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E.g., 3/28/2017

Monday's Mini-Report, 3.27.17

03/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Russia: "Tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow and other major cities across Russia on Sunday to protest against official government corruption in what certainly looked like the largest show of anti-Kremlin defiance since 2012. Hundreds of people were arrested, including prominent opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was one of the main organizers of the rally."

* On a related note, Putin's government responded to the protests by accusing the demonstrators of being paid protesters. You know, that argument sounds kind of familiar.

* Iraq: "The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians -- perhaps as many as 200, residents said -- had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State."

* A mass shooting in central Florida: "A gunman shot four people in a Florida home Monday and then began randomly shooting people on a nearby street before being subdued by police officers, Sanford police said."

* These tactics make sense, given the circumstances: "Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee forced the delay of a vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Monday. The one-week delay in sending the nomination to the full Senate comes as the partisan battle lines over his final confirmation votes begin to harden."

* North Carolina: "Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' isn't hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis."

* This hasn't gone away: "Nearly three years into the war against ISIS, lawmakers have ducked their constitutional responsibility for making war by not passing legislation authorizing the anti-ISIS fight."

* Trump told reporters Friday that he never vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act quickly. That's hilariously untrue.
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

With Trump, the buck always stops anywhere but with him

03/27/17 04:30PM

When Donald Trump's Muslim ban failed miserably in the courts, the president was quick to assign blame -- to everyone but himself. Now that the health care plan Trump wanted has also collapsed, he's desperate to avoid responsibility, though he seems unsure who to point the finger at first.

Trump's first instinct, evidently, was to call the Washington Post to blame Democrats.
"Look, I'm a team player," Trump said of the Republican Party. "I've played this team. I've played with the team. And they just fell a little bit short, and it's very hard when you need almost 100 percent of the votes and we have no votes, zero, from the Democrats. It's unheard of."
Don't brush past those last three words too quickly: "It's unheard of." Republicans pushed a bill that would have stripped tens of millions of Americans of their health coverage, slashed Medicaid, and handed massive tax breaks to the wealthy. Democrats were unanimous in thinking this was a ridiculous plan, and Trump thinks it's "unheard of" for a party to stand together in opposition to legislation they find offensive.

The president occasionally offers us a reminder that he's quite new to politics, and has no real familiarity with recent history.

Trump was, however, quite intent on giving Democrats credit for derailing the wildly unpopular GOP plan that House Republicans couldn't pass despite their largest majority since the 1920s. In relatively brief White House remarks on Friday afternoon, Trump said, "We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren't going to give us a single vote, so it's a very difficult thing to do.... With no Democrat support we couldn't quite get there.... This really would have worked out better if we could have had some Democrat support. Remember, this, we had no Democrat support."

In reality, no one in the Republican leadership even tried to earn Democratic support; Democrats weren't consulted before the bill was crafted; and there was nothing in the bill Democrats could tolerate. The GOP plan was to rely on its massive Republican majority, ignoring Democratic concerns, which (a) didn't work; and (b) makes it kind of hilarious to hear Trump whine incessantly about the one group of people in Washington who didn't have any real power over the process.

If Republicans liked the bill it would've passed. Trump tried to persuade them; he failed; and the bill died. It's nice, in a way, for the president to give Dems credit, but it's also laughable.
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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Before his strange announcement, Intel chair went to the White House

03/27/17 12:58PM

It's entirely possible that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is deliberately trying to derail the investigation he's ostensibly leading. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza posited last week that the California Republican found himself stuck pursuing a Russia scandal in a way that would do real damage to Donald Trump, so Nunes "essentially blew up" the investigation.

And if that is the GOP lawmaker's goal -- to compromise himself and the investigation his committee is conducting -- it's almost certainly working. Today the story took a truly bizarre twist.
The day before he announced to reporters that Donald Trump may have been incidentally monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies during the transition, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes met with the source of that information at the White House, a Nunes spokesman told NBC News.

"Chairman Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source," said his spokesman, Jack Langer.... Nunes has declined to say who provided the intelligence reports he referenced, but his admission that he met with his source at the White House is fueling suspicions among Democrats that his source was someone close to Trump.
For those who haven't been following this, let's back up for a minute.

