Sunday, December 1, 2019


TMD: Trump Fires the Navy Secretary

Plus, Hong Kong legislation heads to Trump’s desk. Will he sign it?

Nov 25Public post
Happy Monday! Only one NFC North team won yesterday, and it wasn’t the Lions, Vikings, or Packers.

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • Michael Bloomberg is in. The former New York mayor officially announced his candidacy Sunday, provoking headaches for the staff at his business news empire and grumbling from progressives unconvinced that the 2020 field needs another rich white centrist.
  • Entering the home stretch on impeachment, congressional Democrats are suddenly faced with a nerve-wracking question: Is this thing going to backfire in swing districts?
  • Elizabeth Warren is facing yet another round of questions about her honesty after a clip surfaced of her telling a school choice activist that her children had not attended private schools. 
  • A shady business associate of Rudy Giuliani is accusing Rep. Devin Nunes of working to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine last year. Nunes responded to the allegations Sunday by complaining that the news media was conspiring against him. Eventually he denied the accusations.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg had another health scare over the weekend, spending two nights in the hospital over complications from a fever. 
  • Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has been playing hard to get with impeachment investigators for weeks, is back on Twitter being a tease and touting the importance of next year’s congressional and presidential elections.

Navy Chief Thrown Overboard

Over the past two weeks, President Trump and Richard Spencer, his secretary of the Navy, have been feuding over the fate of a disgraced Navy SEAL, Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher faced several war crimes charges this year and was ultimately found guilty of taking a photograph with the corpse of an ISIS prisoner. The Navy wanted Gallagher to undergo an official review to determine if he should be expelled from the SEALs. But Trump, who has repeatedly shown a soft spot for American troops accused of (and sometimes convicted of) war crimes, disagreed and ordered him fully reinstated.
Late last week, several top Pentagon officials, including Spencer, reportedly threatened to resign rather than follow Trump’s order. (Spencer, who we should note is not the prominent white nationalist of the same name, denied that he had threatened to resign.) Then, on Sunday morning, a note of peace: the Associated Press reported that the White House had quietly given the Navy the go-ahead for Gallagher to undergo an official review.
But by Sunday afternoon, everything had melted down. The Pentagon suddenly announced that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had asked for Spencer’s resignation, with Esper and Trump providing divergent explanations as to why. Esper insisted it was not because Spencer had opposed Gallagher’s reinstatement, but because he had gone over Esper’s head to try to strike a secret deal with the White House. Meanwhile, Trump again insisted that Gallagher would be permitted to retire as a SEAL, and tweeted that he had asked Esper to fire Spencer for several different reasons, including his displeasure over how Gallagher’s trial was held and Spencer’s apparent failure to address “large cost overruns from past administration’s contracting procedures.”
It’s all a mess. Let’s unpack it a bit.
The Man in the Middle: Eddie Gallagher
Prior to the events that made him nationally notorious, Gallagher was one of the Navy’s most elite commandos—a special operations chief with five combat deployments with the SEALs and the recipient of several Bronze Stars. Late last year, however, he was arrested on charges of multiple war crimes. Members of his platoon testified that he had stabbed a wounded ISIS prisoner to death and that he had on multiple occasions deliberately fired on civilians, including a young girl.
It was a bumpy, awkward trial. Seven SEALs testified that Gallagher had stabbed the incapacitated prisoner; text messages showed Gallagher apparently bragging about the act to friends back home. “Good story behind this,” read one. “Got him with my hunting knife.”
But proceedings were muddied by several unusual moments. At one point, the military judge reprimanded the prosecution for interfering with the trial. At another, a prosecution eyewitness suddenly declared that, while Gallagher had stabbed the prisoner, it was he himself who had actually killed him—and that Gallagher should be allowed to go free. All the while, the defense maintained that the jury should discount the testimony of the other SEALs as the grumbling of disgruntled subordinates.
Ultimately, Gallagher was acquitted of murder and attempted murder, and found guilty only on the lesser charge involving the photograph. He was sentenced to time served and demoted. It’s the demotion that’s caused the spat between Trump and Spencer.
Trump Gets Involved
Here are two of the instincts that make up Trump’s view of the world: A fascination with America’s most fearless warriors, and a general disdain for what he sees as fussy rules, bureaucracy, and overall political correctness.
So it’s not surprising that the president has intervened in the cases of several U.S. troops accused or convicted of war crimes. “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” he tweeted last month. Trump has pardoned three soldiers this year who stood accused or convicted of murder, two of whom were subsequently released from prison. He also followed the Gallagher case, tweeting his congratulations when the SEAL was acquitted of murder earlier this year. And then, this month, he directed the Navy to restore him to his previous rank.
How Does Spencer Figure In?
This was unwelcome news both to Spencer and to the commander of the SEALs, Naval Special Warfare Commander Rear Adm. Collin Green. Over the weekend, conflicting news reports emerged suggesting either that both or that only Spencer had threatened to resign if Trump did not allow the military process to go forward.
If Spencer was fired for that reason, the story here is straightforward. As Spencer wrote in his “acknowledgment of termination” letter: He could not in good conscience carry out Trump’s order, and Trump deserves military officials who will follow his commands.
Esper is telling a different story entirely: That far from taking an above-board stand, Spencer was actually trying behind closed doors to bring the Gallagher matter to a close in a way that would satisfy Trump. But why Trump would fire Spencer for trying to give him what he wanted, and why Trump would then announce he’d fired Spencer for different reasons altogether, are questions without easy answers for the administration.
The conflicting accounts, and the presidential involvement, ensure that we’ll learn more in the coming days.

