It’s mid-April so a lot of people are thinking about big returns — for some that return involves the IRS, for others it’s another pilgrimage to the low desert to see the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Income Tax Day is Monday, Coachella’s opening weekend is already underway and both timely topics were front and center on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO on Friday night.
“You’re not even excited about me,” Maher said at the very top of his opening monologue. “It’s Coachella. It kicks off this weekend. Just what America needs another reason to take drugs. You know Coachella lasts two weekends. Like a cabinet member that works for Trump. And it’s pricey. None of that Woodstock ‘come in for free’ shit. But you get a lot for your money. Dozens of acts are there competing for the affections of entitled millennials. I’m sorry I’m thinking of the Democratic primaries.”
Maher then turned his attention to the annual deadline for IRS personal income tax filings. “Monday is Tax Day. Or as Trump calls it ‘Monday.’ As we are all paying ours, he will not release his. You know the IRS was supposed to get his tax returns this Wednesday. Didn’t happen, didn’t happen. There are committees in Congress that are allowed, by law, to request any tax return. The IRS, they have to provide them. This is what we used to call a law. We don’t have those any more. Trump finally has the lackey Attorney General he always wanted, William Barr.”
Barr was a ripe target for Maher who said the nation’s top law enforcement official was less than forthright while testifying before Congress this week. “He began by thanking the committee for the opportunity to come shed more darkness on the situation. This was a bad sign: When he took the oath, he raised his hand, the Sharpie was still in his hand. Then he threw a bombshell in there…he said there might be spying on the Trump campaign. Wow.”
Maher sounded dazed by the Trump administration’s trademark tactic of investigating investigators and decrying witch hunts while launching their own. The comedian walked through the sequence of the campaign spying hubbub and marveled at a loopy situation that has now come full circle.
“Nothing to see here. The Justice Department looked into it at the time and of course found no evidence. Now the Attorney General of the United States, without evidence, is going to have his Justice Department look into the Justice Department — their old investigation — which found no evidence. Does anyone have the number for Michael Jackson’s doctor? I need a nap. I want to sleep for about two years.”
Trump’s frustrated firing of his Homeland Security Secretary this week also caught Maher’s ear. The President reportedly decided that Nielsen was not tough enough on immigration issues. “Kirstjen Nielsen, the cage lady, she was not tough enough. She got fired. Although she said they weren’t fighting, she just wants to spend more time separating her family.”
Maher followed up with another volley at the White House and its “mean attitude” on any topic involving immigration. “He’s not messing around. He said it again today. He does not want an America of low-skilled immigrants. And Melania said ‘F— you, too.”
That shot at the Slovene-born Melania Trump (a former fashion model) won’t win HBO’s firebrand comic a lot of love from defenders of the First Lady. But, unlike Nielsen, Maher has no issue showing toughness on the job. He dialed up some especially harsh humor for Fox News, which has been challenged lately in the on-screen graphics department. “I think we have the picture: they called Central America ‘Mexican countries.’ Mexican countries? Oh and by the way they also once called — [it was] a few weeks ago — a ‘selfie’ a ‘selife.’ They even misspelled ‘spelling bee.’ That’s true! You know, if you guys are going to live in the United States? Learn the f—— language.”
The Trump administration’s floated idea about sending illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities earned Maher’s outrage like no other topic on the night. Maher framed the idea as a means of political retribution that Trump would use to punish any liberal dissent. “This is where we are right now as a country. If the Democrats don’t see it your way? Dump refugees in their cities because we’re the United States. I know we’re not supposed to use words like ‘deplorable.’ Hard. It’s pretty f—– deplorable. We’re not supposed to say ‘racist,’ not supposed to say ‘stupid,’ ‘backward.’ Hard for me. Last week, this is not a joke, Kentucky outlawed bestiality. Last week. And that’s not even what blew my mind the most. It was the words that begin the third paragraph of the article I was reading, ‘Opponents of the bill…'”
Maher did aim some shots at the left side of the aisle as well. Sizing up the Democratic field of hopefuls he found that each has an appeal that might get a liberal’s bleeding heart thumping. “The battle for the hearts of Democratic base is on. Julian Castro is a Latino, Kamala Harris is biracial, and Beto [O’Rourke] played in a punk band. Mayor Pete [Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana] is like, ‘I’m gay. Mic drop.'”
Columnist Seth Abramson and humorist Dave Barry were tonight’s interview guests. The panelists were political strategist Cornell Belcher, former diplomat Wendy Sherman, and editor Matt Welch.