Fox News Halftime Report

Big Three, big target

President revives the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines


On the roster: Big Three, big target - Trump wields pen, revives pipeline projects - Trump said to be keeping Comey - CBO warns of debt bomb - Yeah, but what about the time he made Joe Montana get out and walk?

President Trump
, like his predecessors for nearly a century, has a fixation with Detroit.

While his surprise victory in Michigan may be part of why Trump has been so obsessed with remaking the American auto industry, his interest in the business stretches way back. After all, which other president can say he teamed up with Cadillac to launch a line of limousines?

But it also comes with the territory.

As Trump summoned the heads of America’s major automakers, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, to the White House today to discuss his plans for them, he was following in the footsteps of many of his predecessors.

America’s Big Three car companies only make up about 3 percent of the nation’s economic output, but count for so much more in our collective identity. No industry better captures the Midcentury economic nostalgia endemic to American politicians: good-paying jobs that relied on brawn not brains and a product at the very heart of the national identity.

Eight years ago, the domestic auto industry was teetering, with the long-struggling GM and Chrysler looking like goners. The outgoing Bush administration had already cleared the way for money borrowed by the federal government on the auspices of propping up the financial industry to end the panic of 2008 to be shifted to bailing out carmakers. About $80 billion went to the industry, with more than $9 billion never repaid.

We had seen a bailout before when Congress and then-President Jimmy Carter in 1979 delivered what was a staggering $1.5 billion loan to rescue the rapidly bankrupting Chrysler. But inaugurated President Obama didn’t just want to be a loan officer.

He and his administration structured unprecedented bankruptcies and then, especially in the case of GM, took oversight of operations. “Car Czar” Steven Rattner and other Treasury officials became overnight auto executives. And a return to profitability wasn’t the only objective.

Obama explained it thusly: “What we said was, ‘If we’re going to help you, then you’ve also got to change your ways.  You can’t just make money on SUV’s and trucks,’” Obama said at a 2011 town hall meeting. “And so what we’ve now seen is an investment in electric vehicles.”

Obama’s remaking of the auto industry was a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, with then-Vice President Joe Biden bragging that the campaign’s slogan was really “General Motors is alive and Usama Bin Laden is dead.”

Democrats hammered Republican Mitt Romney for having argued against the bailout and instead to let “Detroit go bankrupt,” what proved for him to be a regrettably pithy way to frame his argument that the government should have let market forces work.

Voters ratified Obama’s interventionist approach in 2012. Four years later, they did the same for Trump’s version, in which he promised to force automakers to bring back jobs they had moved overseas.

The shorthand on today’s meeting seems to be that Trump offered the companies two choices: they could transfer production back home and get goodies in the way of tax subsidies and reduced regulations or defy the president and see their businesses crushed by massive tariffs.

The industry has just recently recovered from a horrible two decades in which low demand, foreign competition, high labor costs, massive legacy costs for pensions and health care and lackluster product lines took GM and Chrysler over the brink. Now, Trump wants them to reinvent themselves again or face his wrath.

As it turns out, it’s no fun to be every president’s favorite industry.

“[I]n all cases where power is to be conferred, the point first to be decided is, whether such a power be necessary to the public good; as the next will be, in case of an affirmative decision, to guard as effectually as possible against a perversion of the power to the public detriment.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 41

History: “Columbia Records was as mainstream as mainstream could get in the 1950s and 60s, and their goal was to cast [Aretha Franklin] as an all-around pop entertainer in the mold of Johnny Mathis...When her contract with Columbia expired, Aretha Franklin made the pivotal decision to sign with Atlantic Records, the label that introduced the world to Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker and the Drifters. Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler … sent her to Sheffield, Alabama, as a first step. It was there that she recorded the blues ballad “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” backed by the now-legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. …Aretha Franklin finally began sounding like Aretha Franklin. ‘They made me sit down at the piano, and the hits came,’ Aretha would say years later of the career transformation that began at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios on this day in 1967.”

