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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.23.18

10/23/18 12:00PM

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

* A new poll for local TV stations in North Dakota found Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) with a sizable lead over incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in their closely watched U.S. Senate race, 56% to 40%.

* On a related note, while Heitkamp can't turn to Democratic leaders to give her campaign a boost -- it's a very red state -- the senator is welcoming Chuck Hagel to North Dakota this week. Hagel is a former Republican senator from Nebraska who also served as secretary of Defense in the Obama administration.

* In Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll found incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with a modest lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), 53% to 46%, among likely voters. The gender gap is significant: Nelson leads by 20 among women, while Scott leads by 10 among men.

* As if Republican voter-suppression tactics weren't a big enough problem for Stacey Abrams' (D) gubernatorial campaign in Georgia, she's now also dealing with a picture of her attending an event as a college student nearly 30 years ago in which the old Georgia state flag was burned.

* In Indiana's U.S. Senate race, a new poll of from SurveyUSA and the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics found incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) with the narrowest over leads, 41% to 40%, over Mike Braun (R).

* A new NBC News/Marist poll in Mississippi's free-for-all Senate special election shows appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) ahead with 38% support, though she's likely to fall short of 50%, which points to a runoff with Mike Espy (D), who garnered 29% support in the poll.

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The US State Department is seen in Washington, DC.

Former ambassador relieved to no longer have to 'defend the indefensible'

10/23/18 11:20AM

Roberta Jacobson, who stepped down earlier this year as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, wrote an interesting op-ed for the New York Times over the weekend in which she shared some of her experiences as a member of Donald Trump's administration.

For example, Jacobson, a 30-year veteran of U.S. diplomacy, lamented the "chaotic decision-making style that has undermined America's diplomacy and national interests across the globe. I observed this disarray up close for more than a year as the ambassador to Mexico. It wasn't pretty."

Some chaos is normal at the start of an administration. But it has been extreme under Mr. Trump. About 30 ambassadorships remain vacant, including in vitally important countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Moreover, the disconnect between the State Department and the White House seems intentional, leaving ambassadors in impossible positions and our allies across the globe infuriated, alienated and bewildered. [...]

... I cannot pretend anything less than relief at no longer having to defend the indefensible. But I also feel glad to escape the disorder I witnessed for more than a year.

Not long after Jacobson stepped down, James Melville, another U.S. diplomat with more than three decades of experience, resigned as U.S. ambassador to Estonia. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, the career diplomat argued in support of a foreign policy vision that's largely the opposite of the current president's vision: rules-based order, skepticism toward Russia, and support for the United States' longtime allies.

"Arrogance does not suit us well," Melville wrote. "'America First' is a sham."

These are important perspectives from public servants who know what they're talking about, but as regular readers know, they're not the only ambassadors who felt compelled to quit rather than serve on this president's team.

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Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014.

Touting his environmental record, Trump brags about Obama-era air

10/23/18 10:40AM

Donald Trump has been alarmingly aggressive in going after environmental safeguards, relaxing pollution rules in the name of economic progress. The New York Times  reported in August that, in the fine print of the Trump administration's emissions plan, the Republican's EPA "predicts its plan will see between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030."

It's against this backdrop that the president wants to be seen as, as Trump puts it, "an environmentalist."

He said last week, for example, "When you talk about environmental, I am truly an environmentalist. A lot of people smile when they hear that. But I have the cleanest air, and I'm going to have the cleanest air." Similarly, Trump promoted a photoshopped global map yesterday, which the president said offered proof that the United States, "by far," has the "Cleanest Air in the World." (Why he capitalized those words was unclear.)

Is this true? Alas, no. For one thing, the map pointed to air quality in 2016, which meant Trump was actually bragging about Obama-era air. For another, The New Republic's Emily Atkin explained that the president didn't look closely enough at the map he was so proud of.

This map does show that the U.S., on average and as a whole, has acceptable levels of particulate matter pollution every year.... It does not, however, prove that the U.S. has the cleanest air "by far." The map clearly shows Canada, Australia, and some European countries in the same light color as the U.S., meaning they too have acceptable levels of pollution. [...]

