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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.19.18

06/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* McConnell suggested he has the votes to pass something: "Republican senators moved on Tuesday to defuse a political crisis by seeking passage of legislation that would swiftly bring an end to President Trump's practice of separating children from their parents when families cross into the United States illegally."

* Some additional pressure from corporate heavyweights the GOP occasionally listens to: "Business groups including the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable also have called for an end to the family separations."

* In case you missed the ProPublica report yesterday: "The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they're crying so hard, they can barely breathe."

* That's a word the president should try to avoid: "President Donald Trump accused Democrats of encouraging undocumented immigrants to 'infest' the United States Tuesday as he escalated an already pitched defense of his controversial policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border."

* Hmm: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly canceled a planned Wednesday briefing for all U.S. senators on a deal with North Korea that President Donald Trump has hailed as a breakthrough -- even while the details remain vague."

* Giuliani is quite a kidder: "President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said on Monday that he was actually just bluffing last week when he called for Justice Department leaders to suspend special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation within 24 hours."

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United Nations Headquarters' General Assembly Building and Secretariat Building in New York City, USA, Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo by Matt Campbell/EPA)

Trump administration to quit UN Human Rights Council

06/19/18 12:49PM

For decades, the United Nations had something called the Human Rights Commission, which became something of a joke when nations with abysmal records on human rights were able to join. Twelve years ago, it was replaced by a new U.N. entity, called the Human Rights Council.

It was widely assumed the United States would take a leading role on the panel, but that didn't happen: the Bush/Cheney administration's ambassador to the United Nations, a guy by the name of John Bolton, said he didn't trust the new council, so there would be no American support for it.

Early on in the Obama administration, the United States' delegation reversed course and joined the Human Rights panel. Bloomberg News reports today that we're poised to reverse course again.

The Trump administration plans to announce its withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, making good on a pledge to leave a body it has long accused of hypocrisy and criticized as biased against Israel, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley plan to announce the withdrawal at the State Department in Washington at 5 p.m., the people said.

NBC News has confirmed the news, citing two U.S. officials.

While Haley has criticized the council for its opposition to many Israeli policies, today's move will come less than a week after the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights described the Trump administration family-separation policy toward immigrants as "unconscionable."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.19.18

06/19/18 12:00PM

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

* The latest national poll from Monmouth University shows Democrats with a seven-point advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 48% to 41%.

* Speaking of surveys, the latest Gallup poll found Donald Trump's approval rating climbing to 45% -- the highest level of support since the president's first month in office -- but a new CNN poll shows Trump's approval rating slipping to 39%, from 41% last month.

* In Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race, Republican Leah Vukmir has a new ad in which she addresses voters from a dinner table, sitting alongside a gun, and vowing to stand with Trump. She'll face Kevin Nicholson in a GOP primary on Aug. 14.

* Though the story hasn't received much pickup in Missouri media, KZRG reported the other day that disgraced former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens is "entertaining the idea" of running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, setting up a possible three-way contest with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R).

* In North Dakota, a new Mason-Dixon poll found Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) with a four-point lead over incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), 48% to 44%.

* On a related note, Cramer's new television ad goes after Hillary Clinton, who left public office more than six years ago.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

On trade with China, Trump's posture is increasingly disjointed

06/19/18 11:22AM

When it comes to the Trump administration's approach to trade with China, there are two important stories playing out simultaneously. What the White House hasn't yet explained, however, is why the two stories are so badly at odds with one another.

On the one hand, Donald Trump appears to be pushing the United States closer to an escalating trade war with Beijing. NBC News reported yesterday afternoon:

Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing appeared to boil over this weekend, with China slapping a 25 percent tariff on 545 American imports, including salmon, whiskey and orange juice. The tit-for-tat taxes are a direct response to the Trump administration making good on its threats to impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, which was announced Friday.

"The Chinese side doesn't want to fight a trade war, but facing the shortsightedness of the U.S. side, China has to fight back strongly," the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.

