Threats test Trump's trust factor

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On the roster: Threats test Trump’s trust factor - Trump vows to ‘destroy’ ban on churches backing candidates - Ryan: Tax plan, infrastructure will wait for spring - I’ll Tell You What: Ban feline diabetes - Health class is down the hall, ma’am

Do you trust your government?

A very typically American answer would be, “Hell, no.”

It’s not surprising that a country formed from a revolution, and that once endured a civil war has a long history of mistrust in its own government.

But, starting with the Vietnam War and accelerating through Richard Nixon’s resignation for the Watergate cover up, as a people we have gone from skeptical to downright cynical.

Once, nearly 80 percent of Americans told pollsters they felt they could trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always,” or at least most of the time. The last reading on that metric found fewer than one in five Americans felt the same way.

Now, we should remember that attitudes 60 years ago may not have been typical of the American experience overall. The successful execution of World War II, stunning economic revitalization and the galvanic effects of the Cold War may have set confidence levels unnaturally high as the era of modern polling was beginning.

But this is still the pits.

Making matters worse, as we know, are historically low levels of confidence in other institutions, particularly the press and organized religion. A nation mocked by Europeans until recently as a bunch wide-eyed, Bible-beating yokels has caught up in a hurry when it comes to cynicism.

One of the reasons that government can’t do “big things” anymore is that people don’t want it to. This isn’t to say that America has become a nation of small-government conservatives, as recent election results would attest. Rather, people seem to want the government to do more and more but simply don’t believe the promises their leaders make.

The wreckage of ObamaCare is in part a result of ill conception and poor execution, but also the belief among so many Americans that their government just isn’t on the level. It was true for the failed attempts at immigration policy overhauls, budget balancing acts and other recent major initiatives.

Not believing your government about Social Security reform is one thing, but when it comes to national security, the conversation and the consequences are quite different.

Nations capable of defending themselves and their interests rely on the confidence of their people. As Thucydides taught us, a nation’s will to fight can be far more important than its wealth or even the size of its military.

Many Americans, including the current president, believe that George W. Bush lied about the presence of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and should have been impeached for it. Bush was not acting in error, they believe, but rather with malicious intent to force the country into war.

Some of these people even believe Bush was involved in the 9/11 terror attacks in order to create a pretext for the conflict in Iraq. We will never know how much this belief undercut the war effort, but we know that even if it was not held by a majority of Americans, this view certainly damaged the chance to see the war through to a successful conclusion.

President Trump was elected with just a third of voters saying he was honest and trustworthy. But now, he has to find a way to execute a foreign policy that, even with substantial trust from voters, would be a dramatic departure from recent historical norms.

He will get little in the way of the benefit of doubt, if any. Look at the reaction to Trump’s first use of force as commander-in-chief, a raid by commandos against Islamist militants in the failed state of Yemen.

An inquest is underway into civilian deaths in the raid and the administration’s critics are suggesting that it was a botch caused by ill preparation at the White House. Are these criticisms honest and fair minded, or rooted in personal distain for Trump? We can’t know, but the stink of partisan foreign policy arguments is certainly rising.

Trump is already sparring with long-standing U.S. allies like Australia and Mexico and makes no secret of his desire to rebalance relations with Western Europe vis-à-vis the traditionally unifying threat of Russian aggression. These details cause anxieties of varying degrees among admirers and antagonists alike.

Then there’s the press, responsible for examining and explaining national security decisions to a public not well versed in the clandestine, often baffling ways of modern war. Trump has declared those covering him “the opposition,” and there is little doubt that most in the press wear that moniker with some pride.

With a limited reservoir of good will and good feelings at home and abroad, Trump now stares down the first major threats of his brief tenure.

First came North Korea, the nuclear armed spoiled brat of Asia demanding attention and, presumably, ransom for its latest provocations. But with tens of thousands of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula, even brats must be watched closely.

Then there is Iran.

Trump’s controversial National Security Advisor Michael Flynn declared Iran “on notice” for what he said were violations of a deal crafted with President Obama to curtail the theocratic regime’s nuclear program.

Presidents have almost unlimited power when it comes to national security, especially in short-term decisions. But, as Obama learned with misadventures in Libya and the Iran deal itself, public support and public trust are vital to success of even modest plans.

One of the reasons presidents are so cautious when it comes to telling the truth (or at least appearing to do so) in keeping open relations with the press and maintaining traditional alliances is that at times of crisis, credibility is crucial.

Shortly before taking office, Trump told Axios of the intelligence he was already privy to, “I’ve had a lot of briefings that are very…I don’t want to say ‘scary,’ because I’ll solve the problems.”

