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July 26 2017 6:44 PM

Today's Impeach-O-Meter: Governing via Random Twitter Declarations May Not Be the Best Way to Govern

In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump announced that transgender individuals will no longer be allowed to serve in the United States military—a policy that, it's believed, could require the expulsion of thousands of service members, including those who are currently deployed in or near combat zones. Trump's announcement was reportedly a big surprise to the Pentagon; Defense Secretary James Mattis is currently on vacation.

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On Wednesday afternoon, reporters asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders how and when the new policy would be implemented. Sanders' response was more or less "We have no idea and didn't plan for this at all." To wit:

Q: What happens to transgender servicemembers now?  Are they immediately thrown out of the military?
MS. SANDERS: That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together [on] as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully.

And:

Q: So does that mean that those that are now in theater, that are now deployed to Afghanistan, for example, will have to be immediately sent home and discharged?
MS. SANDERS: Again, implementation policy is going to be something that the White House and the Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine, and I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that and keep you posted as that takes place.

And:

Q: And just to follow up on that, what is the timeline for when guidance will be delivered to the Pentagon on how the President's decision should be implemented?
MS. SANDERS: We'll let you know when we have an announcement.

Does this seem like a group of people that is really equipped to last three and a half more years in the White House? Sometimes I think that putting the likelihood of impeachment above fifty percent is hyperbolic, but then sometimes there are days like today.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

July 26 2017 5:32 PM

Jeff Sessions’ Latest Attack on Sanctuary Cities Is Probably Illegal

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced a new policy depriving “sanctuary cities” of federal funds unless they comply with the administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The policy creates new criteria for Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local law enforcement. Under the new guidelines, cities and state will not be eligible for these grants unless they:

  • notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at least 48 hours before incarcerated undocumented immigrants are set to be released, if ICE has expressed interest in detaining them
  • allow ICE agents to access local jails
  • abide by a federal law that stipulates that local jurisdictions can’t prohibit their employees from sharing information about immigration status with the federal government

These rules, particularly the first one, would largely override the central policy that gives sanctuary cities and states their name. Sanctuary jurisdictions refuse to comply with ICE detainers, requests that the federal agency sends to local jails to hold individuals for up to two days after their scheduled release so ICE agents can take them into custody. As a recent Massachusetts ruling illustrated, some cities and states do not permit local law enforcement to detain an individual after he should be free to go. In these jurisdictions, compliance with an ICE detainer would be illegal. That is why, to this point, the Justice Department had not required that all grant applicants comply with these detainers.

July 26 2017 2:46 PM

Why Didn’t Trump Warn the Pentagon About His Transgender Ban?

President Trump’s announcement on Twitter on Wednesday morning that he is reinstating a ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. armed forces came as a surprise to a lot of people. Most notably, it seemed to come as a shock to the Pentagon, which was already moving forward, albeit slowly, with plans to lift the ban.

White House officials are openly conceding that the move was motivated by electoral politics. Vice President Mike Pence and chief strategist Steve Bannon had reportedly been pushing the policy shift,and Politico reported that the president made the decision to resolve a congressional squabble in order to secure funds for his border wall. The rollout of the new policy itself was very odd, betraying a striking lack of effort to pretend this was anything other than a unilateral White House move.

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The Pentagon press office was unaware that this decision was coming and referred questions about it to the White House. The previous transgender policy is still on the department’s website. The Senate Armed Services Committee was reportedly caught by surprise, too, which raised the ire of committee chairman Sen. John McCain, who called it “unclear” and “yet another example of why major policy announcement should not be made via Twitter.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis reportedly was consulted on the decision, but it’s hard to know what form that consultation took, particularly since Mattis is currently on vacation this week.

Just three weeks ago, Mattis announced that he was giving military commanders another six months to review whether allowing transgender people to enlist would impact military readiness. (Transgender troops already serving were not affected by the review.) If Trump were actually making this decision in consultation with “my generals,” as he claimed this morning, why wouldn’t he wait until December when that review will be complete?

This isn’t the first time that it’s seemed like wires have gotten crossed under the Potomac between Trump’s White House and Mattis’ Pentagon. Most egregiously, there was the incident in April when White House officials, including the president himself, indicated that a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier group was steaming toward North Korea as a show of force, when in fact it has headed in the opposite direction as part of a routine training mission.

