Articles on this Page
- 07/24/17--17:50: _Minneapolis Mayor D...
- 07/25/17--03:35: _Republicans Just Ov...
- 07/25/17--11:05: _Senator Says Susan ...
- 07/25/17--19:26: _Youngstown Loves A ...
- 07/25/17--20:08: _Corey Lewandowski T...
- 07/25/17--20:47: _If Jeff Sessions Ex...
- 07/26/17--09:20: _Trump Actually Like...
- 07/26/17--13:39: _Trump Is Failing As...
- 07/26/17--15:50: _The Bernie Faithful...
- 07/26/17--18:06: _A Democrat Is Propo...
- 07/27/17--13:20: _Reince Priebus's Da...
- 07/27/17--14:59: _The First Democrat ...
- 07/28/17--13:45: _Here Are Nine Bizar...
- 07/28/17--15:43: _Trump's New Lawyer ...
- 07/29/17--08:07: _Apparently The West...
- 07/29/17--09:27: _What Is "Good Troll...
- 07/29/17--17:26: _John Kelly’s Move T...
- 07/31/17--08:07: _RNC Tells Staff To ...
- 07/31/17--15:00: _Rebekah Mercer’s Pr...
- 07/31/17--16:00: _Republican And Demo...
- The Senate has enough votes to open debate on repealing Obamacare. This vote does not make it law. And while it is a small victory for Republicans, things get complicated because there is no clear plan after that.
- Republicans needed 50 votes to pass the motion to proceed Tuesday, meaning they could only lose two — which they did. Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the tie-breaking vote, and Sen. John McCain, diagnosed recently with brain cancer, had to be flown in to vote yes.
- The Senate will now move on to debate a health care bill with votes possible as early as Tuesday evening on plans to repeal and/or replace Obamacare.
- But which bill will they vote on? That’s the question everyone’s asking. There are at least four options being openly discussed, and there’s no clarity from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on what the final bill will be. The plan appears to be to throw out a series of Obamacare repeal options as separate amendments and see what happens.
- But to pass a bill, 50 Republicans will need to agree on one of those plans. The two main options are the newest Senate repeal and replacement bill and a another bill that would merely repeal Obamacare and put off replacement until later. Neither of those bills have the support of 50 senators, according to Republicans’ public statements.
- But Republicans have a new third option in mind as well: Repealing just Obamacare's individual mandate, which currently encourages people to buy insurance by taxing them otherwise. It's unclear how many Republicans support that new plan.
- Regardless of what happens in the Senate, anything they pass will still need to get approval from the House.
- 07/26/17--13:39: Trump Is Failing As A President. But He’s Succeeding As Reality TV.
- 07/26/17--15:50: The Bernie Faithful Wait For A 2020 Signal
- 07/27/17--13:20: Reince Priebus's Days Are Numbered, Trump Allies Say
- 07/27/17--14:59: The First Democrat Running For President Is A Pro-Business Moderate
- 07/29/17--09:27: What Is "Good Trolling?"
- 07/29/17--17:26: John Kelly’s Move To The White House Could Start A Domino Effect
- 07/31/17--08:07: RNC Tells Staff To Preserve All Documents Related To 2016 Campaign
- 07/31/17--15:00: Rebekah Mercer’s Pro-Trump Group Goes Silent
Stephen Maturen / Getty Images
Reacting to criticism she's been more sympathetic after the killing of a white woman by a police officer than she was after a 2015 episode involving a black man, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said she "listened to" her "community and learned" that her response "needed to be different this time."
In an interview on DeRay Mckesson's "Pod Save the People" podcast, which will be released on Tuesday, Hodges said that in 2015 she was working "day in and day out" responding to community needs In the aftermath of the shooting of Jamar Clark, whose death at the hand of an officer sparked outrage and protests from leaders who demanded accountability and the release of any video evidence.
But "what I wasn't doing was communicating clearly enough to people that that's what I was doing," she said. "And people wanted to know. They wanted to know how I was spending my time and people wanted to know how I felt."
Hodges was part of a coterie of political leaders and elected officials from whom protesters wanted more in 2015.
Minneapolis has again seen a lot of media attention after the shooting of Justine Damond, an Australian yoga instructor, shortly after she called 911 to report a possible crime.
Activists have argued that Hodges' more emotional reaction to this shooting signals that she's treating the Damond shooting as an isolated incident, as opposed to a symptom of a larger, systemic problem. Hodges' defense is that she's been gathering information and communicating more effectively with stakeholders so that people know how she's feeling and how she's spending her time.
"[My response] looks different this time because people told me they needed it to be different this time," Hodges said. "People wanted communication. They wanted to know how I felt."
Hodges said that she had lost confidence in Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau and accepted her resignation on July 21. She defended her response, saying that community stakeholders had issues with Harteau before Damond’s death and that the choice was the "sum total" of incidents and widespread concern over her leadership.
"Every single shooting death in Minneapolis is devastating, every single one of them. All of them,” she said.
"Race has a role to play in all of this, I can’t deny that," she said in the interview, asked about the assertions that she has responded more aggressively because Damond is white. "But in terms of my response, it's been about having learned the lessons from what people wanted me to learn from Jamar Clark’s death and the occupation of the grounds of the 4th Precinct after that, and me deploying those lessons every chance I have, every way that I can to be responsive to what the community needs when we face a tragedy like this.”
On pushing for Harteau's resignation, Hodges said people in the community had concern about Harteau's leadership for some time. "It became clear over the course of the week that in order for us to be able to continue the work and to move forward that she would need to step aside," said Hodges.
“I've spent the time since learning those lessons, getting the feedback, metabolizing that feedback, thinking about — what does a response need to look like? And I hope to never, ever ever to have to use that information again.
“But what I learned in the wake of Jamar Clark’s death in 2015 was what Minneapolis needed from me as mayor in difficult times like that. I listened to my community and I learned."
Hodges, who is up for reelection in November, said she won't resign despite protesters calling on her to do so.
It came down to the wire: Vice President Mike Pence had to break a tie, and Sen. John McCain, who has brain cancer, had to be flown in from Arizona to vote yes.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Senators will vote on Republican leadership’s repeal-and-replacement plan, as well as a 2015 bill that would repeal all of the provisions of Obamacare with a two-year delay, giving Congress time to agree on and pass a replacement system.
There will also be votes on amendments from Sens. Ted Cruz and Rob Portman, but these are doomed to fail without Democratic support. That’s because a Congressional Budget Office score is necessary for all provisions passed under the special budget reconciliation process, which only requires 50 votes to pass. Without those scores, both will need 60 votes — meaning at least eight Democrats would need to support them.
The leadership bill and the straight-repeal plan both have CBO scores and can be passed with 50 votes (Vice President Mike Pence would then break the tie, as he did with the motion to proceed earlier Tuesday).
But Republicans are also talking about a new plan that they’re calling “skinny repeal.” That bill would strip away only the individual mandate of Obamacare, which requires people who are able to buy health insurance to do so or face a tax penalty, while leaving the rest of the Affordable Care Act largely in tact.
This plan would not include the major Medicaid cuts included in the other GOP health plans, and would keep Obamacare protections that guarantee people with pre-existing conditions have access to insurance.
The CBO scored this proposal late last year, so it could also be passed with just 50 votes. The CBO found that repealing the individual mandate would cause healthy people to leave the individual markets, causing premiums to rise on everyone else. They projected that this would lead to 15 million fewer people with health insurance over the next decade than under current law.
The potential problem with skinny repeal is that more and more healthy people will leave the individual market, causing premiums to rise higher and higher — known as a death spiral. Under this plan there will be nothing stopping healthy people from dropping insurance or not buying it at all until they need it, then signing back up.
This could be mitigated somewhat because Obamacare subsidies that help pay for premiums will still be in place, potentially enticing people to stay in the insurance markets.
Though this option is not currently on the table, it could be brought forward as an amendment. Sen. Rand Paul, a key swing vote, implied that he would support such a plan if his preferred option of full repeal is defeated.
Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Susan Collins in 2011.
Harry Hamburg / AP
A live microphone in the Senate on Tuesday caught two senators responding to comments made by a congressman frustrated over the delay in repealing Obamacare, saying he'd challenge one female senator in particular to a duel — if she were a "guy."
Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas made the comments Monday during an interview on Keys 1440 AM, and was believed to have been taking aim at Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has been a holdout on moving forward with efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"Listen, the fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some of the things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me," Farenthold said before referring to the 1804 duel between then-vice president Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. "Some of the people that are opposed to this — there are some female senators from the Northeast — if it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style."
On Tuesday, a microphone that was left on after a live stream of a Senate subcommittee meeting picked up audio of Sen. Jack Reed telling Collins she'd likely "beat the shit out of" Farenthold in a match up.
"You know why he challenged you to a duel? 'Cause you could beat the shit out of him first!" Reed told Collins as she laughed.
The hot microphone also picked up Collins telling her Democratic colleague on the subcommittee that Farenthold is "so unattractive, it’s unbelievable."
"Did you see him in his pajamas next to this bunny, Playboy Bunny?” Collins asked, referring to a photo in 2010 showing Farenthold wearing a blue pajama onesie decorated with ducks while posing next to a scantily clad woman.
By Tuesday afternoon, Collins has released a statement, revealing that she had apologized to Farenthold, and he had also apologized to her in a handwritten note.
"Neither weapons nor inappropriate words are the right way to resolve legislative disputes," Collins' statement read. "I received a handwritten apology from Rep. Farenthold late this morning. I accept his apology & I offer him mine."
A spokesperson for Senator Reed confirmed it was his voice in the recording. The office of Collins did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have joined Collins in holding their support for current proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare.
President Trump speaks at the rally in Ohio.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — President Trump took his fight to a place that might appreciate it.
This is a city where boxers like “Boom Boom” Mancini became celebrities. One clothing company sells T-shirts with “City of Champions” and a pair of boxing gloves screened across the front. Another was launched on the mantra “Defend Youngstown.” Even through bad times, locals have proudly boasted: “Ytown is my town.”
And for a few hours here Tuesday, a Washington spectacle largely of Trump’s own making — his very public flogging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, combined with a crackdown threatened by his new communications director — was behind him.
Trump even had a bit of good news to share: Debate over a health care deal he has been unable to close would continue, thanks to Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
“Finally,” Trump told more than 7,000 fans packed inside the Covelli Centre, a downtown arena that this weekend will host the WWE SummerSlam Heatwave Tour.
“You think that’s easy? That’s not easy,” Trump said of health care. “We’re now one step closer to liberating our citizens from this Obamacare nightmare and delivering great health care to the American people. And now tonight, I’m back in the center of the American heartland, far away from the Washington swamp, to spend time with thousands of you American patriots.”
There are worse places for him to fish for compliments than the Mahoning Valley. This shrunken steel-making metropolis that encompasses Youngstown and Warren is his kind of comfort zone — a region rich in frustrated blue-collar voters who helped carry him to victory in neighboring Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest.
Even long-empowered Democratic leaders here agree Trump has forged a legitimate bond with Valley voters. He reminds many of the region’s irreverent former congressman, the late Jim Traficant, a populist firebrand who by the end of his career was a Democrat-in-name-only and headed for federal prison on racketeering charges. But for years Traficant commanded folk-hero status by bringing home pork for projects that had the locals convinced better times were just a shiny new downtown building away. (It was Traficant, for example, who fought for and won the money to build the arena where Trump appeared Tuesday.)
Only criminal conviction and congressional expulsion could turn Valley voters against Traficant. Even then, in 2002, Traficant took 15% of the vote while running as an independent from his jail cell.
But there’s a bit of a lesson in that. Political watchers on both sides say voters here will judge Trump similarly: by results.
On a conference call Monday hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, a one-time Traficant intern who succeeded his former boss in Congress, acknowledged that he doesn’t see Valley voters “fleeing from [Trump] just yet.” But he believes they’ll be skeptical.
“In our community, where President Trump has spent a lot of time over the last year,” Ryan said, “we judge people on whether or not they have delivered on the promises they have made.”
Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican who represents a nearby district, agreed that Trump must produce. But the congressman, who is running for governor in a competitive primary and hopes to win the president’s endorsement, put the blame on his colleagues in Washington.
“He ran a platform of jobs,” Renacci told BuzzFeed News while waiting for Trump to arrive at the rally. “He ran on a platform of tax reform. He ran on a platform to repeal and replace Obamacare. He ran on a platform of infrastructure. He’s talked about all of those things. He wants to get all of those things done. He’s got to get Congress to start working with him. To get Congress to work with him, he’s got to get the people to start pushing them.”
There’s no guarantee, for instance, that the health care bill will ever reach Trump’s desk. Two hours after Trump spoke, the Senate voted down one version of it — with nine Republican defections.
Later in his remarks, Trump issued a veiled threat to such Republicans who could prevent Congress from repealing former President Obama’s health care law: “Any senator who votes against repeal and replace is telling America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict they’ll have a lot of problems.”
Still, it was an ideal night for Trump in Ohio. Trump didn’t win Youngstown, or even surrounding Mahoning County, last fall. But he came closer than anyone expected. Democrat Hillary Clinton squeaked by with 49.87% of the vote in a county that hasn’t supported a Republican for president since incumbent Richard Nixon in 1972. And he won the once reliably blue Trumbull County, which includes Warren. People here still brag about his visit to last year’s Canfield Fair, a cultural touchstone in the region.
“Everyone is excited there is a fighter in Washington,” Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview. Trump, he added, is “in a bar fight. And you know sometimes it’s not pretty. It gets ugly sometimes. It’s nasty. It’s tough. But it is a fight. It’s not just Trump against the Democrats — it’s Trump against Washington.”
These are the voters Trump must add to and keep in his coalition if he wants a second term — hence the supersize campaign stop barely six months into his first. Mixed in with Trump’s repeal/replace sales pitch Tuesday were staples of his 2016 stump speech.
