The biggest political story most journalists are missing
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Donald Trump's mercurial, chaotic ways are the overriding narrative of his early White House days. But most of the press misses his discipline in one crucial area: filling vacancies on federal courts.
He may be lax in filling many administrative posts, but it's just not true with the courts.
The reality underscores a gaping hole in journalism, as a federal judge noted to me Thursday. How often do major media outlets pay serious attention to the appointment of district court and appeals judges, beyond the occasional overtly controversial selection?
He might have added this question: How many newspaper editors or reporters can even name, much less speak cogently about, district or appeals judges in their backyards? Or this: How many reporters who actually cover federal buildings write regularly about the overall performance of judges in the building beyond an individual newsy case or particular decision in which those judges are involved?
Two recent pieces — in Business Insider and The New Yorker — are among the few to underscore the Trump judicial machinery at play. It's needed, we were reminded Thursday, since public ignorance about the legal system is apparently assumed to be so deep that most media outlets yesterday offered Civics 101 definitions of a foundational institution, a "grand jury," amid word that Robert Mueller has impaneled one.
As Allan Smith of Business Insider makes clear, "When it comes to nominating judges to the federal bench, Trump is moving at a breakneck pace. And the number of nominees for vacant U.S. attorney positions, a crucial area, is dwarfing" that of Barack Obama, at least at this stage.
If these picks could be the ultimate Trump legacy, consider that "through July 14, roughly a week shy of Trump's six-month anniversary in office, he had nominated 18 people for district judgeship vacancies, 14 for circuit courts and the Court of Federal Claims, and 23 for US attorney slots. During that same timeframe in Obama's first term, Obama had nominated just four district judges, five appeals court judges, and 13 U.S. attorneys. In total, Trump nominated 55 people, and Obama just 22."
In The New Yorker, Jeffery Toobin cites the nomination of Kevin Newsom for the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (covering cases in Georgia, Alabama and Florida) as prototypical: he's got "excellent formal qualifications, including a degree from Harvard Law School, a Supreme Court clerkship, and a stint as the solicitor general of Alabama, where he excelled at defending the state’s imposition of capital punishment against legal challenges."
And, importantly, he is young — just 45 — and a political conservative who's been a member of the right-leaning Federalist Society.
Toobin makes two other relevant points. First, the process shows how Republicans tend to care more than Democrats about putting their team on the federal bench. Second, the key senator in the whole process, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, could tinker with the tradition under which any senator from a judgeship’s state can veto a judicial nomination.
If he alters or eliminates that tradition, the GOP is sitting pretty precisely due to a Senate rules change made by Democrats during the Obama years, which means Republicans can ram home most judicial nominations with a simple 51-vote majority.
In so many ways, Trump is short-sighted and haphazard. But not in all. It's a story most are totally missing.
The morning babble (Robert Mueller edition)
"Trump & Friends" actually opened with the president's combative speech in West Virginia last night, or at least a sugarcoated version. "If you missed it, we have boiled down the good parts of the rally speech to this minute-thirty montage," said Steve Doocy. Yes, the "good parts," including Trump ridiculing Mueller and Hillary Clinton, though its subsequent analysis of viewer reactions conceded more intense pushback than previously to his "Washington as swamp" theme from Democrats and independents.
CNN's "New Day" had Phil Mudd, former FBI guy, contending that his former boss, Robert Mueller, "doesn't do fishing expeditions." All well and good. But Robert Ray, former Whitewater independent counsel, was a more enlightening presence about where the investigation might be headed.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" had Joe Scarborough claiming that we are ending a historic week politically, with congressional Republicans increasingly emboldened against Trump. Again, Mika Brzezinski suggested he's got a screw loose. "Some," she said, "would call this strange behavior." Some.
The Mooch interview (cont.)
This weekend's "New Yorker Radio Hour," which is produced by the magazine and New York's WNYC, will feature editor-host David Remnick chatting with Ryan Lizza about that late-night call from Anthony Scaramucci.
Much of the segment involves what it all says about Donald Trump as a manager, which is not flattering. But it also includes the less weighty mention by Lizza of just being stunned after the call ended. He was standing in his bedroom, just taken aback, and proceeded to download the audio clip off his recorder and onto his computer, naming the file "Insane Scaramucci Interview."