In June, Trump lashed out against Qatar and suggested the U.S. supported a Saudi-led boycott of the country at the same time that Mattis—along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—were purposefully taking a neutral stance on the dispute between ostensible U.S. allies. (Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.)

Trump has boasted of giving military commanders wide latitude to make decisions and openly said that he doesn’t want to be bothered with the details of military strategy he doesn’t understand. This conveniently allows him to take credit for military successes while passing the buck to the generals when something goes wrong.

The bigger problem is that Trump is making decisions on military and national security policy, but often for nakedly political reasons and without giving a heads up to the military itself. That was the case on Wednesday, and without that military input it’s impossible to predict how this decision will be implemented, and what’s its impact will be.

July 26 2017 11:22 AM

Expelling Transgender Troops Is a Clever Way to Motivate Bigoted Midwestern Voters, White House Explains Proudly

 

Donald Trump announced the (apparent) expulsion of all transgender individuals from the U.S. military Wednesday morning on Twitter:

Screenshot/Twitter

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Despite the reasoning and alleged consultation cited in those tweets, reporting indicates that the actual people who run the military were not made aware of this policy, such as it is, before it was announced:

A White House official, meanwhile, explained the move to Axios' Jonathan Swan in terms of 2018 electoral strategy:

A report by the Williams Institute, which is affiliated with UCLA's law school, estimates that 15,500 transgender individuals "are serving on active duty or in the Guard or Reserve forces" in the United States. A back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that's about 0.7 percent of all active duty/Guard/Reserve personnel.

Nothing says military focus and careful consultation like jerking around 1 percent of your fighting force with a random surprise announcement because you think mouth-breathing dopes in the Rust Belt will get riled up about it!

July 26 2017 12:07 AM

Senate GOP Fails to Pass Latest Repeal and Replace Bill. Now the Clock Is Ticking Towards “Skinny Repeal.”

Hours after narrowly voting to begin debating repeal of significant portions of Obamacare, the Senate voted down a Republican-backed overhaul of the health care system Tuesday night. The Better Care Reconciliation Act, with amendments by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would have paved the way for the partial repeal and replacement of Obamacare, but it failed to meet the 60-vote threshold needed. The bill fell well short, garnering only 43 Republican votes, with nine members of the Republican caucus voting with Democrats. The BCRA needed 60 votes, rather than the simple majority needed under the rules of reconciliation, because neither amendment had been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, such that there was no clear indication of how much they would cost to implement.

This week, the Republicans are expected to try again and again and again. Expect the party to mount several, perhaps many, ambitious, and some not so ambitious, attempts to take down Obama’s signature health care law that expanded access to health insurance by expanding Medicaid, requiring more employers to provide coverage, and setting up federal exchanges to allow individuals without employer-based health care to purchase subsidized coverage. The next vote in the Senate will likely be held Wednesday on a similar version of a Republican-written ACA repeal that Obama, predictably, vetoed in 2015.

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Tuesday night’s BCRA vote and Wednesday’s expected vote on repeal are largely for show at this point as neither was expected to pass from the outset. Barring a late come-to-Jesus moment, where the Republicans come up with a new bill that isn’t outright toxic to the people they represent, the latest, greatest hope for the GOP increasingly looks like a move that's being called the “skinny repeal” option, which would remove the ACA’s mandates that individuals buy coverage and that employers with more than 50 employees provide coverage. “This ‘skinny repeal’ strategy would keep the overhaul effort alive but amount to a tacit acknowledgment that broader efforts to revise or repeal the law cannot succeed, even as Republicans control both Congress and the White House,” according to the Washington Post.

July 26 2017 12:05 AM

Watch President Trump Almost Get Through a Tribute to a Vet Without Talking About Himself. Almost.

The President of the United States was in Ohio on Tuesday ostensibly running for president again, approximately 4,000 days before the next election, while frequently talking about the last election, which he totally won. During a stop in Struthers, Ohio Tuesday evening, Trump and the First Lady were on hand for a veterans’ event called a Salute to American Heroes. During the event, Trump turned his attention to WWII veteran Robert Bishop for a tribute. Simple enough, a nice gesture, the type of thing presidents do everyday while in office.

