Politico

Media outlets struggle to assign blame for shutdown

Usually, when the government shuts down, a clear media narrative quickly takes hold: one party is driving the action, and therefore is held responsible.

But like so much else in the Trump era, this current shutdown is unprecedented. No single storyline has emerged, causing Democrats and Republicans to scramble for advantage and members of both sides to cry foul over coverage.

“When the narrative structure is clear, the headlines are all virtually identical. They’re not,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “What that says is the press is dealing with a high level of complexity here.”

For instance, Republicans crowed and Democrats cried foul Friday night when The New York Times sent out a push alert with the heading, “Senate Democrats blocked passage of a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open. Lawmakers have less than 2 hours before a shutdown.”


Meanwhile, The Washington Post push alert mentioned neither party, reading: “Government barrels toward shutdown after Senate blocks short-term spending bill.”

Former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer screenshotted both, and tweeted, “Do better @nytimes.”

There were similar dynamics on the two papers’ websites, with the Times running a headline saying “Democrats Block Bill to Fund Government,” while the Post headline ran, “Several Republicans join Democrats in voting to block short-term bill.”

The AP ran a headline with wording similar to the Times, and its @AP_Politics feed tweeted out last night, “The Latest: Senate Democrats derail bill to avert shutdown.”

Conservative sites The Daily Caller and Townhall.com pounced on the headlines, highlighting them in stories.

That all led the Washington Post’s Robert Costa to report on Twitter Saturday morning: “House GOP read out headlines of NYT and AP, among others, and talked up idea this is a Dem-causes shutdown, per person there. Person adds that GOP holding to position and believe Senate Dems have to move toward them.”

But the Times and AP are just two outlets. In the paper edition of the Times Saturday morning, the Democrats’ role was not mentioned in the headlines. And both the Times and the AP have run several stories analyzing all angles of the shutdown. On Saturday afternoon, the lead Times story focused on Democrats and Republicans jockeying to assign blame. And the AP tweeted and reported today, “In run-up to shutdown, an erosion of trust derailed talks”—not just Democrats.

Some conservatives have chafed, in fact, that the Democrats are not being more squarely blamed for the government closure, like Republicans were in 2013 when House Republicans demanded that the government be shut down unless Obamacare was gutted.

The conservative Washington Examiner, for instance, ran a column late Friday headlined, “Democrats' government shutdown has the media's full support.”

Jamieson said that the lack of consensus across media pointed to a story that was unusually complicated.

“In this environment, the narrative is not a clear narrative. It’s a cluttered narrative. It doesn’t produce press stories that say ‘blame here, credit there,’ ” she said. “Go back to every [shut down] in the past, and you’ll see a clear issue, you knew where the sides were and it was easier to say they’re the ones doing the shut down. The shut down should be blamed on X.”


Among the confounding factors now, Jamieson said, is that some Republicans have sided with Democrats. There is, moreover, the blown-up deal between senators Dick Durbin and Lindsay Graham, as well as President Donald Trump’s last-minute negotiations with Chuck Schumer. And, above all, the president’s own confounding role in the whole drama—at times he’s seemed amenable to a compromise deal on allowing undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to stay here, and other times not.

Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said that he believes coverage has been “Typically hysterical but generally responsible.”

Most networks and outlets, he said, have done a good job unpacking the nuances of the story, rather than firmly biting on either the Democrats’ or Republicans’ talking points.

“I think the coverage has been actually very substantive, at times even perhaps mystifying to people because there’s so much congressional procedure and process involved in all this,” said Sesno, a former longtime CNN reporter and anchor.

Fox News, meanwhile, has taken the expected pro-Trump line: on Saturday morning’s Fox & Friends, hosts spoke of the “Schumer shutdown,” and FoxNews.com ran a headline blaring “#DEMOCRATSHUTDOWN” and “Trump targets Dems for playing ‘shutdown politics’ as Congress tries for new deal.”


But other networks, similar to the Times, have spent more time reporting on how Republicans and Democrats are working to assign blame. The lead story on CNN Saturday morning, for instance, was headlined “Blame game” and covered the two parties’ maneuvering.

“It seems like both sides are working the refs here. It's a more complex situation this time around, with the GOP controlling Congress and the presidency, but most of the reports I've seen seem to juggle that point with the vote last night,” said Bill Grueskin, a Columbia School of Journalism professor who previously served as one of The Wall Street Journal's top editors, in an email.

“At this point -- Saturday afternoon -- the impact of the shutdown is minimal, and the details are so confusing, that I don't think most readers or viewers are swayed by an adjective or phrasing that a partisan finds objectionable,” he continued. “And the evidence I've seen to support bias, outside of Fox, seems thin.”


Trump wants a kinder, gentler, shutdown

Trump administration officials are determined to keep large segments of the government open even after Congress failed to approve a funding bill late Friday night, saying they don’t want to “weaponIze” the government shutdown to score political points.

If lawmakers remain deadlocked over the weekend, most government employees have been instructed to arrive at work Monday morning for a few hours to close up shop. Some agencies, including the Department of Interior and Centers for Disease Control, will continue to provide some services for as long as they can with the money they have.

The tactic to keep doors open for as long as possible is a departure from the government shutdown of 2013, when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, made a show of closing national parks and other public-facing facilities in an effort to increase pressure on Republicans to cut a deal.


“The Obama administration weaponized the shutdown in 2013,” Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Friday. “The only conclusion I can draw is they did so for political purposes. So it will look different this time around.”

On Saturday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was on the National Mall tweeting about National Park Service workers on the job this morning. Zinke, who said he will keep as many public lands open as possible, bumped into workers heading out for the trash pick-up on the Mall and
chatted with visitors at the World War II Memorial, where veterans had stormed barricades in 2013 to protest that year’s shutdown.

Mulvaney said he has encouraged agencies to use funds they already have to keep providing as many services to the public as possible, which he said was a departure from the Obama administration’s approach in 2013.

“They did not encourage agencies to use carry forward funds, funds that they were sitting on, nor did they encourage agencies to use transfer authority,” Mulvaney said. “They could have made the shutdown in 2013 much less impactful, but they chose to make it worse.”

Still, plans for the shutdown seem to vary widely across agencies and it’s not clear that President Donald Trump or his administration has an overriding strategy. Smithsonian Institution museums are open today, for example, but some national monuments, including the
Statue of Liberty and Ellis island, aren’t.


And with little time to prepare for Friday night’s vote, in which Congress failed to approve short-term operating funds, decision making at some federal agencies remains fluid.

The Centers for Disease Control late Friday reversed an earlier decision to shut down support to states and localities during one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. As midnight Friday approached, the center amended its plans to ensure "immediate response to urgent disease outbreaks, including seasonal influenza." CDC will continue collect and distribute data to help state and local health officials combat the flu, the center’s updated contingency
plan said.

Other agencies said they’ll do what they can to keep operating.

The Federal Communications Commission will tap unused funds to stay open through at least next Friday, an agency spokesman said. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is funded by user fees, will open its doors Monday. "In the event of a shutdown, the USPTO will remain open and operate as normal," agency spokesman Paul Fucito said.

At the Department of Defense, Secretary Jim Mattis urged members of the armed forces and other defense employees to "hold the line" as the Pentagon continued key military missions and curtailed others.

"We will continue to execute daily operations around the world — ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists," Mattis said in a memo shortly the midnight shutdown Friday.

During the shutdown, active-duty troops and some civilians performing critical jobs will continue to work, but won't be paid. Other civilian employees will be furloughed.


Several agencies with lower public profiles, including the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Education, instructed employees to show up Monday for a few hours of shutdown preparation, such as handing off duties to higher-up essential personnel and writing out-of-office replies for email.

In a videotaped message to staff, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson decried the politics of the shutdown but said said payments to HUD-assisted households would continue.

“No one will be displaced because of the shutdown,” Carson said. Politics should not interfere with the support we provide.”

At the Department of Homeland Security, employees were told to complete their timesheets by the end of the week and learned who would be furloughed.

“It’s pretty demoralizing, which is not what we need right now,” one DHS official said.

Staffers in the ombudsman’s office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services worked Friday to process urgent requests. While most of USCIS will remain operational during a shutdown, the ombudsman’s office – which provides individual immigration case assistance -- will halt its work.


Air traffic controllers were deemed essential and showed up for work today, but more than 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors had been furloughed as of midnight, according to the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union. Sales and maintenance of plans came to a halt.

The FAA said there would be “no immediate impact on critical safety functions.”

And the hundreds of thousands of government employees who will keep working won’t be collecting pay as long as the shutdown continues.

“The military will still go to work. They will not get paid. The border will still be patrolled. They will not get paid. Folks will still be fighting the fires out West. They will not get paid. The parks will be open. People won't get paid,” Mulvaney said. “We are going to manage the shutdown differently. We are not going to weaponize it. We're not going to try and hurt people, especially people who happen to work for this federal government.”

Adam Cancryn, Margaret Harding McGill, Nancy Scola, Li Zhou, Connor O’Brien, Benjamin Wermund, Kathryn Wolfe and Ted Hesson contributed reporting.


Rep. Meehan denies harassing former aide amid settlement, loses House ethics seat

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) on Saturday lost his seat on the House ethics committee even as he denied charges that he harassed a former aide with whom he confidentially settled a workplace misconduct claim using funds from his congressional office budget.

Meehan's settlement with his former aide, first reported by The New York Times, comes as the House prepares for an expected vote as soon as this month on a bipartisan bill that would prevent members from using their office budgets to settle harassment claims.

The reported settlement also comes weeks after a leading prospect to challenge Meehan — a top Democratic target in this year's midterm elections — stepped back from the campaign amid sexual misconduct allegations of his own.

Meehan spokesman John Elizandro said by email Saturday that the fourth-term GOP lawmaker "denies the allegations" lodged by his former aide, who charged that the work environment became hostile after she declined more than one expression of romantic interest from Meehan.

"Throughout his career he has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism," Elizandro said.


Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "takes the allegations against Mr. Meehan very seriously," spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. "The speaker is committed to rooting out sexual misconduct in the House and providing victims the resources they need."

To that end, Strong said, Ryan would use some of the new bipartisan bill's guidelines in the Meehan incident and notify the Pennsylvania Republican to "repay whatever taxpayer funds were used to settle this case."

Meehan also "will immediately submit himself to the Ethics Committee for review" following a conversation with Ryan, Strong said, and will no longer sit on that committee, effective immediately.

Elizandro added that an investigation was conducted into the former aide's claims, adding that Meehan "would only act with advice of House Counsel and consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance. Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately."

Meehan is also requesting that the former aide's attorney waive the terms of the confidentiality agreement covering the harassment settlement "to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts," according to Elizandro. Although the settlement came from Meehan's office budget rather than a publicly funded account maintained by Capitol Hill's workplace misconduct adjudicator, the Office of Compliance, the terms of the agreement typically remain confidential in either case.

Alexis Ronickher, the attorney who represented Meehan's former aide, pushed back on Saturday and charged Meehan with attempting to re-victimize her client by forcing the disclosure of her identity. The House ethics investigation should include a probe of whether Meehan breached the confidentiality of the settlement, she said.

"In an effort to preserve his career, Rep. Meehan has now asked my client to waive confidentiality so he can deny well-grounded allegations knowing full well that his former staffer prizes her privacy above all else," Ronickher said by email.

"Mr. Meehan demanded confidentiality to resolve the matter, presumably so that the public would never know that he entered into a settlement of a serious sexual harassment claim. Now that it has become public — due to no fault of my client’s — he has flouted his legal obligations and is speaking publicly."

"We will not allow our client to be victimized twice by this man," Ronickher continued. "If he further violates the confidentiality strictures he insisted upon and he agreed to, he will leave our client no choice but to seek legal recourse on her behalf."

Two Democrats vying for the nomination to take on Meehan in November, Dan Muroff and Drew McGinty, called for the Republican to resign in the wake of the reported harassment settlement.

"What the hell, Pat Meehan?" Muroff said in a statement Saturday, adding that Meehan should lose all of his committee assignments if he does not step down from Congress.


Pence is half a world away from D.C. drama

Vice President Mike Pence was at the Capitol, ready to cast the tie-breaking vote, when the Republican push to repeal the Affordable Care Act collapsed this past July. And he was there presiding when the Senate voted in December 51-48 to pass a massive package of tax cuts, giving President Donald Trump his first major domestic victory.

But now, as Trump faces his first major legislative crisis, Pence is half a world away.

He left Washington on Friday night for a trip to the Middle East, hours before the government shut down amid an impasse between Democrats and Republicans over extending protections to young undocumented immigrants.

On Saturday, as Trump worked the phones at the White House, the vice president was being welcomed to Egypt by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, kicking off a trip that will also include stops in Israel and Jordan.

“He is always in the right place at the right time, discreet, dedicated and freakishly absent from tumultuous events,” said Mary Matalin, a former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.


Pence insisted on keeping his overseas appointments despite the shutdown after moving the trip once to accommodate the tax vote just before Christmas. The trip was billed as a national security exercise in part to avoid any shutdown disruption, White House officials said.

Pence’s task, like that of every senior aide in Trump’s administration, is to do more than just fulfill his responsibilities — it is to do so without ever overshadowing the boss, without ever releasing even a whiff of disloyalty and without causing the types of soap opera distractions that Trump himself so often creates.

