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Trump praises North Korea's 'very honorable' dictator

04/24/18 12:58PM

Donald Trump's opinion of North Korea's Kim Jong-un has evolved over time. A year ago this week, for example, the American president offered unexpected praise for the dictator, saying, "At a very young age, he was able to assume power.... So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie."

Trump added soon after that he'd be "honored" to meet the North Korean leader, leaving South Korean officials "bewildered."

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the president changed course. "No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea," Trump said. He went to condemn "the depraved character of the North Korean regime."

The American president has also described Kim Jong-un as "Little Rocket Man," a "maniac," and a "madman." Today, however, Trump shifted his posture once again.

"Kim Jong-un was, he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we're seeing. Now a lot of promises have been made by North Korea over the years, but they have never been in this position."

Of course, they've "never been in this position" because previous American presidents have been less cavalier about giving North Korean dictators what they wanted: a presidential meeting that raises the rogue nation's stature and legitimacy.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.24.18

04/24/18 12:00PM

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

* It's Election Day in Arizona's 8th congressional district, where a special election will decide who fills former Rep. Trent Frank's (R) vacant seat. This is a heavily Republican district -- Donald Trump won here by 21 points, and the GOP enjoys a 17-point registration advantage -- suggesting former state lawmaker Debbie Lesko (R) is a clear favorite over Hiral Tipirneni (D), an emergency-room physician and first-time candidate.

* On a related note, Republicans have outspent Democrats in this special election by a roughly four-to-one margin.

* Speaking of special election, it's also Election Day in part of New York, where a state Senate race may help determine partisan control of the chamber.

* At least for now, incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) has not qualified for the ballot, following a Colorado Supreme Court ruling. Roll Call  reported, "State law says the signature collectors must be Colorado residents, and the state Supreme Court determined one of the collectors was not.... Lamborn plans to challenge the ruling in federal court."

* In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will apparently circumvent state election laws -- with the state attorney general's blessing -- to schedule a special election to fill former Rep. Blake Farenthold's (R) congressional vacancy.

* Speaking of the Lone Star State, the latest Quinnipiac poll found Abbott with a nine-point lead over former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez (D) in this year's gubernatorial race, 49% to 40%. Abbott had a similar lead against Valdez's Democratic primary rival, businessman Andrew White.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump faces new round of security questions over his cell phone

04/24/18 11:20AM

When John Kelly took over as White House chief of staff, one of the changes he tried to impose was limiting the flow of information into the Oval Office. To that end, the retired general paid close attention to the calls going to and from the president.

It wasn't long before we saw reports that Trump didn't much care for these constraints, so he'd rely on his personal cell phone to circumvent Kelly's gatekeeper controls. CNN reported yesterday that the president is apparently doing this more often.

President Donald Trump is increasingly relying on his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, multiple sources inside and outside the White House told CNN, as Trump returns to the free-wheeling mode of operation that characterized the earliest days of his administration.

"He uses it a lot more often more recently," a senior White House official said of the President's cell phone.... While Trump never entirely gave up his personal cell phone once Kelly came aboard, one source close to the White House speculated that the President is ramping up the use of his personal device recently in part because "he doesn't want Kelly to know who he's talking to."

In case this isn't obvious, a normal, functional White House isn't supposed to operate this way.

But looking past the behind-the-scenes intrigue, there's a more practical question to consider: how secure is Trump's personal cell phone?

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Image: U.S. President Trump's nominee to be U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Navy Rear Adm. Jackson meets with Senator Tester (D-MT) in Washington

White House dysfunction creates another cabinet mess for Trump

04/24/18 10:40AM

Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson, Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, was already a highly problematic choice. The VA is a bureaucratic behemoth -- it has an annual budget of $186 billion, employs 360,000 people, and oversees a vast network of offices and medical facilities across the country -- that the White House physician appears wholly unprepared to lead.

The president, however, likes Jackson personally, and that was enough. For the Senate, it's not. Axios reported over the weekend that there are "widespread" and bipartisan concerns about Jackson's nomination. The piece added that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "thought it was unwise for Trump to nominate Jackson so quickly without going through all the due diligence that a normal cabinet nomination process would involve."