The Republican president escalated matters further late yesterday, requesting that his administration prepare a list of $200 billion in Chinese goods that he would be penalize with new tariffs. If Trump follows through, Beijing will no doubt respond in kind, and so on and so on.

All of this comes on the heels of the American president directing his Commerce Department to ease penalties on a Chinese telecom company called ZTE, after it was accused of violating American sanctions and using its products for foreign espionage.

Trump declared last month that as a result of the penalties, there were "too many jobs in China lost" -- as if the White House's principal focus was on job losses in China.

After the Trump administration agreed to ease ZTE's punishment, the move faced considerable bipartisan pushback on Capitol Hill, and the Senate voted yesterday to reinstate the penalties against the Chinese company, adding a measure to the annual defense policy bill that passed 85 to 10.

"The White House has already objected to the Senate provision and vowed to try to strike it before the bill becomes law," the New York Times  reported.

Something about this doesn't add up.

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Image: SWITZERLAND-DAVOS-POLITICS-ECONOMY-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

Trump directs the Pentagon to create a 'Space Force'

06/19/18 10:41AM

I guess Donald Trump wasn't kidding about the whole "Space Force" idea.

Vowing to reclaim U.S. leadership in space, President Donald Trump announced Monday he is directing the Pentagon to create a new "Space Force" as an independent service branch aimed at ensuring American supremacy in space. [...]

Trump had previously suggested the possibility of creating a space unit that would include portions equivalent to parts of the Air Force, Army and Navy. But his directive will task the Defense Department to begin the process of establishing the 'Space Force' as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces.

If this is real, and federal policymakers follow through on this -- a president cannot unilaterally declare a sixth military branch -- it will be the first time the U.S. military added a branch since 1947.

In his remarks at a White House event yesterday, the president declared, "That's a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force -- separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important."

Trump added, "Remember, economically, militarily, scientifically -- in every way, there is no place like space."

No, seriously, that's what he said.

It's important to emphasize that this idea, by the president's own admission, started as an offhand joke. Trump said in March, describing a conversation with White House staff, "You know, I was saying it the other day, because we are doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said, 'Maybe we need a new force. We'll call it Space Force." And I was not really serious. Then I said. 'What a great idea. Maybe we'll have to do that.'"

It's hard not to wonder, though, whether there's any kind of serious policymaking purpose to creating a sixth military branch, or whether Trump just thinks "Space Force" sounds cool.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his Topeka, Kan., office, Aug. 1, 2013. (Photo by John Hanna/AP)

Kansas' Kobach suffers humiliating loss in federal court

06/19/18 10:01AM

Following up on a story we've been keeping an eye on, it's been several years since Kansas Republicans first imposed voting restrictions on state residents, including requirements that Kansans show proof of citizenship when registering. The ACLU, among others, challenged the measure in federal court, while Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) personally defended them.

That is, of course, the same Kobach who's championed voter-suppression techniques at the national level, and helped lead Donald Trump's ridiculous voting commission, which ended in failure.

So, too, did his defense of the Kansas law. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson yesterday struck down the measure as unconstitutional.

No other state has been as aggressive as Kansas in imposing proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirements. Alabama and Georgia have proof-of-citizenship laws that are not currently being enforced, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Arizona is the only other state with a similar law in effect, but that law is far more lenient and allows people to satisfy it by writing their driver's license number on the voter registration form.

The lead case filed by the ACLU on behalf of several named voters and the League of Women Voters is centered on the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the Motor Voter Law, which allows people to register to vote when applying for a driver's license. The case required Kobach to prove that Kansas has a significant problem with noncitizens registering to vote.

Not surprisingly, Kobach struggled to offer evidence that doesn't exist. The judge's ruling is online here.

And while this was clearly an embarrassing outcome for the Kansas Republican -- who also happens to be running for governor this year -- what made yesterday especially brutal for Kobach was the extent to which the judge in this case humiliated him over his professional standards.

