Beltway Briefing: White House Dynamics

Mark Alderman, Blake Rutherford, and Howard Schweitzer, of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies, discuss the major events that have happened in politics.

Keith: Good afternoon, my name is Keith and I'll be your conference operator today. Welcome to Cozen O'Connor public strategy series about the latest developments in politics and policy in D.C. Our call today will be moderated by Blake Rutherford, a member of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. Our speakers are Howard Schweitzer, managing partner, and Mark Alderman, chairman of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. This recording will be available on iTunes and SoundCloud by searching for Cozen O'Connor. For any questions, please email

Blake R.: Thanks. And thanks everyone for joining us today. My name is Blake Rutherford, and this is our well, what is a weekly call, but as Mark might allude to, could be a daily call about the happenings in politics and policy in Washington. I'm joined, of course, by Mark Alderman, the chairman of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies, and Howard Schweitzer, the managing partner of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. Howard, Mark, great to be with you.

Mark A.: Hey, it's good to be here.

Howard S.: Thanks Blake.

Blake R.: I wish that not much had happened since our last call, but quite a lot has happened since our last call. Things that are, I think, not only dynamic, but affecting to a business audience and to the country, and some might argue the world. I thought we might talk about some of the big events of the last week. But I think the biggest event is, and really I'm gonna crib from the New York Times reporting here, which is that there really seems to be, what are we 16, 17 days in, true dysfunctionality inside the West Wing that may be affecting policy, may not be affecting policy, may be affecting Hill relationships, certainly is affecting the news media's relationship with this administration, and what that means from an engagement perspective.

Because on our last call, and you guys have published about this, the take away was engage, engage, engage, but we seem to have a White House, and more specifically a West Wing, that's making that, perhaps, a bit more convoluted. I want to unpack how you deal with that and what this administration can do, from a Republican perspective, but also what the Democrats are going to do to figure all of this out. It really seems like that there is cause for concern. And I don't mean that from a partisan perspective, the President himself, according to public reporting has convened his senior staff multiple times to try and figure out how to do this, including adopting a 10 point process from his chief of staff about how they're going to function moving forward.

Both of you have seen administrations in their very early days, and on our last call you both talked about "Hey look, it's never linear". I harken back to popular culture and an old West Wing episode where you've got people who have been in government for a long time, still couldn't figure out a meeting room in the West Wing, so they just had a meeting in the hallway. As funny as that was, it probably seems appropriate. There's testimony out of every administration going back as far as, I think, the modern era, people who literally can't figure out how to turn on the lights. It is that disarming.

But I want to talk about what that really means and how much credibility to give weight to it. What it means from a strategic perspective, and then, what to do about it. So Mark, I want to start with you. What are your observations coming out of this West Wing?

Mark A.: Well, I'll begin by observing that you are relying on the failing fake news New York Times for your facts. So I'll do the same, but there are those in this country who would disagree with that being the paper of record. I think that there are a couple of different things going on. This is multi-dimensional. I think one thing that is going on that has not gotten a lot of reporting is that the White House is empty. There are so many positions that are necessary for the functioning of the West Wing that haven't even been appointed, let alone confirmed. I'm talking about Senate confirmable positions. The West Wing is being dramatically understaffed. It's very hard to overestimate the handicap that that is in simply trying to function. We've obviously seen the president behaving in erratic and, I believe, irresponsible ways. We can come back to that.

Simply in terms of getting its act together, I think they're short-handed and that is a real issue. I spoke with somebody in the White House yesterday about a particular situation and the answer was, "Well there's nobody here to do that yet." I think they gotta start focusing on filling the jobs that they need to do. That is something that, in the Obama administration, they got off to a far faster start than this, but frankly, the government never got fully filled. It's really hard to dig out of that hole.

Blake R.: Howard, from your perspective, you have been, what I like to call, on the ground floor of day one for a number of administrations. Before we get to what to do about it, what's your perspective? I know when we talked last week, your sentiment was certainly this is ... There are commonalities to every administration in terms of getting off to rocky starts. We can talk about the rocky start from Obama, to Bush, to Clinton, but what is your sense? Are we looking at commonalities, or are there distinctions that are unique to this administration that may be perpetuating what is the perception, and certainly disagree with the perception, that they're struggling right now?

