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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Questions of illegitimacy dog Team Trump on Inauguration Week

01/16/17 12:51PM

The more Donald Trump faces questions about the legitimacy of his election, the more his allies and supporters are pushing a very specific talking point: If President Obama didn't face these questions, Trump shouldn't either.

Here, for example, was Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, on ABC yesterday:
"You didn't have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008."
Two days earlier, Fox News' Dana Perino, the Bush/Cheney White House press secretary, said "no one" argued that Barack Obama "was not a legitimate president." Over the weekend, CNN's Ben Ferguson, a conservative pundit, added he "can't imagine the fallout ... if a Republican ever implied" that Obama was an illegitimate president. Ferguson added that such talk is "unprecedented."

Do you ever get the feeling some of Donald Trump's allies occasionally forget about Donald Trump's existence? Or at a minimum, they've forgotten that his most notable contribution to the political discourse in recent years was his role championing a racist conspiracy theory about the current president?

"No one" argued that Obama "was not a legitimate president"? Well, one guy certainly did. Not only did Trump question Obama's legitimacy in the president's first term, Trump referred to Obama's re-election as "a total sham." Around the same time, Trump declared, "We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!"

In context, Trump made this argument because he thought Obama had lost the popular vote. Obama actually won the popular vote with ease -- which is itself a detail that creates a wrinkle for Republicans since Trump did not.

The result is a disconnect Republicans haven't even tried to resolve: Democrats are being asked to respect the process in order to honor an incoming president who's never respected the process. I'm honestly not sure what the GOP response would be if Democrats responded, "We promise to respect the system and the office every bit as much as Donald J. Trump did."
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.16.17

01/16/17 12:00PM

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

* The number of congressional Democrats who have publicly announced they will not attend Donald Trump's inauguration continues to grow. As of yesterday, it looks like the total is up to 27 -- a number that grew sharply following the president-elect's tweets about Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

* Though there were reports that Trump had planned a visit to the National African American Museum yesterday, those plans were scrapped due to "scheduling issues."

* Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, boasted yesterday that Trump "won in an electoral landslide." In case he's forgotten, let's note that repeating a lie doesn't make it true.

* Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are challenging Gov. Roy Cooper's (D) Medicaid expansion in federal courts, even though it's a state law that appears to block the policy. Why go this route? Because Republicans fear a Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court.

* Just when it seemed no other candidates would run for chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jehmu Greene joined the crowded field late last week. Greene, who has been a paid Fox News analyst, resigned from the network last week in order to seek the DNC leadership post.

* Jennifer Holliday and Andrea Bocelli both canceled their scheduled appearances at Trump's inauguration over the weekend.
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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

If Trump isn't Putin's puppet, why does he act like he is?

01/16/17 11:20AM

Writing in Slate the other day, William Saletan expressed skepticism about some of the more provocative questions about Donald Trump and his relationship with Moscow. Saletan doesn't believe the Republican "colluded" with Russia, for example, and is unmoved by the unverified dossier released last week.

But this incredulity left Saletan with a dilemma: if we reject the worst of the possible explanations for Trump's behavior, what are we left with?
How do we explain the overtly pro-Russian behavior of Trump and his surrogates? If they're not Russian puppets, why do they work so hard to defend Putin and Russia against American investigators and reporters? Why do they divert blame to other countries and victims of the hack? Why, instead of targeting the Russian intelligence agencies that infiltrated us, do they attack the American intelligence agencies that exposed the Russians?
Slate published this on Friday, and the questions have only grown more serious since.

Yesterday, for example, Trump sat down with two European newspapers for an interview in which he dismissed NATO as "obsolete"; criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for assisting Syrian refugees (whom Trump referred to as "illegals"); said the United States "should be ready to trust" Russian President Vladimir Putin; and endorsed the further unraveling of the European Union.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the Kremlin had literally written a script and handed it to Trump to read during the interview, it would've sounded exactly like this.

For eight years, Republicans have accused President Obama of encouraging U.S. enemies and discouraging U.S. allies. America's longtime friends, GOP politicians have said, are no longer sure they can count on support from the United States as a result of Obama's foreign policy. The bizarre argument has always been wrong, but ironically, it's poised to become true in the Republican administration that takes power on Friday.
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Trump makes health care promises he'll never be able to keep

01/16/17 10:41AM

A couple of weeks ago, Politico noted that "fear" was starting to overcome congressional Republicans when it came to health care, and the conversation within the GOP "has definitely shifted" as governing realities took hold.

