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E.g., 4/27/2017
E.g., 4/27/2017
Immigrants prepare to be unshackled at a detention facility on Nov., 15, 2013 in California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Team Trump launches a misguided anti-immigrant effort

04/27/17 10:42AM

The Trump administration, as promised, launched a new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office yesterday, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security recently asserted, "Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents," and the Trump administration intends to take action.

Apparently, however, some took Team Trump's rhetoric quite literally and reportedly started calling the hotline to report crimes committed by aliens -- as in, extra-terrestrials.

And while that's kind of hilarious, the White House's initiative isn't funny at all. If Donald Trump and his team are committed to take new steps to offer support to crime victims, that's a worthwhile goal. But as a USA Today editorial noted the other day, that's not quite what the president is doing with this initiative.
Never mind that immigrants on the whole -- undocumented or in the U.S. legally -- are less prone to crime than native Americans.... Even if the facts showed otherwise, there are good reasons this country doesn't create separate programs for victims of crimes by Jews or Catholics or African Americans or Asians or juveniles or short people. Categorizing criminals in this way is not going to provide any special comfort to victims. And, by underscoring and overpublicizing the acts of some members, such efforts are the first step toward assigning guilt to a group.

This runs contrary to the core American value that people deserve to be judged as individuals, based on their own behavior. To do otherwise is the very definition of prejudice.
The piece added, "Blaming an already unpopular minority group for the actions of a few has no place in America."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Looking past governance, Team Trump places a high value on theatrics

04/27/17 10:13AM

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked a couple of weeks ago about Donald Trump's 100th day in office, and what the president will have to show for his efforts. "I think what you've seen out of this White House," Spicer replied, "is a very robust agenda of activity."

I found myself thinking about that phrase quite a bit. The president's press secretary didn't focus much on actual substantive gains, but rather, the robust amount of "activity" in and around the White House. Trump and his team may not have accomplishments to speak of, but we're apparently supposed to marvel at how busy they appear doing ... stuff.

Yesterday offered an amazing peek into the Trump administration's approach to pseudo governance.

* Tax reform: The White House unveiled a one-page tax "plan" that didn't actually say much of anything. It looked like a table of contents without any contents. Team Trump assured the public that officials are "working on" producing "lots" of details that aren't yet ready. Why not wait and unveil a proper plan once it's complete? Because that's not theatrical -- and with the 100-day standard approaching, we apparently need to be reminded of the president's "robust agenda of activity."

* North Korea: Trump asked all 100 members of the U.S. Senate to attend a special briefing on North Korea yesterday, held at the White House, which apparently didn't really include much of anything in the way of new information. Why couldn't administration officials simply drive a mile and a half to Capitol Hill and brief senators in rooms that are already designated for this purpose? Because that's not exciting -- and Team Trump wanted to put on a little show.

* Education executive order: The president made quite a fuss about signing a new education order on federal education policy. During a briefing with reporters, however, an administration official conceded that Trump's new directive gives the Department of Education powers it already has.

Yesterday, in other words, was intended to appear exciting. Look, the president is threatening the 9th Circuit! Look, he's talking about tearing up NAFTA! Trump is focused on education, taxes, national security, and health care -- all at the same time!
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

Trump does himself no favors with attacks on the federal judiciary

04/27/17 09:20AM

In his 2010 State of the Union address, then-President Barack Obama expressed his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

"With all due deference to separation of powers," Obama said, "last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems."

Conservatives, the media, and many prominent figures in the legal community responded with a spirited freak-out -- not to defend the Citizens United rulings, but to balk at the president's public concerns. Americans were told that the remarks, delivered in front of several justices who were on hand for the address, represented an assault on the federal judiciary. A debate ensued about whether Obama had gone too far.

Seven years later, with Donald Trump continuing to rant and rave about federal courts that refuse to do what he wants them to do, the complaints from 2010 seem almost quaint.
President Trump said Wednesday that he has "absolutely" considered proposals that would split up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where judges have blocked two of his executive actions.

"Absolutely, I have," Trump said of considering 9th Circuit breakup proposals during a far-ranging interview with the Washington Examiner at the White House. "There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous."
In his comments to the Washington Examiner, the president added that his opponents "immediately" run to the 9th Circuit, expecting a favorable outcome from the nation's most progressive bench. The interview followed a Trump Twitter tantrum yesterday morning about the 9th Circuit.

