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The Politician Recap: Operation Spicy Lube – Vulture

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The Politician

Season 2

Episode 4
Editor’s Rating

2 stars

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix/NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX

In the last episode, “canceled” was the word of the day. Guess a thousand different two-word combinations and you’d never land on the term that percolates throughout this episode: “spicy lube.” Want to hear Bette Midler say the words “spicy lube” again and again? Watch this episode. Its title is supposedly “Hail Mary,” but come on, anyone who’s seen it knows the truth. This is “Operation Spicy Lube,” because it’s about spicy lube, prominently features spicy lube, and sees the plot shift dramatically because of spicy lube. The election nears, the stakes rise, and the lube, it is spicy.

It’s entirely too much spicy lube. This episode is utterly obsessed with the phrase spicy lube, to say nothing of the substance itself. It’s too bad, because the fixation on spicy lube tilts an otherwise entertaining hijinks-ensue kind of hour slightly over the edge. It wobbles past absurd and tumbles into a territory one might call grating. Maybe five fewer recitations of “spicy lube” and “Hail Mary a.k.a. Operation Spicy Lube” would be simply energetic and appealingly dizzy, right up until it isn’t.

It helps quite a bit that this episode comes closer to nailing that off-kilter acidic tone that characterizes some of Ryan Murphy’s best writing than most of the rest of the season. For that, The Politician has the writers to thank, yes, but also Gwyneth Paltrow and Heather Burns, both of whom demonstrate the power of an expert line reading on more than one occasion. (Heather Burns, for the record, has demonstrated this on multiple occasions in her career, perhaps most famously here.) Between the two of them, they’re only in a handful of scenes — alas, none of them together — but they are worth all the spicy lubes in this episode combined.

Before addressing Georgina and Mrs. McCutcheon, let’s just address the spicy lube head-on. The McAfee Hail Mary pays off in a hurry, when a twitterpated Hadassah arouses the new mole’s suspicions and then asks McAfee to run out and buy warming lubricant, which she’s instructed to place in Hadassah’s nightstand. McAfee seizes the opportunity to a) gape at Hadassah’s closet and b) creepily spy on her rendezvous with William, a decision that gives the Hobart campaign a chance to reveal that the throuple is a fiction, at least at present. McAfee sets up an ambush for Hadassah, and Payton tells her that Dede will need to drop out lest they spill the beans.

The bad day for the Standish campaign just gets worse. Dede doesn’t know that at first — she’s just excited about their handsome new third — but after William finds out about the story, he heads to the Hobart campaign and offers to trade some dirt in order to keep Hadassah out of it. Those crazy kids, they’re really in love. Turns out Hamilton, the new tenant of William’s third of the bed, is actually one of Marcus’s students, something of which Dede is unaware. She’s similarly unaware of the fact that Marcus has been writing term papers for students, taking cash, and not declaring any of it. Hadassah’s hysterical, Mrs. McCutcheon unleashes on her husband, Dede goes to see Georgina and gets a bunch of throuple questions for her trouble, and all hell breaks loose in general. That sense is underlined by Midler, turned up well past 11 in this episode.

Dede knows about only some of that, but she’s totally unaware of one of the only pieces of good news she gets: Payton and company decide not to leak the story. They feel it’s both wrong to do that to Dede and will reflect poorly on Payton in future campaigns. It’s complicated, as is pretty much everything that Payton has to deal with in this episode. The two pregnancy tests on display in the title sequence come into play, as both Alice and Astrid are pregnant, and while Alice’s pregnancy is seen by Payton and Alice as both politically advantageous and a happy event, Astrid’s is, well, not.

Yikes! Double babies! Cycles synced! Tee hee! In another episode, the revelation of Astrid’s pregnancy might be played as sensational — just imagine the movie that would be made from that premise, maybe starring Seth Rogen — but when there’s spicy lube all over the place, it comes across first as relatively subdued, then somewhat disturbing. The inconsistencies in Payton as a character come out in full force here, as this person who’s demonstrated an increasing amount of emotional sensitivity has no problem talking to this woman with whom he’s in an intimate relationship as though she’s an inconvenience at best. With all the talk this season about Astrid’s allegiances and how connected they are to her insecurities, it’s a fair bet that she’ll be making trouble for Payton and Alice in a hurry.