Whereas the party had adopted a "let's-burn-the-joint-down" posture, Republicans are now realizing "how hard it will be to replace the law, and many of them have plainly settled on the fact that they will never be able to craft a plan to insure as many people as Obamacare does."

That last part was of particular significance: if Republicans are slowly recognizing the fact that their ACA alternative "will never" cover as many Americans as the Affordable Care Act does, the party isn't just facing a policy challenge; it's also facing a political crisis. Caught up in an irrational crusade against an effective law, GOP policymakers are preparing to sell the public on a plan that will leave millions of Americans behind.

But not Donald Trump. No, the president-elect told the Washington Post yesterday that he will overhaul the health care system in a way that won't require sacrifices at all.
As he has developed a replacement package, Trump said he has paid attention to critics who say that repealing Obamacare would put coverage at risk for more than 20 million Americans covered under the law's insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us." People covered under the law "can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better."
Trump is establishing some fairly specific benchmarks: universal coverage, "much lower deductibles," and a simpler and less expensive system in which all Americans are "beautifully covered."

If it sounds a bit like the president-elect is describing a single-payer system -- which he used to support until he condemned his own ideas -- you're not the only one who noticed. That said, Trump specifically told the Post, "I don't want single-payer."

So how exactly does he intend to keep these promises, which are wildly at odds with his own party's approach to the issue? Trump didn't say, though he insisted the details of his reform plan are nearly complete.

It's as if he's never heard of the problem of politicians who over-promise.
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An official covers a network television camera with a shirt after the room was cleared due to a bomb threat during a briefing by White House Press Secretary John Earnest at the White House, June 9, 2015. (Photo by Pool/Reuters)

Team Trump eyes major changes to press' White House access

01/16/17 10:04AM

Rudy Giuliani, a prominent Donald Trump ally, said last week, "It is refreshing and it is very good for our democracy that we have a president that is trying to get us back to a free press." The use of the word "back" suggests, in Trump World, we don't have a free press now, but the incoming administration has some changes in mind to improve matters.

It's the nature of these changes, of course, that matter.

Over the weekend, for example, the president-elect published an all-caps message calling the now-infamous Russia/Trump dossier "a complete fraud." Trump's source? A report from One America News Network -- a new Fox News rival that hired Corey Lewandowski two days earlier.

Also last week, at his first press conference since he publicly urged Russia to launch a cyber-attack against his Democratic opponent, Trump shut down a CNN reporter -- he described the network "fake news" -- and instead called on someone from Breitbart News, a right-wing website that enjoyed a front-row seat.

It's a new day for the political press.

To be sure, this isn't completely without precedent. Exactly 12 years ago this week, then-President George W. Bush called on someone from an outlet called "Talon News," whose controversial correspondent, Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, asked in reference to Democrats, "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"

But what's less clear now is whether the Trump White House's approach to news organizations will be even worse. His team's approach to the press during the campaign was a mess -- it included blacklisting and "press pens" -- but Esquire published a report over the weekend that raised eyebrows further.
According to three senior officials on the transition team, a plan to evict the press corps from the White House is under serious consideration by the incoming Trump Administration. If the plan goes through, one of the officials said, the media will be removed from the cozy confines of the White House press room, where it has worked for several decades. Members of the press will be relocated to the White House Conference Center -- near Lafayette Square -- or to a space in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.

"There has been no decision," Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, said about the plan today. But Spicer acknowledged that "there has been some discussion about how to do it."
The piece quoted an unnamed official on Team Trump referring to news organizations as "the opposition party." This person reportedly added, "I want 'em out of the building. We are taking back the press room."
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Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., arrives early to talk with reporters during the Colorado Republican election night party at the Doubletree Hotel in Greenwood Village, Colo., Nov. 2, 2010.

Colorado Republican flees constituents with health care concerns

01/16/17 09:20AM

In 2012, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) lashed out at President Obama in the ugliest of ways. "I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America," the congressman said, adding, "But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American."

Coffman later tried to apologize in a memorable and unintentionally hilarious way, generating the kind of national media attention politicians usually try to avoid.

Nearly five years later, Coffman is poised to become famous for something very different. KUSA, the NBC affiliate in Denver, had this striking report over the weekend about the hundreds of people who showed up at a "community event" hosted by the congressman at a local library.
While the crowd was waiting inside the lobby, singing and chanting, Aurora Police officers are putting up crime scene tape to create a perimeter outside of the library. This allowed Coffman to leave secretly at about 3:24 p.m. unbeknownst to those still waiting to see him. The community event was scheduled from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
By all appearances, it was quite a scene. The five-term Republican congressman, representing Colorado's most competitive district, set up an event at the Aurora Central Library the day after vowing to repeal "Obamacare" in an op-ed. What he and his staff didn't know was that roughly 200 people who support the Affordable Care Act would show up, eager to ask how and why Coffman intended to undermine their health security.

