Rand Paul Has More Than a Cold

The senator from Kentucky was worried enough to get tested. But while he waited for the results, he kept going to work, the gym, and the pool.

By inadvertently spreading the coronavirus around the U.S. Capitol for at least a week, Rand Paul has turned the world’s greatest deliberative body into the nation’s highest-profile vector for the spread of the pandemic.

The senator from Kentucky was worried enough about being exposed to the virus that he got a still-hard-to-obtain test for it. But while he was waiting for the results, he

  • decided to keep showing up to the Senate. He
  • went to group lunches with his Republican colleagues,
  • took the Capitol elevators,
  • talked with reporters, and
  • worked out in the somehow-still-open Senate gym.
  • Yesterday morning, he was doing laps in the pool there.

By yesterday afternoon, Paul had announced that he had tested positive. Graciously, he said that he would start self-quarantining.

Paul is exactly what we’ve been told to worry about. For all the laughing and hate-tweeting directed at spring breakers saying they don’t think the coronavirus is a big deal, they’re at worst dumb, selfish, underinformed 20-somethings. Paul is a medical doctor (he worked as an ophthalmologist before first being elected in 2012). He is a senator. He is an elected official. People look to him for leadership.

In the Senate, the average age is 62.9. There are five senators in their 80s—and there will soon be six, when Vermont’s Patrick Leahy has his birthday at the end of the month. There are mothers and fathers of young children in the chamber. There are senators who have close family members with conditions that make them especially susceptible to the virus, such as Utah’s Mitt Romney, whose wife has MS.

Then there is Paul, whose office claims that he was being extra careful by deciding to get tested (he had a procedure last year to remove a damaged part of his lung), and that he “only got tested because of his insistence.” But Paul’s attitude seems to have boiled down to some version of Too bad for you if I’m infected and I come into contact with you.

He is infected. He came into contact with a lot of people. And now, at a crucial moment in American history, when the entire country is counting on Washington’s response, Paul has single-handedly given senators reason to worry that they are risking their health by showing up to vote.

None of this explains how Paul got tested at all. People across the country are having trouble breathing and running fevers but being told that they have to wait for a test. Paul was asymptomatic, but did attend an art-museum fundraiser in Kentucky on March 7 with two people who later tested positive for COVID-19 (Paul says he never interacted with either of the people in question). Other people at the event, including the local mayor, have tested positive, and Paul seems to have decided that attending the fundraiser was enough reason to ask for a test. How he jumped the line for one is a mystery. America doesn’t have anywhere near enough tests for those who need them, despite Donald Trump saying at the beginning of the month that anyone who wanted a test could get one, and Vice President Mike Pence saying on March 10 that there would be an additional 4 million tests “before the end of this week.” That was two weeks ago today.

Importantly, Paul has no idea where or from whom he contracted the virus. He could have gotten it and then spread it at all sorts of places he hasn’t considered.  Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who was at the same museum fundraiser, announced on March 15 that he’d taken a test and the results had come back negative. Still, Yarmuth tweeted, “I plan to continue working from home and will avoid going out in order to do my part as we all work to practice safe and precautionary distancing to help defeat this pandemic.”

Other senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, preemptively self-quarantined after learning that they could have been exposed. Cruz had no symptoms either. Paul’s office argued that he got the test “out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events.” But if traveling between Kentucky and Washington is all that is required to get a test, a lot more people should be able to receive immediate testing.

They can’t, of course. There’s no question that Paul got special treatment. He got a test that others want and can’t get, and he got it despite having no symptoms—something the president has explicitly said people shouldn’t be doing. He got it as a United States senator, which means that he got it on a taxpayer-funded government health-care plan. Everyone else, including those who might be fighting for a ventilator in the coming weeks, can wait.

All last week, while he was deciding that he wanted to be tested, getting that specially obtained test, and waiting for the results, Paul was at work in the Senate. He was holding up, then voting against, then blasting in a floor speech the first major coronavirus-response bill, which includes a provision to make testing, once it becomes more readily available, free for whoever wants it.

Paul got a test that he voted against everyone else being able to get. He slowed the passage of the bill to make a principled stand against the enormous deficit spending involved. He did not mention, as he criticized young people for not taking the virus seriously while in almost the next sentence raising doubts that it is worse than the swine flu, that he was concerned enough about himself to get tested. “Modern man has become accustomed to the idea that life is relatively safe, that a long life is to be expected. Consequently, any re-eruption of diseases beyond our control paralyzes us with fear,” he said, urging people to get their worries under control. He mentioned that his parents remember the polio scares, and that they lived through those well into their 80s.

