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Tag: president obama

With Flimsy Claims, Right-Wing Figures Constantly Demanded Obama Impeachment

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

As Donald Trump finds himself at the center of an impeachment inquiry, his backers in right-wing media have been working overtime to play defense for the embattled president. From Fox & Friends in the morning to Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight in the evening, Fox News has remained (mostly) unwavering in its defense of Trump. BreitbartThe Daily Wirethe New York PostThe Wall Street Journal, and so many other constants of conservative commentary have dutifully deflected and defended their political champion.

However, it wasn’t so long ago that conservative media sang a different tune on impeachment. Barack Obama’s time in office marked a period of rapid-fire demands from right-wing media for the president’s removal from office. It’s instructive to see how much the bar for “high crimes and misdemeanors” has shifted since then, helping gauge how seriously we should take the words of conservative pundits when the president is a member of their own party.

Let’s take a look back at some of the “scandals” that set off right-wing media.

Executive Actions, Hatred Of America, And Supposedly Being Born Outside The U.S.

Less than two months after Obama took office, right-wing radio host Michael Savage declared, “I think it is time to start talking about impeachment.” He was angry about Obama’s use of executive actions, and he called the American people “a bunch of schmucks” for sitting idly as they were “watching a dictatorship emerge in front of their eyes.” Despite occasional criticism, Savage has been largely supportive of Trump and recently accused Nancy Pelosi of being an “illegitimate speaker” of the House intent on destroying the Constitution by opening a Trump impeachment inquiry.

In October 2009, conservative radio host Tammy Bruce denounced Obama on Fox News because, she said, “he seems to have, it seems to me, some malevolence toward this country, which is unabated,” and World Net Daily quoted her to argue for impeachment. Around that time, the “Impeach Obama” movement started gaining momentum in conservative circles, never quite tethered to a specific or verifiable accusation. For instance, Republican strategist Floyd Brown campaigned to impeach Obama on account of  “fascism, socialism, Obamaism… take your pick?” (along with his supposed birthplace).

In September 2011, Fox Business promoted conspiracy theorist and former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s list of “12 impeachable offenses” Obama committed, including his supposed failure to secure the borders and his “contempt for the Constitution.” In 2012, Fox Business host Neil Cavuto asked whether making recess appointments could be an impeachable offense. While many of these claims from the right were unstructured and unfocused, there were others that carried specific charges.

Job Offer To Joe Sestak

By May 2010, Fox News had begun pushing a bogus claim that the Obama administration had committed a crime by offering then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) a job if he didn’t run in the Democratic primary for a Senate seat. Then-Fox contributor Dick Morris claimed that the offer was “clearly a violation of law” and that it was like “Valerie Plame, only 10 times bigger because it’s illegal,” referencing the Bush administration’s leak of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Of course, it wasn’t illegal. Meanwhile, Trump defender Morris’ most recent blog post is titled “Impeachment? Over What?” And Morris wasn’t alone. Sean Hannity declared the Sestak offer an “impeachable offense,” while Glenn Beck told listeners of his radio program, “If this guy from Pennsylvania is telling the truth, then someone has just committed an impeachable offense, a felony. There is prison time.”

Advancement Of LGBTQ Rights

In February 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in court. This came at a time when marriage equality cases were making their way through the courts, setting up an eventual Supreme Court decision on the law, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

In an interview with Newsmax, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich called Obama’s decision “a violation of his constitutional oath,” saying, “Clearly it is not something that can be allowed to stand.” He later backtracked on this position, but it was promoted by Fox Nation.

The Arab Spring And U.S. Involvement In Libya And Syria

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was removed from office in February 2011 during what became known as the “Arab Spring.” Mubarak’s removal triggered a new fight for power as the country went through continued political turmoil. After Mubarak said he would not seek another term in office, Obama — who had till then avoided taking a position on the situation in Egypt — welcomed the announcement.

Tammy Bruce used this statement as an opportunity to call for Obama’s impeachment, tweeting, “If it is found that Obama secretly facilitated or *encouraged* an Islamist takeover of Egypt, an ally, he should be impeached.” In another tweet, she wrote, “Impeachment? We have a President in up to his elbows in an Islamist takeover of Egypt while he ignores a Fed Judge order to void ObamaCare.”

