Monday, April 17, 2017

The Swampiest Regime In History? Oh, Yes


Early Sunday morning, The Atlantic published a Ron Brownstein piece, Donald Trump's Tilt Toward Convention, going through not just the campaign promises he's reneging on but the very premises for his entire presidency. "Trump’s march to the GOP nomination last spring," he wrote, "demonstrated there’s a substantial audience within the party’s rank and file-- particularly among older and blue-collar Republicans-- for the nationalist movement’s insular themes of resistance to trade, immigration, and foreign alliances, and embrace of government spending that benefits economically strained workers and retirees. But Trump’s tumultuous first months in office have shown with equal clarity that such an agenda has extremely little institutional support inside the GOP beyond a constellation of sympathetic media outlets (like Breitbart News) and talk-radio and cable-television hosts (such as Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity). Lacking many champions in Congress, think tanks, conservative interest groups, or the business community, many of the movement’s most distinctive ideas-- say, confronting China over trade or protecting the mostly white older population from budget cuts-- have been rapidly losing ground to more conventional GOP interests and priorities."
Both GOP wings agree on several fronts, from reducing federal regulation to cutting taxes to advancing conservative social priorities, like expanding gun-owners’ rights. But where the two camps diverge, Trump in recent weeks has consistently tilted away from his nationalist campaign rhetoric and toward more conventional GOP positions on a stunning list of issues. As Wehner put it, Trump in just weeks has hurtled “from Bannon-esque, apocalyptic, racial nationalism to Goldman Sachs, conventional, elite liberalism with nothing in between.”

...The key to party change will be Trump’s success in mobilizing the grassroots elements of the GOP coalition open to a nationalist message, argued J. Hogan Gidley, a longtime GOP communications strategist. Gidley advised the presidential campaigns of both Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who pioneered many of the blue-collar conservative themes that Trump championed. He also advised the pro-Trump political action committee founded by Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the conservative megadonors close to Bannon.

Gidley acknowledged there is little institutional backing inside the GOP for the views all of those figures have touted. Asked where the Trump administration’s nationalists could turn for support beyond supportive media voices like Hannity, Ingraham, or Ann Coulter, Gidley said: “I don’t know that they have anywhere to turn.”

But, he argued, Trump can topple that power structure. “That’s what he was elected to do, to shake things up,” Gidley said. “I think he is going to make deals with Republicans, with the [House] Freedom Caucus, with Democrats when he has to. Donald Trump, because he commands the bully pulpit of the White House, can reshape much of the Republican Party.”

But many others question whether Trump has the skill, tenacity, or even the interest to engage in the sort of sustained struggle to redirect his party that Bill Clinton undertook. Wehner cautioned that even Trump’s turn back to more conventional conservative thinking in recent weeks probably isn’t the last bend in the road.

“What he will end up doing is what he thinks will be in the best interest of Donald Trump,” Wehner said. “During the campaign, he believed the best interest of Donald Trump was to inflame some of the darker impulses of America and say things that are outrageous and fan conspiracy theories. Now I suspect he is seeing the Bannon approach isn’t working and will lead to a failed presidency, and he’s thinking about jettisoning that. I really think he’s ideologically rootless and could end up anywhere.”
Eric Lipton, writing for the NY Times had already written over the weekend of exactly where all the DC factions come together-- in the swamp, the place Trump, by nature and nurture, is most comfortable anyway. Did anyone ever doubt that Trump was destined to sit atop the most corrupt and ethics-free administration in American history? (OK, OK, I know about Harding and am reminded about Andrew Jackson's "spoils system" every time I see a picture of Trump's newly decorated Oval Office... but you get the point.) "Trump," wrote Lipton, "is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck." The potential conflicts arising are virtually endless. "In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules."

One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government.

Another case involves Chad Wolf, who spent the past several years lobbying to secure funding for the Transportation Security Administration to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new carry-on luggage screening device. He is now chief of staff at that agency-- at the same time as the device is being tested and evaluated for possible purchase by agency staff.

There are other examples. At the Labor Department, two officials joined the agency from the K Street lobbying corridor, leaving behind jobs where they fought some of the Obama administration’s signature labor rules, including a policy requiring financial advisers to act in a client’s best interest when providing retirement advice.

This revolving door of lobbyists and government officials is not new in Washington. Both parties make a habit of it.

But the Trump administration is more vulnerable to conflicts than the prior administration, particularly after the president eliminated an ethics provision that prohibits lobbyists from joining agencies they lobbied in the prior two years. The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret, discontinuing the release of information on corporate executives, lobbyists and others who enter the complex, often to try to influence federal policy. The changes have drawn intense criticism from government ethics advocates across the city.

