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Transition to Trump: Why the media deserved its Trump delivered press conference beat-down

Wow.

If it can be said that the Senate confirmation hearings of Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees the past couple days have lacked real “fireworks,” the president-elect’s first formal press conference since winning the election in November offered an hour plus-long barrage of colorful bursts, noisy explosions and even a few cherry bombs Trump press conferenceto make up for it.

Going into Wednesday’s showdown the media was griping about lack of access to Trump himself, complaining that official transition statements made through surrogates – and Trump’s famous tweets – have not provided enough information for a news-hungry public, essentially depriving them of an opportunity to do their jobs.

Trump gave them the chance to report on something straight from the source yesterday and conducted one of the most confrontational and memorable press events of all time. If it wasn’t clear before, there’s no doubt now: it’s a new game in town. Donald Trump represents a complete departure from the old norms of American politics where there were unwritten rules of decorum between journalists and elected officials.

All bets are off and it’s safe to say the shell-shocked media is still trying to figure out how to respond going forward.

That’s especially true of CNN, which broke away from coverage of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings on Tuesday to crow about a report (based on questionable sources) that insinuated the Trump campaign cooperated with the Russians on last year’s election.

Rebecca Savransky of The Hill reports, “During the press conference, Trump specifically called out CNN for pushing the story, saying it was ‘disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out.’

“’I think it's a disgrace, and I say that, and that's something that Nazi Germany who have done and did do,’ he said.

“’I think it's a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences. They already are. And as far as CNN going out of their way to build it up.’”

CNN reporter Jim Acosta begged Trump for a follow-up question since his network had been “attacked,” but the president-elect wasn’t in the mood to comply. After all, this wasn’t a candidate debate where an opponent automatically gets a rebuttal when negatively mentioned.

Needless to say, calling one media outlet “fake news” and another “a failing pile of garbage” is not the typical modus operandi of those who’ve occupied the office of the presidency in the past. Whereas Ronald Reagan went along with the media’s more sensational snooping during the Iran-Contra episode Trump doesn’t appear willing to grant journalists the same privileges.

We certainly are living in different times.

The entire tone of the press conference was a departure from previous presidents – even Obama. For example, Trump interrupted the proceedings for a lengthy presentation by his attorney who patiently explained the ways Trump was legally walling himself off from the family businesses.

Josh Dawsey and Darren Samuelsohn of Politico report, “Donald Trump will not sell his business nor place his assets in a blind trust while serving as president...

“Instead, his company will not enter into new foreign deals and will appoint an ethics adviser who must approve any new domestic deals in writing, according to the ethics arrangement announced Wednesday morning ahead of Trump’s press conference.

“The lawyers also promised that Trump’s businesses and assets will be put into a trust for the duration of the presidency and added he will have ‘no involvement whatsoever’ in the businesses.”

Naturally the president-elect’s critics grumbled the moves don’t go far enough and people who supposedly know Trump swear he won’t be able to keep himself out of the day-to-day operations of his businesses. To say such a thing is just another bit of partisan hypocrisy. Many of these same people claimed Hillary Clinton artfully separated her job as Secretary of State from her dealings with the Clinton Foundation, but we won’t mention that.

Other topics that came up at the press conference included several questions on Russian hacking and Trump’s potential relationship with Vladimir Putin; Obamacare -- when it would be repealed and if/when it would be replaced at that time; Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border and how he intends to have Mexico pay for it; when Americans can expect a new Supreme Court justice to be named and how Trump will force private companies to keep jobs in this country.

As might be expected the balance of the media’s questions concerned Russia. In that sense it wasn’t all that different than what was being explored in Washington during the confirmation hearings of Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson.

The Democrats’ and the media’s fixation on Russia certainly must be making Vladimir Putin a very happy man. He’s getting a lot of press over the whole affair, which only stands to make him look important to the rest of the world. Trump himself pointed out that if he gets along well with Putin as president it would be a good thing.

Apparently not to the people who are already trying to score points in attacking the new administration before its members even officially take office. And the neoconservative Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio don’t seem to agree either.

To them it’s like we’re still back in the 1980’s squaring off against the Evil Empire behind the iron curtain.

One way or another, Trump made it crystal clear on Wednesday that things are going to change in Washington starting in eight days. For those heartily sick of the status quo, it’s a welcome notion.

Sessions endures more accusations of racism from desperate Democrats on Wednesday

While Donald Trump was busy lambasting a deserving press and fellow cabinet nominee Rex Tillerson was taking more than his share of flak on Russia in the building next door, Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing continued in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Whereas Tuesday had gone by rather smoothly with few upsetting bumps in an otherwise positive once-over of Sessions’ record and personal beliefs, Democrats weren’t about to allow Sessions to be confirmed without attempting to severely damage his character.

Seung Min Kim of Politico reports perhaps the biggest blows came from fellow Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, “Breaking with norms in the clubby chamber, Booker argued that he was ‘standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country’ by speaking out against the conservative senator and his record on issues such as voting rights, women’s issues, immigration and other topics.

“’Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job: To aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all citizens,’ Booker told the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that the nominee has ‘demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions.’”

