How to turn a guard dog into a lap dog

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On the roster: How to turn a guard dog into a lap dog - I’ll Tell You What: Oh, kale yeah! - Trump backs Grassley plan on DREAMers - Warren tries to get past ‘Pocahontas’ - ‘De-escalation techniques’ 

Is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly so badly impaired by the ongoing revelations of either incompetence or malfeasance in the West Wing to continue as the chief operating officer of the Trump administration? 

Or is he just damaged enough for the president to have him right where he wants him? 

The story surrounding the continued employment of a senior staffer denied a security clearance for allegations of domestic violence from both of his ex-wives has turned into a nine-day feeding frenzy in Washington. 

Yes, in part, that is because reporters love scandal more than almost any other kind of story. But it has also been the astonishing incompetency of this administration in addressing the subject shifting narratives, contradictory claims and, on Tuesday, a rebuke from the FBI, has the West Wing looking again like “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

It has been so bad that it took the president until today to even offer a generic denunciation of domestic violence. Also today, through a spokeswoman, the president reiterated his confidence in Kelly. This puts Kelly now in the company of his long-suffering predecessor, Reince Priebus and several others in knowing what it is to be dangled over the abyss.

Just a few months ago, Kelly looked like the man who finally tamed Trump, and in so doing, had helped put Republicans on track.

Now, Kelly looks like a marked man as he is raked by the once-adoring press each day and beset by leaks from those in the White House who have long wished to see his Marine Corps-style discipline lifted. 

It is useful to remember here that while media narratives can be self-fulfilling, they are usually simplistic.

A phalanx of reporters daily attends to the whispers, murmurs and moods of the president, reporting breathlessly from the executive mansion on what Trump and his intimates are thinking, feeling and doing. While discerning news consumers are able to pick up some useful nuggets, we should always take lightly claims about narrative or overall disposition. It’s just too hard to sort out spin from confession. 

So while it is probably true that Kelly’s job is very much in peril, especially given the degree to which Trump has come to resent the Kelly’s commandeering approach, we should wait a bit before deciding that the retired general is done for. 

The only people who seem to last for very long in Trump’s orbit, save for his own children, are not much like Kelly, but rather like Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who is in the news today for saying that he personally paid $130,000 in hush money to a sex worker who claimed she serviced the then-reality show host in 2006. 

Whether Cohen did or did not pay the woman out of his own pocket as he now claims, that’s the kind of abject devotion that a careerist like Kelly could never muster. Even if Cohen is padding his brief in his most recent version, that in itself would be the kind of self-ablating servitude that would have to please Trump. 

Kelly long behaved as if he was careless about Trump’s approval. He reportedly shouted at the president in a private exchange and made no secret of his willingness to quit – plunging the administration back into Scaramuccian chaos – if not given a free hand to run the West Wing. 

Now, Kelly has lost the admiration of the press, no doubt already harmed by his comments on immigration, slavery and other third-rail subjects, even before he was perceived as harboring a wife beater without a security clearance as a top lieutenant. 

Trump is said to be weighing potential replacements for Kelly in what is reportedlydescribed as a “death match” between warring factions. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what he did when he let Priebus and the former RNC chairman’s team twist in the wind for months. 

Most leaders would have either moved quickly to replace a damaged chief of staff or to reaffirm the chief’s status but it is a very Trumpian move to let anger and anxiety swirl around the inside of a power vacuum. 

Is it better to have an attorney general who you like or one so weakened that he can hardly oppose you? Jeff Sessions is still around many months and many indignities later. Could Kelly, who has been on the wrong side of the president since at least mid-January, when he spoke publically about the president’s changing views on border security, be headed for the same kind of purgatory?

Steve Bannon, after all, was allowed to skulk about at the White House for many months before a particularly egregious leak got him bounced out on his Barbour. 

One of the reasons Trump thrives in chaos is that it discourages the kinds of restraints that the people around him are always trying to impose. The president, who has long favored devotees to a team of rivals, understandably prefers a climate where he is untethered and everyone is hanging on his next decision.

