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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.18.18

06/18/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The White House faces pushback: "Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he will not send the Massachusetts National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border due to the 'cruel and inhumane' decision by the Trump administration to separate children from their parents as families arrive at the border."

* In McAllen, Texas, "hundreds of young migrants are being kept behind metal wire -- the type you'd see on a neighborhood batting cage or a dog kennel -- inside the country's largest immigration processing center."

* CFPB: "President Donald Trump intends to nominate an associate director at the Office of Management and Budget to lead the government's consumer watchdog agency, the White House announced Saturday."

* The latest round in an avoidable fight: "The Justice Department and House Republicans appear to be careening toward their tensest confrontation yet in a long-running dispute over documents, with one GOP lawmaker warning that the House could seek to hold officials in contempt of Congress if the FBI and DOJ fail to comply with subpoenas for information."

* After creating a series of cartoons critical of Donald Trump, Rob Rogers was ousted as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial cartoonist.

* Trump does like leaders with an authoritarian streak: "President Donald Trump is congratulating Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary on his recent re-election."

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump departs from the G7 summit in the Charlevoix city of La Malbaie

What Trump chooses not to understand about immigration negotiations

06/18/18 04:07PM

As the uproar over his family-separation policy continues to erupt, Donald Trump took a few minutes this morning to address immigration at an unrelated White House event. True to form, the president lied quite a bit, but in this case, Trump's false claims were notable for other reasons.

He began by insisting that "all of the problems that we're having" on immigration are "the Democrats' fault." He added, "They're obstructing. They're really obstructionists. And they are obstructing."

There's obviously no reason to take any of this seriously, but I was intrigued by why he's so convinced the buck stops with the minority party with no power in Washington, D.C. Trump made his case:

"If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing, we could have something done very quickly -- good for the children, good for country, good for the world. It could take place quickly.

"We could have an immigration bill. We could have -- child separation -- we're stuck with these horrible laws. They're horrible laws. What's happening is so sad -- is so sad. And it can be taken care of quickly, beautifully, and we'll have safety.

"This could really be something very special.... We can do this very quickly if the Democrats come to the table. Everybody wants to do it. We want to do it more than they do. If they come to the table, instead of playing politics, we can do it very, very quickly."

At face value, this may sound vaguely reasonable. Why shouldn't both parties come to the table and try to work out a deal? If Democrats and Republicans both support immigration reform measures -- "everybody wants to do it" -- wouldn't it make sense for policymakers to work on an agreement?

The trouble, whether Trump understands this or not, is that he doesn't really want a deal; he wants a ransom. They're not the same thing.

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, for a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice continued...

So far, no Republicans endorse the Dems' 'Keep Families Together Act'

06/18/18 12:41PM

The official line from the Trump White House is that critics of the administration's practice of separating children from their parents at the border should simply change the law. The argument is indefensibly wrong: Donald Trump chose to implement a policy that separates these families, and he can change course at any time.

But Democrats have more or less accepted the challenge anyway, and have proposed specific legislation to prevent the Republican president from keeping his current policy in place. Vox highlighted the Senate Dems' effort to pass the "Keep Families Together Act," which was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

"Congress has a moral obligation to take a stand and say that families should not be forcibly separated," Feinstein said in a statement. "To traumatize them further is unconscionable, and I hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to put an end to this immoral policy."

The bill would only allow undocumented children to be separated from their parents if there is evidence of parents abusing the children or children being trafficked. Separation could only happen after consultation with a child welfare expert.

As of this minute, the proposal has 48 co-sponsors, which includes literally every member of the Senate Democratic conference except West Virginia's Joe Manchin. [Update: see below]

So what's the hold up? As Feinstein noted yesterday, "We're making progress, but we still need Republicans to join."

For all the talk today about Republican "discomfort" and "concern" over the president's policy, no GOP senators have endorsed legislation that would require Trump to stop doing this -- or proposed rival legislation of their own.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.18.18

06/18/18 12:00PM

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

* Given a chance to weigh in on partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court punted this morning, leaving the broader questions unanswered.