Unlike most presidents, however, Trump only got, oh say, halfway through recounting Bishop’s service record when he got distracted by the word Ohio and launched, again, for the billionth time, into talking about his electoral victory last November! It was a truly astounding moment of unconscious selfishness displayed by the president that has become so common it almost goes unnoticed. Almost.

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Here’s a transcript of the remarks:

POTUS: I’d like to honor one such hero who is with us tonight: Robert M. Bishop. (Applause.) He looks good.
Nearly 76 years ago, Bob was a gunner aboard the USS Tennessee in Pearl Harbor and when the Japanese bombs struck the turrets of that once-great ship… During the attack, Bob was below the deck at his battle station for four excruciating hours of fire and hell. Five of his crewmembers never made it off the ship, giving their last breath in this courageous and incredible service to our country.
Bob stayed with his ship after the attack. And once it was repaired—which went, actually, much faster than it goes today, folks—you’ll have to explain that one, folks. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And it cost less.
POTUS: It cost a lot less. (Laughter.) He served on the Tennessee for another four-and-a-half years, fighting in some of the greatest engagements in the Pacific Ocean.
After World War II, Bob and his wife Doris moved back to Ohio. Good choice, Bob. That is a good choice. I love this state. Remember at the beginning, they always said, there is no victory without Ohio. Right, Mr. Chairman? Boy, did we win Ohio. Right? Remember? (Applause.) And it wasn’t like it was close. That was a—that was a big one.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you.
POTUS: Thank you. Thank you very much. Where Bob served in the Navy Reserve and also worked in the steel industry for over 50 years.

Remember?

July 25 2017 9:14 PM

Nearly the Entire House Voted to Impose New Russia Sanctions and Curtail Trump’s Power to Lift Them

The House approved a raft of new sanctions against Russia Tuesday that included explicit restrictions on President Trump’s ability to modify or lift the sanctions without congressional approval. The 419-3-vote in support of financial sanctions restricting Russia’s ability to do business with American entities, as well as the targeting of key Russian officials for election meddling, sets up what could be the first substantive bipartisan bill out of this congress and puts the Trump White House in the uncomfortable position of swallowing increased penalties on Moscow, after promising warmer relations with the longtime American adversary. The measure also reveals an underlying mistrust, even amongst the president’s own party, for Trump’s decision-making on Russia-related matters.

The bill essentially makes into law the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama, increases penalties on Russia's activities in Ukraine, and requires President Trump to certify that Russia has changed its behavior before they can be lifted. The latest iteration of the bill also includes new sanctions on North Korea and Iran in response to their weapons programs, giving the White House a modicum of political cover for the Russia-themed legislative rebuke that was agreed to by the leadership of both parties last week. The bill now moves to the Senate where it is also expected to pass with very little opposition. The Senate passed a similar bill last month 97-2, but was scraped due to a procedural issue, and will almost certainly send the new legislation to the White House with a veto-proof congressional backing.

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“The Senate has not yet had the chance to vet the sanctions against Pyongyang, but Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Monday that he expects the House bill to pass the Senate, with ‘minor details’ about procedure still to be worked out,” the Washington Post reports. “Corker said he was exploring ways to ensure the bill would be sent to Trump before the end of the week, when House members are set to leave Washington for a five-week recess.”

July 25 2017 7:00 PM

McCain's Sorkinesque Speech After Advancing a Bill That Could Kill Thousands Was a Joke

On Tuesday afternoon, cancer-stricken Sen. John McCain returned to the Senate to cast a critical vote on moving forward with Trumpcare and delivered a Sorkinesque speech defending the Senate's procedural norms. But he gave this speech after voting against those very norms, helping to advance a bill that has been crafted without public hearings, that lacks an up-to-date score on its impact from the Congressional Budget Office, and whose current text has yet to be released to the very senators voting to hurry it along, let alone the American people.

