In the house, Nunes is in hard denial; 'We still have not seen any evidence' of Trump campaign, Russia contact. Paul Ryan is ‘We Know Russia Meddled in the Election, No One Is Disputing That’ but it's all about nope nope nope on any investigation of meaning. Rep. Burr (chair, Intelligence committee) - who called himself "inseparable" from Trump - is yet another blocker for any actual investigation. As a fourth article says, "We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government."
First look at the budget proposal involves a 10% hike in military spending and huge cuts in domestic. Combine that with Slate's article on how the Trump administration is slowly taking apart the Federal government via attrition (failing to nominate people to hundreds of positions, etc) - "The Trump Administration’s Not-So-Benign Neglect" - and you've got a picture of unaccountability and hypercentralisation of power in the political administration. And, of course, you've got to have something to use that military buildup against, which is why Trump's ISIS-boosting rhetoric fits in so nicely.
In Trump's war against reporting, you've got a smear campaign against a reporter, and an update on intimidation which includes that report. Also, other countries are starting to use Trump's actions on Friday as an excuse/example in more severe crackdowns against their own journalist corps.
ICE agents are loving Trump's change in direction. The job is "fun" again. They can pick on whoever the fuck they want now and it's all good.
'The Religious Origins of Fake News and “Alternative Facts”' is one of those articles I keep pointing people to (and even writing myself). Maybe it'll sink in at some point.
On the state level: Ohio bill to outlaw marital rape gets zero support from GOP lawmakers; our governor Jay Inslee now ‘more concerned’ after meeting with Trump on health care, immigration; 'Plan A Protest, Lose Your House' Bill, SB 1142, Killed by Arizona House (but they'll try again, I have no doubt), and Mercer Island Jewish community center evacuated following bomb threat as at least 20 other JCCs and schools get bomb threats Monday.
----- 1 -----
The Sessions Effect: Trump DOJ Reverses Course In Major Texas Voter ID Case
By Alice Ollstein | Talking Points Memo
February 27, 2017
For the last six years, the Justice Department has sided with the citizens and civil rights groups fighting Texas' voter ID law, which a federal judge at one point found to be intentionally discriminatory against black and Latino voters. But its position changed Monday when the department decided to drop its claim that Republican state lawmakers enacted the law to make it harder for minorities to vote.
"This signals to voters that they will not be protected under this administration," said Danielle Lang, the deputy director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, which is challenging Texas' law in court.
The reversal, on the eve of a key hearing in the case, is a clear sign of the DOJ's direction under Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a longtime advocate of voter ID laws and other voting restrictions. The department signaled its intentions last week when it joined with the state of Texas to ask the court to hold off on judging the constitutionality of the law until Republican lawmakers can modify it. The court rejected this request.
Lang told TPM that the DOJ reached out Monday morning to her and the other voting rights groups fighting the law to notify them of their new position.
On Tuesday, DOJ lawyers will appear before U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos and inform her that the federal government is dismissing its claim that the voter ID law was crafted with a discriminatory intent.
----- 2 -----
We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government
I served in Congress for 16 years and taught civics for 13 more. Our government no longer looks like the one I told my students about—or the one the Constitution describes.
By Mickey Edwards
February 27, 2017
For more than a dozen years, teaching government classes to graduate students at Harvard and Princeton, I filled my students’ heads with facts that no longer seem to be true. They have become “alternate facts,” or perhaps just outdated ones.
It has been my habit to begin each semester by slowly taking students through the Constitution, each article and section in turn, emphasizing not only each provision but why it was included. Fundamental to the constitutional process, I taught, was the unique delineation of authority and responsibility: the separation of powers that so cleanly distinguished American government from those that had gone before it. There were three branches, independent of each other, with varied duties and roughly equal. The greater power—overtaxing, spending, deciding whether to go to war, confirming members of the president’s Cabinet and justices of the Supreme Court—had been placed in the Congress, I said, because while the Founders had created a republic, they also added a sprinkling of democracy: The people would choose who would do the actual governing. I would underscore this point by noting the provisions that made clear the Framers’ deliberate rejection of a parliamentary system like the ones they had known in Europe, where legislative and executive power were joined. Here, it was to be the people, not the parties, that ruled, I told my students.
