That was some weird sh*t —George W. Bush

​As Victor

Welcome to the whacky and wonderful world of Washington politics.

President Trump and Speaker Ryan lost the first big test of their budding bromance as Tryancare, their answer to Affordable Health Care failed to  make it on to the House floor after a long night of negotiations.

In the wake of the goings-on lurk important insights into a still young, little-known and less-understood administration. The back and forth negotiations between the White House and the several factions of the Republican congressional majorities, overheard chats in hallways and restrooms and backstories reported by marauding gangs of reporters, are all being mined for  any light they may shed on the next time.

Trump and company have been in power long enough now that patterns are beginning to emerge. Much has been said and much written about The Donald’s agenda and those of other Republicans—either alone or shared by like-minded cohorts.

It is useful, from time to time, to step back from the substance of things to consider the play of emotions surrounding them.

Politics is personal–people emotional. Politicians are no more able to check their feelings at the door, before sitting down to business, than a 16-year-old on a first date with the one of their dreams.

In the supercharged air of Capital City, emotions are running particularly hot these days. Above, is a wedge of black swans. Tryancare was only the first to land.

The Agony of Defeat

The President has made no secret of his dislike of losing nor of his willingness to disassociate himself from any failure. It could not have been easy for him to order Speaker Ryan to pull the Tryancare bill off the calendar.

The Donald showed a much greater willingness to do a bit of swamp diving than his predecessor. Donald the Dealmaker spoke with over 120 Republican representatives, including the much-vaunted House Freedom Coalition (HFC)—keepers of the conservative flame.

Somewhat surprisingly, Trump accepted the need to compromise. To avoid a very contentious public airing of some nasty laundry, he made the call to pull the bill.

Tryancare was expected to lay the foundation of a triumphal arch commemorating fulfillment of the promise to repeal and replace the much-maligned Obamacare. Unfortunately for the President and the Speaker, the bill pleased no one—not insurance companies, not the medical professions, not AARP, not even a majority of Trump’s own supporters.

The death of Tryancare may yet be one more example of fake news. It’s being reported that Pence, Preibus and Bannon met with the HFC and offered new compromise language more in line with its demands.

For many, the non-vote was a wise decision. If even half of what the Congressional Budget Office predicted happened once the bill have became law,  Mr. Trump and the Republican Party would have had a lot of explaining to do.

Many have already been asked to explain themselves—and none too politely—in town hall meetings. It is somewhat surprising why Trump seems to further placate the HFC, especially considering his twitted threats.

How exactly the Tryancare debacle is impacting the multipartite relationships—either existing or emerging–between the White House, the Speaker, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), Republican moderates, various Republican governors and conservative think tanks—is not entirely clear. That it’s having an impact is hard to dispute.

Tryancare and Federal Clean Energy and Environment Programs/Policies

Nothing in politics is ever unrelated to something else. Think of the connectedness of political events as a less subtle butterfly flapping its wings in China causing a tornado in the Great Plains sort of thing.

The Tryancare failure is the claimed catalyst for the President’s changing the order and timing of his next gaggle of initiatives. It may also have changed his relationship with Speaker Ryan.

Trump’s tweets in the days immediately following the failed vote attacked HFC and its members. Ryan had convinced the White House to make healthcare the first item on the administration’s agenda and stood shoulder to shoulder with the President through it all.

Having had seven years to craft an Obamacare replacement, his leadership post and the relative cordiality of Republican House members to that point, it seemed reasonable for The Donald to defer to Ryan’s recommendation. Having kissed and made up just prior to November’s vote, Trump may also have been looking to protect the Speaker from suffering the same fate as Boehner and Cantor.

An early ouster of Ryan from the Speaker’s chair would certainly complicate things and strengthen HFC’s bargaining position vis-à-vis Trump. The outsized influence of fewer than 40 members is not entirely appreciated by more moderate Republican colleagues.

Still, Trump’s nearly manic dislike of losing and Bannon’s previously expressed enmity towards Ryan had many thinking that Trump’s twits would be aimed at the Speaker. Given the recent travels of Pence, Preibus and Bannon to the Hill  and their meeting–sans Ryan—with the HFC, there still may be a shift  in the offing—a lot will depend on how well Ryan ushers other initiatives, e.g. tax reform, through the House and if an acceptable Plan B replacement can be convinced to sit in the hot seat.

