Eugene Robinson Live (April 25)

Eugene Robinson
Apr 25, 2017

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news today at 1 p.m.

Read Eugene's latest: Trump's fantasy border wall is crumbling

Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly group therapy session. Well, the Trump administration is nearing the 100-day milestone. (It only feels like 100 weeks or 100 months...) What does he have to show for it? Not much, fortunately. He got Justice Gorsuch approved, and he has taken some steps to roll back Obama-era regulations. Other than that, the administration is showing its inexperience and lack of competence. The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. The Muslim ban, twice watered down, is still blocked by the courts. There has been no infrastructure bill, no tax reform bill, and no progress on the ridiculous claim that Mexico will pay for the border wall he wants to build. Apparently there will be no immediate U.S. taxpayer money for the wall itself, given the president's surrender yesterday. Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress, yet will almost surely need Democratic votes this week to keep the government from shutting down. The learning curve, it appears, remains to be climbed. Let's get started.


He tried to take a hard line stance on getting funding for the wall into the appropriations bill. Congress had been working in the normal behind closed doors way on this over the recess. They had already compromised on some additional funding for boarder security but nothing for the wall. Monday, he blinked. As far as I can tell, now everyone knows that there will be NO wall funding in this bill. Nothing. Zip. He can't claim credit for the security stuff because that was in the compromise before he said a thing about it. I am honestly curious about how they spin this as a win when it is a loss straight up. Not a penny for the wall. He is blinking a lot. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are going to get sick of winning.

Like I said, the White House hasn't begun to climb the learning curve. And neither has Speaker Paul Ryan, whose inability to get anything passed -- though he has a huge majority -- is incomprehensible. He should go to Pelosi and ask for a tutorial. 

honestly, no private business would be able to run the way federal agencies have had to with shutdown planning nearly every year (sometimes multiple times a year!) since 2010. I hope a shutdown happens so that it's the first one with the president and both houses in congress as the same party. Let that be Trump's legacy in the history books. I'll get paid retroactively anyway...

It's really unbelievable that there's even a threat of a shutdown -- at a time of one-party rule! If political malpractice were a crime, we'd need to build new prisons.

I do understand that Republicans are making a short term calculation that they can contain Trump and use him to advance their goals - but how can they disregard the longer term damage they are doing to our democracy's norms - to European democracies' norms, to the longer term well-being of the less wealthy (e.g. in education). Do they really believe this heavily populated and enormously interconnected United States can operate with an 18th century sized government? Do they really believe the environmental challenges are made up? I hold them accountable, as they are the only ones who can block Trump's unthinking blundering.

President Trump and the anti-government ideologues in Congress both think they can use each other to get what they want. But they don't remotely have the same goals. This is obvious to the whole world but not, apparently, to the people at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I read that vast majorities of working class Americans think the Democrats are aloof, out-of-touch, ivy league, Whole-Foods-shopping snobs -- and that the Republicans "get" them. This leaves me slack-jawed. Donald Trump said that the minimum wage was too high. Of course, he also said that he was going to give everyone amazing health care and jobs. This just proves that it is all in the messaging. Democrats, who stand for increased minimum wage, better health benefits, more workplace benefits -- are horrible, horrible messengers. And Donald Trump is masterful.

It's more than just messaging. There's are cultural and racial elements as well, and there's a huge economic component. The left-behind parts of the country are really hurting, and Democrats have not come up with an economic program that gives these people hope. Trump did, even though his economic plans range from the unserious to the imaginary.

Hello, Gene. You're just a great reporter and all around "good guy". Always makes me happy seeing you speak openly on Morning Joe. Now that the border wall is likely off the CR preventing a gov't shutdown (no brainer) and all recent polls showing even the border states don't want the wall, when will the American people just speak out and say, "Stop this $30B atrocity from being built. Even recent polls taken over the weekend stated that Trump's 39-40% base don't want the wall built at close to 60% against its construction. Why are the polls just numbers on a page now, when not too long ago, it dictated political action from the people as well as the congress? Has Trump's daily shenanigans made them both pooped out?

I think Trump believes he would seriously lose credibility with his base if he gave up the wall, at least as a rhetorical device. That's really what it is. There is no way anybody is ever going to build a 2000-mile wall along the border. He will probably somehow build a few segments and declare victory. But he'll have to find the money somewhere...

Interested to know whether you read the NYTimes article on the background to his decision to go to Congress when he looked at more of Hillary's emails and if so, your take on what drove that decision. I feel like he really thought she was going to win and if this came out later, it would really damage the reputation of the FBI. Your thoughts?

I agree with your analysis, and I think Comey's overriding concern was how he and the FBI would end up looking. Which means he failed, big league.

Who would want to fly if they didn't have to? It seems as if the airline industry, like so many others, strives to provide no worse service than the competition instead of trying to be the best. Do they not realize that if they do not get their act together they will kill their industry? Oh, yeah, banks and telcos. Never mind.

