Sunday Political Brunch - The Politics of Distraction—October 1, 2017

Sunday, October 01, 2017


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Mark Curtis

It was another weird week for the White House (and for politics in general). Last week, I wrote that President Trump – whose poll numbers had been rising – was just one Tweet away from turning the uptick into a setback, and that Tweet was soon forthcoming. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“NFL Penalty” – It didn’t start with a Tweet, but a Tweet surely escalated the situation. Last Friday night at a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump said of a football player who kneels or sits in protest during the national anthem: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He's fired. He's fired!" The ensuing days brought protests both on and off the playing field – not to mention the Trump-Tweet firestorm that seized up social media from Facebook, Twitter, and beyond. In the world of politics, the protests and Trump's comments just seemed to suck all the oxygen out of the room for the President's immediate agenda. When one issue distracts, the priorities of the whole agenda are in peril.

“No Sweet Home Alabama” – Trump was in Alabama to campaign for Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), who was trying to win a full term after having been appointed to fill the seat once occupied by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is now the U.S. Attorney General. In spite of Trump's endorsing and campaigning for him, Strange lost the Republican Senate primary on Tuesday to controversial former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. In essence, it was the first Congressional election defeat for Trump, as the GOP has won every House special election since he took office. Plus, Judge Moore was backed by former Trump aide Steve Bannon, recently ousted from the White House inner circle. Ouch!!!

“Put a Cork in It” – Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) surprised a lot of people this week, when he announced he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate. Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has often been at odds with President Trump. However, Tennessee has been a solidly red state of late, so I suspect that the GOP will retain this seat in 2018 and that Corker's departure won’t hurt the balance of power in the Senate. On the other hand, the President has thirteen months to stir up more controversy, so the balance of power in the 2018 midterm elections should not be presumed.

“Legislative Score Card” – With the defeat of the Obamacare repeal (once again), the White House is still left with no legislative victories eight months into the administration. The only win remains Senate confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, that is a huge win because it could have an impact decades after President Trump is gone, but it’s an appointment – not a policy victory. Now tax reform is on the table, with an uncertain outcome ahead. Overall this has not been a good year for White House-Congressional relations, and Republicans own “all three legs of the bar stool.”

“The Taxing Business of Tax Reform” – The White House promises to cut taxes for the most heavily taxed middle class Americans. (Already, almost half of Americans pay no federal income tax or get what they have paid refunded.) The Trump tax reform bill also would reduce seven income tax brackets to just three, and would significantly cut the corporate income tax rate. The goal is to make the U.S. more competitive in the global marketplace. We’ll see. But the big issue here is not really taxes; it’s whether President Trump can get any significant legislation passed through both the House and Senate that he can sign into law.

“Other Distractions” – As if the President needed any more headaches, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, embarrassed the administration by taking expensive chartered flights at taxpayers' expense. Secretary Price said that he would reimburse the government; but, given that he had failed in the attempt to repeal Obamacare, one wondered how long he would last. As it turns out, not very long! On Friday, Price tendered his resignation; and Trump accepted it. If you are keeping score, Trump has already had public issues concerning his Attorney General, his Secretary of State, and now his Secretary of Health and Human Services. Does Trump need any more of this? He might have been wise to just let the Price matter go; but that’s not really Trump's style.

“What All of This Means?” – The 2018 elections are just thirteen months away. Yes, Republicans have strong leads in both the House and Senate, but will they hold? The fact that President Trump has had no significant legislative wins should sound the alarm bells for the Republican National Committee. It should also awaken the Democratic National Committee to the opportunity for members of the lethargic minority party to make some gains, rather than just sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. Politics is a business grounded in seizing opportunity, and I’m not sure the national Democratic Party sees that yet for 2018.

Is President Trump too easily driven to distraction? Just click the comment button at


Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump’s Budget - 2017

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Gina Raimondo 

RI Governor 

"Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state. 

President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans. 

Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

“In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. 

This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders. 

Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”  

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

“If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”

Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”

This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”

And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”

Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse 

U.S. Senator

“This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.

His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.

These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”

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Jack Reed 

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s budget is bad news for Rhode Island because it weakens our economy and places new burdens on families, businesses, and communities across the country. 

The Trump budget takes a less is more approach: less investment in education, health care, transportation and safety for the general public and more pollution, outsourcing jobs overseas, and tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.

This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular.  The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage.  If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets.  That is immoral and ill-advised.

The Trump cuts also threaten federal funding for public education, medical research, job training and economic development. These cuts are counterproductive and won’t achieve real cost-savings.  In fact, they would impede economic growth.

Families with limited incomes who are trying to make ends meet get hit hardest by the Trump budget.  It takes food, health care, and retirement security away from children, seniors, and people with disabilities while adding funds for an ineffective border wall and tax cuts for millionaires.  It eliminates the LIHEAP energy assistance program, Community Development Block Grants, and many other critical, cost-effective programs that have a positive impact on Rhode Island. 

While our military deserves to be well-funded, cutting diplomacy and foreign aid won’t help prevent war.  These are the wrong priorities for America and don’t reflect our core values.

I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight these disastrous cuts and enact a more balanced, fiscally responsible budget that focuses on job creation and strengthening the middle-class.”


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