The Week on Planet Trump: Republicans Breaking Ranks as Mueller Prepares to Prosecute

Monday: Response to Niger Attack is a New Low

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday pushed back on the idea that the controversy over a Niger ambush that left four Americans dead is a "defining moment" for the Trump presidency.

"I would not say that this is the defining moment," Sanders said during a George Washington University panel discussion about Trump's first year in office, which also included several White House reporters.

Sanders's remarks fall on the heels of a drawn out controversy over Trump's delayed Niger response after four U.S. soldiers died in an ambush earlier this month, as well as a disputed account of the contents of a phone call the president made to one of their widows.

Trump attacked Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson (D) on Twitter last week after she blasted the president for telling the widow of one of the soldiers that he “knew what he signed up for.”

Olivia Beavers, The Hill

Tuesday: Another Republican Senator Breaks Rank

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake announced his decision to retire from the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, pairing the news with a blistering attack on President Trump.

“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake said on the Senate floor. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength—because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.”

By helping to push Flake out, Trump is making a gamble: The seat could end up in the hands of a far more friendly Republican, but nominating a more fringe candidate could also give Democrats a chance at a pickup, and thus weaken Trump’s allies in Congress.

David A. Graham, The Atlantic

Wednesday: Trump Tax Reforms in Doubt

Chuck Schumer has shown he’s willing to cut deals with President Donald Trump. But the Senate minority leader says Democrats will take a hard-line approach with the White House on taxes — and everything else — until Trump’s GOP-only approach hits a dead end.

Schumer’s comments about how Democrats will approach a tax overhaul took on added significance this week as Trump dug deeper into a bitter feud with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) over the GOP’s tax efforts. Corker has expressed skepticism about supporting any bill that adds to the deficit. Republicans can lose only two votes in the Senate if they hope to pass tax reform along party lines, which is their current plan.

Ben White, Politico

Thursday: The Left Can Manage Its Own Upset in 2020

The election of Donald Trump was, in many respects, the greatest presidential election upset in modern U.S. history. Now, with his presidency reeling amid a special-counsel probe, multiple resignations, an absence of legislative achievements and dismal approval ratings, many Americans already seem to view his victory as the equivalent of a hundred-year flood — in other words, the type of surprise that today’s voters won’t see again.

A series of powerful, entrenched factors have brought the American Dream to an end. Economists generally cite globalization, accelerating technology, increased income inequality and the decline of unions. What’s noteworthy is that these are long-term pressures that show no signs of abating.

There is no reason to think, with continued income weakness, that we will not see a similarly discontented electorate in upcoming elections — including because the Trump administration, like its recent predecessors, will not have delivered better household economics. Which suggests volatile voting behavior again. And with a right-wing candidate having won the presidency last year, and voters often seeking the opposite in the next election, don’t be surprised if a distinctly left-wing candidate takes the White House in 2020. President Sanders, anyone?

Roger C. Altman, The Washington Post

Friday: Obsessed with ObamaCare, GOP Fails on Children's Health  

Nearly a month after a deadline came and went to fund a program that provides health care to nearly 9 million children in the United States, congressional Democrats are growing resigned and fearful that the issue won’t get resolved until the end of the year.

Congress failed to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) prior to the deadline at the end of September. That left many states having to scramble to determine how funding could be maintained for recipients for the remainder of the year and beyond.

Progress has been made on two separate bills—one in the House and one in the Senate—to reauthorize funding this month. But the concern expressed by Democrats on the Hill is that the rush to pass a bill through the House, which is viewed as the more partisan effort to break the logjam, could end up impeding progress more than it streamlines it.

Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast

Saturday: Trump Uses JFK Files to Assert His Authority

Since taking office, Trump has challenged the integrity of intelligence leaders, moved to exert more control over U.S. spying agencies and accused his predecessor of using government spycraft to monitor his campaign. In the JFK files matter, one White House official said, Trump wanted to make clear he wouldn't be bullied by the agencies.

"After strict consultation with General Kelly, the CIA and other agencies, I will be releasing ALL JFK files other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living," Trump wrote in a Friday tweet. "I am doing this for reasons of full disclosure, transparency and in order to put any and all conspiracy theories to rest."

Zeke Miller, ABC News

Sunday: As Mueller Prepares First Charges, Investigation Looms Over Trump

Imagine if special counsel Robert Mueller finds sufficient evidence to charge President Donald Trump, but his hands are tied because he or the Department of Justice concludes that they cannot indict a sitting president? Could Mueller instead identify President Trump by name as an “unindicted co-conspirator” when bringing charges against other individuals? The stakes are enormously high. Such action would have some of the same reverberations across the country as a criminal indictment of the president.

Having mined through the arguments on different sides of this issue, it seems clear that Mueller would have an open path to name President Trump in an indictment—for example as an unindicted co-conspirator—if there’s sufficient evidence of the president’s involvement in criminal activity within the jurisdiction of the special counsel. The Watergate special prosecutor’s legal team appeared to think there was not just an availability but a profound responsibility to name President Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator if that’s where the evidence led them, and that may rightfully be Mueller’s lodestar.

Ryan Goodman, Slate

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