Was Trump Distracting from These 2 Jaw-Dropping Stories with Attack on Mika Brzezinski?
On Thursday, Donald Trump launched a personal attack on MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. As he is wont to do, the president was particularly vicious against female news commentator Brzezinski, whom Trump accused of “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” The nature of this attack clearly crossed a line. Media figures and elected officials across the spectrum spent the day denouncing the attack. Even media executives stepped out of their corner offices to call the president out of bounds. The nature of the attacks and the responses to them kept the media busy all day. Trump’s bizarre obsession with “bleeding” led to a second day of coverage from commentators doing think pieces on Trump’s pathological misogyny.
But was the attack merely the rantings of an unhinged man, or is there method to Trump’s madness? It could be a bit of both, but in the past two years that we’ve had to deal with Trump, he has established a pattern wherein he reserves his nastiest attacks for days when news is hitting the press that he really doesn’t want to get a lot of coverage. Trump has an uncanny ability to send the media chasing a crazy rabbit for 24 to 48 hours. This often softens the blow of news that should damage him.
On Thursday, there were (at least) two pieces of news that Trump didn’t want you to see.
1. The Wall Street Journal’s Bombshell
Thursday evening, the Wall Street Journal published a bombshell that is a huge piece of evidence in the Trump-Russia collusion investigation. Even though this story came out hours after Trump’s tweets, the Journal has arguably the most right wing editorial slant of all the major print publications. It’s not hard to imagine that someone there tipped off the White House. The story was also in the works for at least two months, so there was plenty of time for the Oval Office to catch wind of it.
The Journal reports that in 2016, Republican operative Peter W. Smith approached several cyber-security firms who research hacker boards to ask them if they had access to emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s email server. He told them he was “talking to Michael Flynn about this.” He eventually found 5 groups that claimed to have Clinton’s deleted emails. Two of them were apparently groups of Russian hackers.
Smith told the Journal in an interview conducted two weeks before he died that “We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government.”
He couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the emails and told the groups who had them to give them to WikiLeaks. The Journal reports that this is consistent with what federal investigators have explored, allegations that Russian hackers looked for ways to get Clinton’s emails, and sought to deliver them to Flynn through an intermediary.
The fact that Smith died shortly after the interview, and before the story was published, adds a wrinkle to further investigation. It’s not clear if the 81-year-old GOP operative, who was a central figure in digging up dirt against the Clintons in the 1990s, knew that he was about to die. It’s possible that he was telling the truth since he had nothing left to lose. Conversely, it’s also possible he pointed the finger solely at himself to take one for the team. Either way, investigators can’t get another statement from him now.
This is the kind of thing Trump really does not want getting wall-to-wall coverage. Each revelation about the Trump-Russia collusion story seems to add more detail, to flesh out the rough outlines of what happened. If Trump decided that across-the-board condemnation for his misogyny was preferable to letting that story gain any traction, then the Journal is probably on the right track.
2. Congress Supports Trump Against Sanctuary Cities
Friday morning, the Washington Post published a story about a huge move that the House made on Thursday that helped Trump’s regressive agenda to punish sanctuary cities. The Post even acknowledged that Trump’s tweets had distracted from the news.
In April, a California federal judged ruled in favor of two California municipalities against the Trump administration. The Justice Department had recently tried to withhold roughly $1 billion in law enforcement grants from two sanctuary cities. The president hoped that the squeeze would force them to cave and hand over lists of undocumented immigrants to immigration authorities. This was the most leverage that Trump could muster. And the court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the White House to deny this funding.
The reason it was ruled unconstitutional is because the Constitution vests spending power in Congress, not the presidency. So the president can’t arbitrarily change the terms of spending without approval from Congress.
On Thursday, House Republicans voted to give Trump that approval. If the measure passes the Senate, then Congress will have arguably made Trump the most powerful president in American history in terms of his power to deny funding to individual cities who don’t conform to his immigration agenda.
Until Thursday, the successes of sanctuary cities in defying Trump, and their victories in court, had been the most powerful bastion of resistance to Trump. Thursday’s vote in the House was a massive strike against this success of the resistance. Because of the coverage of Trump’s tweets, few heard about it, which is likely how Trump wanted it. It likely would have led to widespread outcry had it been the major news item of the day. It also shows that Republican House reps who were condemning Trump’s tweets Thursday morning were voting for a major piece of his agenda by late Thursday afternoon.
Even if Congress does give Trump this major weapon to twist the arms of sanctuary cities, it doesn’t guarantee that the strategy will work. First of all, it relies on cities caving in under pressure. Many cities could decide that protecting their otherwise law-abiding undocumented populations is worth more in the long-run than taking a haircut in their law enforcement funding. It’s conceivable that even some law enforcement agencies would decide that good relations with immigrant populations makes their life easier than federal funding does.
But perhaps more importantly, Congress could set up a major Tenth Amendment showdown if Trump tries to use Congress’s blessing to force compliance among states and cities. The Tenth Amendment is the one that says anything not spelled out as a power for the federal government is to be interpreted as a power of the states. For most of American history, the more conservative social and political movements have been more pro-states’ rights. Some of the biggest conflicts in American history: slavery, secession, and segregation have been decided with the federal government forcing certain states clinging to highly regressive socioeconomics to conform to modern ethics. Will Trump turn American conservatism on its head and try to force certain states to become illiberal from the perch of federal power? The federal government forcing liberal cities to turn over their undocumented immigrants would be akin to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, one of the sparks that began to radicalize the abolitionist movement on the road to the Civil War.
If Trump gains this power from Congress, California is likely to expedite its process of becoming the first sanctuary state. Other states would be likely to follow suit. This could set up a situation where a growing states’ rights rebellion struggles to preserve the social progress of the last 150 years from a morally bankrupt federal government. This question would almost certainly have to be settled by a landmark Supreme Court ruling. And that might only be the beginning of the sociopolitical struggle.
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