Those in the crowd — quite a few of them wearing Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” ballcaps — rewarded the president with loud chants of “Drain the swamp!” and “Build that wall!”
Trump spoke of his young presidency in grand terms, musing that he could be, “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln ... more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.” He wondered aloud if his likeness would ever grace Mount Rushmore, then quickly predicted the media would overblow what he passed off as a tongue-in-cheek comment. At times, when Trump complained about reporters, cries of “Fake news!” and “CNN sucks!” erupted.
At least two protesters were ejected, and Trump and his supporters reacted with glee.
“He’s a young one,” Trump said after security escorted a young male waving an old Soviet flag out of the stands. “He’s going back home to mommy. I’ll bet his mom voted for us, right?”
And the crowd went wild.
A protester shouts during Trump's rally Tuesday night.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
At another point, Trump, whose cable news-watching habits have been well-documented, invited on stage a supporter he said he had seen on Fox News.
“This is Youngstown, Mr. President,” said the supporter, whom Trump identified as Geno DeFabio. “But this is also the Steel Valley. Every one of these people love you, sir.”
The area has tried to move on from steel. The mill jobs that once made Youngstown hum have been mourned for decades, with many hopeful they will one day return. Trump, who during his campaign vowed to lead a resurgence of America’s steel industry, had the city on his mind last month when he announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — along with many, many other locations within our great country — before Paris, France,” Trump said then.
The shout-out pleased plenty of Valley residents. But the suggestion that environmental standards were holding back Youngstown annoyed Ryan and other civic cheerleaders. In 2013, Obama gave State of the Union kudos to the city for helping to foster the emergence of 3D printing technology. (“These coal mines aren’t opening back up; these steel mills aren’t opening back up,” Ryan said Monday.) And Trump hasn’t been as vocal about a shift cut at the area’s dominant employer, a General Motors plant that straddles Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
“He’s coming back to Youngstown because he’s really good at the marketing piece, and he’s not good at the delivering piece,” Ryan said on Monday’s conference call.
For now, though, the marketing matters. Tuesday was proof that many here are still enjoying the show.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager who maintains an influential role in the president’s political orbit, will headline a fundraiser next week for US Rep. Jim Renacci, a candidate in Ohio’s competitive Republican primary for governor.
An invitation obtained Tuesday by BuzzFeed News advertises Lewandowski as a “special guest” for the Aug. 3 reception and dinner at a yacht club just outside Cleveland.
A Renacci spokesman confirmed the event. Lewandowski did not immediately answer a request for comment.
Trump has not endorsed in the 2018 race to succeed term-limited Gov. John Kasich. But Lewandowski’s involvement with the Renacci fundraiser is the latest evidence that the congressman could be the White House favorite.
Vice President Mike Pence told a Cleveland-area audience last month that he was “for Jim Renacci before it was cool.” The Renacci campaign sent a video of Pence’s remarks to its email list, asserting that “it is safe to say that there is only one candidate in the race for governor of Ohio that the administration views as truly with them.” (The vice president’s representatives denied the praise was meant as an endorsement.)
Renacci also has won the support of Bikers for Trump and Citizens for Trump, two grassroots organizations that have been supportive of the president.
“All I know is I’m a big supporter of the president,” Renacci told BuzzFeed News here Tuesday night as he waited for Trump to arrive at a campaign rally, which Lewandowski also attended. “In the end I think the president is supportive of me and the way that I’m working with him, so we’ll see what he does. [An endorsement] is going to be up to the president and the vice president … but they’re all friends of mine. They know I’m ready to work with them.”
Renacci is an underdog in the GOP primary. He has the lowest name-recognition in a four-candidate field that also features Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. But he is the only contender who enthusiastically embraced Trump’s campaign last year after Kasich failed to win the presidential nomination.
Next week’s fundraiser will follow Lewandowski’s speech to the City Club of Cleveland, which has been criticized for providing a forum for the controversial political operative. (He was, for example, accused of grabbing a reporter last year, but simple battery charges were dropped.)
Renacci helped arrange the City Club gig for Lewandowski, who in recent weeks has helped push the health care legislation on Capitol Hill.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Over the past week, President Trump has criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions in interviews, on Twitter, and literally from the White House Rose Garden.
“I'm very disappointed with the attorney general,” Trump said Tuesday when asked whether he plans to fire Sessions, whose recusal from the Russia investigation has prompted Trump’s criticism. “But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.”
Trump could, of course, fire Sessions or Sessions could leave the position. Either situation would prompt an uncertain chain of events, especially with a potentially extremely difficult confirmation fight for any new nominee to permanently fill the role.
The first and most pressing question, with the special counsel’s investigation still ongoing: Who would become acting attorney general?
By default, under federal law, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would become acting attorney general. (This was the reason why then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was acting attorney general at the beginning of the Trump administration.)
Trump has also criticized Rosenstein, however. By authorizing the special counsel to look into Trump’s campaign contacts with Russia, it’s entirely possible — given what Trump has said about the Justice Department in recent weeks — that he wouldn’t want Rosenstein at the helm.
Who else could Trump have lead the Justice Department?
Actually, there are literally thousands of people who Trump could — at a moment’s notice — make the acting attorney general for the next seven months.
Under the law that would make Rosenstein acting attorney general, if neither Sessions nor he is “available to exercise the duties of the office of Attorney General,” then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand “shall act as Attorney General.” (That law also sets forth an option for Sessions to “designate” the solicitor general and various section chiefs as acting attorney general as a part of a further order of succession, but none of Trump’s nominees to those spots have yet been confirmed by the Senate.)
Under an executive order signed by Trump on March 31, there is another option: Three US attorneys listed in a further order of succession. The problem there is that only one of those, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia — Dana Boente — has been confirmed by the Senate to his post (and thus eligible under the order the act as attorney general). He was Trump’s acting attorney general when the president fired Yates, so it’s entirely possible that the situation could quickly result in Boente as acting attorney general yet again if Trump does fire Sessions.
Another discussed possibility: Trump issuing a recess appointment of a replacement who could serve until the end of the next session of Congress. That, though, requires a recess — a move Democrats (and possibly Republicans, depending on the circumstances) might try to keep from happening.
But those wouldn’t be Trump’s only options. Under the Vacancies Reform Act, Trump has two other options. And, under a 2007 opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, Trump could proceed immediately to either of these options — without first proceeding through the succession laid out in the other law.
First, he could name anyone nominated to any other position who has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the acting attorney general.
Yes, that means, Nikki Haley — now serving as the US ambassador to the United Nations — could be named acting attorney general. Or any other cabinet member. Or some of the few lower-level confirmed members of the Trump administration — like David Bernhardt, confirmed just Monday as the deputy secretary of the Interior Department.
Additionally, and opening up a potentially much more broad universe, Trump also could name anyone at the Justice Department who makes roughly $100,000 a year or more (Grade 15 on the General Schedule pay scale, or “GS-15,” or higher) and has been there for 90 days in the past year to serve as acting attorney general.
More than 6,000 employees of the Justice Department likely fit these requirements, a BuzzFeed News review of federal employment records from the end of March shows. At that point, the department employed nearly 6,900 GS-15 staff — more than 6,300 of whom were hired for full-time, non-seasonal work. (The March records are the most recent vintage published by the Office of Personnel Management; it’s possible that some of the employees no longer work for the Justice Department.)
The list includes nearly 3,000 lawyers in the department’s main offices, boards, and divisions.
These lawyers include, at this point, many of Trump’s so-called “beachhead team” staff at the Justice Department. Anywhere from six to 17 of the lawyers who joined the Justice Department as Trump began his presidency would be eligible to serve as acting attorney general under the provision in the Vacancies Reform Act, according to ProPublica’s listing of the beachhead teams.
More than 900 other attorneys in other parts of the Justice Department — including more than 50 each from the US Trustee Program; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Executive Office for Immigration Review; Bureau of Prisons; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives — also are among the nearly 6,900 GS-15 staff counted by BuzzFeed News.
In addition to the lawyers, the Justice Department’s GS-15 staff also includes more than 600 people responsible for criminal investigations in the FBI and more than 200 people who do so with the DEA. It includes more than 600 other people at the FBI — including staff in management, information technology, and intelligence operations. Another large group: roughly 200 medical officers with the Bureau of Prisons.
The list includes statisticians, public affairs staff, auditors, and accountants — as well as a chaplain with the Bureau of Prisons.
Call it the bully pulpit.
Donald Trump may not have a taste for firing people, but he does relish making the lives of those who have fallen out of favor a living hell.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had the pleasure of finding that out, waking up every day this week to tweets from his boss ridiculing his job performance.
“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Trump tweeted on Monday just before 9 a.m.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” he tweeted on Tuesday morning.
“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000 for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!” he said in a series of tweets on Wednesday.
Trump has it in his power to resolve his public irritations — he could use the line that made him truly famous on The Apprentice, the line he tried to trademark in 2004, and tell his attorney general that he’s fired.
But so far at least, the president is following a familiar Trump playbook: holding back from terminating a supposedly intransigent employee, and instead publicly bullying him. If the jeremiads lead to Sessions deciding to quit on his own, all the better.
Katrina Campins, a former Apprentice contestant who has a career in real estate in Miami and who has worked with the Trump campaign and administration, said you can't compare Trump's old “you’re fired” life with his new responsibilities.
"We were on a television show, it's quite different," she said.
The president’s tactics with Sessions don’t surprise people who've worked with him during his time in entertainment and in politics: Donald Trump doesn't actually enjoy firing people, they told BuzzFeed News, especially when he personally likes the person due to be fired.
"If he likes the person and they're not performing, he has a problem. He doesn’t like firing them," said one operative whom Trump fired. "He’ll get pissed. But does he personally like telling the person to their face they’re fired? The answer is no."
Trump pretty clearly liked Sessions not too long ago. Sessions was the first sitting senator to back Trump’s presidential campaign, and the candidate thanked him by saying he’s been called “the Senate's indispensable man and the gold standard.”
(Now Trump stunningly told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Sessions endorsed him because he saw a crowd of 40,000 people in Alabama, "so it's not like a great, loyal thing about the endorsement.")
This pattern has also played out to completion with outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer, who Trump liked enough to make the public face of his White House at the start of his presidency.
Spicer was criticized by anonymous officials and advisers close to the president for months, who said that Trump was unhappy with his performance during press briefings. But even with occasional reports suggesting a press office shake-up was imminent, Spicer himself decided last week to leave the White House after Trump brought on swaggering New York businessman Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Even then, Trump reportedly asked Spicer to stay in his job.
Trump, though, made Spicer's position in the administration untenable by asking him to report to Scaramucci. After all, with the embattled press secretary frequently ceding press briefings to his then-deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Scaramucci ascending to a role where he reports directly to Trump, where exactly would Spicer have fit in?
Trump also has a history of firing people in times of duress only to later bring them back into the fold — or even to resist firing them altogether, even if they’ve committed transparently harmful offenses.
Trump earlier this year heavily deliberated over firing his then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was ultimately let go in February for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Even with Flynn at the center of the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence last year’s presidential election, the Daily Beast reported in May that White House lawyers had to repeatedly tell Trump not to reach out to him — Trump, a staffer told the Beast, feels bad about Flynn's exit.
And there's also the case of Meredith McIver, the in-house writer at the Trump Organization who took the blame for the awkward convention scandal that saw Melania Trump plagiarize lines from a Michelle Obama speech. Trump ally Jeffrey Lord, who knows McIver, said that when McIver tendered her resignation to Trump he rejected it.
"He said, 'The answer is no.' That is who he is, the rest is a television image," Lord said. "I know he does not like firing people."
Trump acknowledged as much in his 2004 book The Way To The Top.
"I don't like firing people. It's not a pleasant thing and it's sad," he wrote in the book, in which he collected advice from other executives and business leaders he respected. "In some cases, it's a terrible, terrible situation for the person who gets fired, how strongly they take it. So it's not something that any rational or sane person can love doing, but it also happens to be a fact of life in business."
Trump’s queasiness with firing staff he likes ties into how much the president values personal loyalty. He does not like to be forced to fire employees who have been loyal to him, the operative he fired added — noting that, as a candidate, Trump was angry when his children forced him to fire his first campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
And even though Trump fired Lewandowski, he hasn’t let the former campaign hand drift outside his close circle. Lewandowski traveled with the president to Ohio on Tuesday aboard Air Force One.
Though Trump will do what he has to do as "a serious businessman, he's not malicious by any means," Campins said.
Whether he takes pleasure in it or not, Trump has still managed to fire several high-profile people since taking office — though aside from Flynn they have chiefly been people who have not shown the president the loyalty he often demands.
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May, initially citing his handling of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use, and later acknowledging he was “angry” with Comey over the bureau's Russia investigation. In sworn testimony, Comey himself alleged that Trump repeatedly demanded loyalty, asked him to drop an investigation into Flynn, and asked for a public statement that he was not personally under investigation.
Trump also fired US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara in March after he refused to resign. While past presidents have asked for the mass resignations of US attorneys, as Trump did with 46 Obama-era prosecutors in March, Bharara suggested that he was ultimately removed because he had jurisdiction over Trump Tower.
Sally Yates, the acting attorney general before Jeff Sessions was confirmed, was fired at the end of January after refusing to defend the president’s travel ban for residents from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Trump’s penchant for demanding loyalty has exasperated allies and chilled his political opponents. His handling of Spicer, his body blows to Sessions, and his empowering of Scaramucci — who says he himself can fire anyone — have put a spotlight on the way Trump bullies his employees and decides to let them twist in the wind before cutting them loose or forcing them to resign.
An isolated and frustrated Trump may still decide to cut Sessions loose, or fire the special counsel investigating potential campaign involvement with Russia — the latter of which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said could trigger a constitutional crisis.