I remember when there were lots of airlines, which had to compete on providing the best consumer service. Thanks to consolidation and the changed economics of the industry, we have fewer choices -- and take-it-or-leave-it service. Flying used to be a fun adventure. Now it's a grind.

I have always maintained that where you are heading is more important than where you are. With that in mind, and looking at the first 100 days, would you say that the Trump Presidency is heading upwards to better things, downward towards more troubled times, or on a steady course to provide much of the same as we have seen so far?

That's a very good question, and I honestly have to say that I'm not sure of the trend. Trading Flynn for McMaster and booting Bannon off the National Security Council is all to the good. The failure to fill vital second-tier jobs -- the people who ought to be working with Congress to actually get stuff done, for example -- is inexplicable and self-defeating. Trump himself hasn't changed, but that's no surprise. How many wealthy 70-year-old men do you know who have undergone a sudden and complete transformation? I know of none.

Hi Eugene: I am living in Jamaica. I enjoy your insightful style of writing as it is very thought provoking. I also enjoy your depth of reasoning on Morning Joe. I would love to hear your comments on the following: I believe the conservative Christians had a lot to do with Trump's win. I am sure they loathe a lot of the president's character, but for them is issues of abortion, same sex marriage etc were issues that struck to the very heart of the belief system and they in fact preferred a crazy president rather than an anfry God. Your thoughts? Steve

Hi, Steve. I wish I could deliver my answer in person -- Jamaica sounds nice, right about now. I think a  lot of evangelical Christians made the kind of calculation you describe, although if they had really listened to Trump they would have heard a total lack of enthusiasm for turning back the clock on abortion or same-sex marriage. He was able to seem to champion conservative Christians' issues without actually doing so.

Surprised this hasn't been talked about more.... Currently the ACA requires all plans include coverage in specific areas - maternity, etc. That applies not only to ACA plans but those offered by employers and in the private market. IF changes are made to allow reductions in required coverage - drugs, birthing, mental health, etc. wouldn't that also apply to employer coverage? Wouldn't that give license to reducing coverage potentially for everyone, as companies use this to reduced their costs? Couldn't employers decide to not cover pre-existing conditions or at least charge them what the market will bear if the state ops out? Don't think most of us can afford to ignore this debate .....

The latest version of the GOP replacement bill would indeed let states opt out of, basically, everything. And it would sharply reduce the federal contribution toward Medicaid. If this mess can't even get out of the House, it doesn't have a prayer in the Senate. And it's the total opposite of what Trump promised during the campaign.

Sometime tomorrow, Ann Coulter is planning on giving a speech in Berkeley. The likelihood of protests and/or riots is approximately 100%. I am a conservative who thinks Ann Coulter is a disgrace to the conservative cause. But what's even more disgraceful are the incidents of students and anarchist punks shutting down conservative speakers with riots and outright violence. They even have some professors supporting them; one of them just wrote a big thank-you note in the New York Times. And Howard Dean showed his total ignorance on the subject, claiming the Constitution doesn't protect "hate speech", whatever that is. At least Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are showing some common sense on this issue. Your thoughts?

I've been a journalist all my adult life and don't believe in censorship. Coulter's bile is easily countered by arguments that employ logic, compassion, knowledge of history... Let her speak and obliterate her arguments in debate.

I wish all the energy demanding that the US accommodate those here illegally would be directed to shame the corrupt and violent governments whose policies force so many of their people to leave. Of course the Mexican govt spends millions of dollars to protect illegal aliens here as they're an important source of revenue (billions in remittances) and they can become an important vocal group demanding amnesty. I don't know of any other country in the world that tolerates foreigners marched in their streets demanding amnesty, and worse, waving the flags of their countries of origin. Strange to hate the country that offers them work and progress but feel nostalgia and loyalty to the country that does not.

Do you actually know any immigrants, documented or undocumented? I do, and I know precisely none who hate this country. I also know many people, born here or elsewhere, who are proud of their heritage. Do you reject yours, whatever it might be?

It seems impossible to appeal to logic, reason, or scientific expertise when discussing climate change with Republicans. But what about nationalism? What do you think about this argument? Could it work? "Maybe we're right about climate change and maybe we're wrong. But solar and wind are growing, and I want the world to be buying solar panels and wind turbines from the United States, not from China. And if the world would get off of oil and gas, where do you think that will leave countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia? Up a creek, that's where, and they will have to buy paddles from us!"

I've tried that argument. Actually, many if not most Republicans accept the scientific consensus about climate change. The problem is that many Republican officeholders do not.

Your latest column evidences the lack of understanding by non-Trump supporters about what "the wall" really means to many of us. That "Mexico would pay for it" is merely symbolic, insofar as we believe they've gotten a free ride thus far in terms of being complicit for the illegal entry from their country into the United States. But we would pay for the wall out of our pockets if need be. Make sacrifices, forego vacations and new household items, etc. But I ask you, sir: if you favor keeping a lock on your house and car door, why not one on the United States of America? So that only those on the inside get to decide whom to let in from the outside?