Howard S.: Well clearly, the guy in charge is unique. I mean come on, Trump is very different, than Bush, Obama, or Clinton, to focus on the most recent cast of presidents.

Mark A.: Right, you could roll through 41 other presidents by the way.

Howard S.: I guess so.

Mark A.: The same would be true.

Howard S.: Yeah, he's different. The fundamental issues, I think, are very similar. I think the fundamental issue is, as we've seen with other administrations, the absence of ... It's bringing people in, who the president is comfortable with personally, as opposed to people who know how the West Wing is supposed to operate, who understand what it means to vet policies within the government, who understand that, out of that vetting process, come better policies that are more defensible, that you're better set up to effectuate. I think we've seen it in many administrations, and I think six months from now, maybe three months from now, there will come a point in time where the president's inner circle looks very different than it looks today.

Blake R.: That's certainly ... We are again hearing that there is, I'll characterize it as, concern on the part of the president about the functionality of his inner circle. Whether it's the process by which the ban came together, whether it's the president's, at least the intimation that he wasn't fully briefed on Steve Bannon joining the National Security Council, to even the concern that Politico ... If you pull up Politico right now you will see that their lead story is the parody of Sean Spicer, by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live, actually had an effect on the president and the West Wing. Whether it should, or not, we can debate, but it did.

Mark, it just seems like ... it feels like there's a lot of rattling going on in those walls-

Mark A.: Well I think-

Blake R.: Even though there aren't that many people there.

Mark A.: Yeah, and Howard, I'm gonna ask you whether what you said about the inner circle, in six months, looking different, is a prediction or a prescription. It is a good prescription, that would be good medicine for this White House. I'll go first, I don't predict that it will. I think that a lot of the chaos is willful. I think that, once again I was wrong in predicting something early on about the Trump administration. I thought that the chief of staff, that Priebus, would actually organize the administration, and that Bannon would be left in a room to write speeches. That, plainly, is upside down.

Steve Bannon, as far as we can tell, according to Saturday Night Live also, is running the country. I think this chaos is just fine by him. This is only going to improve if the president himself, if Donald Trump decides to intervene and to dictate a different style of governing. I think, if right now, you asked him how he's doing, he'd tell you it's going okay. He has declared everybody his enemy, except, apparently, Breitbart. He isn't gonna change unless he sees this as a problem.

Blake R.: Howard, how would he-

Howard S.: Mark, that was the longest question in the history of the world.

Mark A.: Well I wanted to kind of coach you on the answer. I'm hoping you took notes on that.

Howard S.: I did not take notes, but by the way, nor do I agree-

Mark A.: Prediction or Prescription? Yeah how-

Howard S.: It's a prediction because, what's gonna happen here is we're going to get out of this initial, call it 30, 60, 90, 100 day period, put whatever number on it you want, and this president is going to start to need other people in Washington to do things in order to get things done. They are going to start to balk, he is going to get feedback, but he needs to professionalize the West Wing. And he's going to make changes. He doesn't want to fail.

Blake R.: Howard I want to ... Because we're starting, already, to see some of that. The Senate majority leader has been-

Howard S.: McConnell pushed him over the weekend. Yeah.

Blake R.: Right, he pushed him over the weekend, and I wanted to get your reaction to that because ... In this short period, that's something you would certainly ... We certainly saw from McConnell in the early days of President Obama, but he's beginning to exercise his own power and authority. He was pretty forceful in reminding the president that the only person who decides whether to invoke the nuclear option, or not, is him, when it comes to a Supreme Court justice. Now he's pushing back on policy and I want to drill down on some specifics in a minute, Howard, but I wanted to get your reaction on it and what you think that means in these early days.