The life cycle goes like this: Sycophants undermine the people around Trump with promises of letting the president do whatever he likes until the in crowd is bounced out. Then, unhappily for the sycophants, they become find themselves immediately being undermined themselves.  

Kelly and other top officials were once not-so-jokingly referred to as “the committee to save America.” Now, he’ll be lucky to save his own job. And one expects that when Kelly is finally dropped in the pit, we’ll hear of the next claque that really knows how to keep Trump between the lines. And we’ll know enough to not take them too seriously.

But as the ripening scandal at the Veterans Administration reveals, the federal government is simply too big to be managed by the caprice of one man. 

Already weakened by ongoing scandals, a large number of staff vacancies and unusually high rates of turnover, Trump stands little chance of reshaping the administrative state, let alone advancing his ambitious agenda, as captain chaos.

“Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 17


St. Valentine’s Day has become sour rather than sweet for Americans, especially as the rise of social media has encouraged even more ostentatious displays of affection and invariably produced the desired result: envy. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the holiday when it comes to children. Cutting valentines and enjoying sweet treats is the kind of harmless fun that parents and teachers can enjoy too. But when it comes to the actual object of the holiday, we have gone rather off the boards. 

It is fitting this year that St. Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of a 40-day period of atonement for Western Christians in preparation for Easter. 

It was February 14th in probably the year 278 when a Christian pastor called Valentine was executed by the order of Roman Emperor Claudius II. There was lots that the empire did not like about the growing Christian faith, but much of the concern centered on military preparedness. How could a faith that preached unconditional love, forgiveness and a peace “which surpasses all understanding” be compatible with the martial, conquering spirit of Rome? 

A material consideration for Claudius was that he was having a harder time getting young men to join the legions because of the emphasis on family and children among Christians. Accordingly, he banned Christian marriage. Valentine, undaunted, continued to perform the ceremonies in secret. When he was caught, the pastor was dragged before the prefect of Rome and condemned to be beaten to death and have his head cut off (not that he would have noticed by then). 

Now, there are a few contenders for the title of the real St. Valentine, so the world will never actually know the details of his story, which have long been intertwined with legend and folklore. But, it seems pretty clear that there was a pastor willing to pay the ultimate earthly price to celebrate and sanctify the romantic love between a man and women. His actions and the veneration of them is a reflection of the centrality of that love to the worldview of Christianity, and, by extension, Western civilization. 

There is much to deplore in the modern Valentine’s Day of edible underwear, overpriced roses and cheesy Instagram posts. But there is much to celebrate when it comes to our society’s continuing affection for affection, especially at a time when we are both more connected and more alone ever in history. The story of Valentine and his sacrifice is a reminder that Eros, while not a rightful object of worship itself, is a love worth celebrating. 

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 39.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent 
Net Score: -15.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.4 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve - 57% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; IBD: 35% - 58%; Monmouth University: 44% approve - 48% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.4 percent
Democratic average: 47 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points 
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 1 point 
[Average includes: Marist College: 49% Dems - 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems - 40% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP.]

Well, that escalated quickly. It started as a no-name weekly bull session for two coworkers and now, 100 episodes later… well, at least it has a name now! This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt celebrate their 100th episode of the “I’ll Tell You What” podcast! There are gifts of meat and kale, lots of jokes and, courtesy of Producer Jason Bonewald, an epic montage of some of the best moments from the first 100 installments. All that, and they even talked about the news. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

Reuters: “U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed a 25-cent hike in the federal gasoline tax in a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday about funding his infrastructure spending proposal, congressional aides said. Two congressional aides confirmed a report by publication Axios that Trump had backed an increase. Democratic Senator Tom Carper, who attended the meeting, told CNN that Trump was open to a 25-cent increase in gas and diesel taxes. … The White House did not confirm or deny that Trump backed a gasoline tax hike in the meeting. A White House official noted that Trump ‘has said everything is on the table’ to achieve infrastructure improvements. ‘The gas tax has its pros and cons, and that’s why the president is leading a thoughtful discussion on the right way to solve our nation’s infrastructure problems,’ the official added. Trump expressed confidence on Wednesday that a deal could be reached.”