And if he does, Trump may find salvation in the lessons of his book, The Way To The Top, in which Thomas S. Johnson, the chair and CEO of GreenPoint Bank, shared his father's advice on firing.
“You’re not a man until you have had to fire someone and you’re not a good man unless every time you do it you hate it," Johnson wrote.
John Moore / Getty Images
When Donald Trump was just starting out as a candidate for the presidency, he used to confuse ratings and polls.
It was a meaningless eccentricity from a showbiz candidate going nowhere, a sign of the unreality of his campaign and of his own strange place in American culture.
Now, it’s clear how badly a cosmopolitan media that may not have watched The Apprentice missed Trump’s continuous appeal. The sneers of New York tycoons who considered Trump a fraud, and of their media friends, couldn’t drown out the volume of the television, of The Apprentice and later The Celebrity Apprentice.
This isn’t an accident. Trump’s late publicist Jim Dowd recalled that, as a television actor, Trump, paid particular attention to markets in the midwest and south. "The Donald Trump post-first season of The Apprentice all of a sudden became a very popular figure on Main Street, U.S.A.," Dowd told Frontline. "So it was Wall Street before, and then it became Main Street to the point where we showed up in Denver for an event, and we had to have a separate room just for The Apprentice fans."
Jeff Zucker, Trump's erstwhile benefactor — then of NBC, now leading #FakeNews CNN — bet on The Apprentice in the waning days of the network's upscale, white Must-See-TV Thursday lineup, which included Friends and Will & Grace. But Trump, who Dowd said once served him and Apprentice creator Mark Burnett Oscar Mayer bologna so they could toast to a successful day of publicity with the sandwich meat, proved to have an unexpected appeal.
Trump wasn’t quite as bad a businessman as his detractors like to think — their calculations of this return-on-investment typically leave out the staggering sums he dropped on his lifestyle. But he was a truly great publicist, and, it turned out, stellar television actor.
Now Trump is failing as a president by every measure — popularity, global influence, a basic grasp on the levers of power. Perhaps most fatally, his incoherence has prevented him from projecting power through the federal government. He has been essentially irrelevant to the Republican health care agenda, except to draw out the process when Congress might have otherwise put the issue aside after the first disastrous attempt in the spring.
But the same instincts that have scuppered his presidency made for unbelievable, tremendous television.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a frisson of anticipation when logging into Twitter early in the morning, knowing that the president of the United States could be tweeting about literally anything, no matter how strange or self-sabotaging,” the Trump critic and conservative writer who goes by the name Allahpundit wrote recently. "Is he going to start riffing on Obama’s birth certificate again? Might he be ready to flame Rosie O’Donnell?...Increasingly, The Trump Show isn’t a distraction from the Trump presidency. It is the Trump presidency.”
The ratings for the Trump show bear this theory out. They are, in a word, terrific: Fox News is still No. 1, even in its post-Bill O'Reilly incarnation; CNN, Zucker's kingdom, and Trump's stated enemy, keeps hitting quarterly highs in ratings; and MSNBC has directly benefited from Fox News' implosion, coinciding with Rachel Maddow's rise as the #resist hero. (Here’s a litany of other beneficiaries.) The television executives who felt qualms about syndicating the unfiltered Trump show through the Republican primaries are now cleansing their consciences with episode after episode of The Americans, produced for free by the American government.
This is classic reality television, down to its defining conventions. Perhaps the most memorable trope of reality TV — popularized in the United States by Trump’s old Pygmalion, Burnett — is the confessional interview. Those are the moments when a cast member directly addresses the camera, to tell us how they really feel. This is what happens on a Bachelorette date, when Rachel turns to the audience to say she needs Peter to assure her that he'll be ready for marriage at the end of this, or when one of the Real Housewives is filmed in formal dress in an ornate room and snipes about the lies of her castmates.
That moment-by-moment insight into the inner lives of the cast of Survivor: White House doesn’t always include those on-camera revelations, though Trump’s public disappointment with Jeff Sessions — in interviews, on TV, at the White House and always with tension or even a tease about what could happen — fits the genre perfectly.
More often, the confessionals come through leaks from the supporting characters: We know about Steve Bannon’s enmity for Jared Kushner, and his complex and shifting relationship with Reince Priebus. We know about Sean Spicer’s frustration, Rex Tillerson’s pique. Everyone is mad at Don Jr.! It’s an emotional mess.
And that twisting, ever fluid dynamic extends to each breaking news development. The country has been rapidly conditioned to wait for the drama of the emotional reaction — the kind of torqued up authenticity on which reality TV thrives.
The White House reality show goes off the rails when it shifts into more scripted moments. In June, cabinet members heaped stilted praise on Trump for the cameras, and the audience winced.
"To me, that cabinet meeting, that was scripted,” one Emmy-nominated reality producer told BuzzFeed News. “It felt unreal, it felt fake, it felt inauthentic, it felt produced."
The ratings though — the ratings are terrific. Better, in fact, than on The Apprentice as it aged. Jim Dowd, whose job as a publicist required he tell Trump about the show's diminished numbers, found himself unable to do it: "There’s about 10 people who cover ratings in terms of the publications that matter most," Dowd said. "And he would want to make sure I called all those 10 people and told them, 'No. 1 show on television, won its time slot,' and I’m looking at the numbers and at that point, say Season 5, for example, we were No. 72. I can’t tell that to him. I can’t say that. Maybe I should have, maybe I should have gotten Jeff Zucker involved, but he became kind of a monster when it came to these ratings."
Here, however, it’s hard to turn away.
And the recent rise of Anthony Scaramucci marks a kind of recognition that this is a show. Scaramucci is a television figure, a money manager known best for a conference he organized, and who played the role of hedge fund titan as Trump played real estate baron. A former talk show host who seemed to be working toward a CNBC show, he was hired for his cocksure grace in front of the camera.
Scaramucci recently suggested he’ll be adding an over-the-top morning show (as we say in the biz! BuzzFeed News recently announced one!) to the lineup. There could be “a desk on the White House lawn.” But that’s a crowded space. And the biggest TV show in history is already happening.
The rise of Trump has so many roots. Pundits routinely understate, though, the centrality of his television celebrity. And they miss its continuing power: Trump may not, yet, have figured out how to be president — but he has monopolized our attention, dominated the narrative and the story, and it would be mistake to dismiss that power. A president doesn’t have to accomplish traditional things (policy, programs, reforms) to change the culture. What if once we start viewing major American institutions as players in the Trump Show, we can’t stop?
He’s failing at what used to be thought of as the presidency, but succeeding at reality television like no one ever has before. The question is whether there’s still a difference.
Jay Laprete / AFP / Getty Images
It was December 2013, three years before the election, 15 months before the public launch, when Hillary Clinton and a small, secret group of advisers first started working through plans for a presidential campaign with a rough two-page outline, prepared by veteran strategist David Plouffe, for what internally became known as the “roadmap.”
The document laid out 14 “key areas” that would have to be in place before Clinton even made a final decision to run: the message (“2014 should be used to answer: ‘Why me?’”), the organizing model (“Kerry ’04?” “Obama ’08?”), the primary strategy (“at least three strategic approaches”), and the crucial primary calendar (“possible adjustments to help in the primary and cause mischief on the other side?”). Two months later, aides had revised the roadmap outline into the “roadmap work plan,” a detailed table tracking projects and “next steps.” By spring 2014, they were commissioning research and assessing possible changes to the primary calendar that might ease Clinton’s path.
The roadmap, among dozens of early planning documents made public after Russian hackers targeted Democrats, details the extent to which building a presidential campaign can begin as much with the question of whether a candidate wants to run, and why, as with the work they must do in order to run, let alone run and win.
The same early juncture in the election cycle is now facing Clinton's primary challenger, Bernie Sanders, a candidate who in 2015 launched his campaign in the span of a couple months and is considered a frontrunner in the next election. The 75-year-old Vermont senator, current and former aides said in recent interviews, has the chance to build a formidable organization with the kind of infrastructure his first campaign lacked.
“When you look at the rest of the prospective field, no one comes to the table with the assets that Bernie has,” said Mark Longabaugh, a longtime Democratic strategist who served as a top official on the Sanders campaign. “Bernie's incredible hold on 40 to 45% of the Democratic Party is a substantial asset. How will anyone else assemble 50% plus one?”
Sanders, who is up for reelection in Vermont next year, has not yet taken any logistical steps toward a campaign in 2020, nor has he asked others to do so, advisers said.
Earlier this month, he returned to the key caucus state of Iowa for the first time since the election to speak to a 1,100 progressive activists in Des Moines. At a daylong conference, Revolution Iowa, organizers and volunteers from the 2016 campaign reunited over boxes lunches and at workshops like “The Fight for Our Lives: Medicare for All!” Sanders is scheduled to make a second trip to the state in late August to promote his new book.
Around Sanders, former aides and advisers point to other signs of activity.
On the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Commission, a group created by the Sanders and Clinton campaigns to review the fairness of the nominating process, the senator’s allies, led by former campaign manager Jeff Weaver, have eyed changes to superdelegates, open primaries, and the voting calendar that could benefit Sanders. (Weaver, disputing that idea, said the commission is focused on changes that would help non-leading, lesser-known candidates “get a fair hearing and maybe win.” Sanders, he noted, “would enter as a leading candidate, if not the frontrunner.”)
Outside Washington, Sanders' old Iowa state director, Robert Becker, has moved back to Des Moines full-time. The news “raised eyebrows” across the Sanders universe, Becker said. At the moment, he is working with two Iowa Democrats considering runs for local and statewide office, but Becker, like others, is open about his hope for another run.
“Many of us are out here waiting for a signal from him,” said Longabaugh, who, along with Tad Devine, another top adviser, put together the early blueprint for the Sanders campaign in spring 2015. “My sense is that's sort of where Sanders Nation is.”
Sanders unquestionably built his “political revolution” on the strength of his message, not the kind of calculated mechanics that laid the foundation for the Clinton operation in Brooklyn. Still, some backers said, the campaign also suffered from basic structural and tactical work that the senator not only came late to, but at points actively resisted.
The nuts-and-bolts planning for a Sanders campaign began in March 2015, shortly before his April 30 announcement. In 2014, the liberal radio host Bill Press had hosted Sanders at his Washington home to talk over the decision to run with Senate staffers, senior Democrats, and strategists, along with “wise guys and gals who pontificated a lot,” recalled Longabaugh. “Helpful for Bernie and [his wife] Jane to hear — but it was not planning.”
Where some candidates operate as natural tacticians in their own right, the two-term senator did not revel in the strategy or the mechanics of the election process itself.
“I just don’t think that’s his game,” said former campaign official Michael Ceraso.
Less than four months into the race, in August 2015, senior advisers sat down with Sanders and his wife in Burlington to address the issue in blunt terms: If they wanted to compete, they needed a more serious operation — a campaign with proper infrastructure and a more robust travel schedule, even if it meant missing votes in the Senate, they told him, according to a person briefed on the conversation at the time. In short, there were basic realities about running for president that would have to be accepted.
Even after the meeting, billed publicly by advisers as “phase two” of the campaign, Sanders struggled with that adjustment. He had to be convinced that TV ads were not just effective but necessary, and that using a pollster did not mean putting a finger to the wind. He never hired a political director. He didn't see the need for middle management. Basic functions like a regional press operation weren't fully in place until the primaries had started. Structurally, they never caught up to Clinton. (One former aide described the problem as the ultimate double-edged sword: “The reason that he is a compelling candidate is the same reason he can’t be elected president.”)
For now, Sanders is reluctant to engage on the subject of what's next.
On his recent trip to Iowa, when shouts of "2020" rang out from the crowd, Sanders, standing onstage or moving down the ropeline, remained expressionless. The topic can be a source of irritation for the former candidate, another distraction from the message.
The 2020 speculation adds to a somewhat disjointed political moment for Sanders: He is navigating new terrain under President Trump, now as a key player in defending the Affordable Care Act even as he amplifies activists’ calls for a single-payer system; he is facing a federal investigation into his wife’s handling of bank loans for the shuttered Burlington College; and the group that was meant to be the vessel for his political movement, Our Revolution, has a struggled to rack up significant electoral wins.
Weaver, the former campaign manager and a longtime adviser who remains closer to Sanders than most, stepped down as the head of Our Revolution on July 15 and is now serving as the central spokesman for all matters related to the FBI inquiry, which he dismisses as a “media feeding frenzy.” (For some, the move signaled a certain level of concern, recalling the brief but intense period in late 2015 when Weaver took over communications in the aftermath of a data breach scandal.)
If Sanders decides to run a second time, he would enter the Democratic field with a national committed following seen with few other politicians.
Sanders, it often seems, exists both among the “brothers and sisters” of his movement — and from the distant remove of a celebrity with an enormous and awestruck following. (This spring, taking the stage at a rally in Las Vegas, he approached the lectern and, in one swift movement, removed his dark blue blazer, handed it to a woman seated on the stage behind him, and turned back to the mic, leaving the woman, blazer in hand and mouth agape, resisting a staffer’s reach when he tried to retrieve the jacket.)
Even as he’s become a new source of influence among the party’s elite, carving out a spot on Senate leadership and traveling via private jet on a DNC-sponsored “unity” tour earlier this year, his standing as an antiestablishment figure remains unquestioned.
Josh Orton, a longtime progressive strategist, described the dynamic like this: If Barack Obama was like a “rock star” who people “followed” because they saw him as a “singular leader,” Sanders is more like “a Yoda who people bond with because of his actual policies and the fact that he acknowledges that the political system is corrupt.”
Because of that foundation, said Becker, the Iowa state director, “what we've built is growing exponentially.”
He pointed to people like Kate Revaux, a young Johnson County native who had never been involved in politics before becoming a field organizer for Sanders in Iowa City, and is now a sitting member of the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee.