So "Mexico will pay for the wall" really means "Mexico will NOT pay for the wall," is that right? I guess I don't quite understand how that works. As far as Mexico being "complicit," let me ask you a question: Should the Mexican government forcibly keep people from leaving Mexico? Would it be all right for the U.S. government to keep people from leaving this country? I think not. That would make us like, say, East Germany during the Cold War. And yes, I lock my car and my house, and I applaud the fact that we secure and patrol our borders. But building a 2000-mile wall is just dumb. You know who understands that? People who actually live along the border. I don't think there's a  single member of the House whose district abuts the border who supports the wall.

The drip drip continues, but now it looks like Flynn may have broken the law, and even Republicans are saying so. Chaffetz may be quitting to run for Governor, but he obviously has no stomach for investigating the actual crimes of Republicans, despite years of investigating Clinton and finding nothing. Is the proverbial dam about to break? Are we going to see more Republicans distancing themselves from this administration, and more criminal activity coming to light?

The FBI investigation is the main event. If Flynn ends up facing criminal charges, what information does he have to trade for leniency? 

Another week and more drama from this White House. Now, it's ratings. President Trump said yesterday that "On any, on air, (CBS "Face the Nation" host John) Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It's the highest for "Face the Nation" or as I call it, "Deface the Nation." It's the highest for "Deface the Nation" since the World Trade Center....Since the World Trade Center came down. It's a tremendous advantage. That blew my mind. Last month at some dinner he was attending, one of the guests supposedly asked when Trump would fire Sean Spicer, the oft troubled mush mouthed press secretary. Trump allegedly said, "I'm not firing Sean Spicer...That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in." Again, he mentioned ratings, not competency, not job performance and certainly not the people's chagrin over Spicer's comments. What is this? Do we have a president that mainly concerns himself with TV and the internet most of the day? It's a scary scenario, if he does and ratings is his goal, not Presidential success.

If you read The Washington Post's stunning story on the president's tv-viewing habits and how they impact how the country is being run, I don't see how you could be anything but scared.

they would do much, much better to just allow expensing of all business purchases (deduct it when you buy it, no matter how it is financed and no matter how many years you can use it) than reducing the rate that much. People are needed to enforce complicated timing deduction/depreciation/etc. rules. Rates require no staff at all to compute, unless you count the staff needed to catch people who have more motivation to cheat at higher rates. I personally think that businesses would put almost as much effort into cheating at a 15% marginal rate as at a 35% rate. Saving taxes rarely costs even a small fraction of paying them, so it would still be profitable at 15%. There would be MANY fewer opportunities to cheat with simpler rules. Also, getting rid of the deduction for interest payments would make the tax code MUCH simpler. Just the rules allocating interest to previous years when they are all paid at the end of the loan take up huge amounts of enforcement time. Oh, and getting rid of the tax exempt status of a dozen or so tax-exempt organization types (social clubs? really?) would make the Code shorter, though they would then become businesses, so it doesn't save people time on the enforcement end.

I think people of all political stripes should be able to agree that (a) the tax code is way too complicated; and (b) it ought to be possible to lower nominal tax rates, eliminate loopholes and collect an equivalent amount of revenue. But doing this would require getting money out of politics (since special interests will always try to protect their custom-made loopholes). And I don't see this Supreme Court accepting genuine campaign finance reform, even if Congress could somehow be induced to pass such legislation.

I'm genuinely afraid Trump is going to strike NoKo on Thursday, during prime time. Hence the Wednesday Senate meeting.

I sure hope you're wrong. The consequences for the people of South Korea would be unthinkable.

I feel certain I never will understand Trump supporters but it seems all he has to say is he tried on major campaign promises such as repealing and replacing Obamacare and getting Mexico to pay for the wall. If he were the great wheeler dealer he boasts about being it seems as though his base would expect him to follow through. Instead, they support him no matter what. BTW - I don't want a wall and Obamacare to be improved, not replaced so I will be happy if those efforts fail.

I guess I'm with you. If people want to continue supporting Trump, that's their right. I'm happy that he keeps failing at fulfilling promises that would take the country in the wrong direction.

Today Flynn is offered up as the first sign of life in the House Oversight (Chaffitz) committee inquiry on ethics. Is this just a gesture to fool us into thinking there is real oversight going on?

If there were real oversight, there would be 24-7 hearings into the conflicts of interest of the president, his family and his cabinet. Instead, that subject draws a big yawn from committee chairmen on Capitol Hill.

Do you think Congress will appoint a Independent Commission to investigate Trump Russia? If not, what recourse do citizens have when elected officials clearly ignore the will of the people? Thanks for your great work. Your columns are awesome. I subscribe to Post because of you!

Thank you! An independent investigation is needed but unlikely, at least at this point. As I said earlier, keep an eye on the FBI probe. That's where the real action is.


And that's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for a lively and interesting hour, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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