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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Even when admitting he made a mistake, Trump makes a mistake

11/19/18 09:00AM

It's extremely unusual to see or hear Donald Trump admit a mistake, which makes it all the more notable that the president conceded he made the wrong choice on Veterans Day.

President Donald Trump says he should have visited Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Veterans Day -- a traditional presidential act.

Trump, who rarely admits a faux pas, told "Fox News Sunday" that "in retrospect, I should have" gone, but he was busy on calls and had just returned from abroad.

The context matters. Last Saturday, Trump was in France for events marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, and he was supposed to visit an American cemetery. It was, to a certain degree, the whole point of the president's trip. Trump, however, did not attend the event.

Two days later, when many Americans recognized Veterans Day, the Republican could've visited Arlington Cemetery -- a short drive from the White House -- but he didn't. Trump told Fox News, "I should have done that. I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling as you know."

He added, "I probably, you know, in retrospect, I should have and I did last year."

It's a welcome change to hear Trump acknowledge a misstep, but even when admitting a mistake, he made a mistake: Trump didn't go to Arlington Cemetery last year. He was actually in Asia on Veterans Day 2017.

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Image: President Trump speaks at swearing in ceremonies for new CIA Director Haspel

Why Trump's absurd claims about a revered Navy admiral matter

11/19/18 08:30AM

Retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, is perhaps best known to Americans as the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. McRaven is also recognized as a revered veteran who's publicly shared some concerns about Donald Trump's presidency.

Last year, for example, the retired four-star admiral described Trump's attacks on the press as possibly "the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime." Three months ago, after Trump said he'd revoke the security clearances of some of his critics, McRaven wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post urging the president to revoke his security clearance, too, explaining that he would consider it "an honor" to stand alongside those "who have spoken up against your presidency."

Trump responded at the time, "I don't know McRaven." Evidently, three months later, he thinks he knows all that he needs to know about the revered admiral.

During a "Fox News Sunday" interview that aired yesterday, Chris Wallace discussed Trump's condemnations of the free press, and pointed to McRaven's concerns. The president dismissed the celebrated admiral as a "Hillary Clinton fan" whose opinion should be dismissed.

TRUMP: OK, he's a Hilary Clinton backer and an Obama backer and frankly --

WALLACE: He's a Navy SEAL --

TRUMP: Wouldn't it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn't it have been nice?

The president then added that the al Qaeda leader was living in Pakistan "in what they considered a nice mansion -- I don't know, I've seen nicer."

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Smoke and flames are seen along Loma Prieta Avenue during the Loma Fire near Santa Cruz, Calif. on Sept. 27, 2016. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Trump reacts to California fires in the most Trump-like way possible

11/19/18 08:00AM

A week ago, as deadly fires tore through California, Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to blame state officials for "gross mismanagement of the forests." Despite the fact that the president had no idea what he was talking about, he also threatened to cut off federal aid to California in response to the disaster.

Friday, after announcing plans to visit the Golden State and survey affected areas, Trump told Fox News the fires had something to do with raking, and when asked about the purpose of his trip, the president he was going "just to see the firefighters."

On Saturday, standing alongside Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), a reporter asked Trump about preventing future fire catastrophes. The president responded:

"We have been talking about that on the ride over. I think we're all on the same path. We have to do management, maintenance, and we will be working also with environmental groups. I think everybody has seen the light. [...]

"We have to take care of the floors, the floors of the forest. It is very important. You look at other countries, they do it definitely and it is a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland and he said, 'We're a forest nation.' He called it a 'forest nation.' And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem. And when it is, it is a very small problem."

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he didn't know what Trump was referring to. Many in Finland, meanwhile, took the opportunity to mock the confused American president.

In case that weren't quite enough, speaking soon after at an Incident Command Post briefing, Trump was asked, "Does seeing this devastation ... change your opinion at all on climate change, Mr. President?" He replied, "No. No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate."

Trump is under the mistaken impression that his "opinion" about climate science is relevant.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.16.18

11/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* California: "Residents of San Francisco and surrounding cities woke to inhale terrible air on Friday, choking on smoke from the deadly Camp Fire more than 150 miles away, officials said."

* Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today unveiled new guidelines on how schools should address sexual assault allegations: "[A]dvocates for sexual assault survivors say they're worried that the guidelines would actually make campuses more dangerous, deter victims from coming forward and put them in traumatizing scenarios."

* On a related note: "Education Secretary Betsy DeVos began receiving around-the-clock security from the U.S. Marshals Service days after being confirmed, an armed detail provided to no other cabinet member that could cost U.S. taxpayers $19.8 million through September of 2019, according to new figures provided by the Marshals Service to NBC News."

