Fox News Halftime Report -- Two administrations for the price of one!

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FOX NEWS HALFTIME REPORT
Feb. 1, 2017
By Chris Stirewalt

On the roster:
Two administrations for the price of one! - Chaos in the Senate over Trump cabinet pick hearings - But the boycott continues - Audible: Duh… - Kinda flat

TWO ADMINISTRATIONS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!
It is starting to feel as if there are two Trump administrations.

There is the one that issued a sweeping executive order banning refugees from around the globe and visa applicants from seven troubled countries. Unready and unsteady, the administration staggered as the backlash grew.

Then there's the other that executed a perfectly choreographed ballet to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill a nearly year-old vacancy on the Supreme Court.

From the East Room event at the White House to the cogent talking points and even to the selection of Trump foe former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. to shepherd Gorsuch's nomination through the Senate, it all reinforced thoughtful preparation and skillful execution.

Prior to the Gorsuch pick, Democrats seemed fairly certain of their course in the Trump era: maximal resistance.

As their lutrine 2016 vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, put it to MSNBC, "What we've got to do is fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box, and now there's the momentum to be able to do this."

This Churchillian turn from the junior senator from Virginia that substituted a new presidential administration for the Wehrmacht would have been considered out of bounds under normal circumstances, but Democrats had become ready to offer their blood, sweat, tears and toil on morning cable news chat shows.

Trump's efforts to divide Democrats on economic issues – like his courting of big labor to back his plan for deficit-fueled infrastructure spending – seemed to have been obliterated by the outcry over the refugee ban.

Democrats felt so plucky they even decided to boycott hearings for Trump's cabinet nominees in order to gum up the new administration. But that was, like, so 24 hours ago.

With Trump's selection of a mainstream, conservative Supreme Court nominee and the deferential, able introduction of such, Democrats are acting uncertain again. While it still seems more likely than not that the minority party in the Senate will be able to muster the 41 votes necessary to block the nomination, anxieties are creeping in.

Many in the Democratic base would call for a filibuster of Gorsuch no matter who appointed him or what the circumstances because of his stringent reading of the Constitution and interpretation of the law. Some others naturally favor a filibuster because of the success Republicans had in blockading then-President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland after the Feb. 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

But beyond those fighting ideological total warfare or tit-for-tat procedural one-upmanship, Gorsuch's nomination is a conundrum.

Former Obama Solicitor General Neal Katyal makes the case in today's NYT that, in fact, Gorsuch is as good a choice as they are likely to get from a Trump administration and might even help Democrats hold the new president in check.

"[Gorsuch's] years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence – a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him," Katyal writes.

The message here for Democrats, whose national committee has already referred to Trump as "tyrannical": confirm Gorsuch so he can reliably rule against Trump on matters of executive power.

There's some sound logic in that if you believe Trump is a nascent strongman, as many Democrats do.

This is where Trump is helped by the Jekyll-and-Hyde-like nature of his new administration. It still looks more likely than not that Republicans may be given the chance to consider changing Senate rules to advance Gorsuch's nomination with just 51 votes, deepening fears of authoritarianism in the wake of refugee ban. But it may actually help and not hurt Gorsuch's chances to win the old fashioned way.

As Democrats and some conservatives conjure visions of Putinistic authoritarianism, they become more eager to help Trump when they believe it will help reinforce norms.

We can't know much of this is an unintended benefit of otherwise unwanted unsteadiness and how much of it is Trump's intentional inside-outside game.

Remember, this was the same guy who stood outside the Capitol and gave an inaugural address that sounded like it had been ghostwritten by Huey Long but at a luncheon afterwards inside the Capitol was dripping with warm words for the very people he pilloried after taking the oath of office.

Whatever the cause, Trump's two-step has at least temporarily disoriented Democrats… again.

THE RULEBOOK: ABLE AND PUNCTUAL
"As all the States are equally represented in the Senate, and by men the most able and the most willing to promote the interests of their constituents, they will all have an equal degree of influence in that body, especially while they continue to be careful in appointing proper persons, and to insist on their punctual attendance." – John JayFederalist No. 64

TIME OUT: IT'S ACTUALLY YOUR ANCESTORS' SMART PHONE
Smithsonian: "Imagine a device that can do everything: Give you the time, your location, your horoscope, and even help you make decisions—all with the swipe of a hand. It's overpriced, customizable and comes with a variety of bells and whistles. No, this isn't the iPhone 7. It's the astrolabe, a remarkably versatile tool that was used for centuries in European and Islamic cultures before being quietly overshadowed by newer technologies. Like the smartphone, the astrolabe came into being during times of economic prosperity—in that case, likely during the height of the Roman Empire—and remained popular through the 18th century. Today, this somewhat-scientific, somewhat-mystical device leaves its traces in modern analog gadgets like a slide rule or the fanciest Swiss watches."

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

CHAOS IN THE SENATE OVER TRUMP CABINET PICK HEARINGS
AP: "In the latest intensification of partisan hostilities, Republicans rammed President Donald Trump's picks to be Treasury and health secretaries through a Senate committee on Wednesday without any Democrats present after unilaterally suspending panel rules that would have otherwise prevented the vote…[T]he Senate Finance Committee approved Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be Health and Human Services secretary and banker Steve Mnuchin to become Treasury secretary. Both nominations must be confirmed by the full Senate…Democrats boycotted the abruptly called Finance Committee meeting, as they'd done for a session on Tuesday, demanding more time to question the two men about their past financial practices."

