John Conyers and the curse of 'irregular ambition'

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On the roster: John Conyers and the curse of ‘irregular ambition’ - Fiscal anxiety grows as deadline nears - Despite freak outs, tax plan bumps along - Mueller said to have trump bank records - Triple word score

There was some considerable confusion this morning about what, exactly, John Conyers was doing.

The 26-term congressman announced that due to age and infirmity, he would “retire” from the House and that he preferred his constituents install his eldest son in the seat after his departure.

This proved confusing because Conyers had already told the astonishingly large collection of staffers and hangers on that surround him that he would not be seeking re-election. What the heck was he announcing?

But the matter would soon clarify itself when Conyers resigned from office amid the broadening stench of sexual misconduct charges against him.

We don’t mean to quibble about semantics here. The man who was the longest serving member of the House is a member no more and knife-packing Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is the new dean of the House. That happened, regardless of what Conyers called it. But this little linguistic dishonesty merits mention because of what it reveals about the sickness in American politics and government today.

Conyers in his announcement and the equally arrogant decree that his 27-year-old son should succeed him was living up to the central problem in public life: Service as a vehicle for personal achievement.

The world did not need Conyers’ particular services, regardless of his misdeeds toward female staffers. One of 435, regardless of status or stature, is not a very big deal. There was no special gift that Conyers, who represents an overwhelmingly Democratic district, could bring to bear that was going to substantially improve the lot of his constituents.

The same goes for Roy Moore, whose own ambition demands that he be made one of 100 in the Senate – who says that providence has ordained that he be one of the two senators representing the Yellowhammer State, even if it means making an even bigger fool of the party he claims to support. It is said that small miracles can make big differences, but having a particular lawyer replacing another lawyer to be one of two people jawboning legislation in the Senate on behalf of 4.9 million Alabamians would be a very small miracle indeed.

Already in that club of extremely modest miracles is Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota. He, like Moore, believes his own service in the Senate is so crucial that it should be allowed to bring harm to his party and discredit to the institution.

Or how about Blake Farenthold, Republican congressman from Texas, who believes his service to the Republic and the people of his district to be so crucial that he stuck you with a bill of more than $80,000 to pay off a staffer who accused him of sexual harassment. You paid. He stayed.

Alexander Hamilton told us about the Conyers and the Moores and the Frankens and the Farentholds of the world when he wrote of the curse of “the existence of men who, actuated by an irregular ambition, scruple nothing which they imagine will contribute to their own advancement and importance.”

With dignity out of fashion, there is little tether on these men of irregular ambition.

We have been talking a great deal for several weeks about the problem of sexual misconduct by powerful men, but we should always remember that the root cause here is not about gender or sex, but about arrogance. Only hubris would afford us the likes of leaders like these.

“...a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 1

Paris Review: “Grammar enthusiasts either love Henry Watson Fowler or they have yet to encounter his work. It is possible to read his Dictionary of Modern Usage (1926) from cover to cover as a weird, wonderful essay; it is impossible to do so without laughing out loud. …Hackneyed phrasesworn-out humor, and clichés bothered Fowler only as much as novelty huntingformal words, and any form of officialese (all words in italics are entries in his dictionary). … Because his is a usage dictionary, Fowler goes beyond the lexical level. But whether he discusses split infinitives, the use of the subjunctive, or a syntactical problem, he objects, once again, to vacuous pedantries. Grammar should not be confused with the worship of ‘popular fallacies’ (to quote from the title of another of his books) or with idées reçues fossilized into unquestioned rules…”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -20.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 3.6 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.]

Roll Call: “House Republicans appear to be sticking with plans to pass a two-week stopgap funding bill, despite conservatives’ push to add an additional week to have the deadline bump up against New Years Eve instead of Christmas. Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday declined to confirm plans to stick with a vote on a continuing resolution lasting through Dec. 22 but several Republicans leaving a GOP conference meeting where the matter was discussed indicated that was the decision. Conservatives had been pushing for a CR lasting through Dec. 30, with the House Freedom Caucus on Monday threatening to derail a vote setting up a conference committee for the tax bill to make that point. The caucus had argued that the Dec. 22 CR would likely get entangled with tax overhaul negotiations resulting in a bad deal on one or both matters. ‘We’re having a conversation with our members on what we think the best date forward is,’ Ryan said.”