But the vice president has demonstrated a knack for dodging some of the administration’s most controversial moments. He was, for example, in Nevada recently when Trump held the meeting in which he described countries in Africa and elsewhere as “shitholes,” setting off a chain of events that resulted in the shutdown.

His absence means one of the White House’s most trusted figures on the Hill is out of the picture — and that Pence is far from the blame game embroiling the Capitol.

The White House and Pence’s office did not respond to a request for comment about his absence might impact the negotiations to re-open the government.


Trump spent the anniversary of his inauguration speaking with congressional GOP leaders and top Cabinet officials. Legislative affairs director Marc Short and OMB director Mick Mulvaney pilloried Democrats from the White House briefing room. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders huddled with deputies in a closed-door meeting in her office, and many of the desks in the lower press office sat empty because a number of press aides were furloughed.

On the Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer exchanged barbs on the Senate floor, with Schumer comparing negotiating with Trump to negotiating with “Jell-O.”

Punctuating it all, anti-Trump protesters took to the streets across the country for the second annual women’s march.

Pence took a moment to tweet from a refueling stop in Ireland early Satuday: “It’s disappointing to every American that Democrats in the Senate would shutdown the gov’t when we have troops in harms way.”

But later, as he departed Egypt for Jordan, he turned the focus back to his own expedition, even giving himself a hashtag: “Productive discussion with Egyptian President @AlsisiOfficial on a range of issues. We are united not just in commerce and in prosperity, but most importantly in a commitment to security. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Egypt in the fight against terrorism. #VPinEgypt.”


White House official: Democrats having 'temper tantrum,' playing to base

President Donald Trump’s White House on Saturday slammed Democrats for the hours-old government shutdown, saying it will not yield to demands to negotiate the status of young immigrant “Dreamers” until the government re-opens and accusing Democrats of a “two-year-old temper tantrum.”

“We stand here ready to sign the bill that the House passed last night,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short announced at a press conference Saturday, referring to a bill that would keep the government open for four weeks but did not address the immigration issue.

“The White House position, though, remains the same that we will not negotiate the status of 690,000 unlawful immigrants while hundreds of millions of taxpaying Americans, including hundreds of thousands of our troops in uniform and border agents protecting our country, are held hostage by senate Democrats,” Short said, accusing Democrats of a “two-year-old temper tantrum” to please their base.

“We continue to remain anxious to reach a deal on DACA,” Short added, and said the White House was willing to accept a three-week CR if Democrats would accept immigration cannot be part of the bill.

Democrats have not negotiated in good faith, argued Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer misrepresented the status of negotiations with the White House on Saturday.


Schumer on Saturday compared negotiating with Trump to negotiating with “Jell-O.”

In the meantime, Trump is working the phones, and has spoken so far Saturday with Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Trump's planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida has been delayed, and Trump’s planned trip to Davos in Switzerland could also be called off, Mulvaney said.

Just how long the shutdown will drag on remains a mystery at the White House.

“You have to ask Congress,” Mulvaney said. “We plan mostly a day at a time.”


Thousands protest in D.C., across the country on women's march anniversary

Thousands marked the first anniversary of the national women's march in cities across the country on Saturday, vowing that last year's massive turnout was only the first step in the ongoing protests against President Donald Trump.

"Today we're sending Trump another message, look out your window," Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, told marchers in Washington. "See us, hear us, feel our power. You can't stop us with your tweets, you can't stop us with your bullying and you can't stop us with your hate speech. And this November."

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez emphasized the number of women running on the party's ticket in November.

"If the Congress, if the White House, if the governorships across America had more women like I see here today, we would be a much better America," Perez said.

Trump took to Twitter to give his personal take on the marchers on Saturday afternoon: "Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March. Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!"

At its 2 p.m. peak, last year's Washington march drew some 470,000 marchers in a pointed protest to Trump's inauguration. This year's focus is on Las Vegas, though news footage showed large swells of protesters in New York, Los Angeles and Denver.


Organizers have said that they are focusing on Nevada because of its importance in November's midterm elections. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton narrowly carried the state in 2016 and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is widely viewed as one of the most endangered GOP incumbents — a must-take seat for Democrats in their quest for the majority.

While the march was planned before the government shutdown, multiple speakers emphasized that Democratic lawmakers need to hold their ground on legal protections for so-called Dreamers, a key sticking point in the ongoing government funding negotiations.

Trump made the decision to end DACA, an Obama-era immigration executive order, last year, but delayed the repeal until March.


Parties grapple with possible shutdown repercussions ahead of midterms

The government shutdown has both parties scrambling to predict its impact on a political environment that had turned decidedly against President Donald Trump and the Republican Party ahead of the midterm elections.

Republicans, fully in charge of Washington and fearful that voters will punish them for failing to keep the government open, have quietly taken steps in recent weeks to gauge the possible fallout. America First Action, the principal pro-Trump group, has polled to see how the public would respond to a shutdown – and to see which party it would blame. The organization is exploring the possibility of airing ads that buttress the party.

On Saturday morning, American Action Network, a pro-House GOP outside group, began airing commercials blaming the shutdown on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Concerns over a shutdown extend to the highest levels of the GOP, with some officials warning that it could further jeopardize the party ahead of a perilous midterm election.

"A government shutdown never ends well for Republicans, and it seldom ends well for the party in power," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.


If the government shuts down, he added, "we'll get the lion’s share of the blame."

Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican who is retiring, was equally blunt in a Friday interview.

“If there is a shutdown I suspect that we Republicans, since we control all three branches of government, will be blamed – whether we deserve it or not,” he said.

Yet the shutdown could be disruptive for Republicans in other ways. The failure to keep the government open, party strategists worry, threatens to distract from their successful tax reform push – a long-sought Trump legislative accomplishment. Republican officials had hoped to turn the tax bill into a centerpiece of the 2018 campaign, so much so that during a recent political briefing with the president at Camp David, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stressed the need to highlight the benefits of the legislation.

“We will be squandering any good will that’s starting to formulate as a result of tax reform,” said Robert Blizzard, a veteran GOP pollster who is advising a number of congressional candidates.

Yet the impact of a federal shutdown can be hard to predict. It was widely expected that Republicans would face serious political repercussions when the government last shut down in 2013. Instead, they went on to seize control of the Senate and win the largest House majority since the Herbert Hoover presidency.

Some Republicans see potential political benefit to the shutdown, arguing that it could upend the political landscape and put newfound pressure on Democratic senators from conservative states up for reelection. Republicans are preparing to cast them as soft on immigration, charging that they refused to vote for the bill because they favored illegal immigrants over funding the military and children’s insurance programs. Democrats objected to the proposed government funding bill because it did not include protections for recipients of DACA, which expires in March.

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a tweet that Senate “Democrats have a choice to make,” between the health care program and DACA. “This should be a no-brainer,” he added.

“If Trump state Democratic senators get tagged with closing military for illegal immigrants it will be deadly,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who presided over the lower congressional chamber during the 1995 shutdown.


Democrats, too, are trying to make sense of the crisis, with strategists poring over polling numbers from the 2013 shutdown in search of lessons. But even those who are convinced the 2014 midterm results prove voters won't punish the party held responsible believe there’s a slim chance this time may be different. Widespread discontent with Trump and the Republican Party’s total control of government, they argue, makes this shutdown different.

“The [2013] shutdown was bad for the GOP in the moment, but larger trends overcame the hit they took,” said David Axelrod, a longtime top adviser to former President Barack Obama.

“What is different here is that they now have a president, and he will define the fall election, and a shutdown should amplify concerns many already share,” he added. “If he is viewed as a source of chaos and dysfunction, it will be a burden the Republicans will carry into November.”

Democrats spent much of the week laying the groundwork for a blame-Trump campaign. The Democratic National Committee, for instance, circulated a talking points document to surrogates, lawmakers, staff and elected officials.

“Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House. Any government shutdown falls 100% on the Republican Party, the party in power,” read the memo. “At no point in this country’s history have we ever seen one party control all the levels [and] branches of government and still fail to do their basic job of keeping the government open.”


The memo proposes using the shutdown to establish a broader narrative that “this is Trump’s Republican Party: Chaos, incompetence, and destruction.”

And on Friday morning, American Bridge, the party’s leading opposition research super PAC, held an hour-long strategy session to figure out how to spin the short-term blame game into longer-term message that could be used in this year’s races for the midterms. The group decided to prepare a round of digital ads attacking Republicans including Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing a treacherous path to reelection.

Still unclear, however, is whether voters will remember the shutdown when they head to the polls in November. The answer is likely depend on a variety of factors, such as how long the shutdown lasts, how the markets react, and how it’s resolved.

"Nobody will remember this if we get a good outcome," said Graham.


Who's in and who's out as the West Wing grapples with shutdown

The press wranglers have gone home. The in-house White House makeup artist isn't expecting to report to work on Monday. Assistants to senior White House staffers are getting an unexpected, unpaid vacation from work.

But for the most part, work life in the West Wing will continue as usual, even as much of the federal government shut down Saturday, fuloughing thousands of workers. In fact, with President Donald Trump being forced to spend a rare winter weekend in Washington rather than at Mar-a-Lago, the West Wing work load is expected to be heavier than usual.

All White House staff at the most senior level of Assistant to the President will be allowed to work. That group includes about 20 advisers like Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, legislative affairs director Marc Short, policy adviser Stephen Miller, communications director Hope Hicks, economic adviser Gary Cohn, press adviser Mercedes Schlapp, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and counselor Kellyanne Conway.

The West Wing staffers two rungs down the command chain are also permitted to show up. All deputy assistants to the president — that includes people like adviser Josh Raffel and deputy press secretary Raj Shah — are expected to continue reporting to work, as are the Special Assistants to the President, such as deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters.

That's because all of those government jobs are, by definition, commissioned officers, who are not affected by the government shutdown because their duties are considered essential, White House officials said. The National Security Council is also unaffected by the shutdown, and its members continue reporting to work.


But many lower-level White House aides — there were a total of 377 White House personnel on the payroll as of July 1, 2017 — will be sitting at home indefinitely.

Some senior White House officials said they were hoping for an excuse to turn off their government phones and stop replying to emails for a few days, expressing some resignation upon learning that their work day burdens will likely to increase while the government is closed.

But shutdown protocol is one area where Trump is not upending government norms. During the 2013 government shutdown, President Barack Obama's former press secretary Josh Earnest recalled, all commissioned officers reported to work. “Select other White House staffers, depending on their duty, were classified as essential, too,” he said. “But only a few.”

Former Obama administration officials recalled the 2013 shutdown as a trying time for essential West Wing staff. “There is no support staff, limited food and there are no assistants,” recalled Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former White House deputy chief of staff. “At certain points throughout the shutdown, I found myself emptying trash cans and refilling toilet paper in the women’s bathroom. But the hardest part of shutdown are the incoming stories about how it was impacting the outside world - so emptying trash cans didn’t seem like a big sacrifice.”


The Thin Blue Wave

Chose any measurement, and the result is the same: Democrats are headed for a major victory in the November midterms. The generic ballot tells us voters prefer Democrats to Republicans by a 10-point average. The president’s approval ratings, a historically useful guide to his party’s midterm hopes? The lowest at this point of any in recorded history. Recent special elections? Democrats took a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama for the first time in 30 years and a Wisconsin state Senate seat that had stayed Republican for 17 years. The average swing to Democrats in the four special elections so far: more than 20 percent. Republicans in the House seem to be heading for the hills: Thirty-one have already announced they are leaving, compared with just 15 Democrats.

So this is exactly the right time to strike a contrarian note. Are there reasons to question the inevitability of a midterm wave? Actually, there are several.

First, those generic numbers may not tell us what it looks like it’s telling us (apart from the fact that the Democrats’ margin has dropped into single-digit territory in the last couple of polls). Democrats learned to their sorrow that national polls in 2016 showing a Clinton victory were misleading. She did indeed win the national popular vote, and that, along with a dollar, will get her a choice of offerings at McDonald’s. That same reality has to be factored in to today’s generic congressional number, because it includes huge margins for Democrats in places like California and New York; they tell us a lot less about what’s going on in marginal districts and in red states. A combination of gerrymandering and the “sorting” that leads to useless landslides in some House districts means Democrats have to do a lot better than simply rack up good statewide numbers to improve their numbers in the House.

For example, in 2014, Democrats won about 45 percent of the total House vote in North Carolina. But Republicans won 10 House seats to the Democrats’ three. In Pennsylvania, Democrats won 44 percent of the vote statewide, but won just five seats to 18 for Republicans. Even if the courts decide to finally rule out excessive partisan gerrymandering—as a federal court did recently in a North Carolina case—the Supreme Court has already said it will allow current districts to be used for the November midterms. And that means that only a genuine “wave” will produce numbers big enough to flip the House.

Second, the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party may well exact a heavy cost. In the Senate, a cluster of potential presidential candidates—Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand —has gone all-in on the immigration front. Whatever the outcome of the current fight, they have helped lead most of their colleagues into a government shutdown over their demand for increased protection undocumented (or illegal) immigrants. Yes, polls show most Americans want Dreamers, the immigrants brought here as children, to be protected from deportation. But looked at more locally, the picture is different. One recent survey, taken before Friday’s fireworks, showed that in five deeply red states—each of which has an incumbent Democratic senator up for re-election—voters would blame Democrats if the government shut down because of a fight over the rights of the undocumented. (Indeed, a CNN poll shows that, even nationally, voters greatly prefer avoiding a government shutdown to preserving DACA, as the program shielding them from deportation is known.)