On Wednesday, Nunes held two fairly breathless press conferences to suggest he received secret information -- from a source he would not identify -- that there were incidental recordings of Trump transition officials, after the election but before the inauguration, conducted by intelligence agencies as part of legal surveillance. The congressman struggled to keep key details of his story straight, including whether Trump was personally recorded -- a point he initially confirmed to reporters, before reversing course.

Nunes made matters worse by going to the White House on Wednesday afternoon to brief Team Trump -- in the process undermining his own investigation, stepping all over separation of powers, trashing the process he's supposed to be honoring, and acting as if he were somehow a presidential employee -- without bothering to talk to his colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee.

Today's revelations, however, deal with what happened the day before.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.27.17

03/27/17 12:00PM

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

* The American Action Network, a PAC backed by the House Republican leadership, aired some pre-bought ads on Friday, praising Republicans for having passed their health care bill -- which, in reality, did not pass because it lacked GOP support.

* On a related note, a pro-Trump group called America First Policies, created to promote the White House's priorities, played effectively no role in the debate, in large part because of internal turmoil. The organization was led by Rick Gates, a former Paul Manafort deputy, who resigned last week.

* Further abandoning his 2016 campaign promises, Donald Trump went golfing again over the weekend, making his 13th trip to a golf course since taking office two months ago. In keeping with the recent pattern, White House officials "tried to hide" the president's activities on the links.

* On a related note, he specifically went to the Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia, which carries its own significance: "For the eighth weekend in a row, President Trump has visited a property that bears his name. He has done so on 21 of the 66 days he has been in office, meaning that for the equivalent of three full weeks of his just-over-nine weeks as commander in chief, he has spent all or part of a day at a Trump property -- earning that property mentions in the media and the ability to tell potential clients that they might be able to interact with the president."

* Apparently eager to align himself with the White House and congressional Republican leaders, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) resigned yesterday from the House Freedom Caucus.

* Democratic successes in state legislative special elections continued late last week, with an interesting win in Pennsylvania, where a Dem won a state House race as a write-in candidate.

* In Nevada, voters will now have an opportunity to approve an automatic voter-registration policy on the statewide ballot in 2018.
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Government Shutdown Looms on Capitol Hill

For GOP, fallout from health care fiasco is just getting started

03/27/17 11:20AM

It's not surprising that Republicans are eager to move on from the health care fight they picked. The entire endeavor was an embarrassing failure, exposing intra-party divisions and governing challenges that are likely to dog the GOP for many months to come.

But their Democratic rivals intend to make sure the political fallout is even more painful. NBC News reported over the weekend:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is launching its first ad campaign of the 2018 election cycle Monday, targeting 14 Republicans who voted for earlier versions of the bill in House committees. [...]

That starts with the members of three House committees that took up and passed draft versions of the Obamacare repeal bill - the Budget, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce Committees. Fourteen of the DCCC's targeted Republican lawmakers voted for the bill in one of those committees.
To see the message Democrats are pushing, the party posted this sample clip, targeting Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.). The ad-buy appear to be modest -- the DCCC is apparently targeting digital platforms, at least with this initial rollout -- but as the NBC report added, the spots are "a glimpse of what voters will see on their TVs soon."

Which makes a lot of sense. The House didn't end up voting for the wildly unpopular GOP health care plan, but Republican leaders pushed the bill quickly through three committees, which put a series of GOP lawmakers on the record, voting for the legislation before it was derailed.

Each of them are now vulnerable to attack ads that will have the benefit of being true: these Republicans knew the bill was a mess; they knew the American mainstream hated it; and they knew it wouldn't work -- but they voted for it anyway, ignoring the chance to kill it.

What's more, plenty of other House Republicans went on the record ahead of Friday afternoon, stating publicly their intention to support the bill on the floor (when they assumed there would be a floor vote). They, too, made themselves vulnerable by directly tying themselves to the doomed legislation.
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Image: Trump, flanked by Kushner, Pence and Porter, welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington

Trump giving broad new powers to his inexperienced son-in-law

03/27/17 10:40AM

Jared Kushner has long been a curious choice to serve as a senior adviser to the president, but his apparent promotion within the White House is even tougher to explain.