Hong Kong Legislation in Limbo

In Friday’s newsletter, we took a look at the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act—a piece of legislation and statement of American principles on its way to becoming law after breaking through all the partisan gridlock of our time. It passed the House 417-1 and the Senate unanimously. About an hour and a half later, President Trump called into Fox & Friends to catch up with his buddies, and—after spouting a Ukraine conspiracy theory so kooky even Steve Doocy had to ask “are you sure they did that?”—this happened:
Brian Kilmeade: [The Chinese] are calling on you to veto legislation coming out of the Senate that supports the Hong Kong students. What are you going to do?
President Trump: Well, I’ll tell you, look, we have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy and we have to stand. But I’d like to see them work it out. Okay? We have to see him work it out. But I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things that we want to do. But we also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that’d be great. China wants it. We want it. And I will say this, if it weren’t for me, thousands of people would have been killed in Hong Kong right now. And you wouldn’t have any riots. You’d have a police state, but thousands of people. The only reason he’s not going in is because I’m saying it’s going to affect our trade deal, you don’t want to do that.
Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien was similarly vague when asked over the weekend whether the president would veto the bill. “What’s happening in Hong Kong is terrible, and our hearts go out to the people of Hong Kong,” he said. “At the same time, we have a broad range of issues to deal with the Chinese on.”
How, exactly, is the president going to “stand with Hong Kong” and also stand with Xi? He’s not.
The Trump administration argues that signing the legislation would antagonize the Chinese amid trade negotiations he has prioritized for years. And Trump reportedly promised Xi he would stay quiet on Hong Kong. But China is brutally suppressing dissent and infringing on Hong Kong’s autonomy, shifting further and further away from the “one country, two systems” policy. 
Marco Rubio, who introduced the bill back in June, tried to square these two lines of thinking in an interview with CNBC on Thursday, arguing that this isn’t the only opportunity the United States will have to address trade concerns. “We have to stop thinking about our conflict with China, economically, as one issue. This is going to be a 10 to 15 year balancing act between us and them, it’s not going to happen overnight. There isn’t one deal that’s going to deal with all these things.”
And if Trump does veto the bill to save face with Xi? Congress sounds prepared to overrule him for the first time in his presidency. The legislation “will become law,” Ted Cruz told The Dispatch in a statement after Trump’s faltering on Fox & Friends. “President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party cannot silence the United States Congress. In case they aren’t familiar with how our Constitution works, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed the House and Senate by overwhelming veto-proof majorities.”
Under Article I Section 7 of the Constitution, Trump has 10 days (excluding Sundays) to veto the bill before its provisions go into effect.
Democracy Was on the Ballot, and It Won
As if there wasn’t enough going on in Hong Kong, the Special Administrative Region™ held local district council elections over the weekend, and pro-democracy candidates crushed their more Beijing-aligned opponents. An energized voter base showed up (turnout was the highest it’s been since district council elections were instituted in 1999) and swept allies of the Communist Party of China (CCP) out of power (pro-CCP officials held 300 seats prior to this weekend’s elections; now they occupy just 57). The state-run CCP newspaper only highlighted the turnout numbers. Curious.
Local district council elections may not be the pinnacle of Hong Kong politics, but they had taken on a new level of importance given the months of unrest in the region. Sunday’s results will undoubtedly provide a jolt to the protesters and their supporters worldwide
One of those supporters? Republican Senator Ben Sasse: “The results are clear: Hong Kongers reject the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression and intimidation. Chairman Xi and his corrupt elites in Beijing know this and are terrified of the courage that Hong Kong has shown. The American people are on the side of these freedom seekers.”
The election results may intensify pressure on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to yield to some of the protesters’ demands for reform.