The GOP lawmaker, according to his office, ended up meeting "with four people at a time for five minutes each," before a camera caught him sneaking out the library's back door, hopping in a car, and being driven away.

According to a local reporter, "more than 100 people" were still waiting to see Coffman when he took off.

Before Election Day, Coffman said he'd "stand up" to Donald Trump if the Republican won. Evidently, that doesn't include standing up to the president-elect's plans to radically change the American health care system.
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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

How not to defend Russia's alleged pro-Trump espionage

01/16/17 08:40AM

In recent weeks, as Republican skepticism towards U.S. intelligence has faded, and even the most rabid Donald Trump supporters began to accept Russia's espionage operation to help the GOP candidate, Republicans have come up with a variety of creative defenses.

Some want to blame Democrats for having their documents stolen. Others have argued that the ends justify the means, and since the stolen materials were of interest, it doesn't matter if a foreign adversary subverted American democracy.

And while the flaws in such arguments should be obvious, this new one, by way of the Dallas Morning News, is easily the worst to date.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, is comparing the use of Mexican entertainers to energize Democratic voters to the email hacking that officials say was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin's government.

"Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth," Conaway told The Dallas Morning News this week. "Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don't hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that."
When the local paper asked if he sees Mexican entertainers on the campaign trail and Russian agents engaged in cyber-espionage as are roughly the same thing, Conaway said, "Sure it is, it's foreign influence."

The comments have drawn some strong rebukes from Nevada Democrats and prominent Latino advocates, and for good reason. Unless Conaway was trying to pull an elaborate joke on the Dallas Morning News, his comparison is bizarre, even by the standards of congressional Republicans in 2017.

In fact, a Washington Post report noted that many of the Mexicans the congressman referred to are, in reality, Americans.

But Conaway's strange rhetoric raises a point Republicans might find informative.
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Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in between television interviews on Feb. 14, 2015. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty).

On MLK weekend, Trump picks fight with civil-rights hero John Lewis

01/16/17 08:00AM

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a legendary champion of civil rights and a celebrated public servant, sat down with NBC News' Chuck Todd late last week and said what many Democrats believe, but have been reluctant to say.

"I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president," Lewis said. Explaining that he intends to boycott Donald Trump's inauguration this week, the Georgia Democrat added, "It will be the first one that I miss since I've been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right." Lewis pointed to Russia's illegal intervention in the election on Trump's behalf as reason to question the Republican's legitimacy.

The smart move for the president-elect would've been to simply say nothing and to continue to prepare for his inauguration. But as is too often the case, Donald Trump just couldn't help himself, turning to Twitter on Saturday morning to once again lash out against someone who dared to criticize him.
"Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"
So let me get this straight. On Martin Luther King Day weekend, Donald J. Trump, just six days from his inauguration, thought it'd be wise to feud with one of the most honorable and respected Americans alive.

Against a backdrop of widespread concerns about his judgment, the president-elect just made matters far worse.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.13.17

01/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This was, quite literally, the easiest part of an arduous process: "The House passed a bill Friday that starts the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, officially completing the first step of the two-step process of repealing the health care legislation. The measure passed 227 to 198 with no Democrats supporting it and nine GOP members voting against it."

* Stunning findings: "Chicago cops routinely shot at fleeing suspects, used force to retaliate against people, failed to investigate most misconduct claims and skewed probes to favor officers, federal authorities said Friday in a report that documented years of systemic civil rights violations by the country's second largest police department."

* An important move: "The Environmental Protection Agency moved Friday to preserve strict fuel-economy standards put in place by the Obama administration, making it difficult for the Trump administration to undo them."

* Leveling the immigration playing field: "The Obama administration on Thursday pulled the plug on a controversial policy for Cuban migrants -- essentially turning the clock back on decades of preferential treatment for Cubans and making those who arrive without visas subject to deportation."

* The latest Mike Flynn story is the subject of considerable chatter: "A senior U.S. official says the Obama administration is aware of frequent contacts between President-elect Donald Trump's top national security adviser and Russia's ambassador to the United States."