If the fallout from the government shutdown issue winds up this way—with voters perceiving Democrats as a party more concerned about the undocumented than keeping the government running—that generic ballot might start to look different, and the prospects for endangered Democratic senators in those ruby-red states will grow dimmer. It’s noteworthy that several vulnerable Democrats in states Trump won voted with the bulk of Republicans to keep the government open.

Third, Democrats must avoid the tea party-style fights that plagued the Republicans in recent years. It’s easy to forget, but had Republicans not engaged in circular-firing-squad primaries in 2010 and 2012, they would be entering the midterms not with 51 seats, but with 56 or 57. In West Virginia, Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada and Colorado, Republicans passed over eminently electable candidates favor of fringe nominees beloved by the zealots, but incapable of campaigning without inserting at least one foot in their mouths. (Remember “I‘m not a witch,” or the assertion that a woman’s body “shut down” to prevent pregnancy by rape?)

It’s not a perfect analogy, but there are congressional districts where Democrats will be choosing between candidates who reflect the party’s national positions and those who appear to be more in the mold of their districts. In Texas’ 21st congressional district outside of Austin, Bronze Star Iraq war veteran and entrepreneur Joseph Kosper is running for a seat held for 30 years by retiring Republican Lamar Smith. One of his principal opponents, Derrick Crowe, worked on the staff of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; a credential not likely to be an asset in the district. In Kentucky’s 6th congressional district, retired Marine Lt. Col Amy McGrath—whose announcement video went viral—is running against Lexington Mayor Jim Grey, a self-funding candidate who is has the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The last time Democrats took the House away from Republicans, in 2006, a number of so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, who did not share the base’s view on issues like gun control or abortion, were part of that victory. With a party now substantially to the left of where it was a decade ago, especially on social issues, there’s a real question about whether it will find itself with candidates simply unable to compete effectively in November in marginal districts.

Fourth, the Democrats’ California dreams could turn into a nightmare in some districts. No fewer than nine GOP House seats in California are within target range of Democrats. Two of these vulnerable Republicans—Darrell Issa and Ed Royce—have already announced their retirements. But the very enthusiasm of Democrats could wind up costing them dearly. Why? Because of the state’s “jungle primary” system in which every candidate, regardless of party, runs in one primary, and the top two finishers face off in November. Given the state’s huge Democratic majority, this has resulted in Democrat-only general elections (for instance, in the 2016 Senate race). This year’s Senate and gubernatorial races could well see the same one-party face off. But in some congressional districts the result could be the opposite. In the 39th district near Los Angeles, where Ed Royce is stepping down, no fewer than seven Democrats are vying for the seat, compared with only three Republicans. If the Democrats split their votes seven ways, it’s entirely possible that November will only two Republicans on the ballot.

That same situation is true in the state’s 45th congressional district, in Orange County southeast of Anaheim. The recently redrawn district went for Clinton 50-44 last year, and Democrats see a chance for a pickup. But five Democrats are contending—and intriguingly, Mission Viejos’ Republican Mayor Greg Raths has formed an exploratory committee, raising the possibility that he will launch another primary run against the incumbent Republican, Rep, Mimi Walters. Here too, the presence of a platoon of Democrats could mean that a distant second-place finish for Raths would put him on the November ballot, shutting out every Democrat.

Fifth, Trump might not be quite as unpopular in November as he is now. It’s always dangerous to rely on any given poll number, but the president has managed to move all the way up to a 40 percent average approval rating. That’s still terrible by historical standards, but it is the first time he’s hit that number since mid-May. And as the tax cuts begin to show up as higher take-home pay for most Americans, the president could find himself the beneficiary. The most recent Marist poll shows that voters now are evenly split about the merits of the tax bill—a significant jump from the sharply negative numbers of just a month ago. And Leader Pelosi might come to regret her dismissal of the tax cuts as “crumbs”; any measurable increase in take-home pay is no small matter to the family with a $40,000-a-year income.

There’s no question that, judging by history, the current portents all point to a major Democratic victory in November. And it’s certainly possible that the findings of Robert Mueller, or an especially dramatic example of presidential derangement, could turn a wave into a tsunami.

But, as as millions of Georgia and Saints fan have learned to their sorrow, even the most probable of probabilities are not certainties. Yes, if the election were held today, Democrats would likely take the House. But as Saturday Night Live’s Kevin Nealon once memorably observed, “If the election were held today, 80 percent of Americans say they’d really be surprised.” Ten months is an eternity in the Trump era. Democrats might want to hold off on the victory parade planning for now.


Amid government shutdown, Trump touts accomplishments in op-ed

As Washington and America moved into the first day of the government shutdown, President Donald Trump extolled the accomplishments of his first year in office on Saturday, pointing to the passing of the GOP's tax overhaul, the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and the state of the U.S. economy as examples of how his administration is making fulfilling his promise to make America great again.

In the editorial for the Washington Examiner, Trump lays out a number of things he and his administration have accomplished this year. He does not mention the current government shutdown. Trump has blamed Democrats for the shutdown, writing on Twitter on Saturday writing that their party is "holding the military hostage."

As he has in the past, Trump puts a major emphasis on the current economic outlook. It is worth noting that economy performed at a similar pace under President Barack Obama and that some of the positive trends Trump touts began before he took office last year.

"Estimates predict the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of more than 3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year – just like it did in the two quarters before that," Trump said. "And the stock market continues to set record high after record high."

Left unmentioned in the editorial are the areas where Trump has failed to match his campaign rhetoric. His often repeated border wall with Mexico is stalled, Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in full and the White House continues to delay the release of its long promised infrastructure plan.

For other domestic accomplishments, the president points to the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and the record pace of confirming federal judges and the record number of uses of the Congressional Review Act, a previously obscure federal law that congressional Republicans and the administration has used to gut Obama-era regulations.

When it comes to foreign policy, Trump emphasizes "new strategies" the military has used in its fight against ISIS and a reconfiguration of U.S. policy for the war in Afghanistan.

"I personally engaged with 150 world leaders at home and abroad, and our great military is executing new strategies that have liberated Mosul and Raqqa, retaken almost 100 percent of the land that ISIS had seized in Syria and Iraq, and lifted restrictions on U.S. forces in Afghanistan to defeat the terrorists and create conditions for a negotiated political settlement," he writes.


Congress returns with no sign of a breakthrough on shutdown

On the first full day of the government shutdown, Republicans and Democrats arrived at the Capitol to continue negotiations, but there was no indication of a quick resolution as each party pinned the crisis on the other.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of prioritizing “illegal immigrants" over American citizens by insisting that protections for young immigrants facing deportation be included in any spending deal. Legislation that the House passed but that the Senate blocked late Friday included six years of funding for health care for poor children.

Democrats say the situation is a product of President Donald Trump’s constantly shifting positions and chaotic leadership.

Further complicating a potential breakthrough: Republicans say they won't negotiate on immigration while the government is shut down.

“I think it’s more difficult to get any agreement on DACA in a shutdown,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy while walking into a Saturday morning meeting with GOP leaders. He was referring to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, shielding hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation, known as Dreamers.

“My advice is: if they got government open again, they’re more likely to get an agreement,” McCarthy added.


House GOP leaders huddled in the Capitol Saturday morning after some of them privately scoffed at a tentative framework to reopen the government being discussed by a bipartisan group of senators.

Under the strategy — conceived by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake — Senate Democrats would agree to re-open the government and fund agencies until Feb. 8. In exchange, they would secure a vote on a bipartisan Dreamers bill. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled that he might go along, Senate Democrats also wanted a commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan to include the bill in must-pass legislation in the House.

But McConnell would not agree to that demand, senators said, because he cannot bind the House to a Senate deal.

And Ryan, who did not participate in negotiations with the Senate Friday, insisted that the Senate needed to approve the House bill to fund the government until Feb. 16.

“We were not party to any negotiations, and our only message to the Senate all day yesterday was pass our bill to keep the government open," AshLee Strong, Ryan's spokeswoman, said in a statement. "The government shut down because Senate Democrats decided to hold the entire federal government and children’s health insurance hostage. It’s pretty straight forward.”

House GOP leaders don't appear to be budging from that position.

“We passed our bill; they need to deal with their issues in the Senate,” Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said on Saturday morning.

In the Senate, leaders remained stalled Saturday morning on the issue of when a DACA vote would take place. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) continues to oppose a plan to fund the government through early February unless there is a commitment to an immigration vote in both chambers, several sources in both parties say.

But on Saturday morning, Senate Democratic leadership aides said there was no movement on any of these issues.

Trump, meanwhile, has cancelled a previously planned trip to Florida. The president on Friday held negotiations with Schumer at the White House, but the two failed to agree on a deal.

Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blast Democrats for the shutdown.

“Democrats are holding our military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “Can’t let that happen!”

He added: “#AMERICA FIRST!”


D.C.-area bars and restaurants tout shutdown specials

Furloughed federal workers looking to wait out the government shutdown have plenty of options to turn to as D.C.-area bars and restaurants are offering special deals to federal employees until the government reopens.

Capitol Lounge started offering its $5 shutdown cocktail menu starting at 12:01 a.m, with aptly named highlights like the Durbin Soda, To Flake or Not to Flake and C'mon Chuck.


The approach is similar to what local establishments did during 2013, when a 16-day government shutdown sparked worries that business would subside as federal workers were unsure of when their next paycheck would come.

Other deals include: the Queen Vic, a British pub, which is offering 30 percent off all drafts; Carmine's NYC is offering all day happy hour to government employees and Wisdom is offering extended happy hour every night of the shutdown. As with most of these deals, you'll need to bring a valid government ID.

This list will be updated as new deals become available.


Trump: Democrats gave me anniversary 'present' of government shutdown

Some six hours after the federal government shut down, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Democrats had given him a “nice present” on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

“This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present. #DemocratShutdown,” he tweeted at 6:33 a.m. Saturday.

The president remains in Washington after most Democrats and a handful of Republicans late Friday night voted down a four-week extension of government funding, prompting a shutdown.

A furious blame game had pre-empted the fruitless negotiations to pass a short-term funding measure, which the president continued Saturday, tweeting: “Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border. They could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.
#WeNeedMoreRepublicansIn18 in order to power through mess!”

He later tweeted: "For those asking, the Republicans only have 51 votes in the Senate, and they need 60. That is why we need to win more Republicans in 2018 Election! We can then be even tougher on Crime (and Border), and even better to our Military & Veterans!"

In a statement released shortly before midnight Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "Senate Democrats own the Schumer shutdown."

Trump was scheduled to fly to his Florida residence – Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach – on Friday afternoon, plans which were put on hold by the protracted negotiations and looming shutdown.

The president is scheduled to attend a high-dollar fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night to mark his first year as president. White House officials have said Trump won’t leave Washington until a spending bill is passed.


The Secret to Henry Kissinger’s Success

About halfway through writing my biography of Henry Kissinger, an interesting hypothesis occurred to me: Did the former secretary of state owe his success, fame and notoriety not just to his powerful intellect and formidable will but also to his exceptional ability to build an eclectic network of relationships, not only to colleagues in the Nixon and Ford administrations, but also to people outside government: journalists, newspaper proprietors, foreign ambassadors and heads of state—even Hollywood producers? If Volume I had surprised readers with its subtitle—“The Idealist”—should Volume II perhaps be subtitled “The Networker”?

Whatever your views of Kissinger, his rise to power is as astonishing as it was unlikely. A refugee from Nazi Germany who found his métier as a scholar of history, philosophy and geopolitics while serving in the U.S. Army, Kissinger was one of many Harvard professors who were drawn into government during the Cold War. His appointment as Richard Nixon’s national security adviser in December 1968 nevertheless came as a surprise to many people (not least Kissinger himself), because for most of the previous decade he had been so closely identified with Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon’s patrician rival within the Republican Party. From his sickbed, the former President Eisenhower expressed his skepticism about the appointment. “But Kissinger is a professor,” he exclaimed when he heard of Nixon’s choice. “You ask professors to study things, but you never put them in charge of anything.”

Most writers who have studied his subsequent career in Washington have tended to explain the rapid growth of Kissinger’s influence in terms of his close relationship to Nixon or his talent for the very bureaucratic infighting he had condemned as an academic. This, however, is to overlook the most distinctive feature of Kissinger’s mode of operation: While those around him continued to be bound by the rules of the hierarchical bureaucracy that employed them, Kissinger from the outset devoted considerable energy to building a network that extended horizontally in all directions beyond the Washington Beltway: to the press and even the entertainment industry inside the United States and, perhaps more importantly, to key foreign governments through a variety of “back channels.” Kissinger brought to this task an innate capacity to make emotional as well as intellectual connections even with the most aloof of interlocutors, a skill he had honed long before his appointment by the famously aloof Nixon. It was Kissinger’s unique talent for networking, not just his scholarly acumen or his astute reading of power politics, that made him such a formidable figure. And it was his arrival on the political scene just as the world was shifting from the ideological bifurcation of the early Cold War—a duel between two hierarchical superpowers—to a new era of interdependence and “multipolarity” that made Kissinger precisely (in the words of TIME magazine) “the right man in the right place at the right time.”