Worth Your Time

  • Former Fox News executive Ken LaCorte says he wanted to launch a new platform for center-right news without the usual right-wing media histrionics. But he was having trouble getting much traction on Facebook, where histrionics are rocket fuel for a viral story. The solution, borrowed from fake news purveyors of recent years: Hire a bunch of Macedonian teens to create viral content rage farms for both sides of the aisle, and use those to drive traffic to the main site. 
  • By now it’s been pretty well established that the Houston Astros are/were stealing signs. But here’s an interesting question: Did stealing all those signs, with the whole elaborate cameras-and-trash-can apparatus the scheme apparently required, even help? The Ringer’s here with a compelling argument that, hey, maybe not so much.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

After 18 long and frigid years, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan Chris Matthew will finally be able to feel his legs again. 
He pledged back in 2001 he wouldn’t wear pants until his favorite Canadian football team won the Grey Cup again. After nearly two decades of wearing exclusively shorts—to weddings, to funerals, in sub-zero temperatures—Matthew was finally able to don a special pair of camouflage pants after Winnipeg beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12.

Toeing The Company Line

  • The first Sunday French Press focused on injecting “faith into politics, business, culture, and—well—everything” went out yesterday, with David using Mayor Pete to explain the differences between Evangelical and Mainline Protestants, both theological and political.
  • The Friday G-File (or should we say X-File) dove into some interesting terminology being employed in progressive circles lately, and—just in time for Thanksgiving with your relatives—abortion! 

Let Us Know

Twitter was aflame over the weekend because some guy named Jon asked everyone for their “most controversial food opinion.” What’s yours?
  • Dippin’ Dots will never be the ice cream of the future
  • Chicago-style deep-dish is a casserole, not pizza
  • Cauliflower isn’t real
  • Steaks are best-prepared well-done and dunked in ketchup
  • Spam was invented by the CIA in the 1960s in an effort to assassinate Fidel Castro
Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.
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Saturday, November 30, 2019

PLATT - send TMD

TMD: What to Expect in December

Is USMCA happening? How about prescription drug legislation?

Nov 29Public post
Happy Friday! Whether you were watching Mitch Trubisky and the Bears squeak past the hapless Lions, Thor the bulldog bring home the National Dog Show gold, or Astronaut Snoopy floating low over Manhattan, we hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by family, friends, and food.

