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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.18.19

03/18/19 12:00PM

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

* In his first 24 hours as a presidential candidate, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) raised $6.1 million, which is the best opening fundraising day for any Democratic presidential candidate this cycle, even topping the $5.9 million Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently raised.

* Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn't yet launched his Democratic presidential bid, but he accidentally described himself as a candidate at an event on Saturday, before quickly walking it back.

* Though Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been running for president since January, she officially kicked off her national campaign at a New York event over the weekend.

* On a related note, Gillibrand also picked up her first congressional endorsement over the weekend when Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) threw her support behind the senator.

* The filing deadline in North Carolina's 9th congressional district was last week, and it appears there are 10 Republicans seeking the GOP nomination in the do-over election.

* In an NPR interview on Friday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) endorsed a federal moratorium on the death penalty, despite having defended the policy during her tenure as California's attorney general.

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Why some foreign leaders ignore diplomats and talk directly to Trump

03/18/19 11:00AM

In the modern era, it hasn't been especially easy for foreign officials to get an American president on the phone. A diplomatic process is supposed to be in place to add layers of security and official accountability to these interactions.

As the Wall Street Journal reported the other day, Donald Trump isn't overly fond of that process.

World leaders have found a new route to get a read on official U.S. thinking: straight to the top.

Increasingly, savvy leaders are bypassing the standard protocols and government processes of American diplomacy to go directly to President Trump himself, according to current and former officials, allies and foreign-policy experts.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin are among the heads of state who have cut out the middle layers of aides and agency officials to talk to Mr. Trump.

It's an amazing foreign policy dynamic -- which the American president has reportedly "encouraged" -- with no modern precedent. It's also a recipe for trouble.

Part of the problem, not surprisingly, is that U.S. officials who work in international affairs sometimes have no idea what their boss has discussed with foreign heads of state. Did Trump, who likes to give his foreign counterparts his personal cell-phone number, endorse proposals his administration opposes? Did he agree to terms that advance our rivals' interests? Did he agree to diplomatic negotiations? Did he make any promises?

When the people responsible for executing American foreign policy are out of the loop, they can't do their jobs.

As the WSJ added, "Some aides fret that the personal talks can sow confusion within the administration. At times, senior officials have been left in the dark or had to backtrack on some of Mr. Trump's remarks."

But I'm especially interested in why some foreign leaders prefer this approach.

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Mick Mulvaney

White House chief of staff conveniently overlooks Trump's Muslim ban

03/18/19 10:07AM

Every week at the White House is a busy one, but last week was especially eventful. Over the course of five days, Team Trump unveiled a new budget blueprint; the West Wing spent days lobbying lawmakers ahead of some high-profile votes; and Donald Trump was even forced to issue the first veto of his presidency. Where was acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney?

Over 2,000 miles away. As the Associated Press reported, during a dramatic week in the West Wing, Mulvaney was in Las Vegas "for an annual getaway with friends and family." The South Carolina Republican has a reputation for being a hands-off chief of staff, and it appears that reputation is well deserved.

Mulvaney is nevertheless back at work, and yesterday, he appeared on CBS and Fox News, where he argued, "The president is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that."

As a rule, when a White House chief of staff has to publicly declare that his boss is not a white supremacist, it suggests all is not well in the Oval Office. Indeed, "I'm not sure how many times we have to say that" is an amazing sentence in its own right -- because it suggests Trump's aides are frequently asked about the president's bigotry.

But what struck me as especially notable was this exchange between Mulvaney and CBS News' Margaret Brennan.

BRENNAN: During the campaign, as you know, as a candidate, the president called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He said Islam "hates us." This kind of language in the past leads to these questions of why isn't the president now directly using that megaphone to condemn it.

MULVANEY: Well, then take the words and put them in one category and take the actions and put them in another.

This is not a compelling response.

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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)

Trump eyes possible actions against comedy shows that hurt his feelings

03/18/19 09:20AM

NBC's "Saturday Night Live" was a repeat over the weekend, but Donald Trump apparently watched anyway, and wasn't impressed. In fact, the president suggested he's weighing the possibility of some kind of official inquiry into this and other comedy shows that hurt his feelings.

In a pair of tweets early yesterday, the Republican wrote:

"It's truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of 'the other side.' Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows....

"Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this? There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News."

I'll confess that deciphering Trump's ideas can be challenging, but as of yesterday morning, the sitting American president seemed to argue that "Saturday Night Live," Democrats, and the Kremlin are in cahoots, as part of an elaborate scheme to undermine him.

And while most reasonable observers would probably consider that bonkers, it's Trump's specific reference to the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission that stood out.

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FILE PHOTO - U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain listens as he is introduced at a campaign rally in Fayetteville

Even now, Trump can't let go of his contempt for McCain

03/18/19 08:40AM

In late January, Donald Trump sat down with the New York Times, which asked the president a fairly straightforward question about his re-election plans. His answer meandered a bit, before culminating in a complaint about John McCain. A week later, the Republican huddled with reporters ahead of his State of the Union address, and apropos of nothing, mocked McCain's book sales.

Seven months after the late senator died of brain cancer, the president still can't contain his contempt for McCain.

President Donald Trump on Saturday lashed out against an old nemesis, the late Sen. John McCain, for his crucial vote against repealing Obamacare in 2017.

Trump chastised McCain for his no vote on a bare-bones repeal of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare legislation, wrongly describing it as a "thumbs down on repeal and replace after years of campaigning to repeal and replace!"