Donald Trump relied on his son-in-law as a confidant during last year's campaign, so it stood to reason that Kushner would have a role in the White House, but he's a 36-year-old lawyer with a background running his father's real estate business. Kushner's background in government and/or politics is effectively non-existent, and there have long been questions about whether his job is at odds with existing anti-nepotism laws.

But in a striking new piece, the Washington Post reports that Kushner's power and portfolio are poised to expand.
President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises -- such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction -- by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
There was a point, early on in the Obama presidency, in which Republicans feigned apoplexy about so-called "czars." The Democratic president appointed a series of officials to tackle issue-specific challenges, which GOP lawmakers considered outrageous. As the Republican line went, these people were accountable only to Obama, not the public or their representatives, and the nature of their responsibilities were deemed an abuse of policymaking process.

Now, however, Donald Trump wants his inexperienced son-in-law to oversee "a SWAT team of strategic consultants" to start making policy outside the existing legislative and regulatory framework, answering only to Trump.

I'm starting to think Republican whining about Obama-era "czars" and "tyranny" wasn't wholly on the level.
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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)

Trump keeps demanding credit for Obama's successes

03/27/17 10:00AM

Desperate for a little good news, Donald Trump seemed eager to boast on Friday about a company called Charter Communications moving forward with plans to add 20,000 jobs in the United States. Soon after, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer bragged about the news from the briefing room podium, and the White House's communications office sent out a press release, pointing to the news as proof of a president who's "delivering on jobs for the American people."

Just on the surface, this entire approach makes Trump appear more like a mayor than a president. It's a massive country with the world's largest economy, and individual companies are going to sometimes hire and fire people. Trump seems to think he can claim credit for every piece of positive economic news, which is plainly silly.

But in the case of Charter Communications, it's actually worse, because as the Washington Post noted, these jobs were actually announced in the Obama era, and had nothing to do with Trump.
[P]arts of that pledge by Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge had already been made months ago.... [T]here is little evidence to suggest the Trump administration played a major role in securing those commitments.

Charter had announced those intended hires as far back as October, and the jobs -- which will largely be filled by customer service workers -- are "new" only in the sense that they have yet to be filled.
Oh. So the jobs Trump is pretending to create were actually announced before the election, when Obama was in office. Trump is trumpeting the hires now, hoping to take credit for jobs he had nothing to do with, while simultaneously hoping the public won't know the difference.

Worse, this keeps happening.
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Image: Paul Ryan

Following failure, Paul Ryan's reputation may never be the same

03/27/17 09:20AM

A month ago today, CNN ran a report on House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) efforts to prepare his party to advance an ambitious far-right agenda. The piece described the Wisconsin congressman as a "legendary wonk."

Not just a wonk, mind you, but a legendary wonk.

The phrasing was a striking reminder of Ryan's most impressive skill as a politician: convincing much of the Beltway establishment that he's a knowledgeable policy expert with few, if any rivals on Capitol Hill. Ask some of Ryan's admirers to point to any specific examples of the Speaker actually earning such a reputation, however, and they'll generally hem and haw -- because for those who care about the details, the fact that the GOP lawmaker speaks in complete sentences, and occasionally uses jargon that makes him appear knowledgeable, is not enough to mask the fact that Ryan isn't a wonk, a legend, or even an especially capable Speaker of the House.

If there's any justice, the failure of the ridiculous health care bill that Ryan wrote behind closed doors, and then failed to persuade his own members to support, should do permanent damage to the Speaker's standing. The New Republic's Jeet Heer noted last week that the demise of the American Health Care Act "should strike at the real root cause of the mess: The powerful, persistent Washington myth that Ryan is a policy genius."
Paul Krugman called him a "flimflam man," pointing out that the numbers Ryan touted in his imaginary budget didn't add up, with the proposed tax cuts creating much bigger deficits than Ryan acknowledges. The AHCA fiasco vindicates Krugman's harsh judgment. The "reform" was hated not just by Democrats but by actual Republican policy wonks -- people who were critical of Obamacare, but saw the AHCA as doing nothing to make it better. [...]