Various foreign policy maneuvers led to impeachment talk, as well. In 2011, after the administration bombed Libya, John Walsh wrote in The American Conservative, “The time has come to begin impeachment proceedings against President Barack H. Obama for high crimes and misdemeanors.” As the White House mulled a decision over whether to support Syrian rebels in 2013, Glenn Beck and Pat Buchanan sounded the alarm. Buchanan called for then-Speaker John Boehner to reconvene the House to threaten Obama with impeachment should he take action in Syria in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on his own people.

Opposing Voter ID Laws

In June 2012, right-wing radio host Mark Levin accused Obama of a litany of “impeachable offenses” during an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, bizarrely including the administration’s opposition to voter suppression efforts like so-called voter ID laws. That March, the Obama administration had blocked a Texas law that would require voters to display a photo ID before voting on the grounds that it could disenfranchise citizens who didn’t have such documents.

Benghazi

The September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, provided more fodder for right-wing media figures in their quest to take down Obama. Conservative lawyer Jay Sekulow, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, and Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes all called on Congress to impeach Obama over the attack. Pirro called Benghazi the “biggest cover-up since Watergate” and said that Obama’s “dereliction of duty as commander-in-chief demands [his] impeachment.” Right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin demanded impeachment for his Benghazi “jihadi-coddling.”

The IRS ‘Scandal’

In 2013, Glenn Beck said, “It is time to appoint a special counsel to explore impeachment of this president.” Beck was referencing a since-debunked scandal about the IRS withholding tax-exempt status from tea party organizations. In 2014, Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Obama impeached for “using the IRS to damage his political opponents.”

The Prisoner Trade To Retrieve Bowe Bergdahl

Another push to impeach Obama floated through conservative media following the trade of five Taliban figures for then-Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. National Review writer Andrew McCarthy, one of the most prominent voices in this push, wrote a book titled Faithless Execution: Building The Political Case For Obama’s Impeachment. It pointed to so-called issues like Benghazi, the Affordable Health Care Act, and, bizarrely, the Justice Department’s treatment of the New Black Panther Party to call for impeachment. McCarthy’s actions seem ironic considering his latest book is a defense of Trump against people trying to unfairly “destroy” his presidency, titled Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency. And of course he appeared on Fox News on Wednesday to assure viewers that Trump’s reported actions around Ukraine don’t hit the bar for impeachment.

Immigration

In 2011, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett mentioned Obama’s immigration policy and said Andrew Johnson “was impeached for a very similar reason.” In 2013, Limbaugh said Obama had committed “an impeachable offense” by releasing and monitoring immigration detainees before making budget cuts. Right-wing media again clamored for impeachment following Obama’s 2014 executive order deferring deportation proceedings for some undocumented immigrants. Current and former Fox News hosts Megyn KellyChris WallaceAndrea Tantaros, and Bill O’Reilly all suggested that the action could lead to calls of impeachment. Months earlier, former Fox News contributor Sarah Palin had compared America to a “battered wife” who needed to say “no mas” to Obama because of his immigration policies. Fox News anchor Bret Baier and hosts Brian Kilmeade and Jedediah Bila also offered warnings about impeachment prior to Obama’s executive action.

Bad-faith Actors

Many of the same people who were willing to demand Obama’s head on a pike over a bad investment in green energy don’t seem all that bothered by Trump’s end-run around Congress to funnel money to failing coal plants. The same people who thought the auto bailouts were grounds for Obama’s removal don’t have anything to say about Trump’s decision to spend more than twice as much bailing out farmers over a trade war he started. Those who relied on massive amounts of inference to convince themselves and others that Obama was engaging in unconstitutional shakedowns will undoubtedly insist that there was no “quid pro quo” in Trump’s mafia-style discussion with the Ukranian president.

Right-wing media outlets have always been a place where unprincipled arguments and double standards thrive, but through the corruption and scandal of the Trump administration, they’ve only gotten worse. These contradictions and hypocrisy make one thing abundantly clear: These are not good-faith actors.

