Fox News Halftime Report

This is why we can't have nice things

Chief congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel reports from Capitol Hill

 

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On the roster: This is why we can’t have nice things - Nunes steps aside on Russia inquest amid ethics probe - Trump meetings with Chinese leader begin today - House leaves town with TrumpCare dangling - You’re doing it wrong

THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS
Predictably, Washington is losing its entire mind over a procedural vote in the Senate to lower the threshold for ending debate on the confirmations of Supreme Court justices.

Even the name, “nuclear option” has a gratifyingly apocalyptic vibe.

We know how we got here: tit-for-tat escalations stretching back for 40 years. Was it Democrats’ filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch? Yes. Was it Republicans’ blockade of a raft of Obama lower-court nominees? Yep. Was it the public humiliation of Clarence Thomas? You betcha. Was it the defeat of Robert Bork’s nomination? For sure.

But who cares about blame? Partisans rely on “he started it” arguments for almost everything they do, so trying to unravel who is exactly to blame is a pointless exercise. This ball has been rolling downhill for decades.

A reasonable person should wonder: “So what?” And they wouldn’t be wrong to think that all of this primate-house behavior in Washington doesn’t have much to do with real life or the real concerns of the people of the republic. Nuke or don’t nuke, the good people of Beech Bottom, W. Va. won’t be able to sense that much is different.

Buuuuttt…

We have often talked about how politics descends from culture, even though those of us in this world tend to believe it’s the other way around. If our politics are gross – and they surely are – they are still not the cause of the current cultural crisis in the United States, but rather its result.

Politicians are people too, and like most people, they will tend to do only the minimum that is required of them. That applies to standards of honor, patriotism, honesty and selflessness. We only get as good of a government as we demand.

The scoundrels and scallywags of previous generations would no doubt look upon their heirs in politics today and say “You kids have it made.” The amount of venal, dishonest, self-interested, shortsightedness that voters will tolerate today in the name of partisan victory would have made Teapot Dome but a teacup.

With today’s vote, the Senate takes another step toward undoing its original role as an upper chamber in the true sense of the term.

The Founders gave senators longer terms, a smaller chamber, equal representation among states and shielded them from direct election by voters in the hope that senators would elevate, restrict and refine the populist passions surging up from the House.

Starting with the Progressive Era change to elect senators directly, rather than by their states’ legislatures, we have gradually undone that vision.

The rule that was changed today, interestingly, was actually a rather belated attempt to restore some of the original function of the Senate, not part of the showroom model. Once, it took two-thirds of the Senate to advance legislation to a final vote and then it was the current three-fifths. And that won’t last long.

The threshold was lowered for lower court appointments and other presidential picks in 2013, now that includes the Supreme Court. One day, it will, assuredly, cover all legislation.

As one of that body’s most esteemed former members might have said, they are defining deviancy down…

The consequence of the current change, though, will be significant enough on its own. Resentments will deepen and chances for bipartisan cooperation will diminish. And the motivations that govern the selection of Supreme Court nominees will be radically altered.

Pity the poor judges who have spent decades of their lives meticulously avoiding the appearance of prejudice in all legal matters and avoiding ideological activism for the sake of remaining eligible for the Supreme Court.

The future belongs not to the Neil Gorsuches of the bench but to those individuals who are best able to stoke the strongest partisan sentiment when activist groups start militating for the – depending on who is president – farthest right or farthest left nominee possible.

The standard until today was to find a nominee who could attract bipartisan support and be viewed as broadly acceptable. Going forward, it will be all about a party’s base trying to force anxious moderates to accept the most hardline choice possible.

In time, that scorched-earth approach will make things worse at the court, too. It is helpful for the administration of justice when rank partisans try to appear otherwise. The phony politesse of judicial non-partisanship not only allows judges to reason together better but also gives an incentive for deference and decency.

By the time everybody has gotten to the court by having been the red-hot poker shoved up the backside of one party or the other by activist groups, those niceties will matter a great deal less. That change will be reflected in the conduct of the court, the predictability of its decisions on partisan lines and the esteem in which those decisions are held.

The Senate is getting to be more like the House, but so will the Supreme Court.

So, back to the good people of Beech Bottom, W. Va., and what this all has to do with them.

The Supreme Court is one of very few civic institutions that still counts for much with ordinary Americans. Respect for Congress, the presidency, organized religion, big business, education, the free press and just about everything other than the Easter Bunny, has tanked over the course of recent decades, but the high court has held on to much of its luster.

Polls consistently show that justices are in pretty rare air along with the two perennial favorites for public confidence: the military and small business.

That will change over time, and the court will descend that slippery slope down to where those folks without robes in the big building on the other side of 1st St., NE reside. It will take time, but the justices will be in the muck just like the members of Congress.

Perhaps you think this is fitting. After all, in many ways over the past two generations, the court has acted like a super legislature. If they are going to behave that way, maybe it’s good that justices live in the same partisan hellscape as their elected counterparts across the street.