Howard S.: I mean look, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the United States Congress know that they have power. They know that they have some of the keys to the kingdom and they intend to use it. Not only do they have power, they have a job to do. Part of their job is to protect the party, and win re-election, and position themselves, but fundamentally they're here as a check and balance and to make the laws. They take that seriously. We've seen it when the congress is of the same party as the president, when it's of a different party than the president. They take very seriously, the prerogative of the legislative branch. There's no way they are backing away from that, and that's fundamentally what it's about.

Blake R.: So Howard, what do you do? Mark's prescription that the inner circle, probably needs to look different six months from now ... From your perspective, what does President Trump do? Again, disagree with the premise of the question, if the premise is that there is a problem that merits a solution. What's the solution here to what's going on in the West Wing?

Howard S.: Well, I think it's one, primarily, of process as opposed to policy. Now look, there's room to disagree with policy all day long. We can, and should, where you have disagreements of policy, but you can't fail on execution. It's kind of like going back to my TARP days where we had this terrible thing we had to do, we had to bail out the banks. Hank Paulsen basically gathered the senior team in a room and said "Look, I'll take the arrows on the policy, people will be debating the policy from now until the end of time. They can and should. It's a terrible thing we have to do. Go get the job done and don't blank it up." Right now, this administration ... Look, he's the president of the United States, he has the mantle to drive policy decisions that he feels are in the best interest of this country, overseen by the legislative branch and the courts.

Where they are coming up short is on execution. It's on roll out. It's on process. It's on vetting. It's kind of the basic blocking and tackling of governing, which, frankly, is to be expected because Trump isn't somebody who's ever governed before. I really, I think that's where they're coming up short. I think that's where they will come to realization that they need a fix. It's probably some sort of, I think, bringing in an experienced White House chief of staff.

I like Reince, he's obviously done a good job in some respects, and he's well liked, but he doesn't know how to run the White House. Bannon is obviously looking for as much power as he can have. They need to professionalize ... This isn't running the RNC, this is communicating out to the American people, it's running a process where you make sure that the agencies that need to see and poke holes in your policies before you roll them out actually have a chance to do that. It's things like a functioning NSC process, National Security Council process, where different stakeholders have a chance to weigh in, gather information, come together, weigh in on policies. That's the basic blocking and tackling of government, and Trump needs to get some people in the White House that have been there before.

Mark A.: But you are presuming, in all of that, with which I agree, that of course is what the White House needs, it's what the country needs, but you're presuming that Donald Trump is going to preside over that change. As we said a minute ago, there are just a few people even there. They gotta get some more people in. Moving out the chief of staff, I think, is not something he is likely to do anytime soon. I think it's just fine with Steve Bannon that Reince Priebus is the chief of staff, because Bannon keeps rolling him. And I don't think Bannon's going to tell Trump to get rid of him. I think that what is going to be required is something that is, I just think unlikely. The president is gonna have to decide to govern. He's gonna have to decide to actually manage the government. He's gonna have to actually decide to read executive orders.

Howard S.: Mark, I think you're taking the head fake. I think you're taking the Twitter head fake. He knows what's going on. He doesn't want mass protests. Maybe Steve Bannon does, but I don't believe he does. He's picking a fight with the New York Times, not because ... He knows that actually drives eyeballs to the New York Times. I really think you're taking the head fake and you're assuming that he doesn't want things done differently because he's presenting as this defiant persona on Twitter. I think that's a mistake to assume that.

Mark A.: I don't follow the president on Twitter. I should because I know that you have a rapid response Twitter account, and I'm gonna start following you, which I guess means I'm gonna have to read what you're responding to. I'm just talking about the man's entire life, his entire history of personality. We shall see. I think it is gonna be far harder for him to come to all of those realizations and conclusions that you're suggesting. But I do think that congress, coming back to something you said a moment ago, I do think when he realizes that he can't get anything done without congress, when he realizes that congress has a mind, and a history, and a policy, a purpose of its own, I think he is gonna start engaging with McConnell. and with Ryan. and other leaders, even Schumer. I think he's gonna [inaudible 00:21:09] trying to make deals. The one thing about his personality that I think may serve him well here is that if he chooses to engage with congress, I think that there's a chance that they could still get something done.