Also, America's air is not healthy everywhere. Contrary to Trump's claim that "none in [the] U.S." are affected by air pollution, 38 of the 372 U.S. cities and towns in the WHO database were shown to have particulate matter concentrations above the agency's recommended level of 10 micrograms -- including Fresco, California; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Chicago, Illinois.

Wait, it gets a little worse.

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Image: John Bolton

John Bolton's odd new pitch: Russia's election attack didn't matter

10/23/18 10:02AM

About a month ago, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, weeks ahead of her resignation announcement, took a rather aggressive posture toward Russia and its destabilizing efforts. She called out Moscow on a series of specific fronts, including "election meddling in the United States -- which didn't work, by the way."

Yesterday, as Reuters reported, another top member of Donald Trump's take peddled a very similar claim.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Monday that Russian meddling in U.S. elections did not have any effect on the outcome, but told Russian officials that it did "sow enormous distrust of Russia" in the United States. [...]

"The point I made to Russian colleagues today was that I didn't think, whatever they had done in terms of meddling in the 2016 election, that they had any effect on it, but what they have had an effect in the United States is to sow enormous distrust of Russia," Bolton told radio station Ekho Moskvy during his visit to Moscow, according to a transcript provided by the White House.

At face value, it's all a bit baffling. On the surface, as we discussed after Haley's comments, it seems painfully obvious that the Kremlin's attack was a success: Vladimir Putin and his government wanted Donald Trump in power, they implemented a sophisticated intelligence operation in order to help put the Republican in office, and Trump narrowly won a close race.

For that matter, Bolton's assertion that Moscow's interference sowed "enormous distrust of Russia" in the United States may have some merit, though it clearly doesn't apply to the White House national security adviser's boss -- because no American seems to trust Russia more than Donald J. Trump.

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Obama takes a stand in support of 'a fact-based reality'

10/23/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump headlined a campaign rally in Las Vegas over the weekend, showing his support for the Republican nominees in Nevada's very competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. In the process, the president peddled an unsettling amount of nonsense.

Looking over the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale's Twitter thread on Trump's remarks, the Republican lied about everything from a Veterans Choice policy to "riots" in California, health care to immigration, border-wall construction to a non-existent Democratic plan to buy cars for undocumented immigrants.

Two days later, Barack Obama traveled to the same city for an election-season speech of his own. The former Democratic president told his audience:

"Unlike some, I actually try to state facts. I believe in facts. I believe in a fact-based reality, and a fact-based politics.

"I don't believe in just making stuff up. I think you should, like, actually say to people what's true."

And while Trump on Saturday identified all kinds of perceived threats Nevadans should be afraid of -- immigrants, Democratic "mobs," et al -- Obama on Monday pointed in a very different direction.

"The threat to our democracy does not come from one person in the White House or Republicans in Congress or big money lobbyists," the former president said. "The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism that says, 'We're just going to stay home because my voice doesn't matter.'"

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Trump's tax cuts were a dud, so he's made up new ones that don't exist

10/23/18 08:43AM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump claimed that conservatives in California are so upset about so-called "sanctuary cities" that the right has launched "riots." During a brief Q&A with reporters at the White House yesterday, a reporter asked where, exactly, these riots are taking place.

"Take a look," he replied, adding, "It is rioting in some cases."

It was odd to see a sitting president point to American riots that apparently exist only in his imagination, but that wasn't the strangest exchange with reporters. The Republican also said over the weekend that he and congressional Republicans are working "around the clock" on a new tax cut, which he suggested we'd see no later than Nov. 1, despite the fact that Congress is effectively out of session. Yesterday, Trump tried to explain what he's talking about.

Q: You said "lower tax cuts." You said that you wanted tax cuts by November 1st. Congress isn't even in session. How is that possible?

TRUMP: No, we're going to be passing -- no, no. We're putting in a resolution sometime in the next week, or week and a half, two weeks.

Q: A resolution where?

TRUMP: We're going to put in -- we're giving a middle-income tax reduction of about 10 percent. We're doing it now for middle-income people. This is not for business; this is for middle. That's on top of the tax decrease that we've already given them.