I believed it to be true—certainly it was what the Founders intended, and it was pretty close to the reality when I was first elected to Congress 40 years ago. But it’s no longer accurate. Instead of three equal, independent branches, each a check on the others, today’s federal government is, for practical purposes, made up of either two branches or one, depending on how you do the math. The modern presidency has become a giant centrifuge, sucking power from both Congress and the states, making de facto law through regulation and executive order. Yet the growing power of the executive is not merely a case of presidential power lust. For decades, the Supreme Court has consistently held that on most policy questions, foreign as well as domestic, statute trumps fiat (as recently as 2014’s decision Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the court declared that “the executive is not free from the ordinary controls and checks of Congress merely because foreign affairs are at issue”). But if Congress subordinates its constitutional duties to political concerns, what then?
Presidents have managed to accumulate such a prominent place at the top of what is now increasingly a pyramid rather than a horizontal structure of three connected blocks because for more than a generation, Congress has willingly abandoned both its constitutional responsibilities and its ability to effectively serve as a check on the executive even when it wishes to do so.
----- 3 -----
White House calls for $54B bump in defense spending, sharp domestic cuts
The Trump administration has not said how much money it will ask Congress to spend in total.
By Alex Guillén, Sarah Ferris and Jeremy Herb
The White House took its first steps Monday toward what would be a dramatic reshuffling of the $3 trillion-plus federal budget, sending guidance to agencies that calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and corresponding reductions to most non-security agencies.
While Office of Management and Budget officials briefed reporters on the plan this morning, President Donald Trump publicly explained his proposal to focus federal spending on national security, including boosts to the military, local law enforcement and the Border Patrol, while cutting domestic programs and foreign aid. Trump has said his budget will not include cuts to Medicare or Social Security, the usual targets of Republicans trying to trim federal spending.
The White House has not yet defined the depth of cuts to particular programs. But some targets, such as the EPA, are in the cross-hairs of conservative groups that want severe reductions in programs such as the Obama administration's climate initiatives.
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said Monday afternoon the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget would include $462 billion in domestic funding and $603 billion in defense spending.
OMB officials declined to comment on how hard the funding reductions would hit the EPA, which now has an $8.1 billion budget. But they did note the proposal would conform to Trump’s campaign pledges to take an ax to the agency. (The president promised on the campaign trail to "get rid of it in almost every form," leaving only "little tidbits left.")
----- 4 -----
How Donald Trump is Fueling ISIS
By Kurt Eichenwald On 2/27/17
The jihadis shoot their propaganda across the internet in search of the Western world’s frightened and dispossessed. On Twitter and Facebook, from YouTube to Google Play, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) traffics in lies, bombarding Western Muslims seeking adventure, compatriots or an outlet for their religious fervor.
The message is stark, terrifying: Your countries hate you. They despise your beliefs. They seek to destroy your faith and convert you to theirs. Your safety, your obligation to true Muslims, is to join the camp of Islam, the caliphate, and take up arms against the infidels.
Since the horrors of 9/11, American presidents operating under the advice of the intelligence community’s counterterrorism experts have understood that countering this propaganda has been among the most essential parts of the fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other murderous jihadi extremists. Through carefully selected language and—for the most part—considered policy, the United States has worked to expose the lies and convince young Muslims drawn by the propaganda toward hate that they are welcome and appreciated in America.
That era appears to be over. President Donald Trump, in office for less than two months, has gutted the strategy used by Republicans and Democrats alike—out of ignorance, hubris or both—sending a new message from the White House, one that reinforces the jihadi extremists’ propaganda and increases the likelihood that more Americans will die in attacks.
“If there was a scriptwriter for ISIS, he could not have written a better script than what is coming out of the White House,’’ said M. Ehsan Ahrari, an adjunct research professor with the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College. “Since President Trump came into office, he has been going out of his way to make statements and decisions that are hurting America’s cause.”
----- 5 -----
Trump ban cited in media threat
The Phnom Penh Post [English language Cambodian newspaper, founded 1992]
27 Feb, 2017 - by Andrew Nachemson
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan took to Facebook on Saturday to threaten to “crush” media entities that endanger “peace and stability”, citing US President Donald Trump’s treatment of the press as a justification for the warning.
Specifically naming news services Voice of Democracy, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, the government spokesman told all “foreign agents” to “consider a new use of airtime as well as published stories” or risk being dismantled.
