Fox News Halftime Report

Politicians just can't stop exploiting disasters

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Politicians just can’t stop exploiting disasters - Top trump exec sought Kremiln help on 2016 deal - Trump: ‘I want tariffs. Bring me some tariffs!’ - Arpaio might challenge Flake -When he’s right, he’s right

POLITICIANS JUST CAN’T STOP EXPLOITING DISASTERS
One of the main biases of journalism is a preference for predictable events. Witness the ever-more dreadful spectacle of the State of the Union address. 

It gets so much more coverage because it is a big event that news organizations can prepare for, build up to and, of course, hype.

Hurricanes work in a similar fashion in that news organizations have lots of lead time to make coverage plans and deploy resources. But, invariably, when the storm hits and doesn’t deliver instant death on a mass scale, there is a tendency in the press and public to act like the storm was a dud. 

But, of course, hurricanes don’t do their damage mostly through winds. Water is the real killer, and the waters don’t rise for a day or so. 

Then suddenly, you see reporters diving back in with intense coverage. It’s a very familiar cycle: Hype, followed by missed expectations, followed by a storm surge of coverage. 

We tell you all this because there is another unfortunate component to the way America deals with natural disasters these days: Dirty politics. 

Ever since Democrats were successfully able to nail George W. Bush over Hurricane Katrina in 2005, every storm or massive forest fire or earthquake is treated as a political opportunity. Now, that’s not to say that politicians from time immemorial have not tried to make the most out of natural disasters. It’s just that it’s so transparent now. 

Last year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump stuck it to then-President Obama and Democrats with a visit to flood-ravaged Louisiana. Trump remembered how Obama had taken advantage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to help win re-election. Days of favorable coverage about federal relief efforts and a bi-partisan bro moment with then-popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie added up to a nice run for Obama. 

In August of 2016, however, Trump wanted to make sure that Obama and the Blue Team didn’t have similar good results with floods that drenched Louisiana. The flooding, which killed 13, started on August 12th while Obama and his family were on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. 

As Obama came under criticism for not visiting the Pelican State to commiserate with flood victims, Trump seized the opportunity and went south with running mate Mike Pence. Trump spent most of August on the ropes, and the storm offered him a much-needed opportunity to get back on offense. 

You can tell now that Trump is very much attuned to the political dangers of Hurricane Harvey. The White House has followed very traditional protocols on preparedness and response, even including the obligatory candid shot of the president getting a briefing by phone. 

Democrats are looking for opportunities to criticize Trump and the all-Republican government in Texas, but so far they’re only dancing around the subject. 

You can expect that to change as the magnitude of the damage caused by what may end up being the worst disaster in state history has is revealed. There will be attacks on Trump for abandoning anti-global warming regulations, even if his critics can’t find a specific botch in Trump’s response to the storm.

That effort will be well underway even before Trump touches down in Texas tomorrow.

It will probably be unfair, just as it was probably unfair for Trump to have used human misery to try to win the 2016 election just as it was unfair for Democrats to use the victims of Katrina to try to win back Congress in 2006. 

We are old enough to know that this is not a trend that will change, and will probably get worse as time goes on. The politicization of disasters is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. 

That’s too bad because there’s nothing particularly political about disaster relief. It’s not an ideological issue. Yes, there’s a fight over how much money the government should spend on rebuilding but for the preparation, evacuations and emergency response, that’s part of the bipartisan agreement on the proper role of government. 

This is sort of like how both parties fall into the trap complaining about presidential vacations and travel. They just can’t resist. All of the Republicans’ complaints about lavish spending of the Obamas on travel as well as the former president’s bi-annual extended vacations sound pretty silly now.  And don’t even get us started about the golf… 

Yes, it is reasonable to point out deficiencies in leadership or organizations with any administration, and a natural disaster, of course, is a time of testing. But when you find yourself digging deeper to try to score political points on a storm or other catastrophe you are not only being finical and crass, you are making it worse for members of your team when they find themselves back in power. 