“It didn’t end,” said Becker. “It was an awakening.”
Still, some aides hope that at some point — if not as early as Clinton in 2013 and 2014 — the attention of Sanders and those closest to him will shift to questions about how he could best prepare for a second campaign and deal with the problems that set him back in 2016 and would almost certainly pose the same challenges again.
Most former aides cited a sustained struggle by the campaign to attract black voters and older voters. And related to that is another potential problem: the primary calendar.
The schedule was “unquestionably” one of the biggest structural hurdles, a former official said. States like Michigan and Wisconsin delivered victories for Sanders that came late in the spring, following a string of Republican states where Clinton dominated with minority voters. In spring 2014, Clinton aides outlined ideas for changes to the calendar (one point: “Keeping the red states early makes sense if she has a primary”), though it’s not clear if she played a role in trying to facilitate, or prevent, changes in the schedule.
Sanders could take up his own calendar effort, but it seems unlikely for a candidate recognized by his resistance to internal party mechanics and rigged systems.
Those in the Sanders orbit predict that, for better or worse, if there is a second presidential campaign, it will more likely than not look a lot like the first.
As one put it, “Things don’t change in Bernieworld.” ●
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
On Thursday morning, Rep. Al Green will propose a constitutional amendment that would explicitly bar the president from granting himself a pardon.
"Nobody wants to see that," the Texas Democrat told BuzzFeed News. "Bigger than the current president, this is for all presidents. If we can't stop one, we'll stop the rest."
Green said on Wednesday evening that he doesn’t think such an amendment is needed — he thinks the Constitution doesn’t allow such a self-pardon. But he’s laying the groundwork to try to pass an amendment like this, should it become necessary.
“Our president has given signals that he is reviewing the Constitution and, in the process of reviewing it, it has been published that the review includes that possibility of his considering pardoning himself,” Green — who already has filed articles of impeachment against President Trump — said.
Trump has discussed pardon issues in the Oval Office, his new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, acknowledged this past week. The president himself tweeted over the weekend that “all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon.” It’s not clear whether the discussion or the president’s tweet related to any possible self-pardon consideration. But the vagueness of the explicit references to pardon power — and Trump’s general unpredictability — have raised speculation about how the president might want to use it.
“In hearing that,” Green said, “and also after hearing that constitutional scholars differ on whether the president can or cannot pardon himself, it seemed appropriate — as a matter of fact, it seemed absolutely necessary — that we take some action so as to bring clarity to this issue.”
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
The presidential pardon power is both simple and expansive in the Constitution. “[H]e shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States,” the Constitution states, “except in cases of impeachment.”
The amendment proposed by Green also is simple:
“The president shall have no power to grant to himself a reprieve or pardon for an offense against the United States.”
Green said that he sides with scholars like Laurence Tribe, Norm Eisen, and Richard Painter — who wrote recently in the Washington Post that Trump cannot pardon himself. They cite a 1974 opinion of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluding the same thing.
“I don’t believe this is necessary,” Green said of the proposed amendment, and he plans to enter that view into the congressional record in his Thursday morning floor speech. Nonetheless, he acknowledged, others disagree — and, regardless, Trump or another president could do it anyway (although legal fights could, and likely would, follow).
“I’m not doing this with the expectation of the committee taking this up any time soon. I want the legislation to be there in the event there is a need for it,” Green said. “It may take such an amount of time that the first president to try to do it might succeed, but the legislation would still be there so as to prevent the next.”
He told BuzzFeed News that at least two other Democratic House members — Seth Moulton and Brad Sherman — will be co-sponsoring the resolution at its introduction.
As the resolution to be introduced notes, an amendment introduced through Congress would require a two-thirds vote by both chambers. Then, it also would require ratification by three-quarters of all 50 states.
Rep. Green's resolution:
Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images
The White House used to sternly push back on reports that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was losing the president's favor and would soon be fired.
When President Trump's staff began questioning Priebus's efficacy and job security in conversations with reporters in early March, the White House blasted on-record refutations, telling BuzzFeed News at the time that the chief of staff is "an incredible leader" who has played an "essential" role on the president's priorities, like health care.
Those days appear to be over.
Just in the last 24 hours, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci has all but accused Priebus of being the source of leaks that damage the administration and infuriate the president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to publicly express confidence in the chief of staff during Thursday's press briefing. And instead of defending Priebus, senior White House officials now tell BuzzFeed News that his days appear to be numbered.
Privately, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, has told people that Priebus is "gone" and that he is trying to figure out his next steps, a source with knowledge said. Her message is that White House staffers who came from the Republican National Committee, which Priebus ran before being named chief of staff, are out, and that the administration is "going back to Trump loyalists."
Conway did not respond to a request for comment.
A senior administration official, asked about that potential staffing shake-up, said, "It's not that simple."
But a White House official disputed that communications staffers with ties to the RNC would be necessarily swept up in a Priebus purge, noting that in a private communications meeting on Monday, Conway tried to rally the troops, telling them they may not be household names but they were talented and have worked their tails off at the White House for six months because they want to serve the country.
A separate senior White House official said it's seemed like Priebus's days have been numbered since the first day of the administration — based on nonstop news reports that the chief of staff has consistently survived — so the source has decided to stay out of the latest power battle and focus on the president's agenda.
But the latest turn, with public finger-pointing, seems different. On Twitter on Wednesday night, Scaramucci said his financial disclosure had been leaked — though such disclosures are made publicly available — and said he would contact the FBI and Justice Department to investigate, curiously tagging Priebus in the tweet and adding the hashtag "swamp."
Scaramucci then went on CNN's New Day on Thursday morning to talk about Priebus in an incredibly unusual segment in which he went into the ill will in their relationship.
"When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's because we're rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along," he said. In the Book of Genesis, Cain murders Abel following a perceived slight from God.
"I don't know if this is reparable or not, that will be up to the president," Scaramucci said.
The New Yorker published an interview with Scaramucci later Thursday in which — among many, many other things — Scaramucci called Priebus a "fucking paranoid schizophrenic" and said Priebus would "be asked to resign very shortly" if he leaked something.
Sanders would not say during Thursday's press briefing whether Trump has confidence in Priebus, a question White House spokespeople have answered affirmatively in the past.
"If the president doesn't, he'll make that decision," she said.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, said the chatter in Republican circles about Priebus's future is that the former Republican Party chair is loath to become the shortest-tenured chief of staff in American history by being fired, eyeing September to clear that hurdle.
But with Scaramucci publicly prodding Priebus — and with no guarantee that the administration will succeed in its ongoing efforts to pass a health care overhaul — it may be difficult for Priebus to last longer in his role than a similarly beset chief of staff who was fired: Samuel Skinner, who served under George H.W. Bush.
Three chiefs of staff had shorter tenures than Skinner's 252 days, but one was James Baker, a well-regarded chief of staff to Ronald Reagan who came onboard to help Bush after Skinner's departure, and the other two were short-lived because their bosses' terms expired — Jack Watson under Jimmy Carter and Kenneth Duberstein under Ronald Reagan. To last longer than Skinner, Priebus would need to stay on until Sept. 30.
Priebus's legacy matters to him, an ally said, noting that he hoped to remain in the role for a year but is now trying to "notch as many wins as possible" before it's over.
"He wants this president to be a success, he knows that if the president has a good legacy, then Reince will," the source added.
Even though Priebus has often been left for dead only to carry on, his position now seems rockier, with Trump receiving conflicting advice from multiple senior staffers since bringing on Scaramucci.
"The originals are saying get rid of the RNC people, they’re leaking; his allies are saying the agenda is stuck you need to shake things up; and his supporters and friends are saying you have to find a way to stop the Russia investigation, it’s a mortal threat," Mackowiak said.
But after Scaramucci told CNN on Thursday that "establishment" forces exist "inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president," both those who think Priebus should stay and those who want him out said Scaramucci had gone too far.
A White House adviser said that Priebus was not particularly loyal during the campaign — "every time we ran into trouble, he was the first one to run" — but said Scaramucci is distracting from the administration's message.
"Why is Scaramucci calling into CNN for 30 minutes and talking about freaking White House intrigue?" the adviser said. “I’m sure there is some method to his madness, but it’s hard to see it.”
"The stuff Anthony is pulling is unreal," another source close to the administration said. "If I was Reince, I would be like, 'Fuck you guys, I'm out.'"
Priebus, hoping to hang on until September, might disagree.
Tarini Parti contributed reporting.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
Rep. John Delaney, a 54-year-old moderate Maryland Democrat and former banking executive, said Friday in a Washington Post op-ed that he is running for president against Donald Trump, entering the 2020 race a full three years before the election.
"It is time for us to rise above our broken politics and renew the spirit that enabled us to achieve the seemingly impossible," Delaney said in the piece. "This is why I am running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States."
Delaney, a congressman with no national profile outside Washington, D.C., will forgo both a run for Maryland governor in 2018 and a run for reelection in the state's 6th congressional district, focusing solely on 2020. ("No games, no cat-and-mouse, no backup plan at the 11th hour if a focus group goes badly," he wrote Friday.)
His entry comes about 20 months before the point at which Democratic candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton announced their campaigns in 2016.
Maryland Democrats had heard rumors for weeks that Delaney was increasingly considering a presidential bid. A number of Maryland news outlets and blogs have been closely monitoring developments on the Delaney story, with one site, Maryland Matters, dubbing Friday "D-Day" in Maryland politics, "the day that Rep. John Delaney announces his political plans for 2018 — and perhaps beyond." Maryland Matters and Bethesda Magazine reported first this week on Delaney's mounting interest in 2020 and on Friday's forthcoming op-ed.
The news makes Delaney the first Democrat to openly declare his interest in a presidential bid. It also puts a centrist, pro-business, self-funding Democrat out early in a primary that will come down in part to the progressive voters that backed Bernie Sanders and nearly upended Hillary Clinton's chances at the nomination.
"As a progressive businessman, I’ve made it a priority to be solutions-oriented and have been consistently recognized as one of the most innovative and bipartisan members of Congress," Delaney's announcement reads. "I’ve done this by simultaneously celebrating the power of our free-market economy while also insisting that there is a role for government to set goals and rules of the road and take care of those who are left behind."
In Congress, Delaney caucuses with the centrist "New Democrats," and considers himself to be socially liberal but fiscally prudent. Since his election in 2012, he has championed a wide range of legislation, including measures to create access to universal pre-K, form an independent commission for redistricting, reduce the corporate tax rate, institute a federal tax on carbon pollution, and establish a new aid program to provide financial assistance and benefits to coal workers.
In the Washington Post piece, Delaney identified a number of priorities for his campaign "focused on the facts and the future": job creation in an economy driven by technological innovation and globalization; infrastructure investment; small businesses; and changes to programs in education, health care, and immigration.
"My approach goes beyond party and partisanship; I am first and foremost an American," Delaney said. "I believe in a common national identity. I love our ambition, our values, what we represent to the world and our ability to use our greatness for a good and noble purpose. It is my love of country that compels me to behave differently in politics — work to do big things, seek solutions and compromise, respect the privilege of public service and be optimistic about the world."
In Delaney's view, Democrats close to him said, there is room in the race for a candidate who can run as a job creator who understands the need for regulation in business but also the value of the free market — a strong general election candidate if he can weather a primary, as a person familiar with his plans put it on Thursday.
Asked about the idea of a New Democrat entering the 2020 race first, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Adam Green, replied, "John who?"
Another consideration for Delaney, whose estimated net worth is more than $91 million, came down to a question of self-funding: If he's going to spend millions of his own money, better to do it on a national level, as two Democrats put it.
"He was never gonna run for governor," said a top Maryland Democrat, noting that the sitting Republican in office, Gov. Larry Hogan, has a strong approval rating and would be tough to beat for any Democrat. "It sounds crazy, but it’s not as crazy if you take a second to think about it. There is no Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama this time."
Even with more than three years to go until the next presidential election, Delaney has been considering the idea of a 2020 bid for a number of months now.
His political advisers have included strategists at SKDKnickerbocker, the prominent Washington firm, as well as friends from a large cross-section of the political word. The invite list for his annual Christmas party ranges from financial executives and leaders in the Catholic Church to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
“We cannot tolerate, as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people — sons and daughters, even husbands and wives.”
President Donald Trump gave a speech in New York on Friday to law enforcement officers about street gangs, which he wants to crack down on.
He ended up giving a rambling soliloquy that touched on, well, a lot of stuff. Here are some of the most bizarre comments he made.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
"He looks very mean. I said, 'That's what I'm looking for.'"
"He looks very nasty. He looks very mean. I said, that's what I'm looking for," Trump said about the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Tom Homan. "That's exactly what I was looking for."
"Like in the old Wild West, right?"
"One by one we're liberating our American towns. Can you believe that I'm saying that?" Trump said while speaking about MS-13 gang members. "It's like I'd see in a movie. They're liberating a town, like in the old Wild West, right?"
"Don't worry about it."
In a vague comment, Trump referenced issues with other countries, but it was unclear what exactly he was talking about.
"We had some problems with certain countries, still do with a couple, but we'll take care of them, don't worry about it," Trump said.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
"I wasn't going to say NO to a President in need," Ty Cobb wrote in his goodbye email to the lawyers at the law firm he has called his own for nearly 30 years before departing to join the Trump White House next week.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News provided after initial publication of his goodbye email, Cobb wrote, "I am deeply grateful to the President for the honor he bestowed upon me by asking me to serve my country yet again. I look forward to working with him, General Kelly and others to navigate the turbulent environment domestically and abroad with courage, creativity and integrity. I believe in the goal of making America great again and forever. It is important to the free world and to me."
Cobb sent the goodbye email to the lawyers at Hogan Lovells on Friday.
Ty Cobb in 2004.
