Latest StoriesRSS

select from:

E.g., 3/24/2018
E.g., 3/24/2018

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.23.18

03/23/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has refused to call special elections to fill state legislative vacancies, a state judge ruled yesterday the governor no longer has a choice. The case was brought by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and an affiliate of the group he leads, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the latest Public Policy Polling survey found Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) ahead by five points over Rep. Martha McSally (R), 46% to 41%.

* On a related note, in Wisconsin, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) has been targeted with an aggressive round of attack ads by conservative groups, but PPP found her with leads of about 12 points in hypothetical general election match-ups over her likely Republican challengers.

* In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) appears to be a pretty safe bet for a second term: a new WBUR poll shows him with big leads over each of his would-be Democratic opponents. Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D) comes closest, and he trails Baker in this poll by 34 points.

* As if Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) doesn't already have enough problems, the Federal Election Commission contacted his campaign committee this week about potentially illegal contributions he received in 2017. The FEC sent the letter to Nunes' campaign treasurer, who also happens to be his mother.

* Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is heavily favored in Utah's U.S. Senate race this year, but he's not running unopposed. State Rep. Mike Kennedy kicked off his Republican primary bid this week.

read more

Mick Mulvaney

Trump's CFPB reportedly goes easy on another payday lender

03/23/18 11:28AM

Donald Trump's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, announced in January that it would effectively ignore Obama-era safeguards protecting consumers from predatory payday lenders.

Slate  reported soon after, "Last week, the CFPB dropped a lawsuit in Kansas against four payday lenders without any explanation, other than a weak assurance that it would continue investigating the case. Meanwhile, International Business Times reports today that Mulvaney stealthily closed an investigation into a South Carolina-based payday lender, World Acceptance Corporation, which had previously donated to his campaigns."

In February, after the CFPB spent years building a case against one controversial payday lender, Mulvaney dropped the case. Reuters reports today that the pattern continues.

The top cop for U.S. consumer finance has decided not to sue a payday loan collector and is weighing whether to drop cases against three payday lenders, said five people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The move shows how Mick Mulvaney, named interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by U.S. President Donald Trump, is putting his mark on an agency conceived to stamp out abusive lending.

I'm starting to think Mulvaney doesn't much care about alleged abuses among payday lenders.

read more


AG Sessions finds a new way to try to make Trump happy

03/23/18 10:57AM

Donald Trump delivered a speech in New Hampshire last week on the U.S. response the opioid crisis, and while there was no shortage of problems with the president's vision, it was his call for increased executions that stood out.

About midway through the remarks, Trump insisted that policymakers need to approve new laws to empower the government to kill drug dealers. "Unless you have really, really powerful penalties, led by the death penalty for the really bad pushers and abusers, we are going to get nowhere," he declared.

It was an unfortunate argument for all sorts of reasons, though MSNBC's Danny Cevallos highlighted one of the most important: capital punishment is already available for drug traffickers in the federal criminal justice system. It's just not used.

And as Slate's Mark Joseph Stern explained, that's where Jeff Sessions comes in.

But on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions played along, issuing a memo in which he "strongly encourage[d] federal prosecutors" to seek capital sentences "for certain drug-related crimes," including those that do not involve murder.

Sessions' memo might be disturbing if it weren't so pathetic. He must know that his entreaty will not lead to a single execution, but instead -- at most -- to millions of taxpayer dollars spent litigating appeals.

So why did the attorney general issue the memo? Probably because Sessions is still looking for ways to make Trump happy.

read more

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

What Team Trump describes as 'fake news' is often true

03/23/18 10:12AM

Nearly two weeks ago, the New York Times  reported that Donald Trump was poised to make significant changes to his legal defense team. A day later, the president accused the newspaper of having "purposely" publishing "a false story."

We now know that the president has reached out to two high-profile D.C. attorneys, neither of whom joined Trump's team, while hiring two Fox News personalities to help with his legal defense. The latest head of his team of attorneys resigned yesterday.

In other words, the president's denial wasn't true.

Also this month, NBC News, citing five sources, reported that the White House "is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser." Politico published this item later that day.

The Trump administration batted down a new report on Thursday that national security adviser H.R. McMaster could be on his way out, with President Donald Trump telling a spokesman for the National Security Council that the article was "fake news."

"I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office," the spokesman, Michael Anton, said in a statement provided to pool reporters. "President Trump said that the NBC News story is 'fake news,' and told McMaster that he is doing a great job."

Raj Shah, the White House principal deputy press secretary, also cast doubt on reports of McMaster's looming departure, telling pool reporters that the administration often dealt with "rumor and innuendo about senior administration officials."

Just last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added that she'd just spoken to Trump and McMaster, explaining, "[C]ontrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC."

read more

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

The 'staging area' for employment in Trump's White House

03/23/18 09:20AM

Fox News' Juan Williams joked on the air last week that he sees Donald Trump's White House as a reality-television program -- and if you want to make it onto the show, you have to be in a Fox News green room "because apparently that's the staging area."