Yesterday, the president kept the offensive going, ridiculing McCain for his grades at the U.S. Naval Academy, before retweeting a conspiracy theorist who claimed people "hated" the longtime Republican lawmaker.

The larger campaign isn't exactly new new; Trump has been taking cheap shots at the late senator for months, as part of a creepy and unnecessary display. In this latest case, however, the president apparently feels justified in targeting McCain because of a new conspiracy theory.

According to one of many tweets Trump published over the weekend, McCain "sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!"

It's obviously classless when the president lashes out wildly at someone who can no longer defend himself, but what makes this tantrum especially offensive is the fact that Trump has no idea what he's talking about.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

After New Zealand slayings, Trump flunks another leadership test

03/18/19 08:00AM

As a rule, it's difficult for an American president to screw up a response to a foreign terrorist attack, especially in an allied nation. The script, which several U.S. leaders have followed without incident, reflects common sense: a president condemns the violence, extends sympathy to the grieving, and offers American support.

Presidents face all kinds of arcane challenges. This isn't one of them. It's a pass/fail test -- which is tough to fail.

And yet, Donald Trump keeps managing to find a way.

It was, after all, Friday afternoon when the Republican president held a White House photo-op in order to veto a measure that would block his emergency declaration over border barriers. At the event, Trump extended his condolences to New Zealand -- though he made no specific reference to Muslims or the Islamic community -- before quickly transitioning to the core argument he was eager to emphasize. In reference to the U.S./Mexico border, the American insisted:

"It is a tremendous national emergency. It is a tremendous crisis.... We're on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders.

"People hate the word 'invasion,' but that's what it is. It's an invasion of drugs and criminals and people."

The larger context was lost on him: the accused killer in New Zealand was reportedly convinced that his country was under "invasion" by "non-whites." Trump nevertheless thought it'd be a good idea to use the word "invasion" just hours after learning of the massacre. (A similar rhetorical pattern unfolded in the fall, following a massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue.)

At the same Oval Office gathering on Friday, the president proceeded to dismiss the significance of white-nationalist violence as a global threat. Asked if he sees white nationalism as "a rising threat around the world," Trump replied, "I don't really," adding that he believes the problem is limited to "a small group of people."

Early yesterday, Trump proceeded to defend a far-right television personality who was suspended after peddling Islamophobic nonsense on the air.

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Trump admin tracked individual migrant girls' pregnancies

Trump admin tracked individual migrant girls' pregnancies

03/15/19 09:04PM

Rachel Maddow reports exclusively on details of a newly obtained spreadsheet kept by the Trump administration's Office of Refugee Resettlement, led by anti-abortion activist Scott Lloyd, tracking the pregnancies of unaccompanied minor girls. Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project senior staff attorney, joins to discuss details of... watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 3.15.19

03/15/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from New Zealand: "The main suspect accused of carrying out a massacre at two New Zealand mosques on Friday was described by officials as a 'right-wing extremist terrorist,' and appeared to post a lengthy manifesto before the attack detailing his white-supremacist worldview."

* Changes ahead: "New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday vowed 'our gun laws will change' after mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch killed 49 people and wounded dozens more the day before."

* Wasting little time: "President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency on Friday, rejecting Congress' resolution to terminate his declaration of a national emergency on the southern border."

* The word "several" stood out: "Former Donald Trump campaign aide Rick Gates is still cooperating in 'several ongoing investigations,' defense lawyers and federal prosecutors said Friday, suggesting probes stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russia's election interference remain active."

* Perhaps Trump shouldn't have claimed victory on this one: "North Korea is considering suspending denuclearization talks with the United States unless Washington changes its stance after the breakdown of a summit meeting in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a senior North Korean official said Friday. "

* ICC: "The United States will repeal or deny visas to International Criminal Court staff seeking to investigate Americans in Afghanistan or elsewhere and may take similar action to protect Israelis or other allied forces from prosecution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday."

* These were pretty impressive protests: "Thousands of students across the United States were expected to stage school walkouts Friday, joining peers around the world to demand action on climate change."

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A man holds an earth balloon into the air as people fill the street before a global warming march in New York Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

Leading House Republican equates Green New Deal and 'genocide'

03/15/19 02:41PM

When it comes to the Green New Deal blueprint to address the climate crisis, Republicans generally like to pretend it calls for the elimination of hamburgers. (It does not.) But Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) went quite a bit further this week.

"For many people who live in the West, but also in rural and urban areas, the ideas behind the Green New Deal are tantamount to genocide," the Republican congressman said at a press conference. "That may be an overstatement, but not by a whole lot."

A reporter from Axios caught up with Bishop after the event to clarify matters a bit.

AXIOS: Genocide is defined as "the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation." How is the Green New Deal like genocide?

BISHOP: I'm an ethnic. I'm a westerner.

AXIOS: And you think the Green New Deal is going to kill you?

BISHOP: If you actually implement everything they want to. Killing would be positive if you implement everything the Green New Deal actually wants to. That's why the Green New Deal is not ready for prime time.

For the record, it's important to emphasize that Rob Bishop isn't just some random conservative personality, saying odd things in the media. Rather, the Utah Republican is a nine-term Republican -- whom GOP leaders named as the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Indeed, up until a few months ago, Bishop chaired the panel, where he spearheaded an effort to invalidate the Endangered Species Act.

And yet, he'll apparently now be famous for something altogether different.

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