The willingness of the White House to make additional concessions may simply reflect the repugnance of losing—in which case it confirms what is  already known.

However, should these new overtures be based on Trump’s defense of self, it suggests a much greater attachment to the deal than the dogma. In which case, his talk of reaching out to Democrats may well be real. If so, it opens a door to a whole new set of possibilities.

Democrats have a lot of reasons to mistrust The Donald—a penchant for spouting alternative truths and dictator-envy being but two of them. Arguably, however, his egocentricity may be relied upon.

Any real possibility of collaboration with Trump immediately gives Democrats something they currently lack–leverage! The Donald’s desire to deal has already been thwarted by the HFC. Should the latest proposed changes to Tryancare prove unacceptable, Trump is unlikely to ask these little caesers a third time.

Whether motivated by a desire for revenge, simple spite or a genuine desire to get something done, Trump is intent on getting things done. His options are limited. Even should the White House and the HFC make some accommodation in the matter of healthcare, Trump will need to reach out to Democrats—if for no other reason than to maintain an upper hand in future negotiations with the Caucus.

Kelsey Snell recently wrote in the Washington Post:

Democrats in Congress have a new and surprising tool at their disposal in the era of one-party Republican rule in President Trump’s Washington: power. It turns out that Republicans need the minority party to help them avoid a government shutdown at the end of April, when the current spending deal to fund the government expires. And Democrats have decided, for now at least, that they will use their leverage to reassert themselves and ensure the continued funding of their top priorities — by negotiating with Republicans.

What better way for Democrats to use their leverage than pushing back the Republican assault on federal clean energy and environmental programs and policies?

Although it is unlikely the full panoply of cuts will prove acceptable even to many congressional Republicans, the sheer magnitude of proposed gutting bodes badly for maintaining even minimally sufficient federal involvement.

In response to a standard Scott Pruitt defense of the administration’s proposed anti-regulation campaign on Fox News, Chris Wallace commented:

 You’re talking about regulatory overreach… But the question is, there are 166 million people living in unclean air, and you’re going to remove some of the pollution restrictions, which would make the air even worse.

Emotion as a motivator of political action was very visible in the overwhelming opposition of voters to Tryancare. People are often passionate in their resistance to being screwed.  It was a similarly significant factor contributing to Trump’s upset victory.

I’ve written before of my qualms about waving opinion surveys around to prove how much the public cares about clean energy and environmental protection. I don’t doubt the sincerity of respondents, the gap between what people say and what they do, however, can be difficult to explain.

Today, I believe such surveys represent a deep pool of support that can be tapped in the coming battles to keep the federal government engaged in defense of the planet. Wallace’s response to Pruitt’s attempt to justify the administration’s massive deregulation effort based on the alleged over-regulation reflects the common sense most of us possess to one degree or another.

The excess of effort expended by climate deniers to gut federal clean energy and environmental programs may well prove to be its Achilles heel. Such exuberance blinds the far-right to the power potential of left-side progressives. Despite differences in their objectives, populists and progressives share a mistrust of the establishment.

Sanders’ campaign tapped into the passion and willingness of voters to act on their environmental concerns. Populist and progressive voters in 2016 let it be known in large numbers they would no longer be cowed by the establishment.

Why far right politicians peddle the idea that left to their own devices, fossil fuel companies and other heavy industrials will protect the environment before their bottom lines is a mystery to me. I will leave my suspicions why for another day.

It now appears that Trump wants Congress to address–simultaneously— tax reform AND infrastructure, issues the equal of healthcare in both complexity and an absence of Republican single-mindedness. Add to this Donald’s beloved border wall and he has to make one helluva three-cushion shot.

Quite frankly, I doubt The Donald, Ryan, McConnell and Pence can pull it off—particularly without reaching out to Democrats. Then, I didn’t much believe I would be sitting here in April typing Trump after the title President.

Clearly there is reason to believe that federal clean energy and environmental programs and policies will not be as decimated as the Administration and congressional climate deniers would wish. What and how much will be left standing depends upon the next cards played and the players’ ability to resist being over played. It will especially depend upon Trump’s desire to prove he is the brilliant dealmaker he says he is.

Like a coin, this story has two sides. It is certainly possible to consider many of these same events and conclude that federal clean energy and environment will be among the victims of these same circumstances.

Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was straightforward. We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.–Mick Mulvaney, OMB Director

As Victim

No politician—not even The Donald—can expect to stay in power without being able to point to some accomplishments. Dystopian visions will only get you so far. Surrogates can only rationalize for so long.

Seeing pictures of The Donald walking around the White House grounds the other day, I found myself wondering if he might not be having second thoughts about being the 45th President of the United States. It was a sunny Spring day here in Capital City and, for whatever reason, he just didn’t look very happy.

I don’t know that I blame him. Less than a hundred days into his first term and   his problems seem to be growing at a much faster clip than his accomplishments. Tryancare’s failure to make it on to the House floor after weeks of negotiation couldn’t have pleased him.

Add to this: the intrigues surrounding Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 elections; the involvement of Trump advisors and nominees with Russia; a likely second refusal of Tryancare by the House Freedom Caucus or perhaps a first by the Tuesday Group; the circling of hostile Democrats; and cellar popularity numbers.

When totaled, these factors paint a pretty dismal picture. Clearly The Donald needs a victory if doubts of his deal-making abilities aren’t to grow.

Put yourself in Kellyanne’s Jimmy Choo’s, Bannon’s New Balance sneakers or Ivanka’s silver slippers. What would you recommend?

If your answer didn’t include phrases like smoke screen or finding and focusing on something most of Trump’s supporters, alt-righters, conservative think tanks and blue dog-Democrats might all be convinced to rally ‘round, don’t dream of standing at the right hand of The Donald any time soon.

The one promise Washington policymakers—rookies and veterans alike– can make with conviction and confidence is effective obstructionism. Although in this case, the more appropriate word is probably undoing–as in any and all of Obama’s executive orders remotely related to the problem of climate change. A problem Trumpsters contend is fake science wrapped in the guise of phony predictions of Earth’s early demise.

One of the most galvanizing phrases in the Republican lexicon is: we don’t need no lousy environmental regulations. For a president in need of proving to his supporters he still has it, dismantling federal clean energy and environment programs is a sure winner.

When Negatives Are Positive

Environmental deregulation by executive orders is pretty much the perfect solution from the White House’s perspective.

  • Much of it can be accomplished through reverse executive orders directing outright rescissions, suspensions or the commencement of years of review.
  • It allows the Attorney General and the General Counsels of the subject matter agencies to ask the courts to hold existing law suits in abeyance, until new studies are completed.
  • Major revisions require agencies to follow lengthy and likely contentious procedures, e.g. formal hearings and stakeholder involvement, before they can be finalized.

Discounting the 8 or so years of legal arguments it took before EPA was told by SCOTUS it actually had the authority to make the endangerment finding, it took the Agency 14 months just to go through the rule-writing process. After its release in 2009, the finding was subjected to several years of litigation, some of which was captained by the current EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. (see below)

Even the recent plethora of promised law suits play into the hands of deniers.  For those dismissive of the accepted science of global warming, a delay is nearly  as good as deregulation or the actual dismantling of the multitude of federal programs and policies.

Environmental deregulation offers a platform from which clean energy regulations may be struck from the books. Consider the recent ordering of EPA to reopen its mid-term review of Corporate Average Fuel Economy  (CAFÉ) standards.

Right out of the gate The Donald earns points with his base, including a significant number of industries, e.g. fossil and automotive, and the House Freedom Caucus (HFC). In the case of the Caucus, it offers the opportunity to maintain cordial relations even after their scuttling of Tryancare. It is in both their interests to continue the search for common opportunities.

Neither NRDC, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Earthjustice nor anyone else will have an easy time suing EPA, the State Department or other federal agencies over the next year or more, for what they may be thinking. Thoughts are rarely actionable offenses.

Even before presidential orders are executed, the administration can earn political points for putting antagonists on notice of what may be coming. Pruitt’s evasiveness when asked if California will still be allowed to set tougher mileage standards than the federal government stirs the political pot.

Standard operating procedure for Trump and his administration is invocation of the five-year old’s refrain of for me to know and you to find out. As I had stated at the very beginning of this article, emotions should not to be dismissed but considered for what they may say about the next time.

An odd addition to the list of reasons why attacks on clean energy and environmental programs and policies has cropped up. Within the last few days, reports of Pruitt’s being attacked by the right have been coming out.

According to reliable sources:

 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is coming under fire from conservatives amid a simmering behind-the-scenes fight over how far to take President…Trump’s push to undo his predecessor’s climate agenda.

