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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- January 22, 2017

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(Washington, D.C.) – As we’ve completed the transition, I continue now with part two of my column from last week about looking back at one President, and looking ahead to another. I am not going to dissect the Inaugural Address, simply because a speech is - well – just a speech. I want to focus more on the political landscape instead. There’s a lot to “brunch” on this week:

“Housework” – Republicans had a huge majority in the House of Representatives before Donald Trump came along. While they lost a handful of seats in 2016, the GOP still holds a big advantage; and it’s an advantage they won on their own, long before Trump showed up. Because of this, many House members will not feel obligated to support Trump’s every whim and wish. Be watching for some blow-ups from GOP House members from time to time.

“Senatorial” – The other side of the capitol is an entirely issue. Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority, and at least four of those Senate seats were probably won on Trump’s coattails. In 2016, those seats were in trouble in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and North Carolina. Three were states where Trump was running behind most of the year; yet he pulled off victories in all. Control of the U.S. Senate would never have been maintained without Trump’s influence on these key seats. Trump can demand and enforce loyalty in the Senate; but he has no such clout in the House.

“Unplanned Events” – One of the things to watch for with President Trump is how he deals with any unplanned events. No one wants to see disasters or attacks, but they happen during every administration. In many ways, the Iran hostage crisis defined President Jimmy Carter’s term, even though it happened in his final fifteen months in office. President George W. Bush will always be remembered for how he responded in the aftermath to 9/11. These are defining moments. Anyone can campaign on a laundry list of promises, but the real test for any President comes when the world deviates from the script of planned events.

“Pressing Matters” – My advice to President Trump is to try to develop a better relationship with the press as an industry. I know there are going to be the occasional flare-ups with this reporter or that anchor. But Trump would be ill-served to launch a pitched battle with the entire industry for the next four years. Ronald Reagan was able work past conflicts with the press, mostly by his tremendous charm and the humor which he had in spades. Trump’s persona is not Reaganesque. Reagan’s battle with the pesky ABC reporter Sam Donaldson became a hallmark of the Reagan White House. Donaldson clearly often got under Reagan’s skin, but Reagan used his own disarming charm to often win the day (and to win public support as well.)

“From Obamacare to Trumpcare” – This is going to be the first marquee fight to watch. Since 2010, Republicans in the House and Senate promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. Then along came Trump with his campaign promise to “repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better.” Now you hear many Congressional Republicans saying the same thing. In essence, they’ve now boxed themselves into a corner and are going to need to produce some sort of government-subsidized health care for perhaps 20 million people. It’s always hard to take away a benefit once it’s been granted. This is going to be a political minefield!

“Uncharted Waters” – Donald Trump will be the sixth President never to have been elected to any previous political office. The other five were George Washington, Zachary Tayler, Ulysses Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower. But Washington, Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower had high-ranking military experience, and the military is very political in its own way. As for Herbert Hoover, who had been appointed U.S Secretary of Commerce, he - like Trump - relied heavily on his business experience in the U.S. and overseas. Unlike Trump, Hoover did have at least some unelected experience in politics, so with Trump we are clearly in uncharted territory.

“Pence-ive Mood” – As fascinating and as controversial as Trump can be, I believe the key person to keep an eye on is Vice President Mike Pence. Will he fade into the background like so many other VPs? Or will he be the key point man in Congress for the political neophyte Trump. The new President has offended various House and Senate leaders in the past, causing a need for fence mending. Trump will need a Sherpa-like guide to get his bills through Congress; and Pence – as a former House Member – may be the critical player here.

“Use Your Intelligence” – President Trump needs to patch up troubles with the intelligence community, especially the CIA. They have extensive experience in areas where he has absolutely none. He should dial back his public criticism (though quietly deal with clear intelligence failures and problems that do exist). President Trump needs these folk more than they need him! He’d be wise to remember that.

How would you advise President Trump? Just leave your comments by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: MCM

“The Sunday Political Brunch” - January 15, 2017

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(Washington, D.C.) - It is the Sunday in between Presidencies in the United States. It's time to look back on what President Obama accomplished, and forward to what President-elect Trump might accomplish down the road. We are in the “heart of the beast” of politics in the nation's capital for the next two weekends, so let's “brunch” on that:

“Making History” - I believe President Obama's most significant accomplishment is simply having been the first African-American President. That was no small task. His Presidency speaks volumes about the significant decrease in the racial divide in this country. That's right! I said “decrease,” despite all the hue and cry that racism is worse now than it was, say, forty years ago. The numbers back this conclusion up. Obama received more votes from white Americans in 2008 and 2012 than Al Gore received in 2000 or John Kerry, in 2004. The willingness of a majority of Americans to put then-Senator Obama in the White House was ground-breaking, historic and a sign of how far this nation has progressed with regard to race relations.

