Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

January 14, 2017 11:56 AM

President-Elect Trump

President-Elect Trump held his first news conference of the pre-January 20th period on January 11th. Most of the press conference focused on a report by a lawyer from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a prominent D.C. law firm, as to how Trump plans to deal with possible financial conflicts. Fred Fielding, a former White House Counsel and recognized ethics lawyer, is part of the firm and is involved in developing the manner in which Trump will handle is business affairs. The head of the Office of Government Ethics described the plan for handling Trump’s possible conflicts of interest plan as “meaningless”. It remains the case that the ethics rules that apply to all government employees do not apply to the president and vice president.

57% of Americans are “Optimistic and Hopeful” that the President Elect will bring change to Washington, DC; 56% are “Optimistic and Hopeful” that Trump will keep U.S. jobs from going overseas; and 48% are “Optimistic and Hopeful” that he will look out for Americans who are struggling in today’s economy. [NBC/WSJ, 12/15/16]

61% of us think it is a good thing that Trump has appointed retired members of the military, including retired generals, to key national security and civilian positions in his administration. 29% think it is a bad thing because the country has had a tradition of civilian control over the military and national security.

By 64% to 32%, American voters believe that Trump should close his personal twitter account. Republicans disagree by 49% to 45%. 71% of those 18-34 years of age believe he should close the account. [Quinnipiac, 1/9/17]

Americans are less enthusiastic about the billionaires and millionaires who Trump is appointing to other key positions in his administration. 47% think their appointment is a bad thing and 43% say it is a good thing.

Respondents are ambivalent about the amount of influence that Trump’s family members will have on his administration. 39% say they will have too much influence while 38% say they will have the right amount of influence. [NBC/WSJ, 12/15/16]

55% of Americans disapprove of the job that Trump has done explaining his policies and plans for the future to the American people. 39% approve. Not surprisingly, 83% of Democrats disapprove and 72% of Republicans approve.

There is continuing concern that Trump’s relationship with organizations, businesses or foreign governments conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests. 65% of Americans were at least somewhat concerned about this in December but that number dropped to 57% in January. [PEW, 1/10/17]

81% of voters say it is likely “Trump will take actions to benefit his businesses when he becomes president. 79% say it is important for Trump to remove himself from the operations of his businesses before he is inaugurated. [Morning Consult/POLITICO, 12/11/16]

The professional media are having an interesting experience as they take on the responsibility of covering the president-elect and his new administration. Ruth Marcus comments on this challenge in an article in the Washington Post. Here are the first and last paragraphs of her article.

“The approaching presidency of Donald Trump poses daunting challenges for the journalists covering him, not merely because he has described them as dishonest, low-life scum or because of anxiety over whether the new administration will adhere to basic norms of access, such as daily briefings and regular news conferences.”

“Perhaps the hardest problem – and the most important, given the millisecond modern attention span – involves how to accurately portray Trump’s conduct within the confined space of a headline, or a broadcaster’s capsule summary. This task will demand constant vigilance and endless creativity on the part of those of us committed to practicing journalism in the Age of Trump. It will, in some circumstances, require some diligence on the part of our audience to probe beyond the first impression.” [WPost, 1/6/17]

At his news conference on January 11th Trump acknowledged for the first time that he believes Russian operatives hacked the DNC during the election. This places him in concert with Americans generally. 72% of Americans who have heard about the allegations (88% of the public) believe that Russia was behind the hacks at the DNC and the Clinton campaign. [PEW, 1/10/17]

Trump does not comport to political conventions, and we have no reason to expect him to start behaving like a traditional president or politician. He may well start breaking established rules of behavior. Browbeating companies to keep jobs in the U.S. may well be one, and it’s apt to play well with his base which sees him as the lone politician who will look out for them.” (Charlie Cook, Cook Political Report, 12/2/16)

The following are excerpts from a December 1 column by Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report.

“In many ways President-elect Trump is exactly the guy he was when he was candidate Trump. He remains obsessed with real or perceived slights — using twitter to lash out at those who dissed or dismissed him. He is infatuated with how the press covers him and yet has set the record in the modern era for days he’s gone without holding a post-election press conference.”

“But, when it comes to what he actually DOES as president — namely who he hires and doesn’t — Trump is less A.D.D. than his Twitter tirades would have you believe. In fact, if personnel is policy, most of Trump’s cabinet picks suggest he’ll govern more like a traditional, conservative Republican than a populist, big government or anti-establishment GOPer. Yes, senior advisor Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn, his pick for National Security Advisor, are controversial and potential bomb-throwers. But, the rest of his choice thus far are for more conventional. In fact, his cabinet picks thus far don't look a whole lot different from those a President Ted Cruz would have chosen.”

“We are very early into the Trump era. So, we should be careful not to over-interpret his transition effort. However, it’s also important for us to focus on what Trump is DOING instead of what he’s TWEETING. And, based on what he’s doing, he’s putting together a team around him that will unite Republicans, but will do little to unite the country”

November 21, 2013 is a date about which Democrats will be reminded numerous times during the next several weeks.

Senator Susan Collins said, “I think the minority will rue the day that they broke the rules to change the rules.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “You will no doubt come to regret this, and you may regret it sooner than you think.”

The Democrats, led by Senator Reid, pushed through a controversial Senate rules change called the “nuclear option.” The change reduced the threshold from 60 votes to 51 votes for Senate approval of executive and judicial nominees thus ending the use of the filibuster. The rule change does not apply to Supreme Court nominees.

As a result, President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominees to head various departments and his judicial appointments (currently there are 113 vacancies) –other than the Supreme Court—cannot be filibustered unless more than one of the Republican members of the Senate decide to vote against the person. There is not much chance of that happening.

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