One of those parents is Ron Paul, the former congressman from Texas and presidential candidate who helped mainstream a version of libertarianism that his son is clearly inspired by, though the elder Paul is a separate political figure and not formally affiliated with his son except by biology. But here’s what Ron Paul, who also began his professional life as a doctor (an obstetrician) wrote in a commentary published on March 16: “People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit—financially or politically—from the ensuing panic.” The same day, Rand Paul’s chief political strategist, Doug Stafford, tweeted mockingly about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio taking a midday break from dealing with the pandemic response to go to a gym in Brooklyn: “So people can’t eat out but can go to the gym where they expel bodily fluid and touch things other people just touched. Ok.” His boss, he would later find out, was doing those things all week.

Here are some of the questions I sent Paul’s spokesman this morning:

  • When did the senator decide to get tested? Why did he wait, when Congressman Yarmuth, who was at that same museum fundraiser, got tested a week earlier?
  • Why did he not inform anyone in the Senate that he was concerned enough to get tested and/or self-quarantine?
  • How did the senator obtain a test so quickly, when others have been waiting (including others who likewise have conditions that have them on high alert)?
  • Was the test covered under his Senate health insurance? If not, how was it paid for?

The only response I received pointed me to the statements that Paul has put out over the past day, which don’t address these questions. Paul’s office released an emailed statement from him this afternoon, calling for “more testing immediately, even among those without symptoms.” He argued, “The nature of COVID-19 put me—and us all—in a Catch-22 situation. I didn’t fit the criteria for testing or quarantine. I had no symptoms and no specific encounter with a COVID-19 positive person. I had, however, traveled extensively in the U.S. and was required to continue doing so to vote in the Senate. That, together with the fact that I have a compromised lung, led me to seek testing.”

He turned his scolding toward anyone questioning how he’s behaved, holding himself up as an exemplar because he went out of his way to get tested, even though he kept it secret, and even though he got a test others can’t get.

“For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol,” the statement reads. “Perhaps it is too much to ask that we simply have compassion for our fellow Americans who are sick or fearful of becoming so.”

I hope the senator makes a full recovery. Many Americans who are sick or fearful of becoming so won’t get the same compassion or access to treatment that he did.

 

The Trump team’s increasingly jumbled case for striking Qasem Soleimani

It has been nearly a week since the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, and the justification for the strike is still clear as mud.

The Trump administration initially said Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks on Americans and U.S. interests in the Middle East, but it hasn’t provided much in the way of elaboration. It has since oscillated between pointing to the imminence of such attacks and suggesting that the strike was retaliatory for what Soleimani had already done. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to say whether the attacks were days or weeks away. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, unambiguously endorsed the idea of imminent attacks, but he also said the intelligence didn’t “exactly say who, what, when, where.”

And now, in the past 24 hours, it has become even more opaque.

Coming out of a private briefing on the subject Wednesday, Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) decried the lack of information. Lee called it probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue,” and said the administration had “not really” done anything to establish the imminence of the attacks.

Paul added: “I didn’t learn anything in the hearing that I hadn’t seen in a newspaper already. None of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), in contrast, called it “one of the best briefings I’ve had since I’ve been here in the United States Congress.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called it “a compelling briefing” and said it was unthinkable that anyone wouldn’t support the strike based on the information presented.

It’s important to note that the libertarian-minded Lee and Paul are big proponents of congressional authorization for military action, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they would be some of the more difficult gets for the administration on this subject. But that’s still two Republican senators who say a GOP administration just hasn’t provided the goods — or anything close.

With that as the backdrop Thursday, President Trump and Vice President Pence piled on the uncertainty. Appearing on the “Today” show, Pence said the Trump administration did not share some of the most important information because of its sensitivity.

Some of the most compelling evidence that Qasem Soleimani was preparing an imminent attack against American forces and American personnel also represents some of the most sensitive intelligence that we have,” Pence told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “It could compromise those sources and methods.”

Pence added on Fox News that “we’re simply not able to share with every member of the House and Senate the intelligence that supported the president’s decision to take out Qasem Soleimani,” but “I can assure your viewers that there was — there was a threat of an imminent attack.

So to recap: The White House is now saying that the information provided to lawmakers indeed may not have been as compelling as it could have been, but that Congress and the American people just need to trust that it’s there.