Such an assertion is laughable. I didn’t see Booker’s act live so I can’t report on the reaction from what must have been dumbfounded senate colleagues of both parties. Booker has only been in the Senate for three years and prior to that would have had almost zero working knowledge of Sessions’ record on civil rights – or anything else for that matter.

Booker cited Sessions’ “opposition” to criminal justice reform after the Ferguson, Missouri shooting incident a couple years ago as a reason to deny the Alabama senator’s qualifications for the office of Attorney General. Even Eric Holder’s Justice Department refused to press federal charges in the Ferguson case, so I’m not sure what kind of “reform” Booker implied would be needed.

Besides, Booker’s “show” was probably all about positioning himself to run for president in 2020.

Tessa Berenson of Time reports, “After 10.5 hours of questioning on Tuesday, Wednesday’s panel of witnesses felt less urgent alongside Donald Trump’s press conference and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s hearings beginning a building away. But Booker, swarmed by far more cameras than any other witness of the day when he entered the room, used the afternoon to take a splashy stand and lay groundwork for a potential 2020 presidential run…

“...Booker’s testimony against Sessions will endear him to his base. Liberal and civil rights groups oppose Sessions’ nomination; the panel of witnesses Wednesday included NAACP head Cornell William Brooks, ACLU legal director David Cole and former DREAMer Oscar Vazquez testifying against Sessions. And Booker is likely betting that taking a strong stance against the Trump administration early will pay off at the end of the controversial president-elect’s first term.”

Such naked political maneuvering isn’t likely to benefit someone like Booker, a New Jersey ultra-liberal without the interesting “Dreams of my father” life story of Obama to run on. Booker will have plenty of competition for the ultra-liberal Democrat primary vote in 2020, and I doubt anyone’s going to remember he testified against Attorney General-to-be Jeff Sessions in 2017.

The fact is Democrats didn’t put up much of a fight against Sessions probably because they realized they couldn’t win. With no obvious Republican defectors and likely a number of Democrats planning to vote yes on Sessions’ confirmation, there was no reason to fight a war that was already lost.

Unless you’re Cory Booker, of course, who seems to have other ambitions on his mind.

Tillerson’s grilling was all about advancing political agendas, not wrong answers

Though it certainly appears as if Jeff Sessions’ confirmation is a foregone conclusion the same can’t be said for Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s. As a successful business leader with no previous government track record, Tillerson was open to any number of potential lines of attack during his hearing.

From what it sounds like, senators from both parties took full advantage of the opportunity to probe Tillerson for potential vulnerabilities.

Nahal Toosi, Burgess Everett and Andrew Restuccia of Politico report, “The former ExxonMobil CEO was at times astonishingly candid, even curt, at one point telling a senator ‘a little of both’ when asked if he was refusing to answer a question or if he didn’t know the answer. Tillerson also struggled to clarify key issues, stating, for instance, that his company never lobbied against Russian sanctions, even though public records show the oil company repeatedly talked to lawmakers and the White House about the sanctions. And Tillerson would not say that he'd immediately back out of the nuclear agreement with Iran — a stance that puts him in opposition to some Republicans.

“Tillerson’s shaky showing, and in particular his ugly clash with (Marco) Rubio, did not bode well for his chance to get approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has an 11-10 Republican-Democratic split, meaning even one GOP defection could spell trouble. Republican leaders could simply bring the nomination directly to the Senate floor, sidestepping the committee, but that would be a poor sign for his prospects.”

Granted I didn’t watch most of the hearing but from what I did manage to catch I wouldn’t call Tillerson “shaky” at all. He simply took a much more moderate tone on Russia and Putin than the senators, many of whom wouldn’t consider voting “yes” on Tillerson no matter what he said.

As for Rubio, who grilled Tillerson over Russia’s role in Syria (Aleppo), Chechnya and Ukraine, it’s hard to tell exactly what his motivations might have been for giving the nominee a hard time. It could be Rubio’s positioning himself for his own presidential run in 2020 (as a challenge to Trump) or in 2024. After all, Marco is only in his mid-forties and looks like he just got out of high school.

I personally believe all this bloviating over Russia is just a lot of hot air meant to put on a good show for the folks viewing at home – to make it look like senators do their homework and can ask informed questions on topics that get a lot of coverage in the press. Right now Russia and Vladimir Putin are on the tips of every media member’s tongue (or keyboard?), a subject that people feel passion for and know more about than potential conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Meanwhile, Tillerson clearly didn’t want to label a potential adversary a “war criminal” just to please the politically motivated senators. As a smart and worldly man (he said he hadn’t kept a tally on how many countries he’s visited, but thought it was more than 40) Tillerson understands that you can’t sour a relationship before you even make one.

It’s a lesson that Donald Trump seems to have learned. But it isn’t satisfying for the press.

As far as Tillerson’s confirmation is concerned, I’m guessing he’ll have the votes to get through regardless of whether Rubio and the other neocons – McCain and Graham – decide to bail out. But I doubt it will actually come to that, for Trump agrees with Tillerson’s assessment of the world and would likely put up someone with similar views in his place if Tillerson is turned away.

If the senators’ job truly is to “advise and consent,” they’d be wise to drop the inquisition and start doing it.

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