Perhaps Williams wasn't kidding.

Less than an hour after President Trump named John R. Bolton as his new national security adviser on Thursday, Mr. Bolton made an appearance in the venue where many Americans, including Mr. Trump, have come to know him over the past decade: Fox News.

"I think I still am a Fox News contributor," Mr. Bolton, laughing, told the host Martha MacCallum at the start of a previously scheduled interview.

"No," Ms. MacCallum clarified. "You're not."

You can't blame him for being a bit confused.

Trump's new White House national security advisor was, up until yesterday afternoon, a Fox News personality. Indeed, Bolton appears to have been offered his new job at least in part because the president thinks he's "good on television."

Joe diGenova, the new member of the president's legal defense team, is also a Fox News personality, and he was joined on the team yesterday by his wife, Victoria Toensing, who is -- let's all say it together -- a Fox News personality. (Trump has also reportedly turned to Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News host, for legal guidance.)

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told Rachel on the show last night, "I'm concerned the president's world is confined now to watching Fox News... Aside from his insular existence in the Oval Office, Fox is his whole world."

Well, not his whole world: Trump hired television host Larry Kudlow to be the head of the White House National Economic Council -- and Kudlow worked for CNBC.

The larger point, of course, is that the president's TV remote remains the most important tool in the United States.

read more

Image: National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster

Trump brings a change for the worse to the White House

03/23/18 08:50AM

Part of the problem with the revolving door in Donald Trump's White House is the turmoil itself. An administration cannot expect to function effectively when a president is constantly hiring and firing new officials for powerful executive-branch posts.

But the other part of the problem is that each of Trump's recent changes have been changes for the worse. Rex Tillerson is being replaced by Mike Pompeo; Gary Cohn is being replaced with Larry Kudlow; and as we learned late yesterday, H.R. McMaster is being replaced with John Bolton.

I'm reluctant to refer to Tillerson, Cohn, and McMaster as the administration's "grown-ups," since they were often wrong, ineffectual, and marginalized. I prefer to think of them as the president's training wheels.

Trump has never been graceful, and he still struggles to steer straight. Observers, even those who want to see him reach his destination, routinely feel the need to cover their eyes when they're not burying their heads in their hands. But officials like Tillerson, Cohn, and McMaster generally made an effort to help prevent total wipeouts. They recognized their president's many limitations, and often made credible efforts to keep him from falling.

This is especially true of McMaster, who tried to help the president be more responsible on everything from NATO to Russia to North Korea. When Trump threatened our South Korean allies, it was McMaster who reached out to tell them to ignore his erratic boss.

The president, however, didn't appreciate McMaster's maturity. I'm reminded of this  Politico piece published a month ago:

read more

Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

With Bolton pick, Trump betrays his own vision

03/23/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump was a nontraditional presidential candidate, and not just because major American political parties don't usually nominate inexperienced gameshow hosts to the nation's highest office. What also helped Trump set apart was his willingness to ignore several key elements of his party's orthodoxy -- either because he didn't know what Republicans thought about key issues, or because he didn't care.

The result was an idiosyncratic platform in which the nominee of a far-right GOP spoke openly about his opposition to entitlement cuts, despite his party's support for them. Trump also voiced support for higher taxes on the wealthy, despite his party's opposition to them. The same Republican candidate vowed to get tough on Wall Street, combat corruption, bring health care coverage to all Americans, and keep Goldman Sachs insiders at arm's length -- all positions that put him at odds with the contemporary GOP.

The sincerity and depth of Trump's positions were open questions. It was nevertheless obvious that in some key areas, he at least claimed he wouldn't be doctrinaire.

But perhaps Trump's most striking break with Republican orthodoxy came on foreign policy. Donald Trump seemed to genuinely believe in a non-interventionist vision for the U.S. role in the world. He repeatedly mocked the war in Iraq, made clear he had no use for a Bush/Cheney-style approach to international affairs, and dismissed those who disagreed as useless fools.

After Inauguration Day, it didn't take long for Trump to betray the broader vision he sold to the electorate, abandoning practically every position that set him apart from traditional GOP leaders, but on foreign policy, the perfidy took longer.

As of yesterday afternoon, however, the duplicitous campaign reached its endpoint. I'm reminded of something The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf wrote a few weeks ago in response to rumors that John Bolton would soon replace H.R. McMaster as the White House national security advisor:

The problem isn't just that Bolton is singularly ill-suited for the role -- he also represents a set of views diametrically opposed to the policies that helped the president secure his job. Trump won the GOP primaries and the White House in part by taking the position that the Iraq War was a dumb waste of American lives and resources.

