" and is "weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration."
  • Hours earlier, Yates had sent a letter to Justice Department lawyers telling them not to defend the travel ban in court arguments, because she was not "convinced that the Executive Order is lawful."
  • The N.Y. Times, which reports that Yates was informed of her dismissal two minutes before the statement went out, writes in its lead story that the sacking "recalled the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general for refusing to dismiss the special prosecutor in the Watergate case."
  • Fox News employees got a corporation-wide email last night from their parent, 21st Century Fox (signed by Lachlan and James Murdoch), saying: "We deeply value diversity and believe immigration is an essential part of America's strength."

That all happened AFTER a crazy day of drama over the executive order that has become the defining opening act of Trump's presidency. Check out the fallout from the refugee ban over a 12-hour period, from Trump allies alone:

  • "Morning" Joe Scarborough, fresh off meeting with Trump and his foreign-policy team, blamed policy chief Stephen Miller for botching the order and P.R.
  • Steve Bannon, one of the authors of the executive order, said in an email to the Washington Post that there was an adult deeply involved in setting "policy and philosophy": incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
  • Rex Tillerson, soon to be Sec of State, made plain through friends he was cut out of the loop -- and not happy: "Tillerson has told the president's political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order."
  • Capitol Hill aides secretly helped draft the EO and signed non-disclosure agreements to assist WITHOUT telling their bosses, Politico reported -- an extraordinary move given the separation of powers between the White House and Congress.
  • Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was also cut out and upset, on top of feeling the White House was trying to jam a hard-liner he didn't want in as his number two.
  • Retired Gen. James Mattis, the incoming SecDef, "is said to be particularly incensed," AP reports. "Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump's order but not the details."

2. More popular than it looks?

Dems are more torn about how to react than you'd think. Some well-known Democrats told us they think the first polls will show Trump's plan is more popular than the current coverage suggests -- maybe 45% to 52% support, tracking the fault lines of the country. So Dems thinking about the presidency, like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, will make hay. But senators facing reelection in Trump states have a tricky balancing act.

The author ... Even Democrats told us that Stephen Miller, 31, the Trump senior policy adviser who was a key author of the ban, looked remarkably composed as he did television interviews calmly, even robotically defending his handiwork: "[I]f nobody's disagreeing with what you're doing, then you're probably not doing anything that really matters in the scheme of things," he said on CNN.

  • This'll stay in the news ... On "CBS This Morning," Miller said: "We're going to take the next 30 days to develop a new set of screening protocols."

A David Brooks column in the N.Y. Times warns "The Republican Fausts" in Congress who don't particularly trust, admire or agree with Trump, but "respect the grip he has on their voters": "[I]f the last 10 days have made anything clear, it's this: The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they've struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul."

3. Scoop: Clinton v. Obama

The worst-kept secret inside Democratic circle is how bitter Hillary Clinton's team is at President Obama over her election loss. We have heard from numerous, anguished people in Clinton-land blaming Obama -- more than Putin, FBI Director James Comey or, um, Hillary herself -- for the defeat.

The reason: Clintonites feel that if Obama had come out early and forcefully with evidence of Russian interference in the campaign, and perhaps quicker sanctions, she might be president today. His caution, they argue, allowed the public to have a foggy sense of clear, calculated, consistent Russian meddling in the campaign. We can't stress enough how upset some Democrats are. It's testing relationships between Clinton and Obama loyalists. It's making efforts to form a new Trump opposition coalition harder.

  • A Clinton campaign official told us: "The White House was like everyone else: They thought she'd win anyway. ... If he had done more, it might have lessened a lot of aggrieved feelings, although I don't think it would have altered the outcome. The Russia thing was like a spy novel, and anything he said or did would have helped get people to believe it was real."