Blake R.: Yeah Howard, I'm gonna give you a chance to respond, but I do want to, in the thought of advancing the president's agenda ... We have sort of been, I think certainly for the last week, encapsulated by the ramifications of this ban, not only from an optics perspective ... You alluded, Howard, you didn't think the president wanted mass protests. There have been two in Philadelphia in a week. One when the president was here, one when the vice president was here, right outside our windows. They're continuing across the country and across the world, and we're seeing, because the president made a point of this, I think it's appropriate for this call, public polling that shows the country having a more unfavorable view of the ban than a favorable view. The president had something to say about that on Twitter, which I know you responded to Howard.

There is an agenda here. There is a campaign agenda. And there is a Republican agenda, which leads me, of course, to the Affordable Care Act. There is an agenda here that is going to require some synergy between the White House and congress, as you both have spoken about. I want to start with, though, the ramifications at this point, to the extent you see any ... of where we are with the executive order and the ban. We saw attorneys general in a bit of a flip. AGs were very active, Republican AGs were very active during the Obama administration. Democratic AGs have stepped up here. Wisconsin and Minnesota were the first to engage on this ban, and a federal judge has blocked it. Which of course has prompted a response from Trump, and if anybody's looking for what to follow on Twitter, follow @WhatTheTrump. You can figure out what it means.

I do want to get your reactions to that in terms of what it means. Because it's driving headlines. Mark, what are your thoughts?

Mark A.: I think that what it means Blake, is that the president has given the Democrats a gift. I think that the Democrats were in the wilderness wandering lost, not knowing what to do about what was happening, and then boom, this order hit. All of a sudden there were people protesting in the streets, at the airport, in front of congressional home offices. That really, to me, is the key. That's my prescription and prediction about what is happening here. Republican congressmen, representatives, and senators alike, are already finding, when they go to their home office, that there are people waiting for them and that the people have something very strong to say about this immigration order, and healthcare, and beyond.

This is exactly what happened with the Tea Party. The Tea Party ... No one knew there was such a thing as a Tea Party. It was inchoate, it was out there waiting to be brought to life, and President Obama, with the Affordable Care Act, did exactly that. Town hall after town hall there were angry Tea Party people, Democrats, and Republicans were hearing all about it. That is, in fact, what is happening. I believe it will continue to happen. I believe that this order is bad for the country, but good for the opposition.

Blake R.: Howard, what are your thoughts?

Howard S.: You know, again, I go back to the way it was executed, the way the policy formulated, the way it was rolled out. I think it could've all been done in a much more sensible way. It's less about the policy than it is about the process and the messaging. I think they've fallen short, they've clearly fallen short. I think they know they've fallen short. Trump is fighting it because he staked his claim to this out of the gate. He knows they could've done it better.

Blake R.: I'm reminded Mark, back to you, because you have linked this historically to the Affordable Care Act. I think there are, there's no similarity, obviously, on the policy side, but on the process side I think there are some similarities. I'm reminded of the advice, which ultimately was ignored, of then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, our friend who's now the mayor of Chicago, who advised the president "Don't go all in on this. If it doesn't cause your defeat four years from now, it will define your presidency. Let's go get half, let's go get 60% of what we want." The president rejected that advice and said "Look, I'm here to do big things, I have a 60 seat majority, and we're gonna figure out how to get this done." It defined his presidency.

Howard S.: Well and-

Blake R.: We can argue-

Mark A.: He lost his 60 seat majority before he even got it done.

Blake R.: Right, yeah, right.

Mark A.: Yeah, well that, I think, is some of what is happening out there. At the same time, you have, of course, the Constitution, so far at least, actually beginning to kick in, notwithstanding the Twitter, tweets, whatever I didn't read that Howard replied to. You have a judge hearing a lawsuit, issuing an order. The order is being complied with by the United States government, is on appeal today. There is a hearing. The checks and balances have not been repealed, the Affordable Care Act hasn't been repealed either. Nothing has been repealed. Congress is beginning to speak up a little bit. You and Howard talked about Mitch McConnell.

