How will you explain Donald Trump to the world?
You've probably already seen this Trump tweet, but read it again: "Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!" This late-night message offers deep insight into the president's worldview. It indicates there is no international relationship — even one with a close ally — he will hold above his "America First" strategy. And it brings veracity to a report that his call with Australia's prime minister was heated, with Trump telling the PM "this is the worst deal ever" and their conversation was "the worst call by far."
The immediate question is whether Trump will attempt to block 1,250 mostly Muslim refugees that Australia will not accept from coming to the U.S. What you may be thinking: If Australia won't accept them, why should we? Welcome to the worldview that runs the White House. But more broadly, this pattern of belligerency now extends to foreign relationships previously handled with tact.
At least four accounts of a recent call between Trump and the president of Mexico place the exchange at various levels of tension, with one report saying Trump threatened to send military forces to Mexico to "take care of" crime and drug problems. (The White House denied that account.) And Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, said Wednesday that Iran was "on notice" for its "destabilizing behavior across the entire Middle East." Trump piled on via Twitter.
For now, world leaders may be more inclined to mind Trump's threats. A raid in Yemen — conducted based on intelligence that was reportedly known to be poor — led to the deaths of at least 14 and as many as 30 Yemenis, and one Navy SEAL. It is unclear how much knowledge Trump was given about the attack before authorizing the raid. But various accounts suggest the attack did not go anything close to how it was planned. And despite the result, Trump heralded the aggressive operation as a success.
Many people will love Trump's approach. But there are more than 900 people at the State Department alone deeply worried about Trump's moves. Either way, this pivot from the leader of the free world will have to be explained to allies and enemies alike. Imagine describing Trump's behavior next time you're overseas or meeting someone from another country. Whether you defend or criticize him is irrelevant. How will you explain him?
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America — and how it affects you. Welcome to the political newsletter Donald Trump once called "the worst by far."Want to receive this as a daily email in your inbox? Subscribe here.
• Today: The focus turns back to foreign policy, with President Donald Trump entirely resetting how the United States interacts with other countries. Is it a needed change? Or will it backfire?
• More: Lots of confirmation news, including a looming 50-50 vote on Betsy DeVos. Rex Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of state, and Jeff Sessions is on his way to becoming attorney general.
• Even more: A day into the battle, Trump's Supreme Court nominee appears headed for confirmation.Yes, more: Trump's Cabinet nominees are being slowed down by Democratic obstruction — but only slightly.
• Trump's agenda today: Grabbing lunch with executives from Harley-Davidson, then meeting with a handful of senators and congressmen.
• Trump vs. Schwarzenegger: Yes, it's a thing.
Will Gorsuch be confirmed?
These tea leaves are difficult to read. But yes — at this point, it seems Neil Gorsuch will become the next associate justice of the Supreme Court — largely because Democrats are not Republicans. Senate liberals have largely made clear (with one exception) they will not oppose Trump's nominee just because Trump nominated him. That statement may sound familiar in the inverse. When Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia last year, Republicans refused to even give Garland a hearing. The gamble paid off for Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, and now leading Democrats refuse to play the same game. "If we repeated (McConnell's) strategy, shame on us," Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, told Politico.
The politics of this are tricky. Democrats are facing establishment pressure to deny Gorsuch a seat on the court, fearing his vote will destroy public sector unions, environmental regulations and more. But Democratic senators from states Trump won — five of whom are up for reelection in 2018 — will face withering pressure to confirm Gorsuch. With 52 senators, the GOP needs eight Democratic defections.
Something on Gorsuch you need to read: Where he stands on all the key issues. And don't forget, if Republicans have difficulty reaching 60 votes, the president is already encouraging them to "go nuclear."
The latest on cabinet confirmation votes, Congressional action
The key theme: Democratic obstruction has attracted headlines but is failing to substantially delay Trump's nominees.
The biggest story: The vote to confirm Betsy DeVos is expected to tie at 50-50. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine said they will not support DeVos' nomination when she comes to a vote before the Senate. If that vote count holds, Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie — which has never happened in the history of Cabinet confirmations. DeVos' confirmation vote is expected to happen on Friday.