What we lost today was another chunk of republican virtue. The aloof, apolitical, unelected Supreme Court is a key feature of our Framers’ plan, but the court is moving earthward at a faster pace now.  

As it turns out, the expansion of direct democracy for Americans has been no picnic.

Once, voters only got to choose the members of the House, with the rest of their government chosen indirectly. Are we better off with a directly elected chief executive and Senate? Do you think they are more accountable? Do you think they are more responsible and diligent?

It is not a coincidence that the Supreme Court is more respected and that its members don’t seek the votes of their countrymen. Justices were supposed to meet the standards of an indirectly elected Senate and then place their duty strictly to the Constitution.

It is not hard to imagine the day when we will have both chambers of Congress directly elected, a president directly elected by a national popular vote and even elections for Supreme Court justices.

Proponents will argue that it will make these black-robed figures more accountable to the people. And ending lifetime appointments would be the next logical step since, after all, don’t we want these folks constantly pandering to the fickle demands of voters?

Whether they know it or not, ordinary Americans lost a little something today. It will take time for them to feel it, but they lost part of one of the remaining bulwarks against the tyranny of the mob.    

THE RULEBOOK: SO YOU’RE SAYING IT WASN’T GOOD
“We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely anything that can wound the pride or degrade the character of an independent nation which we do not experience.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 15

TIME OUT: SHOWTIME
The Atlantic: “As the 2017 baseball season kicks off this week, it’s hard to imagine Francisco Lindor or Ben Zobrist having to hustle off the field to pay the bills. But until the late 1950s, this was a fairly standard arrangement for pro athletes. While football players and boxers could be found working the vaudeville circuit, it was most common to see baseball players sharing a stage with slapstick-comedy duos and human curiosities. Vaudeville, with its bills full of family-friendly acts, was an ideal showcase for athletes, whose appearance onstage was enough of a novelty to be a draw in lieu of other performing talent.”

Flag on the play? -
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your tips, comments or questions.

NUNES STEPS ASIDE ON RUSSIA INQUEST AMID ETHICS PROBE
AP: “Citing ethics complaints, the chairman of the House intelligence committee announced Thursday he is temporarily surrendering his leadership post in the panel's probe into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election. The decision by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California comes amid partisan turmoil on the committee. Democrats have alleged that Nunes, who was on President Donald Trump's transition team, is too close to the White House and cannot lead an impartial inquiry, and the House ethics committee is investigating whether he improperly disclosed classified information.”

Bannon booted from Security Council, threatened to leave administration - Fox News: “Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s controversial chief strategist, was removed from the National Security Council on Wednesday and reportedly threatened to resign from the Trump administration. Rebekah Mercer, a top Republican donor, had to urge Bannon not to quit after he was removed from his post, sources told Politico. Mercer ‘tried to convince him that this is a long-term play,’ a GOP operative said. Bannon reportedly opposed the change and wanted to quit if the president gave the OK. … The White House said that Bannon had not attempted to leave the White House and Bannon added that any indication that he threatened to resign was ‘total nonsense.’”

Key Trump donors urged him to stay - 
Politico: “Five people, including a senior administration official and several sources close to the president, tell POLITICO that Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s closest advisers, has clashed with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who’s taken on an increasingly prominent portfolio in the West Wing. … Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, a longtime Bannon confidante who became a prominent Trump supporter during the campaign, urged Bannon not to resign.”

THE JUDGE’S RULING: I SPY
Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses domestic spying and what factors have led the country to this point amid the Susan Rice controversy: “If unmasking is done for any non-national security purpose -- such as politics, curiosity, embarrassment or revenge -- or if it is from a surveilled conversation that was not national security-related, the unmasking is criminal.” More here.

TRUMP MEETINGS WITH  CHINESE LEADER BEGIN TODAY
WaPo: “The unorthodox location is intended to lessen the formality of the first meeting between the two leaders, White House aides said, and help establish a working relationship, if not rapport, between Trump and Xi after moments of tension during the U.S. election season. The presidents, and their wives, will spend about 24 hours together, including a dinner Thursday night and a working lunch on Friday, officials said. But the lush trappings of the president’s personal property will not mask the seriousness and urgency of the long list of topics that will be discussed, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat, a lopsided trade imbalance in China’s favor, the political status of Taiwan and the security situation in the South China Sea.”

Trump to rely heavily on son in law for summit with Chinese leader - Politico: “President Donald Trump may be brimming with confidence going into his Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but some China watchers say he could easily be outmatched by a superbly well-prepped Beijing diplomatic team aiming to exploit gaping holes in the White House’s fledgling China policy group. Trump will be relying heavily on son-in-law and real-estate magnate Jared Kushner with some assistance from old China hand Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, an oil executive who is mostly unfamiliar with the customs and political protocols of a Chinese delegation that places a premium on them.”