I think, I have another prediction, not so much prescription, I think this Russia thing, Blake, and Howard, is really going to be a wedge between the White House and congress. I don't think the president can keep going on T.V. and declaring a moral equivalence between Vladimir Putin and the United States of America, I guess is who is on the other side of that. The investigation by the foreign relations committee into the hacking continues at its congressional pace. I really think that if he could change one thing that he's dug in on, boy I think he should get out of that hole. He just keeps digging that hole deeper, and I think that's gonna be a real problem for him with congress.

Blake R.: Before we get to that, because I definitely think that's driving conversation. We saw the vice president over the weekend alluding to ... in terms of the moral equivalence, really I think struggling with that question on Face the Nation. Howard, in terms of defining, and I'll interrupt with breaking news ... Betsy DeVos has been confirmed by the Senate, the vice president did have to break the tie. Which is the first for a cabinet pick ever, so a little history made today by this administration, whether they intended to or not. She's been confirmed, your friend Mark, Bob Casey was a vocal opponent of this and really, I think, took a leadership role in expressing the policy prerogative of the Democrats. I wanted to acknowledge that, because we're gonna talk about, really, what the Democrats ought to do.

But coming back Howard, to sort of defining moments, what are your thoughts, in terms of ... You talked about process, but the policy will matter to people. It is certainly galvanizing opposition support across the country. How defining do you think this is and is this ban something that you feel like the White House needs, or should try and change the conversation?

Howard S.: It's clearly having an impact. You know what? I think it's something that should be debated from a policy point of view. That's a very healthy thing. Whether you agree, or disagree with the quote unquote ban, policy should be debated. Mark, as you said, they're following, at least today, following the Constitution, abiding by what the courts have handed down. As long as we stay in that state of affairs, this is fine. If we get out of that, if this elevates to the level of a constitutional crisis, where you have the administration ignoring the judiciary, then this is a whole different discussion. On a personal level, I'm not a fan of the ban, and I think again, it was poorly executed, but I don't think ... I do think that it is a defining moment, albeit an early defining moment, but I don't think it's unhealthy what's going on now on any level.

I want to say one other thing. You know Mark, you said you don't follow his tweets, you read the headlines about the tweets, but go ... and he says a lot of things that are-

Mark A.: I want to focus on the Schwarzenegger tweets. I'm very interested in The Apprentice writings.

Howard S.: Yeah, and so is he, which is obviously why he's tweeting that. I mean, that's a side show. There are many things about this that are amateurish out of the gate here. That's true in any administration.

Mark A.: [crosstalk 00:32:51] I agree with you-

Howard S.: I can't tell you how many things Rahm Emanuel did when we were in the middle of a crisis that were complete amateur hour. Complete amateur hour coming into the White House for the Obama administration. Very dangerous stuff, far more consequential. I just think, look at what he says, don't just read the headlines. I think, if you're gonna talk about it, you gotta do a couple things. Number one, look at what he's saying directly. Number two, don't forget how wrong we all were about the election. Washington D.C., where I'm sitting today, in Philadelphia, in New York, and San Francisco and L.A., that's not the country. There's lots in between and there are lots of people that have different views about this and look at it from a very different perspective.

So fine, there are protests in Philadelphia, are there protests in Des Moines? Maybe some, but I think we're making a big mistake, and I'm speaking as much to myself as I am to you guys. I think we the [inaudible 00:33:56] ... We are making a big mistake if all we think about is whether there are protests in Philadelphia and whether we-

Blake R.: I mean I think the distinction is that the president and the vice president were in Philadelphia, which galvanized the protests. If they went to Des Moines, I think we'd understand whether middle-America is in that position. They really haven't yet, so we'll see what happens there. But I want to turn to-

Howard S.: But I think that we'd find out that the answer is no. And obviously the answer is no, we were all wrong about the election. We all underestimated the level of support for something different. These guys are clearly something different. There's reason to be concerned.

Look, I think they're creating their own crises, to some extent. And if they don't get that right, and something really bad comes along, we're screwed. Right now, it's very early, and I think they are learning the early lessons of what is going wrong here and I guess I'm just more optimistic than you guys are that they can get their act together, like other administrations have, and straighten it out.