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Fox News: “President Trump signed executive orders on Tuesday effectively reviving the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, which had been stalled by the Obama administration under pressure from environmental and other groups. The president said both projects would be subject to a renegotiation of the terms.  The president signed a total of five orders related to pipeline construction, including others expediting the permitting process for related projects and directing the Commerce Department to maximize the use of U.S. steel. The moves had been widely expected, as Trump blasted his predecessor for effectively blocking the projects.”

NYT: “Daring Mr. Trump to make good on his grand infrastructure promises, Senate Democrats on Tuesday will unveil a trillion-dollar plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, railways, airports, waterways and sewer systems over 10 years…The plan dedicates $180 billion to rail and bus systems, $65 billion to ports, airports and waterways, $110 billion for water and sewer systems, $100 billion for energy infrastructure, and $20 billion for public and tribal lands.”

USA Today: “The federal deficit is projected to decline in 2017 to $559 billion, down from $587 billion last year, according to projections released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, but if current laws are not changed, the CBO predicts the deficit will rise to historic levels over the next decade. The deficit increased in relation to the country’s economic output for the first time last year, and the CBO said the main drivers of deficit growth are Medicare and Social Security spending for seniors and interest payments on the debt, coupled with only modest revenue growth. ‘Those accumulating deficits would drive debt held by the public from its already high level up to its highest percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since shortly after World War II,’ the CBO said.”

AP: “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need significant changes to be preserved for future generations, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the White House budget office told Congress Tuesday. Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s comments at his confirmation hearing stand in sharp contrast to Trump's campaign pledges not to cut the programs. Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, said he would not propose cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits for people already receiving them. ‘I’m not making my parents go back to work,’ Mulvaney said. But, he added, younger workers should expect to work longer than their parents. He also said Medicare should be means-tested, which means benefits would be limited for wealthy retirees. They already pay higher premiums.”

Fox News: “President Trump has decided to retain controversial FBI Director James Comey, two law enforcement sources confirmed to Fox News, just months after Comey’s revelations about Hillary Clinton’s emails twice rocked the presidential race. Comey has already alerted members of the FBI workforce that Trump asked him to stay on the job. He's currently serving a 10-year term that expires in 2023. Comey had been alternately praised and lambasted by Trump on the campaign trail. Tuesday’s news means Trump will avert a new confirmation fight… Comey reportedly is investigating Trump associates’ ties to Russia, and some agents also may still be looking at The Clinton Foundation, as Fox News has previously reported. During a White House reception on Sunday, Trump greeted Comey warmly. ‘Oh, and there’s James! He's become more famous than me,’ he said.”

WaPo: “The FBI in late December reviewed intercepts of communications between the Russian ambassador to the United States and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn – national security adviser to then-President-elect Trump — but has not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government, U.S. officials said. The calls were picked up as part of routine electronic surveillance of Russian officials and agents in the United States, which is one of the FBI’s responsibilities, according to the U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss counterintelligence operations.”

Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump told members of Congress on Monday in a private reception that he believes he lost the popular vote in his election because millions of undocumented immigrants cast votes for his opponent, an unsubstantiated claim he first made as president-elect that drew widespread criticism. Trump told Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House reception that he would have won the popular vote had three to five million undocumented immigrants not cast ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton, three people familiar with the remark said. Two of the people said Trump used the term “illegals” to describe the alleged immigrant voters. Clinton won the national popular vote by about 2.9 million ballots, but Trump won enough states to secure 306 Electoral College votes and the presidency.”

Trump says he’ll announce his pick for Supreme Court next week – The Hill

Gorsuch emerging as top contender for Scalia replacement - ABC News

CBO: ObamaCare exchanges covering less than half of original estimates - WashEx

Ryan invites Trump to address Congress on Feb. 28 - Roll Call

Minnesota Governor collapses during state of state address - St Paul Pioneer Press

“What a massive crowd of the press we have here today. It is enormous – it is probably in all likelihood I think – the largest on record … I count at least 95 cameras…” – Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., joking at the start of a Capitol Hill press conference attended by about a dozen reporters and four photographers.