***

Indeed, it was networking—ironically, a chance encounter with an official from the Eastern bloc—that presaged Kissinger’s greatest diplomatic triumph: the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Mao Zedong’s China.

A characteristic feature of the Soviet system, which endured long after Stalin’s death, was the systematic destruction of private networks and the isolation of individuals. Even in the late 1960s, when Soviet citizens encountered Americans—which of course they very rarely did—they had to be on their guard. The Pugwash conferences of scientists were a rare exception. Today, having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, Pugwash is almost synonymous with disarmament and conflict resolution through so-called “track two diplomacy.” During the Cold War, however, the conferences had a more ambiguous character, as the Soviet academics who attended had to be approved in advance by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and sometimes even by the Politburo. Kissinger thrived in this environment—charming and impressing Soviet apparatchiks with his trademark mordant humor—and he attended the gatherings several times.

In 1966, at the Pugwash conference in the Polish resort of Sopot, Kissinger was startled by the violence of Soviet invective against China. “China was no longer Communist but Fascist,” the Soviet mathematician Stanislav Emelyanov told him during a boat trip to Gdansk harbor. “The Red Guards reminded him of nothing so much as the Hitler Youth. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had a common interest in preventing Chinese expansion.” Candidly, Emelyanov admitted he had not seen the Soviet government so confused since the aftermath of Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization speech. It was through Pugwash that Kissinger received an invitation to go from Poland to Prague, where he met Antonín Šnejdárek, the former head of Czech intelligence operations in Germany who was now director of the country’s Institute of International Politics and Economics. The two men met again in Vienna at the annual meeting of the London-based Institute for Strategic Studies. The Czech frankly warned Kissinger that the Soviets had no sincere intention of helping the Americans extricate themselves from Vietnam. Indeed, he said, the crisis in Southeast Asia might end up being “a convenient pretext [for Moscow] to tighten control over Eastern Europe.”

The most revelatory of all these encounters came in January 1967, when Kissinger returned to Prague. Again Šnejdárek warned that Moscow “was becoming increasingly sensitive about the growing freedom of movement of the East European countries and especially the Czech effort to reduce their economic dependence on Moscow.” But now he startled Kissinger with a question that Kissinger had to admit “had never occurred to me”: if he thought a ‘U.S.-Chinese deal was in the making.” Sensing the American’s surprise, Šnejdárek explained:

“The Soviets took the Chinese attack on them [a key feature of Mao’s Cultural Revolution] extremely seriously. They could not easily reconcile themselves to the end of Socialist unity and even less to the challenge to their position as the chief interpreters of Leninism. The extent of their attempt to influence internal Chinese developments is therefore not always grasped. They supported the party apparatus against Mao ...”

The Maoists, in turn, were now desperate “to expel the Soviets physically from China. Nothing less than a complete rupture with the Soviet Union will enable them to feel secure.” True, the Cultural Revolution looked like an ideological rift, with the Chinese as the more radical Marxists. But:

“[w]hatever Mao’s ideological fervor, the human material available to him will force him in a nationalist direction—assuming he is still in charge of his movement. Despite their wild talk, the Maoists might turn out to be more flexible toward the U.S. than their opponents. They will have to shut off China in any event to reconstitute governmental authority and a form of non-aggression treaty with the United States might fit this design very well. Of course they hate the U.S. too; but … no Communist can forget the Hitler-Stalin pact.”

From a Czech point of view, such a “Johnson-Mao pact” was an alarming scenario because “if the United States settled with China it would step up the [Soviet] pressure in Europe.” Fearful of isolation, the Soviets would clamp down on what Šnejdárek obliquely called “the prospects of East European national development.” Kissinger was amazed, yet his Czech host’s fear of “a U.S.-Mao deal” seemed “genuine and deep.” Scholars have long speculated as to which American strategist conceived of the opening to China that would so transform the geopolitical landscape in 1972. But it was not Americans who thought of it first. It was the strategic thinkers of the Soviet bloc who foresaw the new world conjured up by the Sino-Soviet split, and they did so more than four years before Nixon’s historic visit to China.

***

Beginning in January 1969, Kissinger set about applying some of the lessons he had learned as an academic and public intellectual: in particular, the lesson that informal networks could provide diplomatic channels superior to foreign ministries and embassies. As a prelude to writing the second volume of his life, I have attempted to map Kissinger’s network on the basis of all the published memoirs that relate to his period in government. This provides a preliminary plot of his and others’ networks as they were remembered by Kissinger himself and his contemporaries in government. The graphs depict Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s ego networks, based on their memoirs; the Nixon and Ford administrations’ ego network, based on all members’ memoirs; and the Nixon and Ford administrations’ directed network, depicting how prominently members figure in each other’s memoirs. In the first three graphs (figures 1-3), relative importance is represented by both the proximity to the central “ego” node (which in the third case is the combined identities of all members who wrote memoirs) and the area of the node. In the fourth graph, we can see who mentioned whom and how often they did so in terms of mutual proximity, edge width and arrow direction.

The graphs leave little doubt about who mattered in the Nixon-Ford era. Kissinger abounds—as important to Nixon as his wife, and the second most important member of the two administrations, outranking Ford, who became president. Next (see figure 4) came Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, followed by Ford and White House counsel John Dean. Also ranked highly on this basis were John Ehrlichman (assistant to the president for domestic affairs), Treasury Secretary John Connally, future president George H. W. Bush and Alexander Haig (Kissinger’s assistant, then deputy, and Haldeman’s successor after Watergate).

It’s particularly striking to see the difference between “the world according to Nixon” and “the world according to Kissinger.” Nixon’s inner circle (figure 1) was that of a man whose experience of the presidency was to a remarkable extent confined within the walls of the White House. Aside from his wife and daughters, he refers most often in his memoir to Kissinger, Eisenhower (whose vice-president he was), Haldeman, Erlichman and Haig. Kissinger, by contrast, mentions key foreign leaders almost as much as the presidents he served, and more often than the secretary of state who preceded him in that office, William Rogers (figure 2). The more striking thing is which foreign leaders loom largest in Kissinger’s memoirs: the Soviets (their ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, their foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, and their premier, Leonid Brezhnev) came first, followed by Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, and Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president. Apart from Brezhnev and Dobrynin, only one other foreigner was among the 40 individuals most frequently mentioned by Nixon: Nguyen Van Thieu, the South Vietnamese president. By contrast, only 16 of Kissinger’s top 40 were Americans. Of course, we would expect the national security adviser and secretary of state to spend more time than the president with foreigners: that is the nature of the job. Yet it is difficult to believe that any previous holder of those offices had been quite as indefatigable a traveler and negotiator.



While in office, Kissinger appeared on the cover of Time magazine no fewer than 15 times. He was, according to one of the magazine’s profiles of him, published in 1974, “the world’s indispensable man”—though one who stood accused by his critics of paying more “attention to principals than principles.” The hypothesis must be that Kissinger’s influence and reputation were products not only of his intellect and industriousness, but also of his preternatural connectedness. Shuttle diplomacy was a part of this. So was schmoozing journalists, at which Kissinger excelled, though he scarcely mentioned them in his memoirs, despite the closeness of his friendships to the Alsop brothers, Stewart and Joseph, and the columnist Tom Braden. As Time noted, Kissinger had “a finely tuned sense of hierarchy.” But what mattered much more were all the other relationships in a network—including an “old boy network” of former participants in Kissinger’s summer seminars at Harvard—that spanned the globe. “He always looks for the guy who can deliver,” an unnamed aide told Time. “A lot of doors open for him,” said a “Washington friend and admirer.” The network was the precondition for his “chain reaction” diplomacy—a phrase used by the Israeli deputy premier, Yigal Allon. That was what justified the claim that Kissinger “probably [had] more impact than any other person in the world.”


The weakening of hierarchy and strengthening of networks that characterized the 1970s had many benefits. From Kissinger’s point of view, these trends significantly reduced the risk of a Third World War: that, after all, was the central rationale of more frequent dialogue with the Soviet Union, as well as the beginning of communication with the People’s Republic of China. Contemporaries often summarized Kissinger’s foreign policy as “détente.” He preferred to speak of “interdependence.” A “new international system” had replaced “the structure of the immediate postwar years,” he declared in London in December 1973: one based on “the paradox of growing mutual dependence and burgeoning national and regional identities.” “The energy crisis,” he suggested three months later, was one of “the birth pains of global interdependence.” By April 1974, “The Challenge of Interdependence” had become a speech title; by 1975 interdependence was “becoming the central fact of our diplomacy.” “If we do not get a recognition of our interdependence,” Kissinger warned in October 1974, “the Western civilization that we now have is almost certain to disintegrate.” Academics at his alma mater such as Richard Cooper and Joseph Nye obliged by writing books on the subject. Interdependence found institutional expression with the first meeting of the Trilateral Commission at the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills in 1972 and the first meeting of the “Group of Six” (Britain, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and West Germany) at Rambouillet in 1975. The New York Times chose to mark the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence with an editorial entitled “Interdependence Day.” It was a concept enthusiastically adopted by President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.


Yet there were costs as well as benefits to inhabiting a more interdependent world. As Brzezinski argued in his book Between Two Ages, the new “global city” being created by the “technetronic age” was “a nervous, agitated, tense, and fragmented web of interdependent relations.” This was true in more ways than one. During the first half of the Cold War, the superpowers had been able to control information flows by manufacturing or sponsoring propaganda and classifying or censoring anything deemed harmful. Sensation surrounded every spy scandal and defection; yet in most cases all that happened was that classified information was passed from one national security state to the other. This, too, changed in the 1970s. Leaked official documents began to reach the public in the West through the free press—beginning in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers given by Daniel Ellsberg to The New York Times—and (to a much smaller extent) in the Soviet bloc through samizdat literature, notably Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Leaks to the media in turn fueled the dramatic escalation of social protest on university campuses and inner cities that made the early 1970s seem so febrile compared with the sedate quarter-century after 1945. Altogether close to 400 different groups were involved in some form of protest in the United States between the 1960s and the 1980s: what had begun with the campaign for African-American civil rights soon encompassed campaigns for women’s rights, Native American rights, gay and lesbian rights, and campaigns against the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, poverty and industrial pollution.

Like most members of the generation who fought in the Second World War, Nixon and Kissinger had little patience with these groups; indeed, Kissinger likened the student radicals he encountered at Harvard in the late 1960s to the German students who had attended the Nuremberg Rallies in the early 1930s. Nevertheless, in the small hours of May 9, 1970, Nixon ventured out of the White House to confront a group of student protesters who were camped out at the Lincoln Memorial. It was an uncharacteristic attempt at connection by a man notorious for his reclusiveness and misanthropy. As he told them:

“I was sorry they had missed it [his press conference the previous day] because I had tried to explain … that my goals in Vietnam were the same as theirs—to stop the killing, to end the war, to bring peace. Our goal was not to get into Cambodia by what we were doing, but to get out of Vietnam. There seemed to be no—they did not respond. I hoped that their hatred of the war, which I could well understand, would not turn into a bitter hatred of our whole system, our country and everything that it stood for. I said, I know you, that probably most of you think I’m an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.”

Perhaps Nixon did understand how the protesters felt. But, as they subsequently made clear to the reporters who swiftly descended on them, they did not remotely understand how he felt, or care to.

Long before Nixon fell victim to the exposure of his own skulduggery by the Washington Post—as well as to the consequences of his own vulnerability as a network isolate, with too few friends in the institutions that might conceivably have saved him—Kissinger had understood that networks were more powerful than the hierarchies of the federal government. The protesting students he knew well enough not to waste time on. But he did tour the country in the Ford years giving speeches to Midwestern audiences in an effort to explain his strategic concept to the wider public—though with only limited success. In some ways, his most remarkable feat was to isolate himself from the one component of the Nixon network that would have been fatal to him: the part that plotted the Watergate break-in. It took a networker of genius to know exactly which nodes to avoid connecting to.

Kissinger’s power, still based on a network that crossed not only borders but also professional boundaries, endured long after he left government in 1977, institutionalized in the advisory firm Kissinger Associates, maintained by almost incessant flying, meeting, mingling, dining. By contrast, the executive branch after Nixon saw its power significantly curtailed by congressional scrutiny and greatly emboldened newspapers. No future national security adviser or secretary of state, no matter how talented, would ever be able to match what Kissinger had achieved.

Adapted from THE SQUARE AND THE TOWER: Networks and Power, from Freemasons to Facebook by Niall Ferguson, published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Niall Ferguson.


Week 35: A Double Scoop of Dossier Dirt

Movie sequels almost never capture the panache of the original, so the hope that Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s interview before the House Intelligence Committee (Nov. 14) would break news beyond the disclosures contained in Simpson’s earlier interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee was foolish. And yet Simpson’s mighty tongue broke new ground, the way The Godfather: Part II did in its era, advancing what we know about the Trump Tower scandal as House transcripts were released this week. The journalist-turned-opposition-research-artist who commissioned the Steele Dossier displaced for the moment the question of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and directed it on informed speculation that Donald Trump had engaged in money laundering with Russians for years.