* Of these two, the Democrat isn't returning to Congress, but the Republican is: "Reps. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., have been formally sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee over sexual harassment allegations, the panel announced Friday in reports released to the public."

* VA: "Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs testified Thursday before a House committee that they still don't know when their information technology system will be updated to address issues preventing tens of thousand' of veterans from receiving their GI Bill benefit payments on time, if at all."

* A case to watch: "The Supreme Court agreed Friday to take up an aspect of the legal battle over the Trump administration's plan to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census form."

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Image: President Trump Holds Rally In Great Falls, Montana

Trump claims elections were 'epic' for Republicans (they weren't)

11/16/18 04:26PM

At the time of his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump benefited from a Republican majority in the Senate, where there were 52 GOP members. When the next Congress gets underway, there will be another Republican majority in the upper chamber, this time with 53 GOP members.

Evidently, the president thinks that's "epic."

"People are not being told that the Republican Party is on track to pick up two seats in the U.S. Senate, and [sic] epic victory: 53 to 47," Trump wrote on Twitter. "The Fake News Media only wants to speak of the House, were [sic] the Midterm results were better than other sitting Presidents."

I suppose "epic" is a subjective term, but as a rule, two isn't a large number. Senate Republicans enjoyed a map so heavily tilted in their favor that some thought the GOP might be able to reach a 60-seat majority in this cycle. A month before Election Day, the National Republican Senatorial Committee expected to end up with as many as 55 seats. The party obviously fell short of both thresholds.

In fact, the standard for success keeps falling. Last week, Trump said Republicans had won 55 seats. Earlier this week, it was 54. Now, it's 53.

A cynic might wonder if the president is simply pretending to be impressed with a two-seat pickup because Democrats fared so well in every other area of the election cycle.

But in terms of the public-relations offensive, Trump seems quite serious. In his interview with The Daily Caller argued:

"So we picked up three or four Senate seats depending on how it all goes -- it's a big pickup. In fact, they say in 80 years I think the presidential party's only picked up two Senate seats, I picked up three."

He actually picked up two, and the White House's party has now added Senate seats in midterm cycles three times in the last 56 years.

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Trump prepares answers to Special Counsel Mueller's questions

11/16/18 02:18PM

Donald Trump and his team have spent quite a bit of time and effort resisting cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators. That's especially true when it comes to the president answering Mueller's questions.

Back in January, Trump boasted that he was "looking forward to" an interview with investigators -- something he said he'd "love" to do -- adding that he was "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath. The president suggested at the time that the interview would happen in roughly "two or three weeks."

In the months that followed, Trump's lawyers offered a variety of alternatives to cooperating, before eventually reaching an agreement with the special counsel's office to answer questions in writing. The president told reporters this afternoon that he has personally completed the Q&A.

"My lawyers aren't working on that. I'm working on that. I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers."

"I was asked a series of questions. I have answered them very easily. Very easily. I'm sure they're tripped up because they like to catch people.... You have to be careful answering questions with people that probably have bad intentions, but no. The questions were very routinely answered by me. By me. Okay?"

The same answer included additional references to Hillary Clinton, the electoral college, and how impressed Trump was with his own presidential candidacy.

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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

The good news and bad news on gerrymandering

11/16/18 12:50PM

For those concerned about gerrymandering and its effects on our democracy, the 2018 elections offered some good news and some bad news.

The good news is, a lot of voters appear to be sick of it. Michigan voters, for example, approved sweeping election changes, including the creation of an independent redistricting commission that will be responsible for drawing congressional district lines.

In Colorado and Missouri, voters agreed to overhaul the redistricting process to end gerrymandering. (Utah may have done the same thing, but votes on the state's Proposition 4 are still being tallied.)

The bad news is, gerrymandered districts still exist across much of the country. Cleveland.com reported yesterday:

[Republicans in Ohio's state legislature] scored their wins for 63 percent of the seats while collecting just over 50 percent of the total vote.

This is a lot like what happened in Ohio's 16 congressional districts, where Republicans won 75 percent of the seats with just 52 percent of the overall vote.

These are two fresh examples of how skillfully gerrymandered legislative districts can sway the balance of power -- especially when one party is in full control of drawing the maps as was the case for the current districts.

Regular readers may recall that Ohio policymakers approved some modest reforms to the redistricting process in May, but those changes won't be implemented until after the 2020 Census.

