Over the borderline
Some admirers of President Donald Trump have compared him to Theodore Roosevelt, whose guiding principle in foreign affairs was to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” It looks like Trump is blowing past the “speak softly” part.
In a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week, he threatened to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them itself, The Associated Press reported.
The excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by the AP did not make clear whether the bad hombres were the drug cartels, illegal immigrants or both. The White House gave no immediate explanation to AP, but an official told a CNN reporter, “Reports that the president threatened to invade Mexico are false.”
The call had been arranged to smooth tensions after an argument over who would pay for Trump’s border wall led to the cancellation of a Peña Nieto visit to Washington.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, National Security Adviser Mike Flynn showed up at the White House press briefing to issue a warning that the United States was putting Iran “on notice” after it tested a ballistic missile.
A White House official told CBS News that the administration is reviewing all options against Iran, including economic and military action — and that Iran should heed the warning and change its behavior.
The new noise seemed designed to eclipse what insiders call outright embarrassment stemming from Trump's Australia and Mexico stunts. Or perhaps it was something else.
Late Wednesday night America's tweeter-in-chief tapped out this: "Iran is rapidly taking over more and more of Iraq even after the U.S. has squandered three trillion dollars there. Obvious long ago!"
On Thursday he again slammed the Iran deal with the Obama administration and made some more unexplained claims -- as well as mentioning his daughter again and threatening federal funds to UC Berkeley were minor disturbances broke out. All are linked here.
Crikey, he sounds cranky
Trump didn’t threaten to attack Australia, a close, longtime U.S. ally, but didn’t exactly pour on the charm either in a call Saturday with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, according to a Washington Post report citing senior U.S. officials.
At one point, Trump told Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and “this was the worst call by far.”
Turnbull was concerned Trump’s new refugee policy meant backing out from a U.S. agreement to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center. Trump accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”
Late Wednesday night, Trump tweeted: “Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”
Nuke it out
Trump’s patience starts out thin and withers from there. So the morning after nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the president was already egging on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to deploy the “nuclear option” against any Democratic filibuster.
“I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear.’ Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Trump meant breaking with the Senate tradition of requiring a supermajority — 60 votes — to change the chamber’s rules so that a simple majority will be enough to confirm a Supreme Court justice. Fifty-two of the 100 senators are Republican.
A broader consequence would be weakening the power of the filibuster, which provides an incentive for building consensus across party lines.
Protests cancel Breitbart editor talk
After smoke bombs, window-breaking, light-smashing, and the hurling of various objects climaxed a day of peaceful protests, a flamboyant Breitbart editor identified with far-right causes cancelled his talk at the University of California at Berkeley. An account is here.
Stony Brook president joins anti-ban rally
The president of Stony Brook University, Samuel Stanley, addressed those gathered at the school to demonstrate against Trump's visa crackdown. Newsday's Scott Eidler and Candace Ferrette describe the unusual scene.
Campus reaction to the Trump administration came the same day it was reported that the president named Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University in Virginia, to head a task force on higher education. Students at the conservative Christian school three months ago denounced Trump's famous recorded statements boasting about how he grabbed women.
The take-away: Gorsuch legacy
Gorsuch is seen as a foe of expansive government regulation. In a way, it’s an issue that has seared his family before.
His late mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was President Ronald Reagan’s first head of the Environmental Protection Administration, and Reagan’s push to pull back regulation put her at odds with Congress.
She was cited for contempt of Congress when she refused to produce records for an inquiry into the mishandling of a $1.6 billion toxic waste fund. See the column by Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspended its rules to thwart a Democratic blocking maneuver delaying votes on Georgia Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and banker Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary.
Gone was the requirement that at least one Democrat be present for the vote. Democrats said they were boycotting the meeting and demanding more scrutiny into the truthfulness of the nominees’ statements about past financial dealings.
The committee sent both nominations to the full Senate.
Rex crosses finish line
The Senate voted 56-43 to approve former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
All Republicans and a handful of Democrats went along, even though some members of both parties had qualms on whether he was tough-minded enough on Russia. He was sworn in Wednesday night by Vice President Mike Pence.
Betsy is no sure bet
Two Republican senators bailed Wednesday on Trump’s Education nominee, leaving the confirmation of billionaire charter school advocate Betsy DeVos at risk.
If she gets support from every other Republican, but no one else, the vote would end in a 50-50 tie, requiring Pence to cast the tiebreaker.
To get to 50, Senate Republicans need the vote of Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who will be giving up his seat once confirmed for attorney general.
Trump’s longtime physician told The New York Times that Trump takes finasteride, a prostate-related drug, to promote hair growth. The drug is marketed as Propecia to treat male-pattern baldness.
According to Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, the president’s other regular medications include antibiotics to control rosacea, a common skin problem; a statin for elevated blood cholesterol and lipids; and a daily baby aspirin to reduce the risk of a heart attack.
What else is happening
- Trump, accompanied by daughter Ivanka, made an unannounced trip to Dover Air Base in Delaware to honor the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a weekend raid in Yemen and meet privately with his family.
- Trump signaled via Twitter that while he has no misgivings about his order restricting entry from seven countries, he doesn’t care what people call it: “Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!”
- Muslim, Jewish and Christian community leaders joined Democratic officials at a Mineola event to protest Trump’s immigration order, Newsday’s Victor Manuel Ramos reports.
- If Gorsuch is confirmed, he will be the first Protestant among the nine judges since John Paul Stevens retired from the court in 2010. There are now five Catholics and three Jews. Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February, leaving the vacancy, also was Catholic.
- A federal judge ordered Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, Florida, to pay $5.7 million to ex-members who sued, charging they got cheated. The plaintiffs said they lost access to the facility when Trump took it over, but were still assessed for fees and denied refunds.
- Spicer said Trump doesn’t share a view once voiced by chief strategist Steve Bannon in an interview — that Islam is a “dark” religion.
- The president’s remarks on Black History Month contained nuggets of classic Trumpspeak, such as: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”