* This strikes me as a bad idea: "The U.S. Army general who heads the D.C. National Guard and is an integral part of overseeing the inauguration said Friday he has been ordered removed from command effective Jan. 20, 12:01 p.m., just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president."

* Apparently, some abroad are under the impression that to influence the incoming White House, they should call Moscow: "Palestinians on Friday stepped up their campaign to prevent President-elect Donald Trump from carrying out his pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for help,"
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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

Putting small businesses at the center of the health care debate

01/13/17 04:11PM

Whenever Republicans talk about repealing the estate tax, they try to avoid talking about the principal beneficiaries: the wealthiest of the wealthy Americans. Instead, estate-tax opponents focus on figures most likely to appear sympathetic in the eyes of voters -- which in this case, means arguing that the estate tax hurts farmers.

To the extent that reality matters, the argument is largely bogus, and the number farms affected by the estate tax is vanishingly small, but when it comes to politics, that's irrelevant. Republicans want to repeal the estate tax, and to achieve their goal, they want Americans to see Democrats as fighting against some nice person in the heartland driving a tractor on a family farm.

Perhaps it's time for Affordable Care Act proponents to start thinking the same way -- by focusing on small businesses.
Their businesses might be small, but their share of Obamacare's pie isn't.

One out of every 5 Obamacare customers -- 1.4 million people -- was a small-business owner, self-employed or both, in 2014, the first year Affordable Care Act plans were available, a government report issued Thursday reveals.
A piece published by the Department of Health and Human Services this week went on to note, "In fact, small business owners and self-employed individuals were nearly three times as likely to purchase Marketplace coverage as other workers. Nearly 10 percent of small business owners and more than 10 percent of gig economy workers got coverage through the Marketplace in 2014."

The HHS piece added, "These data show that the Affordable Care Act (ACA's) Health Insurance Marketplaces are playing an especially crucial role in providing health coverage to entrepreneurs and other independent workers."
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Republicans try to defend Trump's 'Nazi Germany' rhetoric

01/13/17 03:09PM

On Wednesday, Donald Trump was so outraged by leaks related to the Russia scandal, he turned to Twitter to publish a provocative message: "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"

Two days later, it's still unclear why in the world the president-elect would say something like this. Not only is it a needless ugly shot at U.S. intelligence professionals, it doesn't even make historical sense: of all the nightmares associated with Nazi Germany, leaks from intelligence agencies weren't the principal problem.

I can appreciate why much of the country has grown inured to the president-elect's over-the-top rhetoric, but asking whether the United States is any way similar to Nazi Germany is pretty radical stuff, even for Trump. Are Republicans comfortable with this? Evidently, at least one GOP senator thought he was kidding.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Thursday defended Donald Trump after the president-elect invoked Nazi Germany in slamming the intelligence community.

"Give him a break ... he has a sense of humor," Inhofe told reporters when asked to respond to Trump's remarks from a Wednesday press conference.
Trump wasn't being humorous. In fact, a few hours after publishing his tweet, the president-elect re-emphasized his argument during a press conference, insisting that he believes it was "disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out." He added, "That's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do."

This wasn't a stand-up routine. Trump was neither laughing nor smiling when he made the comment.
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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Grand Rapids

After condemning 'permanent campaign,' Team Trump gears up for 2020

01/13/17 12:45PM

A month ago, when Donald Trump's transition team was still rejecting U.S. intelligence about Russia helping get the Republican elected, Kellyanne Conway said the only people concerned about the scandal are those "who want this to be the permanent campaign."

Yeah, about that.
President-elect Donald Trump hasn't yet been sworn into office, but he's already looking ahead to 2020. Trump's team announced Thursday that he'll be keeping alive his presidential campaign committee, Donald J. Trump for President Inc.

Trump's former deputy campaign manager, Michael Glassner, will lead the group, along with Arizona deputy treasurer Sean Dollman and John Pence. The latter is Vice President-elect Mike Pence's nephew.

The group will focus on fundraising and building data for Trump's possible re-election in 2020 and will coordinate closely with the Republican National Committee.
This Associated Press report came a day after Politico reported that Trump will keep his campaign headquarters open indefinitely -- a move intended to position him "to begin running for reelection in 2020" -- with a staff of "around 10 people."

In other words, a week before Trump is even inaugurated, he's already assigned a campaign team for an election that's 45 months away. There is no modern precedent for anything like this: every recent president folded up the campaign tent after winning a first term.

Team Trump, however, the one that's offended by the prospect of "the permanent campaign," has other ideas.
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