Trump reaches across the aisle for help on DREAMers, budget - LAT: “[President Trump] invited congressional leaders to the White House Thursday for discussions on a year-end budget deal, a do-over after Democrats backed out of an earlier meeting when the president tweeted shortly beforehand that he saw ‘no deal’ to be made. … Because many Republican lawmakers refuse to vote for almost any new spending bill, Trump needs Democrats to provide what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) calls ‘the currency of the realm’ — the votes needed to approve a bill to keep government running. That gives Democrats, who are the minority, a powerful negotiating hand in talks at the White House. In exchange, Democrats want concessions from Trump, particularly an immigration deal to protect young ‘Dreamers’ from deportation…”

Republicans try to move back spending deadline - WaPo: “Attempts to avert a government shutdown hit a snag late Monday as a bloc of conservative lawmakers pressured top GOP leaders to set a new spending deadline for just after Christmas — instead of just before — in a bid to maintain the party’s leverage in talks with Democrats over spending levels and other year-end concerns. Government funding is set to expire Friday, giving Republicans who control Congress just a few days to shore up support. President Trump and top congressional leaders agreed to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss details of a new year-end spending agreement — just hours before spending runs out. Over the weekend, Republican leaders unveiled a bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 22, giving bipartisan negotiators more time to reach an agreement.”

But senators are in the dark on how Congress will fund shutdown - Roll Call: “Senators are in the dark on how Congress will eventually move to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2018 just days before the current funding expires. Republican leaders are pushing a two-week continuing resolution this week to keep the government open, but GOP senators say they are clueless as to what the long-term strategy is after that. ‘I have no idea what the plan is,’ Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on Monday evening. … ‘I don’t think anyone knows right now except a handful of people that are crafting it,’ Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said, adding that he expected to be looped in eventually, once GOP leaders ‘come ask us for our vote.’”

Politico: “House conservatives threatened to derail a key tax vote on Monday in an attempt to win more influence over the GOP's spending strategy… In a dramatic political stunt, more than a dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus withheld their support for a crucial procedural vote on the GOP’s tax bill, threatening an embarrassing blow to GOP leadership. The conservatives eventually relented, approving what had been thought to be a formality — a motion to appoint negotiators to hammer out a final tax bill with the Senate. But the frenzy on the House floor underscored the divisions within the GOP over a spending strategy this month, and that the Republicans’ march toward overhauling the tax code … could get caught up in the process. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, said after Monday’s vote that he ‘felt very good’ about his conversation on the floor with Speaker Paul Ryan…”

Pelosi goes doom and gloom on tax plan - The Hill: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hammered the Republicans’ tax-code overhaul Monday evening as a culture-shaking economic ‘armageddon’ that would haunt the working class for years to come. Flanked by other top Democrats in the Capitol, the minority leader blasted Republicans for championing a tax proposal she equated to ‘the end of the world.’ ‘The bill that the Republicans are putting forth to go to conference is probably one of the worst bills in the history of the United States of America,’ Pelosi said, just moments before the Republicans voted to begin the conference negotiations… Of particular concern to the Democrats is the exploding debt projected under the Republicans’ tax bills, which might then fuel the push for cuts to expensive federal programs like Medicare — a ‘starve-the-beast’ strategy the Democrats have feared for decades.”

Q Poll: Voters say tax plan benefits the rich - Quinnipiac University: “The Republican tax plan pending in the U.S. Congress benefits the wealthy the most, 64 percent of American voters say, while 24 percent say the tax plan benefits the middle class and 5 percent say it benefits low-income people, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. American voters disapprove of the tax plan 53 – 29 percent… Republicans approve of the plan 67 – 10 percent… White men are divided as 40 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove. In a separate question, voters say 61 – 34 percent that the tax plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle class. The plan will increase their taxes, 41 percent of voters say, while 20 percent say the plan will reduce their taxes and 32 percent say the plan will not have much impact on their taxes.”