America Rarely Lets You Forget That You’re Black

So I had myself an epiphany.

Actually, that’s not quite the right word. An epiphany is a moment of sudden clarity, but mine rolled in slowly, like dawn on a crystal morning.

I’m not sure when it began. Maybe it was in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed and much of America held him guilty of his own murder. Maybe it was in 2013 when the Voting Rights Act was eviscerated and states began hatching schemes to suppress the African-American vote. Maybe it was on Election Day. Maybe it was a few weeks later, when a South Carolina jury deadlocked because the panel — most of them white — could not agree that it was a crime for a police officer to shoot an unarmed black man in the back. Could not agree, even though they saw it on video.

I can’t say exactly when it was. All I know is that the dawn broke and I realized I had forgotten something.

I had forgotten that I am black.

Yes, I know what the mirror says. And yes, I’ve always known African Americans face challenges — discrimination in health, housing, hiring, and a racially biased system of “justice,” to name a few. But I think at some level, I had also grown comfortable in a nation paced by Oprah, LeBron, Beyonce, and Barack. The old mantra of black progress — two steps forward, one step back — had come to feel … abstract, something you said, but forgot to believe.

So when we hit this season of reversal, I was more surprised than I should have been. I had forgotten about being black. Meaning, I had forgotten that for us, setback is nothing new.

Right after the election, as I was grappling with this, I chanced to see this young black woman — Melissa “Lizzo” Jefferson — on “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” and she performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Negro National Anthem.” Something about that song always gets to me. Something about it always stirs unseen forces, shifts something heavy in my soul.

“Lift Every Voice” was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. That was 23 years after the Republicans sold out newly freed slaves, resolving a disputed election by striking a backroom deal that made Rutherford B. Hayes president on condition he withdraw from the South federal troops who had safeguarded African-American rights and lives since the end of the Civil War. It was five years after the first “grandfather clause” disenfranchised former slaves by denying the ballot to anyone whose grandfather did not vote. It was four years after the Supreme Court blessed segregation.

And it was a year in which 106 African Americans were lynched — a routine number for that era.

Yet in the midst of that American hell, here was Johnson, exhorting his people to joy.

Lift every voice and sing

Till Earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of liberty

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies

Let it resound,

Loud as the rolling sea.”

Lord, what did it take to sing that song back then?

I pondered that as the year deepened into December, as Christmas came and went, as the ball dropped in Times Square. Now here it is Black History Month, and I know again what I had somehow forgotten.

I had forgotten that we’ve been here before, that our history is a litany of people pushing us back after every forward step. I had forgotten that it long ago taught us how to weave laughter from a moan of pain, make a meal out of the hog’s entrails, climb when you cannot see the stairs, and endure.

I had forgotten that America is still America — and I am still black.

But it won’t happen again.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) is joined onstage by first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia, after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Don’t Fall For The GOP’s Sham Plan To ‘Repair’ The Affordable Care Act

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

The GOP has shifted from its message of “repealing and replacing” Obamacare to “repairing” the law. Media must press conservatives on what their so-called “repairs” to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might look like, especially in the likely event that “repairing” the ACA is really just repealing it with no replacement.

Republicans reportedly started transitioning away from their pledge to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, focusing on a more appealing call to “repair” the health care law. Frank Luntz, a GOP consultant known for repackaging conservative misinformation to advance a Republican agenda, encouraged conservatives to pledge to “repair” the ACA because that word “captures exactly what the large majority of the American people want.” As lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have adopted the “repair” buzzword, others, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), continue to obfuscate, claiming, “if we’re going to repair the U.S. health care system, … you must repeal and replace Obamacare,” indicating that GOP disarray over the ACA extends to its messaging strategies.

The GOP’s pledge to “repeal and replace” the law has largely backfired. After seven years, Republicans still have no replacement for the law. The GOP still can’t agree on the timing or the substance of any replacement plan. Most of its “replacement” plans are fact sheets rather than legislative language, and all of them would reduce coverage for millions of Americans.