It appears Pruitt prevailed upon the President to refrain from ordering the Agency to reverse the 2009 endangerment finding–fearing it would immediately trigger a series of federal law suit. Suits not unlike those filed by West Virginia, Oklahoma and others in the wake of the Clean Power Plan. As I’ve written before, these challenges would be the mirror opposites of those made to the CPP.

Rather than claiming the EPA is overreaching its authority, plaintiffs in these cases would be charging that the Agency is [under-reaching] its authorities given it by the Clean Air Act, thereby, shirking its responsibility of protecting citizens from legitimate threats to their health, welfare and safety.

Pruitt may also have had another reason for asking Trump to spare the endangerment finding. His leadership of the pack in the unsuccessful case Coalition for Responsible Regulation v EPA challenging the original declaration now puts him in a very awkward position as the EPA Administrator; his involvement taints any possible claim of neutrality.

Should the Agency rescind or even attempt to change substantially the earlier declaration while Pruitt occupies the corner office opens the Agency, the Administrator and the President to charges of rigging the system.

The original finding was based upon a preponderance of mainstream scientific evidence. Any change of the finding—based on the research of deniers—would be immediately suspect and quite possibly struck down as a preconceived conclusion.

Myron Ebell, Trump’s EPA transition team leader and the Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), is a leading critic of Pruitt’s position on endangerment. There is more than a bit of truth in Ebell’s claim that anything other than outright rescission requires coming up with a Trump Clean Power Plan.

The reason Ebell’s right is courts are unlikely to give much credence to denier science.  Simply in terms of the preponderance of mainstream scientific findings and opinion, climate change and its consequences are real. Any evidence to the contrary is going to be labelled as an outlier.

Whether they will ever give voice to it, deniers are at a significant disadvantage in courts of law, because of well-established precedents. As a result, they much prefer to plead their case in public or in Congress.

Ebell is not alone in his resentment of Pruitt’s position. James Delingpole, one of Breitbart’s bright boys, ranted the other day that the new Administrator is more interested in building his political career than he is taking on the Green Blob.

There is an odd angle to Ebell and the alt-right’s assault on Pruitt.  It gives The Donald an opportunity to claim he is an environmentalist after all. Were he not, the story will go, he would have ordered an outright reversal of the endangerment finding.

Think about it. For the price of stationary, a few faux leather folders and 20 bucks worth of engraved Bics, Mr. Trump would accomplish pretty much of what he promised on the campaign trail, without ever having to leave the Oval Office or hearing how he failed to close the deal.

That’s some powerful incentive to persist in the victimization of federal clean energy and environment programs and policies!

A couple of final thoughts:

My reason for presenting the victor/victim discussion is the importance I place on clean energy and environment advocates and defenders having as good an understanding of what might be going on as possible. Consider this as a “can’t know the players without a program” thing.

Washington tends to engage in torturous reasoning that can be very confusing to anyone not tainted by political experiences. The more advocates know, the more likely they are to be able to present their points in a way the members of Congress and their staff can relate to.

Which brings me to the point of being careful of what you ask for.  My admonishment is this: don’t let decisionmakers get off cheaply in response to your requests. Is the administration’s willingness to remain a signatory on the Paris Accords a  meaningful response in relation to its attacks on federal climate and clean energy policies and programs?

Before answering, consider that several major coal companies are asking Trump to stay on the Accords—particularly if the administration is willing to fund clean coal research. Other coal companies disagree.

No matter. My opinion on this:

OPPOSE THE U.S. REMAINING AT THE TABLE IF THE ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES ITS EFFORTS TO RAPE FEDERAL CLEAN ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE PROGRAMS AND POLICIES

lest the adjective HYPOCRITE be added to the list of things other nations may say about us.

That’s my opinion, yours may be different. All I am asking is for you to think about it.

Finally, don’t let D.C. shenanigans make you forget that whatever The Donald and his doyen of deniers might say or do, clean energy and environmental protection is here to stay.

Yes, it would be better for a lot of people and a lot of countries if our federal government stayed engaged. Just remember, as the preponderance of science recognizes the existence of the climate change problem and the need to do something about it, so do a preponderance of people and nations.

Ed.note: This post is published as two separate posts on Joel’s blog here and here.

Teaser photo credit: By Martin Falbisoner – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28359031