Eye on 45

A monthly rundown of news out of the White House and Congress

John McCain

John McCain

Photo by gage skidmore via flickr

In the CN&R’s last installment of Eye on 45, President Trump had taken his rhetoric regarding North Korea to new heights by calling Kim Jong Un “rocket man” and saying he was “on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.” Around the same time, congressional GOP members, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, began yet another attempted takedown of the Affordable Care Act, despite multiple unsuccessful attempts to do so previously. And that’s where this newspaper picks up the continuing saga of Republicans holding a majority in all three branches of government.

Sept. 19: The so-called Graham-Cassidy Bill, which would substantially gut Medicaid over time, drew sharp criticism from 10 governors—both Republican and Democrat—whose citizenry would be harmed by the legislation. Meanwhile, health care groups, including the American Hospital Association and AARP, called for a no vote, reports The Washington Post.

Moves to push the legislation forward, in advance of a Sept. 30 deadline that allows the Senate to pass laws with a simple majority, included lobbying by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the White House via Vice President Mike Pence.

Sept. 22: Kim Jong Un responds directly to President Trump’s taunts, issuing a statement in which, among other things, he calls POTUS a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” reports The New York Times. Dotard (pronounced “doe-terd”), for the uninitiated, is “an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile,” according to dictionary.com.

Later, responding to reporters who asked what the North Korean leader meant when he promised the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history,” the country’s foreign minister says he thought it was a reference to detonating a massive hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

Trump followed with his own inflammatory missive on Twitter: “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!”

On the same day, Politico reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had traveled by private plane—on the taxpayers’ dime to the tune of an estimated $300,000—at least 24 times since May. Price traveled that way despite the availability of commercial flights—the mode of transportation used by his two immediate predecessors.

Sept. 24: Politico reports that Cassidy and Graham revised their controversial ACA-repeal bill in an attempt to win key votes ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. The move would allocate additional funding to Arizona, Alaska and Kentucky, whose respective senators, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Rand Paul, have voiced opposition to the bill.

The same day, The New York Times reports that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, used a personal email account in his official White House role as a senior adviser to the president. The revelation triggers concerns about the Trump administration’s preservation of records. It also smacks of hypocrisy, as one of Trump’s chief campaign tactics was attacking Hillary Clinton for having used a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Sept. 26: The Times reports that Kushner isn’t the only person in Trump’s inner circle who used private email to conduct official White House business. The list includes at least six of the president’s closest advisers.

The same day, Politico reports that the Senate will not vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill. That decision was made following news that the effort had indeed not gained enough Republican support.

Also, a newly released poll by Morning Consult indicates that just over half of the country (54 percent) know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

Sept. 28: Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, pledges to repay the government for his flights on private planes.

Sept. 29: The New York Times reports that the embattled Price resigned “after racking up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights and undermining President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp of a corrupt and entitled capital.”

The same day, the Times reports that the nonpartisan Tax Policy Institute analyzed Trump’s tax plan and concluded it would largely benefit the nation’s richest citizens and businesses. That revelation counters the president’s narrative that his proposal would aid the middle-class. Based on POTUS’ 2005 federal tax return, it’s estimated that plan would save him more than $1.1 billion personally.

Sept. 30: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States has reached out diplomatically to North Korea. The news counters rhetoric from the president, who said via Twitter, among other things, that “[Tillerson] is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rock Man.”

Oct. 2: “An act of pure evil.” That was POTUS’ response to news of the death toll in Las Vegas (58) and the number of people injured (500) as a result of a mass shooter using a legal device to turn his gun into a quasi-automatic gun.

Oct. 3: Asked by reporters about a Republican effort to weaken restrictions on purchasing silencers, the president answers: “We’ll talk about that later.”

The same day, Politico reports that legal memos indicating presidents of the United States cannot tap their relatives for White House positions, among other duties, were overruled by a Justice Department official.

Oct. 4: During a short visit to Puerto Rico, following the devastation there wrought by Hurricane Maria, President Trump downplays its significance, saying the island avoided the effects of “a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina.” He also joked that the disaster had “thrown our budget a little out of whack.”

Meanwhile, CNN reports that Russian Facebook ads specifically targeted Wisconsin and Michigan—states Trump won by less than 1 percent of the vote.

The same day, NBC reports that, amid the context that POTUS had delivered a politicized speech during a Boy Scouts event last summer, Secretary Tillerson, an eagle scout and former national president of the Boy Scouts of America, nearly resigned. Moreover, as a result of clashes over policy, including Trump’s idea to increase the U.S. nuclear cache tenfold, Tillerson also reportedly called Trump a “fucking moron.”

Oct. 5: Trump takes to Twitter to criticize a the Senate Intelligence Committee over its investigation of possible collusion between the Kremlin and the president’s campaign. He also singled out the “Fake News Networks,” suggesting the panel should turn their attention to such organizations.

Oct. 8: POTUS and Republican Sen. Bob Corker get into it on Twitter. Trump started his “tweetstorm” in response to Corker’s comments the week prior that cabinet members Tillerson, James Mattis and John Kelly “help separate the country from chaos.”

Trump accuses Corker of sour grapes—saying he’d been turned down for the position of secretary of state. Corker responds by writing: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.”

Oct. 9: The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, moves forward on a plan to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, an effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reports The New York Times.

Oct. 10: The Washington Post reports that during his 263 days in office, Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading statements.

Oct. 11: A Quinnipaic poll reveals a majority of Americans (55 percent) think Trump is not fit to serve as president.

Oct. 12: Trump signs an executive order that, among other things, eliminates subsidies to health insurance providers that have lowered deductibles for low-income people, reports The New York Times. Critics, including some major insurers, say the move will make it more difficult for patients to get the health care they need.

Oct. 15: Attorneys representing a former Apprentice contestant who alleges the president assaulted her have subpoenaed documents from his campaign related to such charges. The legal move is part of the alleged victim’s defamation suit, which was filed last March, reports Buzzfeed News.

Oct. 16: Former Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has been interviewed by the investigatory team led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, reports The Washington Post.

Oct. 17: Sen. John McCain, during a speech at an event to honor him, cautions the nation about embracing “half-baked, spurious nationalism,” a not-so-veiled dig at the machinations of the Trump administration, reports Politico.

In response, POTUS fires off a warning shot, saying “I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”