Charlie Cook: Will passing the tax bill help or hurt GOP in 2018? -
 National Journal: “…passage of the tax bill is seen as critical to getting GOP voters to cast their ballots in next November’s midterm elections, which would make the bill good politics. With midterm turnout about 40 percent less than in presidential years, getting out the party’s base is extremely important. But given the myriad of polling data showing widespread unpopularity of the tax legislation among independents and Democrats—in other words, everyone outside of the GOP base—it could be bad politics.”

Bloomberg: “Special prosecutor Robert Mueller zeroed in on President Donald Trump’s business dealings with Deutsche Bank AG as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections widens. Mueller issued a subpoena to Germany’s largest lender several weeks ago, forcing the bank to submit documents on its relationship with Trump and his family, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the action has not been announced. … Deutsche Bank for months has rebuffed calls by Democratic lawmakers to provide more transparency over the roughly $300 million Trump owed to the bank for his real estate dealings prior to becoming president. Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank’s loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. The bank previously rejected those demands, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so.”

Trump zeroes in on agent reassigned for political bias - The Hill: “President Trump is angry and frustrated over the removal of a senior FBI official from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over alleged anti-Trump text messages, a development that surfaced after former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea in the Russia investigation. People close to the White House say Trump’s frustration explains some of his tweets and statements lashing out at the FBI, but insist the president’s team is not shifting its legal strategy in response to the probe. … ‘You have the president pointing out the FBI needs to be free of this bias.’ The top FBI agent assigned to Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 election interference, Peter Strzok, was reassigned over the summer because of text messages he allegedly sent to a woman that criticized Trump and praised Hillary Clinton.”

Bruh… Manafort faces continued house arrest over ghostwriting op-ed - Axios: “As recently as Nov. 30, Paul Manafort was working with an unnamed Russian colleague — with ties to Russian intelligence — on a ghostwritten opinion piece that framed his political work in Ukraine in a positive light, Reuters reports, citing court documents.  Per the court filings, a prosecutor on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team said that Manafort's op-ed — if published — would have violated a Nov. 8 court order to not discuss his case publicly. Mueller's team argued to the judge that these actions should disqualify Manafort's request to post $11.65 million in exchange for an end to his house arrest and electronic monitoring.”

Fox News: “The justices will hear oral arguments in perhaps the most closely watched appeal so far this term, pitting religious conviction against anti-discrimination laws. At issue is the July 2012 encounter, when Charlie Craig and David Mullins of Denver visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to buy a custom-made wedding cake. Owner Jack Phillips refused his services when told it was for a same-sex couple. A state civil rights commission sanctioned Phillips after a formal complaint from the gay couple. ‘This case has never been about cakes,’ Mullins told Fox News. ‘It's about the rights of gay people to receive equal service in business and not be afraid of being turned away because of who they are. It's about basic access to public life.’ But the Trump administration backs Phillips, who is represented in court by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit. He has lost at every step in the legal appeals process.”

VOA: “President Donald Trump is telephoning several Middle East leaders ahead of an expected announcement that could come as early as Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A White House statement said Trump was speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah in the morning… There was no immediate word from the White House … but the Palestinian press reported that Trump had confirmed to Abbas that the recognition of Jerusalem would be forthcoming. Arab and Muslim states have warned that such a declaration could destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. … Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the international community maintains its final status must be determined in negotiations. Nevertheless, President Trump says he is committed to a promise he made last year during the election campaign…”

Liberal group seeks probe of California rep’s ties to vaping biz - San Diego Union-Tribune

Trump foe Cordray makes Ohio gubernatorial bid official
 - Cleveland Plain Dealer

‘God’s Plan for Mike Pence’ - The Atlantic

Balls and strikes: Barton hopes to continue managing GOP baseball team 
Roll Call

No #TeamFollowBack - McCain loses Twitter followers after asking for more 
- The Verge

“You’re a political pro? Let me tell you something. I’m a pro at life. I’ve been around a time or two. I know guys like you, with your hair and your skin…” – Then-candidate Donald Trump talking to Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort in April 2016, as recalled by Manafort’s rival, former Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski, in his new book.  