Blake R.: Let's be careful about lumping the moderator in to "you guys" here. I don't think that's where we need to go-

Mark A.: More optimistic than I am.

Blake R.: This is you and Mark, I'm just trying to have some questions here.

Mark A.: I'm happy to own that.

Blake R.: I want to talk about the Affordable Care Act because we ... This has been a Republican issue, Mark, for, well, since it was passed, as you talked about. It was a campaign issue for this president. All signs point to repeal and replace not happening anytime soon. What are your general thoughts about the future of the Affordable Care Act, in terms of business managing their own systems? We do a ton of health care work, you do a ton of health care work. There is uncertainty in light of what the Republicans and the president promised during the campaign. The process is proving to be more complicated.

Mark A.: The process is proving to be a process. That's what is surprising to a lot of people, myself included. That is a good thing, it is a good thing that it is proving to be a process. On a political level, the fact that the ACA didn't get repealed in an executive order, day one, which, of course, it can't constitutionally be anyway. And that congress didn't reconcile it away yet and doesn't appear to be on a fast track ... As a political matter, I think, what's interesting is that the Republicans, I don't think, are going to pay a price for that. I think that what's going on is fascinating, frankly, as a political science matter. It was six years of "The ACA is destroying the country, and on day one it's gonna go" and now we find out that that isn't happening. And that all the people who were promised that would happen, and who supported that happening, are not mad that it hasn't happened, are not taking to the streets to demonstrate for repeal because so many of them are benefited by it, and because it is so complicated to repeal and replace.

I think what we are seeing there, is actually, a very deliberate and very responsible process that has been liberated from the rhetoric.

Howard S.: Wow.

Mark A.: The president himself said it's gonna take a year, maybe two. I had some meetings when the Republican leadership, when the legislators were in Philadelphia ... some meetings with clients in the business, with Republican senators, Republican congressmen, and they're taking it very seriously. They know that they gotta take their time and they gotta get this right. I think, just as the executive order was done all wrong and is, I believe, unconstitutional, and was a gift to the Democrats, the ACA is the opposite of all of that. It is being done right, it is probably going to get fixed rather than even replaced. I think an issue that the Democrats were counting on being incendiary, has calmed way down.

Howard S.: Wow.

Blake R.: Howard, what are your thoughts about the status ... You said "Wow" twice, so I definitely want to get your reaction-

Mark A.: Howard's surprised that I was faithful to the facts. I'm not running the failing fake news New York Times-

Blake R.: The Affordable Care Act, obviously essential to ... I mean that in terms of what happens to the Affordable Care Act is essential to a lot of our clients, and certainly to millions of people. Howard, what are your thoughts about rhetoric versus process here.

Howard S.: I think there's the back room policy formulation that's going on, including one of our former colleagues here, working on that inside the White House. So yeah, there's a deliberate policy process going on. I'm surprised, Mark, that you don't think that this is an issue that the Democrats can take advantage of politically, because the fact of the matter is ... I guess we're playing opposites on this one. I just think years and years of promises by the Republicans and I think they're gonna get shellacked by the Democrats next year when it comes to their not having followed through. Even if by then they put a replacement out there, the closer we get to 2018 ... I can't believe I'm even talking about 2018, but I'm talking about 2018. The closer we get, the more likely it is that the Ds are going to hammer the Rs for having made all these promises that they haven't kept, even if it's on timeliness.

Mark A.: I think that's right. I think, as a campaign matter, it'll likely come up. It's a little hard to hammer somebody for promising to do something that you really don't want them to do. Some strategist is gonna have to think that one through. But I do think the more interesting political dynamic is on the Republican side, where somehow, after six years of promises and zero clue about how to implement anything in its place. They just don't seem to be getting hammered by their own people. I think that is because, whether you're for it, or against it, whether it needs to be fixed, or thrown out, there are a lot of people whose lives are enmeshed now in the healthcare exchanges and the Medicaid expansion. A lot of them voted Republican. This one's complicated.