Simpson told the committee that he had found general “patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering” between Trump and the Russians, namely “fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the buyer.” Would the Russian government have known if Russian organized crime had laundered money through purchases of Trump golf courses or Trump condos? Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked.

“What is well known and well established in criminology now is that the Russian mafia is essentially under the dominion of the Russian government and Russian intelligence services,” Simpson said. “And many of the oligarchs are also mafia figures.”

In a statement released this week, Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee who would easily win best supporting actor if this drama was a movie, noted that the allegations of money laundering harmonized with what former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sang to Michael Wolff for his book Fire and Fury. “You realize where this is going,” Bannon said. “This is all about money laundering.”

“There were a lot of real estate deals where you couldn’t really tell who was buying the property,” Simpson claimed. “And sometimes properties would be bought and sold, and they would be bought for one price and sold for a loss shortly thereafter, and it really didn’t make sense to us.”

Simpson expressed bafflement in his interview at Trump’s repeated trips to Russia—at least five dating back to the Soviet years—from which he returned without signing development deals.

“One of the reasons the whole thing struck me as mysterious, because it seemed like he had been there, you know, numerous times and never come back with a deal,” Simpson said. “There could be an innocent explanation for that, which is that he could never find somebody that—you know, an honest partner.” Simpson surmised that Trump used his high-profile Russian proposals—like trying to build a Trump Tower Moscow—to develop “different kinds of business relationships with the Russians” from which he could profit, like the Miss Universe pageant, his vodka business, condo developments not in Russia, and alternative financing.


The Simpson interview made headlines worthy of a scene out of Dr. Strangelove when he told the committee that the Russians had infiltrated the National Rifle Association. That’s right, one of the most extreme right-wing organizations in the world appears to have been tainted by former Commie scum despite the fact, Simpson said, that “Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians.” Schiff told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg that his committee hopes to investigate whether there was “an effort to either create a back channel through the NRA, or provide funding through the NRA.”

Russian penetration of the NRA is only the beginning, Simpson told the committee, inadvertently echoing Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper. “They targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise,” Simpson said without specifying which ones, thus leaving ample room for a sequel to this sequel should Congress request another interview.

Simpson indicated that years of dealings with Russians might have given them blackmail-quality leverage over Trump. But in that regard, they’re not necessarily alone. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen used a private Delaware company to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels, who purportedly had a sexual affair with Trump. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 via Cohen.

The Stormy Daniels story provided ample embarrassment for the president—his lawyer, Michael Cohen, told the Wall Street Journal that his client “vehemently denies any such occurrences”— but the relentlessly logical editor of ThinkProgress, Judd Legum, pointed out how damaging the sex spree tale is to his reputation. Trump’s payment 1) all but proves his willingness to lie about the sexual escapades that have earned him a Masters in Venereal Arts; 2) is consistent with tales of other illicit Trump liaisons (see the Jessica Drake and Karen McDougal stories) and; 3) appears to show how vulnerable Trump has made himself to blackmail and extortion—and his eagerness for transactions that he thinks will protect him. The quick finding from the Stormy Daniels episode is more than just that Trump is deathly afraid of sharks. If Trump was reckless enough to hook up with a porn actress in the United States, perhaps he was nutty enough to partake in the sordid sexual exercise described in the Steele Dossier, the sex acts said to have resulted in Russian kompromat on him.

What sort of movie do we find ourselves trapped in? All those scenes on Capitol Hill make it one part Advise & Consent. Every time the action switches to Russia, the taste of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold or some other Cold War drama forms on the back of the tongue. Donald Trump Jr.’s frequent appearances call to mind Fredo in The Godfather: Part II and the constant comic intrusions return us to a Strangelovian state of mind. But all of this is prelude. After a year of scandal, we all crave a satisfying High Noon.

******

Hasn’t it occurred to you that the naughty want to get caught? Send your risky business theories to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts took a vow of abstinence upon reaching puberty. My Twitter feed has no morals but my RSS feed has a taste for blackmail.


Whose Fault Is the Shutdown?

After weeks of negotiating the federal budget, Republicans, Democrats and the White House couldn’t strike a deal but could agree on this: A government shutdown was a horrible idea, and if it happened, it would be the other side’s fault, 100 percent.

"If, God forbid, there's a shutdown, it will fall on the majority leader's shoulders and the president's shoulders," Sen. Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. In the chamber next door, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “I ask the American people to understand this: The only people in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats.” Over in the White House, President Trump tweeted, “The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all.”

So, whose fault is it really? And maybe more importantly, who will the American people blame? We asked strategists, analysts and operatives from both sides of the aisle to weigh in. Here is what they had to say. -Taylor Gee

“The public sees Republicans as the anti-government party. That idea is deeply imbedded.”
April Ponnuru is senior adviser at the Conservative Reform Network.

In the simplest and most direct terms, the Democrats are certainly to blame for the government shutdown. They decided to block, en masse, a continuation of government funding that included nothing with which they disagree. That is obstructionism, and it is irresponsible. But Republicans are to blame, too. They could have pushed to change the rules to allow for automatic funding resolutions to patch these very impasses, taking brinksmanship off the table. Such funding mechanisms could and should include fiscally conservative provisions that limit spending increases until Congress acts. Republicans have not shown much interest in such reforms. They are also to blame for not having moved expeditiously to forge a compromise on DACA. The president’s uninformed and inconstant leadership on this issue has not helped.

As to who will be blamed, I have every confidence it will be the Republicans. The public sees Republicans as the anti-government party. That idea is deeply imbedded in the public consciousness, as much as Democrats are viewed as the party of broadening the welfare state. No set of facts will change that perspective overnight.

“The shutdown rests at the feet of the GOP and it appears a majority of Americans agree”
Michael Steele is a former chairperson of the Republican National Committee.

Despite the rhetorical effort to paste Democrats with “Schumer’s Shutdown” and to redefine what constitutes majority control of the senate (“60”? Really?), the fact remains that this shutdown rests at the feet of the GOP and it appears a majority of Americans agree. I don’t like it. It certainly could have been avoided, but the President wound up negotiating against himself by taking a potential agreement off the table, leaving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lament, “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.” That put Republicans in the position to spin their wheels right into another government shutdown. Pitiful.

“Both rosters in Congress share the blame”
Scottie Nell Hughes is a political strategist and former surrogate for the Trump campaign.

Discussing the shutdown, a friend asked me this morning, "Can the Republicans tell the truth better than the Democrats can lie?" If Republicans can tell the truth, then the blame will correctly fall on the heads of the Democrats. If Republicans can’t get their message out, then the GOP will be once again be blamed for the shutdown.

In reality, both rosters in Congress share the blame. On one side, Democrats are willing to hold government funding hostage, and have prioritized 700,000 DACA recipients over American citizens and their children. Republicans, on the other hand, have continued to kick the budget down the alleyway by avoiding tough votes, and now the budget fight has erupted into the dumpster fire we are dealing with today.

It is a Democrat talking point that Republicans are in control, but in reality it takes 60 votes to pass any legislation in the Senate. The GOP only has 51 votes, calling for some give-and-take to occur in order for any budget to be passed. Asking the Democrats to support many of the immigration reforms they have already previously voiced support for, like building a barrier at the border (which Senators Obama, Schumer, Clinton and Biden voted for in 2006) and ending "chain migration" (see Senator Dick Durbin 2010), is a fair request.

“Immediate pain and a lasting hurt”
Liesl Hickey is a Republican strategist and partner at Ascent Media

Touching a hot stove hurts, a lot. And a burn is a terrible injury. The pain lingers for a long time. Shutting down the government is a lot like touching a hot stove–there is immediate pain and a lasting hurt.

Leadership in both parties know this. And the competition of who will endure the most pain and for the longest amount of time is more than touching the stove: it’s playing with fire. There are no good outcomes from a government shutdown. The party in power will get a fair amount of the blame but the party out of power will also walk away wounded. Democrats will have a lot of explaining to do for voting against funding the government. They might be explaining for a long time or a short time. But in politics, when you're explaining, you're losing. This will hurt for them, too.

“The president and his staff should head to Andrews Air Force Base with congressional leadership”
Mary Kate Cary is a senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center for Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She is co-host of the new podcast “Bipodisan.”

Moments like this explain why public approval ratings of Congress continue to be nearly as bad as those of used car salesmen. While there is plenty of blame to go around on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s pretty clear to most voters that it is the job of Congress to fund the government.

My suggestion is that President Trump take a page from my former boss, President George H.W. Bush, who ordered his White House staff and congressional leadership to move budget talks from Capitol Hill to Andrews Air Force Base. The 1990 budget deal came after 139 days of negotiations, including most of September in seclusion at Andrews. By October 1st, an agreement was reached, only to fail in Congress, then pass three weeks later on a second vote after a government shutdown. Moving the negotiations out of Capitol Hill and away from the press worked. President Trump and his staff should do the same, and head to Andrews with congressional leadership to work out a deal.

“Forget Stormy Daniels”
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.

Donald Trump came to Washington wanting to be an original gangster but, to borrow from Ice-T, is starting to look like an everyday prankster. The shutdown of the government, which is wholly controlled by Republicans, will be registered by both political elites and the public as owned lock, stock and barrel by the GOP. It was Trump’s sudden lurch into creating a nightmare for the Dreamers that helped precipitate this fresh crisis, not to mention turning CHIP into a mere bargaining chip. As the old boy careens from one position to another, government by whimsy, you could even say, is starting to look increasingly flimsy. Forget Stormy Daniels. Soon Trump and the GOP will be soundly spanked by the electorate for their follies.

“More Americans want to keep the government open than protect dreamers”
Alice Stewart is former communications director for Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign.

When is a spending deal not a spending deal? When it's a DACA deal.

Inability to reach a compromise on protecting dreamers is the reason we have a government shutdown. More Americans want to keep the government open than protect Dreamers. With that in mind, Congress should have addressed in their proper order: fund the government now, and address DACA by its March deadline. It's shameful that our military and the Children’s Health Insurance Program will suffer due to the reality show known as Congress.

“Voters won’t remember the details, but they will remember the drama”
Patti Solis Doyle was a senior advisor to the 2008 Obama campaign

Trump asked for a deal, got a deal, and blew it up. It’s on him. The sad part is that Trump probably couldn’t tell you what actually happened. During his 45-minute open-press bipartisan meeting on DACA last week, he showed us all how little he understands the issue. With his Tweets, phone calls and Oval Office meetings, he changed positions repeatedly in just a few days, and he doesn’t even know it.

McConnell and Ryan share the blame. After eight years playing chicken with President Obama, they know the responsible way to avoid a shutdown is to work with Democrats. They put their faith – and their majorities – in Trump’s hands, relying on him to come up with a deal the Freedom Caucus and Senate Republicans could both support.

Voters won’t remember the details, but they will remember the drama. That’s bad for Republicans. Independents and Obama-Trump voters want Trump to drain the swamp, fix Congress, and get Washington working again, but Trump, Ryan and McConnell are failing in an ugly, reality TV sort of way.

“Own your vote, own your tactic”
Bill Scher is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine and co-host of the Bloggingheads.tv show “The DMZ.”

If you deny passage of a reasonable bill, one without poison pills, to keep the government open, then you are responsible for the resulting shutdown. Period. End of story.

Democrats appear to be under the impression that even though they cast the vast majority of the votes that caused the shutdown, Republicans will shoulder the blame because Republicans "control" the government. That's nonsense. Democratic votes are required to get 60 votes in the Senate and so Democrats share responsibility for keeping the government open. Own your vote, own your tactic.

What's going to happen when filibustering Democrats are asked, "Why did you not only shut the government down, but also filibustered a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program, when 16 states are projected to run out of federal CHIP funds this month?" The response can't be, don't blame me and my vote. Nor can it be because Republicans played politics with CHIP before, it's okay for Democrats to play politics now.

We shouldn't play politics with DACA either, and the responsibility for throwing DACA into limbo is 100 percent on Donald Trump. But Democrats have agency. They can choose what is the best way to respond to that problem. Like toddler temper tantrums, past shutdowns have not solved problems, they just make new messes to clean up. Democrats can fight for DACA, which is currently in place thanks to a judge's injunction staying Trump's order, without holding the government hostage and shooting themselves in the foot.

“If you’re explaining, you’re losing”
Katie Packer Beeson is founding partner of Burning Glass Consulting

Everyone is responsible. Congressional Democrats and Republicans, who refuse to compromise for fear of facing tough primary challenges, are responsible because they were sent to Congress to find solutions. The President is responsible for not leading and providing a clear road map as to what he can agree to.

But the majority of Americans will blame Republicans. It’s tough to explain the filibuster. It’s not tough to explain that the GOP controls the House, the Senate and the White House. And if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

“Congress spends more time on the brink than Donald Trump does on the golf course”
Donna Brazile is former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.

This spending bill madness is ridiculous. Congress spends more time on the brink than Donald Trump does on the golf course.

“Donald Trump is like the arsonist who hopes you come home and blame the neighbors for the blaze”
Jesse Ferguson is former deputy national press secretary and senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Donald Trump created this crisis when he ended DACA and was caught cheer leading for a "good shutdown" earlier in the year. They're going to try to obfuscate and play blame games but it won't work when Republicans have complete control of Washington. Everyone knows this crisis could be averted if Republicans would pass a budget that didn't give them power to eventually deport dreamers, but they refuse to give that up. Donald Trump is like the arsonist who hopes you come home and blame the neighbors for the blaze.

