Early Returns

The President No One Wants to Talk To

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Is this thing on?

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Plenty of people were all abuzz over Donald Trump's suggestion that he might be taping some White House conversations. Of course. After all, it not only contained obvious echoes of Watergate, but as a practical matter it also raised the possibility that if anything illegal or improper has been going on, evidence might be available. Others made the sensible observation that even if nothing comes of this, the increased suspicion of taping will decrease the ability of Trump to receive candid advice from anyone. That's true, I suppose, although we have no evidence to date that Trump is willing to listen to anything that might be embarrassing if it got out. 

In fact -- assuming no tapes really exist -- there's a much greater problem for Trump in his public who-said-what fight with James Comey. Yes, it's bad if the president secretly tapes his own conversations. But it's even worse, I suspect, if the president demonstrates that he's willing to outright lie about what people said to him in private. 

Of course, it's possible that Trump is telling the truth and Comey's accounts of their conversations (which we only have secondhand so far, since Comey isn't talking yet) are false. I'll say, however, that I doubt very many people who need to speak with the president as part of their job trust Trump in this case over Comey. Comey has a reputation for truth-telling, perhaps to a fault (he couldn't shut up about what he actually thought about Hillary Clinton's actions). Trump ... doesn't. So Trump's problem might not be that people refuse to be candid because he might be taping them to use it against them; his problem might be that no one wants to talk to him without (friendly) witnesses. 

1. Molly Reynolds at Lawfare on the obstruction options available to Senate Democrats if they want to retaliate against Trump (or put pressure on Senate Republicans to take action). I'm fairly skeptical that they can be effective. Trump doesn't seem to care very much about subcabinet nominations going through rapidly, and the legislative agenda just isn't very heavy, meaning that demands on Senate floor time are less than usual. Meanwhile, if Democrats attempt a bigger shutdown of the Senate, it's certainly possible for Republicans to retaliate by changing the rules (or, more precisely, the precedents and interpretations of those rules). That's not to say Democrats shouldn't attempt to use Senate rules. Just that it's not entirely clear what their best strategy might be, and one should not assume that adoption of a strategy other than total obstruction means they are "spineless" (as some have accused them of being). 

2. Lilly Goren at Brookings on women in the Trump administration

3. Julia Azari and Seth Masket at FiveThirtyEight on whether Comey makes for a constitutional crisis. As I've said, I'm not sure what purchase we get on the question by invoking that phrase -- but worth reading anyway. 

4. Doug Chapin asks some good questions about Trump's voter fraud commission

5. Julian Sanchez at Just Security argues that finding evidence of secret collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is the wrong question to focus on

6. David Frum details all the weaknesses of a special prosecutor in the Trump/Russia scandal. He's right about that -- but it's why what's needed is an independent counsel and a Senate select committee. Both. 

7. Nice reporting from David Weigel at the Washington Post on how Republicans are selling their health-care reform bill to their constituents. 

8. A good Charles Sykes item on Republicans who don't much like Trump except for how unhappy he makes liberals. The saddest part about this? While I'm sure some of this is just cynical exploitation, I suspect a part of it is Republicans who really can't imagine the possibility of someone whom liberals dislike being, well, not good for the nation. 

9. And my Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson on the Trump problem that can't be fixed. Alas, this was all perfectly obvious a year ago, and yet Republican party actors let it happen when they had a realistic chance to do something about it. 

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE
    Comments