The continued fight over the potential replacement has also inadvertently highlighted the tangible gains achieved by the ACA and made the public acutely aware of the negative impacts of repeal. New polling finds the ACA is increasingly popular, especially as news outlets highlight stories of individuals who would be impacted by repeal.

As Slate’s Jim Newell explained, the semantic change alone “does not signal a new course in the repeal-and-replace progress.” But, even if the GOP does decide to abandon its promise to repeal the ACA and instead focus on “repairing” the law, it remains vitally important for news outlets to force conservative politicians to clarify which portions of the ACA they intend to repair and how. Media have largely failed at questioning potential replacement plans for the law. And as top GOP lawmakers continue to falsely repeat right-wing media myths about the alleged “collapse” of the ACA, media must fact-check the GOP’s messaging strategies and interrogate its plans for repealing or repairing the law. If the GOP actually intends to make “repairs” to the ACA, those repairs may just be another messaging strategy for its plans to scale back services, gut Medicaid, and give a tax-break to the wealthy.

With millions of lives at stake, news outlets must aggressively question GOP lawmakers about what portions of the ACA they intend to repair and force lawmakers to clarify that repairing the ACA is not simply a buzzword phrase for repealing the law with no replacement.

IMAGE: U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) hands the pen to Representative Tom Price (R-GA) (L) after signing a bill repealing Obamacare at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Exclusive: Trump To Focus Counter-Extremism Program Solely On Islam

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.

Such a change would reflect Trump’s election campaign rhetoric and criticism of former President Barack Obama for being weak in the fight against Islamic State and for refusing to use the phrase “radical Islam” in describing it. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for attacks on civilians in several countries.

The CVE program aims to deter groups or potential lone attackers through community partnerships and educational programs or counter-messaging campaigns in cooperation with companies such as Google and Facebook.

Some proponents of the program fear that rebranding it could make it more difficult for the government to work with Muslims already hesitant to trust the new administration, particularly after Trump issued an executive order last Friday temporarily blocking travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Still, the CVE program, which focuses on U.S. residents and is separate from a military effort to fight extremism online, has been criticized even by some supporters as ineffective.

A source who has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the program said Trump transition team members first met with a CVE task force in December and floated the idea of changing the name and focus.

In a meeting last Thursday, attended by senior staff for DHS Secretary John Kelly, government employees were asked to defend why they chose certain community organizations as recipients of CVE program grants, said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

Although CVE funding has been appropriated by Congress and the grant recipients were notified in the final days of the Obama administration, the money still may not go out the door, the source said, adding that Kelly is reviewing the matter.

The department declined comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

PROGRAM CRITICIZED

Some Republicans in Congress have long assailed the program as politically correct and ineffective, asserting that singling out and using the term “radical Islam” as the trigger for many violent attacks would help focus deterrence efforts.

Others counter that branding the problem as “radical Islam” would only serve to alienate more than three million Americans who practice Islam peacefully.

Many community groups, meanwhile, had already been cautious about the program, partly over concerns that it could double as a surveillance tool for law enforcement.

Hoda Hawa, director of policy for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said she was told last week by people within DHS that there was a push to refocus the CVE effort from tackling all violent ideology to only Islamist extremism.

“That is concerning for us because they are targeting a faith group and casting it under a net of suspicion,” she said.

Another source familiar with the matter was told last week by a DHS official that a name change would take place. Three other sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such plans had been discussed but were unable to attest whether they had been finalized.

The Obama administration sought to foster relationships with community groups to engage them in the counterterrorism effort. In 2016, Congress appropriated $10 million in grants for CVE efforts and DHS awarded the first round of grants on Jan. 13, a week before Trump was inaugurated.

Among those approved were local governments, city police departments, universities, and non-profit organizations. In addition to organizations dedicated to combating Islamic State’s recruitment in the United States, grants also went to Life After Hate, which rehabilitates former neo-Nazis and other domestic extremists.

Just in the past two years, authorities blamed radical and violent ideologies as the motives for a white supremacist’s shooting rampage inside a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and Islamist militants for shootings and bombings in California, Florida, and New York.