In the post, Siphan referenced the recent White House decision to exclude certain media outlets like CNN and the New York Times from attending a meeting in the press secretary’s office on Thursday.
“Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation,” Siphan wrote in an apparent reference to Trump’s tendency to label news as “fake”.
“Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace. The president’s decision has nothing to do with democracy or freedom of expression,” Siphan continued.
Reached on the phone yesterday, Siphan doubled down on his comments, saying they were a “warning to return to professionalism and responsibility”.
When asked what would happen to a media outlet that does not heed this warning, Siphan said “Shut it down, very simple. Expel them”.
----- 6 -----
Immigration Agents Discover New Freedom to Deport Under Trump
By NICHOLAS KULISH, CAITLIN DICKERSON and RON NIXON
FEB. 25, 2017 - The New York Times
In Virginia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In Texas and in Colorado, agents went into courthouses, looking for foreigners who had arrived for hearings on other matters.
At Kennedy International Airport in New York, passengers arriving after a five-hour flight from San Francisco were asked to show their documents before they were allowed to get off the plane.
The Trump administration’s far-reaching plan to arrest and deport vast numbers of undocumented immigrants has been introduced in dramatic fashion over the past month. And much of that task has fallen to thousands of ICE officers who are newly emboldened, newly empowered and already getting to work.
Gone are the Obama-era rules that required them to focus only on serious criminals. In Southern California, in one of the first major roundups during the Trump administration, officers detained 161 people with a wide range of felony and misdemeanor convictions, and 10 who had no criminal history at all.
Continue reading the main story
“Before, we used to be told, ‘You can’t arrest those people,’ and we’d be disciplined for being insubordinate if we did,” said a 10-year veteran of the agency who took part in the operation. “Now those people are priorities again. And there are a lot of them here.”
Interviews with 17 agents and officials across the country, including in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Washington and California, demonstrated how quickly a new atmosphere in the agency had taken hold. Since they are forbidden to talk to the press, they requested anonymity out of concern for losing their jobs.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Tuesday that the president wanted to “take the shackles off” of agents, an expression the officers themselves used time and again in interviews to describe their newfound freedom.
“Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders,” the unions representing ICE and Border Patrol agents said in a joint statement after President Trump issued the executive orders on immigration late last month.
Two officials in Washington said that the shift — and the new enthusiasm that has come with it — seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.
----- 7 -----
Nunes: 'We still have not seen any evidence' of Trump campaign, Russia contact
By Tom LoBianco, CNN
Updated 2:16 PM ET, Mon February 27, 2017
Washington (CNN)House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Monday that he has not yet seen any evidence that President Donald Trump's campaign coordinated with Russian officials, but did not rule out the possibility.
High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials told CNN earlier this month.
----- 8 -----
The Religious Origins of Fake News and “Alternative Facts”
By Christopher Douglas February 23, 2017
Religion Dispatches | University of Southern California
Perhaps one of the strangest instances of fake news that proliferated in the final months of the 2016 election was the conspiracy known as “Pizzagate.” Supposedly, a D.C. restaurant housed a pedophilia ring involving members of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Podesta’s emails—released by WikiLeaks, and probably hacked by Russia—revealed phrases like “cheese pizza” and other code words for child sex-trafficking. Hillary Clinton herself may have been involved. The ring seemed to include Satanic rituals. The Clinton campaign was engaged, on the side, with running a child sex-trafficking business.
As German Lopez noted at Vox.com, the story seems to have begun on 4chan and spread through news aggregation websites and social media. The restaurant quickly “got hundreds of death threats on their phones and social media.” Then a North Carolina man decided to investigate the pedophilia ring himself, bringing an assault rifle that he fired in the restaurant. (No one was hurt.) As the man later explained about the absence of child sex slaves there, “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.”
As we’ve moved from an election dominated by fake news to a new Trump administration run on the principle of “alternative facts,” it’s worth taking some time to ponder what seems to be contemporary conservative credulity. We should certainly be reminded of the term “truthiness” that Stephen Colbert invented in October 2005 to capture some of the pronouncements of the George W. Bush administration. As he explained then, truthiness was the truth that “comes from the gut,” not from actual facts—“the truth we want to exist,” that feels right.