Jerry Cleveland / Getty Images
"However you may feel about my next assignment, trust that I take my ethics, and my strongly held views on the importance of support, tolerance and equality for all races, ethnicities, genders, and the LGBT community with me into that new workplace," he wrote — a sign of the growing difficulty lawyers and others face in choosing to work for the Trump administration.
Cobb also highlighted his "passion for conservation and the environment" in the email.
Cobb's hiring was announced by the White House earlier this month.
Cobb did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the email.
The full email Cobb sent to his Hogan Lovells colleagues:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It has been my genuine honor to serve as a partner here for 29 years. I am deeply grateful for the collaboration with my talented colleagues, the support from lawyers and staff, the responsibilities entrusted to me (both elected and assigned) and the simple pride I felt in being part of this great institution. I likewise have been genuinely touched over the past 3 decades by the confidence and trust of colleagues and staff who sought my guidance and/or active assistance in personal or family matters. Thank you so for allowing me to help. I will always be grateful to the legends of the firm who first showed confidence in me and my suggestion of opening a Baltimore office in 1988--Bob Glen Odle, Jay Ricks, Arthur Rothkopf, George Carneal, David Hensler and Allen Snyder. A special thanks to Bob Glen Odle for investing in a cocky young former prosecutor and creating running room for me to build a practice and succeed here. It did help that in our first meeting we were both wearing Lucchese cowboy boots!
I want to thank Steve Immelt for our 40 years of friendship and his patience, excellent leadership of the firm, and years of wise counsel. You all are in great hands. Special thanks as well to the enforcement and investigations team, best in the world, for their collegiality and the reputation they have achieved individually and for the firm. Austin Mittler, Allen Snyder and David Hensler taught me so much about upgrading my act. Deeply grateful to them all. Susie Thompson and Dianne Stettler have been godsends to me over the past 14 years, and Jennifer Seibert, Mini Kim, Steve Thornton, Steve "Stewie" Pattee, Richard "Rocky" Meador, have always been very generous to this often unduly needy partner. Many many others deserve special mention, but this is a note not a treatise, and I apologize for all omissions.
However you may feel about my next assignment, trust that I take my ethics, and my strongly held views on the importance of support, tolerance and equality for all races, ethnicities, genders, and the LGBT community with me into that new workplace. Likewise, as a long time member and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Grand Canyon Trust, my passion for conservation and the environment will never be dampened. In choosing to accept the position I have been asked to undertake by the President of the United States, and while family will always be most important to me, I was guided by "duty, honor, country", a phrase which I was recently reminded of by our own Senator Warner. As the oldest of eight kids from rural Western [Kansas], raised by a father who was a Navy fighter pilot in WWII, and having been given such great opportunities by our country over time, I wasn’t going to say NO to a President in need. I very much hope to contribute positively and professionally as a public servant yet again. Best wishes and much success always. Long live Hogan Lovells! Please stay in touch!
There were a lot of ways to go with this anecdote.
This is Reince Priebus, the former White House Chief of Staff.
By now you've probably heard President Donald Trump announced on Friday that Priebus is out and Gen. John F. Kelly is taking over the role. It's a big deal.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
I first met Stephen Miller on Twitter in the relatively gentle days of 2012, when he called me a "ridiculous hack" in the course of criticizing our coverage of Mitt Romney.
Miller, who writes under the name @redsteeze and isn't to be confused with the White House adviser of the same name, is among the most effective of the self-appointed public editors who harry journalists on Twitter. (He also got some attention recently for attending a women-only showing of Wonder Woman.) He comes from the right and has an, in my view unfounded, belief that most media sins can be tracked to an attempt to push a progressive agenda. But in a universe increasingly dominated by bad faith trolls whose explicit goal is to destroy the traditional media, Miller — despite his vitriol — is usually in good faith.
Miller is also a member of one of the most interesting groups in American politics right now: Anti-Trump conservatives. They're politically homeless, ideology untethered from party, and so they often have interesting things to say.
(Slightly edited for clarity.)
Read the full transcript below or subscribe to listen.
Ben Smith: You're part of, among, the first media critics on Twitter who was reading very closely the mainstream media. I guess which is a category that BuzzFeed sometimes claims to be in. But the thing that struck me is like that kind of media criticism is now the favored sport of the President of the United States, and there's a huge number of people now attacking the media from I guess what you'd call the right, the kind of fake news crowd.
But increasingly some of them really aren't good faith at all. Like the idea is really just to troll you, and their goal is to destroy the idea of a free media and reporting.
You're in the other category, which is like, when you get things wrong, you tend to admit it. You focus on facts.
Stephen Miller: I'm not pushing Pizzagate.
You're not pushing Pizzagate. There's a world of like, bad faith trolling. And a world of good faith trolling. Do you consider yourself a troll? Is that bad word?
SM: I think the problem is that trolling has become a lazy word for a lot of people in positions like yours, or people at the New York Times or the Washington Post or CNN, to just write off anybody who, you know, fires off a criticism toward them, when good trolling to me is actually just getting someone to admit they're wrong by using their own point of view.
So, a good example about this was I love seeing stories about Planned Parenthood throwing $1 million fundraisers, and they're throwing these galas and stuff like that, and I love kind of just going—“Huh, if Planned Parenthood can raise, fundraise money, hmmm, it's nice that we're giving them…” They can make their own case for eliminating public funding, and then you'll get people kind of coming in saying, you know, "These galas and these celebrity balls, well they need to raise funds." And you kind of use this to make your own point. So you're using their argument to make your own point. It's not so much just throwing criticism their way. So, yeah, I think trolling has become the lazy word for anybody who criticizes anybody else.
The word used to be blogger.
I remember when I broke some news for Politico years ago and Rudy Giuliani dismissed it as having been broken by a blogger. And you're sitting here in our lovely little podcast studio, wearing a “New Fucking York” t-shirt under what looks like a blue blazer, and having just gotten off the subway, and you look basically like your Twitter avatar—kind of spiky hair. The only time we met was at a bar in Williamsburg where you live, which is not I think the stereotype of conservatives in America. But I guess I was wondering: what's your deal? Where did you grow up?
SM: I'm from Midwest, originally from Denver, and basically spent every day from the time I was 15 years old on trying to get out of it. I spent a little bit of time in Los Angeles doing film rejects stuff, which, you know, I fell out of love with that real fast. And I went back to Denver and got my degree, I studied multimedia design, so it's anything from web design to graphic design to—
And this is what you do for a living, right? Did for a living, before you became an Establishment Media figure?
SM: Right, and I still do some of it on the side, but none of you guys will ever find it. So, I do a pretty good job—
Don't go issuing challenges like that to crazy people.
SM: I did a pretty good job covering my tracks.
That's what Gary Hart said.
SM: I spent about two years in Portland, which again, for a guy who's politically conservative, I've grown up in liberal social circles.
And tell me, did you have a political awakening at some point? Were you radicalized on the internet?
SM: No, no, I've always been conservative. My father basically drove Rush Limbaugh into my skull for about five, six, seven years, so I mean he's just the guy we'd listen to, he'd turn it up in the car. Some of that stuff kind of stuck.
It sounds like, desensitizing.
SM: Right. Yeah. Child torture. But I've always kind of had a problem with authority figures and I've never been really good at people just saying, "This is what you're supposed to do and this is what you're supposed to think." And I ran with crowds of basically all thought kind of the same way.
You know, though, I basically became really politically active, I would say, around the 2004 election with Kerry and Bush. And I just, like I said, I've always kind of been a right-leaning guy, I'm still an avid George W. Bush fan. And, you know, I would just kind of have all my friends pushing this campaign stuff, and then I was in Portland Oregon when Obama won, and they're running out in the streets banging pots and pans and singing Bob Dylan songs, and I was just kind of like—I was at a friend's house and all I remember saying to that was, "Gee, gosh, I hope he lives up to it."
Yeah, I wonder. It does make me thing if you'd been in Colorado Springs you would have wound up a left-winger.
SM: I mean, maybe! Probably. Probably would have.
And when did you discover Twitter? When did you get on the internet politically?
SM: I had one Twitter account that I just used for kind of my friends and just to do cool design links from design blogs, which is kind of what I was involved in with work, so I would just share kind of fun things, like, "Here's this and here's this."
But even going back to MySpace, I was posting kind of political—everybody who remembers MySpace, you could post your own separate blogs in your own box and everything like that. And so I would be posting kind of political rantings there a little bit. But as far as Twitter, I would say it was roughly around Occupy Wall Street when I moved to New York, when the whole media was just on top of this Occupy thing. "Oh, this is beautiful, it's Les Mis, down in like, Zuccotti Park right in the shadow of Wall Street. God!"
And you know, and I lived right down there at the time. I just moved here. And I walked down there, and I took a look at it, and it wasn’t what anybody in media was saying it was. It looked like something out of Mad Max. I mean it was just guys strung out all over the place—yeah, you had a lot of like socialism, communism, stuff like that. But you know there was also reports rampant sexual assault, there was guys just seriously just getting in cops faces, a cop will just be standing on a thing and a guy would just run up and scream at his face.
So, that was it for me, that was kind of my breaking point, and that's kind of when I started a political Twitter, which was kind of anonymous, it was not my name or anything like that.
Is this @redsteeze? It was another one?
SM: No, it was named something else, I don't even—it was like, I did like some really weird distressed punky elephant logo too, for the GOP. But I was just kind of unhappy with state of conservative media, and Twitter is the only place where people like me, where I didn't come from journalism school, I don't go from Ivy League straight to the Washington Post. So it's a place where people like me can voice our opinions, and if you're good at it, people I think eventually catch on. And you know, I basically said, "Well if I get five thousand followers, I'll start a blog and if I get ten thousand, I'll do this,” and that's kind of what happened.
Yeah, Twitter, I mean it's small-d democratic, right? I mean you can, you can fight your way into the conversation, right?
SM: Right. Right. You still have to have a good sense and kind of know what you're talking about. If you're just throwing a bomb, and you're just using it to vent, well, yeah you can use it that way. I never understand these deep conversations about harassment and trolling on Twitter, and all these things, that we have to get this stuff under control.
Twitter to me is whatever you want it to be. If you want drama on your timeline, you're going to get drama on your timeline. But you can easily shut drama off of your timeline. It could be anything you want. You can reveal anything you want about yourself. You can put your kids up there or not. I'm pretty guarded about my personal life. Accidentally one time I snapped a photo off my phone of my bedroom of my cat sitting on the thing, and it uploaded to Twitter. I had no idea it was up there. And people laughed and said, "Oh no, don't take that down! It's like seeing a unicorn."
So people, you're as open as you wish to be on Twitter, but it's anything you want it to be. You can control almost 100 percent of that environment that you exist in—if someone's screaming at you, block them out, mute them, block them.
Obviously there's going to be cases where people are going to use this sense of cyberstalking and things like that, but for the most part when you hear about harassment and bullying, I just don't buy it. Twitter is whatever you want to use it for.
I mean you—and I actually—have been very careful about what you reveal about your, who you, on Twitter, are off Twitter: your family, your personal life. Lots of people don't have that luxury. Lots of people, all of that is all that is Googleable, easily found.
You know, and obviously like you and I probably get fewer rape threats than like some of our female colleagues on both sides.
SM: You'd be surprised.
On both sides of the aisle. And maybe you and I have like thicker skin than most people about vitriolic personal attacks, and people on the internet wishing you death. Like, I certainly have a thick skin about that.
SM: I don't get that many death threats though.
Oh, well, congratulations.
SM: I'm really disappointed, but that's the thing, I hear people talking about death threats.
But I also think like you're saying like, there's a kind of like glibness to saying like, "Come on, deal with the death threats. I can deal with them." I mean, isn't that kind of a lot to ask of a regular person?
SM: No, no it's not. They can, if someone says, "I hope you die, you dumb bitch," you can block that and go about your day. There is this kind of—
You can also block that and be really freaked out by it, right? Are you wrong to be freaked out by that? Is Twitter required—
SM: I'm not going to say somebody's wrong.
But Twitter's required to host that content, it is important that Twitter hosts that content, promote it, circulate it, like it's their obligation?
SM: No, no. I'm not a Twitter free speech—I'm not one of these guys who thinks Twitter is a right. Like, you're seeing these articles about people who Donald Trump blocks on Twitter now that are suing. These people are ridiculous. You know, like I said, Twitter can be whatever you want it for, but they can also do whatever they want, that's because when you sign up for it, you're abiding by their rules.
So, yeah, if somebody commits a death threat, you should be able to report that and that should be dealt with. But I'm talking about, you're kind of talking about that could freak you out and stuff like that. Yeah. I fully believe it shouldn't freak you out. You're on the internet.
I had a friend who was not political and he jumped on Twitter for about three or four months to kind of promote some of his own music and then he's gone. He was basically like, "No, this is like a political mosh pit, I can't do this." And that's kind of how I look at it. But, no, I think, I mean you might be right about that—where you can take something like that and just brush it off and I can take something like that and brush it off. I'm not going to tell someone else how to feel, I'm telling you from my perspective. It's pretty easy to just go about your day.
Right, and I think I've always enjoyed being called a ridiculous hack by you.
SM: Yeah. You have gotten better.
Because that's like within the spectrum as a reporter on the internet, like that’s sort of how I've lived since 2004. It used to be comment sections. At one point, Media Matters was sending around reporters’ email addresses and I got like 1500 e-mails one day from them. That was actually, of all the annoying things, that one is harder to block.
You're part of a kind of intellectual world that I think is one of the most interesting places on the internet now, which is conservatives who are not fans of Donald Trump. Beyond not fanSM: conservatives who hate Donald Trump. And it seems like it means that you have nothing to lose in a certain way. Like it feels liberating. Like I feel like you're better at this now.
SM: It's only the country!
Just the country. But back in the day when you were defending Mitt Romney, I don't know, there's a kind of handcuffs that come with partisanship. Do you feel liberated? By the fact that you've got nobody to champion?