THE RULEBOOK: CAUSE & EFFECT
“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 10

TIME OUT: EWWWWWW…
Space.com: “Future astronauts could turn their pee into nutrients and raw materials for 3D printers with the aid of some industrious microbes, new research suggests. Harnessing the talents of the tiny beasts in this way could help humanity extend its footprint out into the solar system, study team members said. ‘If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,’ study leader Mark Blenner, of Clemson University in South Carolina, said in a statement. ‘Atom economy will become really important.’ Blenner and his team have been investigating the recycling talents of the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica. The researchers found that Y. lipolytica can get the nitrogen it needs from the urea in untreated urine. … If all this talk of human waste and reuse seems a little gross to you, keep in mind that NASA astronauts aboard the ISS already drink their (recycled) urine.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -18.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.5 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

TOP TRUMP EXEC SOUGHT KREMILN HELP ON 2016 DEAL
WaPo: “A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Vladi­mir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress Monday. Michael Cohen, a Trump attorney and executive vice president for the Trump Organization, sent the email in January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s top press aide. ‘Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower - Moscow project in Moscow City,’ Cohen wrote Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. … In a statement Cohen submitted to Congressional investigators, he said he wrote the email at the recommendation of Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman who was serving as a broker on the deal. In the statement, obtained by the Washington Post, Cohen said Sater suggested the outreach because a massive Trump development in Moscow would require Russian government approval.”

TRUMP: ‘I WANT TARIFFS. BRING ME SOME TARIFFS!’
Axios: “The following is a rare account of President Trump in a small Oval Office meeting, venting at senior staff for sometimes resisting his hawkish trade agenda. … The scene: …Chief of Staff. [John Kelly] convened a meeting to discuss the administration’s plans to investigate China for stealing American intellectual property and technology. Kelly stood beside Trump, behind the Resolute desk. In front of the desk were U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, senior trade adviser Peter Navarro, top economic adviser Gary Cohn, and Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Trump, addressing Kelly, said … ‘For the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, ‘Tariffs. I want tariffs.’ And what do they do? They bring me IP. I can’t put a tariff on IP.’ … ‘China is laughing at us,’ Trump added. … Kelly responded: ‘Yes sir, I understand, you want tariffs.’”

Trump frustrated with Canada, Mexico on NAFTA negotiations - AP: “President Donald Trump is accusing Canada and Mexico of being ‘very difficult’ at the negotiating table over the North American Free Trade Agreement, and threatening anew to terminate the deal. Trump tweeted on Sunday morning that NAFTA is the ‘worst trade deal ever made.’ Trump said at a rally last week in Phoenix that he would ‘end up probably terminating’ NAFTA ‘at some point.’ The U.S., Mexico and Canada began formal negotiations earlier this month to rework the 23-year-old trade pact that Trump blames for hundreds of thousands of lost U.S. factory jobs.”

Tillerson begins to distance himself from Trump - Fox News: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows Sunday with his curt reply that President Trump ‘speaks for himself,’ when asked about his boss’s values. … The response from Tillerson reflects how the president’s handling of the violence in Charlottesville continues to reverberate weeks later. America’s top diplomat was asked on ‘Fox News Sunday’ whether he has a tougher time pushing American values when some foreign leaders question Trump’s values. When he said nobody doubts the American people’s values, host Chris Wallace pointedly asked about the president’s. ’The president speaks for himself, Chris,’ Tillerson said. Asked whether he was ‘separating himself’ from the president’s comments, he answered, ‘I have spoken.’ Tillerson pointed to post-Charlottesville comments he made earlier this month…”

Will he be the next to leave? Axios: “There’s a ticking problem with Rex Tillerson, and it’s growing louder by the day, according to officials inside and close to the White House. President Trump has been growing increasingly frustrated with his Secretary of State. One time recently, after Trump had returned from a meeting on Afghanistan, a source recalled Trump saying, ‘Rex just doesn’t get it, he’s totally establishment in his thinking.’ Tillerson’s jaw-dropping comments on TV [Sunday] will likely only worsen their relationship. … We’ve been hearing for weeks, from sources who’ve spoken to the president, that Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency.”

ARPAIO MIGHT CHALLENGE FLAKE
WashEx: “After receiving President Trump’s first pardon, Joe Arpaio’s plans have gone from possible prison to book-writing, speeches and potentially another run for office in Arizona, with Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat one opportunity he is eyeing. The former Maricopa County sheriff told the Washington Examiner he’s upset at negative reaction to the Friday pardon... ‘I could run for mayor, I could run for legislator, I could run for Senate,’ Arpaio said Monday. One particular race, however, is likely to gain significant attention: the GOP primary next year facing Flake, R-Ariz., a forceful Trump critic. ‘I’m sure getting a lot of people around the state asking me’ to challenge Flake, said Arpaio, who served 24 years as sheriff before losing reelection in 2016. ‘All I’m saying is the door is open and we’ll see what happens. I’ve got support. I know what support I have.’”