In reality, much of Trump's rhetoric was plainly wrong, and the idea that plaintiffs in San Francisco were court-shopping when they filed suit in San Francisco is pretty silly.
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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump agrees to let his health care hostage go (for now)

04/27/17 08:40AM

Exactly two weeks ago, Donald Trump publicly acknowledged a not-so-subtle hostage strategy he thought, at the time, would be a good idea. The Republican president said he was prepared to destroy American health care markets by withholding cost-sharing subsidies -- unless congressional Democrats took steps to make him happy.

Trump said on Twitter that he didn't "want people to get hurt," before suggesting he'd start hurting people.

Yesterday, the White House decided to let the hostage go -- at least for now.
White House officials notified lawmakers earlier in the day that President Trump abandoned a threat to end subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act, a concession to Democrats that is expected to clear the way for a bipartisan budget agreement. Trump had threatened to cut off the subsidies in an attempt to force Democrats to pay for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a fight that became less serious after Republicans withdrew their border wall request this week.

"It is good that once again the president seems to be backing off his threat to hold health care and government funding hostage," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "Like the withdrawal of money for the wall, this decision brings us closer to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government and is good news for the American people."
A White House official told Reuters, "While we agreed to go ahead and make the ... payments for now, we haven't made a final decision about future commitments."

It's apparently Team Trump's way of effectively saying, "Remember, we can re-take this hostage again at some point."

White House posturing notwithstanding, it's a major development. Now that the administration is going to make the ACA payments, the threat of a government shutdown is effectively over and private insurers can move forward with some sense of security about the stability of the markets.
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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Republican health plan at the end of a trail of broken promises

04/27/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump was never specific about the substantive details of his health care plan, but he wasn't shy about telling Americans exactly what his policy would do and what the system would look like once it was in place.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," he vowed. The Republican added that once the Affordable Care Act is replaced with his plan, we'd see lower premiums, "much lower" deductibles, and a system in which all Americans are "beautifully covered."

This wasn't just campaign palaver, ad-libbed during a rally, from a candidate pleading for support from unsuspecting voters. Rather, these were commitments Trump made after he'd won the presidential election.

The president then proceeded to break his word without explanation, throwing his support behind congressional Republicans' American Health Care Act, which would take coverage from tens of millions of people, raise premiums, and raise deductibles. How does Trump explain his failure to follow through on his commitments? So far, he hasn't even tried to justify the shift.

But on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the congressional Republicans find themselves in the exact same position. When House GOP leaders unveiled their health plan last month, they also created a website to answer the public's questions. As of this morning, it still says the Republican proposal "prohibits health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions," which is the opposite of what the latest iteration of their legislation does. The Q&A portion adds:
Are you repealing patient protections, including for people with pre-existing conditions?

No. Americans should never be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition. [...]

Won't millions of Americans lose their health insurance because of your plan?

No. We are working to give all Americans peace of mind about their health care.
This is the exact opposite of the truth. Under the latest version of the Republican plan, protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions would be gutted, and tens of millions of people would lose their health coverage.

This isn't even a point of contention anymore: what House GOP leaders promised and what they're offering are plainly at odds. These Republicans made commitments -- in writing -- that they're now choosing not to keep.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.26.17

04/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An important hire: "The flagging U.S. probes into the Trump administration's ties to the Kremlin are about to get an injection of fresh blood. Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have tapped April Doss, a former NSA lawyer, to join the committee's investigation of Russia's intervention in the U.S. election."

* Don't assume that the House Freedom Caucus' support for new-and-not-improved Republican health care plan means it will pass. Some GOP lawmakers who were inclined to support their party's bill last month suddenly aren't so sure.

* Remember, Trump congratulated Erdogan on the demise of democracy in Turkey: "Turkey on Wednesday detained more than 1,000 people with suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and later temporarily suspended some 9,000 personnel from its police force in one of the largest operations in recent months against the movement that is blamed for last summer's failed military coup."

* The truth apparently needed a little touch-up: "President Donald Trump told aides to toughen a State Department letter last week that declared Iran in compliance with a landmark nuclear deal, senior U.S. officials involved in a policy review said."

* A stunning story out of Wisconsin: "Milwaukee County Jail staff cut off an inmate's access to water for seven days straight before he died of dehydration, and the man was too mentally unstable to ask for help as he slowly died, prosecutors said Monday at the beginning of an inquest."