The hope among Trump’s well-wishers and critics alike is that his awareness of those threats will cause him to become a better steward of public confidence in his own credibility so that he is able to muster the appropriate response in times of crisis.

Some days, it seems like those hopes are being met. Other times, it does not. But the truth for every president, is that every decision is a national security decision because how he conducts himself in every matter is connected to his ability to protect the nation.

“This language, at the present day, would appear as wild as a great part of what we now hear from the same quarter will be thought, when we shall have received further lessons from that best oracle of wisdom, experience.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 15

How did a device once used to torture prisoners became a thing of luxury? WaPo: “In its 2016 survey, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) found that more than 50 million Americans said they used a treadmill at least once in the previous year. Yet if the monotonous motion feels like torture, well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The tread wheel, a variation of what we know as the modern treadmill, was used in the 1800s to keep British prisoners from idleness but more so for hard labor…The changes started by the Industrial Revolution took root in the 20th century, which paved the way for treadmills to become machines meant for privilege instead of punishment. In the 1920s, photos of beautiful Gatsby-era women in high heels standing on wooden treadmills portrayed the machine as fashionable and luxurious. Thirty years later, medical researchers used metallic treadmills with rubber belts to test heart and lung disease…”

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The Hill: “Republicans on a Senate committee on Thursday suspended panel rules to force a vote on President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee over a Democratic protest. Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), changed the rules governing a quorum so that only the panel’s Republicans needed to be in attendance to approve Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA. The committee’s full roster of Republicans — including Sen. Jeff Sessions(R-Ala.), whose nomination to be attorney general is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor — attended Thursday’s hearing and approved Pruitt on an 11-0 vote.”

McCain, GOP move Mulvaney out of committee despite hesitations - WashEx: “Sen. John McCain voted for President Trump’s pick to lead of the Office of Management and Budget in committee on Thursday, despite the reservations he has about the nominee’s past votes in favor of trimming military spending. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the nomination of Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., by an 8-7 party-line vote. McCain, R-Ariz., who complained about Mulvaney’s support for military spending cuts in his confirmation hearing, voted for him in the committee, but said he was still undecided if he would support him in the full Senate.”

Fox News: “President Trump vowed Thursday to ‘defend and protect’ religious liberty on multiple fronts – describing his recent immigration executive order as part of that goal – during his first appearance as president at the traditional National Prayer Breakfast… [Arnold Schwarzenegger] was the target of a light-hearted swipe from the president. ‘I want to just pray for Arnold if we can,’ joked Trump, who is listed in the ‘Apprentice’ credits as the show's executive producer…Trump also used the faith forum to reiterate a vow from his campaign to eliminate the so-called Johnson Amendment, which bars some tax-exempt groups (including religious groups) from taking firm positions on political candidates. ‘I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,’ he said.”

Trump threatens university funds after violent protests - Fox News: “President Trump tweeted early Thursday that if schools like University of California, Berkeley, do not allow free speech, it may cost them federal funding. The tweet was in response to violent protests that were in response to a planned talk on campus Wednesday by Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial Breitbart News editor. The talk was canceled due to the protests. [Trump tweeted:] ‘If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?’ The decision was made two hours before the event because a crowd of more than 1,500 had gathered outside the venue, the university said in a statement…The 32-year-old right-wing provocateur is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump and a self-proclaimed internet troll…”

CNBC: “House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Republican lawmakers will try to push through tax reform and infrastructure bills … in the spring after focusing on health care. ‘It’s just the way the budget works that we won’t be able to get the ability to write our tax reform bill until our spring budget passes, and then we write that through the summer,’ Ryan said on ‘Fox [&] Friends.’ He added that an infrastructure package ‘comes out of our spring budget, as well.’ … Republicans have so far proven wary of adding to the national debt in an infrastructure plan, and Ryan hinted Thursday that he would want to take a different path than Democrats. ‘Remember, this isn’t a trillion dollars of taxpayer spending. This is, how do we leverage private sector dollars so we can leverage more private sector spending on infrastructure like pipelines and things like that?...”

Promises full repeal, replacement of ObamaCare - TWT: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday that fixing the country’s health care system entails fully repealing and replacing Obamacare, after a report suggested congressional Republicans might be trying to rebrand the effort as a ‘repair.’ ‘I want to clarify this, [because] there’s a miscommunication going on,’ Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said on ‘Fox & Friends.’ ‘If we’re going to repair the U.S. health care system and get back to a patient-centered system that actually does lower costs and gives people peace of mind, you must repeal and replace Obamacare.’”