“I’m surprised at the pundits, yourself included, who seem to believe that President Trump was upset with the MLK bust and inaugural crowd size reports in the media and decided to send Sean Spicer to confront them. I believe the decision to hold that press “conference” within the first couple of days after the inaugural, was made several weeks ago. It was just a matter of what story they could carp about. The crowd size is trivial, but it’s what was available to them to use. The veracity of the administration’s position is irrelevant. They put a marker down as a signal to the White House Press Corps that this administration is prepared for war.” – Richard Larkin, Nashua, N.H.

[Ed. note: Many, if not most of the reporters in the White House press corps are long and well acquainted with Trump’s contempt for them and their profession. If you’ve been penned off like a Holstein in the middle of a campaign rally and called “disgusting” by a major party nominee who then exhorts his supporters to jeer you, you are not likely to believe that the fellow is a great fan of your work. But if your theory is right, and Trump was waiting for a fresh provocation so he could make clear to the American people that his disgust with American journalism persists into his presidency, he chose unwisely. If this was a strategic gambit, it would have been far better played in relation to an issue that wasn’t about Trump himself. Trump’s smaller inauguration crowd came as no surprise and could have been easily dismissed with several valid arguments, especially that Trump’s core supporters are hard-working, middle-class Americans perhaps unable to make the trip to Washington on a weekday. But instead, Trump reinforced the narrative that he is thin-skinned and ego-driven by choosing such an unimportant issue on which to make his stand.]

“I had the blessing to be born on 01/23/45, making me 72 years old [Monday]! While I was setting out my clothes prior to my shower I had a trivia question come to mind: has President Trump moved his NY personal butler to the White House, or will he use the services of the House valets?  I’ve never had either in my life so it’s a mystery to me. Please know many here in flyover country deeply appreciate yours and Dana's sense of things.  Keep up the good work please. Cordially.” – Dan Given, Flower Mound, Texas

[Ed. note: First and foremost: Happy birthday, Mr. Given! One major adjustment for most new residents of the White House are the executive mansion’s famed ushers. That’s not the case for Trump, who, as you point out, has long retained domestic servants of his own. What Trump isn’t used to is the staff of nearly 100 who keep the White House complex humming day in and day out, regardless of administration. The chief usher oversees a massive budget and works closely with the facility’s de facto landlords, the General Services Administration and the National Parks Service, as well as its proctors at the Secret Service and the Department of Defense. I don’t know whether Trump will opt to bring some of his most loyal retainers down from New York or up from Palm Beach, Fla, such as a valet. But the work of keeping the first family well-cared for, safe and on schedule is all part of the larger job of keeping “the people’s house” humming.]

“Interesting story; but, how does one 'milk' a spider?  The visuals in my head are haunting - the stuff nightmares are made of.” – M. Schwarz, Wildomar, Calif.

[Ed. note: You’re referring, of course to Monday’s kicker, which was about an Australian’s zoo’s request for volunteers to “milk” venom from poisonous spiders to be used in the manufacture of anti-venom. Before we get to the horrifying practical considerations about how to do this, I think we have a Catch-22 on our hands. The zoo wants “responsible adults” to volunteer, but how responsible could anyone be who would do such a thing?]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

Denver Post: “What would you do if you randomly met Broncos general manager John Elway during your regular, everyday life? Imagine it happening in the midst of unknowingly praising the Hall of Fame quarterback and listing him No. 1 on your all-time quarterback list. That’s the story of this cab driver, Sam Snow, who got a surprise meeting with his choice for greatest of all-time. The hilarious interaction is better described through the video (warning some content may not be suitable for certain audiences). The cab ride took place in Washington D.C. where Elway and his wife, Paige, were in town to attend President Donald Trump’s inauguration among other celebrations.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Mike Maltas contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.