And then, to top it all off, Trump came out around noon on Thursday and disclosed one of Soleimani’s alleged plots: to blow up a U.S. embassy.

We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy,” Trump said. “We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious.”

Trump has the ability to declassify anything he wants to, but it was a curious sudden disclosure for an administration that had for six days resisted saying much of anything. It’s also difficult to believe that lawmakers who were told about a potential embassy attack in any real detail would say it was a nothingburger — no matter their political leanings.

As The Post’s Shane Harris noted, the idea that such information can’t be shared with Congress is also difficult to swallow. Even if an administration doesn’t share all the information widely with Congress for fear of leaks, it generally shares highly classified information with a smaller group of high-ranking lawmakers who are experienced in intelligence matters.

Shane Harris

@shaneharris

Be skeptical: The executive routinely shares highly-classified information with lawmakers, particularly Gang of 8, who are notified about covert actions. Officials have also been talking for days about intelligence (in more than general terms, btw) that led to Soleimani’s death. https://twitter.com/NBCNews/status/1215255923977080832 

NBC News

@NBCNews

NEW: Responding to criticism of congressional briefings, VP Pence asserts to @SavannahGuthrie that admin. could not share with the US Congress some of “most compelling” intel around the Iran strike because doing so “could compromise sources and methods.” https://nbcnews.to/2N9xoDU 

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At the same time, the White House has already frozen out Democratic members of the “Gang of Eight” by not informing them of the attack in advance, as is normal practice. And Trump has sent signals that perhaps he doesn’t intend to be terribly forthcoming with the Democrats in the group, retweeting a claim from conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza that sharing such information with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would be akin to sharing it with the Iranians.

Looming over all of it are the circumstances in which the strike was launched. Trump’s advisers reportedly delivered the president options to deal with an escalating situation with Iran, and killing Soleimani was the most extreme one. Such an option is generally used to push the president toward a more moderate course of action. Trump, though, chose the extreme one.

If the attacks were so imminent and the strike so necessary, why was that labeled the extreme option? Given that Trump’s unwieldy actions and declarations often force those around him to struggle to justify them after the fact, it’s not illogical to suspect a similar effort afoot here. That would sure explain the lack of transparency — even with Congress — and the conflicting signals.

Soleimani has indeed been estimated to have been behind the killing of hundreds of Americans, so the idea that he might be planning more such operations — especially at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran — is certainly logical. That appears to be why the administration is emphasizing what he has already done. But this was sold as something that was imminent, and there are plenty of indications that the information as we understand it might not be overly specific. Milley’s comments certainly indicated as much, and Lee and Paul say that basically no new information has been shared with them to back up that claim.

It’s difficult to believe there isn’t more that could be shared here — at least with a limited group of lawmakers — that could calm fears about the United States using yet another pretext for military action in the Middle East, as it did in Iraq. But for now, the Trump administration is doing a great job of seeding doubts. In the hours ahead, a big question will be whether top administration officials confirm and expand upon his embassy claim.

U.S. conflict with Iran: What you need to read

Updated January 8, 2020

Here’s what you need to know to understand what this moment means in U.S.-Iran relations.

What happened: President Trump ordered a drone strike near the Baghdad airport, killing Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and leader of its special-operations forces abroad.

Who was Soleimani: As the leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, Soleimani was key in supporting and coordinating with Iran’s allies across the region, especially in Iraq. Soleimani’s influence was imprinted on various Shiite militias that fought U.S. troops.

How we got here: Tensions had been escalating between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal, and they spiked shortly before the airstrike. The strikes that killed Soleimani were carried out after the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack against a military base in Kirkuk, Iraq, that the United States blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia.

What happens next: Iran responded to Soleimani’s death by launching missile strikes at two bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq. No casualties were reported. In an address to the nation, Trump announced that new sanctions will be imposed on Tehran.

Democrats Press for Details on Suleimani Strike, but Trump Administration Gives Few

Administration officials argue that the general was plotting imminent attacks, but Democrats said that the intelligence they have seen was too vague.

WASHINGTON — Under increasing pressure to defend the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq, senior Trump administration officials offered new justifications but little detail on Tuesday, citing threats to the American Embassy in Baghdad and intelligence suggesting other imminent attacks that helped prompt the strike.

Democrats stepped up their criticism of intelligence that the administration provided immediately after the drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The administration’s formal notification to Congress, which remains classified, provided no information on future threats or the imminent attack, officials who have read it said.

