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Haley contradicts Trump on Russian election interference (again)

10/20/17 10:40AM

On July 7, Donald Trump said "nobody really knows" whether Russia meddled in the American elections. On July 9, Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, said "everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections."

Everybody, apparently, except her boss.

Soon after, Haley reflected on Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said the American president wanted to look Putin in the eye in order to "let him know that, 'Yes, we know you meddled in our elections. Yes, we know you did it, and cut it out.'" Trump then pointed in the opposite direction, suggesting he was satisfied with Putin's "vehement" denial of wrongdoing.

All of this came to mind again yesterday, when Haley contradicted her boss on the issue once more. Politico reported:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday that interference in U.S. elections by another nation "is warfare," telling an audience in New York that such meddling has become Russia's go-to tactic. [...]

"I find it fascinating because the Russians, God bless 'em, they're saying, 'Why are Americans anti-Russian?' And why have we done the sanctions? Well, don't interfere in our elections and we won't be anti-Russian," Haley said Thursday. "And I think we have to be so hard on this and we have to hold them accountable and we have to get the private sector to understand they are responsible for this, too. We all have to step up from this event."

It's as if Haley is working in an entirely different administration -- because as far her boss is concerned, there's no reason to believe Russia did anything wrong at all.

Indeed, Haley referenced the importance of economic sanctions on Russia, neglecting to mention the fact that the administration in which she serves was supposed to implement that policy weeks ago, but hasn't.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

On opioids, Trump World's plans have become 'such a mess'

10/20/17 10:04AM

Ten weeks ago, speaking from one of his golf resorts, Donald Trump declared, "The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency." His use of the word "officially" led many to assume a White House declaration would soon follow, initiating a series of policy measures.

But Trump followed up with nothing. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), the man the president appointed to lead a White House opioid commission, conceded recently that Trump's inaction is "not good."

Asked on Monday when we might see a declaration, the president gave himself a deadline. "We are going to be doing that next week," Trump said, adding, "That is a very, very big statement. It's a very important step. And to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done and it's time-consuming work. We're going to be doing in next week, okay?"

According to a new Politico report, the answer from Trump administration officials was no, it's not okay.

Blindsided officials are now scrambling to develop such a plan, but it is unclear when it will be announced, how or if it will be done, and whether the administration has the permanent leadership to execute it, said two administration officials.

"They are not ready for this," a public health advocate said of an emergency declaration after talking to Health and Human Services officials enlisted in the effort. Trump's off-script statement stunned top agency officials, who said there is no consensus on how to implement an emergency declaration for the drug epidemic.

Top members of the Trump administration don't even agree on whether there should be a declaration, and Politico's report noted that leaders from relevant federal agencies haven't yet been asked "to draw up strategies and tactics."

A senior FDA official added that the entire endeavor is "such a mess."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Unwilling to move on, Trump takes aim at 'wacky' House Democrat

10/20/17 09:20AM

Following White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's dramatic remarks to the press yesterday, it was tempting to think Donald Trump would move on from this week's cringe-worthy controversy over the president's interactions with fallen soldiers' loved ones.

But Trump can't seem to leave this alone. Last night on Twitter, he took aim at Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) once again.

"The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson (D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!"

Look, there's no real value in belaboring this, but Trump seems to think he deserves the last word on the subject, and he wants the public to believe Wilson wasn't telling the truth.

Reality points in the opposite direction. In fact, Kelly yesterday effectively confirmed Frederica Wilson's version of events, saying he advised the president to tell Sgt. La David T. Johnson's loved ones he "knew what he was getting into."

Now, it's easy to make the argument that Trump tried to be comforting to the grieving family, and though Johnson's loved ones took offense, that wasn't the president's intention. But based on the White House's own account, nothing Wilson said has been discredited.

Trump's smart move would be to stop digging. The president claimed this week Wilson "totally fabricated" what he said, and that turned out to be untrue. Trump claimed there was "proof" to bolster his version of events, and that turned out to be untrue. He said the congresswoman had changed her story, and that turned out to be untrue.