One grant recipient, Leaders Advancing & Helping Communities, a Michigan-based group led by Lebanese-Americans, has declined a $500,000 DHS grant it had sought, according to an email the group sent that was seen by Reuters. A representative for the group confirmed the grant had been rejected, but declined further comment.

“Given the current political climate and cause for concern, LAHC has chosen to decline the award,” said the email, which was sent last Thursday, a day before Trump issued his immigration order, which was condemned at home and abroad as discriminating against Muslims while the White House said it was to “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards and Dustin Volz in Washington, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Jonathan Weber and Grant McCool)

IMAGE: President Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, at the Homeland Security headquarters. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Suspends Refugee Resettlement Interviews

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted trips by staff to interview refugees abroad as it prepares for a likely shakeup of refugee policy by President Donald Trump, two sources with knowledge of the decision said on Thursday.

The decision effectively amounts to a pause in future refugee admissions, given that the interviews are a crucial step in an often years-long process.

The DHS leadership’s decision to halt the interview trips was communicated to those involved in the U.S. refugee admission process on Wednesday, one of the sources said.

It means that though Trump has not yet ordered a temporary halt to the refugee program, future admissions are likely to be delayed.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order that would include a temporary ban on all refugees, and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Thursday that Trump could sign several executive orders on Friday, but that the nature of those had not been decided yet.

Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project at the New York-based Urban Justice Center, said she was informed of the decision to halt the overseas interviews by several people in and outside of government.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security and which conducts the interviews, said the agency had delayed “a number of upcoming trips” but that they had not been “officially canceled.”

DHS officers regularly visit countries such as Jordan, Malaysia, El Salvador, Kenya, and Ethiopia to interview refugees seeking to enter the United States. It is usually one of the last steps in the refugee resettlement process.

Heller said the decision to halt the overseas interviews would cause delays in refugee processing even if Trump decides to maintain the refugee program or re-start it after a temporary closure.

“In the past, when we’ve frozen the refugee program to re-examine security issues, it’s been really important to continue processing even if you can’t admit people, because processing times in this program can be two to three years,” Heller said.

During the election campaign, Trump decried former President Barack Obama’s decision to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States over fears that those fleeing the country’s civil war would carry out attacks.

Obama approved allowing up to 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, compared with 85,000 the prior year.

Trump said during the election campaign that there was no proper system to vet refugees.

In addition to the interviews, refugees hoping to be resettled in the United States undergo extensive security screening by multiple U.S. agencies as well as vetting by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Kieran Murray and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: A volunteer contacts the relatives of an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala after arriving to Announciation House, an organization that provides shelter to immigrants and refugees, in El Paso, U.S. January 17, 2017.  REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

There Are No Alternative Facts, It’s Called Lying

Her name was Miss Nelson.

I don’t recall her first name. She didn’t seem to need one.

She taught fifth grade at West Elementary School in Ashtabula, Ohio. In the fall of 1967, my mother dropped me off in her classroom like a failed adoption. My mother would deny that characterization, but we all knew that Miss Nelson had a reputation. She was tall and wide with a voice that carried and a mind inclined to use it. I’d never seen anybody like her.

You know how this story goes. She also had a heart bigger than a Dodge wagon. She hid it well in the first few weeks, but soon enough she was holding after-class sewing sessions for all of us girls. She claimed to be teaching us how to make clothes for our Barbie dolls, but it was just an excuse to gather us round and talk to us about how to be citizens of the world.

She believed diagramming sentences builds character and profanity is the sign of a diminished mind. She hated the word “liar,” declaring it the worst thing you could ever say about a person. If he was a liar, there was no hope for him.

All these years later, I’m still so reluctant to use the word. Some people you never stop wanting to avoid disappointing.

I’ve been thinking of Miss Nelson a lot during the past few days — since Inauguration Day, to be precise. It hurts to the marrow of my bones to say this, but there’s no use in pretending that we don’t have a chronic liar in the White House.

On Tuesday, I made a list of newspaper headlines on Donald Trump’s continued lie about nonexistent voter fraud.

The New York Times: “Trump Won’t Back Down From His Voting Fraud Lie. Here Are the Facts.”