* In case politics in New York weren't quite messy enough, Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse and a former top official in the state Democratic Party, is launching a gubernatorial campaign in which she'll run as an independent against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), her former ally. It raises the prospect of a four-way gubernatorial contest in the Empire State this fall.

* In a literal sense, Cambridge Analytica may be no more, but at least four of the firm's former officials have created a new company, Data Propria, which has been quietly working for Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, according to an Associated Press report.

* Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), who's complained bitterly about the White House not doing enough to support his Senate bid in North Dakota, will welcome Trump to his home state next week. Cramer is taking on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in one of this year's marquee match-ups.

* On a related note, Trump is also traveling this week to Nevada, where the president will headline a fundraiser for Sen. Dean Heller (R). According to CNN, Trump will also address the Nevada State Republican Convention.

* The Democratic National Committee agreed late last week to hold its 2020 convention from July 13 to 16 -- before the Summer Olympics -- though party officials have not yet chosen a host city. It will be the earliest the DNC has held its convention since 1992.

* On a related note, the Republican National Committee has not chosen the dates for its nominating convention, but it has narrowed the list of possible host cities to Charlotte and Las Vegas.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018.

Why Trump's lies about German crime are so important

06/18/18 11:20AM

The European edition of Politico had a report earlier this month that said, "It's difficult to overstate just how enraged Germany is about Trump. By questioning and criticizing such bastions of the Western order as NATO, the World Trade Organization and even the EU, Trump has thrust Germany's leadership into an existential torpor it has yet to escape."

Around the same time, a senior German official told the New Yorker's Susan Glasser, "It took Germany the longest of all partners to come to terms with someone like Trump becoming president. We were very emotional, because our relationship with America is so emotional -- it's more of a son-father relationship -- and we didn't recognize our father anymore and realized he might beat us."

Just last week in Berlin, Heiko Maas, Germany's foreign minister, delivered a rather brutal speech in which he declared, "Donald Trump's egotistical politics of 'America First,' Russia's attacks on international law and state sovereignty, the expansion of gigantic China: the world order we were used to -- it no longer exists."

It's against this backdrop that the American president bragged on Friday about his "great relationship" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, only to take his message to Germany in a more contentious direction this morning.

"The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!

"We don't want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!"

Offensive Trump tweets aren't exactly rare, but these missives stand out for a few important reasons.

First, the Republican president is simply lying about crime rates in Germany. Instead of being "way up," they've actually dropped to their lowest points since the early 1990s. Why did Trump say the opposite? Because for him, the line between what is true and what he'd like to be true is easily blurred. (Trump lying about crime rates, especially in urban areas and areas with a lot of immigrants, is one of his favorite things to lie about.)

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump walks with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani through the new Trump International Hotel in Washington

Trump World continues to raise the prospect of dubious pardons

06/18/18 10:40AM

Rudy Giuliani, who somehow finds time to serve as one of Donald Trump's lawyers, told CNN yesterday that when it comes to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and the Russia scandal, there's been "no criminality involved in it of any kind."

It was hard not to laugh. At last count, 20 individuals and three businesses have faced criminal indictments as a result of the special counsel's investigation. Several people, including the former White House national security advisor, have already pleaded guilty. One person was already sentenced to prison. The man who led the president's political operation is currently in jail, pending trial, because of witness tampering.

In what universe has there been "no criminality involved in it of any kind"? Does the former mayor mean other than all the documented criminality that's already been exposed?

But that's not all Giuliani said.

Rudy Giuliani said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that President Donald Trump was not issuing pardons while the Russia investigation is on-going, but left open the possibility he could once the probe is finished.

"The president has issued no pardons in this investigation," Giuliani told CNN's Jake Tapper. "The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation. And my advice to him, you know, as long as I'm his lawyer, is not to do it because you just cloud what is becoming now a very clear picture of an extremely unfair investigation with no criminality involved in it of any kind."