Making matters worse, the Miami Herald and the Washington Post scrutinized John Kelly's remarks yesterday, and both found that the White House chief of staff got several of his facts wrong.

So why in the world does Trump want to keep the argument going over who told "a total lie"?

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The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

With the GOP tax plan looming, the Senate budget vote matters

10/20/17 08:41AM

Congressional and White House Republicans are clearly focused on passing massive tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, but in order to make that happen, GOP lawmakers had to pass a budget plan. As the Washington Post reported, the Senate barely cleared this hurdle overnight.

The Senate approved the Republican-backed budget Thursday night, a major step forward for the GOP effort to enact tax cuts.

The budget's passage will allow the GOP to use a procedural maneuver to pass tax legislation through the Senate with 50 or more votes, removing the need for support from Democratic senators.... The budget opens the door to expanding the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

The final vote was 51 to 49, with every Democratic senator opposed to the GOP plan, and every Republican senator except Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voting for it. (Paul complained that the plan doesn't balance the budget, which is why he broke ranks.)

Instead of a conference committee, which would reconcile the differences between the two chambers' budgets, the Senate-approved blueprint will now head to the House, which is likely to approve it, as is, fairly soon.

And why should you care about any of this? Because of what will happen next.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Trump's CIA chief repeats discredited claim about Russia scandal

10/20/17 08:00AM

The New York Times reported in early August that Donald Trump's CIA chief, former Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, is "perhaps the most openly political spy chief in a generation." Soon after, the Washington Post added that some CIA officials aren't sure they can fully trust their own CIA director because of his apparent loyalties to his ally in the Oval Office.

Those concerns seemed relevant anew yesterday.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo incorrectly asserted Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's interference campaign did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

"We conducted an election that had integrity," Pompeo, a former Republican member of Congress from Kansas, said during a public event in response to a question from NBC News. "And yes, the intelligence community's assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election."

As Rachel explained on the show last night, this is demonstrably wrong. We know this with certainty because the intelligence community's assessment has been publicly available for months, and it specifically said, "We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion."

After reporters began asking the CIA why its director publicly made a claim that was plainly false, the agency tried to walk Pompeo's comments back. "The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed," a CIA spokesperson said, "and the director did not intend to suggest that it had."

In other words, Pompeo did not intend to say what he said -- which happens to be in line with what Trump partisans have falsely claimed for months.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.19.17

10/19/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm not sure Spain is making things better: "The standoff over Catalonia intensified significantly on Thursday as the Spanish government said it would take emergency measures to halt a secessionist drive in the economically vital and politically restive northeastern region."

* At least someone's impressed: "President Trump on Thursday said the federal response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico deserves a grade of 10 out of 10 as he met at the White House with Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of the U.S. territory. 'I would say it's a 10,' Trump said."

* What a strange story: "Chad is a top U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism in Africa, so it seemed odd to many experts when the country was added to the list of nations affected by President Donald Trump's third travel ban, issued in September. Apparently, a shortage of passport paper is partly to blame."

* Worth watching: "Sen. John McCain has become the first Republican to sign on to a draft bill from Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner that would increase the transparency of political advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook. The move, announced Wednesday, marks a win for the bill's Democratic authors, who have been working for weeks to secure GOP support."

* NPR's "Embedded" podcast team examined "charitable giving by Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles. It found the organization appears to have fallen short of its bold claims of philanthropic giving."

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Image: President Trump Speaks On Infrastructure Meeting Held At Trump Tower

The disconnect between the White House's John Kelly and his boss

10/19/17 04:46PM

Two weeks after four American soldiers were killed in Niger, Donald Trump called the families of the fallen on Tuesday. In the case of Sgt. La David T. Johnson's family, the presidential call apparently did not go well.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who is personally close with the family, was with Johnson's widow when Trump called, and heard the president's message, which she said was not well received. The fallen soldier's mother, who was also there, added that she felt that the president showed "disrespect" to the family.

Today, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general and himself a Gold Star parent, appeared in the press briefing room and criticized the Democratic congresswoman's handling of the matter.

