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Trump remains focused on Obama, calls to fallen soldiers' families

10/17/17 12:52PM

The ostensible point of Donald Trump's press event at the White House yesterday was for the president to make the case that his presidency is succeeding, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But the message ended up focusing on one thing that made Trump look even worse than usual.

Nearly two weeks after four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, a reporter asked Trump yesterday why he's been silent on the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since he took office. The president responded by answering a question he wasn't asked: Trump said he, unlike Barack Obama and his other predecessors, likes to call the loved ones of Americans killed in action. (Trump hadn't actually called these families, and letters he claims to have written hadn't been sent.)

Reminded that he was brazenly lying, Trump soon after conceded that he didn't know whether Obama called these families or not.

Today, facing criticism, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to keep the story alive for another news cycle.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his false claim that his predecessor didn't call the families of soldiers killed in action by alluding to former Gen. John Kelly's son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan.

"You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?" Trump said in a radio interview with Fox News' Brian Kilmeade.

Something Rachel said on the show last night struck me as important. "If there's one thing a country should keep faith about, it's the thanks and respect to the family of people who gave their lives for this country... If there is anything that everybody can agree should be taken seriously and treated with solemnity and respect, it must be this."

I desperately wish the current president of the United States agreed. Evidently, he does not.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.17.17

10/17/17 12:00PM

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

* After blaming Senate Republicans for undermining his agenda, Donald Trump said yesterday he'll try to dissuade Steve Bannon from launching primary campaigns against several Senate Republican incumbents.

* Trump also returned to the campaign trail again yesterday, appearing at a South Carolina golf resort to help raise money for Gov. Henry McMaster (R), the nation's first statewide officeholder to endorse Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries.

* With only three weeks remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, two new statewide polls show Ralph Northam (D) leading Ed Gillespie (R) by four and six points, respectively. And while that probably offers hope to Dems in the commonwealth, it's worth remembering that four years ago, statewide polls overstated Democratic support by a few points.

* And speaking of this year's gubernatorial races, a new Stockton University poll in New Jersey shows Phil Murphy (D) holding onto his significant advantage over Kim Guadagno (R), 51% to 33%.

* Add the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the list of Republican-friendly groups that aren't backing Roy Moore's U.S. Senate campaign in Alabama.

* The extremist candidate nevertheless continues to pick up support from GOP partisans, including new endorsements from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both of whom ostensibly represent the party's more libertarian wing.

* Though most recent polling shows Democrats with a 7-to-10-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot, a new CNN poll points to an even bigger lead of Dems: 51% to 37%.

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrival ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

NAFTA negotiations aren't exactly going well for Team Trump

10/17/17 11:20AM

In the spring, as Donald Trump's presidency reached the 100-day mark, he was reportedly looking for some kind of bold and dramatic action -- and he settled on canceling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) As Trump acknowledged in April, "I was all set to terminate. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it."

As we've discussed, this obviously didn't happen, thanks in large part to conversations the American president had with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Instead, officials from the three North American countries are engaged in ongoing talks to update the trade agreement, and by all accounts, the NAFTA negotiations aren't going especially well, and already expected to go well beyond their original deadline. The CBC reported this morning on one of the problems plaguing the process:

The source says it appears some members of the U.S. delegation are uncomfortable with the demands they are presenting, which appear to have been dictated to them by the Trump administration.

"They don't like what they are doing," says the source, who was not authorized to speak about the talks on the record.

There also appears to be a sense of confusion about the overall U.S. vision for NAFTA and who is really running the show.

I haven't seen comparable reports from U.S. news outlets, but this story out of Canada is very easy to believe.

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Image: President Trump Discusses His Plan For The Iran Nuclear Deal

Trump offers new 'instructions' to U.S. intelligence agencies

10/17/17 10:40AM

Donald Trump faced a problem last week. The international nuclear agreement with Iran has proven to be effective and stabilizing, but the president, reflexively opposed to each of his predecessor's accomplishments, had concluded he hated the Iran deal anyway.

The dilemma, of course, was coming up with a coherent justification for putting the policy's future at risk. For the most part, Trump stuck to demonstrably false claims, but there was another point in the president's speech on Friday that stood out for me.

"There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea. I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed."

If we accept the rhetoric -- part of the prepared written remarks -- at face value, Trump seemed to concede that there is no meaningful evidence that Iran is dealing with North Korea. If such proof existed, he would've said so, instead of referring to some vague "people" who "believe" the allegation.

But therein lies the point: the president has apparently decided to "instruct" intelligence agencies to take another look at the claim Trump seems eager to believe, telling intel professionals to go "beyond what they have already reviewed."

The not-so-subtle message seemed to be, "I didn't like what the intelligence said, so try again to tell me what I want to hear."

