A political week marked by both tragedy and farce saw President Trump venture from Washington to Puerto Rico and then onward to Las Vegas and back, performing the head of state role that does not always come naturally to him.
But everything is political these days — gun regulation long has been, but competence in hurricane relief is too — and Trump’s travels were deeply marked by controversy. Meanwhile, back home, the president’s team continued to struggle with the politics of tax reform and Trump continued to struggle with the task of managing his own team.
Here’s what you need to know.
Dozens were massacred in Las Vegas
A gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas with motives that remain obscure days later. More than 50 people were killed and hundreds more injured in what’s now the largest mass shooting in modern American history. And it has reopened the debate over gun regulation.
- The facts on guns: America’s multitude of guns — and multitude of gun-related deaths — is internationally unique. These 17 maps and charts help put the issue in perspective and deliver real facts.
- Australia’s gun crackdown saved lives: A perennial counterpoint to the US experience is Australia, where a 1996 mass shooting prompted a huge nationwide crackdown on guns — which delivered big gains in terms of fewer murders and suicides.
- America is thinking small: In the US, of course, nothing like that is even vaguely under consideration. Instead, there’s some talk that some Republicans might go along with increased regulation on so-called “bump stocks” that give automatic-like capabilities to semiautomatic weapons, and where Republicans may be able to sell heresy on guns as acceptable because it would be correcting a decision by the Obama-era Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to allow them.
Trump flew to Puerto Rico
Trump took a brief trip to still-ravaged Puerto Rico, where he tossed paper towels into a crowd, praised local officials who have praised him, and touted an outdated and almost certainly inaccurate death count.
- Emergency conditions still apply: More than two weeks after the hurricane struck, the island’s hospitals are still in emergency triage mode dealing with intermittent generator capacity and supply shortages. Normal life remains at a standstill with more than 90 percent of the island lacking power.
- Debt relief, or not: The president appeared to briefly endorse the idea of wiping out Puerto Rico’s public sector debt, only to be abruptly contradicted by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who said there would be no “bailout” for Puerto Rico.
- What’s next? Nobody really knows. The White House continues to be at war with the press over criticism of the government’s initial slow response. Longer-term issues like how an already bankrupt island can possibly rebuild while facing a crippling debt burden — or how bondholders can possibly be paid when the island’s infrastructure is in ruins — have barely begun to be discussed.
Tax reform is looking shaky
On Thursday, the House passed a budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions that could pave the way for a tax bill to pass the Senate with just 50 votes. But even as the House plunged ahead on process, there’s ample sign that on substance, Republicans are far from a consensus.
- There’s no real plan: The key issue is that despite months of talk, Republicans leaders haven’t really agreed to anything among themselves on the critical question of whether rate cuts need to be offset by eliminating deductions, and if so, what deductions should go.
- Disagreement about the one point of agreement: One thing GOP leaders did all agree on was to eliminate the State and Local Tax (SALT) exemption, but a lot of House Republicans have a problem with this, and several members who voted for the GOP budget resolution say they only did so on the understanding that the SALT proposal would eventually be changed.
- What’s next? To pass a tax bill under reconciliation orders, the House and Senate are going to need to agree on a budget. And then, of course, someone will have to write a tax bill that actually fleshes out the details. And then there’s the small matter of getting the bill to pass.
Morongate rocked the Cabinet
Long-simmering rumors about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s discontent at the State Department reached a head with an NBC News report that held that Tillerson had seriously considered resigning and, in frustration, referred to Trump as a “moron” (or perhaps “fucking moron”) after a July 20 meeting with top national security officials. Tillerson then made an odd public statement on Wednesday, denying that he’d ever considered quitting and simply drawing more attention to the question of whether he’d called the president a “moron” (later denied by a spokesperson).
- Cabinet suicide pact: John Hudson of BuzzFeed reported that Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have a “suicide pact,” whereby the other two would resign if any one of the three were to be fired.
- Trump seems mad at Tillerson: But if Trump can’t fire his secretary of state, he can undermine him on Twitter, as he did last weekend by publicly proclaiming Tillerson’s talks with North Korea to be “wasting his time.”
- 71 million reasons to stay: Tillerson’s departure from Exxon Mobil for the State Department came with a handy payday as he cashed out of Exxon stock, but due to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law, he’ll be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds unless he stays with the government for at least a year. That’s a pretty compelling reason not to quit.