That scene is among the episode’s best, but as stated above, the real winners here are Gwyneth Paltrow and Heather Burns. The best Georgina scenes in this show fall into one of two categories: Either they’re thoroughly absurd, often in a way that plays on Paltrow’s own public persona, or they’re startlingly grounded and honest. The latter are much rarer, and all the highlights here belong to the former category. Georgina sits in her home sauna! Georgina forgets young people, it’s a tick she has! Georgina wants to ban all plastic! Georgina philosophizes about politics! She uses the phrase “mad respect”! She asks intrusive questions about polyamory! She works unusually hard for a woman as attractive as she is, and best of all, she dumps Tino with a text she reads from her phone as held up for her by an assistant: “Loser, bye.”

Still, in two scenes, Heather Burns steals the episode right out from under everyone else involved. Her frank delivery of the things Tino whispered to Mrs. McCutcheon while she was in a coma — it’s divine. The scene would be grimly funny regardless, absurd but not out of control, stylized but human, and fueled by percolating, righteous rage. There’s something enormously appealing about someone who simply does not give a fuck, and that’s Mrs. McCutcheon. All that, and she still makes time to give some essential advice to America’s youth: “Never accept a pulled pork taco from someone you don’t know.”

Most of the best scenes and stories in The Politician share some DNA with these scenes. In the case of Mrs. McCutcheon, we’re looking at something over the top but grounded in emotion, a combination that allows the style to feel like a part of the world and not a mere affectation. With Georgina, it’s a self-aware wink and sense of fun that tends to counterbalance the show’s self-serious streak. And as for the things that don’t work — well, they’re often spicy lube. Too much, too often, without rhyme or reason, overdoing it without justifying its existence.



Talking Points

This is ostensibly a big episode for James, but it sure seems like they’ve forgotten to give the excellent Theo Germaine anything to do but throw stuff and pout.

Please, please don’t use meditation as a substitute for birth control.

Payton was wrong to cut off McAfee’s report on Hadassah’s shoes. I want much more about the shoes. Give us a standalone episode about the shoes.

Teddy Sears screaming into that pillow: very funny and probably a useful GIF.

Costume of the episode: Lots of great options but I particularly loved Georgina’s pink jacket and orange pants, with Alice’s “I’m pregnant” ensemble coming in a strong second.

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Trump may have won the political battle. But he lost the constitutional one. – The Washington Post

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But as a matter of constitutional law, the court’s rulings represent significant and justified constraints on the authority not only of this president, but also his successors.

First, the court made clear that no president is above the law when it comes to criminal subpoenas for private information: State prosecutors are entitled to such subpoenas and don’t have to prove greater need when they seek a president’s records than they do for anyone else. Second, the court held that Congress has the authority to subpoena a president’s records, even as it put limits on lawmakers’ ability to do so.

It’s the second ruling that has greatest significance for future occupants of the Oval Office. Remarkably, this was the first time the high court considered whether Congress can compel presidents to produce records. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. explained, such demands typically are resolved in bruising battles between the branches.

“Congress and the president maintained this tradition of negotiation and compromise — without the involvement of this court — until the present dispute. Indeed, from President Washington until now, we have never considered a dispute over a congressional subpoena for the president’s records.”

This push and pull ended in the Trump presidency. The White House has simply refused to comply with congressional oversight requests or subpoenas, even in the case of impeachment. White House lawyers claim executive privilege allows not just the president but all White House aides, officials scattered throughout the executive branch and even private citizens to refuse to appear.

Until now, judges held back. During Watergate, a federal court refused to force President Richard Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes to the Senate. In another major case, a court ordered George W. Bush’s White House counsel, Harriet Miers, to testify about the politically motivated firing of seven U.S. attorneys, but also ruled she could refuse to answer specific questions. Trump stonewalled so vigorously that the high court felt it had to get involved — a legal backfire of potentially historic dimensions.

Under the new ruling, the House of Representatives will have to show the appeals court that this request for documents meets four newly established tests to ensure that the request is narrow and legitimate. Good lawyering should make that goal easy to meet.

The ruling does leave one cloud. Previous court rulings had held that Congress lacks the power to probe just to embarrass individuals; it needs a legitimate legislative purpose.