SM: No. I kind of, I just like, kind of snarked about, all we have to lose is the country. I think that's how a lot of us look at it. I think that, that was also part of the problem with Trump is, even upon his election, he may be successful short-term and Trumpism might be successful short-term—he's going to give people what they want—but inevitably he's probably going to end up destroying the right, is going to end up destroying conservatism. And there's a lot of people who like to associate Trump with conservatives, and he simply has never even claimed that he's a conservative, I don't believe. He tries to kind of wedge himself into there, but that's just what he does.
So whenever people say, you know, "Conservatives are allowing this." No, I mean conservatives were the only people who tried to stop this. Like really, genuinely tried to stop all of this while CNN and MSNBC and the whole media—MSNBC—and the whole media was just loving him beating up on all the golden boys. They loved that Trump was just going after Cruz and Paul and Rubio and all these guys.
I think they loved the ratings.
SM: Well of course they did, but they love the show. And then of course you have Trump on Saturday Night Live and you have all of this stuff, so it was great when he was doing it to the right, it was great when, you know, Trump is going after the people that generally, the, you know mainstream media who also finds you know, "We don't really like these guys."
And all of a sudden, conservatives for six, seven months, you know, we're the ones seeing this happen, he steamrolls us, which we kind of just had to accept, like, "Okay, well that's over with." Then he of course steamrolls Hillary, and now he's of course trying to steamroll media. So, is it kind of liberating? I mean no, because we care very deeply about what long term health of where this is going to lead. Not just of the party and not just our ideology, but also what it's going to do to the country.
You know, I wonder, this was actually a question, we were tweeting about the interview with Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, who told me he thinks the corporate media should be replaced by people's media.
SM: He wants just about everything publicly funded.
But, he's been incredibly critical of—bitterly critical of—the New York media that he deals with. And I said to him, "These are criticisms I understand at another moment maybe, these are reasonable arguments to have. Doesn't this just make you fundamentally an attack dog for the White House? I mean aren't you basically kind of a soldier in Donald Trump's Army? If what you are doing all day is attacking and chipping away at the media institutions?"
SM: I think there's a big misunderstanding with, I think people in your industry and people again with bigger outlets as well as you know—we are unwilling soldiers, every time we're attacking media, we're we're kind of doing Trump's work for him while he sits back and kind of does the Mr Burns, "Excellent."
But here's what I'll tell you. Our media right now is really the only thing that can hold him accountable. Conservatives can't hold him accountable anymore. The Republicans aren't going to hold him accountable anymore. And that requires a good media and right now 90 percent of our media is bad.
So a good media has to hold him accountable on serious issues, not things like his ice cream scoops, not things like a video breakdown of every second that he shook a Emmanuel Macron's hand for 25 seconds, you know?
These are things that make it obnoxious and these are things that empower him and so where I come from is when I'm lobbing bombs at you guys, I'm coming from a spot of like you guys need to be better because you're the only ones that can hold him accountable now. This isn't about so much bias, it's about the need to drive content and the need to drive, like you said, ratings, overwhelms anything else that we've been hearing about this new golden age of journalism. It's just, it's not that.
So I'm kind of coming from the part of some tough love of saying, "You know what you guys? You're screwing this up." Like what you're doing is not going to hold him accountable, it's probably going to end up leading to more of him. Does that make sense?
That's actually kind of partly why I thought I wanted to talk to you. Because I think that right now it's so noisy out there, that a lot of people in my profession who perhaps spend less time on Twitter than I do, it's like very hard to distinguish between you and someone like my Mike Cernovich, who, you know, like Charlie Wurzel had a great piece about. But kind of these broadcast news interviews with someone like that, who really isn't interested in—he's not trying to make the media better. He's trying to destroy it.
SM: Right. But the media's never going to be destroyed. These guys have this myth in their head that they're going to be able to take down CNN, and they're going to be able to take down BuzzFeed.
Right, but there's not a good faith critique of our ignoring Pizzagate to be had. Right? Like that's not a good faith argument.
SM: But on the other had, I read Charlie's stuff, I think he is probably your best reporter right now, but nobody does more to elevate these guys like Cernovich on the alt-right than our medias. I mean, when CBS gives him a primetime slot—and they do this for a reason. They do this to hold somebody like him up, and say, "This is what the right is now. This is who the right has become. They're overwhelmed with Trumpism."
I think you overthink the amount of theory that goes into this stuff.
SM: Well, maybe, that's kind of how I look at it. We're going to give Cernovich, we're going to give these guys so much attention, that, see, this is what conservatives are. Just like they did with Trump.
Right, but it sort of squeezes out the more responsible right, the real red, in a way. Like, because I think that you have folks who really don't believe in anything and are looking to destroy us—I think Trump essentially represents this. And that it's very hard to engage in good faith. Donald Trump, the media's not having a good faith argument with him, he's not listening to the response to his criticism and modulating his tone.
SM: Well, but neither are they. We saw this with Cuomo's interview with Conway, this 35-minute just, "Nuh uh, you are!" "Nuh uh, YOU are!" fest. There was nothing involved in that benefits anybody. I mean there's not one side making their argument and another side making their argument or challenging—it just becomes this constant slap fight. And that's where I think people tune out. And they just say, "Well, we've had enough of this."
Right. That's why I assume you sort of adopt such a kind of like calm and soothing tone in your rhetoric on Twitter.
Because I think my colleagues who block you or who aren't a fan of yours, I think it's mostly because they feel like you're hyper-aggressive and that there's like kind of a hyper-aggressive voice on Twitter that makes it hard to engage the criticism.
SM: Well I'm a blunt instrument. And I do believe, like I said, Twitter can be whatever you want it to be. I believe it to be sort of a weapon, again, where someone like me—and I don't mean that in the sense of like, I don't want to be someone who like tries to dogpile somebody with 200 followers, I kind of don't ever really believe in punching down social media. It's just not what I do, unless someone makes a really, really fun comment or really make one so easy that I just can't pass it up.
But I do consider it to be a kind of weapon that I can use, especially someone, like I said, who just was a guy who kind of stumbled into this whole thing, and for some reason, ungodly reason, I have no idea why you amass a little bit of a following, and it kind of gains and it kind of gains.
Do you feel like you have to constantly modulate what is punching down as your own voice gets bigger? Like I certainly found that. Right? Like, for me to pick a fight with a junior reporter somewhere now is like really obnoxious, where like, years ago, I was a junior reporter picking fights with other people. I mean, you sort of are the medium now. You have a column at Fox.
SM: I'm doing a lot—I'm contributing Game of Thrones to Fox, so let's not get too—I'm not like, you know, fluffing Hannity here under the desk. And we just talked about this on my podcast where I got a little bit of shit for selling out.
What's your podcast called?
SM: It's the Conservatarians with John Gabriel at Ricochet, so, which we kind of try to keep it humorish, and this is kind of where I come from to write. I try to keep things at least funny, in any sense, even if it's hyper-aggressive, I want there to be some brand of humor in there because I think that that's where—and this is where your industry doesn't understand the guys on the alt-right and the guys who post means and stuff like that—is if they can be funnier than a lot of people, you're going to lose that argument.
So as far as like modulating, yeah, I mean, a little bit. But a guy like me with just a blue checkmark and, you know, I think I have like 90,000 followers, but in all honesty, with Twitter engagement, it's probably twenty thousand you know and then even more people that engage with me is probably 20,000, and even more that people engage with me is probably 25.
So I do believe in using it a little bit responsibly. I'm not there to, you know, go and try and sickly own and destroy Sharon and the photo with her two dogs with an American flag, who's typing in all caps at me, "MAGA TRAIN BABY, MAGA TRAIN" and just going crazy. That's not what I'm, they're using it for.
Even if I have veterans who jump on me. And there's a lot of veterans use Twitter, this is one thing that I found really interesting, even if they disagree with me and you know they, they throw the worst insult at me, I generally go and look at a bio and if it's a veteran, I just leave it alone.
When I disagree most with you, it's when you kind of like impute motives or like make guesses about how things are working internally here or somewhere else when I'm like, "No, sometimes we screw up." Sometimes, like, you sort of take a political lens to something that isn't being thought about politically.
Do you feel like you've learned or changed your view on how these institutions work over four or five years of really like, engaging us pretty frontally and inviting with people?
SM: No. No! I think for the most part you guys are pretty much everything that I still think. And when I say "you guys," I mean media at large. And generally when I mean media at large, I mean obviously the networks, I mean obviously WashPost, the New York Times, New York Daily News, even some of the right-leaning stuff.
Who do you think is good? What do you like?
SM: In media, or both sides? Who do I read?
In the MSM, I guess, which is—it's sort of still a useful term. Like, who is doing it well.
SM: Nobody. (laughs) Just nobody. But here's what I'll say: I read a lot more left-leaning stuff than I do right-leaning. Like I haven't I haven't gone to the Drudge Report in years. I mean literally, I don't go to that website.
You're missing out.
SM: Play, "Which one is the Alex Jones link?" If you just go up and down. I think I went to it when he linked to a couple of things, and I'd go like that.
I mean for the punching bag that they are, I read Vox every day. I do read you guys occasionally, I do read the New Republic a lot, I do read the New York Times, I do read the Washington Post. I read a lot of this media more than I would say I read National Review or if I even read Fox News or Red State, or the Federalist, these right blogs that are out there. I like to know what the other side is thinking and more importantly, I like to know what they're arguing.
But most of what we're doing is reporting and I think that's like a big part of the imbalance. Like there aren't really meaningful conservative reporting institutions at the moment. I know there are sort of attempts to build them, but like, I think like 95 percent of what I think about, what Dean Baquet thinks about, this less true obviously of Vox, of more sort of politicized places, is like, "Are we sure that those girls said those things to R. Kelly?"
You know, is the reporting on stories. And not that we don't have blind spots, and not that we certainly don't like, culturally come from a certain place here.
SM: Do you think that you come from a standpoint that's either inherently from the left or progressive—and I think you can say progressive without meaning, "I'm talking about Nancy Pelosi?
I think the blind spots tend to be kind of a cultural and generational. Like, my newsroom is full of people under 40, who mostly live in New York, and wanted to be journalists. Some of them come from the right, some of them worked in conservative media, including myself and our political editor, but I think like our blind spots tend to be like most of all generational, honestly.
SM: So you so you just think that based on the fact that you're hiring these younger people and younger people are now coming from more progressive institutions?
But even mostly the kinds of people, mostly came out of—not all, but most of them college graduates.
Certainly not a requirement to be in this business.
But there's like an obvious kind of demographic skew, there's like all sorts of cool-kid, inside-Twitter blind spots that you have as well as I do probably, about how we see the world. Some of that overlaps with ideology, some of it maybe overlaps like, more like if the word neoliberalism is back en vogue.
SM: Here's a good example. And I wrote about this. When there was a case a Yasmin Seweid who was a woman in New York City who claimed, she went and told cops, she had her hijab ripped off.
This is actually a really good example. I was going to bring this one up, too, because I think it's good for us to talk about this one.
SM: And you're original headline was, "Drunk Men Yelling Donald Trump Attempt To Remove Women's Hijab on New York Subway."
That headline should have said, as the story said, "She Claims."
SM: Right. Exactly.
And actually, after you pointed it out, I think we changed it.
SM: You changed it to, here's what you changed it to: "Woman Arrested For Allegedly Making Up Story of New York Subway Attack."
Well, the story did change. But here's the thing, like, when somebody makes a police report, that's an allegation. But it is something that, if you pick up the Washington Times today, you will see the word alleged a number of times in that newspaper. It's a convention of journalism—may be it’s wrong—but that when somebody has filed charges of some kind of crime being committed, you report it! And you do say allegedly, right? And I think our initial headline obviously should have had that. And then, appropriately, when it turned out to be that she'd made it up, we went with that.
But I feel like to me what you were implying was the media sort of conspiring to create an impression that like there's this anti-Muslim wave in America which doesn't exist. To me, there's lots of other evidence that it does exist. Of course that's why the media is sensitive to that kind of incidents, because you just had a guy running for president just like attacking Muslims wholesale.
That seems reasonable. But also obviously like I wrote about the woman who said that an Obama supporter had carved, what did she supposedly carve? She carved a B into her face?
SM: She carved a B into her cheek.
She carved it. But it's a huge challenge for journalists that people lie to them and make things up and lie to the cops.
SM: Right, but skepticism to me should override anything that Donald Trump is saying about Muslim bans, and there's this wave of crimes—I mean skepticism to me is the absolute most necessary thing, to me at least, from what I see in journalism today. And there's not a lot of it. Everybody is kind of rushing to prove their confirmation bias, like, "Oo, this woman had her hijab ripped off, so we gotta go and report that." As opposed to going, "Okay, let's wait and see how this goes."
There was one instance in Oregon as well which people just dropped it. It was really, this guy claimed somebody broke into his house and spray painted and wrecked his house and they put a cross and bullets all on the table, and stuff like that. And this one wasn't really picked up by national media, because I think they looked at this and went: something doesn't smell right here. This doesn't pass the smell test. Like the words were misspelled, it was like, "GEET OUT OF AMEERICA" or something. But then there was no follow up to this at all, and it was kind of like—and then he ended up on a GoFundMe where it was supposed to go to repairing his house and then he actually puts on his GoFundMe, "Oh, by the way, I have a friend who's going to do all of this so I'm just going to keep the money."
Right, then like the reality that there are liars and disturbed people who make up crimes and they often latch on to a sort of plausible narrative and sometimes those crimes, like those fake crimes, are sort of have a "too good to check" quality ... I mean the woman who carved, "B" and "O" into her face—
SM: Are you doing "What about"-ism right now? You're doing "What about?"-ism.