----- 9 -----
Ohio bill to outlaw marital rape gets zero support from GOP lawmakers
27 Feb 2017 at 14:06 ET
[Ohio has the scariest fundamentalists I've ever dealt with, and I've dealt with some scary fuckers. All that bald-faced no-shitting-around vicious raw hatred for women? It comes from places.]
epublican state lawmakers in Ohio are refusing to back a bill that would repeal the state’s “spousal exemption” for marital rape.
Democratic state Rep. Greta Johnson told the Akron Beacon Journal that she first introduced HB 234 in 2015 because marital rape is legal in Ohio as long as the rapist uses no force or threat of force, meaning a husband could legally drug and rape his wife.
“As a former prosecutor, I would argue that you could still try to prosecute under the forced rape statute, but unfortunately drugging and raping your spouse in Ohio is not illegal,” Johnson explained.
The 2015 bill died in committee with no Republican support. Johnson blamed the failure on partisanship and opposition to a provision that dropped the 20-year statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault.
Johnson filed the bill again on Friday, this time dropping the provision that removes the statute of limitations. But no Republican lawmaker has stepped forward to co-sponsor the bill.
----- 10 -----
Attorney General Jeff Sessions Focuses On Violent Crime And Police Morale
February 27, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to devote federal resources to combat violent crime and to shore up morale across the nation's police departments, on Monday in his first on-the-record briefing as the top U.S. law enforcement officer.
He vowed more consistent prosecution of criminals who carry guns in the course of their crimes, insisting that approach will rid the streets of dangerous people responsible for a spike in violence in some major cities. Criminologists report the overall U.S. violent crime rate remains near record lows, historically.
*Sessions said he was "not aware" before news reports last week of communications between White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe about the bureau's ongoing investigation into possible contacts between people with ties to President Trump and Russia. "The FBI and the Department of Justice have to remain independent and they will do so," Sessions said. "But every contact is not improper."
*He said he had not read the Obama Justice Department's scathing reports on unconstitutional policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., or in Chicago, reasoning that he found the summaries "pretty anecdotal." Sessions said he had not yet decided whether his civil rights division would proceed to negotiate a court-enforceable consent decree with police in Chicago after Obama-era findings there, or abandon the effort.
*He repeated his disdain for drugs, including marijuana. "I don't think America is going to be a better place when more people are smoking pot," he said. Sessions said he was studying an Obama-era memo that sets out priorities for federal prosecution in states which have legalized the drug in some form. The attorney general said he met Monday with his counterpart in the state of Nebraska, who expressed concerns about a "big overflow" of marijuana from Colorado, where the drug is legal. "I'm definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana," he said.
----- 11 -----
Inslee now ‘more concerned’ after meeting with Trump on health care, immigration
Gov. Jay Inslee met with President Donald Trump for the first time Monday and says he came away more worried than ever about the new administration’s plans for health care and immigration.
By Jim Brunner | The Seattle Times
Originally published February 27, 2017
Gov. Jay Inslee says he walked away from his first in-person encounter with President Donald Trump feeling even grimmer about the new administration’s plans for health care and immigration.
Inslee and other governors met with the president Monday morning at the White House as part of a National Governors Association (NGA) gathering.
The Democratic governor, whose national profile has been rising as an anti-Trump voice, called the president’s statement irresponsible given the GOP’s sweeping plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans have argued their private-sector-focused replacement will maintain or even expand health insurance. “I think you’re going to see something very special,” Trump said of his plan at a Republican Governors Association event on Sunday.
Inslee rejected that, saying Republicans simply want to slash spending on health care.
“They try to paper that over to say we’ve got some, you know, Dr. Feelgood’s Magic Elixir that’s going to allow us spend billions of dollars less money and nobody gets hurt … it’s an hallucination.”
----- 12 -----
Report: White House Planted Fake News Story to Smear Reporter
By Emily Zanotti | 1:13 pm, February 27, 2017
The Washington Post is claiming that the White House, angry over a story about Press Secretary Sean Spicer confiscating staff phones in an effort to locate a leaker, placed a fake story smearing a POLITICO reporter in a friendly news outlet.
On Sunday morning, POLITICO‘s Alex Isenstadt and Annie Karni published an account of a “surprise” White House communications department meeting, where Spicer confiscated and then examined aides’ phones for evidence that they had been leaking inside information to the press.
According to the story, Spicer lectured staffers over his displeasure that private conversations and details of internal White House meetings were leaking to political reporters. He then told his team to drop their devices on a table for a “phone check” to “prove they had nothing to hide.”