Bolton, meanwhile, not only celebrated the disastrous war during the Bush era, he also continues to insist it was a wise decision, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

read more

Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.22.18

03/22/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Risking a trade war: "President Donald Trump on Thursday directed his top trade representative to level an estimated $50 billion in new tariffs against Chinese goods, taking his latest action against what he sees as unfair trade practices even as markets remain skittish about a possible trade war."

* Investors noticed: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 700 points Thursday as losses accelerated late in the session, pushing the blue-chip gauge beneath a psychologically significant level at 24,000."

* What's left of his legal team disagrees: "President Donald Trump said Thursday that he still 'would like' to testify before special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election."

* The final House vote on the omnibus spending bill wasn't close. The Senate has until tomorrow at midnight to prevent a shutdown.

* The banking angle to this story matters: "Stormy Daniels' lawyer is demanding that the Trump Organization preserve all records related to the adult film actress and he plans to subpoena them -- citing 'unmistakable links' between President Donald Trump's company and a secrecy agreement she signed."

* I sure hope you saw Rachel's segment on this: "A cooperating witness in the special counsel investigation worked for more than a year to turn a top Trump fund-raiser into an instrument of influence at the White House for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to interviews and previously undisclosed documents."

* Border Patrol: "President Trump has called for a wall along the border with Mexico to stop undocumented immigrants and drugs from entering the United States. But Border Patrol agents on the front lines say they need more technology and additional personnel to curb the illegal traffic, according to a report released on Thursday by Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee."

read more

A woman points a handgun with a laser sight on a wall display of other guns during the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 13, 2007, in St. Louis.

After more than two decades, Congress clarifies limits on gun research

03/22/18 04:56PM

The day after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a longtime opponent of new gun measures, said Congress needs to "take a breath and collect the facts." The Republican leader added, "We don't just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data."

The trouble, of course, has been that access to facts and data has been severely limited by something called the Dickey Amendment, approved in the 1990s, which effectively made it impossible for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to study gun violence.

More than two decades later, we're starting to see an overdue change. This gets a little complicated, but the new omnibus spending measure addresses this is an important way. The Washington Post  reported:

Accompanying the $1.3 trillion spending bill that the House passed Thursday afternoon is language that may open the door slightly to restoring federal funding for gun research.

The language, which is still pending passage in the Senate, clarifies that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can indeed conduct research into gun violence.

This probably sounds a little confusing. After all, if the Dickey Amendment blocked researchers from studying gun violence, and the amendment is still in place, what changed?

The answer, evidently, is new language lawmakers have agreed to that clarifies how the Dickey Amendment should be interpreted.

read more

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

Top member of Trump's legal defense team resigns

03/22/18 12:59PM

Just 12 days ago, the New York Times  reported that Donald Trump was "in discussions" with Emmet Flood, a veteran D.C. lawyer who has the kind of background and expertise the president desperately needs. He neglected to tell his current attorneys about his outreach to a new one.

A day later, Trump insisted that that everything was fine with his private legal team, which is overseeing Trump's defense in the Russia scandal. He added, "I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job."

And yet, here we are, watching the lead attorney on the president's team resign.

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, who has been providing counsel to the president on the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, said Thursday that he has resigned.

In a brief statement to NBC News, attorney John Dowd confirmed his move and said, "I love the president and wish him very well."

Dowd's resignation comes less than a week after he issued a bizarre call for the end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and three months after Dowd made the curious assertion that the president is literally incapable of obstructing justice.

This is the second time Trump has lost the lead attorney on his defense team, following Marc Kasowitz's demotion last year.

What we're left with is a striking set of circumstances: as the Russia scandal intensifies, and the special counsel's team flips key witnesses, the president's team of attorneys is becoming an embarrassing mess.

read more

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.22.18

03/22/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* As Rachel noted at the end of last night's show, Pennsylvania's congressional special election is now officially over: Rick Saccone (R) finally conceded to Rep.-elect Conor Lamb (D).

* And speaking of Pennsylvania, state House Speaker Michael Turzai (R) confirmed yesterday that the Republican-led chamber will explore impeachment against four state Supreme Court justices who ruled against the GOP's gerrymandered map.

* Defying the White House's preferences, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) announced yesterday that he's appointing Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) to replace Sen. Thad Cochran (R), who's stepping down from the Senate for health reasons.

* In the Democratic primary in Illinois' 3rd district, did the state's open-primary system help Rep. Dan Lipinski fend off a progressive challenge from Marie Newman? Maybe.

* In Missouri, the Democratic-affiliated Senate Majority PAC is making a six-figure ad buy in support of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), launching a new ad tying state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) to the state's scandal-plagued governor, Eric Greitens (R).

* On a related note, Hawley's campaign is welcoming support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but Hawley still won't commit to backing McConnell for the GOP leadership post.

* In California, a new statewide poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows Gavin Newsom (D) with a solid lead in the Golden State's gubernatorial race. The same survey shows Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) with a 26-point lead over her Democratic rival, Kevin de Leon, in this year's Senate race.

read more