Perino and Chris Stirewalt break down another crazy week in Washington with President Trump’s immigration ban – or maybe a ban – dominates headlines. But it’s his pick for the Supreme Court that is rocking both sides of the aisle under the threat of a nuclear option. Plus, Dana gives an update on her sister’s ailing cat while the duo suspect Charles Hurt may have knowledge of another big cat roaming the streets of the nation’s capital. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE.

Power Play: What is a Supreme Court appointment worth? - Senators on both sides of the aisle want to avoid the “nuclear option” in the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, but with Democrats already threatening a filibuster that option may be the only one to fill the nearly yearlong vacancy on the bench. Chris Stirewalt explains what’s at stake. WATCH HERE.

As a nation of immigrants, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano says, “[M]ost people recognize that all people have the natural right to travel, which means they can seek entry here; but the country has accepted the ideas that our borders are not open, that the welfare state here is not without financial limits and that in perilous times such as today, immigration is largely and legally in the hands of the president…The government can only morally and constitutionally interfere with personal freedom for the most compelling of reasons and utilizing the least restrictive means. Is the government faithful to that well-recognized rule? We shall soon see.” More here.

Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” – President Trump during a Black History event Wednesday.

Trump meets with heads of Senate Finance and House Ways and Means - Politico

Homeland secretary says border wall will be finished in 2 years - Fox News

Federal court blocks parts of refugee, travel ban  - LAT

Tillerson, in first remarks to agency as secretary of state, acknowledges post-election tensions - RCP

Some federal workers secretly plan resistance to Trump agenda - Politico

Trump raises record $6.5 million in weeks after the election - Bloomberg

Dems deploy misleading language on the ‘standard’ for Supreme Court nominations - WaPo

House Dems plot protest possibilities for Trump’s speech to Congress later this month - The Hill

Trump’s doc details presidential drug regimen: antibiotics for rosacea, anti-cholesterol statins and pills for hair growth - NYT

“‘Lutrine.’ Good one, Chris, and fitting! I had to look it up and I am a 68-year old writer with a PhD who regularly comments regarding forestry and wildlife issues. To note that the Dem VP candidate was ‘otter-like’ was exactly right and one more reason I am a regular reader. Side-note: My ancestors immigrated to West Virginia while it was still part of Virginia. Do you know where ‘Fink’s Run’ is (I’m interested in finding out)?” – Bob Zybach, Cottage Grove, Ore.

[Ed. note: If the Zybachs made it all the way to the Willamette Valley from Lewis County, W.Va. you all must be of the traveling kind! Fink Creek and what’s left of the town that bears its name are in the center of the center of the Mountain State. Stonewall Jackson’s people came from close by. And if you ever decide to go exploring, the state park named in his honor is a great place to stay (and the golf course ain’t so bad either…).]

“Would it be possible to have Congress go into recess and let Trump use his recess appointment powers instead of using the nuclear option if the Dems continue to resist?” – Robert Zeck, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

[Ed. note: Yes, but… A Recess appointment is only good until the end of the next session of the Senate. In this case, that would mean through the end of 2018. Republicans want decades of service from Gorsuch.]

“With Sens. Murkowski and Collins saying they won’t vote for Betsy DeVos as [Education secretary], what does that do for her chances? If they abstain, assuming strict party line voting, would she be confirmed 50-48? If they vote no, resulting in a 50-50 tie, would the VP be able to break the tie? Not sure how these things work with cabinet confirmations.” – Pat Conroy, Austin, Texas

[Ed. note: Yup! While it might not be the way they wanted to do it, the administration can count on the Mike Pence to get DeVos over the finish line as long as no other Republicans break ranks.]

“Mr. Stirewalt – Perhaps you could add some pictures to your Halftime Report. I had to go to Google twice while reading your latest edition; once to see what an astrolabe was and again to view the Nebraska flag. On second thought, maybe a little research on my part is a good idea!” – Jean Corsetti, Crestview, Fla.

[Ed. note: I, for one, feel that as long as the Nebraska flag does not prominently feature corn it is false advertising!]

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

AP: “Police in northern Oklahoma say they've arrested a substitute teacher on an indecent exposure complaint after she reportedly did a cartwheel in front of students while wearing a skirt but no undergarments. The Pawhuska Police Department says a student recorded the incident on a cellphone. Police Chief Scott Laird says the incident reportedly happened during a high school choir class in Pawhuska, about 100 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. The substitute teacher, whose name has not been released, was arrested Tuesday afternoon. Pawhuska police say she remains jailed Wednesday morning.”

“If you leave it as an issue between [Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch] on his merits against obstructionist Democrats who are demagoguing him…calling him an extremist…I think the in the court of public opinion Gorsuch wins hands down.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

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