Howard S.: It is complicated, I mean it's really what is supposed to happen here. Rhetorically it's not where the Republicans have been headed, but this is repair, not replace. They're gonna try to show that it's replace, but we all know that this is repair. A law was enacted, it's gonna be amended. It's gonna continue to be amended. The system's gonna continue to be refined over time. That's the way this is gonna play out. That's the way this is supposed to play out. I just think it has more political implications than it seems like it does today.

Mark A.: I think it may sooner rather than later. Ted Cruz, and others, are already banging the drum for getting this done now. This could get a little hotter within the Republican caucus before any action is taken. Again, looking ahead from January 19th, at what was gonna happen on January 20th, this thing was teed up to be repealed, gone, no more Affordable Care Act. It has boomeranged 180 degrees.

Blake R.: Speaking of politically charged issues to round out what we're seeing from the agenda setting perspective is, immigration does not appear to be going away. It certainly may, in fact, within at least a segment of congress, be picking up steam. Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas has filed one, in what appears to be a series of bills that would, if passed, and would seem to have at least the support of the White House, whether they can get through congress is another matter entirely, that would dramatically reshape America's immigration policy, making it far more difficult to immigrate to the United States, dramatically reducing the number of green cards that are issued, so on and so forth. Again, consistent with what we heard from the president during the campaign, but now coming to reality in the congress ... Senator Cotton is not shy of camera so he, I don't think, will hesitate to articulate his position on this in an effort to try and advance both the presidents' agenda, which he's aligned with, and his personal agenda as well. Mark, what are your thoughts about immigration as a political matter going forward beyond the ban?

Mark A.: What's important about what you were just saying about Senator Cotton, your fellow Arkansan, if that's how you say it ... What's important is that he is proposing legislation. He is talking about the constitutional process of congress regulating immigration and a legislative process to debate and act on that. I think that will be a red hot debate. That is not gonna calm down at all. I think the president, should he go the Cotton route, is gonna find out that it's hard to get that done. I don't know that he has 218 Republican votes for that. He certainly is gonna have to overcome a filibuster, which no matter which way the Supreme Court nominee goes, and the nuclear option there, is going to remain for legislation. Stay tuned, that is ... I don't think Tom Cotton is doing Donald Trump any favors pushing this thing.

Blake R.: Howard, what do you think?

Howard S.: I think he's absolutely doing him favors pushing the thing because this is about optics. I think you're right Mark, that proposing legislation and passing legislation are two very different things. This is about optics, legislation gets dropped every day, we're often in the position of getting it dropped every day, to try to deliver a message, deliver a policy message, deliver a perspective, even though you know you're not gonna get passed what has been proposed in the form you've proposed it. It's on the agenda, it's one of many things on the agenda. Again, I think we're in the very early days. Things like this are being put out there, but there are real priorities, like tax reform, infrastructure finance, Obamacare, and other things that this administration wants to get done. In the sausage making of Washington, are gonna come out very differently, or being dropped altogether because the votes aren't there and the political capital isn't there to see them get done. It's interesting to talk about. It makes for a good headline. It's not really in the conversation as far as something that's gonna get done.

Mark A.: One of the casualties of the clumsy, is that a neutral word, start of the Trump administration is that they are nowhere on a legislative agenda. Nothing has begun and they really only have 10 months, 11 months, to get some stuff done. Once you roll into 2018 you're in the mid-term elections and everything just gets more complicated. It will be real interesting to see if we are having the same conversation, you say we won't be Howard, I think we might be, in the Fall.

Howard S.: Why do you say they're nowhere on their legislative agenda?

Mark A.: Well they haven't repealed and replaced the ACA. That's now gonna take two years. Where's tax reform? [crosstalk 00:48:22] Where's the infrastructure bill?

Howard S.: Being worked on. It's all being worked on Mark. You know, you're in these conversations every day.

Mark A.: Oh sure.

Howard S.: People are working 24 hours, seven days a week on this stuff.

Mark A.: How close are they to getting that done in the first 100 days, as was predicted and promised?

Howard S.: It's not gonna get done in the first 100 days.

Mark A.: Right.