I remember Michelle Malkin actually of all people immediately said, "This, this is like too much what I want to believe to be true for it to be true." I think that's an important reflex to have. But I guess what we have tried to do, and it's so hard with this stuff, is to report the hell out of and document: Is there an uptick in bullying in schools? Like we tracked down dozens and dozens of incidents and parents and teachers saying like, "Yes. And here's what actually happened, in great detail." And I'm not sure there's a real substitute for just trying to report these things out.
And then when you're wrong, and to me this is actually one of the things that distinguishes what I see as a legitimate media from the really kind of new, totally bad faith media, is that when the story—when either you've made an error or you've been lied to, and the police have been lied to in that case, you like very aggressively and thoroughly rewrite the story to say the opposite of what it said.
As opposed to trying to argue your way into some position of consistency.
SM: Right. Right.
And actually, I think one of the things that I see in you is that you're very attuned to hypocrisy, and to people being inconsistent. And I think for reporters, you shouldn't be invested in your previous theory, your previous story being true. You should be invested in getting the thing you're writing about right, and if that contradicts something you wrote before, better to have the contradiction than to sort of feel some investment in not correcting. Like, that's always the sort of, when people are like micro-arguing about corrections, that's always the red flag for me.
SM: Right. I mean my problem is—
But you're not going to find someone who hasn't at some point been lied to, and, you know.
SM: No, but again that this, this comes from a place of, "Are you eager to believe this person because, like you said, they're giving you something that proves your narrative and I think that narrative journalism is a big problem."
I mean it's a human problem, it's a like—I agree.
SM: The thing about narrative journalism to me is, and this is mainly where I come down hard on BuzzFeed is, anybody who kind of notices me on Twitter: I don't go after Media Matters. I don't go after ThinkProgress. I don't go after Mother Jones. I don't go after Salon—I don't even read Salon.
I can't believe you don't go after Salon. Man you gotta hold those guys accountable.
SM: Salon gets more traffic from people on the right. I think that's your industry, is just, "Hey, let's go piss off some conservatives and we're just going to get our ad money there."
Oh, that's unfair.
SM: But I don't pick on these people. I don't go after ideological differences on Twitter. What I want and what I look at is when I see outlets who say, "Well no, we're, we're just, we're down the middle and we're doing these things and we're hip like this." All I care about is what somebody admits what they are. And BuzzFeed's kind of this thing to me where you have this progressive ideological bent to you, and you are very, very very skilled at kind of hiding that behind the rest of the brand and the content which, in all honesty, you kind of inherited when you came into BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed was, I mean I remember, clicking on the site 15 years ago, and it was just like—
It was the world's leading web culture and cat site.
SM: The lowest common denominator for the web.
How often were you clicking on it again?
SM: Oh, well no, no, no.
No, I mean, we still do tons of kind of web culture.
SM: Right, but you guys aren't like what I said about Mother Jones and stuff. Like, Mother Jones isn't presenting their arguments about the problems of why the Republicans are going to kill everyone with their health care bill, and oh, by the way, here's a video of a cat eating a watermelon kind of thing. And so always my thing—and if you've noticed, I haven't been very tough on you guys lately—mainly because I think you guys have admitted what you are. I think you guys are leaning into your progressive bent a little bit.
That doesn't mean what you do isn't credible. Like some of the journalism that you're doing, because I think there is credible journalism on the left. It's just again—
It's interesting, because I see it, again, almost in the opposite way. Like, certainly we come from a place which is actually, the watermelon—it's hard to picture a cat eating watermelon, but I get the idea—really what that is a culture. That's like the web culture, of your and my 2000s, sort of 90s youth, right? That's more a culture than it is certainly an ideology.
But any culture comes with its, you know, the Upper West Side culture the New York Times comes out of comes with its set of beliefs. And some of them totally uncontroversial, right? There's probably not a news outlet in America that's like, "Well, on the question of racial segregation, there are two sides, right?" A lot of this stuff is banal. The assumptions that you make.
SM: Right. And that was kind of your famous ethics thing, where you said that on certain issues, there aren't two sides.
In the culture that we are part of and come out of, the question of whether gay people are equal to straight people or whether being gay is like a psychological disease, like that's not an open question. I don't want to pretend that we treat it as one.
The question of how, whether a florist should be required to provide services, like that legal or constitutional question, that's something we're going to cover in a straightforward way and don't have a, sort of have some kind of fixed perspective on. But I guess—what I actually think like from my perspective, and I think sometimes what I found frustrating, and when I was at Politico we got this from the left all the time, which iSM: "All we're asking is you admit that what you're fundamentally about is pushing an ideology, and everything else you do is in the service of that."
And like, if you've come up, as I have, as a reporter like I covered city hall for years, no, like what we're fundamentally about is trying to get good stories and print stories somebody didn't want printed. In the course of that obviously we come out of a place and often we put a lot of internal energy into checking our instincts and sometimes failing at that, but I think that like people who are interested in and motivated by ideology project that on an industry that like surely has its blind spots and is swimming in the same ideological waters as everybody else, but it's not, it's just not what we spend our time thinking about.
SM: No, and I'm not one of those guys who thinks you guys go into a boardroom and go, "How can we make...?"
The Star chamber?
SM: Right, but I mean, there was one major instance of this, and this was to me kind of one of these seminal moments in media, which was the all-famous Barack Obama selfie stick video that you guys did. I mean there's so much working in that video.
If I could get Donald Trump to goof around with a selfie stick, I would. We had Ted Cruz in here doing them.
SM: That's the problem. You shouldn't.
We had Ted Cruz, I think he did a Simpson's impression for us.
SM: Right. It wasn't that it was the selfie stick. I mean you're going to get the scold tour. I was going to say: "You know, there's more important things happening."
That was the day Barack Obama became president.
SM: Right. But my problem on this, and not even my problem, but what I said is kind of, well, this video was done to promote Obamacare. Like this wasn't just Obama dancing around, you know, being goofy with sunglasses and a selfie stick. This was BuzzFeed actively participating in pushing the President of the United States' health care law, which was trying to get people enrolled into, and in return for that, what it looked like in return for that is that he gave you guys an interview.
And so you're basically trading access to go out and push Obama's law. Now, to me that looks like well, there are several reasons why you would agree to that. One, because Obama's cool. Okay, he's everywhere in culture, he's on award shows, he's on ESPN, he's hanging out with celebrities and Obama is kind of this cultural cool guy, more than he is a politician and a president.
But even more so, you're helping him push this agenda basically forward. And so I look at things like that and they state, to me, that's the problem. The problem isn't the selfie stick. The problem isn't the video. The problem is you have news organizations actively stepping in to push their agenda.
I think any time you get access to a public figure, that public figure is going to use that to push their agenda. Like when I interviewed Bill de Blasio, he was pushing his public—there's just no circumstance in which a public official figure goes on any forum where they're not. And that, and I think like that exchange, like I basically am a believer in that line that “access is a curse,” and that exchange of access for the person's use of your megaphone should make everybody nervous. It's part of the balance of that kind of journalism.
But it is interesting, I think like you also—the sort of critique of like blending entertainment and news is something we've thought about a lot. And we have more much, more separate entertainment and news divisions than we did than at that time.
But I guess I also felt there was sort of absolute value to getting Obama to participate in the Thanks Obama Reddit meme. So, you know, it's like you balance.
SM: So I mean.
Such a value, they shut down the whole subreddit.
SM: Those are the things that I look at, when you talk about hypocrisy and then you talk about, "Well no we're just, we're kind of looking for good stories." Things that are glaring to me, and things that kind of stick out to people on the right who look at this stuff, a good example is, and I'm by no means like a hard pro-life guy, this is not my, this is not my issue.
You're not. That's interesting to me. Because you tweet a lot about it. You feel like there's an unfairness to that point of view, in a way?
SM: Oh, of course there is, and it's not even unfairness, it's institutionalized. And it's—there's all this umbrella pushed under women's rights and things like that, but I think what became really evident is when David Daleiden went undercover at these clinics and then it became automatically written off as, "Okay, these are edited, these are illegal," and things like this. And Mother Jones wins awards for doing this very same thing, when they go undercover at animal plants, basically.
And so the problem where I look at this, and I go, "Okay." People who remember when these videos broke, Planned Parenthood was spinning. Their head was just going, you know? Cecile Richards apologized, she looked like a deer in the headlights, SKDKnickerbocker gets involved, which is, I'm sure anyone in your audience knows who they are, it's basically the biggest Democrat PR firm. And I admire these guys—it's funny.
I think we did a story basically saying this, right, that prosecuting people for obtaining undercover recordings that probably do violate California's one-party consent whatever, whatever. That said, reporters often rely on sources who record things and give them those documents that maybe like, putting aside the law, which we all respect briefly, like reporters sympathies instinctively ought to be with people who are making undercover recordings and publicizing them.
SM: But the thinking where I look at this and go, "Okay, so and I see kind of how the sausage gets made, and nothing on, a reporter like Kate Nocera, but she came straight from BuzzFeed to SKDK back to Buzzfeed.
A reporter of mine who made a brief career choice, did not work on this stuff.
SM: I know. But even more so to the point, BuzzFeed's health reporter accepted awards from Planned Parenthood at one of their galas, which is fundraising.
Somebody who is not in our news division and would not have if it was in our news division.
SM: But, I'm showing you and for your audience how somebody like me looks at these things through a lens and goes, "Huh, this is interesting."
And I feel like somebody like you can easily like put dots together like that. And not sort of look into newsroom and see like, "Oh actually, like, perhaps some of the people you mentioned are like having a very intense conversations about how can we make sure that we are accurate in the way we cover those stories, you know?"
And I do think there's a glibness sometimes, when you come with the expectation that those dots are going to form a picture, you can find it. I mean I think something you said earlier that was kind of interesting that like the media doesn't point to these Planned Parenthood fundraisers and say, "Why do they really need public funding?" I mean, that's certainly true though of Sloan Kettering, the cancer center in New York, has galas with celebrities that raises lots of money. So, I mean, it's not in any way unusual. I mean obviously Planned Parenthood in their celebrity is on the extreme edge of it, but there aren't major institutions in the country in healthcare that don't try to have star-studded galas.
SM: You're doing, "What about?"-ism again.
"What-about?"-ism. This is now the way to end the conversation on Twitter. We're all living in the 1970s Soviet Union now.
I think that folks like you, there's this strange moment, and I've hired a lot of people who come sort of from where you do. Where you're like, "Wait, I'm a journalist. I'm part of the problem."
Do you feel that? Do you have trolls?
SM: Oh, of course. “You are the media!”
SM: Yeah, it's funny, I always tell people when they insult me, I'm like, "Just don't call me a journalist. That's like the lowest form of insult you can actually do for me.” So, um, yeah, but that's going to happen anyway. So, I mean, it's again like I said the charge of, now as I'm contributing to Fox, doing some culture/media stuff for Fox, people are like, "You're a media critic! How are you in the media?" And stuff like that.
Does it make it hard for you to criticize Fox?
Concerned you're going to lose your Game of Thrones column?
SM: Right, well, I'm going to lose it in five weeks anyway because, it's a six-week season.
But basically, this thing about being in the media: I mean yes and no. I mean the thing is that the people are pretty familiar with my Twitter feed and they're pretty familiar with the kind of tweets that I put out there. So if you want me to come write for you and then tell me, “You need to moderate your Twitter feed,” then obviously you’re not wanting me to write for you for the right reasons.
So I've been really fortunate with that. Even at National Review.
You've got to stay true to your Twitter feed.
SM: I got the words, "Poop Swastika" on the front page of National Review online. That was the watermark.
Congratulations. I do think it's an interesting thing for writers who've come up on Twitter and social media that you have a sort of obligation to your voice there, and to your following there, that you can't then betray when you get a job. That can actually be like a challenge for people, I think, in some ways.
SM: Right, but that's also been one of the easiest things for me. I haven't had to ever worry about a 9-to-5. People do. And I completely understand that, and this comes down to, again, this fun new discussion we're having about internet anonymity with content and gifs and memes and things like that is—I've had that luxury to be able to kind of say not only what I've wanted to say, but also when people who I think are in these jobs where they can't read, but be on Twitter, you call it the heartbeat of news. Which I agree with. So I can also kind of be that conduit for them. I'm not pretending to be a shepherd here, I routinely tell people I'm going to let them down eventually.
You're not anonymous but you have a very sort of like clear and simple public identity that allows you—
SM: Right. I'm there for a purpose.
And you can always be confused with the other Stephen Miller. Does that happen a lot?
SM: Not anymore since Elaina Plott wrote a piece about it—and I contemplated even letting her do it. She said, "Everyone's mistaking this anti-Trump guy for Trump's—" you know, whatever.
Have you ever talked to Stephen Miller about it?
SM: No, I know nothing about the guy.
We're so pleased that White House advisor Stephen Miller was able to join us for this conversation about immigration policy. But yes so we will probably like edit this as misleadingly as possible.
SM: I'm sure.
And put it on the web. Thanks for subjecting yourself to this. Appreciate it.
SM: No! Thank you for having me.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, retired General John Kelly, will be the new White House chief of staff starting Monday.
In the calmest of administrations at any time, this would raise questions about what such a decision would mean for the White House and DHS. But in an administration already rife with firings, departures, policy changes, and surprise announcements, Kelly’s new move could end up producing wide-ranging effects from a series of simple decisions — like who will run DHS now.
About two hours after Trump sent his tweet announcing Kelly’s move to the White House, DHS announced that Elaine Duke, the Senate-confirmed deputy secretary of DHS, will become acting secretary on Monday.
This follows the succession order in place at the department — which then-President Obama signed in December 2016.
Although Trump nominated Duke, there’s no reason to believe that he ever believed that she would be — even temporarily — running the department. (See, for example, his attacks on Rod “Baltimore (but not actually)” Rosenstein, who he nominated to serve as No. 2 at the Justice Department without apparently knowing much about him.) Duke has worked in DHS under presidents of both parties, and appears to be generally respected by those who know her work.
