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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As shutdown deadline looms, Republicans are lost without a map

12/18/18 09:20AM

A week ago today, Donald Trump held a rather dramatic meeting with Democratic congressional leaders about how and whether to prevent a government shutdown. The Republican president, true to form, insisted that Congress approve $5 billion in taxpayer funds for construction of a giant border wall -- and he blamed Democrats for standing in the way.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer took turns explaining to Trump that the votes for his priority simply aren't there, even in the GOP-led House. This exchange stood out:

PELOSI: There are no votes in the House, a majority of votes, for a wall -- no matter where you start.

SCHUMER: That is exactly right. You don't have the votes in the House.

TRUMP: If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them — in one session, it would be done.

PELOSI: Well, then go do it. Go do it.

The soon-to-be House Speaker effectively dared Trump to have the House pass the bill he's eager to sign -- regardless of its Senate prospects -- because Pelosi knew what Trump didn't: the votes really aren't there.

The president didn't believe her. He should have. The Washington Post  reported overnight, "House Republicans last week considered putting legislation on the floor that would offer $5 billion for a border wall as Trump has demanded. But Hill leadership eventually told the president that there were not enough votes to pass it."

Trump was apparently working under the assumption that he could simply snap his fingers and direct the Republican-led House to approve spending for a wall. Both parties' leaders have now told him he's wrong. It's a reminder of something Greg Sargent noted yesterday: the president has not yet come to terms with just how weak he's become.

All of which brings us to the question of what's poised to happen. After all, the deadline for the next government shutdown is Friday -- as in, three days from now -- and no one seems to believe policymakers are near a resolution to this fight.

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The bronze 'Charging Bull' sculpture that symbolizes Wall Street is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, in the financial district of New York.

The stock market is no longer Donald Trump's favorite metric

12/18/18 08:40AM

It was just two months ago when Donald Trump pointed to Wall Street as proof of successful his presidency. "The stock market is at an all-time high," he boasted. "Think of that -- over 50 percent since my election. Fifty percent. People -- the 401(k)s -- and they have 401(k)s, and they were dying with them for years. Now they're so happy."

A lot can change in a couple of months.

Two benchmark U.S. stock indexes are careening toward a historically bad December.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 are on pace for their worst December performance since 1931, when stocks were battered during the Great Depression. The Dow and S&P 500 are down 7.8 percent and 7.6 percent this month, respectively.

Wall Street's major indexes are in negative territory for the year. The S&P 500 is up about 12% since Trump took office, not 50%.

On Nov. 17, 2017, as the fight over the Republican tax plan was heating up in Congress, the president published a tweet that read, "Great numbers on Stocks and the Economy. If we get Tax Cuts and Reform, we'll really see some great results!"

Since that day, the S&P 500 is down 1.5% -- despite the fact that the GOP passed its regressive tax breaks.

Complicating matters for the president, Catherine Rampell noted yesterday that the stock market's performance under Obama was vastly better than it's been under Trump at comparable points in their respective presidencies.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Even after the election, Russia helped Trump, targeted Mueller

12/18/18 08:00AM

Two years after Russia launched an intelligence operation to help put Donald Trump in office, we're still learning more about what Vladimir Putin's government did -- and when.

For example, a detailed analysis prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee explained in detail how pro-Trump Russian agents "harnessed the major players of America's tech industry in a sophisticated propaganda effort that was far more extensive than originally understood." The initiative's focus was on, among other things, suppressing the African-American vote.

But what's less understood is the degree to which the Russian campaign continued well after it successfully aided the Kremlin's preferred American candidate. In fact, as the Washington Post  reported overnight, the Russian effort specifically targeted Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- the man the Republican White House sees as a dangerous nemesis.

Months after President Trump took office, Russia's disinformation teams trained their sights on a new target: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Having worked to help get Trump into the White House, they now worked to neutralize the biggest threat to his staying there.

The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies.

The Post's report also cited research from a Clemson University team, which found that Russians tweeted about Mueller more than 5,000 times: "Some called for his firing, while others mocked him as incompetent and still others campaigned for the end of his 'entire fake investigation.'"

The president hasn't used that exact phrase, but it's very much in line with Trump's anti-Mueller messaging.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 12.17.18

12/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "Two former associates of ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn have been charged with 'covertly and unlawfully' trying to influence American politicians in a plot to extradite a Turkish cleric living in the U.S."

* Striking findings: "A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia's disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the operation used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters' interests to help elect President Trump -- and worked even harder to support him while in office."

* The world tries to move on without us: "After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord."