Several said it was improperly classified, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called it “vague and unacceptably unspecific.” Lawmakers pressed for more answers on Tuesday at a briefing by the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, and other intelligence officials.

Iranian forces or their proxies were days from attacking American personnel when President Trump decided to strike General Suleimani, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. Mr. Esper added that General Suleimani had traveled to Baghdad to coordinate attacks following up on a two-day siege of the United States Embassy there last week by pro-Iranian demonstrators. He declined to elaborate but called the intelligence “exquisite.”

Mr. Trump was more forceful but no more specific. General Suleimani “was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “And we stopped him.”

Their defense of the killing came as Tehran launched its initial response, firing a dozen ballistic missiles early Wednesday from Iranian territory targeting American forces in Iraq’s Anbar Province and Kurdish region. A Pentagon official confirmed that the missiles were launched at bases hosting American forces, but provided no initial damage assessment.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a direct and proportional response to the Suleimani killing, not the kind of covert action through proxy forces that Tehran has traditionally employed. American officials in recent weeks warned about the threat from short-range ballistic missiles that Iran had smuggled into Iraq.

As the threats from Tehran increased, several NATO allies conducting training for Iraqi troops — including Canada, Germany and Croatia — decided at least temporarily to remove some troops from Iraq. Canada, which leads the NATO training mission, announced it was withdrawing its 500 troops and sending them to Kuwait.

Fueled by what they have called weak and inadequate briefings from the administration, Democrats grew increasingly vocal in their skepticism, arguing the administration has a high burden to meet to show that the strike was justified.

Some drew comparisons to the flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the recent revelations about the failures of the war in Afghanistan.

“Between no weapons of mass destruction, no clear and present danger, the Afghanistan papers — there’s plenty to be skeptical about,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a brief interview. “The burden is on the administration to prove the truthfulness and veracity of how they made their decision.”

Ms. Haspel has spoken with multiple lawmakers in recent days, some of whom have urged her to be more forthcoming about the intelligence behind the killing. Ms. Haspel, in turn, has emphasized that she had serious concerns about the threat posed by General Suleimani if the administration held off on targeting him.

Before the drone strike that killed the general, the pro-Iranian protesters had attacked barricades outside the American Embassy in Baghdad, and American officials feared the attacks could resume and the situation could easily grow more dangerous, threatening the diplomats and military personnel who work at the compound.

General Suleimani had arrived in Baghdad to pressure the Iraqi government to kick out American forces after attacks by the United States on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group with ties to Iran, according to American officials.

One official noted that General Suleimani was traveling with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi who helps lead the Iranian-backed militias and who was coordinating the attacks on the American Embassy. Mr. al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike.

Additionally, the classified document sent to Capitol Hill only recounts the attacks that Iran and its proxies have carried out in recent months and weeks rather than outlining new threats, according to three American officials.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. demanded that Mr. Trump give a “sober-minded explanation” of the strike, its consequences and the intelligence that prompted it.

“All we’ve heard from this administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers, repeated assertions of an imminent threat without the necessary evidence to support that conclusion,” Mr. Biden, a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in remarks from Pier 59 in New York. If there was a threat, he added, “we’re owed an explanation and the facts to back it up.”

Iranian-supported militias have increasingly directed attacks at Iraqi bases with American forces over the past two months, officials have said. Since May, intelligence and military officials have warned that Iran has been preparing for attacks against Americans in the Middle East.

The reports have prompted the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to relocate officers out of the American Embassy in Baghdad in recent days and weeks, though some C.I.A. officers were relocated earlier, according to officials briefed on the matter. Some went to other parts of Iraq, and officials emphasized that the moves had not diminished intelligence collection on Iranian activity in the country.

“We’re all going to want to hear why they thought targeting Suleimani was the best option, what were the other targets on the table, did they know about the collateral damage?” he said.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has long vocally opposed the lengthy deployments of American forces overseas, has emerged as one of the few Republicans willing to criticize the decision. He questioned the administration’s claim of an imminent attack, citing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated criticism of General Suleimani.

“I’ve always been surprised at how presidents in general, including President Obama, stretch the idea of what imminence is,” Mr. Paul said. “I can tell you the secretary of state’s been talking about for over a year all the things Suleimani has done. I think they found this as an opportune time to take him out.”

Mr. Pompeo has led the administration’s defense of the strike and said on Tuesday that the intelligence was presented to Mr. Trump in broad detail before he ordered the strike.