“RE: Moore, Mueller and the flock of judges, prosecutors and accusers … ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ still matters for everyone. And slander, when proven, should be punished severely. No person should be allowed to impugn or attempt to destroy another’s character or steal from or murder their life’s work and think that they can get away with it. And the lawyer who represents that person, knowing that person is a liar and a slanderer is equally guilty and should receive the same punishment-doubled. Any judge who knowingly allows this type of activity, which is anything but frivolous, to pass muster in his/her court should receive triple the punishment. We should always err on the side of truth and honesty. Honesty, evidence and character matters. For everyone.” – Glenn Timberlake, Beaumont, Texas

[Ed. note: Quite so, Mr. Timberlake! But we also have to recognize that that there are different standards for different decisions. In the case of Roy Moore, the statutes of limitations have expired on the crimes his accusers have alleged so he doesn’t seem to face the loss of his liberty. He does face, however, the loss of an election and the ascension to a Senate seat which he believes is rightly his. The standard here is not for a jury but for the voters of Alabama and whether they 1) believe the accusations and, if so, 2) believe that the behavior alleged is disqualifying. The standard of evidence here is reasonability, and the accusers have passed that threshold. If Moore really believes his claims that the accusations are baseless and maliciously fabricated to harm him, he should, as you suggest, sue for slander. In the case of Mueller, however, the evidentiary threshold is about making criminal charges. Four individuals have been charged so far. Two have pleaded guilty and two are contesting the charges. In time, jurors may get the chance to weigh the claims. But a grand jury has already ruled the charges worth exploration at a trial.]     

“I have read the reports you have been helping us with through many months, and I have an observation if you don’t mind. On many occasions, you have quoted ‘reports’ or ‘sources’ on more than a few occasions about subject matter that proved to be plain falsehoods. As a result, the next report have had to retract was being insinuated or ‘reported’ just a few days earlier. Have you succumbed to the easy / lazy road of not vetting those ‘sources’ to insure they are correct? Or is the Halftime Report under the pressures made by the ‘Fake sometimes’ news that generates some of your reporting?” –Terry Killen, Jamestown N.Y.

[Ed. note: We use the terms you describe, Mr. Killen, to pass along information from a credible outlet but that we or Fox News cannot or have yet to independently corroborate. I don’t know about the retractions you mention, but I looked in the archive and found the last instance of using a ‘sources’ or ‘reports’ construction was on Friday: “Sources: Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday Axios” We didn’t have any way to prove or disprove their reporting, but Axios has developed a reasonable track record in its short life. The reporter on the story, Jonathan Swan, has good credentials and has gotten plenty of scoops that have panned out from the Trump administration – as this one seems to have. You may think it lazy of us to include reports like those, but we assume most readers would rather have advance knowledge, conditioned on the understanding that the story may not pan out. Part of the service we try to provide is using our experience and attention to cull through sources to find information that won’t just tell you what happened, but hint at what’s to come. We don’t feel any pressures other than to be fair, balanced and free from partisan blatherskite. We assume you get plenty of that as it is.]

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Sky News: “A rapper from New York City who formed an unlikely friendship with an 81-year-old over an online word game has finally met his opponent. Spencer, who lives in Harlem, started playing Roz on Words with Friends last summer. The pair have played more than 300 games together… On Saturday, Spencer finally met his opponent in person when he flew to her home state of Florida… The trip was arranged by Amy Butler, a pastor at a church in Manhattan. …  [Amy] added: ‘Sweet day today with Spencer and his #wordswithfriends friend, Roz, watching them bond in person for the first time.’ … Ms. Butler said she has used the example of their friendship in sermons, as Spencer is a friend of her daughter’s. Spencer was quick to shut down any rumors that Roz may be in the lead when it comes to their Words with Friends battles.”

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.