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Image: Jeff Sessions

Sessions: comparing family-separation policy, Nazi Germany is an 'exaggeration'

06/19/18 09:20AM

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) talked to MSNBC's Chris Hayes about Donald Trump's family-separation policy last night, and she used the kind of rhetoric we rarely hear from the longtime lawmaker.

"This is the United States of America; it's not Nazi Germany," Feinstein said. "We don't take children from their parents -- until now."

Two hours later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat down with Fox News' Laura Ingraham and addressed the kinds of concerns raised by the senator:

INGRAHAM: Nazi Germany, concentration camps, human rights violations. Laura Bush has weighed in. Michelle Obama, Rosalynn Carter, you've got all of the first ladies, going back to Eleanor Roosevelt, she's apparently weighed in as well. General Sessions, what's going on here?

SESSIONS: Well, it's a real exaggeration, of course. In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country.

The Alabama Republican went on to present a defense of the administration's immigration policies in general, as if he hadn't just talked about the nuances that separate the Trump administration's family-separation policy from the Nazis' family-separation policy.

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks to reporters after she, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats briefed members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

What Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen considers 'offensive'

06/19/18 08:40AM

As if Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wasn't already having problems, Donald Trump has effectively made her the face of his deeply controversial family-separation policy, which she appears to have already lied about. Yesterday, in the White House press briefing room, the embattled DHS chief did little to restore her failing credibility.

For example, early on in her appearance, Nielsen insisted, "Congress and the courts created this problem and Congress alone can fix it." As is painfully obvious to everyone involved in the debate, this is plainly false: the president ordered this policy and he can undo it at any time. For now, Trump simply chooses not to.

Later, she argued, "The kids are being used by pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Again, let's just pause to think about this statistic: 314 percent increase in adults showing up with kids that are not a family unit. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13, those are criminals, those are abusers." A Washington Post analysis explained how wildly misleading her argument was.

But perhaps the most important exchange from the briefing was this back and forth between a reporter and the cabinet secretary:

Q: Are you intending for this to play out as it is playing out? Are you intending for parents to be separated from children? Are you intending to send a message?

NIELSEN: I find that offensive. No. Because why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?

Q: Perhaps as a deterrence?

NIELSEN: No.

And this gets to one of the more glaring political problems facing this White House: Trump and his team can't seem to keep their stories straight.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Republicans back Trump on family separations, but US mainstream doesn't

06/19/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump generally assumes that the American public strongly supports his presidency and his agenda, even when there's ample evidence to the contrary. With this in mind, the president will almost certainly want to ignore the latest polling on his policy separating immigrant children from their families at the border.

A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday, for example, suggests Americans at large aren't buying what the White House is selling.

American voters oppose 66 - 27 percent the policy of separating children and parents when families illegally cross the border into America, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. [...]

"When does public opinion become a demand that politicians just can't ignore? Two- thirds of American voters oppose the family separation policy at our borders," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. "Neither quotes from the Bible nor get-tough talk can soften the images of crying children nor reverse the pain so many Americans feel."

A CNN poll released soon after offered nearly identical results: 67% of American disapprove of the policy, while 28% support it.

An analysis from Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University, found that Trump's family-separation policy is now the least popular federal policy in recent memory -- with lower support than the Republicans' tax cuts for the wealthy, the Republican plan to take health care benefits from millions of families, and even the president's idea for a giant border wall.

There is, however, a catch: the American mainstream appears largely repulsed by the White House's policy, but Trump's base feels quite differently: 55% of self-identified Republican voters in the Quinnipiac poll said they approve of the president separating immigrant children from their families. In the CNN poll, the number was slightly higher: 58% of GOP voters back the policy.

And for this president, who sometimes acts as if he believes his core supporters are the only Americans who really count, it's entirely possible this effectively ends the conversation. Trump probably doesn't much care what Democratic and independent voters think, so long as he impresses his base.

But congressional Republicans, many of whom are deeply concerned about their re-election prospects, know better. The Washington Examiner  reported overnight:

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