In heartfelt remarks about his own tragedy, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former general whose Marine son was killed in Afghanistan, said Thursday that he was "stunned" by a Florida lawmaker's criticism of President Donald Trump's condolence call to a fallen soldier's wife.

Kelly described himself as "broken-hearted" coming to work at the White House on Wednesday as he saw Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., on news networks disclosing the private details of Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among four soldiers killed earlier this month in Niger.

Kelly covered a fair amount of ground at the podium this afternoon, describing in detail how the Defense Department notifies families on the loss of a loved one, and his own experience after the loss of his son, who was killed in Afghanistan.

The president's chief of staff also explained how he counseled Trump once the president decided he'd call these Gold Star families, advising him on what he might say. Kelly explained that Trump "expressed his condolences in the best way he could."

It seemed that the intended message was that Trump had made a good-faith effort, and he should get the benefit of the doubt. At least as of yesterday, David Johnson's family felt very differently.

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Former US President George W. Bush speaks during "Investing in Our Future" at the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center on Aug. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Trump probably won't appreciate George W. Bush's latest speech

10/19/17 02:12PM

George W. Bush has never publicly rebuked Donald Trump, but the former president hasn't exactly been subtle when putting distance between himself and his fellow Republican. A year ago, for example, Bush confirmed that he did not vote for Trump in the presidential general election.

At Trump's inauguration, the former president was reportedly heard responding to Trump's speech by saying, "That was some weird s**t."

Nine months later, Bush spoke at a forum this morning where he reflected on the state of the body politic, and while he didn't reference Donald Trump by name, it was hard not to get the impression that the former president had the current president in mind. Roll Call described the speech as a "scathing warning" about Trump.

"Since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of the free markets, from the strength of democratic alliance and from the advance of free societies," Bush said. "Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children."

He also warned of the dangers of a worldwide pattern of countries -- including some in Europe -- "turning inward." And though Bush did not name Trump by name during his remarks, his warning about the current U.S. chief executive was clear.

"America is not immune from these trends," Bush said. "Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."

Hmm. An American political leader who inspires bigotry, peddles conspiracy theories, and relies on near-constant dishonesty. I wonder who the former president might have been referring to.

What's more, while Trump continues to pretend Russia didn't attack the American elections, Bush added this morning that the Russian cyberattacks amounted to a "sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country's divisions." The former president specifically condemned the "external attacks on our democracy" and Russia's "project of turning Americans against each other."

This is, of course, roughly the opposite of what Trump says about last year's attack on our democracy.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Another Capitol Hill Republican is quitting Congress early

10/19/17 12:44PM

As a rule, when influential members of Congress decide to quit in the middle of their term, and it has nothing to do with any scandals or investigations, it's evidence that all is not going well on Capitol Hill. Cleveland.com reports that Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) is the latest to head for the exits.

Tiberi, a senior member of the House Ways and Means committee, was first elected to Congress in 2000. In 2015, he lost a bid to chair the influential committee that writes tax laws, and became head of its health subcommittee. He contemplated a U.S. Senate run earlier this year.

In a statement from Tiberi's office, the congressman said he would leave office by Jan. 31.... Tiberi plans to join the Ohio Business Roundtable, a group made up of CEOs from some of the state's largest businesses.

The New York Times, which reported overnight that this news was likely, said the Ohio Republican's decision reflects "mounting frustration" and "a deepening level of discontent" on Capitol Hill. That's understandable, since Republicans have struggled to do anything of real value since taking over all of the levers of federal power.

Tiberi probably isn't a household name in much of the country, but it's worth remembering that his position on the House Ways and Means Committee gives him a front-row seat to the GOP's efforts at tax reform -- his mid-term resignation suggests the endeavor isn't going especially well -- and he's the current chair of the House Tuesday Group, ostensibly representing the interests of Republican moderates.

The Ohioan also chairs the Ways and Means Committee's panel on health care, which could matter quite a bit if Republicans tried again to take up the issue.

In other words, Tiberi is currently in a position where he can wield some influence on the Hill. And yet, he's leaving anyway, apparently because he believes he can do more working with a state-based business lobbying group.

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