However, Giuliani said later in the interview that Trump could pardon people who were treated "unfairly" once the probe led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller is through.

There's been quite a bit of talk along these lines, hasn't there? On Friday morning, Donald Trump was asked about the possibility of pardoning Manafort, and though the president said he didn't want to talk about it, he also didn't rule it out.

A few hours later, after Manafort was sent to jail, Giuliani told the New York Daily News, "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."

A cynic might wonder if maybe Trump World were trying to ensure that certain people remain silent, refusing to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation, confident in the knowledge that the president would shield them from consequences later on.

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen following the classified House members-only briefing on election security in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, May 22, 2018.

Trump's DHS chief pretends there is no family-separation policy

06/18/18 10:00AM

When top members of Donald Trump's team add the word "period" to their most outlandish claims, it's a safe bet they know they're lying. The day after the president's inauguration, for example, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer angrily told reporters, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period."

This came to mind yesterday afternoon.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen took to Twitter to vehemently deny claims that her department's border policy dictates separation of children from their families.

"We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period," Nielsen tweeted late Sunday.

Let's recap where the Trump administration stands on this:

Donald Trump: Everyone should blame Democrats for the policy.

Stephen Miller: Actually, we love the policy.

Jeff Sessions: Not only do we support the policy, but the Bible justifies the policy.

Melania Trump: It'd be nice if "both sides" got together to fix my husband's policy.

Kirstjen Nielsen: There's a policy?

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

Trump wants credit for a North Korea 'deal' in which he gained nothing

06/18/18 09:20AM

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that when it comes to last week's negotiations with North Korea, Donald Trump is "frustrated" with the "lukewarm" support he's received from congressional Republicans. A separate report added that the president has made direct calls to GOP lawmakers, seeking more credit.

Trump has been calling lawmakers to express enthusiasm for the agreement -- but also complaining that he has not had more robust support from GOP lawmakers, said a person with knowledge of the calls, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share internal conversations.

The whining continued over the weekend, with the president complaining that "some people would rather see this historic deal fail than give Trump a win."

It's difficult, if not impossible, to try to figure out what drives some of Trump's more pitiful moves, but in this case, I suspect the president is being rather sincere: it's likely he genuinely doesn't understand why everyone isn't recognizing and celebrating what he considers an awesome accomplishment.

On Wednesday, for example, Trump insisted that North Korea is "no longer a nuclear threat" to the United States. On Friday morning, he said that he's "solved" the North Korea "problem," adding, "I signed an agreement where we get everything, everything."

And if that were true, it would be an impressive feat, indeed. But the president's boasts are divorced from reality in ways that border delusion.

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Image: President Trump speaks at swearing in ceremonies for new CIA Director Haspel

Trump sees immigrant children as bargaining chips in political fight

06/18/18 08:40AM

For weeks, Donald Trump's official line has been that his administration has no choice but to break up immigrant families and separate children from their parents. According to the president, this is only happening because of a Democratic law -- a claim he's repeated constantly, refusing to accept responsibility for his own policy.

This is, of course, as ugly a lie as Trump has told since taking office. The law the president points to does not exist. As many administration officials have already conceded, the policy was part of a deliberate choice on the part of the president, who could reverse course at any time. Some in the White House have even bragged about it.

Indeed, the New York Times had an excellent piece over the weekend documenting how the president and his team decided to pull the trigger in recent months.

[F]or George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents' arms was simply too inhumane -- and too politically perilous -- to embrace as policy, and Mr. Trump, though he had made an immigration crackdown one of the central issues of his campaign, succumbed to the same reality, publicly dropping the idea after [White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's comments in March] touched off a swift backlash.

But advocates inside the administration, most prominently Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump's senior policy adviser, never gave up on the idea. Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully -- with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.

We know when the president did this, we know why, and we know how. We even know who was helping drive the decision behind the scenes. Trump may be desperate to shift the blame for his policy to those who have nothing to do with it, but top members of his team have openly acknowledged that this was, and is, the White House's idea.