The Washington Post: “Citing no new evidence, Trump continues to say there were millions of illegal votes.”

Boston Globe: “White House defends illegal voting claim, without evidence.”

Los Angeles Times: “Trump’s unproven claims of widespread voter fraud trip up White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.”

Chicago Tribune: “White House doubles down on Trump’s claim that millions voted illegally, but provides no evidence.”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump’s Claim of Massive Illegal Voting Gets Little Support From GOP Lawmakers.”

This is our new reality.

We still have our holdouts. NPR listeners wanted to know why Mary Louise Kelly reported on Trump’s many lies but wouldn’t call them what they are: lies. On “Morning Edition,” Kelly explained that she relies on The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “lie.”

“A false statement made with intent to deceive,” Kelly said, “‘intent’ being the key word there. Without the ability to peer into Donald Trump’s head, I can’t tell you what his intent was. I can tell you what he said and how that squares — or doesn’t — with facts.”

At what age is adulthood assumed and a person held accountable for his words? Unless he admits he lied, we’re supposed to think he’s just flirting?

True, I can’t peer into the dark recesses of Trump’s head — thank you, Jesus — but that doesn’t mean I can’t discern his intentions by the content of his words.

He lies, but he may not mean it? That’s like someone hitting me in the head with a baseball bat and then assuring me on the ambulance ride that he didn’t mean to make me bleed. At some point, one of us has to state the obvious because the medical staff and the police are definitely going to have their assumptions.

Every time I hear another lie come out of Trump’s mouth — about his inauguration crowd (smaller than Barack Obama’s and the Women’s March), voter fraud (it didn’t exist), the media’s accusing him of attacking the intelligence community (he compared them to the Nazis) — I feel as if I’m back in junior high school trying to break up with the boy my mother warned me wasn’t stable.

“You told me you love me.”

“I never said that.”

“You did. I heard you. Everybody knows it.

“I’m sorry. I never said that.”

“We should drink each other’s blood.”

“I’m going to call Dad now.”

Enough of this cat dance around what most of America already knows.

With apologies to Miss Nelson, we in the media must call this what it is: Our president is a chronic and unapologetic liar.

And this is not normal.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: President Donald Trump looks up while signing an executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Republicans Lay Out Timeline For Obamacare Repeal, But Still Vague On Details

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – U.S. Republican leaders on Wednesday laid out plans for repealing Obamacare by spring, followed by funding the building of a border wall and reforming the tax code by late summer, as lawmakers launched an effort to unify behind a legislative strategy.

But Republicans gathered in Philadelphia for a three-day retreat showed little fervor for President Donald Trump’s calls to investigate what he believes was large-scale voter fraud in the Nov. 8 election.

On Wednesday night, several hundred protesters crammed into the street near the hotel where Trump is scheduled to speak to congressional Republicans on Thursday to demonstrate against his agenda.

“Philly hates Trump!” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” were among the demonstrators’ chants.

Police said they were expecting a larger turnout of protesters on Thursday when both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence address the Republican gathering.

Trump said on Wednesday he would seek a voter fraud probe, although there is overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts and politicians that such fraud is rare in the United States.

At the closed-door retreat, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan laid out a plan of legislative action including repeal of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law known as Obamacare, by March or April, followed by appropriations for a border wall with Mexico and overhauling the tax code by August, one Republican source said.

Republicans have majorities in both the House and Senate.

A senior House Republican, Representative Diane Black, said key House committees would take votes within the next two weeks on draft legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“Then we expect that probably toward the latter part of February, or the first part of March, that we should be ready to go with the final reconciliation bill” to repeal Obamacare, she told reporters.

Representative Chris Collins, a New York Republican who was an early Trump backer, said on MSNBC that lawmakers were told at the retreat that they would write legislation “in the next two months” to help pay for the border wall that Trump signed directives to build.

On the issue of tax reform, Ryan, speaking to MSNBC, said: “Our goal is to get this done by the end of summer, which is for Congress quite fast.”