“It was the right decision,” Mr. Pompeo said.

And Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, said that General Suleimani was plotting attacks on “diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines” at multiple facilities.

Mr. O’Brien said the intelligence would most likely remain classified to avoid putting sources of intelligence and collection methods at risk. But, he added, “I can tell you that the evidence was strong.”

With the exception of Mr. Paul, most Republicans on Capitol Hill have coalesced around the administration.

“We had very clear, very solid information from the intelligence community that indeed there were going to be imminent attacks that could involve hundreds of people, could involve even thousands of people,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters late last week, calling the intelligence “rock solid.”

The House was set this week to consider measures to curtail the president’s war-making powers on Iran by invoking the War Powers Resolution. A similar measure could come to a vote on the Senate floor as early as next week. And the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee announced a hearing set for next Tuesday on the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

How to Talk So Trump Will Listen: A GOP Guide for Pelosi

A few Republicans have managed—really—to work successfully with the president. Here’s what the new speaker could learn from them.

But there’s no formula for successfully negotiating with this mercurial, ad hoc chief executive. Pelosi’s first attempt to do so, an agreement in September 2017 to protect the Dreamers from deportation in exchange for border security funding, fell apart not long after it was announced.

Still, there’s no reason to think Pelosi, or anyone in the nation’s capital, can’t find a way to a win with Trump. Here’s what we’ve learned about the art of making a deal with Trump from the few successful people in Washington who have figured out how to get what they want out of the president.

Convince Him He’ll Be Loved

Trump may want nothing more than to be well-liked and appreciated. The bipartisan criminal justice reform bill seems to have been sold to him as an opportunity to do just that. Versions of the First Step Act, a major reform that liberalizes federal prison and sentencing laws, had floundered in Congress for years. The policy already had support from across the political spectrum—but it needed a Republican president who could provide political cover to bring enough members of the GOP on board.

Trump wasn’t an obvious champion for sentencing reform. He ran a campaign promising “law and order” and selected the tough-on-crime Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions’ Justice Department had issued reports critical of the bill. The president has suggested that convicted drug dealers deserved the death penalty. To get his support, the criminal-justice reformers would need to conduct a conversion.

The evangelist was White House adviser Jared Kushner, who, all accounts say, worked hard to persuade his father-in-law. Kushner met with everyone from members of the Congressional Black Caucus to Koch-funded interest groups to the news media to bolster an already large coalition. It helped that Kushner was able to deliver plenty of groups and individuals on the right.

“I think the broad popularity of the policy was the gateway,” says one of the bill’s advocates, who watched the process at the White House up close. “The president was also given a booklet of dozens of conservative organizations and individuals making supportive statements on the bill to show grassroots political support. And then it took some convincing that law enforcement was on board.”

The last piece proved crucial, because there’s perhaps no interest group Trump cherishes more than law enforcement. The marquee names—the

  • Fraternal Order of Police, the
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police, the
  • National District Attorneys Association—

were enough to get the president on board. With seemingly few people opposed (Tom Cotton, otherwise a devoted Trump ally, the most prominent) and even staunch critics in the media like Van Jones making the trek to kiss Trump’s ring at the White House, Kushner and his partners succeeded in selling Trump on the most important provision of the First Step Act: Mr. President, you will be loved for signing it.

It won’t be easy for Pelosi, but the Democratic speaker may be able to use similar tactics to goad Trump into supporting some bipartisan health-care initiatives. The administration has already begun proposing some form of federal intervention to lower prescription drug prices, while Democrats have long argued that Medicare should negotiate with Big Pharma on bringing down drug costs. Some kind of compromise bill could get the support of both Capitol Hill and the White House. Your older, Medicare-using base will love you for it, Pelosi might tell the president. That would get his attention.

Remind Him of His Campaign Promises

Earlier this month, Trump and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul were having one of their frequent conversations about the American military presence in both Syria and Afghanistan. Paul, a persistent, longtime critic of the continued deployment of troops in the Middle East, has found the strongest ally of his political career on the issue with Trump.

After their discussion, Paul sent the president some news articles supporting his view that the time was right to withdraw from Syria, says top Paul aide Doug Stafford, who says Trump sent back a note alerting him that he would “see some movement on this soon.” On December 19, Trump announced the forthcoming withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops fighting ISIS in Syria. The move was resisted by just about everyone around Trump, inside and outside the administration, including John Bolton, Jim Mattis and Lindsey Graham. All, except Paul.