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • President Trump made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Thursday, visiting with troops and meeting with Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani. Trump told reporters that peace talks with the Taliban have been reopened, and that he hopes to reduce the U.S. presence in the country from 14,000 troops to 8,600.
  • Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law on Wednesday night, standing with the protesters in the region and angering China’s President Xi amid contentious trade talks.
  • The Justice Department’s inspector general report due out early next month is expected to thwart President Trump’s claim that the FBI was spying on his campaign.
  • Gordon Sondland, President Trump’s ambassador to the EU and star impeachment witness, was accused of sexual misconduct by three women earlier this week.

On the Agenda: The House and USMCA

In Wednesday’s TMD, we gave you a brief overview of what to expect next in the House’s impeachment inquiry. This morning, we wanted to take advantage of the holiday lull in those proceedings to talk about another important matter currently before the House: approval of the Trump administration’s trilateral trade deal, USMCA. 
For the past 25 years, the United States has enjoyed essentially free trade with both Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. President Trump spent much of his 2016 campaign railing against NAFTA, and the first half of his term threatening to pull the U.S. out of it and slap heavy tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports. Fortunately, that never came to pass: Instead, last September, the White House managed to strike a new trade deal with our neighbors, dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. USMCA is essentially a face-lifted, modernized NAFTA: Among other tweaks, it gives the U.S. access to Canada’s dairy market and includes new provisions governing intellectual property and digital trade, sectors of the economy that the 20th-century agreement didn’t cover. By and large, however, the new agreement serves the same purposes as did the old.
Which works just fine: The three nations get to keep their mutually beneficial trading relationship, and Trump gets to claim he won a fantastic new victory for American workers. Everybody wins!
The pact’s path to law was complicated, however, when Democrats reclaimed the House a year ago. Instead of enjoying a cakewalk through a GOP-controlled Congress, Trump needed to secure Nancy Pelosi’s go-ahead for the deal. Since June, a working group of Democrats has been negotiating with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for a number of tweaks related to issues including agreement enforcement and protections for labor. Pelosi originally hoped to hammer negotiations out by Thanksgiving; now, with talks seemingly dragging along just at the final stage, it’s an open question whether they’ll strike a deal by Christmas—and vanishingly unlikely it will come before the House for a vote before the new year.
The USMCA is an odd bill—a new trade agreement whose primary purpose is to maintain the status quo—and it’s currently at an odd stage. Everybody involved wants to pass the thing; free trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada is an incredible economic boon to all three countries. (The pressure to hustle is not too strong, given that NAFTA remains in force pending USMCA’s ratification.)
But Democrats are determined that USMCA’s eventual passage not be seen as a victory for the White House alone: Pelosi wants swing-district members of her caucus to have the opportunity to run on the bill in 2020 as well. By using her control of the House as a lever to twist the White House’s arm, she’s given some of those members the opportunity to put their fingerprints on it. 
The result has been a slightly comical public standoff between Pelosi and Trump. Although the bill they’re hashing out is, for all intents and purposes, NAFTA 2.0, both leaders have a political incentive to denounce the old agreement as broken and unworkable. And although they’re on the verge of an amicable resolution that they both want to see, they are still publicly accusing each other of dragging their heels—Pelosi, characteristically dry, pointing out that Democrats are waiting for Lighthizer to make the last move; Trump, characteristically bombastic, telling reporters Pelosi is “incapable of moving it” and tweeting that USMCA is “dead in the water.”  
Even besides USMCA and impeachment, there’s plenty else that the House has to attend to as well before Christmas. Pelosi’s own marquee piece of drug pricing legislation (which is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate) is out of committee and needs a vote on the House floor. And there’s a little matter of keeping the lights on: Congress and the White House have until December 20 to negotiate a new spending bill, or failing that, pass another continuing resolution to fund the government temporarily. When the House reconvenes Monday, they’ll have two weeks to work with before everyone heads back to their districts Dec. 11. Better get cracking. 