Q: Are you signing an executive order for that?

TRUMP: No. No. No. I'm going through Congress.

Q: But Congress isn't in session, though.

Despite the fact that all of this was borderline incoherent -- I'm not sure what he thinks a "resolution" is -- the president repeated the vow at a rally in Texas last night, boasting that the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee has been working on a new tax cut "for a few months," and the proposal is "going to be put in next week."

None of this makes a lick of sense. No one in Congress has any idea what this is about -- even White House officials are reportedly "mystified" -- and since Capitol Hill will be largely empty next week, there won't be anyone around to unveil a new multi-billion-dollar tax proposal.

But while it may be tempting to simply point and laugh at Trump's bizarre confusion, there are a couple of substantive angles to this.

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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

On pre-existing protections, watch what the GOP does (not what it says)

10/23/18 08:00AM

To hear Republican officials and candidates tell it, they're fully on board with the Affordable Care Act's protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Donald Trump, in particular, has insisted at every recent campaign rally that he and his party should be seen as champions of progressive health care safeguards.

By any sane measure, the argument is indefensible. Not only have these GOP politicians spent years trying to tear them down, they're also championing a lawsuit that would strip millions of families of the protections Republicans now pretend to support.

But as we were reminded yesterday, that's not they're doing. The New York Times reported:

The Trump administration announced a new policy on Monday making it easier for states to circumvent coverage requirements and consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act.

States could, for example, use federal funds to subsidize short-term insurance plans with skimpy benefits and fewer protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Coming two weeks before Election Day, the new policy appeared to be a political gift to Democrats, who are making health care a potent campaign theme.

As is usually the case, the details get a little complicated, but at issue are the ACA "1332 waivers," which allow states to implement their own reforms, each of which must meet minimum standards established under "Obamacare."

These new developments have the effect of encouraging states to exploit the policy and, as a Vox report put it, "set up their own alternatives to the health care law."

The HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn added that the newly announced rule change "almost certainly means that, overall, people with serious medical problems are likely to have a harder time finding coverage -- and, ultimately, paying their medical bills."

Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, told Cohn, "This new guidance allows states to set up parallel insurance markets that may be able to attract healthy people with plans that have lower premiums but fewer consumer protections, leaving ACA plans with a sicker pool and higher premiums."

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Candidate sues to stop Facebook group that supposedly supports him

10/22/18 07:27PM

Adding to the list of suspected trickery in politics, a candidate for a local race in South Carolina is suing over an anonymous Facebook group that he says is undermining his campaign.

The Greenville News first reported that Lucas Marchant, a candidate for the 13th Judicial Circuit Solicitor in upstate South Carolina, is suing to unmask who is behind the Facebook page “Democrats for Marchant.” The page ties Marchant, a candidate of self-described “conservative values” in a conservative district, to liberal opinions.  Marchant says he disagrees with all of the posts on the “Democrats for Marchant” page.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.22.18

10/22/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Ties do not appear to have frayed: "U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday, according to the Saudi government, illustrating how the White House is retaining close ties with the embattled Middle Eastern leader despite a growing international outcry."

* More racially charged innuendo for which there is no proof: "President Trump on Monday said a caravan of migrants making their way toward the United States included 'criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,' and blamed Democrats for the state of immigration law."

* I fear it's too late: "The center of London ground to a halt as an estimated 700,000 people from all over the UK marched peacefully on parliament to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest outpouring of public opposition to government policy since the anti-Iraq war protest in 2003."

* An unsettling story: "Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi's killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations."

* Minimum wage: "A research team including economists from the University of Washington has put out a paper showing that Seattle's recent minimum-wage increases brought benefits to many workers employed at the time, while leaving few employed workers worse off.... This new paper, issued Monday, has a unique pedigree: Last summer, the same authors released a paper showing that Seattle's minimum-wage increases had large costs for workers."

* Raise your hand if you think he has any idea what his administration has proposed: "President Trump signaled opposition Saturday to reviving Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage site, even though his administration has allocated millions of dollars to the project that has long been controversial in this state. "

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