Now, she is set to be the acting head of DHS over several months, until a successor is nominated and confirmed. Duke would be responsible for overseeing the agencies and offices responsible for several of the policies Trump feels most strongly about — including aspects of the travel ban, deportation and detention policies, and the border wall.
For instance: Under the travel ban, Kelly was responsible for conducting a worldwide review to determine “whether, and if so what, additional information” is needed to determine basis that people seeking visas or other admission to the the US are not security threats, on a country-by-country. Kelly was required to submit a report “of the information needed from each country for adjudications and a list of countries that do not provide adequate information” to the White House within 20 days of the ban going into effect.
A DHS spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the report was submitted to the White House the week of July 10. Further questions were referred to the White House, which has not responded to multiple questions about the report over the past week.
Kelly, in his new role, now will be responsible for helping Trump coordinate the response to his own report, which is supposed to be used to set the country’s policies for Trump’s sought-after "extreme vetting."
And now, at DHS, Duke will be responsible for implementing other requirements under the travel ban executive order — and working with the State Department to implement any changes to the vetting procedures.
Trump, though, could end up appointing someone besides Duke to run the department — including, yes, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Under the DHS succession order set by Obama and the government-wide Vacancies Reform Act, Trump could name anyone who has been confirmed by the Senate to any position in the administration to serve as the acting secretary of DHS for about seven months. He also could name anyone at DHS who makes roughly $100,000 a year or more and has served in the department for at least 90 days as the acting secretary under the same law.
About 5,000 people appear to qualify under that provision, a BuzzFeed News review of federal employment records from the end of March shows, including about 900 people each from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (The March records are the most recent vintage published by the Office of Personnel Management; it’s possible that some of the employees no longer work for DHS.)
Under a domino-effect scenario that is reportedly being backed by some senior staff in the White House and talked about DHS, Trump could move Sessions to run DHS. Because he was confirmed by the Senate to serve as attorney general, Sessions could serve as the acting director of DHS for seven months without any further Senate action needed. In order to serve permanently, however, he would have to be nominated. Once nominated, moreover, he could not serve in an acting role under a recent Supreme Court decision.
There are some reasons, structurally, why this would make some sense. The Justice Department provides the controlling legal advice to DHS about the laws it enforces. The Justice Department also defends DHS and related policies — like Trump’s travel ban — in court. (Lost in the midst of this past hectic week, for example, was the fact that the Justice Department asked a federal appeals court to reverse a lower court ruling that exempts grandparents and other family member from the ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries.)
Notably, however, there has been significant pushback on this possibility — including from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called it a “[b]ad idea” on Twitter — and no one is saying on the record that the Sessions move is a real possibility. Nonetheless, given Trump’s other moves, it’s not quite clear (particularly in light of his expressed “disappointment” in Sessions’ recusal decision over the Russia investigation at Justice) that this possibility should be totally discounted.
Such a move, of course, could lead to further changes. Sessions at DHS would, at some point, mean an opening at the Justice Department. Rosenstein — under the Justice Department’s succession order — would then take over as acting attorney general.
If Trump moved Sessions to DHS, though, it’s hard to imagine he would keep Rosenstein running the Justice Department for very long. And if Sessions is gone and Rosenstein isn’t running things, that could put in doubt the future of the special counsel investigation. As BuzzFeed News reported earlier this week, there are, similar to with DHS, thousands of other people who Trump could put in place to run the department on an acting basis for about seven months without needing to seek Senate approval.
In short, the full extent of and fallout from Trump’s Friday move of Kelly to the White House is not yet known — and might not be for several days as everyone figures out who’s doing what where.
Jeremy Singer-Vine contributed to this report.
The 2016 Republican National Convention.
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images
Republican National Committee employees have been asked to preserve all documents related to last year’s presidential campaign — a step that RNC lawyers describe as precautionary, but necessary, as investigations continue into Russia’s meddling in the election.
“Given the important role that the RNC plays in national elections and the potentially expansive scope of the inquiries and investigations, it is possible that we will be contacted with requests for information,” reads a July 28 memo to staff from the RNC Counsel’s Office.
"Therefore, we must preserve all documents potentially relevant to these matters until they are resolved or until we are informed by all necessary parties that preservation is no longer necessary."
BuzzFeed News obtained a copy of the memo, which orders employees not to “delete, destroy, modify, or remove from your paper files, laptop computer, desktop computer, tablet, mobile device, e-mail, or any storage system or device, any documents, records, or other materials that relate to the 2016 presidential election or that may relate to any investigation concerning the election.” An RNC source confirmed the memo’s authenticity Monday morning.
According to the memo, the RNC “has not been contacted regarding any of the ongoing investigations, and there is no specific reason to believe we will be. Nonetheless, we have an obligation to keep potentially relevant documents. This is standard procedure for any organization that may be in a position to provide helpful or otherwise relevant information to litigants or investigators. Serious consequences will result for anyone who fails to comply with this obligation.”
The memo is the latest sign of the legal concerns gripping Washington as special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress probe Russian government efforts to influence the election.
The RNC worked closely with the Trump campaign on data analytics and ground game. Its chairman last cycle was Reince Priebus, who went to the White House as Trump’s first chief of staff before being ousted last week.
“It is important to note that we are not aware of any suggestion whatsoever of improper or illegal activity by the RNC or any of its employees or officers,” the memo states. “In fact, as far as we are aware, the only potential connection the RNC has to any of the matters currently under investigation is as a victim of unsuccessful hacking attempts.”
The RNC is not the first Trump-aligned organization to take such precautions. Officials with Trump’s transition team were ordered last month to preserve documents related to Russia.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at a campaign rally last week in Youngstown, Ohio.
Justin Merriman / Getty Images
Making America Great, the political nonprofit formed by Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer to promote President Donald Trump’s agenda, isn’t making any noise.
The president is going through a tense policy fight in Washington, the kind that outside groups get involved in to persuade skeptics and give allies cover. But as Trump tries — and, so far, fails — to close a deal with Republicans in Congress to overhaul Obamacare, the group has been absent from television airwaves and Twitter.
Earlier this year, Make America Great launched amid friction at another pro-Trump organization and concerns that outside allies weren’t doing enough to amplify the White House message. The new Mercer-backed group quickly spent more than $1 million on ads, including a digital spot that urged senators to back Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation, which nearly four months later stands as Trump’s biggest achievement.
Since then, the group hasn’t provided noticeable backup to Trump.
In early July, a spokesman acknowledged to BuzzFeed News that things were “quiet right now.” In recent days, the spokesman has not responded to emails or a telephone call seeking updates.
David Bossie, Making America Great’s original chief strategist, also isn’t talking. Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, who accompanied the president to a rally last week in Ohio, said he was headed to a meeting Friday and too busy to answer questions about the nonprofit when reached by phone. He did not reply to a subsequent voice mail or text message.
In May, when asked about Mercer’s political intentions, Bossie said that the health care fight was among the group’s top priorities. And a Trump administration adviser told BuzzFeed News this month that Mercer and father, Robert, were “apoplectic” over the inability to pass a bill.
Making America Great operates as a 501©(4) nonprofit under IRS code and is not required to disclose its donors.
The silence from the outside ally comes as the Trump White House could use some political support. A recent West Wing shakeup removed chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer, two strong links to the Republican National Committee and GOP establishment at large. (Priebus, the former RNC chairman, is a close ally of House Speaker Paul Ryan.) In recent tweets, Trump has sent mixed signals about whether he’s ready to move on from health care. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are eager to debate new tax laws.
“We don’t entirely know what the post-Priebus White House looks like,” said Josh Culling, a Republican consultant supportive of Trump. “That dictates what unaffiliated outside groups will do. I hope it gets figured out quickly, though, because right now we have pro-Obamacare Republican governors in Ohio and Nevada filling the communications void on health care. These also happen to be governors who raised taxes, so I hope conservatives are able to mount a strong public campaign for tax reform. That will take leadership from the president and a credible air cover effort.”
Trump has yet to see a sustained and effective political boost from his allies. Part of the challenge so far has been figuring out how to bring aboard Republicans who are reluctant to dump Obamacare and end federal funding for Medicaid expansion at the state level.
There have only been short-lived efforts so far: For instance, America First Policies spent money earlier this year to target wavering House Republicans. (America First is the pro-Trump group that Mercer appeared to spurn when she formed Making America Great.) Their effort was peculiar because the TV ads praised lawmakers for standing with Trump on health care — something several of them hadn’t actually done at that point.
The strategy turned combative once debate moved to the Senate. America First planned an advertising blitz that compared Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican who had voiced objections, to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. The group backed down only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fumed and Heller, who might be the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election next year, indicated he would keep an open mind. After retreating, the group did little else of impact on health care.
Heller ultimately voted for the “skinny repeal” bill that failed Friday. But three other GOP senators whom America First spared — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona — voted against it, dooming what was seen as a last-ditch effort.
“We're obviously disappointed in the outcome from last night, and we will continue to communicate with grassroots supporters about the issues both we and they care about,” America First spokeswoman Erin Montgomery told BuzzFeed News last week in an email.
“We have nothing to announce about advertising at this time.”
The attempts to build Trump an outside support network have been fractious. Mercer had been involved in discussions leading to the launch of America First. But sources have told BuzzFeed News that there was tension over whether the group would be a vehicle for the Trump movement or a vehicle for the Mercer family, which has broader political interests. (Brad Parscale, the Trump digital specialist who is close with the president’s children and son-in-law/senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, is a key figure at America First.)
Other outside groups that have provided varying levels of support for Trump and his message include the 45 Committee, which has been linked to mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and Todd Ricketts, and Great America Alliance, whose board counts Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and staunch Trump loyalist, as a co-chairman.
Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, was one of several prominent Democratic victims of hacking during the campaign last year.
Brian Snyder / Reuters
More than eight months after a presidential election dominated by cyberattacks targeting Hillary Clinton, Democrats and Republicans are taking significant new steps to guard against hacks, including the use of end-to-end encryption software.
Wickr, a secure workplace messaging app adopted last month by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is also in place and in trial use at a number of other major political entities in both parties, according to the software company.
“We’re talking to groups on both sides of the aisle — this isn’t a Democratic thing or a Republican thing,” Wickr CEO Joel Wallenstrom said in an interview.
Throughout 2016, Russian hackers launched massive cyberattacks on the DCCC as well as on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, releasing thousands of emails and documents in a sweeping effort to damage the party and undermine the US electoral process.
The DCCC, the party committee charged with electing Democratic candidates to the House of Representatives, is so far the only political entity that has “announced their relationship” with Wickr, said Wallenstrom. Since June, DCCC officials have used the software for officewide internal communications and for 20 critical House races involving a group of vulnerable incumbent candidates known as "Frontline Democrats."
Other committees and groups, Democratic and Republican, are already “in the process” of making the same transition, Wallenstrom said. “We have a number.”
The company declined to name the organizations. “For security purposes, some in the political and corporate space prefer to be more protective of their cybersecurity plans,” said Rita Zolotova, Wickr's public policy and communications director.
The San Francisco company, founded in 2012, offers end-to-end encryption, making data undecipherable to any third party. Like Slack, it’s a paid service for offices small and large. Unlike Slack, Wickr offers end-to-end encrypted instant messaging, voice and video communication, and file exchange. The tech company also guarantees an added layer of security through what’s called “perfect forward secrecy,” a system that uses a different encryption key for each message.
Asked about measures to protect against the kind of hacks seen in 2016, other party committees declined to comment or spoke in vague terms about their security efforts.
Officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee have criticized its Democratic counterpart, the DCCC, for speaking publicly about internal matters pertaining to cybersecurity. Earlier this month, when the DCCC proposed a joint effort to combat hacking, the NRCC dismissed the idea as an attempted publicity "stunt." A week later, when the DCCC confirmed its move to Wickr, the NRCC had the same response. “It’s like Fight Club: The first rule of effective cybersecurity is not bragging about your cybersecurity procedures,” spokesperson Jesse Hunt said. “Clearly the DCCC believes cybersecurity is merely a public relations issue.”
In response to a question about precautions the NRCC has taken in the months since 2016, Hunt said, “It’s fair to say we’re always looking at different ways to improve our cybersecurity.”
During the 2016 campaign there were no major leaks of hacked material from Republican campaigns, though some party officials cautioned about the potential for future issues. "I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks," Sen. Marco Rubio said last October. "Today, it is the Democrats. Tomorrow, it could be us." (Rubio was explaining why he wouldn't use information from WikiLeaks, the site that published most of the hacked emails .)
For some political groups in Washington, the threat has meant making new investments in tech and security personnel.
After taking over as DNC chair in February, Tom Perez hired former Twitter engineering executive Raffi Krikorian as his chief technology officer. Krikorian, the DNC's first CTO from Silicon Valley, is now conducting an internal evaluation of the party's security needs, DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa said.
At EMILY’s List, one of Washington’s biggest Democratic organizations working with state and local campaigns, the search for its first CTO began in January and didn’t conclude until spring. “I think everybody was trying to hire somebody at the same time,” said Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List and a veteran strategist.
The organization recruits and supports pro-choice women running for office, including many first-time candidates. Officials now make a point of providing their campaigns with a basic “to-do list” on steps to protect against security breaches.
“I didn’t even know what a phishing email was two years ago,” said Schriock. “It’s just a whole different world now. Everybody’s definitely taking it to a new level.”
That’s been apparent to the executives at Wickr since after Election Day in 2016, when calls started coming in from various political groups in Washington. “It’s had a very, very big impact in terms of how people in the political world and outside are taking this issue and approaching the issue,” said Wallenstrom, Wickr's CEO.
“End-to-end encryption is going to be table stakes for just about anybody — a very common thing."