If so, it was probably unwise for Trump to ignore Kelly's purported instincts.

Ronny Jackson's confirmation hearing to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, has been postponed because of unspecified concerns about Jackson's background, two sources told NBC News. [...]

The sources said senators on the Veterans Affairs Committee became aware of these concerns only recently -- within the past several days -- and raised them with the White House.

The details of the concerns are still coming into focus, though as Rachel noted on the show last night, there are unconfirmed allegations that Jackson oversaw a "hostile work environment," drank excessively while on the job, and "improperly" dispensed medication.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) confirmed to reporters this morning that Jackson's confirmation hearing, which was scheduled to begin tomorrow, has been scrapped -- and the timing for the next hearing is still up in the air.

At face value, this is a story about an unqualified cabinet nominee struggling in the face of scrutiny, but taking a step back, there's a larger issue to consider.

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Image: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during President Trump's infrastructure meeting at the White House in Washington

Another GOP rep calls for Pruitt's ouster amid multiple scandals

04/24/18 10:00AM

As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tries to survive an avalanche of scandals and corruption allegations, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday about the Oklahoma Republican's future.

"We're reviewing some of those allegations," Sanders responded. After praising Pruitt's work on deregulation -- which is to say, the EPA chief is targeting environmental safeguards -- she added, "[T]he other things certainly are something that we're monitoring and looking at."

Other Republicans, meanwhile, have seen enough. ThinkProgress noted yesterday:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing more friendly fire after this weekend, as a fourth Republican representative along with a Fox News host called on Pruitt to resign following a barrage of scandals.

On Sunday, in response to a question on Twitter, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) said that Pruitt "should resign" and that he was the "wrong fit from the start for [sic] agency dedicated to protecting our environment."

LoBiondo, who's retiring from Congress this year and is therefore immune to intra-party pressure, is only the fourth House Republican to call for the scandal-plagued EPA chief to resign. Or put another way, there are 237 GOP lawmakers in the House, and 98% of them are comfortable leaving Pruitt right where he is, the corruption allegations notwithstanding.

Of course, Pruitt's fate will probably not be decided by Congress; the decision will be made in Donald Trump's White House. And on that front, Bloomberg Politics reported late yesterday that Team Trump is "cautioning" its allies about defending the embattled EPA administrator.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

White House struggles to explain Trump's 'breeding concept' reference

04/24/18 09:20AM

"There is a Revolution going on in California," Donald Trump wrote on Twitter last week. "Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept."

It's not exactly a secret that the president writes poorly, rejects proper grammar, and has a limited vocabulary, but in the context of a missive on immigration, Trump's rejection of a "breeding concept" stood out as notable. Indeed, as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank asked in response, "What could he mean? Immigrants are breeding thoroughbred horses? Prize-winning cattle? Or perhaps Trump was using 'breeding' in the sense now popular among white supremacists?"

It need not be a rhetorical question. In fact, reporters pressed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for an explanation at yesterday's briefing:

Q: When he used the word "breeding," was he making a derogatory term about Latinos in California -- that they breed a lot or that they're prone to breeding? Was he talking about --

SANDERS: No, he's talking about the problem itself growing and getting bigger.

So, by lamenting the "breeding concept," the president was referring to an immigration "problem"? Later in the briefing, reporters pressed further:

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Image: Rand Paul

After latest reversal, Rand Paul earns the wrong kind of reputation

04/24/18 08:41AM

Mike Pompeo was poised to become the first secretary of state nominee to ever be rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was described as a "hard no" on the nomination, and with every Democrat on the panel also opposed to Pompeo, Donald Trump's choice to lead the State Department was going to suffer a historic embarrassment.

And then Rand Paul pulled a Rand Paul.

Amid several last-minute twists, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was reported favorably to serve as the next secretary of state by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a Monday evening vote.

Following the announcement by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., moments before the panel was scheduled to vote that he had reversed his opposition to Pompeo's nomination, the committee voted 11-9 along party lines....