Jonathan Turley: Arpaio pardon “dregs left at the bottom of a now depleted and despoiled process” - USA Today: “Arpaio was not even sentenced and was looking at either no jail time or less than six months. … The biggest problem with the pardon is the crime itself. The greatest cause for concern is the impact of this pardon on our principles underlying the rule of law. Our legal system depends on compliance with court orders ranging from search warrants to injunctions, particularly for law enforcement officials. Arpaio put himself above the law while claiming to enforce …. Trump's pardon of Arpaio looks almost papal in comparison to some of [his predecessors’] pardons. None of that alters the fact that the Arpaio pardon was unwarranted and unwise. … If so, the Arpaio pardon is the dregs left at the bottom of a now depleted and despoiled process.”

DELAYS ON MEETINGS CREATING DELAY ON TAX REFORM
Axios: “Freedom Caucus members say it’s way harder than it should be to get a meeting with the two Trump officials steering tax reform: Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Sources with direct knowledge tell [Jonathan Swan] that in front of a meeting of the Freedom Caucus in mid-July, the group’s leader Mark Meadows asked White House legislative affairs representative Paul Teller to arrange a meeting with Cohn and Mnuchin, so they could share some of the details of the closely-held tax reform discussions. The White House told the Freedom Caucus that scheduling issues were preventing the meeting from happening … These tensions could easily blow out into bigger problems for the White House and Republican leadership, as many conservatives feel cut out of the process. Meadows asked for this meeting because some conservative members are frustrated they have no visibility into what the Big Six have been doing.”

What could happen to ACA taxes - Axios: “Although the GOP’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act industry taxes died with the party’s health care bill, its conventional wisdom that some of the taxes will still be delayed. But there’s no plan to do so yet. Lobbying campaigns to repeal or delay the health insurance tax and the medical device tax are ramping up, yet there’s no clear vehicle for Congress to take action. … But the health insurance tax, while much more expensive to address, directly impacts premiums in all markets. … However, insurers participating in ACA exchanges might have to pick their battles: While repealing the health insurance tax could lower premiums by 2-3%, ensuring that cost-sharing subsidies are paid keeps premiums 20% lower.”

TEAM TRUMP TO BORROW ROVE PLAY FOR 2018 EFFORTS
Politico: “Donald Trump’s White House may take a page from the Karl Rove playbook. The administration has been in talks to put conservative initiatives on the ballot in 2018 midterm battleground states in hopes of energizing base voters dispirited by the performance of Republican-controlled Washington. The strategy is similar to the one Rove used in 2004. The George W. Bush political guru helped engineer a slate of anti-gay marriage amendments that year to boost GOP turnout in swing states such as Ohio, an approach that many are convinced helped pave the way for Bush’s reelection. … White House aides are less interested in a ballot initiative campaign focused on social issues, fearful it would serve to only further stoke an already-motivated liberal base. Instead … they’re considering initiatives involving tax reform and other economic issues seen as more likely to invigorate conservatives. Tax reform also goes to the heart of Trump’s agenda…”

LEFT-WING MOB TURNS VIOLENT AT BERKELEY  
WaPo: “Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told The Washington Post the rally resulted in ‘13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.’ And although the anti-hate and left-wing protesters largely drowned out the smaller clutch of far-right marchers attending a planned ‘No to Marxism in America’ rally, Sunday’s confrontation marked another street brawl between opposing ends of the political spectrum — violence that has become a regular feature of the Trump years and gives signs of spiraling upward, particularly in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville. ‘I applaud the more than 7,000 people who came out today to peacefully oppose bigotry, hatred and racism that we saw on display in Charlottesville,’ Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a statement. ” … However, the violence that small group of protesters engaged in against residents and the police, including throwing smoke bombs, is unacceptable.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Trump to lift restrictions on military supplies for local law enforcement - Fox News

Kasich shuts down suggestion of 2020 run with Hickenlooper - NBC News

Crowd of Dems in Wisconsin governor race against Walker - AP

AUDIBLE: YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US

“What is off-putting about them is they do not grasp their essential irrelevance. They think they are special.” – An unnamed political veteran told Vanity Fair about Washington’s newest outsiders, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“You may well be the most interesting and insightful political commentator in America today. Your analysis of the current steep decline of American culture was as much poetry - in the best sense of the word - as prose. That said, I am disappointed that you would not venture even the broadest outline of a solution. There are a number of ‘modest proposals’ floating around, perhaps you could summon the courage to discuss them. Looking forward to your equally entertaining showcase of alternative solutions.” – Eric Hutchins,Santa Barbara, Calif.