“Ultimately it is the president’s job to cajole Congress to do theirs”
Kori Schake is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

President Trump is to blame for the shutdown. It was he who submitted a budget manifestly incapable of becoming legislation; he whose policy priorities were insufficiently clear for others to rally around; he who failed to do the patient, arduous work of identifying trade space for greater support when it was clear his budget proposal was a non-starter; he who threw Molotov cocktails into negotiations among legislators. He owns this failure, and I think the public will affix that blame into him because ultimately it is the President’s job to cajole Congress to do theirs.

“Congressional Republicans will be the biggest losers. And they deserve to be”
Anita Dunn is managing director of SKDKnickerbocker and a former advisor to Barack Obama.

In government shutdowns, there are no winners, but there are bigger losers. Historically, Congress loses these battles against Presidents, who have more credibility and bigger microphones. But we haven’t had a situation where the same party controlled both the Presidency and Congress, so history’s utility is limited. The public will blame the Republican Congress first, President Trump second, Democrats in third, and everybody in the end.

But congressional republicans will be the biggest losers. And they deserve to be, for their failure to come to an agreement with the Democrats (who are in the Minority!) on DACA. What was it about “yes” they couldn’t accept last week in terms of a potential deal? And from a broader perspective, their account, and the President’s account, at the credibility bank is pretty overdrawn already, so it’s that much more difficult for Democrats to cut a deal that includes future votes. That’s why Congressional Republicans will get more of the blame and deserve more of the blame.

“Both parties have failed us”
Sophia A. Nelson is author of E Pluribus One: Reclaiming our Founders’ Vision for a United America.

This shutdown rests squarely on the shoulders of Congress. Both parties have failed us. All they do is fight, bicker and delay progress on our behalf. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress, so they will likely get the blame. And they deserve some of it for sure. But be clear that the Democrats should share the blame for not focusing on the budget as separate from the DACA debate, which needs to be addressed in comprehensive immigration reform.

According to a recent poll, just 25 percent of voters say they would like to see most representatives re-elected, and only 48 percent say they want their own representative to be re-elected. That is a huge shift.

“Voters will blame everyone, but Republicans in Congress the most”
Celinda Lake is a Democratic political strategist and pollster.

The blame rests with Donald Trump. That said, the voters will blame everyone, and congressional Republicans the most. That is because voters, whether they agree with Trump or not, think the president tries to get things done, andthey believe that Democrats want to keep government open because they like government. That same cannot be said for Republicans in Congress.

“A bipartisan deal is mandatory—and achievable—to keep the government open.”
Heather McGhee is president of Demos.

The consequences of a government shutdown, for any reason, fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress.

Republicans control every branch of government, yet they have completely failed to serve the interests of the majority of the American public, from ripping health care away from millions, to passing a tax scam that enriches the wealthiest at the cost of hurting working families, to now refusing to maintain protections for DACA recipients.

The government needs to be open to do its job, which is to serve the American people. A bipartisan deal is mandatory—and achievable—to keep the government open.


The Incredible 50-year-old Plane on the Front Lines of the North Korea Standoff

In 1964, Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Love the Bomb burst into the cerulean with the force of a surface-to-air missile. Considered one of the greatest political satires ever made, the film centers around an unhinged Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) general, Jack D. Ripper, who sends his wing of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers to nuke the Soviet Union, and the frantic effort to recall them before they can deliver their thermonuclear payload. Said effort fails. Cue mushroom clouds and the WWII English songbird Vera Lynn singing, “We’ll meet again.”

“Released at the height of the Cold War, not long after the Cuban missile crisis, before the escalation in Vietnam,” Fred Kaplan wrote in the New York Times in 2004, “Dr. Strangelove dared to suggest—with yucks!—that our top generals might be bonkers, and that our well-developed system for preserving the peace was in fact a doomsday machine.”

At the time of the film, the country’s relatively young armada of 700-odd B-52s were the fulcrum of that doomsday machine. SAC kept one third of the fleet on quick reaction ground alert, ready to fly to designated targets within the USSR within 15 minutes. During times of increased tension, as during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a number of other Stratofortresses were on airborne alert, ready to launch an immediate retaliatory blow against the USSR if necessary, like Ripper’s bomber wing in Strangelove.

Fast forward 50 years to the current nuclear stand-off with North Korea. As Kim Jong Un has upped his nuclear game, speculation has swirled that the Pentagon is considering sending some of its B-52s to reprise their Cold War role by placing them back on quick-reaction ground alert, loaded and ready to fly with crews in running range of their aircraft.

That order has not been given, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein emphasized in October, after a tour he conducted of his Barksdale Air Force Base fleet of BUFFs (short for Big Ugly Fat Fellas or Big Ugly Fat Fuckers, depending on your French), as the lumbering swept-wing aircraft are known. The Air Force did note that the bases’ alert facility was being updated in case the order does come down from Air Force Global Strike Command.

Meanwhile, in a conspicuous show of force seemingly designed to irk the North Korean leader, last week the Air Force deployed six nuclear-capable B-52Hs to Andersen Air Base in Guam—the same base from which earlier incarnation BUFFs flew bombing missions against North Vietnam 50 years ago. According to the Air Force, the surprise move was part of the U.S. military’s effort to maintain “a continuous bomber presence in the Pacific.” At the same time, other B-52Hs based in Qatar armed with conventional laser-guided bombs are flying troop control missions against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Yet what is truly extraordinary about this spectacle of bomber power is that the Strangelove-era aircraft are flying at all, no less still on the front lines of American defense. To virtually everyone’s surprise, the Air Force’s workhorse bomber of the 1960s has turned out to be one of the most durable and versatile aircraft ever designed. At the same time, some military experts say, the fact that the B-52 is still needed to fill out the Air Force’s bomber line-up highlights the Pentagon’s byzantine and defective system for advanced weapons procurement. If the Air Force still has need of a Cold War-era bomber to fill out its line-up against North Korea, or any another adversary, they say, then it must be doing something wrong.

“Personally speaking, I don’t think that the alert will take actually place,” says Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and militay analyst at Brookings Institution. “The real news here,” O’Hanlon emphasizes, “is that an aircraft which first entered active service nearly three quarters of a century ago is still flying, as well as playing a significant role in U.S. defense, even if its mission is different from the one it was designed for. I just think that’s stunning.”

***

In November 1945, three months after the end of World War II, the Pentagon issued performance characteristics for a new, five-crew strategic bomber capable of flying long enough distances that it would not have to rely on intermediate-range bases controlled by other countries. The projected aircraft, which eventually became the B-52, would complement the Air Force’s other new long-range bomber, the B-47 strategic turbojet. The B-47 had a range of 4,000 miles, roughly the distance for a bomber to fly one way from the U.S. to Russia. The B-52’s projected range of 8,800 miles would allow a bomber to perform the same mission and return without refueling.

Overseeing the process was Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Development Curtis LeMay. Then the country’s most famous—or infamous, depending on how one looked at it—air general, “Iron Ass” LeMay, as the no-nonsense, cigar-chomping general was known to his men, was perhaps best known for setting Tokyo on fire with his incendiary-laden B-29s at the end of the World War II. He was also the most prominent member of the so-called Bomber Mafia, a group of military men who believed that long range heavy bombers in sufficient numbers were capable of winning wars, with the infantry and navy playing supporting roles—a concept also known as strategic air power.

LeMay, who also won plaudits for overseeing the 1947 Berlin Airlift, was intent on carrying the strategic air power mantra forward into the new era of nuclear war and confrontation with the Soviet Union. He expected the new super-bomber under development, the B-52, as well as its sister craft, the B-47, to be the vessels for realizing that vision. As deputy Air Force chief, he expedited the process for procuring and manufacturing the B-52, including awarding the contract to build the aircraft to Boeing.

Though hardly the most elegant aircraft ever designed—hence its nickname—the powerful eight turbojet engine, 160-foot-long, 185 foot wide (same as a football field) behemoth of the air, which featured the same swept wing design as its sleeker, less powerful sister, the B-47, was the stuff of a long distance bombardier’s—or bomber general’s—dream.

In 1948, LeMay’s dream of heading the elite strike force of the nuclear age came true when he became commander of the newly created Strategic Air Command (SAC), the Air Force bomber command responsible for executing the Eisenhower administration’s new defense policy of massive retaliation. According to that policy, the Soviet Union—which had also acquired its own smaller, but potent nuclear arsenal—would be deterred from using it by the threat of an all-out nuclear response by the U.S. spearheaded by SAC’s growing armada of strategic bombers.

That same year, the first B-52 flew its first successful test mission. In 1954, the first three combat-ready B-52s were delivered to SAC. The next year, SAC had 13 more. By 1957, when LeMay left SAC to become Air Force vice chief of staff, SAC employed nearly a quarter of a million men and its hangars contained over 2,000 strategic aircraft, including over 700 B-52s.

That year, before LeMay left SAC for Washington, Robert Sprague, a member of a top secret civilian panel, told the general that his bomber fleet was vulnerable to attack by Moscow. According to Kaplan, who interviewed Sprague, the air warrior wasn’t bothered.

“If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I am going to knock the shit out of them,” LeMay told the astonished Sprague. “But general,” the latter interjected, “that is not national policy.”

“I don’t care,” LeMay calmly retorted, “That’s my policy.”

***

As confident as LeMay was of his B-52s to knock the shit out of the Russians, if called to do so, he did not expect them to be able to do so forever. So, in 1957, before he left SAC, he put the wheels in motion for a follow-on bomber, the B-70. A supersonic aircraft, the B-70 was intended at once to succeed the B-52 and ensure the future of strategic air power.


But the new president, John F. Kennedy, and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, disapproved of LeMay’s bombsight view of the world. With Kennedy’s backing, the practical-minded defense secretary cancelled the B-70, an aircraft of questionable airworthiness—nearly instigating a constitutional crisis in the process. During the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Kennedy came to blows again with his bomber-minded Air Force chief when LeMay’s eagerness to close with the Soviet adversary led him to argue for an air strike against Cuba.

In 1963, the year of Kennedy’s assassination, the Air Force took delivery of the last 14 B-52s ever produced. At the time, the bombers were expected to last another 15 or 20 years at the maximum, the norm for a modern aircraft. In the meantime, the atomic airplane, another would-be follow-on to the B-52 that had also proved to be an expensive boondoggle, was also cancelled.

Two years later, LeMay, whose love for The Bomb had also worried Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon Johnson, was forced to retire, distressed that he had not been able to ensure a successor for his aging, swept-wing progeny. “The B-52 is going to fall apart on us before we even get a replacement,” he lamented in one of his last appearances before Congress in March, 1965.

***

Thanks to its large, rugged airframe, the B-52 proved sturdier and more flexible than anyone, including LeMay, could have imagined. Beginning in 1965, the Air Force made numerous improvements to the aircraft—including re-engining the aircraft, installing advanced avionics, as well as increasing its payload capacity—that extended its service life practically to the point of aerial immortality.

In spite of its size, the hulking aircraft turned out to be remarkably agile. After the increasing sophistication of Soviet anti-aircraft defenses induced the Air Force to take the B-52 down from stratospheric heights in the mid-1960s, the bomber readily adapted to its revised role as a low-penetration bomber. Flying at speeds over 400 miles per hour at an altitude of just over 500 feet, it could evade radar and fly along the contours of the ground to deliver its weapons.

In the meantime, thanks to so-called Big Belly modifications that increased the B-52’s bombing capability, the plane played a major role in the air war over both North and South Vietnam. In the north, the planes participated in a series of pulverizing raids against the cities of Hanoi and Haipong. The raids, the first and only instance in which the Stratofortresses engaged in active aerial combat, were not without cost: Some two dozen of the surviving bombers were shot down, with a loss of several dozen crewmen killed or captured. Nevertheless, the sorties, ordered by President Richard Nixon, were unquestionably a factor in inducing the North Vietnamese to come to the negotiating table in Paris in January, 1973.

Meanwhile, in the south, other B-52s carried out massive carpet-bombing raids, effectively blurring the line between conventional and nuclear warfare. An old-fashioned, World War II-style box formation of six B-52s dropping their bombs from 30,000 feet, it was found, could destroy almost everything within an area approximately five-eighths of a mile wide by two miles long, Viet Cong included—and causing about the same damage as a tactical nuclear weapon. The truth of the matter was that even though the B-52s had reached the end of their shelf life, no other aircraft could wreak as much destruction as a Stratofortress, whether it carried conventional or nuclear weapons.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the B-52s reverted to their prior role as part of the third leg of the U.S. nuclear triad, alongside America’s land-based ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The remaining 200 or so B-52s were supposed to be replaced by the B-1 supersonic bomber in the 1980s. However once again the Pentagon’s plan for a successor aircraft was undone because of the exorbitant cost of its replacement. So instead of the originally envisioned fleet of several hundred B-1s, only a hundred were built, enough to supplant some but not all of the surviving B-52s. Meanwhile, the Stratofortresses were modified to carry cruise nuclear missiles, as well as other “stand-off” ordnance which could be fired at a faraway target while the aircraft “stood off” from their terrestrial objectives.