Howard S.: Tax reform isn't gonna get done in the first 100 days. It has a good chance to get done this year though. There's a really important conversation going on about tax reform and there are, we know them, staff that are toiling away day and night that can't even come to my daughter's bat mitzvah because they're too busy working on corporate tax reform.

Mark A.: Yeah I predict ... Here's a prediction, I predict they're gonna be at the bat mitzvah. They're coming to Sophie's bat mitzvah. I spoke to one of them yesterday.

Blake R.: To the more important conversation.

Mark A.: I think that's still important.

Howard S.: It is important. Look, there's work going on as we speak. It's a seven day a week, 24 hour a day kind of thing. People are working very hard to see that tax reform gets done. I think it is likely to get done. Infrastructure, again, big administration list, big priority, I think that comes directly from Bannon. They're gonna push hard to get that done. They are pushing hard to get that done. Does it get done? Probably something, maybe not the full thing that they want to see, but guys, we're in day 16, or whatever it is. You are way over interpreting the first 16 days of this presidency and pronouncing that they're nowhere on their legislative agenda. Blake I don't mean to lump you in with that-

Blake R.: I was going to say, I'm gonna exercise moderator privilege once again and declare that the 'you' is singular, not plural right?

Mark A.: I half agree. Congress is, of course, working on this. One of the ironies that I'm realizing here is that in the 16 days, it didn't take long, of the Trump administration. I have become a great fan of state's rights and of congress. I wasn't there 100 days ago. That has kind of flipped on me thanks to this guy.

Blake R.: Well let's finish up, interestingly enough, because in what we thought might really dominate the national conversation is proving to be not so much, which is the president's pick for the United States Supreme Court. By all accounts, I will say it, immensely qualified, whether you agree with his judicial interpretations or not, certainly educationally and professionally comes highly regarded by both sides, has been confirmed unanimously by the Senate previously when he ascended to the Court of Appeals. By all accounts, I think, Chuck Schumer, Mark, your friend, has published a OpEd in Politico saying it's going to require 60 votes, whether that turns out to be the case, or not, certainly seems like he's on a path to achieving 60 votes. What are, briefly, your reactions to the Supreme Court pick?

Mark A.: I think Schumer is right, it will require 60 votes, they are not getting rid of the filibuster for the Supreme Court appointment, because he will get 60 votes. They're not gonna need to. He will get his 60 votes. The issue isn't him nearly so much as it is the stolen seat that he is going to fill. I think extreme vetting of this candidate is called for, but I think that it's going to be very hard for the Democrats to stop him and I don't think they should blow themselves up trying.

Blake R.: Howard, your reactions to the president's Supreme Court pick?

Howard S.: Again, if you're focusing on the process and the way they rolled it out, and the messaging, I thought it was really well done. I think it's one of Trump's better moments.

Mark A.: So you like bringing both of them there and not telling them which one it was until the last minute?

Howard S.: I mean, that was a little silly. He's obviously qualified. I think the fact that he apparently has taken the position, in his current capacity, that executive power should not go unchecked, is highly appealing in the current environment we are in D.C. I think he'll get confirmed and I agree they're not going nuclear over this. I think it was a smart pick.

Blake R.: It will be interesting to see. We've reached our time limit here. Gentleman, I dare ask you both, what in the world happened to the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, but we'll save that for a beer and another time.

Mark A.: They were coached by the Clinton campaign.

Blake R.: Yeah, well said.

Howard S.: Yeah, brilliant.

Blake R.: Thanks to everybody for listening as always. Comments and critiques are welcome, you can find us at

Howard, Mark, lively, spirited discussion ... appreciate your analysis and look forward to our call next week, so thanks to everyone for joining us and thanks to you both.

Howard S.: Thanks Blake.

Mark A.: Blake, have I mentioned that Tom Brady went to Michigan?

Howard S.: Thanks

Blake R.: And do you know who he played his last college game against, Howard?

Howard S.: No.

Blake R.: The Arkansas Razorbacks in the Citrus Bowl. It all comes back to Arkansas, Howard.

Howard S.: There ya go. Who won that game?

Blake R.: Michigan.

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