In a series of tweets published yesterday afternoon, the Kentucky Republican said he'd received some "assurances" that Pompeo agrees with Trump about the war in Iraq having been a mistake and on the need to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Or put another way, Rand Paul heard some meaningless rhetoric from the White House about the hawkish nominee, which was enough for him to abandon his stated principles.

Oddly enough, this is a rare instance in which one of the president's predictions proved true. Just last week, Trump was asked at a White House event if he was concerned about Mike Pompeo's confirmation. "I will say this about Rand Paul: he's never let me down," the president said. "Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I'm concerned. He's never let me down. And I don't think he'll let us down again."

And while Trump was no doubt pleased with the GOP senator's latest reversal, it's hard not to wonder if Rand Paul fully appreciates the kind of reputation he's cultivating.

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Image: Donald Trump

One of Trump's key Russia claims starts to unravel

04/24/18 08:00AM

It's not exactly a secret that the Steele dossier includes one especially provocative claim: the report alleges that Donald Trump, while in Moscow in 2013, had lewd interactions with prostitutes. The alleged incident remained relevant because it raises the possibility that Russia has proof of the encounter, which it could use as leverage against the American president.

Former FBI Director James Comey's newly released memos show that Trump seemed "obsessed" with disproving the claim, raising the issue several times with Comey over the course of several meetings. Indeed, as far as Trump was concerned, he effectively had an alibi: he never actually spent the night in Russia, so the story couldn't be true. The president stressed this point to Comey on multiple occasions.

The trouble is, Trump's defense appears to have unraveled. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bloomberg News reported yesterday on the Republican's flight records from the time.

[T]he broad timeline of Trump's stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it's substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.

Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump's own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.

Trump may not have spent that Saturday night in Russia, but the records suggest he did spend Friday night there.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.23.18

04/23/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Tennessee: "A man suspected of killing four people and injuring four others after opening fire inside a Tennessee Waffle House has been arrested following an extensive manhunt, according to police."

* Toronto: "A van plowed into eight to 10 people in a busy intersection in Toronto on Monday afternoon, police said. The driver of the van has been taken into custody, according to police. Authorities did not immediately identify the driver."

* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber carried out an ISIS-inspired attack at a voter registration center in the Afghan capital on Sunday, killing 57 people and wounding more than 100 others, according to officials from the Afghan interior and public health ministries."

* Alabama: "Waffle House has weighed in on the controversial Sunday morning arrest by three white male Saraland Police officers of black 25-year-old Mobile woman Chikesia Clemons in one of the company's two Saraland locations."

* Samantha Dravis: "One of embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's most trusted advisers sought to retroactively change her resignation date a day after the House oversight committee requested to interview her as part of its investigation."

* Indiana: "The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court ruling striking down a Pence-era abortion law. House Enrolled Act 1337 was signed by former Gov. Mike Pence in March 2016. Among other 'non-discrimination provisions,' the law prohibited abortions sought because a fetus had been potentially diagnosed with a disability."

* The state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron: "[U]nlike his predecessors, Trump hasn't invited any members of Congress from the opposing party. He's also opted not to invite any members of the media, another departure from past state dinners."

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) participates in a conversation about American foreign strategy and statesmanship at the Hudson Institute on March 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Cotton is the wrong guy to give lectures on 'shameful political behavior'

04/23/18 01:46PM

Much of the far-right is unmistakably excited about Mike Pompeo's nomination to be the next secretary of state, and as the CIA director is poised to face a historic rejection from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plenty of conservatives are trying to keep the pressure on Pompeo's skeptics.

Some, however, have less credibility than others.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has been among Pompeo’s most vocal champions in the Senate, lambasted his colleagues ahead of voting.

“Democrats, especially on the Foreign Relations Committee, are really engaged in shameful political behavior,” Cotton said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Oh, I see. Tom Cotton wants to have a conversation about "shameful political behavior" on the part of senators who aren't on board with a presidential nomination.

As luck would have it, that's a great idea. Let's have that conversation and start with how he treated Cassandra Butts.

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