Trump's lying, however, is only a small part of the problem. It's more important to appreciate the fact that his policy isn't just cruelty for cruelty's sake: the president apparently has a strategy in mind.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Trump confidant met with Russian offering Clinton dirt during campaign

06/18/18 08:00AM

In the not-too-distant past, Donald Trump and his team insisted, repeatedly, that no one from the Republican's operation had any contact with Russia during the 2016 campaign. It was, of course, one of Trump's more important lies, which to date, has never been explained by anyone in his White House.

Indeed, late last year, Rachel had a segment counting up the large roster of Russians connected to Putin's government who were in contact with Trump associates and it wasn't a short list.

But even now, after all that's happened in the Trump/Russia scandal, we're still learning about previously unreported contacts. The Washington Post reported over the weekend:

One day in late May 2016, Roger Stone -- the political dark sorcerer and longtime confidant of Donald Trump -- slipped into his Jaguar and headed out to meet a man with a Make America Great Again hat and a viscous Russian accent.

The man, who called himself Henry Greenberg, offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump's presumptive Democratic opponent in the upcoming presidential election, according to Stone who spoke about the previously unreported incident in interviews with The Washington Post. Greenberg, who did not reveal the information he claimed to possess, wanted Trump to pay $2 million for the political dirt, Stone said.

Stone, a longtime Republican operative, was no longer an official member of Trump's operation at the time, though he had been part of the team and he's advised Trump in a variety of capacities for decades. That said, according to Stone's account, the meeting was arranged by Michael Caputo, who was a Trump campaign communications official in May 2016 and who later worked in the White House.

Caputo set up the meeting after "Greenberg" approached Caputo's Russian-immigrant business partner, Sergey "George" Petrushin.

In terms of the broader timeline of events, the May 2016 meeting came in between George Papadopoulos learning of possible anti-Clinton dirt from Russia (in early May 2016) and the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Russians and top members of the Republican's campaign team (in early June 2016).

Based on the latest reporting, neither Trump nor his associates gave any money to the man offering anti-Clinton information, but his chat with Roger Stone is reportedly of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- and that shouldn't come as a surprise.

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

This Week in God, 6.16.18

06/16/18 07:40AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Vice President Mike Pence's appearance on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which shouldn't have been especially controversial, but which turned into an unexpectedly contentious event.

The first sign of trouble came well ahead of Pence's remarks. The vice president was not originally scheduled to appear, but his office reportedly reached out to SBC leaders to request an opportunity to speak. Despite the Southern Baptists' reputation for conservatism, there was an organized effort on the part of some pastors, wary of overtly politicizing their gathering, to prevent Pence from speaking.

The motions failed, but the fact that the protests existed at all was emblematic of some divisions in the nation's largest Protestant denomination. The New York Times  noted, "Some were especially concerned about the administration's stance on immigration and race, and Mr. Pence's allegiance to a president who has been accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct."

The vice president spoke anyway, and gave a fairly predictable, partisan speech. By all accounts, Pence received hearty applause -- and more than a couple standing ovations -- from many of the Southern Baptists in attendance, but USA Today  added that the vice president's speech "did not sit well with everyone in the convention hall and those watching online."

At about the time the speech ended, North Carolina Pastor J.D. Greear, the newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president, tweeted about public officials at the annual meeting.

"I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention -- but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the great commission," Greear said. "Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do."

Slate  added, "[P]anning shots of the thousands of people in the room also captured many people sitting with their arms crossed through many applause lines."

Historians with expertise in this area agreed this was "the first real controversy in the convention about a GOP speaker since the evangelist Billy Graham pushed for the invitation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and reveals the significant upheaval among conservative evangelicals about President Trump and the mixing of partisan politics and religion."

How divisive is Donald Trump? Divisive enough that Mike Pence can't show up at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention without sparking a fight.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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