On the Agenda: Everywhere Else

Outside the House, things are less frenetic—for the moment. 
In the Senate, business proceeds pretty much as it has since the midterms: Mitch McConnell ignores the bills the House sends his way and spends his session days busily confirming one Trump-appointed judge after another. Meanwhile, his caucus fidgets and keeps an eye on impeachment proceedings, bracing for a trial in the new year. 
The Supreme Court is working through its case docket, preparing for, in particular, a pair of potential landmark cases to be argued early next year: One involving the constitutionality of the Obama-established Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the other considering Louisiana’s recent very restrictive abortion law. In the shorter term, however, they may find themselves forced to weigh in on impeachment-related matters: The Trump administration seems determined to fight some congressional subpoenas all the way to their door, and Chief Justice John Roberts will preside in the event of a Senate trial. 

Worth Your Time

Too much hard news isn’t a good beginning to a morning spent working off a half-pound of stuffing, so we’ll leave it there for now. Instead, we recommend you use that time to sit back, loosen your belt, and enjoy a few of these great longreads:
  • The indispensable Matt Labash turns a baleful eye toward a subject near and dear to our hearts—podcasting—in a great new piece for Spectator USA. In it, he laments the current deluge of downloadable yakkery that haunts our age: “Podcasts have achieved such ubiquity that I might even host one or two myself, and just can’t remember what they are or where to report for duty. … [S]ince Serial took off in 2014, studies I’ve fabricated but that should exist show there are now more true-crime podcasts than criminals.” (Naturally we maintain a couple episodes of The Remnant would turn this thing right around for him, although we’re a little nervous to broach the subject in person.)
  • The United States has certainly been more divided than it is right now (hundreds of thousands died in the Civil War), but it sure feels like polarization is at an all-time high. In looking for a solution, Andy Ferguson asks: Can marriage counseling save America? Check out his piece in The Atlantic here.
  • One of the oldest family-owned farms in the country is calling it quits after 240 years and seven generations. Check out Corey Kilgannon’s piece in the New York Times to learn why Frank and Sherry Hull are far from alone: “Scores of small farms across the country close each year because their aging proprietors don’t have successors.”
  • Ryan Lizza’s profile of Barack Obama for Politico is a must, delving into 44’s life after the presidency, what he thinks about Trump, and the role he is playing in the Democratic primary.
  • For National Affairs, Donald Schneider took a look at the modern American economy, elites, and why populism has taken root on both the left and the right.
  • In 1963, Filmmaker Michael Apted began his documentary series 7 Up! by interviewing a group of 7-year-olds in London in 1963. He has checked in on the kids—as they became teenagers, young adults, and old adults—every seven years. The newest edition, “63 Up,” attempts to answer the question: “Does who you are at 7 determine who you are at 63?” Gideon Lewis-Kraus explores.

Presented Without Comment

Something Patriotic

Amazing what a little moral leadership can do. This clip may bring a tear to your eye:

Toeing The Company Line

  • No days off for David, who pumped out a French Press yesterday despite the holiday. The topic? Gratitude, naturally. Give it a read here
  • Jonah was also in the Thanksgiving spirit, delivering a midweek G-File on identity politics and why we don’t need them at the dinner table. He was also joined by Yuval Levin on The Remnant podcast to discuss gratitude and the importance of community.

Let Us Know

Whether you (correctly) believe that the Christmas season begins November 1 or you’re the type to stay Scroogey until after the Thanksgiving wishbone’s been cracked, there’s no denying it now: It is now officially the most wonderful time of the year. Alas, peace on earth and goodwill among men hasn’t yet entirely swept through the office at The Dispatch, as evidenced by some in-house holiday beverage bickering.
Dear reader, help us settle the question: Is eggnog indispensable festivity fuel, or a lardy emblem of the dreaded holiday hangover?
Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.
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