Naturally, McCain made a point of criticizing the secrecy surrounding Trumpcare in a section of the speech in which he emphasized that he would not be supporting the bill's current form:

We tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration. Then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them that it's better than nothing. That it's better than nothing? Asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don't think that's going to work in the end and it probably shouldn't.
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As McCain knows, it very well might now that he's cast a critical vote on the motion to proceed to debate. But if the prospect—as laid out by some of the best available estimates—of 22 million Americans becoming uninsured and tens of thousands of those Americans dying thanks, in part, to his acquiescence troubled him, McCain didn't let it show. He cracked self-deprecating jokes in the right places: "I've had so many people say such nice things about me recently. I think some of you must have me confused with someone else." He thundered in support of a return to the Senate's regular order and bipartisanship. And he warned his colleagues not to cave to the demands of the "bombastic loudmouths on the radio, and television, and the internet."

One of those loudmouths is now the president of the United States, a man whose agenda McCain has supported in more than 90 percent of relevant Senate votes. His own support for the president's priorities didn't stop McCain from arguing that Congress shouldn't kowtow to Trump's wishes. "Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president's subordinates," he said. "We're his equal. As his responsibilities are onerous...so are ours."

A survey of McCain's career suggests he has long considered his prime responsibility the securing of his own canonization as a fiercely independent statesman while largely supporting the Republican Party line. He has achieved this mainly through a half-handful of important moderate votes (several of which are more than a decade old), an insatiable hunger for American military intervention (which began falling out of fashion in the Republican Party somewhere between the 3,000th and 4,000th American military casualty in Iraq), and selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate for his 2008 presidential run (a move that kicked open the doors to the gaping political hell in which we now live). Throughout his speech Tuesday, as throughout his career, McCain nevertheless worked to convince political observers that he's a paragon of neutral reason, bravely defending our ideals and procedural norms in a frenzied, hyperpartisan era.

That is not who John McCain is. John McCain is a Republican politician, one who has voted with his party roughly 87 percent of the time since he entered the Senate. He has now voted to proceed with a hook or crook effort to pass a bill that will threaten access to healthcare for millions of Americans because that is what his Republican Party wants to do. His work done, he begins his exit from the political stage with two distinct privileges: First, access to the kind of medicine that millions of Americans may soon lack partially as a consequence of his actions. Second, the respect of journalists and Democrats who, quite literally, applauded him Tuesday afternoon, grateful as they were to see the Maverick in dramatic action perhaps one last time.

July 25 2017 5:52 PM

Did Ron Johnson Almost Torpedo the Motion to Proceed?

Shortly before noon, reporters caught Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson on the Senate subway platform and informed him of “skinny repeal,” the last-ditch option leaders were using to entice Republican senators to support the motion to proceed on health care reform. Skinny repeal, which will come up during the amendment process if/when all other repeal or repeal-and-replace bills fail, would repeal Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates and medical device tax, while leaving the rest in place.

“That would be rather unsatisfying from my standpoint,” Johnson said.

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But would it be better than nothing?

Johnson was silent for a while, and then just shook his head.

“Report ‘just shook his head,’” he said.

The depth of Johnson’s indecision on the motion to proceed was underestimated by fellow colleagues, reporters—even by Mitch McConnell. A few hours later, Johnson was arguing with the majority leader on the Senate floor, right in the middle of the motion to proceed vote, about whether or not he could support it. He eventually came around, after some of the longest minutes of McConnell’s life.

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McConnell and Johnson have a poor relationship. Johnson is reportedly still fuming at McConnell for abandoning his reelection contest last fall as a lost cause. Johnson, who was not expected to raise as much of a fuss during the repeal debate as he has, threatened several revisions of the bill over the last few months, and is freewheeling in his criticism of McConnell. He appears to have decided to spend his second term trolling McConnell.

It was assumed, once leaders dangled “skinny repeal” as a vehicle for punting the process into a House-Senate conference committee and several holdouts came onboard, that McConnell would have the votes when he got to the floor. McConnell may have thought that too. Instead, he had about 49 and one-half.

Once protesters were removed from the chamber—though their chants of “kill the bill!” could be heard from outside throughout the vote—the vote began. The Health and Human Service Secretary, Tom Price, was watching from the back; Vice President Mike Pence, who had his script in the event of a tie typed out in large font before him, presided.