“Killing bin Laden” - Critics thought President Obama took too much credit for the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden. But go back and look at Obama's statement in which he clearly and rightly credited U.S. Intelligence and military personnel for making it happen. Just remember that the final call is up to the Commander in Chief. If he doesn't give the order, the mission doesn't happen. That power can cut both ways, of course. President Jimmy Carter's attempt at a military rescue of the U.S. Hostages in Iran was a disaster and cost him dearly. President Obama made the right call on the right day by taking the right advice. Good riddance, bin Laden!

“Obamacare” - Whether you support the Affordable Care Act, or not, the fact that it passed is a lesson in political willpower and persuasion. People as diverse as President Richard Nixon and Senator Ted Kennedy tried to craft a national health care plan, but couldn't find the votes. President Obama saw a rare opportunity in 2010 - with Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate - and took the risk. Its supporters “read the room,” counted the votes, and had enough to pass what's become known as “Obamacare.” You may love it; you may hate it; but it passed and became law. Even if it's repealed, the Republican majority promises to replace it with something better. Health care remains a political work in progress.

“Obama's Cuba Folly” - This one is probably the luck of good timing, rather than political skill; but, again, it happened on Obama's watch. President Obama opened up U.S. relations with Cuba; and, within a couple of years, Fidel Castro died. I've always thought that – no matter who was President of the United States when the Castros were gone - Cuba would emerge as a thriving democracy, with lots of U.S. Tourism and business investment there. It's coming; just you wait and see. I've even joked about a thriving Trump resort and casino on Cuba's shore. It could happen! In the 1860's, many laughed at Secretary of State William Seward's controversial purchase of Alaska, soon known as “Seward's Folly.” In a different way, opening relations with Cuba could be characterized as “Obama's Folly” - a controversial move which turned out to have huge advantages.

“Economic Ebb and Flow” - It's not fair, but Presidents get credit for economic good times (e.g. Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton) and blame for bad times (e.g. Carter, Bush I, and Bush II.) Truth be told, the Federal Reserve, private enterprise, innovation, and investment opportunity are the real drivers of the economy. As I've often said of the late 1990's, the economic boom was more about Bill Gates than about Bill Clinton. Yes, Presidents and Congress can nibble around the edges of the economy with tax and spending policies, but are small players. President Obama – whether he deserves it or not – will get credit for helping move the disastrous 2008 economy to where we are today.

“Midterm Report Cards” - Another way to evaluate a Presidency is to look at what happens in the midterm elections. In the early midterms of 2009, Republicans elected governors in New Jersey and Virginia. In 2010, the GOP seized control of the U.S. House on the heels of Obamacare and, in 2014, took control of the Senate under the same impetus. Yes, President Obama won a second term in 2012, but his party was roundly rejected again in 2016 at both the state and national levels. One of Obama's legacies is that – other than his own inspiring campaign in 2008 – his agenda had no coattail effects for his party down ballot. In a sense, he got himself elected, but no one else.

“Promises Made; Promises Not Kept” - If you search deep into my blog archives, you will find my predictions about political promises made in 2008. At the time, Senator Obama campaigned on closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but I predicted it would never happen. Why didn't he follow through? Well, I suspect that when he started getting daily intelligence briefings, he had an “Oh my God” moment! It's one thing to campaign to become President; it's another to actually have the job. Some of the terrorism and national defense threats must be jaw-dropping when you first see them, especially when you had planned to close Guantanamo.

“Path for Trump” - Here is my prediction for President Trump: Even though he promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, my bet is that it never happens. A fence or wall is old-school. Would China build a Great Wall today? You can build electronic and computerized surveillance, with infra-red cameras and all kinds of technology, plus you can double the number of border patrol and immigration agents. Mexico says it won't pay for the wall, and Congress is unlikely to make U.S. taxpayers foot the bill. More realistic measures include automatic deportation of immigrant criminals, who are here in sanctuary cities and elsewhere. Immigration reform is most likely to work as eight or nine separate bills concerning separate issues, rather than trying to pass one big, all-encompassing immigration bill.

Give us your report card for President Obama, by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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