Ryan has been a scammer all along. He's not a more serious Republican who offers a welcome relief from the frothing of the Tea Party. He's an Ayn Rand acolyte who fully shares the agenda of the hard right on economic matters. And his long con is now obvious for all the world to see. "Never give a sucker an even break," W.C. Fields used to say. Anyone who continues to think of Paul Ryan as a legislative wizard or a serious policy thinker richly deserves to be called "sucker."
We are, after all, talking about a Speaker who put together a presentation a couple of weeks ago at which he seemed baffled by the literal definition of "insurance."

The Guardian added that Ryan's bill was such "a horrendous concoction" that it should "disabuse fawning congressional reporters of the notion that the speaker is a man of deep intellect and self-reflection."
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Image: President Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote, accompanied by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Price and Vice President Pence, in Washington

On public policy, Trump combines ignorance and indifference

03/27/17 08:42AM

The day before the Republican health care plan collapsed, Donald Trump met at the White House with some of the bill's House critics. As Politico noted, the president knew that the members had substantive concerns, but he didn't care.
Donald Trump had heard enough about policy and process. It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act -- the language that would leave Obamacare's "essential health benefits" in place, the community rating provision that limited what insurers could charge certain patients, and whether the next two steps of Speaker Paul Ryan's master plan were even feasible -- when Trump decided to cut them off.

"Forget about the little s**t," Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. "Let's focus on the big picture here."
This posture, not surprisingly, failed spectacularly. The "little s**t," as the president called it, referred to the substantive details of the health care debate that stood between success and failure. But Trump was dismissive, in part because he knew effectively nothing about the policy he was trying to pass, and in part because he didn't care to find out.

And it was the president's indifference that ultimately contributed to the outcome. The Politico piece added that while Freedom Caucus members found Trump charming, "it became clear ... that no serious changes were going to be made, because the president didn't have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate."

It's hard to overstate how frequently this assessment has served as a foundation that explains the failure of the GOP plan. We'll talk a little later about the broader blame game, but as the dust settles on the Republicans' health care collapse, perhaps the most important takeaway is that the party is proving itself completely incapable of governing, led by a post-policy president whose ignorance is standing in the way of his own agenda.

The New York Times' David Brooks, noting Trump's "lifelong indifference toward the mechanics of governance," spoke to one House Republican who conceded the president "did not have the greatest grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure." The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza spoke to a GOP lawmaker who was less subtle: Republicans were generally astonished how "over his head" Trump was, understanding neither "the politics nor the policy" of the debate.
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In the wake of failure, Republicans eager to push tax cuts

03/27/17 08:00AM

The Republican effort to tackle health care reform was one of the more dramatic legislative fiascoes in recent memory, but GOP officials apparently don't intend to spend much too time licking their wounds. On the contrary, Republicans want to quickly make the transition to tax reform.

Politico had an interesting piece over the weekend, which quoted House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on his party's plans.
Positing that health care was about to die, I asked Brady if re-writing the tax code would be any easier. "Tax reform is the hardest lift in a generation," he told me, shaking his head. "So that would be a big challenge."

"If you couldn't get health care done," I ask him, "how can you get tax reform done?"

Brady thought for a moment. "Every Republican is all-in on tax reform. We still have a lot of work. But it's just a natural issue for us in a very positive way."
And while on the surface that may sound compelling -- GOP lawmakers intend to move from one effort that cut taxes for the wealthy (health care reform) to a different effort to cut taxes for the wealthy (tax reform) -- Republicans also seemed united in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. As recent developments made clear, like-minded ambitions do not a legislative victory make.

So why would tax reform be "the hardest lift in a generation"? In part because of the scope and scale of the task: Republicans aren't just talking about tax cuts; they want to pass tax reform -- the first time since 1986 that federal policymakers have effectively tried to re-write the nation's tax code.

To be sure, the U.S. health care system, which affects one-fifth of the American economy, is incredibly difficult to overhaul. But the U.S. tax code affects nearly all of the economy, making it that much more challenging.
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