None of the Democrats voted until all of the Republicans had finished. Maine Sen. Susan Collins voted “no,” but West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito—who kept her secrecy until shortly before the vote—voted “yes.” Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and all of the other undecideds signed off on the motion; Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski did not. That made two defections, the maximum McConnell could sustain. After the first roll call, Republicans were stuck on 46 ayes; eventually Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan rolled in and brought it to 48.

And then there was a long, long wait. Where were Ron Johnson and John McCain?

Reporters are not allowed to bring their phones or computers into the Senate gallery, and are left to read expressions instead of tweets. McConnell and majority whip John Cornyn began to talk to each other as the vote lingered. The mood loosened as it was clear no one was going anywhere. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul walked over to Capito and rubbed her shoulder after she’d cast a tough vote. Heller and Flake, the two most endangered Senate Republicans in 2018, struck up a conversation. Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who are both quite old, appeared on the verge of dozing off.

Rumors abounded about Johnson’s whereabouts. One reporter came into the gallery and said that he had just talked to Johnson at the subway—the one leaving the Capitol. Was Johnson fleeing the scene?

Johnson appeared at last and made a beeline to McConnell, who smiled upon seeing him. Within about ten seconds, McConnell was no longer smiling. I cannot be certain, but the only words I believe I made out from McConnell’s mouth were “you’re kidding me,” near the beginning of their chat. For ten or so minutes, McConnell and Johnson spoke to each other with Cornyn drifting in and out. It seemed that McConnell was trying to explain something to Johnson, who wasn’t quite getting it, and vice versa.

Their conversation came to an end when McCain arrived to a standing ovation. McCain came through, greeted Republican leaders, hugged Schumer, and voted yes. Right afterwards, Johnson voted yes, too, and the motion had 50 votes.

After the vote, Johnson tried to make it sound as if he and McConnell were just having some benign conversation while they waited for McCain.

“I was just talking about how I wanted to continue to be a positive influence on getting as good a result as possible as we move forward with this,” he told reporters.

Cornyn’s recollection of the floor conversation did not quite align with Johnson’s. “Well, Senator Johnson, like others, has had some objections to the process, which is admittedly cumbersome, because [we’ve had] no Democratic cooperation [and] you have to do it under the budget reconciliation rules, so it’s frustrating for everybody,” Cornyn told reporters. “I think he was just expressing some of his frustration.” When a reporter asked Cornyn whether he had been worried that Johnson would vote no, he didn’t give a direct answer. “Um, well, like I said, we knew we had no margin for error.”

I asked Johnson if he had already made up his mind to vote “yes” before he came to the floor, since, according to him, he and McConnell were just talking about how to be productive going forward. He was silent for a while, and then cracked a smile.

“You always have your options,” he said.

When another reporter asked him what, then, pushed him into the “yes” column, he conceded that McCain’s appearance had an effect. He had no idea when McCain would show up. But after McCain voted yes, Johnson knew he was the last person standing. “You know, that would have been a pretty tough ‘no’ vote,” he said. “So I was happy to join Senator McCain.”

If Johnson really does want to just stick it to McConnell in the end, he will have further opportunities, especially on the “skinny repeal” amendment a couple of days down the road. But if he couldn’t get himself pumped enough to do it today, it’s doubtful he’ll be brave enough tomorrow.

July 25 2017 5:20 PM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Trump Takes Revenge on His Political Allies and Voters, for Some Reason

 

In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

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Tuesday morning, Donald Trump attacked attorney general Jeff Sessions on Twitter. Later in the day, he attacked Sessions at a press conference. This has been going on for days now, and the right-wing politicians and pundits who share Sessions' nativist/nationalist worldview are starting to publicly grumble about the way he's being treated.

Tuesday afternoon, the procedural Obamacare repeal vote that Trump has publicly pressed Republican senators to vote "yes" on passed, which means Congress is one step closer to passing legislation that will screw over millions of working-class voters, including the white ones that were so important to Trump's electoral college victory.

Alienating one's most crucial allies and voters seems like a good way to erode the support one would need to defend oneself during impeachment proceedings, one might say if one wrote a daily column interpreting all events through an impeachment-colored lens. Let's raise the meter!

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

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