The Senate goes dark
The Senate press gallery informed reporters last night, "The Senate adjourned at 7:01 p.m. The Senate will reconvene on Sept. 5 at 3 p.m."
Not a bad deal, being in Congress. And President Trump? After bashing Obama for playing a lot of golf, he's off to his New Jersey golf residence for 17 days.
How long we look at Instagram
"Facebook Inc.’s Instagram is most popular for people younger than 25, who the company says spend an average of more than 32 minutes a day on the photo-sharing app." (Bloomberg)
Trump aide Stephen Miller leveled a charge at media cosmopolitan bias" during his defense of the administration's new immigration proposals, which includes making a priority of knowing English. So I asked Margaret Talev, senior White House reporter for Bloomberg, about her family background. She's new president of the White House Correspondents Association.
"My parents both are gone now, but, yes, my dad came to the U.S. from Bulgaria. My mom was American. From the stories they told me, he arrived basically penniless and his English was lousy. But they were both trained as linguists so naturally he was motivated to learn his new language fluently. He worked hard. He embraced his U.S. citizenship and loved America, warts and all."
Fox mulls a divorce with Sinclair
There's feuding on the right. "It appears that Fox television may hand off its O&O stations and also screw Sinclair in the process." (FTVLIVE)
"Fox is looking to distance themselves from Sinclair and could pull their affiliation from a number of their stations. Fox is also looking at getting out of the day-to-day running of their O&O's, by teaming up with Ion Media."
Bloomberg originally reported the potential split and how Ion theoretically would stick its more than 60 independent stations into a deal with Fox's 28 local stations, including big ones in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The leaked phone transcripts
Writes David Frum in The Atlantic: "Thursday’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C. — at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer."
Are there truly long-term implications for U.S. diplomacy? Perhaps. But one can also wonder why a leader would get too candid on the phone, knowing full well that folks on both sides are listening and taking notes. It's why you have a discreet meeting between your aides, or talk in person and in private, on truly sensitive stuff.
Why soccer is the world's sport
A Chicago sports talk host was displaying typical American ignorance Thursday in disputing that Real Madrid is as famous a team as the Yankees. He made clear he thought soccer is a joke. They didn't even discuss a stunning move by the big Paris team to pay Barcelona $263 million merely for the transfer of Neymar, its great Brazilian, which doesn't include his roughly $36-million-a-year contract.
As The Washington Post correctly puts it, "BARCELONA — By Thursday evening, the reality had swept across an irked Barcelona and a flabbergasted Europe to a high-reaching Qatar and beyond: An athlete really could fetch $263 million just to transfer him from one club to another, before even beginning the negotiation of his wages."
A blown investment
Lynne Marek of Crain's Chicago Business writes, "Chicago venture capitalist Michael Ferro brought other wealthy businessmen together in 2011 to buy the Chicago Sun-Times in a gambit they thought would revolutionize the newspaper industry. Now they're out at least $80 million, according to some of his co-investors."
"Ferro, former chairman of Sun-Times parent Wrapports, jumped last year to rival Chicago Tribune's parent, rolling some of his Wrapports co-investors into a $44 million investment in that company, which he renamed Tronc. After they sold the Sun-Times for a $1 last month, some are disillusioned about the experience."
Lost in the news fray
New Hampshire a "drug-infested den?" That's what President Trump said in one of those phone calls whose transcripts were disclosed. Writes the Union-Leader in Manchester:
"President Donald Trump said he 'won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den,' a comment that outraged Granite Staters but led one GOP supporter to say his remark was on the money."
Oh, Trump lost New Hampshire last November. He was referring to winning the Republican primary.
There's no legislative antibiotic that will help
Even STAT, the terrific new health website, missed this" "After persistent efforts by Republicans to wipe out the healthcare law over the past seven years, experts warned that the repeated attempts at eradicating Obamacare may have created an ultra-resistant super law."
Thanks to the medical mavens at The Onion.
That's it for the week. Blissfully, it's a kids' sports-free weekend, including a Vermont wedding. Eliot Warren, 8, did play in last week's Welles Park Junior All-Star game, grounding out hitting left-handed and bouncing into a fielder's choice right-handed. After snacks, he didn't seem to care that his team was creamed.