[Ed. note: Mr. Hutchins, you are far too kind! This may sound like a cop out, but I really don’t think that it is my job or even proper place to be in the solutions business. I’m an analyst, something like a color commentator for the game of politics. If I start putting forward policy ideas, invariably that will lead down the path of political opinion. In order to be fair to all sides in our ongoing political brouhaha I need to not just preserve the appearance of impartiality but strive to actually be impartial in my thinking. But you make a good point about the proposals out there. I will do better of making a point to include more of the big ideas that are circulating about how to reclaim our corroded public life.]

“I absolutely agree with you on the downward spiral ethics seem to be on in this country. Although, thinking back to previous eras (like the eighties), perhaps it’s not so much a downward trend but rather a steady state of ignorance or willful disregard.  In any case, we could really use a better understanding and application of ethics in this country.  On free expression: We used to have one main culture and then various counter culture and niche cultural groups. What the Internet and changing demographics have done is fragmented us until there is no single dominant culture any more - now everyone knows what it feels like to be in a niche culture. One final point, people and companies need to remember there is a difference between words and actions. That angry mob is something to be learned from but not something to fear unless they start taking action. Businesses need to factor that into their plans and act accordingly. A person can take legal action if necessary.” – Barbara Hamby, Springfield, Mo.

[Ed. note: Very well put, Ms. Hamby. Never before in human history have people been so connected to each other, but rarely have they ever been so far apart emotionally.]

“I was thinking about the comments you made about the superficial, nasty tone of American society and culture. Certainly true concerning the internet. But first, we should balance the benefit to people living in repressive societies (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and China come to mind at once) who have internet access and use it to resist oppression.  These people have much less opportunity to express opinions or act in accordance with their own desires.  The web makes a profound difference for them.  The world might be a more peaceful place because the internet helps change come at an individual level rather than through larger conflicts. As to America, is our society developing internet antibodies?  For example, the [Google] ‘worker bee’ who lost his job for questioning his employer’s Human Resources process, has become something of a celebrity.  In the days of pen and paper, he might never have had the chance to get his questions argued.  Is our society compartmentalizing its internet foolishness?  I suspect more Americans everyday are more skeptical of trash and nonsense on the web.  We may be adjusting.” – Jim Haynes, Towson, Md.

[Ed. note: I absolutely agree, Mr. Haynes. I believe that in the long run, connectedness will be a threshold achievement for our species. I am quite optimistic about the future. But how we conduct ourselves in the present will determine how bright that future is. The anonymity of the internet has been a useful tool to fight oppression. But it is also often abused by would-be oppressors. There are serious debates taking place now about how to balance freedom and order online. The more misconduct that takes place now means when eventual regulations are imposed, they will be harsher. The underlying problem isn’t really about the medium, it is the way in which the medium is exacerbating preexisting human frailties.]

“Amen, Brother is all I can say about the Big Stupid. What if all of us repaired in groups no larger than our families or no more than a dozen close friends to the mountains of West Virginia or other remotes, left our phones, pads and other devices at home and spent a week reading and talking with each other? Let the kids moan. Let us remember what it was like to discuss and laugh and share time one another.” – Clark ActonAnderson, Ind.

[Ed. note: You’re on, Mr. Acton! See you at the campfire.]

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WHEN HE’S RIGHT, HE’S RIGHT
UPI: “A Virginia man won $160,000 in a lottery drawing with a $5,000 top prize by purchasing 32 tickets with the same number combination. Wayne Roles of Spotsylvania told Virginia Lottery officials he had a simple reason for dropping $32 to purchase 32 Pick 4 drawing tickets with the same four-digit combination: ‘When I win I want to win big.’ Roles said he bought his tickets at two Fredericksburg stores, Courthouse Gulf and Fas Mart. The small business owner said he checked his numbers when he got up in the middle of the night for a glass of water Aug. 11 and was unable to get back to sleep after discovering he had won 32 $5,000 top prizes for a total $160,000. Roles said he will put his winnings toward supporting his business.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. 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.