Trump backs Grassley plan on DREAMers - Weekly Standard: “President Trump on Wednesday threw his weight behind Sen. Chuck Grassley’s immigration plan, urging the Senate to pass the “responsible and commonsense” proposal based on the White House’s immigration priorities and threatening to veto proposals that contain further Democratic concessions. ‘The Grassley bill accomplishes the four pillars of the White House framework: a lasting solution on DACA, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and securing the border through building the wall and closing legal loopholes,’ Trump said in a statement. ‘The overwhelming majority of American voters support a plan that fulfills the framework’s four pillars, which move us towards the safe, modern, and lawful immigration system our people deserve.’ The president also threatened to veto any bill that fails to satisfy those criteria, saying he would oppose ‘any short-term ‘Band-Aid’’ approach. On Tuesday, some moderate lawmakers were weighing a deal that would build a border wall and provide a pathway to citizenship for former DACA recipients, but not end extended family sponsorships or the visa lottery.”

But Senate readying narrower alternatives to get to 60 - WashEx: “Lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a new immigration proposal that is poised for a Senate vote this week, one of three narrow proposals that fall short of President Trump's immigration goals, but nonetheless appear to be picking up steam in the Senate. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, both of Colorado, have written a proposal that would provide a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers in exchange for $25 billion for border security and a permanent authorization for employers to voluntarily use the E-Verify system. Their bill would exclude contentious immigration reform provisions, specifically ending the diversity visa lottery and chain migration, that are stopping the Senate from passing an immigration reform bill.”

Meadows says ‘consequences’ for Ryan if speaker doesn’t meet demands -Politico: “House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) on Wednesday called for ‘new leadership’ in the House Republican Conference, accusing Speaker Paul Ryan’s team of dragging its feet on holding a vote on a GOP immigration bill. …House Republican leaders, until recently, have been reluctant to put an immigration bill on the floor, wary that any Republican proposal could pass and aware of the divisions it would open within the party. … Conservatives have pushed GOP leaders hard for a vote on a plan that does just that, authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). GOP leaders were reluctant to put it on the floor, but now are making tweaks and rounding up support in preparation for a vote. … ‘I can say that it is a defining moment for this speaker: If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him but it will also have consequences for the rest of the Republican Party,’ Meadows said.”

Fox News: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren has had it with the whole ‘Pocahontas’ thing. The Massachusetts Democrat used a surprise appearance Wednesday before a Native American audience to launch a fiery -- albeit belated -- counter-attack against President Trump for using that nickname as far back as the 2016 campaign. In the D.C. address, Warren accused Trump of engaging in the ‘disrespect of Native people’ by using the term -- while doubling down on her past claims of American Indian ancestry that earned her the moniker in the first place. … During her run for the Senate in 2012, it was revealed Harvard once touted her as a minority hire, citing Native American ancestry even though she hasn’t referred to herself that way in more recent years. She had claimed to be part Cherokee. But she did not provide documentation, and one report at the time estimated she could be just 1/32 American Indian.”

Cramer reconsidering Senate run -
 Roll Call: “GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer is reconsidering running for Senate in North Dakota, despite previously saying he would run for re-election to the House. Cramer said he expects to make a final decision by the end of the weekend. Cramer said Tuesday night that he had received encouragement from people in D.C. and in North Dakota to reconsider his decision not to run. He did not directly answer a question as to whether President Donald Trump was personally encouraging him to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. … ‘I would expect to have a decision by the end of the weekend,’ Cramer said. Two sources with knowledge of Cramer’s plans said they believe he will ultimately challenge Heitkamp, one of the more vulnerable incumbents up for re-election in 2018.”

Corker faces brutal primary if he reverses course - National Journal: “Sen. Bob Corker is looking into running again, but his window may have already closed. Following a highly public spat with President Trump, some GOP strategists believe the Tennessee Republican’s path to renomination would be very narrow against the party’s leading candidate, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is more conservative and remains close with the president. The situation has placed Republicans in a precarious position, caught between an incumbent and a congresswoman who has drawn significant support from the party’s establishment and grassroots. Meanwhile, Republicans are airing concerns that a Corker-Blackburn race would squander valuable resources ahead of a legitimate general-election challenge from former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.”

