It was supposed to be a friendly Oval Office encounter in front of the press pool — just Chuck, Nancy and President Trump (along with a silent, very still, Vice President Mike Pence). Then someone said “border wall” and “government shutdown,” and soon the President was testily mansplaining (“Nancy, Nancy … Nancy”), observed Anushay Hossain, and giving America an eyeful of what DC politics might look like come January.
Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the top two Democrats in Congress, were not having it. “Ladies and gentlemen,” wrote Hossain, “Nancy Pelosi did not come to mess around.”
Pelosi, she wrote, channeled “every woman who has ever sat through a professional business meeting in which her male colleagues repeatedly interrupt, dismiss, and try to completely invalidate what she brings to the table.” When the President tried a personal dig, Pelosi briskly took him down: “Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.”
By the time Pelosi strode out of the White House with Schumer — in her burnt orange Max Mara coat and power shades (sending Twitter fans into conniptions) — she had delivered to “us all a fast lesson in being a successful woman in politics,” said Hossain.
Virginia Heffernan, writing in the LA Times, hailed Pelosi’s “bedrock confidence.”
“She told Trump: ‘You will not win’ on the wall. She said of his claims: ‘That is devoid, frankly, of fact.’ These are words — you’re a loser and a liar — that many less brave soldiers of our state have uttered only behind his back.”
Spare us the victory lap, Democrats, wrote Scott Jennings. Trump’s Oval Office performance — including his avowed willingness to take blame for a government shutdown over his border wall — won’t hurt him with his base of supporters, “who love it when he upends Washington.” He can “turn lemons into lemonade” later, with some border compromise, “while simultaneously showing his people he hasn’t given up on the animating promise of his first campaign.”
But Carter Eskew lamented a missed opportunity. It’s not enough for Democrats to “knock Trump off his game,” he wrote in the Miami Herald. Better to “surprise him and the American people” with a forward-looking agenda: “lowering healthcare costs, increasing infrastructure investment, building tougher government-corruption laws and strengthening voting-rights protections.” Did the Democrats say anything like that? No, said Eskew. Did Trump get his message through? Well, yes.
A Fox News poll this week brought tough news for Trump: 55% of voters said they’d vote for someone else if the election were today. But CNN’s Harry Enten reminded us that this way-early “re-elect question” is “almost laughably unpredictive.” If the economy continues to cook, Trump could win.
Not if Democrats come up with the right challenger, argued Jen Psaki. Not someone “out-Trumping Trump,” but a candidate who is “the optimistic antidote to Trump’s divisive, destructive style of governing.” Someone with honesty, empathy, curiosity, tenacity and courage. Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker come to mind, she said — but there are a number of others. Democrats have a strong bench, said Psaki. But they need to unify.
Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t want your excuses
“Don’t wait for New Year’s resolutions” to take control of your health, wrote Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ex-California governor, bodybuilder and actor. “There is no gimmick. There is no shortcut. There is no magic pill.” There is this: Begin. “That’s all. If you and your training partner walked 5,000 steps yesterday, walk 5,001 today. If you ate one vegetable yesterday, eat two tomorrow. If you did a pushup for the first time today, do two tomorrow.”
After open-heart surgery last spring, Schwarzenegger needed to use a walker and to retrain his lungs to breathe. Three months later he was back on a “Terminator” set, he wrote. “I just kept walking. I kept breathing. I kept trying. I was lucky; I had a huge team around me supporting me … We all need support — even Terminators.”
Mick Mulvaney to the rescue?
After more than a week of “Apprentice”-like scrambling for a replacement for his chief of staff, John Kelly, Trump tweet-announced the winner: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Julian Zelizer called it the “most thankless job in Washington.” Indeed, Mulvaney stepped up after several candidates had told the President “no thanks.”
Back in the Watergate-era, chief of staff H.R. Haldeman reportedly said of the job: “Every President needs an S.O.B. – and I’m Nixon’s,” noted Mark Weinberg. He worked in the Reagan White House … and says that rule so doesn’t apply in this one. If anything, said Weinberg,Trump needs a “nice guy (or gal”) in the post. One who “can build bridges, boost morale and give a sense of stability and order to the White House.”