Finally, in September 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War came to an abrupt end more than a third of a century after the B-52s had entered active service, President George Bush ordered the extant B-52s as well as its sister B-1s to stand down from quick reaction alert.

But there was a new challenge: After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the venerable aircraft was once again pressed into service in a tactical role as part of Operation Desert Storm. B-52s flew more than 1,600 sorties and delivered 40 percent of the total ordnance dropped by coalition forces during the short, decisive conflict. The low-level strikes, in which hundreds of 750-pound “daisy cutter” bombs were dropped over small areas, similar to what happened in Vietnam, had a major demoralizing effect on Iraqi troops. After the initial strikes, the terrifying sight and sound of a flock of B-52s approaching was sufficient to induce thousands of Iraqi soldiers to surrender.

In 1996 the durable, multi-modified aircraft successfully participated in Operation Desert Strike against Iraq again, destroying Baghdad power stations and communication facilities with cruise missiles during a record 34-hour, 16,000-mile round trip from Anderson Air Force base in Guam—the longest distance ever flown for a combat mission.

Three years later, B-52s took part in the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, helping to destroy bridges and industrial plants and other infrastructure sites, while also adding to the considerable military and civilian casualties on the ground.

In 2001, the hardy bombers, then approaching 50 years of operations, continued to outdo themselves, contributing to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan through the use of precision-guided munitions, a task previously reserved for fighter aircraft. Two years later, the B-52s again appeared in the skies over Baghdad, firing hundreds of missiles at Saddam’s infrastructure, and helping to bring the second Gulf war to a thunderous close—at least for a while.

In the meantime, once again, the cost-related delay in getting the designated successor bomber craft onto full production—in this case, the B-21 Long Range stealth bomber—forced the Air Force to continue to use its aging B-52s. Amazingly, current plans are for the remaining Stratofortresses to serve into the 2040s, or nearly a century after they were rolled out. Meanwhile, at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where most of the 75 remaining bombers are based, some B-52 pilots are grandsons of LeMay’s original SAC men.

***

Almost no one disagrees that the B-52 is a workhorse of a plane. But what military strategists don’t agree on is whether the B-52 should keep on flying.

“Why not?” asks O’Hanlon. “The economics have always made sense to keep the B-52 in the air, with suitable re-engining and re-winging and so on over the years. Of course, by now it has become something of a flying museum of the evolution of air power, but as long as it is able to perform the missions it is assigned to, so what?”

Rebecca Grant, president of the defense research company IRIS Independent Research, agrees, pointing to the B-52’s unique combination of ruggedness and versatility. “It can attack terrorists on hillsides, enemy ships at sea, fielded forces or fixed and mobile, high-value sites,” she says. “To me the ultimate message of the B-52 story is that it is ready for conventional and nuclear missions anytime.”

Or as Colonel Hodge of the Air Force’s Pacific Command, which now includes the six B-52s which arrived in Guam last week, proudly puts it, “For more than 50 years B-52s Stratofortresses along with their highly qualified air crew and maintainers, have been the backbone of the manned strategic bomber force for the United States. They have been updated with modern technology that will allow them to continue serving into the 21st century as an important element of our nation’s defense.”

Matthew Bunn, a nuclear and energy analyst at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is also an admirer of the B-52. But, he cautions, “We are very lucky that we made it through the period when we had [B-52s] in the air armed with nuclear weapons without a truly catastrophic accident.” Bunn is referring to disasters like the then hushed-up January 1961 incident in which a B-52 got into trouble over South Carolina, went into a tailspin and accidentally dropped its two hydrogen bombs over North Carolina. One of the bombs, which fell into a field—the other landed in a tree—came within one flipped switch of detonating.

A former adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology, Bunn believes putting the B-52s back on alert because of the new North Korean crisis would be unwise. “There is no need to return bombers to 24-hour alert,” he says, “which is only relevant if you think there is about to be a bolt-from-the-blue nuclear attack. There are much more urgent priorities—both military and civilian—for the dollars that would cost, and 24-hour alerts carry some of their own risks as well.”

But there is another red flag here, notes Bunn—the fact that the Air Force has been incapable of developing a replacement in sufficient quantity to completely replace the aging complement of B-52s. “The history of current strategic bomber development suggests that the U.S. system for developing new bombers is broken,” he says. “The system tries to add so many features that the bombers become so expensive and delayed that we wind up buying only a few of them. We ended up only using the B-1B as a nuclear bomber for a short time—it’s now dedicated only to non-nuclear missions—and we’ve got only 20s of the B-2s, which became so expensive that Congress didn’t want to keep funding them.”

Robert Haffa, a former Air Force colonel and current private consultant, says it’s time for the B-52s to go. “The re-emergence of great powers with sophisticated air defenses—China, Iran, Russia—now call for the B-52’s retirement and its replacement with a stealthy, long-range platform capable of holding a range of targets at risk in contested airspace,” which the slower, subsonic, easy-to-track BUFFS can not.

As far as what Haffa thinks LeMay would say about the immortal life of the B-52 if he were alive, the retired colonel guesses a part of him would be proud that the aircraft lasted as long as it has. But, Haffa says, “I expect he would also be horrified that the Air Force has failed to modernize its long-range bomber fleet to the point where the B-52 is still a centerpiece after all these years.”

Grant agrees: “He would demand that we build and buy B-21s faster.”

One point on which all the experts agree is that the uncannily long-lived aircraft, arguably the most successful military aircraft ever built, was one of the best purchases Uncle Sam has made.

“Divide the B-52’s development and test cost by ordnance dropped and hours providing deterrence across seven decades,” Grant declares, “and it may be the best air power investment ever.”

“I don’t give Curtis LeMay credit for very much,” says O’Hanlon. “His legacy was mostly a dangerous one. But give LeMay credit where it is due. He certainly bequeathed one hell of a plane.”


Trump's war on regulations is real. But is it working?

In December, standing aside giant stacks of paper representing the morass of federal rules, President Donald Trump literally cut a line of red tape and declared victory in the war on government regulation. His administration, he announced, had repealed 22 regulations for each new rule issued, and cut regulatory costs by $8.1 billion—a headline number for what former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon called the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

But a closer look at that state during Trump’s first year in office reveals a slightly different story. The vast majority of that $8.1 billion in savings came from the repeal of a single federal contracting rule. The dramatic sounding “22-to-1” statistic is an apples-and-oranges comparison, weighing all deregulatory actions against just a small subset of new rules. And much of the deregulation was done not by Trump himself, but with the help of Congress, which used an obscure law early in his term to repeal 14 late-term Obama regulations.


What Trump has actually done is something else: Rather than repealing old rules, he has put a cork in the federal regulatory process, slow-playing rulemaking and in many cases stopping it entirely. According to a POLITICO analysis, the White House’s regulatory office has approved just 156 regulations since Inauguration Day, a huge drop compared with the Obama and Bush administrations: The office approved 510 rules in Barack Obama’s first year. For George W. Bush, it was 445.

Conservatives have celebrated this regulatory slowdown as welcome relief from an overbearing Washington, while liberals worry the government is neglecting its duties as a watchdog. But the numbers in many ways mask the unprecedented nature of what Trump is doing. Over the past year, the White House has laid the groundwork for a radical regulatory experiment across the government, limiting the ability of agencies to issue new rules and installing task forces at each agency to root out outdated ones. Conservatives have long said such a review would turn up numerous rules with huge costs and few benefits; Trump has begun testing that theory, and supporters are confident in the results.

At the heart of the campaign are two committed small-government crusaders, one an academic and the other a Washington tea party pol. The academic is Neomi Rao, who since July has headed the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which scrutinizes all significant regulations and implements Trump’s executive orders on regulatory reform. Rao, effectively the country’s regulatory czar, is a free-market law professor who was a protégé of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and has spent years writing research papers and arguing for a smaller government. Her boss, Mick Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman, has also railed for years against governmental bloat, and now finds himself in a position to do something about it. In his other job, as acting head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he just submitted a theatrical quarterly budget request of $0.

In an interview, Rao said the administration’s rollbacks are only beginning. "It’s just the first year of the administration,” she said. “Unraveling the biggest rules from the past requires a careful process, all new cost-benefit analysis, all of the rulemaking that needs to take place to unravel a big rule. We will see more, deeper, substantive deregulation in the coming year."

Despite the president’s rhetoric, and that press conference, it’s unlikely the detail-averse Trump has engaged in any serious way with the ultra-wonky world of federal regulation. That leaves plenty of space for Rao, Mulvaney and their colleagues to reshape the government without much interference from the boss—as long as he can tout the results in the end.

Critics of the Trump approach doubt that the agency task forces will find anywhere near the trove of outdated regulations they’re looking for, and say the rulemaking slowdown is less a serious new approach to government than it is a basic failure to govern—one made worse by the administration’s understaffing of many key agency posts.

Still, it may be through his regulatory legacy that Trump leaves his biggest fingerprints on Washington. With the exception of tax reform, Trump’s legislative agenda has stalled on Capitol Hill, and his advisers disagree among themselves on issues ranging from the North American Free Trade Agreement to health care. But they appear to have universally agreed on the need to overhaul the regulatory state, and throughout the president’s first year, they have rolled out a series of executive orders and memos designed to reverse the flow of new rules, beginning on Inauguration Day when Trump imposed a regulatory freeze across the government.

Ten days later, he signed an executive order directing agencies to take two so-called deregulatory actions for each new rule it issued. Less noticed at the time, that order also created a "regulatory budget" for agencies, forcing them to offset the economic costs of any new regulations with costs achieved through the two deregulatory actions. The order left some very large loopholes—it only applied to “significant” regulations where costs exceeded $100 million, and contained exceptions for emergency or statutorily required rules—but the message was clear: Agencies should stop looking to impose new regulations and should focus on whether existing ones were necessary any longer.

IT'S NOT YET clear whether that plan is working out. So far, agencies haven’t found a ton of expensive rules to roll back. Trump claims that he has eliminated 22 regulations for each new one imposed, and delayed or cancelled over 1,500 planned rules, but that claim comes from mixing and matching numbers: The "eliminations" include all 67 deregulatory actions taken by agencies in fiscal 2017, while the count of new rules includes only significant ones that weren't exempt from the original executive order. And of the $8.1 billion in cost savings, nearly $6 billion came from the elimination of Obama’s 2014 executive order raising labor standards for federal contractors, repealed by the GOP Congress in March.

Rao defended the statistic, noting that the United Kingdom used a similar method when it implemented its own two-for-one regulatory policy. "Our policy and practice is transparent," she said. "We decided on this method to give agencies the incentive to reduce regulatory burdens of all sizes. ... The president’s order is changing the culture at agencies, so there is no steady flow of small costly rules. While we are not counting these actions at present, we understand they have been kept to a minimum.”

Other observers were more skeptical. “All the giant numbers that they claim make them the biggest deregulators in history are just a way of saying that they aren’t doing what the Obama administration wanted to do,” said Philip Wallach, a regulatory expert at the R Street Institute. “It’s true, they aren’t. But that’s not that surprising.”

But where Trump has succeeded, deliberately or not, is in bringing the regulatory system to a near halt. Agencies continue to issue the sort of low-profile, everyday rules that keep the government operating, but big new rules have slowed to a trickle. This has cheered business leaders who were deeply critical of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda. “The administration early on set an expectation that there wasn’t going to be a continued onslaught of regulations and the approach would be more deregulatory in nature,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The combination of creating an expectation and creating responsibility has actually led them to follow through.”

But critics are alarmed at the slowdown, saying that rolling back important Obama-era protections and blocking new ones is already jeopardizing the health and safety of Americans. “If we do see [a major disaster] again, it will be quite tragic,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at Public Citizen. “But it’ll be very easy and legitimate to point to the massive deregulatory agenda as the cause of that disaster. That’s the real danger that this administration is flirting with right now.”

In many ways, experts said, the first year was always going to be the easiest time for Trump to notch a victory. The last several months of Obama's rules were legally vulnerable to the 1994 Congressional Review Act, which lets Congress overturn recent regulations with just a simple majority in the Senate. The GOP Congress repealed 14 Obama-era rules that way, effectively jumpstarting Trump’s deregulatory plans for him. But the CRA can only be used for recent rules, meaning that additional deregulation must now go through the traditional rulemaking procedures. That process requires patience and bureaucratic know-how—two quantities in short supply with a distractible president who has left large numbers of agency leadership posts unfilled.

“Some of the stuff we saw last year was low-hanging fruit,” said Susan Dudley, a former OIRA administrator during the Bush administration who now directs the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center.

Federal agencies have targeted a long list of Obama-era rules, from the Department of Labor’s increase in the overtime threshold to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which limited emissions of greenhouse gasses. But agencies often aren’t simply repealing these rules; they are repealing and replacing them, planning to issue new, narrower rules that will still impose new restrictions and costs on states and businesses. As agencies write and finalize those rules—and any new rules—they will have to adhere to Trump’s two-for-one order, a potential challenge that regulatory experts aren’t sure how agencies will handle.

“The real question is, supposing new regulations get up to something closer to the familiar pace, what kind of work does the system end up doing?” said Wallach.