* Quite a sight: "Opponents of Hungary's far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, demonstrated on Sunday for the fourth day in the past five, in what has become one of the most sustained displays of street opposition to Mr. Orban since he entered office eight years ago."

* Trump's intervention in the Matt Golsteyn case, apparently because of a Fox News segment, is going to get very messy.

* By some accounts, Pam Patenaude ran the Department of Housing and Urban Development because Ben Carson doesn't know how: "The HUD official considered by many to be crucial to both the agency's smooth operation and to Puerto Rico recovery efforts resigned Monday and will transition out of the role in January."

* Trump's not-so-successful success story: "North Korea on Sunday condemned the Trump administration for stepping up sanctions and pressure on the nuclear-armed country, warning of a return to 'exchanges of fire' and that peace with Pyongyang could be blocked forever."

* Barack Obama believes "Republicans will never stop trying to undo" the Affordable Care Act. I'm hard pressed to disagree.

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Image: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas

Trump points to renewed interest in family separations at the border

12/17/18 12:31PM

At a distance, Donald Trump's practice of separating migrant children from their families at the border appeared to run its course over the summer. In response to international outrage, the Republican president signed an executive order in June curtailing his "zero-tolerance" policy, and soon after, federal courts instructed the administration to reunite the families Trump had kept apart.

The efforts to undo what the White House did haven't always gone especially well, but it's also worth acknowledging that Trump doesn't appear eager to leave this disaster in the past.

"The Democrats [sic] policy of Child Seperation [sic] on the Border during the Obama Administration was far worse than the way we handle it now," the Republican wrote on Twitter yesterday. "Remember the 2014 picture of children in cages - the Obama years. However, if you don't separate, FAR more people will come. Smugglers use the kids!"

This wasn't the first time Trump lied about the Obama-era policy, and the truth is stubborn, whether the current president likes it or not. As the Associated Press explained:

Democratic President Barack Obama did not have a separation policy. The Trump administration didn't, explicitly, either, but that was the effect of his zero-tolerance policy, which meant that anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted, even those with few or no previous offences.

The policy meant adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings and their children were separated. In most cases, if the charge took longer than 72 hours to process, which is the longest time that children can be held by Customs and Border Protection, children were sent into the care of the Health and Human Services Department. Zero tolerance remains in effect, but Trump signed an executive order June 20 that stopped separations.

Trump also misrepresents 2014 photos of children in holding cells. They did not involve family separation. The photos, taken by The Associated Press during the Obama administration, showed children who came to the border without their parents and were being housed at a Customs and Border Protection center in Nogales, Arizona.

It's that other part of Trump's tweet, though, that's cause for additional concern.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.17.18

12/17/18 12:00PM

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

* Remember in Georgia's gubernatorial race, when Brian Kemp (R), just a few days before Election Day, accused the Democratic Party of Georgia of trying to hack into the voter database in a failed attempt to steal the election? An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has concluded Kemp, now the governor-elect, was lying.

* In North Carolina, Republican officials are making no secret of their plans to dump Mark Harris (R) if there's a do-over election in the state's 9th congressional district.

* Ahead of Mississippi's U.S. Senate runoff election a few weeks ago, several companies asked Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) to return their campaign contributions, unwilling to be associated with her suspected racism. At this point, most of those companies still haven't gotten their money back.

* In case there were any doubts, the Associated Press has finally called the race in New York's 27th district for Rep. Chris Collins (R). The Republican incumbent briefly ended his re-election bid after getting indicted on felony corruption charges, but most local voters apparently didn't mind.

* In Maine's 2nd congressional district, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) has given up on overturning the election by way of a recount, but he's still weighing an appeal of last week's federal court ruling. That ruling, from a federal judge, threw out the Republican congressman's challenge to Maine's system of ranked-choice balloting.

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Confetti on the floor on the last day of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Beware of presidential polling two years before Election Day

12/17/18 11:30AM

By most metrics, the 2020 presidential campaign hasn't begun in earnest. We know Donald Trump is seeking a second term -- he launched his re-election campaign last year, earlier than any president in history -- but the Democratic field, which is expected to be enormous, does not yet have any officially announced candidates.

That said, as a practical matter, the 2020 race began months ago, as likely Dem candidates started lining up support and scheduling events in states that hold early nominating contests. It was only a matter of time before polling began.

And that time is apparently upon us. CNN released the results of a national poll of Democratic voters late last week, and the Des Moines Register published a new poll of Iowa Dems over the weekend.

I'm not here to tell you the results are completely irrelevant, because they're likely to have some real-world impact, even if the results largely reflect name-recognition. If you're, say, a former vice president weighing whether to run, you might look to the results of independent polls to help guide your decision.