Sununu gets high marks as gubernatorial race warms up - Concord Monitor: “As New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu prepares to deliver his first State of the State address, a new poll indicated that 61 percent of Granite Staters approve of the job he’s doing in the corner office, with only 17 percent giving him a thumbs-down. Even as the so-called ‘blue wave’ bringing a backlash against many Republicans across the country, the poll numbers put Sununu in good stead compared with some of his GOP counterparts elsewhere. Yet the University of New Hampshire Survey Center Granite State Poll released Tuesday, also suggested only 1 in 10 have made up their minds when it comes to November’s gubernatorial election. And the survey, conducted Jan. 28-Feb. 10, indicated that Steve Marchand – the only declared Democratic candidate in the race – remains virtually unknown.”

Dems notch yet another special election win - Miami Herald: “A small swath of southwest Florida captured the attention of the country Tuesday night as Democrats and Republicans battled over a lowly state House seat… Democrat Margaret Good … waltzed into Trump territory and trounced James Buchanan, the son of a GOP congressman, to take the special election for Florida’s House District 72. But the ballot might as well have read Republicans vs. the Blue Wave. Despite the low literal stakes of the election — a nine-month term in a chamber of the Florida Legislature where Republicans hold a near super-majority — Republicans and Democrats treated the Sarasota district like a proxy for the midterm congressional elections. Democratic donors from as far away as California cut checks to Good, an attorney, and former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a robo-call for her.”

AP: “[Stormy] Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, believes that Trump attorney Michael Cohen invalidated a non-disclosure agreement after two news stories were published Tuesday: One, in which Cohen told The New York Times that he made the six-figure payment with his personal funds, and another in the Daily Beast, which reported that Cohen was shopping a book proposal that would touch on Daniels’ story, said the manager, Gina Rodriguez. ‘Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story,’ Rodriguez said. … Cohen said Tuesday the payment was made with his own money, and that ‘neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.’ A campaign finance advocacy group, Common Cause, had complained about the payment to the Federal Election Commission, which is investigating. A White House spokeswoman referred all questions about the payment to Cohen.”

Kushner debts mounted after joining White House - Politico

Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., releases ‘Crumbs Act,’ taking direct aim at Pelosi Fox News

Trump nominates Army cyber chief, Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, to head NSA head - Politico

“It almost wouldn’t even have to be said.” – President Trump talking to reporters in his first public comments on a former senior aide who worked for months closely with the president despite being denied a security clearance for alleged domestic abuse against two ex-wives. Trump praised the man and wished him well in future endeavors. “I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind,” Trump said. “Everyone knows that.”

“Chris, Are there any statistics on illegals as to how many overstayed their visas vs. those who sneaked in across the border? I’m guessing that overstayed visas are a much smaller number, but regardless, a wall won’t stop this category of illegal entry. On the same subject, why is it that the so called dreamers resist any association with the word illegal when I may be branded a racist just because a distant relative (who I never met) owned slaves?” – Chris Garbow, Canton, Ga.

[Ed. note: Who brands you as a racist, Mr. Garbow? I’ll assume that you are not one nor do you say or do things that give people reason to think that you believe that people of different ethnic backgrounds are inherently inferior or superior. If that’s so, I wonder when in your life you’ve ever been called racist (social media trolls not included). I think the understandable sensitivity of people brought to the United States as minors to being called “illegal” is that they aren’t and weren’t. Their parents may have entered the United States illegally, but as minors brought or sent by their parents, there would have been no premeditation. And they’re not here illegally now because they have been granted temporary status to remain in the country. So it would be just as incorrect to refer to them as “illegal” as it would be to refer to the great grandchildren of slave owners as de facto racists. As for visa overstays versus those sneaking in to the country, the overall split was something like 40 percent overstays as of a few years ago (the data are ornery on any subject where people are likely to lie about their situations) but the trends has been toward entering legally and remaining illegally – by some estimates two thirds percent or more of those residing in the country illegally since 2014 are here thanks to a visa.]  