While there is Republican enthusiasm about the idea of swift action against Obamacare and on taxes, the challenge for Trump and congressional Republicans will be getting lawmakers to coalesce around specific plans.

‘THE ELECTION’S OVER WITH’

Trump won in November because he secured the most votes in the state-by-state Electoral College system, but he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots. Irked by that large figure, he has blamed voter fraud, without citing evidence, and called for an investigation.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chair of the Senate Republican Conference, saw little need for a probe.

“I’ve not seen any evidence to that effect, but if they want to take that issue up, that’s a decision obviously that he can make,” Thune told reporters.

“All I can say is what I’ve said before, and that is that we’ve moved on, the election’s over with, we had a decisive winner in our constitutional system, and we’re ready to go to work,” he said.

U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, chair of the Republican conference in the House of Representatives, took a wait-and-see attitude toward Trump’s demand for a probe.

“It’s very important that people have confidence in the elections and the outcome of those elections. And I’ll wait until I see more of what he’s proposing before I comment on what his action is going to be,” she said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will also join lawmakers in Philadelphia on Thursday and is expected to discuss plans for a possible U.S.-U.K. trade deal.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: President Donald Trump shakes hands with House Speaker Paul Ryan as he is joined by the Congressional leadership and his family as he formally signs his cabinet nominations into law, in the President’s Room of the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/J. Scott Applewhite/Pool

Trump’s War With the Media Has Begun And We’ve Seen Nothing Yet

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Less than 24 hours after being sworn in, Donald Trump declared the first war of his presidency—on the media.

At CIA headquarters Saturday morning, Trump immediately brought up the “dishonest media,” then transitioned into praise for the agency he said was going to destroy ISIS, then resumed trashing the press, first for saying he didn’t get along with America’s spies (he called them “Nazis” last week), and then for the inaugural coverage.

“And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media,” Trump said. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth… We had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field.”

Trump didn’t stop there—even though his inaugural attendance was lower than President Obama’s, according to numerous overhead photo comparisons. He lambasted Time magazine for saying his staff had removed a bust of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office, saying it was hidden behind a cameraman.

“Now, the big story—the retraction was, like, where?” Trump said. “Was it a line? Or do they even bother putting it in? So I only like to say that because I love honesty. I like honest reporting.”

Trump’s tirade didn’t stop there. Hours later, Sean Spicer, his press secretary, called the White House press corps into the James S. Brady briefing room in the White House (which last weekend they threatened to close) and lectured them for “deliberately false reporting” on the crowd size and the MLK bust.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable,” Spicer said. “And I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well.”

The first war under Trump’s presidency is with the press and it’s escalating. It’s not just floating the idea that the White House pressroom may move. It’s not just last week’s pre-inaugural press conference where Trump labeled Buzzfeed and CNN “fake media.” It’s not just his latest tweets criticizing celebrities who don’t like him, or dismissing the millions of women (and men) who marched to protest his presidency on Saturday.

These incidents all raise a serious question: what’s going to happen to the First Amendment with a bully in the pulpit?

The answer, according to a handful of lawyers specializing in First Amendment and press issues, is that Trump is primed to use his office’s great power to intimidate, obstruct, censor, spy on and silence the media. In the most visible instances, bullying, the president faces no restrictions on his speech, regardless of its truth or who he victimizes.

“He can say whatever he wants using whatever means he chooses,” said James Goodale, chief counsel for the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers case and a leading legal expert on the First Amendment, when asked if Trump faces any restrictions on presidential speech and adding that he cannot be sued for his outbursts.

The Bully

But the damage is likely to go deeper and escalate in far more serious ways than a mere war on words.

“Our soon-to-be president could weaken the American system of free expression… [with] techniques that involve weakening and undermining the institutions and practices that enable public opinion to check state power and legitimate our system of democracy,” wrote Jack Balkin, the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment and director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, in a prescient article late last year.

Baklin listed five likely abuses of the presidential podium, most of which we’ve already seen from Trump and his aides. They start with the fact that Trump is a habitual liar. Trump “has found a way to lie so boldly and so frequently that it’s virtually impossible to hold him to account,” he said. “If politicians lie all the time, and never pay a price for it, there’s no reason to believe any promises they make.”