Good luck there, said Zelizer. Mulvaney steps into a White House in full-blown crisis. “The combination of a newly elected House Democratic majority and the rapid intensification of investigations into wrongdoing and corruption means that Mulvaney will spend much of his time trying to keep this ship from sinking – and himself out of trouble.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s green idea
The New Deal helped put people back to work during the Great Depression with a slew of public programs and projects, wrote Van Jones and Michelle Romero. Incoming congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and a growing number of her Democratic colleagues, are proposing a “Green New Deal” to reduce climate pollution, improve public health and create jobs — even for coal miners.
“The benefits of a Green New Deal are real whether you believe in climate science or not,” they said: “Solar panels don’t put themselves up, wind turbines and smart batteries don’t manufacture themselves, new forests don’t plant themselves. Everything that’s good for the planet is a job, a contract, a business opportunity.”
Melania Trump’s pity party
On Wednesday, Melania Trump complained to Sean Hannity that the hardest thing she has to deal with as first lady is “opportunists who are using my name or my family name to advance themselves, from comedians to journalists to performers, book writers.” Really? asked Kate Anderson Brower. Better than another “pity party,” Melania Trump might have used the moment to draw attention to the “struggling Americans she’s met in her role as first lady, especially since she spent time the very next day reading to children at Children’s National Hospital, some sitting in wheelchairs with IVs attached,” Brower noted.
That criticism is unfair, objected Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s spokeswoman. Melania Trump has comforted victims in Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Puerto Rico after hurricanes, and Las Vegas, Parkland and Pittsburgh after shootings; has highlighted the opioid crisis, the scourge of bullying and much more, said Grisham. What does the media focus on? “Her clothes,” she said, and her off-the-cuff remarks.
Trump’s dream world becomes ‘a hellscape.’
US District Judge William Pauley III sentenced Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to three years in prison Wednesday, after Cohen told the court he’d covered up his boss’s “dirty deeds.”
“President Donald Trump’s enablers are falling one by one, and his dream world is becoming a hellscape,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. The Trump edifice is crumbling in a cascade of indictments and guilty pleas, he says. And it’s not just Trump: “Everyone who joined his businesses and his campaign, including his own children and top political operatives, likely faced moments when they needed to consult a moral compass. One wonders how many followed Cohen.”
Elie Honig speculates that “the cold reality” of Cohen’s prison sentence might help him “find that extra spark of motivation to cooperate on topics that he previously declined to discuss” with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. Look to Rule 35, which lets prosecutors “seek a reduction of a defendant’s initial sentence if that defendant provides additional cooperation,” which could be bad news for Trump and his inner circle, Honig said.
That is why it’s easy to see why Trump is so frustrated by the special counsel and Southern District probes, explained Jennifer Taub: “Shame and loss await him.” The latest court filings implicate him in the hush-money payoffs to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, she noted. Should he lose in 2020, he could be indicted soon after leaving office.
Trump’s fate will profoundly affect the world, warned Frida Ghitis. As political turbulence buffets democratic governments across the globe — from Brexit’s torments in the UK to economic protests in France, to the rise in ethno-nationalist politicians — “in 2019, the struggle to save democracy will face its key tests. Much will depend on what happens in the United States, whose election of Trump deprived democratic forces around the world of their most reliable advocate.”
What ‘home for the holidays’ means to me
The song that says it all for Melissa Blake is “Home for the Holidays,” a jaunty oldie that rockets her back to her grandparents’ warm, Alabama home — complete with bingo and stories around the table — the place where her family once road-tripped at Christmas. But her dad and her grandparents are gone now, and Christmas brings a challenge of mixed emotions: how to “balance my joy for the season with my sadness of the years lost to memories.”
“I have decided to experience the holidays — not by who isn’t there, but by who is,” she wrote. “My family may be smaller now, but being with my mom and sister (and two cats) during the holidays is what brings me the most joy. So, please, surround yourself with the people you love most — the ones who lift you up, the ones who make the holidays brighter.”