Then, the Post reported, apparently angry that the story about checking for leakers had, subsequently, also leaked to the press, someone on Spicer’s team appeared to leak more information—on Isenstadt.
Late Sunday night, the Washington Examiner posted an account in its “Washington Whispers” section, accusing Isenstadt of laughing at the death of a Navy SEAL.
----- 13 -----
Paul Ryan: ‘We Know Russia Meddled in the Election, No One Is Disputing That’
by Josh Feldman | 3:52 pm, February 27th, 2017
Speaker Paul Ryan got a question after his meeting with President Trump today about calls for a special prosecutor into Russian election interference — spurred on by the comments of one Republican lawmaker.
Ryan said he “can’t speak to” whether Jeff Sessions should recuse himself, and he said the proper place right now for this investigation is the congressional intelligence committees.
“We know Russia meddled in the election,” Ryan said, “No one is disputing that. And this last government gave us that information in the first place. No one is alleging that some American was in on it beforehand.”
----- 14 -----
'Plan A Protest, Lose Your House' Bill, SB 1142, Killed by Arizona House
Arizona New Times
Monday, February 27, 2017
By Antonia Noori Farzan
[But they tried. And they'll try again.]
Some good news from the Arizona Legislature: SB 1142, the bill that would have allowed protest organizers to be prosecuted for racketeering if a demonstration turned violent, is effectively dead.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard has confirmed that he does not plan to consider the bill, which means that it won't move forward in the legislature.
“I haven’t studied the issue or the bill itself, but the simple reality is that it created a lot of consternation about what the bill was trying to do,” Mesnard told New Times. “People believed it was going to infringe on really fundamental rights. The best way to deal with that was to put it to bed."
SB 1142 was based on some questionable claims. Chief among them: The violence at recent protests in Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, California, was the work of paid protesters.
----- 15 -----
GOP Intel chair Burr under fire over ties to Trump
The senator running the Russia probe was a vocal Trump campaign backer, once boasting he sicced the FBI on Hillary Clinton.
By Austin Wright | Politico
On the campaign trail last fall, Republican Sen. Richard Burr told North Carolina voters there was no "separation” between himself and Donald Trump. The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman also bragged about his role in getting the FBI to investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Now, the third-term senator is under fire for running interference for the White House last week on a news report asserting repeated contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. And some Democrats are wondering whether Burr, who also served as a national security adviser to Trump’s campaign, is too close to Trump to lead an impartial investigation.
These Democrats are weighing whether to be more vocal about their concerns in a bid to pressure GOP leaders to create a more independent select committee or outside commission to handle the investigation.
----- 16 -----
Mercer Island Jewish community center evacuated following bomb threat
Zosha Millman, Seattle PI and Associated Press
Monday, February 27, 2017
The Jewish Community Center in Mercer Island was evacuated Monday evening for an unspecified reason, as more than a dozen Jewish centers and day schools across the U.S. faced bomb threats.
Officials were vague about the nature of the threat.
No bombs were found at any of the locations, and officials at the Mercer Island center couldn't confirm the reason for the evacuation. Bellevue police did, however, say that their bomb squad was called in to assist Mercer police and said "one could draw conclusions" for why it was called in.
Mercer Island police Cmdr. Leslie Burns says the threat was made by phone about 4:45 p.m. and she was not at liberty to reveal its contents.
----- 17 -----
How the Trump White House is trying to intimidate journalists
By Callum Borchers February 27 2017
The Washington Post
Attacks on the press by President Trump and his aides are so frequent that they blur together. But not all attacks are the same.
Some, such as the “opposition party” label applied by White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, are aimed at the entire mainstream media. Others target certain news outlets, such as the “failing” New York Times and “fake news” CNN. Still others zero in on individual journalists.
What almost all of them have in common is a lack of specifics. When Trump rails against a news report, he prefers generic insults like “dishonest” over a fact-based rebuttal. When he retweets a message calling Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” or mocks “little” Katy Tur during a campaign rally, he is simply hurling schoolyard taunts, devoid of supporting evidence.
