Greetings from Colorado Springs — altitude 6,035 feet — where I’m attempting to follow the locals’ wise advice to drink water constantly. I’ve felt weird since I arrived; I spent two years in Ankara, Turkey, (altitude 3,077 feet) and I had no problems; covered the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver (5,280 feet) and I had no problems; I made another trip to Evergreen, Colo., a few years ago (7,220 feet), and had no problems . . . but for some reason, on this trip I’m getting so dehydrated I need my own personal Tennessee Valley Authority irrigation project. But things are improving slowly. I fear that when I speak to the good folks at the Leadership Program of the Rockies tomorrow, I’m going to have an endless series of “Rubio moments.”
The Trump Era Brings Its First Genuine Bipartisan Compromise
I like this quote from Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com, weighing the deal that avoided any significant government shutdown:
On the one hand, a move to fund the government and suspend the debt ceiling is welcomed, avoiding further disruption or worse. With the House and Senate voting to boost spending, the nation’s debt continues to expand at an unsustainable rate. This comes after the tax cut, approved late in the economic expansion added $1.5 trillion to the debt. This spree is reminiscent of the Oprah program where she exclaims, ‘you get a car,’ providing a gift to everyone in the audience. Only in this case, the cost is being put on the proverbial federal credit card.
“While neither side got everything they wanted, this compromise provides critical funding that will go towards improving the VA, CHIP, the opioid epidemic, and infrastructure spending,” said Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican. “I look forward to now working with my colleagues on a solution for DACA, border security, and immigration policy.”
Congressional Republicans didn’t get everything they want. Congressional Democrats didn’t get everything they want. President Trump didn’t get everything he wants. That’s . . . pretty much how compromises work. Last night’s “government shutdown” amounted to the store clerk locking up and putting a “be back soon” sign on the door while he runs to the bank to get more singles for change.
When the president needed to put the best spin on the deal, he tweeted, “Just signed Bill. Our Military will now be stronger than ever before. We love and need our Military and gave them everything — and more. First time this has happened in a long time. Also means JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!”
Congressman Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican, points out that the House did what it was supposed to do and did its best to avoid massive last-minute all-in-one spending bills.
“The House completed our work on time by passing 12 appropriations bills over 100 days ago. Earlier this week, the House sent our government funding bill to the Senate. The Republican majority is so narrow in the Senate, that 9 Democrats stalled the process. As a result, $300 billion dollars were added to the measure in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Now the Democrats have the nerve to say the House can’t get our work done on time and that the budget spends too much — I believe my constituents are smarter than that.”
Congressman Jim Banks, a Republican who represents Indiana’s third district, writes in NRO about the on-the-ground consequences of the sequester and trying to operate under short-term continuing resolutions.
As the most recently deployed member of Congress, having served in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015, I have seen our readiness crisis firsthand. It has only intensified after a period of stepped-up military activity carried out while the Budget Control Act shrank defense budgets.
Fewer than half of the Navy’s aircraft can fly, owing to lapses in maintenance and a lack of spare parts. Only 50 percent of the Air Force’s combat forces are sufficiently ready for a highly contested fight. This year alone, the pilot shortage has grown from 1,500 to 2,000. In the Marine Corps, as F-35s replace legacy aircraft, increasing the flying cost per hour, readiness will be even more difficult to achieve. Special Operations Forces are trying to maintain an extraordinarily high global operations tempo, which puts them near the breaking point.
My sense is that while we can argue the merits of particular programs, weapons, and initiatives, no matter how much Americans may think they don’t need more defense spending, the world will always surprise us with some crisis where it comes in handy.
The Case for Keeping John Kelly, Even When He Makes Mistakes
What does Trump gain if he dismisses John Kelly as chief of staff?
Axios reports, “The president is mulling potential replacements, though aides doubt he has it in him to actually fire the retired general.”
The Trump administration has its own time-displacement effect, where the pace of breaking news and shocking events and new controversies makes recent events feel long ago. (The State of the Union was ten days ago.) But it’s worth remembering that Kelly took over as chief of staff on July 31, meaning he’s been on the job a bit more than six months. Reince Preibus was on the job for about six months.
If you want to replace Kelly . . . who else is out there who A) Trump respects and is willing to listen to when he disagrees; B) has the managerial and leadership skills to tackle one of the most challenging jobs in the world during the best of times; C) is capable enough to handle the unique challenges of this White House, with several key advisors like Ivanka and Jared who cannot be dismissed or shut out because they’re family; D) will mitigate, if not help, a hostile relationship with the White House press corps; and E) is willing to leave their current job for a White House gig that very well could end in six months?
People who meet all of those criteria are pretty rare.
Under Kelly, this White House seems to be leaking less. The Game of Thrones palace intrigue and staff infighting has died down some from the first year. In the end, the White House is defined by the president and his behavior and decision-making. When he’s at his best — say, the State of the Union — the White House has a good day. When he starts doing things like insisting he can talk to Mueller under oath without anything going wrong, well . . . things tend to turn out sub-optimally.
Hey, Wasn’t Carter Page Supposed to Be . . . Actually Charged with a Crime at Some Point?
Bloomberg’s Eli Lake makes another important point about how the FBI and Department of Justice have handled figures close to Trump. They have effectively tried and convicted Carter Page in the court of public opinion without the pesky trouble of an actual trial:
The disclosure of the warrant placed a cloud of suspicion over a U.S. citizen without due process. The standard for obtaining a FISA surveillance warrant is much lower than, for instance, charging an American citizen as a foreign agent. There is good reason for this. Counter-intelligence investigations are usually aimed at secretly monitoring the activities of foreign spies, not building public cases against U.S. citizens. When the details of such probes are selectively disclosed, the reputational damage is immense. Unlike someone facing charges, the subject can’t even really mount a defense.
Look, maybe Carter Page really is an agent for the Russians. Back in 2013, he wrote in a letter, “Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month.” Page has certainly offered contradictory statements at various times.
But Page hasn’t been charged with a crime.
If Page is an agent for the Russians, the right way to deal with it is in a courtroom with evidence that a jury can see, not through a series of leaks, where Page and his lawyers have no ability to cross-examine those accusing him.
ADDENDA: If you’re here in Colorado Springs for the Leadership Program of the Rockies annual retreat, I look forward to meeting you! Please forgive me if I stop mid-conversation to drink more water.