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Faced with a scandal, Trump's pick for drug czar quits

10/17/17 10:00AM

Following explosive reporting this week from the Washington Post and CBS's "60 Minutes," Donald Trump is suddenly in need of a new drug czar.

Rep. Tom Marino has withdrawn from consideration as the White House's pick for drug czar following a bombshell report that he championed a bill that hindered federal agents from going after the Big Pharma firms that flooded the country with addictive opioids.

President Donald Trump made the announcement Tuesday morning on Twitter. "Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar," Trump wrote. "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"

Given the available information, it's difficult to argue with this outcome. The Post reported that as the opioid crisis intensified, Congress "effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation's streets." The point of the measure was to "weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market."

Leading the way was Tom Marino, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, who was the beneficiary of generous contributions from the drug industry.

Had Trump nominated Marino to almost any administrative post, it would've been difficult to defend the GOP lawmaker, but given the fact that the president wanted the GOP lawmaker to serve as the nation's drug czar, this week's revelations were disqualifying.

As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it yesterday afternoon, "Confirming Representative Marino as our nation's drug czar is like putting the wolf in charge of the hen house."

The Pennsylvanian Republican's withdrawal does not, however, mean the story is over.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

The wrong president to honor 'National Character Counts Week'

10/17/17 09:20AM

For many years, various presidents in both parties have issued proclamations recognizing days, weeks, and months in recognition of worthy causes, and for the most part, these proclamations have gone largely overlooked.

But there's something about Donald Trump that puts some of these presidential declarations in an unfortunate light. For example, it's now "National Character Counts Week" in the United States. Trump's proclamation read in part:

"We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people. The grit and integrity of our people, visible throughout our history, defines the soul of our Nation. This week, we reflect on the character of determination, resolve, and honor that makes us proud to be American. [...]

"Character is built slowly. Our actions -- often done first out of duty -- become habits ingrained in the way we treat others and ourselves. As parents, educators, and civic and church leaders, we must always work to cultivate strength of character in our Nation's youth."

Reading this, and realizing that it's intended to be the words of Donald Trump, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Is this the president who's seriously going to reflect on how "we treat others"?

Didn't Trump just yesterday smear his presidential predecessors by lying about their interactions with the families of American soldiers killed in action?

I'm reminded of a recent column from the Washington Post's Michael Gerson, a former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, who wondered whether Trump is "morally equipped to be president." The piece highlighted Trump's "vulgarity and smallness, which have been the equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Washington Monument."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

After making a mess, Trump wants credit for others' clean-up effort

10/17/17 08:43AM

Donald Trump delivered some brief remarks before the start of a cabinet meeting yesterday, and seemed especially animated about the Affordable Care Act. "Obamacare is finished. It's dead. It's gone," the president said, sounding a bit like a mob boss. "It's no longer -- you shouldn't even mention. It's gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore."

About a minute later, in reference to rising premiums, Trump added, "This is an Obamacare mess."

As a simple matter of logic, both statements can't be true. If the ACA no longer exists, it can't be the source of ongoing troubles in the health care sector. Either there is "such a thing" as the Affordable Care Act or there isn't, and the president probably ought to pick one.

But Trump's confusion isn't just creating contradictions. By taking a series of steps to sabotage the nation's system -- including last week's decision to scrap cost-sharing-reduction payments -- the president is directly responsible for pushing higher costs onto many American consumers. Trump nevertheless added yesterday that everything is going according to plan.

"In my opinion, what's happening is, as we meet -- Republicans are meeting with Democrats because of what I did with the CSR, because I cut off the gravy train. If I didn't cut the CSRs, they wouldn't be meeting. They'd be having lunch and enjoying themselves, all right?"

Actually, no. It's all wrong, not all right.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump rationalizes his failures: 'I'm not going to blame myself'

10/17/17 08:00AM

One of the earliest controversies of Donald Trump's presidency came after he authorized a mission in Yemen, which claimed the life of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens. The president couldn't have dealt with the developments in a worse way.

Trump exploited Owens' death, made dubious claims about the mission, and ultimately tried to avoid responsibility for the operation he personally authorized. "This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do," the president said, referring to U.S. generals. "They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals ... and they lost Ryan."

It was a quote that, under normal political conditions, might have come to define Trump's presidency, haunting him at every turn. And while that obviously didn't happen, the president's response was nevertheless an early reminder that in Trump World, the buck always stops somewhere else.

Trump drove this point home during remarks at a White House cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon:

"Despite what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators. But we're not getting the job done.

"And I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.... We've had other things happen, and they're not getting the job done."

It was a rare example of the president correcting himself in public. Initially, Trump said "we're" not getting the job done, suggesting he and other Republicans collectively need to pick up their game, before he realized that he should clarify matters. "They're" not getting the job done.

The president's responsibility allergy has never been clearer.

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