I think people mistake it like Rand is trying to get him to do what Rand wants. But this is what Donald Trump ran on,” says Stafford. “Rand sees his role more as keeping the president where he wants to be and where he said he would be against some people who are inside of the White House and other senators who are trying to push him off of his beliefs and his position.”

Paul’s strategy was partially to ingratiate himself with the man he once, in the primary season, called an “orange-faced windbag.” Trump and Paul have played golf together, a favorite pastime for the president and a way other former antagonists have overcome bad blood.

.. in recent months, Paul has ramped up his public praise for Trump and joined the chorus of Republican criticism for the president’s treatment in the press. Trump has returned the favor with praiseworthy tweets. Paul had raised concerns about two of Trump’s high profile nominations in 2018, for their defenses of the government’s data surveillance apparatus. But he dropped his public skepticism of Brett Kavanaugh and, earlier in the year, did an about-face on his opposition to Mike Pompeo.

Stafford gives credit for Paul’s success to the senator’s constant prodding of the president to be true to himself and his base. “It’s not just Rand’s voice. People who voted for Donald Trump don’t want to still be there either,” Stafford says. “He ran on it, he was loud and clear on it, and he believes it.”

Like opposition to military interventionism in the Middle East, an increase in infrastructure spending is one of the few major Trump campaign pledges that aligns him more with Democrats than his fellow Republicans. Trump’s failure to embrace a major infrastructure bill in favor of the divisive travel ban at the outset of his presidency may have doomed his ability to work across the aisle on the issue. Yet Pelosi could get more than enough of her caucus to embrace some form of new infrastructure spending by reminding the president of his 2016 promise to invest more federal dollars in roads and bridges. If she persists in nudging Trump to fulfill his pledge, Pelosi could deliver a longtime Democratic wish list item.

Stay Outside the Room Where It Happens

Before he was the White House national security adviser being overruled by the president on Syria, John Bolton was arguably more influential with Trump as a private citizen—albeit one with the right platforms to reach him. A fixture on Fox News for the first year of the Trump presidency, Bolton used his cable perch and the host of outlets that would publish him to make an argument directly to Trump: Get out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump, who had run hard against what was officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had been persuaded to recertify the deal in early 2017 until the new administration could get off the ground. His national security team, particularly Mattis and Rex Tillerson, were insisting Trump recertify at the next deadline, in July. Trump was resistant but acquiesced to the pleas of his team to allow them to finish crafting a new interagency strategy on Iran. On July 13, my colleague Stephen F. Hayes and I reported in The Weekly Standard that Trump would recertify the deal a second time.

But four days later, on the day of the deadline, an article by Bolton in the Hill made its way to Trump via Iran-deal opponent and White House aide Steve Bannon. The headline read: “Trump Must Withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal—Now.” In his op-ed, Bolton argued that Trump “should stop reviewing and start deciding” how to exit the deal. For several hours that day, according to reporting by Hayes and me, Trump reversed his decision to recertify the deal. The White House team scrambled to roll out a brand-new policy. In one meeting that day with his national security team, Trump called up Senator Tom Cotton and placed him on speakerphone as Cotton made the case against recertification.

In a final meeting in the late afternoon, Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster prevailed on Trump to follow through on the plan to recertify, at least once more. Trump eventually assented, but not before vowing it would be the last time he would do so. It was: Trump did not recertify in October 2017 and, in May 2018, pulled the United States out of the agreement. Bolton and Cotton, working from the outside, won.

This may be the most difficult tactic for Pelosi, who so far has been unable to demonstrate she has Trump’s trust or respect—something the outside voices have always been able to draw on. She’s not

  • one of Trump’s old business friends in New York,
  • a consistent defender in the conservative media,
  • or a former campaign or White House aide.

The best way for Pelosi to persuade Trump from the outside is to do perhaps the unthinkable for a liberal Democrat from San Francisco: Go on Fox News. A lot. Pelosi or her deputies won’t be the obvious choices for the booking producers at Fox & Friends and Hannity, but House Democrats would be wise to take every opportunity to speak directly to Trump on his favorite cable network. A few solid appearances on Fox News Sunday, for instance, would help Pelosi immensely.

Pelosi herself already seems to recognize the necessity of making a public case, most obviously on television, for compromise with Trump. “You know how I talk to him?” she told Draper. “I just say it in public. That’s what he hears: what people say in public.” A Democrat in Trump’s Washington could do worse.