* DOJ: "Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as the second-ranking official at the Justice Department on Tuesday, giving him the reins of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal last month."

Criminal justice: "Justice Sonia Sotomayor says the Supreme Court is letting police off the hook too easily. In a surprising dissent backed only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor wrote in detail about one of the biases in the legal system that may let cops get away with excessive use of force -- by slanting the system in favor of the police officer."
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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Donald Trump's proposed tax cuts are a joke, not a 'plan'

04/26/17 04:38PM

There's plenty of coverage this afternoon about Donald Trump's new tax "plan," but I'd caution against using that word. The White House has unveiled a document, and plenty of colorful words come to mind when describing that document, but it's awfully generous to describe the piece of paper as a "plan."
[Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn laid out a "broad brush overview" of the plan to reporters, cautioning that they are still negotiating many of the details with members of Congress. [...]

The broad outline of the plan resembles many of the promises Trump made as a candidate.
That's true, although in a bizarre turn of events, the tax-related promises Trump made as a candidate were arguably more substantive than the document the White House presented today. The Trump campaign produced a three-and-a-half-page document before Election Day, offering vague and unhelpful information about what the Republican would do on this issue if elected, but today's "plan" is even thinner.

In fact, the document the White House released to reporters today is literally one sheet of paper, with roughly 500 words of text, printed on one side. For comparison purposes, note that the blog post you're reading right now is longer than the president's approach to tax policy.

No, seriously. The officials responsible for running the executive branch of a global superpower have had plenty of time to craft a half-way credible proposal, and they instead presented some bullet points that read like a wish-list from a president who can't be bothered to think about policy details.
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Image: Paul Ryan

Republicans move forward on far-right health care overhaul

04/26/17 12:55PM

After the Republicans' American Health Care Act died last month, unable to garner enough support from within the GOP, there have been frequent reports about efforts to breathe new life into the far-right plan. By and large, the scuttlebutt was easy to overlook.

The latest developments, however, seem different and deserve to be taken seriously.

There's new legislative language that amends the original Republican proposal, and the House Freedom Caucus is now on board with this new version -- after having opposed their party's bill in March. Conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, which also balked at the AHCA during the fight last month, have said the new changes are sufficiently right-wing to earn the organizations' support.

All of which leads us to two broad areas of interest: how bad is this bill and can it pass.

On the former, the core of the original legislation -- taking coverage from tens of millions of Americans, slashing Medicaid, cutting taxes for the wealthy, directing subsidies away from those who need them most -- remains intact. What's new is an amendment, negotiated in part by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), which moves the bill even further to the right. Vox's report noted that the changes "would likely cause even more Americans to lose coverage than the last version."
In particular, this amendment would allow some states to charge higher premiums to Americans with pre-existing conditions. States would also have the choice to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits requirement, as well as the possibility of charging older Americans significantly higher premiums. [...]

But this amendment doesn't do much at all to assuage concerns about the older proposals. While it meets many of the demands of the party's far-right wing -- namely, the deregulation of the individual insurance market -- it does nothing to address concerns about massive coverage loss. Instead, it likely makes those problems worse.
Vox also reported on language in the amendment that would exempt members of Congress from changes Republicans intend to impose on the public at large. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, initially denied such language was in the bill, though by late this morning, he said he's confident the exemption will be removed from the bill.

So, the new Republican plan is pretty much a disaster for everyone other than those who are healthy and wealthy. Will House Republicans actually pass this thing?
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.26.17

04/26/17 12:00PM

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

* The House Republican leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, is reportedly "set to spend another $3.5 million" in Georgia's congressional special election. Karen Handel (R) will face off against Jon Ossoff (D) in a runoff schedule for June 20.

* Speaking of special elections, there's a lower-profile race in California's 34th district -- two Democrats are facing off in a race to replace Xavier Becerra -- and yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who's widely seen as the favorite.

* Also in California yesterday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R) picked up his first challenger, with Andrew Janz (D), a young violent-crimes prosecutor, kicking off his first-ever campaign for elected office.

* Despite rumored pressure from GOP officials, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) said yesterday he won't run for state attorney general in his home state of New York next year.

* Though Colorado's gubernatorial race is still coming together, on the Republican side, there's a very real possibility that Mitt Romney's nephew and George W. Bush's cousin may vie for the GOP nomination.
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