HOUSE LEAVES TOWN WITH TRUMPCARE DANGLING
WaPo: “House Republican leaders are planning to modify their stalled health-care bill Thursday after Vice President Pence pressured them to show progress toward passing the bill before lawmakers leave for a two-week recess. An amendment providing for ‘high-risk pools’ — a mechanism to subsidize pricier insurance coverage for the seriously ill — is set to be added to the health-care bill at a Rules Committee meeting Thursday. But while leaders said the tweak showed momentum for the legislation, it appeared that larger divides over the bill have yet to be bridged. Pence's request was made to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during an evening visit to the White House, according to several individuals briefed on the meeting. These individuals asked for anonymity in order to discuss private conversations.”

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: RESULTS MAY VARY
Should Washington prepare for a nuclear showdown? Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt analyze if Trump needs a win, whether it be Gorsuch or the health care bill. Not helping the president’s win potential is the ongoing Russian hacking controversy… will it ever end? And this week something smells fishy about Dana’s forbidden foods. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE 

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Weary of Congress, White House building its own plan on taxes ­- WSJ

Team Trump already looking ahead to second Supreme Court nomination - Politico

Family business? Donald Trump Jr. expresses interest in N.Y. gubernatorial run - Page Six

AUDIBLE: I KNOW YOU ARE, BUT WHAT AM I?
“Idiot. Whoever says that is a stupid idiot, who has not been here and seen what I’ve been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions.”– Sen. John McCain R-Ariz. shares his view on the potential nuclear showdown, differing from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who offered a more blithe assessment of the Senate rules change.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I have a question I have not been able to answer. We keep hearing that rules we're changed just before Obama finished, to allow data to be shared that had not been shared before, a flagrant violation of the ‘need to know’ principles which are a foundation to our Intel services. Have those rule changes been reversed or abrogated in the new administration? I've been wondering since I first heard of the travesty.” – Ace Weems, Bremerton, Wash.

[Ed. note: Depending on what we find out, “travesty” may or may not be too strong of a word. National security experts disagree on how flat the intelligence community ought to be and how much access the 16 agencies in that community should have to certain kinds of information. Remember, this all descends from an effort in the wake of 9/11 to prevent “stove piping” of vital information. The broad supposition was that we could have disrupted the hijackers with proper intelligence sharing between national security and law enforcement agencies. But such decentralization can go too far. The change initiated under the Obama administration was not sudden or unexpected but rather the final result of a lengthy move in the direction of a flatter system. The new Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, didn’t take office until just a few weeks ago. What his vision for the dissemination or constriction of intelligence we don’t exactly know yet. As to the question of travesties, that will depend on whether the process was really abused or not.]

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your daily Hamilton comments!  I read them and sometimes copy them to my Facebook page to share with my friends (they adore them!).  We need to remember our roots.” – Mary Frederickson, Canyon, Texas

[Ed note: Thank you for sharing, pun intended! It’s one of my favorite things.]

“Why does everyone allow politicians and the media to refer to the recent healthcare reform efforts as ‘repealing’ or ‘repealing and replacing’ the ACA/Obamacare?  There is no repeal taking place, just amending the law.  Republicans want to be able to say ‘repeal’ to keep long-stated and never to be effectuated political promises.  Democrats want to strengthen and incite their base by saying ‘we have to stop the repeal of this great law.’  Anyone with eyes open knows that the legacy of Obama – for better or worse – will be the advancement towards universal healthcare – supported by the government in one way or another.  No one knows what form or forms it will take, but it is here to stay like all previous entitlements.  You and the rest of the media however, no matter the bent, should stop making such a reference to ‘repeal,’ as it is simply a false political narrative.” – Ken Levine, Lionville, Pa.

[Ed. note: Well said, Mr. Levine! But at a certain point, I have to take politicians at face value. I may believe what you say is true and that both parties have now fundamentally accepted health insurance as a responsibility of the federal government. But that doesn’t mean that I can wave away their actions. Not only might I be wrong in my assumption, but their very salesmanship tells the larger political story to which you allude about leaders placating and sometimes misleading their bases.]

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YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
WYMT: “An unlikely building is switching to solar powered energy. The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham is owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. Communications Director Brandon Robinson told WYMT, they're hoping to save money by the switch. ‘We believe that this project will help save at least eight to ten thousand dollars, off the energy costs on this building alone, so it's a very worthy effort and it's going to save the college money in the long run,’ said Robinson. The work began Tuesday to power the energy, not by coal, but by the sun. ‘It is a little ironic,’ said Robinson, ‘But you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here.’” 

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES
“Look, the fact is that we don't know a damn thing.  We're talking out of our hats about Susan Rice.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.” 

[Ed note: We bid a sad but very fond farewell today to our colleague and friend Sally Persons, who is departing these humble lines for a promising new opportunity at another news organization. I know she will be a success in whatever she does because Sally brings her whole heart to all that she undertakes, to say nothing of her great insights, hard work, tremendous decency and love of country. Not bad for a Patriots fan…]

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons and Brianna McClelland 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 FoxNews.com. 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.