Mr. Trump’s appointees are also far wealthier and have more complex financial holdings and private-sector ties than officials hired at the start of the Obama administration, according to an Office of Government Ethics analysis that the White House has made public. This creates a greater chance that they might have conflicts related to investments or former clients, which could force them to sell off assets, recuse themselves or seek a waiver.

...[I]n several cases, officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years.

Trump White House officials had over 300 recent corporate clients and employers, including Apple, the giant hedge fund Citadel and the insurance titan Anthem, according to a Times analysis of financial disclosures. (The White House has released disclosures for only about half of its roughly 180 current senior political employees.) And there are more than 40 former lobbyists in the White House and the broader federal government... Trump also made it easier for former lobbyists in the government to get waivers that would let them take up matters that could benefit former clients.

...The lobbyist loophole in Mr. Trump’s executive order may have allowed the Labor Department to hire Geoffrey Burr as a special assistant. The department is familiar ground to Mr. Burr, who was a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors, which pressed the agency on its overtime pay rule, wage requirements for government contracts and an additional half-dozen or so other regulations. Under Mr. Obama’s ethics order, Mr. Burr would probably not have been able to join the Labor Department.

Such potential conflicts are showing up across the federal government.

Executives at Analogic Corp. had tried to sell its carry-on baggage security equipment to the T.S.A. with Mr. Wolf’s help when he was a lobbyist. They were pressing the agency to conduct formal tests of its computed tomography devices, known as CT scans, which are already used broadly in the medical field and on checked baggage. The company now wants the T.S.A. to use them in the nation’s 2,400 airport checkpoint security lanes, a move that could be worth at least $500 million in equipment sales.

The tests are underway, and at one point during an interview with The Times, company executives said they had reached out to Mr. Wolf to discuss the matter after he joined the T.S.A., listing his name among a series of agency officials they had recently contacted. But when asked again about Mr. Wolf, they would not give details from the conversation, at one point contradicting themselves and saying they had not spoken with him. Then one of them, Mark Laustra, a vice president at Analogic who leads the company’s efforts to sell the screening devices, said, “Our interaction with Chad since he joined T.S.A. has been next to nothing.”

Mr. Wolf’s Twitter account on Friday still identified him as a lobbyist and displayed posts from last year urging the T.S.A. to buy the devices. “Positive developments from TSA on upgrading checkpoint scanners,” a post from July said. “CT tech is the future.”

A T.S.A. spokesman agreed to arrange an interview with Mr. Wolf-- who worked at the agency during the Bush administration before becoming a lobbyist-- but canceled it when told about the topic in detail.

“I’m afraid Mr. Wolf isn’t going to have any available time in his schedule today,” said Mike England, the spokesman, who then declined several follow-up requests over a one-week period. He later added, in a statement, that Mr. Wolf’s “duties have not required a waiver” of the ethics standards Mr. Trump adopted in January, although Mr. England would not discuss the matter further.

The Department of Health and Human Services has become another source of potential conflicts.

Lance Leggitt, who serves as chief of staff to Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, worked last year as a lobbyist for 10 different health care companies, including United States Medical Supply and Advanced Infusion Services. He focused largely on lobbying the agency related to Medicare billing rules, as well as rules for health care supplier accreditations, lobbying disclosure reports show. All these issues are routinely handled by the agency he helps oversee.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, received more than $350,000 in payments in 2014 and 2015 from nearly a dozen different pharmaceutical companies, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals, whose two approved drugs are seen as breakthrough treatments for cystic fibrosis. (They carry list prices of more than $250,000 a year.) Dr. Gottlieb, who has never been registered as a lobbyist but has served as the director of eight pharmaceutical companies and one laboratory company, wrote in a letter that he was prepared to recuse himself as necessary to avoid any conflicts.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for a comment.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said the sheer number of potential conflicts-- which will require recusals, necessitate waivers or result in violations of the ethics rule-- is disturbing, particularly given the secretive approach the administration is taking on the issue.

“This is not a matter of just checking a box-- this is about protecting the integrity of the operation of federal government,” Ms. Brian said. “But our worst fears are coming true: We know people coming in who have conflicts, and we cannot see what restrictions they are under, if any.”

The result, she predicted, might serve no one particularly well. Even if the rules are enforced, so many senior officials will be required to recuse themselves that “they will have a hard time getting their job done.”

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At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bullshit. The bushbaby had just as swampy an admin as this. Fewer billionaires, well until after all the war profiteering anyway. But just as many lobbyists, corporate lawyers and former fascist republican shitbirds.

And as far as ineptitude... it's also a push. Remember that our intel had everything it needed to foresee 9/11, told the bushbaby through condaliesa rice, and he kept both thumbs up his ass anyway (that is if you believe his goal would have been to keep americans safe instead of gin up excuses to start some wars).

Not as much overt flailing and crapping the dinner plate... but pretty much a push.

Now, let's talk about the swampy obamanation admin...


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