Sessions makes it through - Fox News: "On the most contentious nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to approve Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., for U.S. attorney general. The move came after Democrats dragged out proceedings a day earlier. The committee advanced Sessions to the floor on an 11-9 vote."

But the boycott continues - The Hill: "Senate Democrats on Wednesday boycotted a committee vote on President Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), preventing the GOP from moving his confirmation forward. None of the Democrats on the Environment and Public Works panel, led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), went into the meeting room, depriving the committee of the two minority party members it requires for a quorum to vote on Scott Pruitt."

Tillerson expected to be confirmed amid travel ban crisis - Reuters: "Rex Tillerson's job as chief U.S. diplomat became harder before it even began because of White House moves that have antagonized Muslim nations, European allies, Mexico and U.S. bureaucrats, current and former U.S. officials said. The Senate is expected to confirm Tillerson as the 69th secretary of state on Wednesday…Under any circumstance, Tillerson would have inherited a messy globe… [In] the 12 days since Trump's inauguration, however, the White House has taken steps that foreign policy professionals view as self-inflicted wounds."

Shulkin to face questions on privatization at hearing - Stars and Stripes: "David Shulkin, President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, could face some scrutiny about his plans to reform the agency Wednesday during his Senate confirmation hearing. So far, some lawmakers have signaled at a quick confirmation for Shulkin, who already worked at the VA under President Barack Obama as the agency's undersecretary of health. But some veterans tracking the process remain cautious about Shulkin's plans for the VA, primarily regarding changes affecting how veterans receive private care at the government's expense."

[The Senate did confirm Trump's Secretary of Transportation pick Elaine Chao on Tuesday.]

AUDIBLE: DUH…
"Tell them you're a Muslim." – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi caught on hot mic at a protest with Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., concerning Trump's immigration restriction. Carson is Muslim.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump's trip to Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee Thursday cancelled after company expressed fear of protests - CNN

Liberty U's Falwell to head new task force on reforming higher education - Chronicle of Higher Education

Republicans fret over spy that snuck into party retreat, recorded conversations - WaPo

Gossip mag: First Lady may remain in New York indefinitely - Us Weekly

Around 1,000 State Dept. employees sign official dissent on Trump's temporary refugee ban - NYT

Petraeus to warn House Armed Services Committee that global alliances are at risk if U.S. stops sustaining international order - Politico

Christie approval rating drops to lowest rating of any governor in over 20 years - Quinnipiac University

Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl ad tells its own immigrant story - WaPo

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"If the Republicans cannot get 8 Democrats to join them in approving Trump's current SCOTUS nominee, might it not be a more profitable strategy to leave the position open until the 2018 midterms are over? Continued Democrat intransigence and a deadlocked SCOTUS should be a terrific campaign issue. If they still can't get 60 by 2018, then use a nuclear option." – Neil Howard, Cedar Park, Texas

[Ed. note: That would be a mighty big bet, Mr. Howard. Perhaps you are correct that Democrats would be punished for their intransigence but the 2016 election showed Republicans paid no price for their refusal to grant Judge Merrick Garland even a hearing. In fact, Republicans were helped because it raised the stakes for conservative voters leery of Trump. What if Democrats capitalized on the issue to mobilize their base and keep Gorsuch off the bench indefinitely? I suspect that the matter will instead come to a head in the very near future.]

"Chris, since Fox News is not wise enough to see an opportunity for a short special that has presented itself, please use a paragraph or two to help us understand how the Democrats can stop Senate action by steps such as boycotting a vote on committees considering a Trump cabinet nominee. You don't need to get into all the weeds, but most people interested enough to read your columns would like to understand better why our Senate is so dysfunctional." – John Sanders, Boerne, Texas

[Ed. note: As discussed above, the Senate is finding new ways to be dysfunctional and testing out the durability of longstanding traditions. Even without the 60-vote threshold to end debate, the Senate affords considerably more power to the minority party than the House does. In fact, the Senate affords broad privileges to every member. We recall Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Rand Paul, R-Ky., exercising their privileges to hold the floor and delay votes. As the Senate considers the possibility of ditching the 60-vote threshold, we see a new shape emerging. A simple majority Senate would likely end up functioning much like the House as majority parties ceased to need help from across the aisle to pass legislation. Making opponents dependent in part on each other fostered a necessary modicum of cooperation and deference.]

"I don't think there are as many sasquatches out here as you might believe. Here in the foothills of the Cascades and not too many miles south of where [Tuesday's reader Drew Thatcher] lives, I've only seen 3 or 4 in my many years of living here." – Will Gibbs, Mossyrock, Wash.

[Ed. note: I wouldn't know too much about that, Mr. Gibbs. But maybe what you saw were West Virginians on vacation. An Appalachian mountain man is probably big enough to scare most folks, and if he's grown his mullet out, you might think he was a bigfoot. The way you can tell for the future is to yell out "Let's go!" If he calls back "Mountaineers!" you'll know he's one of us. If so, make sure you offer him a peperoni roll. ]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

KINDA FLAT
Omaha World-Herald: "How unremarkable is Nebraska's state flag? For 10 days, the state flag, which is hoisted over the State Capitol's west side when lawmakers are in session, flew upside down. 'Nobody noticed it,' State Sen. Burke Harr told members of the Legislature's Executive Board. 'It took someone drawing it to my attention before it was changed.' The Omaha senator used the anecdote Monday to help make his pitch for why lawmakers should consider creating a task force that would decide whether the state should design a new flag. If so, the committee would submit recommendations to the full Legislature for approval."

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
"[Democrats] have no chance of stopping these nominations, no chance of overturning the order, so they have to pretend. It's kabuki." – Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up 
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