On the flip side, Obama has let it be know he remains befuddled how she missed what to him was an easy layup of a win, given his own popularity on Election Day and Trump's vulgarity:

  • A top Obama aide told us the White House was very deliberate about not being seen as politicizing the hacks. The aide said the first priority was making sure that the actual voting was untainted, and coordination with Republican state officials would have collapsed if Obama was seen as grandstanding.
  • Obama acknowledged the issue at his year-end news conference: "I know that there [have] been folks out there who suggested that somehow if we went out there and made big announcements and thumped our chests about a bunch of stuff, that somehow that would potentially spook the Russians ... [T]he idea that somehow public shaming is going to be effective, I think doesn't read the thought process in Russia very well."

4. First look: Stunning poll

Houston, we have a problem. In new findings from Edelman's 2017 Trust Barometer, only 15% of Trump voters trust the media after the election, compared with 51% of Clinton voters. Even after the election, only 26% of Trump voters trust government, compared with 46% of Clinton voters. Other findings:

  • Among all voters, 10% think the system is working and 57% think it is failing.
  • Trump voters were overall more fearful, with immigration and globalization at the top of their list. Clinton voters were most fearful of corruption and eroding social values.
  • 96% of Trump voters believe that the outcome of the election was a fair and accurate reflection of the will of the people; 34% of Clinton voters believe the same.

5. Prime-time pick

Trump plans to announce his nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court at 8 p.m., and CNN's Brian Stelter points out the "Apprentice" aura: "Trump was counterprogramming: pitting one show (his announcement) against another (the rolling and largely negative coverage of his exec order and the protests against it). By turning one of the most consequential decisions of the presidency into a primetime television event, ... Trump is governing in the way a TV executive might."

Axios' Jonathan Swan has this inside look at the pick: A source who knows the final decision would only tell us it's one of two men: Judge Neil Grouch, 49, who serves on United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; or Judge Thomas Hardiman, 51, who sits on United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and works out of Pittsburgh.

  • How the finalists were picked: The advisory team — which included Vice President Pence, Steve Bannon, incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House counsel Don McGahn and the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo (who drew up the original list of 21) — studied both Gorsuch's and Hardiman's records and found enough case evidence to convince them that these were unbending originalists.

6. Trade war begins

The day's most arresting headline is on a New York Times business story, "Trump's Trade War May Have Already Begun," which reports that traditional allies in Europe, Asia and Latin America are already "shifting focus to other potential partners for new sources of trade and investment" -- most notably China.

The kicker to the article, which the paper makes its Quotation of the Day, is from a lunch in Davos two days after the address by China's President Xi Jinping asserting that Beijing will be a reliable champion of expanded trade if the United States steps back. André Loesekrug-Pietri, Berlin-based private equity fund manager, said: "We heard a Chinese president becoming the leader of the free world."

7. New RNC money man

The RNC plans to announce as soon as today that casino magnate Steve Wynn will be named RNC finance chairman.

In other casino-mogul news, Sheldon Adelson pulled out of a $1.9 billion deal to build a domed stadium for the Oakland Raiders to Vegas.

8. Tops in tech

Axios' Dan Primack got his hands on a draft Trump executive order showing plans "to kill a program that would have encouraged startup company founders to immigrate to the United States ... The International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) generally would make special immigration exceptions for foreign entrepreneurs who meet [certain] requirements."

9. Tops in media trends

"Instagram Stories is stealing Snapchat's users," TechCrunch reports: : "[A] dozen analytics providers, social media celebrities, and talent managers [said] they've seen a decline in Snapchat Stories usage since Instagram Stories launched on August 2nd.."

10. 1 fun thing

The women's marches after the inauguration have amped up interest in Galentine's Day, per AP: "Designating Feb. 13 for the ladies has endured since 2010, when Amy Poehler's 'Parks and Recreation' character, Leslie Knope, declared the fictional holiday her favorite day of the year: ... 'Ladies celebrating ladies ... It's like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.' ... Since, women in real life have embraced the idea of gathering when Valentine's Day rolls around."