“Damn, Chris, I swear there’s a 3-1 anti-Trump bias in your blurb today. With friends like you, Trumps needs no enemies. Mention something favorable once in a while. Maybe twice in a while.” – Bo Lolar, Berry, Ala.

[Ed. note: I’m curious, Mr. Lolar, how you define bias. I looked through yesterday’s note for instances of an unfair selection or presentation of stories. We talked about a competitive House race in Pennsylvania, which I would describe as a neutral topic; the testimony of FBI Director Christopher Wray in the ongoing scandal surrounding of a man accused of domestic violence who continued to work for months at the White House, which is obviously bad for the president; an update on the negotiations in Congress on immigration, which is neutral; concerns among the national security community about skyrocketing national debt, which is obviously a bipartisan affliction; and the warning from the Trump administration about ongoing efforts by the Kremlin to interfere in the 2018 midterms, which is also neutral. Unless you thought that our kicker about the mistaken identity of a bagpipe band, The Red Hot Chili Pipers, was a subversive swipe at the president’s immigrant mother, I have a hard time seeing Tuesday’s offering as reflective of any particular bias. If what you mean is, as you suggest, that we should do and include more stories that are favorable to a particular party or politician than that would be, in fact, the very heart of bias. Some days are good for some politicians and parties, and other days are bad. They are people, just like you and me. Every day Brianna and I try to bring you what is relevant, consequential and likely to affect the political climate. We are not here to be the friend of any politician or party. We owe our first obligation to you, our readers, to be fair and thoughtful. As citizens we also have obligation to be respectful of our constitutional system and values, as well as to seek decency, kindness and consideration. We are mindful of being unnecessarily harsh toward any politicians including the president. But in looking back at Tuesday it’s hard for me to figure out what ought to have been omitted. As always, though, if you or any reader see stories that merit inclusion, send them our way!]

“Chris: I would really love your opinion on the attached article from The Atlantic byConor Friedersdorf. It seems to make so much sense about the spectrum of opinion on issues and what affects peoples positioning. I want to send it to all of my harshest conservative and liberal friends to say see!  We do have places where our opinions intersect! What do you think?” – Dani Marquardt, Carol Stream, Ill.

[Ed. note: A very thoughtful piece! And interesting, too. I think we have relied too long on the idea of a pendulum swinging from right to left. This is based on the concept that voters in the middle can correct for the excesses of either party by swinging power to the other side. That idea is predicated on the concept that the parties are even interested in those moderate votes. Every election since 2004 has been, with my apologies to Meghan Trainor, all about that base. As technology has allowed politicians to better and better target THEIR voters and squeeze more and more votes out of ideologically motivated constituents, persuasion has counted for far less than motivation. This, invariably, leads to frustration on policy because we have to wait until one party or the other has total control before substantial policy changes can be made. Those changes, therefore, lack broad-based support, leading to deeper dissatisfaction across the board. The cycle has been repeating itself with greater and greater intensity. What Friedersdorf is suggesting here is that leaders should approach their work bearing in mind areas of agreement over opportunities for division. That would be nice, but it’s not going to happen until they are forced to remember the value of a politics of attraction. As citizens it is up to us to not treat issues as we do parties: binary choices. And there’s lots of evidence that even as partisanship intensified among a dwindling number of loyalists, the general direction is toward an à la carte polity.]      

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Fox News: “This was an unusual police ride-along. A California sheriff’s deputy driving to his assignment at the Golden State Warriors game had an unexpected passenger — a mouse. The mouse was found on the windshield of a K9 vehicle belonging to Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Dennington. … ‘Further investigation revealed the suspect was likely a San Antonio Spurs fan trying to intimidate us,’ the sheriff’s office said, seemingly poking fun at the basketball rivalry. ‘Deputy Dennington was able to use de-escalation techniques and get the rabid fan off his car. Luckily, he was able to snap this photo of the elusive bandit.’ The police officer said the rodent ‘suspect’ was last seen scurrying away to a ‘hiding spot.’ … It’s still unclear how it ended up on the windshield.”

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.