While the vote was somewhat close, Rex Tillerson was easily confirmed as secretary of state. The vote was 56-43, with three Democrats and an independent joining Republicans. Tillerson was sworn in on Wednesday and met with Trump at the White House. His job will immediately focus on easing State Department concerns about Trump's foreign policy and translating Trumpian missives to world leaders.
Jeff Sessions also moved forward on Wednesday. After a delayed Tuesday vote, the Republican was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now face a vote before the full Senate. He is expected to be confirmed. The Alabaman has been criticized by Democrats for harsh stances on voting access, civil rights and immigration. Republicans have consistently praised and defended Sessions, but never enough to convince Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. "I know Sen. Sessions and I know Sen. Sessions is no champion of voting rights," Franken said during a Senate hearing.
Democratic obstruction continued around the confirmation processes of other Trump administration nominees — so Republicans literally changed the rules. Unable to hold votes on Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price on Tuesday because Democrats boycotted committee meetings, GOP senators suspended the rules Wednesday and pushed the nominees forward. Mnuchin, nominee for treasury secretary, and Price, nominee to run Health and Human Services, will now be voted on by the full Senate. Both are expected to be confirmed.
But the Democrats are not done with this tactic. Senators boycotted a committee meeting for Scott Pruitt on Wednesday, preventing a vote on Trump's controversial nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency. The committee will meet again Thursday to consider Pruitt's nomination. To circumvent the boycott, the GOP committee members could suspend the rules and vote as their peers did on Wednesday.
As these votes draw headlines, Republicans are moving to do away with Obama-era environmental regulations. On the Senate docket today: Nullifying the Stream Protection Rule. Finalized by Obama's Interior Department in December, the rule added restrictions on coal mining to protect streambeds in states like West Virginia, where mining can deposit thousands of tons of rock and dirt in valleys that disrupt water flow and kill animals. The House approved repealing the policy, citing it as an unnecessary burden on energy companies, on Wednesday.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• No contest: Obama beats Trump in TV ratings, a fact the president is sure to scorn. (Politico)
• A Democratic lawmaker has introduced a bill that would remove Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. Trump's move earlier this week to put Bannon on the council drew the ire of Democrats and former national security officials. (the Hill)
• The mother of Eric Garner, a black man whose death by strangulation from a police officer drew a national outcry, said in an interview with Mic it is her duty to fight Trump. Los Angeles is taking steps to protect immigrants from deportation. (Mic)
• The alt-right loses out on Reddit. The forum-based website shut down groups associated with white supremacy and nationalists. (Mic)
• Trump may move (soon) to target visa programs that favor technology companies. (Wall Street Journal)
• Wednesday's awkwardness: Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seem to believe Frederick Douglass is still alive. (Mic)
• The Inspector General at DHS is investigating the Muslim Ban. (Intercept)
The loyal opposition: Race for DNC head heats up
Rep. Keith Ellison undoubtedly wanted the focus on his press conference with Khizr Khan. But former Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic National Committee rival Tom Perez had different plans. Ellison, one of the two leading contenders to run the DNC, told Mic Wednesday that Biden's endorsement of Perez in the race to become the next DNC chair was an unsurprising "demonstration of loyalty."
But Biden's endorsement was a key show of support for Perez from a popular party leader. It also demonstrates the growing rift among Democrats over who party insiders should select to run the party in the Trump era when they decide later this month. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a prominent and early Ellison backer, shot a stinger at Biden by suggesting Perez represents the party's "failed status-quo approach."
Ellison said in an interview a key reason he should be supported is his ability to fundraise. The Minnesota congressman has raised a bit more than $100,000 beyond Perez. But Ellison announced his bid for DNC chair a month before Perez, the former Labor secretary.
At minimum, we can hope for more Biden vs. Bernie sniping on Twitter. More seriously, this is an important moment for Democrats to decide who will run their national operation to beat the GOP in 2018 and Trump in 2020. To anyone who considers themselves a member of the "resistance," that should matter.
Correction: Feb. 2, 2017