* How much longer can Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remain in his position? He’s still trying to defuse that Trump-fueled, Saudi Arabia-Qatar crisis and now seems notably at cross purposes with the president when it comes to North Korea. This is beyond concern.
Tillerson recently said in Beijing that the U.S. had open “lines of communication” with North Korea. He was emphasizing the point, as a secretary of state should, that it’s always worth talking to your adversaries–especially when military confrontation in a nuclear world is too viable an option. And in this case, holding out hope is an existential strategy, not just a diplomatic one.
So what does the charlatan-in-chief say? “Save your energy, Rex. We’ll do what has to be done.” Say what?
“I told … our wonderful secretary of state that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”
Not only does Trump publicly deride Kim Jong-un, but he undercuts and mocks his own secretary of state. This can’t continue. Here’s hoping Tillerson outlasts Trump.
* When Gen. John Kelly left his post as Homeland Security secretary to become presidential chief of staff, it begged a couple of questions.
Would he ultimately be able to significantly impact–and possibly rein in–an undisciplined, temperamentally ad hoc president? And, frankly, might he be more valuable to the country had he stayed on as a competent HS secretary instead of being a White House insider overseeing Oval Office access and offering sane, if ignored, advice?
Trump’s schoolyard insults of “Little Rocket Man” and belittling responses to the emotionally-blindsided mayor of San Juan are reminders of the limits of a chief of staff, whether it’s a fawning Reince Priebus or a furious Marine general. Moreover, criticism of acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke–who infamously characterized the federal response to Puerto Rican devastation as a “good news story”–only underscores the downside of replacing Kelly.
* Puerto Rico, has we’ve seen, has been devastated. And this, we now know, is what it took to get the Jones Act, the 1920 maritime law that says shipping between ports in the U.S. must be done by U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged and U.S.-built ships operated by U.S. citizens–waived. The Jones Act goes back to a time steeped in nationalist and protectionist rhetoric and rationales. How ironic.
* It used to be that national presidential polls, before getting issue specific, surveyed the public for approval and disapproval ratings to gauge a president’s performance and popularity. Standard stuff. They go up and down and vary with foreign relations, the American economy and domestic politics. We get that.
Now, however, we have a lower-bar assessment. For what it’s worth, the most recent Quinnipiac poll showed 42 percent of respondents characterized Trump as “fit to serve as president.” Sobering.
* “Last cycle I never once said that Democrats would win back the House. I have made that pronouncement this cycle.” Those are the optimistic words of New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. For the record, Dems need to gain 24 House seats to regain a majority.
In other words, gerrymandering and Nancy Pelosi piñata notwithstanding, 2018 is not 2010. That’s when the Republicans, fueled by Tea Partiers, anti-Obama animus and normal anti-incumbent backlash, picked up 63 House seats. A couple of dozen–amid ever-ratcheting Trump turmoil and national embarrassment–could be downright doable next year.
* Remember when Trump U, multitudinous bankruptcies, contractor stiffing, pathological lying, the emoluments clause, income tax returns and Access Hollywood outtakes were hot topics? Those were the days of relative innocence. Before scary exchanges with North Korea and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement underscored that the real issues were existential ones–for this country and for this planet.
* So what is Jon Huntsman’s end game? He’s a wealthy, well-spoken, camera-savvy former governor (Utah), ambassador (China) and presidential candidate. He’s now the recently confirmed U.S. ambassador to Russia.
This can be a career dead end–given the overlapping scenarios of Russian collusion/tampering in the 2016 election and Vladimir Putin’s high-stakes, international meddling. And who would have his back as a former Trump critic? Or it could be an uber, high-profile role on the world-leader stage that could have major implications if he’s seen as America’s ultimate foreign policy adult.
* Just wondering. What keeps Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the Republican Party? She’s the national version of Paula Dockery, who finally yielded to her better angels and converted to NPA last year.