In one case in fiscal 2017, a federal agency did exceed its regulatory budget without any apparent penalty. The Department of Energy finalized an energy efficiency rule with over $500 million in economic costs and didn’t issue any deregulatory actions. The agency claimed that the rule was exempt from the order because it was statutorily required, and OIRA didn’t challenge that explanation—a sign, supporters said, that the administration is careful to follow the law and not block new rules that protect America’s health and safety. But it also raises questions about how tightly the administration will enforce its own caps.

The White House projects that in fiscal 2018 it will save nearly $10 billion in economic costs through hundreds of deregulatory actions. Rao admitted that agencies, at times, have struggled to comply with the administration’s new regulatory rules. “It’s been difficult,” she said, “but they are doing a lot of hard work to meet the president’s priorities.”

MUCH OF THE Trump administration’s regulatory strategy in fiscal 2017 was aimed at rolling back Obama-era rules and shutting down the pipeline of new regulations, but observers say the longer-term goal appears to be overhauling the regulatory process itself. Just how that’s supposed to happen, however, has led to some mysteries.

On February 24, Trump signed an executive order instructing agencies to create regulatory reform taskforces that would review existing regulations and recommend keeping them, modifying them or repealing them altogether. Those task forces have come under fire for not adequately disclosing their members and not keeping the public informed on their actions. Transparency has somewhat improved in recent months, though the exact nature of what’s disclosed varies at each agency. Regulatory experts still aren’t sure exactly how much an impact they are having.

“It may just be that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting,” said Wallach. “We’ll either see a bunch of stuff showing up in the Federal Register, or we won’t.”

Then there are bigger reforms that the administration could consider, such as overhauling the 1993 executive order that sets the basic guidelines for federal rulemaking. Experts on both right and left largely support the directive, a big reason why it hasn’t been withdrawn over the past 25 years, but Rao and her team could look to update it. They could also try to expand their control of Washington by forcing independent agencies to send their rules to OIRA for review, as the cabinet agencies must do. This would amount to a significant power grab: Some of the most powerful agencies in Washington are independent, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Reserve. During her time as a law professor at George Mason, Rao was a big proponent of institutionalizing greater White House control over the independent agencies, and experts have been watching closely for signs she’ll make moves in that direction.

Rao declined to say if she is looking to do so. For now, she says, her mission is to improve the rulemaking process and attempt to cement the administration’s regulatory reforms so they extend beyond Trump’s presidency. “We are trying to do this in a way that is responsible and fair and consistent with the law,” she said. “It takes time. We’re doing it in a way that is consistent with long-standing principles.”

All of this shapes up as a major experiment for conservative regulatory reform policies, testing whether a determined administration can really jumpstart the economy by rolling back expensive, outdated rules, and can persuade agencies to pare back their footprints rather than keep expanding them. Experts on both sides agree that no administration has put as much energy into regulatory reform since at least Ronald Reagan's administration, if not earlier. The question now is whether it will deliver the results that Rao expects, or whether it will send the opposite message: That even the most deregulatory administration in a generation couldn’t find a bunch of expensive rules worth cutting.


Inside the frantic 24 hours that led to a shutdown

With just hours to spare until the government ran out of money at midnight Friday, Chuck Schumer made Mitch McConnell an offer. Pass a bill to buy 24 more hours to avert a shutdown and work out a budget deal that would also protect some immigrants at risk of being deported, Schumer said, according to senators and aides briefed on the talks.

Republicans had expected they would have to concede something to the Senate Democratic leader to avoid a shutdown. At that moment, they would have accepted a three-week deal, a week shorter than the plan the House had approved a day earlier, according to Republican officials.

But McConnell scoffed at his counterpart’s proposal.

“Nonsense,” McConnell replied, according to a GOP senator briefed on the conversation and confirmed by aides.

The rejection was the final blow that sent the government on course for the first shutdown since 2013. The stage was set a week earlier with President Donald Trump’s move to squash a bipartisan immigration deal — and Democrats’ retort that Dreamers must be taken care of as a condition to funding the government.

This account of the final hours leading up to the shutdown is based on interviews with than a dozen lawmakers, aides and administration officials. The stalemate, coming one year to the day after Trump's inauguration, was the culmination of bad blood between Democrats and the Republican Congress and president that's been building since he took office.


Though the House was able to pass a four-week spending bill with money for children’s health care on Thursday night, the Senate, with its supermajority voting requirement, doomed the bill and Congress careened past the midnight deadline. Negotiations during the final hours came in fits and starts, with a few bursts of enthusiasm but mostly resignation: Schumer and Trump chatted over cheeseburgers, and a bipartisan group held a last-ditch session Friday night.

Schumer and McConnell spoke privately on the Senate floor multiple times minutes before midnight, and Democrats tossed out a proposal that would have had government funding expire hours after Trump’s State of the Union. But by that point, both sides were too dug in to avoid a funding lapse, however brief it may be.

McConnell preferred House Speaker Paul Ryan’s House bill and believed the GOP would have the political high ground if Democrats allowed a shutdown while opposing children’s health care. Congressional Democrats wanted to hold firm on Dreamers, calling the cause a core value believing the GOP would never take them seriously if they didn’t.

Late in the day, Trump returned his hard-line immigration stances in a talk with Schumer, after the two had nearly reached an agreement earlier at the White House. After the clock struck midnight, Schumer blamed Trump explicitly and lamented: “I thought we had a deal.”

The standoff surprised even veterans of partisan warfare on Capitol Hill.

“We always enjoy looking over the cliff. But seldom do we jump,” mused Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

The PR war began in the run-up to the funding deadline, and escalated immediately after. Trump and Republicans are branding it the “Schumer shutdown.” Schumer called it the “Trump shutdown” on the Senate floor, to audible guffaws from several Republicans senators.

Despite the finger-pointing, Democrats said Schumer and Trump were actually quite close to a deal. But they said McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wouldn’t allow a funding extension of a few days to get them across the finish line.

“There’s no willingness on the other side of aisle to provide an extension that would allow us to get to an agreement,” sighed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

The president called Schumer on Friday morning and invited him to the White House to craft the broad contours of a deal on government funding and immigration. Schumer offered to increase defense spending levels and provide money for border security. The Democratic leader believed he went even further toward Trump's position on borders than the immigration legislation crafted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), according to a person briefed on the meeting.


Schumer left thinking a few days more of government funding would give him and Trump enough time to clinch an agreement. But Trump called Schumer twice after the lunch with second thoughts, asking for a longer funding bill and disparaging other immigration provisions, the person said.

It turned out that GOP leaders had Trump’s ear at least as much as Schumer did. According to multiple congressional and White House sources, Trump also told Schumer he needed to work out an agreement with McConnell and Ryan. That killed any hopes among Democrats that Schumer could persuade Trump to make concessions on the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Still, as Schumer and Trump met, Republicans on the Hill worried that the two New Yorkers would again betray GOP leaders, as they did in the fall when they cut a deal on the debt ceiling and government funding. GOP leaders, in fact, were not informed of the meeting until right before it happened.

But White House Chief of Staff John Kelly phoned Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) right after the meeting. His message: There would be no Trump-Schumer deal.

“He told me that the president told Schumer to come back and talk to Ryan and McConnell. [Trump] wasn’t going to get in the middle of it,” Cornyn said. “Sounds like Gen. Kelly had it under control.”

The impasse was well underway by then. House GOP leaders were eager to ramp up pressure on Democrats to fold. They debated during their daily morning leadership meeting whether or not to adjourn the House for a week-long recess and send lawmakers home, giving Democrats a take-it-or-leave-it option to pass their measure or allow the government to shutter.

Ultimately, Ryan’s team decided to keep members in town in case they had to vote on another spending plan. But Senate Democrats stayed united throughout the day, culminating in a chest-thumping caucus meeting that hardened their opposition to the GOP’s plans.

Republicans were sticking together, too. White House staff pumped up the president before the meeting with Schumer, encouraging the man who fancies himself the ultimate deal-maker to suffocate his penchant for striking a bargain right away, GOP officials said.

Party leaders — convinced that Democrats would either cave or take the blame for a shutdown — decided early Friday morning that they were going to hold the line against Schumer and Pelosi. The Senate leader spoke with Trump by phone, updating the president on the GOP negotiating stance and intention not to budge. Ryan and McConnell then huddled in the Capitol and agreed not to seriously entertain offers from Democrats that diverged from the House-passed month-long spending plan.

“They agreed to stay unified and stick to the plan, which is that the House acted and Senate Democrats needed to vote on it,” said one source familiar with their conversation.

That didn’t stop some lawmakers from trying to strike a compromise. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shopped a middle ground proposal with leaders and rank-and-file. He entered McConnell’s office around 7 p.m., a half-hour later walked into Schumer’s suite, and then went back to McConnell’s at 7:45 p.m. While Graham insisted he just went to the Democratic leader’s office for something to eat, aides said he was also pitching a two- or three-week spending bill to get out of the mess.

“Get out of my way,” Graham told reporters as he strode around the Capitol. Later he spent more than 15 minutes with Schumer and numerous other senators from both parties who had been working feverishly on a bipartisan immigration deal.

The result, according to senators: McConnell would agree to hold a vote on the floor on the bipartisan plan led by Graham and Durbin — and perhaps on a dueling immigration proposal as well — in the coming days. But Democrats could not lock down their chief demand, which was to attach that immigration deal to a must-pass spending measure.


“That’s something that the majority leader didn’t feel he could do,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who was a part of those conversations. “Can’t bind the House that way.”

As the day wore on toward the midnight deadline, both sides braced for a public backlash, with no real clue which side would beat the brunt.

“They’re going to blame all of us,” one Democratic senator said of voters. Still, the lawmaker added that he agreed with Schumer’s strategy and that Democrats would not let McConnell “jam” them.

Trump, too, was waiting for voters to point the finger at him. After all, with universal name ID and a massive megaphone, the president wouldn’t be able to escape culpability.

“It’s Trump — they’re going to blame me no matter what,” the president told aides on Friday.


Senate's 2020 contenders lean into shutdown fight

The liberal senators — and potential presidential contenders — who came out early to link a stopgap funding bill to immigration talks were embracing the fight as Congress lurched to a government shutdown on Friday.

The handful of liberals who vowed months ago to oppose a short-term spending bill until the GOP agreed to an immigration deal saw the vast majority of their Senate colleagues agree to dig in their heels on Friday night, even on the precipice of a shutdown. Those Senate Democrats weren’t taking credit or victory laps — but they were pleased to see their party’s notable cohesion.

Four who staked out their caucus’ earliest positions in favor of aiding the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), vowed to keep standing with the Democratic grassroots at a boisterous rally of activists outside the Capitol on Friday night.

As he left the rally, Booker described himself as “proud of my party” for sticking together against a month-long spending patch that the House passed on Thursday.

“I’m heartened to see the unity that this is no way to run a government,” he said in an interview.

Republicans have lambasted Democrats for pushing the government towards closure over protections for undocumented immigrants. But Booker readily acknowledged that not every Democratic senator who opposed the House-passed spending bill on Friday night, with a shutdown less than 90 minutes away, did so in defense of Dreamers.


“I think there are a lot of feelings that are going around that are keeping us all together,” he said, citing aid to Puerto Rico, at-risk pensions, and the opioid crisis as lingering but unaddressed Democratic priorities.

Booker also gave plenty of room to the five red-state Democrats who ultimately supported the spending bill on Friday night, noting that “a lot of our senators are in tough situations,” as did Merkley.

Republicans “were planning to roll right over the top of us,” Merkley said. “They thought they could bust us in half, and that’s not going to happen. So I’m encouraged.”

He’s not alone among the half-dozen Senate Democrats who are frequently mentioned on short lists to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020. They don't have roles at the bipartisan negotiating table, but the handful of liberal senators who have forged close connections with the party's base have found ways to play a prominent part in the shutdown fight.

"Any time you have people agreeing with you that’s a good thing,” one Senate Democratic aide said. “But I think it’s more than issue-specific — it’s that we still feel our strength is when we are united and can come into a situation with the most leverage.”

Harris views the immigration talks through a personal lens on behalf of the estimated 220,000 California-based Dreamers whom she represents and has pointedly refrained from twisting colleagues’ arms on the government funding vote, according to one source close to her.

She has done only a limited amount of TV appearances since her election, but her first appearance with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week was overwhelmingly dedicated to immigration.


And exactly one year ago Friday, Harris declared she could not support the nomination of John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security unless he made a firmer commitment to safeguard Dreamers — raising a question that has persisted for some Democrats as Kelly takes over as White House chief of staff.

Sanders, for his part, has long pressed fellow Democrats to use the full power of their minority to press the GOP for a deal on helping Dreamers, one Senate source said. And while he has no desire to see a shutdown, he is also pleased to see the caucus stay as united as possible heading in the funding fight.

Sanders partnered with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who came out soon after Harris to vow a no vote on stopgap government funding without a deal to help Dreamers, on an op-ed last month that framed the immigration fight as a top priority, They also called for action on children’s health insurance, which Republicans funded for six years in the legislation, and community health centers.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), another leading liberal in the upper chamber who has embraced the Dreamers fight, on Friday reiterated her resistance to any stopgap spending bill without help for that undocumented population.

"The truth is that there is broad bipartisan agreement that the government should not shut down, the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be extended for 10 years and that Dreamers should be protected," she said in a statement.


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