So, it was notable that when the Trump White House went after Politico reporter Alex Isenstadt on Sunday, it took the unusual step of leveling a precise charge: Isenstadt, according to “one informed official” quoted by the Washington Examiner, laughed about the death of a Navy SEAL during a conversation with White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
The attempt to besmirch Isenstadt's character through an anonymous anecdote represents some of the first evidence that Trump's team might attempt to damage reporters' reputations by collecting and disseminating (and perhaps twisting) information about their conduct. April Ryan, a White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, reported two weeks ago that Omarosa Manigault, a White House communications aide, claimed to have compiled dossiers on certain journalists.
Also, at one point during the campaign, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway indicated in an interview on MSNBC that aides monitor reporters' tweets and track how often those tweets convey negative information about Trump.
“Ninety-two percent of one of them — I have them all on my desk. We printed them all out,” Conway said. “Ninety-two percent of at least two of our embeds' tweets are negative toward Donald Trump. Why are they on our campaign plane?”
----- 18 -----
The Trump Administration’s Not-So-Benign Neglect
While we’re watching the scandals du jour, the president and his top advisers are dismantling the federal government.
By Phillip Carter | Slate
24 February 2017
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Feb. 24 2017 6:03 PM
The Trump Administration’s Not-So-Benign Neglect
While we’re watching the scandals du jour, the president and his top advisers are dismantling the federal government.
By Phillip Carter
President Trump congratulates his strategist Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
This week, President Trump delighted his base with a pledge to treat deportations like a “military operation.” There were also reports that his administration is urging government officials to cherry-pick intelligence to support their desired policy outcomes and that his White House chief of staff made inappropriate contact with the FBI regarding Trump’s Russia ties. And that’s just the news from the national security sphere.
The rage felt by the president’s critics is real, and understandable, but it also plays into Trump’s broader agenda. His chief strategist Steve Bannon outlined that strategy this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, describing it as nothing less than the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Bannon’s comments this week suggest a darker, more nefarious purpose to the nascent Trump administration’s dysfunction. It may be the case that the Trump team is deliberately failing to staff, manage, and provide resources for federal agencies so as to sabotage and slowly dismantle them. To make matters worse, the Trump team might be leveraging the controversies regarding its disastrous national security moves to obscure and conceal that slow and steady demolition of the bureaucracy.
Federal agencies require certain commodities to run: leadership, legislative authorization, funding, and people. The combination of these commodities results in programming, executed either by government employees, contractors, or local governments using federal grant funds. Every part of this formula has been neglected by the Trump administration.
As of this writing, the Trump administration has failed to announce its picks for deputy, undersecretary, and assistant secretary positions across government, let alone to submit those nominations to the Senate for confirmation. Political personnel appointments are, as the old saying goes, a form of policy. These administration appointees are the actual executors of any administration’s agenda. They are the ones whose orders, directives, and oversight provide guidance to millions of federal employees and contractors.
Beyond leaders, agencies need congressional authorization and funding to function. And yet, because the agencies lack political leaders beyond the midlevel transition teams deployed after the inauguration, they are woefully behind in preparing budgets for President Trump to submit to Congress. In years past, Presidents Bush and Obama submitted their budgets within a few weeks of taking office, thanks to Herculean amounts of work by their transition teams to develop detailed fiscal plans. These teams understood that the budget submission was the key to execution of their policy agenda. It’s possible that the Trump team doesn’t understand that linkage between funding and policy. It’s also possible the Trump team doesn’t care if agencies get new budgets because its ultimate goal is to starve these agencies. If Congress continues to pass continuing resolutions that freeze funding at current levels, while the White House’s hiring and regulatory freezes remain in place, federal agencies will begin to shrink by attrition.
Agencies need people to do their jobs. The government is staffed by 2.6 million federal civilian and 1.4 million uniformed employees. Most new leaders would look for opportunities to engage their workforce and enlist them in their agenda. Not Trump, who has instead opted to attack parts of the federal workforce (like the intelligence community) while holding political rallies before others (the CIA and troops). Trump’s hiring freeze has signaled disdain to the federal civilian workforce, as have many of his Cabinet picks and congressional allies, who have continued to rail against the scourge of bureaucracy and bureaucrats.
Each of these forms of neglect advances the Bannon/Trump agenda of crippling the federal government. Unfortunately, we’re too busy paying attention to Russian intrigues, presidential conflicts of interest, and unconstitutional immigration policies to notice that the Trump team has already started its campaign to undo the state that has evolved since the New Deal to serve the American people.