Investigations of wrongdoing — real or alleged — have been essential throughout U.S. history. Hundreds of officials over the decades have squirmed under TV lights and been forced to produce documents, sometimes revealing crimes and squalid misconduct. This has resulted in landmark statutes, from campaign finance reform to government ethics measures. Still, some inquests — think Teapot Dome, Watergate, or Iran contra — have been more noteworthy because they exposed wrongdoing to the public rather than any laws they produced.

Will this ruling serve as a charter for strong oversight? Or will it mischievously limit it, so that future White Houses can duck accountability? That will be up to future courts, who have now put themselves in the center of these disputes.

There are other ways to strengthen checks and balances. For starters, Congress will need to find ways to use the power of the purse to compel cooperation. Lawmakers also have the power to hold witnesses in contempt and even to seek prison time if they refuse to testify. The notion of a jail cell in the basement of the Capitol appears, alas, to be an urban myth. Perhaps one should be created.

There may also be a need for a clear statute to govern executive branch testimony. More than a decade ago, the Brennan Center proposed a new law to authorize executive privilege but limit its use and give Congress the power to compel testimony. It’s time to take such proposals more seriously.

Ultimately, much of the answer will come in the conduct of president and Congress. Investigators will need to curb their appetites for frivolous and harassing investigations. Presidents will have to decide whether to fight for every inch of advantage, or acknowledge Congress’ role, no matter how infuriating that may seem.

For now, Congress has new weight behind its constitutional authority. When they negotiate, lawmakers now know that, sooner or later the Supreme Court has said it would be willing to step in. That alone can help reset the balance between the two branches at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Government watchdog: Politics caused ‘Sharpiegate’ frantic rebuke – USA TODAY

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Political pressure from the White House and a series of “crazy in the middle of the night” texts, emails and phone calls caused top federal weather officials to wrongly admonish a weather office for a tweet that contradicted President Donald Trump about Hurricane Dorian in 2019, an inspector general report found.

Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson concluded in a report issued Thursday that the statement chastising the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, could undercut public trust in weather warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and for a short time even hindered public safety. Agency officials downplayed and disputed the findings.

“Instead of focusing on NOAA’s successful hurricane forecast, the Department unnecessarily rebuked NWS forecasters for issuing a public safety message about Hurricane Dorian in response to public inquiries–that is, for doing their jobs,” the report concluded.

Former Obama NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, a scientist at Oregon State University, said in an email that high level officials “put politics and their own jobs above public safety. In my view, this is shameful, irresponsible, and unethical.”

Hurricane Dorian: Emails show weather service’s angst, anger over Trump’s ‘doctored’ hurricane map

At issue was a Sept. 1 tweet from the Birmingham weather office that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The tweet came out 10 minutes after Trump had tweeted that Alabama was among states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Forecasters in Alabama said they didn’t know about the president’s tweet, which was based on outdated information, and that they were instead responding to calls from a worried public.

By the time the two tweets were posted, Alabama was no longer in the hurricane center’s warning cone, although it had been in previous days. One hurricane center graphic at the time showed a “non-zero” chance of tropical storm force winds for a tiny corner of Alabama, something NOAA officials later scurried to highlight, according to the report.

However, NOAA acting chief Neil Jacobs told the inspector general’s office that the day of the president’s tweet he was baffled by Trump’s reference to Alabama: “(T)hat was the first time when I was wondering why are we still talking about Alabama, you know?”

The dustup came to be referred to as “Sharpiegate” after the president later displayed a National Hurricane Center warning map that had been altered with a black marker to include Alabama in the potential path of the storm. The president is known for his use of Sharpies.

Four days after the tweets, then acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross an email after 9 p.m., saying “it appears as if the NWS intentionally contradicted the president. And we need to know why. He wants either a correction or an explanation or both.”

That triggered a series of texts, emails and phone calls involving Ross underlings, especially Department of Commerce Chief of Staff Michael J. Walsh Jr. from 1 a.m. to 3:43 a.m., laying the groundwork for a NOAA statement that came out the next day.

Jacobs said “things went crazy in the middle of the night.”

Then-NOAA communications chief Julie Kay Roberts told the inspector general’s office that Walsh told her “there are jobs on the line. It could be the forecast office in Birmingham. Or it could be someone higher than that. And the higher is less palatable.”

Walsh denied that to the inspector general. The report said there was no credible evidence found to say that jobs were threatened. However, Jacobs told the inspector general’s office he “definitely felt like our jobs were on the line” but that “nobody told me I was going to get fired.”