Likewise, if you're a sought-after Democratic campaign staffer or a major donor, and you'll soon have to make some decisions about your future plans, the polling may have a significant influence.

That said, about once every four years, I like to remind folks that presidential polling two years before Election Day has a dubious track record when it comes to predicting results.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane:

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Ia., Sept. 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

Has a president ever faced impeachment over campaign finance violations?

12/17/18 11:00AM

As Donald Trump's legal woes mount, the standard response from most congressional Republicans is to avoid the subject altogether. The Washington Post published a good collection of responses from prominent GOP senators who didn't want to touch the allegations surrounding the president with a 10-foot subpoena.

But then there's Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Capitol Hill's more shameless Trump cheerleaders, who rarely seems to turn down an opportunity to defend his Oval Office ally. The South Carolinian's latest pitch stood out for me as a little different than most. TPM reported:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a staunch supporter of President Trump, said Friday that Trump directing Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments could represent a campaign finance violation "in theory." But he cautioned Democrats against crying impeachment.

"Campaign finance violations have never been used to impeach anybody," Graham told Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

"If you think that this is worthy of impeachment in the House, go ahead," Graham said. "I think most Americans probably won't agree with you."

The argument here isn't that Trump is innocent. Rather, Graham treats Trump's possible guilt as inconsequential. Even if the president participated in an illegal scheme involving hush-money payments, the argument goes, it's merely a "campaign-finance violation," and presidents don't get impeached for campaign-finance violations.

Putting aside questions of propriety, is this true? The historical record gets a little tricky.

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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)

Awkward truth about the ruling in the ACA case: it's 'pretty bananas'

12/17/18 10:30AM

As the political, legal, and policy worlds come to terms with Friday night's ruling rejecting the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, it's tempting to think we'd see a debate unfold along predictable partisan and ideological lines. Democrats and health care advocates will condemn the far-right jurist's judicial activism, while Republicans and "Obamacare" critics will defend the ruling as a reasonable step in the right direction.

That's not quite what's happening, at least not entirely.

Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan and prominent health care advocate, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post over the weekend, explaining, "The legal arguments in previous rounds of litigation over the ACA may have been weak, but they were not frivolous. This case is different; it's an exercise of raw judicial activism. Don't for a moment mistake it for the rule of law."

What strikes me as important, however, is how many conservatives agree with Bagley's conclusion.

Lawyers on both sides of previous A.C.A. battles said the reasoning behind this one was badly flawed, notably in its insistence that the entire 2010 law must fall because one of its provisions may have been rendered invalid by the 2017 tax overhaul legislation. Had Congress meant to take such radical action, they said, it would have said so at the time.

Ted Frank, a lawyer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who is critical of the ACA, told the Washington Post the decision was "embarrassingly bad" because "you're twisting yourself into knots" to reach a particular conclusion.

Perhaps the most striking piece came from Case Western Reserve University School of Law's Jonathan Adler and Yale Law School's Abbe Gluck, who co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times, despite having fought on opposite sides of the issue:

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Maybe Trump should try harder not to sound like a mob boss

12/17/18 10:00AM

Apropos of nothing, Donald Trump lashed out yesterday afternoon at his former personal attorney/"fixer," using some rather unusual language for an American president.

"Remember, Michael Cohen only became a "Rat" after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable & unheard of until the Witch Hunt was illegally started. They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY'S OFFICE! Why didn't they break into the DNC to get the Server, or Crooked's office?"

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, the FBI did not "break into" Michael Cohen's office. Rather, federal law enforcement executed a court-approved search warrant.

That's neither "unthinkable" not "unheard of." It happens every day. Even Trump, for all of his limitations, should be at least vaguely aware of this.

What's more, the president's tweet was, as best as I can tell, the first time Trump has referred to anyone publicly as a "rat" -- a label he used to condemn Cohen for cooperating with law enforcement.

So what we have here is a sitting president -- who’s responsible for faithfully executing the nation’s laws, who appoints federal judges, and and who chose senior members of the Department of Justice, including the attorney general and FBI director -- publicly condemning someone for cooperating with federal law enforcement, while simultaneously criticizing the FBI for executing a lawful search warrant.

In other words, the line between Donald J. Trump's rhetoric and the dialog from villains in mob movies is getting uncomfortably blurred.

There is a degree of irony to all of this. To hear the president tell it at campaign rallies, he's a great champion of law enforcement. In practice, however, Trump's posture toward law enforcement tends to break down into three categories:

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