Of course, the Buckeye State isn't the only one where gerrymandering was an issue. Mother Jones' Ari Berman reported yesterday that in Wisconsin, Democratic candidates managed to win a majority of the state Assembly votes, but thanks to the lines drawn by Republicans, it's the GOP that will hold a majority of the seats.

The Washington Post also reported this week, "Majorities of voters in at least three battleground states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina -- chose a Democrat to represent them in the state's House of Representatives. Yet in all three states, Republicans maintained majority control over the chamber despite winning only a minority of votes."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.16.18

11/16/18 12:00PM

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

* Democrats continue to rack up wins in U.S. House races in California, with several news outlets last night calling the 45th district for Katie Porter (D), who appears to have defeated incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters (R). It's the fifth "red" to "blue" flip in the Golden State this year.

* On a related note, thanks to Maine's system of ranked-choice balloting, Jared Golden (D) has apparently defeated incumbent Rep. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) in the state's 2nd congressional district.

* In Georgia's gubernatorial race, the Associated Press reports that Stacey Abrams' (D) campaign and legal team is preparing "a longshot strategy relies on a statute that's never been used in such a high-stakes contest."

* A hand recount is underway in Florida's U.S. Senate race, and as things stand, Rick Scott (R) appears to have the edge over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

* The Congressional Black Caucus hasn't officially thrown its support behind anyone in the race to become the next Speaker of the House, but Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) have both endorsed Nancy Pelosi -- even as former CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) weighs a possible run for the gavel.

* As of this morning, the Democratic lead in the U.S. House popular vote is up to 7.3%, from 7.2% yesterday, though it may yet inch higher. For comparison purposes, note that in 2010 -- which was widely seen as a GOP "wave" cycle -- Republicans won the U.S. House popular vote by 6.6%.

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Trump 'has not fully grasped' the role of Commander in Chief

11/16/18 10:54AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, he loves the military in ways few presidents ever have. Trump's evidence is abundant: he has military flags in the Oval Office; he's lobbied for a massive military parade; he's increased military spending; and he likes talking about his support for the military.

But the New York Times had a great piece today looking at the issue in a way the president won't appreciate.

He canceled a trip to a cemetery in France where American soldiers from World War I are buried. He did not go to the observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. He has not visited American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And shortly after becoming commander in chief, President Trump asked so few questions in a briefing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., that top military commanders cut the number of prepared PowerPoint slides to three from 18, said two officials with knowledge of the visit.

The commanders had slotted two hours for the meeting, but it lasted less than one.

Rhetorically, Mr. Trump has embraced the United States' 1.3 million active-duty troops as "my military" and "my generals" and has posted on Twitter that under his leadership, the American armed forces will be "the finest that our Country has ever had." But top Defense Department officials say that Mr. Trump has not fully grasped the role of the troops he commands, nor the responsibility that he has to lead them and protect them from politics.

There were hints along these lines before Trump took office. Ahead of the 2016 election, the then-Republican candidate mocked prisoners of war -- he likes soldiers "who weren't captured" -- lied about his financial support for veterans' charities, claimed more than once that he understood counter-terrorism better than American generals, and publicly feuded with a Gold Star family.

But as president, the problem has become more acute.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's 'very major' new tax cut dies a quiet death

11/16/18 10:11AM

About a month ago, Donald Trump first declared publicly that he and congressional Republicans were working "around the clock" on a "very major" new tax cut, which would be ready no later than Nov. 1, despite the fact that Congress was effectively out of session until after the elections. No one in Congress had any idea what the president was talking about, and even White House officials quietly conceded they were "mystified."

Trump didn't care. The plan, which appeared to exist only in his imagination, quickly became a major applause line at the president's campaign rallies. Pressed by reporters for details, Trump boasted that he and his team had came up with a way to make his new tax plan "revenue neutral based on certain things."

The Nov. 1 deadline came and went, and the plan the president promised to present never materialized. Yesterday, Politico published a report suggesting the policy, which never really existed in any meaningful way, is dead.

White House officials are not counting on a big infrastructure package or a deal on the kind of middle-class tax cut Trump promised at the end of the campaign.

"We've been noodling more on this middle-class tax cut, how to structure it, and even pay for it," National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said in a recent interview in his West Wing office. "I don't think the chances of that are very high, because the Democrats are going to go after the corporate tax and all that stuff."

For those who've watched Trump and his operation closely in recent years, the fact that Trump made up a fictional policy, and peddled it as if it were real, is hardly shocking. Indeed, it's one of the key takeaways from his farcical little story: the president simply says stuff, without any meaningful concerns about whether his stuff reflects reality in any way.

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