The eventual unsigned statement from NOAA said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dorian made landfall in North Carolina and had no major impact on Alabama, which is about 600 miles away.

“By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA,” the inspector general report said

The report also criticized Roberts for deleting text messages, which is contrary to government document retention rules.

In a statement attached to the report, Walsh said the report’s conclusions “are completely unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report lays out. The Inspector General instead selectively quotes from interviews, takes facts out of context.”

The White House declined comment. The Department of Commerce attached a letter to the report saying the report doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the Sept. 6 statement that criticized the Birmingham office nor does it find that the agency suppressed scientific communication.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she could not support Jacobs’ nomination to be the full-time, no longer acting, chief of NOAA, saying the report shows Jacobs “failed to protect scientists from political influence.”

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Govt Watchdog: Politics Caused 'Sharpiegate' Frantic Rebuke – The New York Times

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Political pressure from the White House and a series of “crazy in the middle of the night” texts, emails and phone calls caused top federal weather officials to wrongly admonish a weather office for a tweet that contradicted President Trump about Hurricane Dorian in 2019, an inspector general report found.

Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson concluded in a report issued Thursday that the statement chastising the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, could undercut public trust in weather warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and for a short time even hindered public safety. Agency officials downplayed and disputed the findings.

“Instead of focusing on NOAA’s successful hurricane forecast, the Department unnecessarily rebuked NWS forecasters for issuing a public safety message about Hurricane Dorian in response to public inquiries—that is, for doing their jobs,” the report concluded.

Former Obama NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, a scientist at Oregon State University, said in an email that high level officials “put politics and their own jobs above public safety. In my view, this is shameful, irresponsible, and unethical.”

At issue was a Sept. 1 tweet from the Birmingham weather office that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The tweet came out 10 minutes after President Donald Trump had tweeted that Alabama was among states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Forecasters in Alabama said they didn’t know about the president’s tweet, which was based on outdated information, and that they were instead responding to calls from a worried public.

By the time the two tweets were posted, Alabama was no longer in the hurricane center’s warning cone, although it had been in previous days. One hurricane center graphic at the time showed a “non-zero” chance of tropical storm force winds for a tiny corner of Alabama, something NOAA officials later scurried to highlight, according to the report.

However, NOAA acting chief Neil Jacobs told the inspector general’s office that the day of the president’s tweet he was baffled by Trump’s reference to Alabama: “(T)hat was the first time when I was wondering why are we still talking about Alabama, you know?”

The dustup came to be referred to as “Sharpiegate” after the president later displayed a National Hurricane Center warning map that had been altered with a black marker to include Alabama in the potential path of the storm. The president is known for his use of Sharpies.

Four days after the tweets, then acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross an email after 9 p.m., saying “it appears as if the NWS intentionally contradicted the president. And we need to know why. He wants either a correction or an explanation or both.”

That triggered a series of texts, emails and phone calls involving Ross underlings, especially Department of Commerce Chief of Staff Michael J. Walsh Jr. from 1 a.m. to 3:43 a.m., laying the groundwork for a NOAA statement that came out the next day.

Jacobs said “things went crazy in the middle of the night.”

Then-NOAA communications chief Julie Kay Roberts told the inspector general’s office that Walsh told her “there are jobs on the line. It could be the forecast office in Birmingham. Or it could be someone higher than that. And the higher is less palatable.”

Walsh denied that to the inspector general. The report said there was no credible evidence found to say that jobs were threatened. However, Jacobs told the inspector general’s office he “definitely felt like our jobs were on the line” but that “nobody told me I was going to get fired.”

The eventual unsigned statement from NOAA said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dorian made landfall in North Carolina and had no major impact on Alabama, which is about 600 miles away.

“By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA,” the inspector general report said

The report also criticized Roberts for deleting text messages, which is contrary to government document retention rules.

In a statement attached to the report, Walsh said the report’s conclusions “are completely unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report lays out. The Inspector General instead selectively quotes from interviews, takes facts out of context.”

The White House declined comment. The Department of Commerce attached a letter to the report saying the report doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the Sept. 6 statement that criticized the Birmingham office nor does it find that the agency suppressed scientific communication.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she could not support Jacobs’ nomination to be the full-time, no longer acting, chief of NOAA, saying the report shows Jacobs “failed to protect scientists from political influence.”

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