Next was the related propaganda technique called “gaslighting,” Balkin said, or “creating a false reality and causing the public to doubt what is actually true or false. By making everything uncertain and a matter of ideological perspective, government officials stoke anger and distrust in elite institutions on the one hand, and produce cynicism, resignation and despair on the other.”

That’s what spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway did this earlier month when she told CNN to stop listening to Trump’s literal words and trust what was in his heart—as if a president-elect’s words have no literal meaning.

As Melik Kaylan, a longtime reporter who has covered authoritarian regimes noted in Forbes, such intentional chaos is a reality TV ploy that also serves political strongmen. He drew on comments to MSNBC by Michael Hirschhorn, a top reality TV producer, that such gaslighting helps authoritarian regimes, because, like a TV series that never ends, “you don’t resolve disputes; you foster them endlessly to retain public attention… You stay entertained but confused, paranoid even. That’s why you need [leaders like] me.”

While that fact-blurring dynamic is becoming the ‘new normal’ under Trump, there are other ways he can go after the media, Balkin wrote, anticipating what we keep seeing. Trump and his team can deny access, or threaten it by closing a West Wing briefing room, and require journalists to take drug tests, as Esquire reported. He can stonewall or not release information, as voters saw with his income tax returns during the campaign, or by not giving media access to administration paper and electronic records.

Most disturbing, Balkin said, was that Trump can use federal surveillance tools against journalists.

“These institutions constructed formal and informal rules and norms designed to prevent abuse by the White House,” he said, referring to the FBI, CIA and NSA. “But as Richard Nixon’s presidency demonstrated, these rules and norms don’t always work, and given enough time, a determined president can chip away at or circumvent many of them.”

This is not a hypothetical threat, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and Raymond Pryke, professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California Irvine School of Law, in a paper sent to AlterNet. Trump’s hostility to the press is well established, he wrote, giving the best-known examples of going after a disabled New York Times reporter, former Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Kelly Tur of NBC. “The Trump campaign denied press credentials to media that criticized him, including the Washington Post and Politico. His statements about [weakening] libel law also reflect his lack of understanding of the law and the First Amendment.”

On the libel front—where the press can be dragged into court to face accusations of intentionally publishing incorrect and damaging information—the press has less to worry about, the First Amendment lawyers said. On the other hand, they face very real worries about executive branch surveillance and spying.

“Trump can’t change the libel laws. The libel laws are created by state legislatures and are subject to constitutional limitation,” said Goodale. But Goodale said Trump could go after journalists to force them to reveal their sources.

Indeed, Trump has already tried to do this, pressuring NBC to reveal who inside the intelligence community leaked critical documents about him. “If the federal government subpoenas reporters who do not wish to testify about their sources they can go into contempt and defy Trump,” Goodale wrote, adding that was not always successful. “[The New York Times’] Judith Miller tried this and lost. [The Times’] James Risen defied the government and won (they decided not to hold him in contempt).”

Shockingly, it is President Obama who has given Trump a blueprint for going after leakers to the media and sources, Chemerinsky said, by using the Espionage Act of 1917, a broad law allowing prosecution for disclosing national security information. “Since its enactment, 12 prosecutions have been brought for disclosure of information, and nine in those were during the Obama administration.”

“There is no First Amendment right for a reporter to keep a source confidential,” he said. “Many states, like California, have shield laws that allow for this, but there is no such law at the federal level. This gives the president a powerful tool to harass and intimidate the press.”

The First Amendment lawyers agreed that the stakes are enormous, because the media—whether mainstream reporters, alternative press, blogs or social media—function as the Constitution’s check and balance against political tyranny.

On a more day-to-day level, Trump’s deepening war with the media means the public is going to have to get used to a president who lies, distorts, bullies, and evades. Meanwhile, the media is going to have to get used to being threatened, hounded and likely spied on—and possibly prosecuted—when they dare speak truth to power in Trump’s America.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights.

IMAGE: Press Secretary Sean Spicer deliver an statement at the press briefing room at the White House in Washington U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria