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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.23.18

04/23/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Tennessee: "A man suspected of killing four people and injuring four others after opening fire inside a Tennessee Waffle House has been arrested following an extensive manhunt, according to police."

* Toronto: "A van plowed into eight to 10 people in a busy intersection in Toronto on Monday afternoon, police said. The driver of the van has been taken into custody, according to police. Authorities did not immediately identify the driver."

* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber carried out an ISIS-inspired attack at a voter registration center in the Afghan capital on Sunday, killing 57 people and wounding more than 100 others, according to officials from the Afghan interior and public health ministries."

* Alabama: "Waffle House has weighed in on the controversial Sunday morning arrest by three white male Saraland Police officers of black 25-year-old Mobile woman Chikesia Clemons in one of the company's two Saraland locations."

* Samantha Dravis: "One of embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's most trusted advisers sought to retroactively change her resignation date a day after the House oversight committee requested to interview her as part of its investigation."

* Indiana: "The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court ruling striking down a Pence-era abortion law. House Enrolled Act 1337 was signed by former Gov. Mike Pence in March 2016. Among other 'non-discrimination provisions,' the law prohibited abortions sought because a fetus had been potentially diagnosed with a disability."

* The state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron: "[U]nlike his predecessors, Trump hasn't invited any members of Congress from the opposing party. He's also opted not to invite any members of the media, another departure from past state dinners."

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) participates in a conversation about American foreign strategy and statesmanship at the Hudson Institute on March 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Cotton is the wrong guy to give lectures on 'shameful political behavior'

04/23/18 01:46PM

Much of the far-right is unmistakably excited about Mike Pompeo's nomination to be the next secretary of state, and as the CIA director is poised to face a historic rejection from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plenty of conservatives are trying to keep the pressure on Pompeo's skeptics.

Some, however, have less credibility than others.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has been among Pompeo’s most vocal champions in the Senate, lambasted his colleagues ahead of voting.

“Democrats, especially on the Foreign Relations Committee, are really engaged in shameful political behavior,” Cotton said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Oh, I see. Tom Cotton wants to have a conversation about "shameful political behavior" on the part of senators who aren't on board with a presidential nomination.

As luck would have it, that's a great idea. Let's have that conversation and start with how he treated Cassandra Butts.

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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)

Senate poised to make history with Pompeo's Secretary of State nomination

04/23/18 12:48PM

No nominee for secretary of state has ever been rejected by a Senate committee, at least not since 1925, when the chamber started maintaining public records on committee actions. With that in mind, lawmakers are likely to make some history today with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump's controversial choice to become the nation's chief diplomat.

All 10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as one of the panel's 11 Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have announced their opposition to Pompeo's nomination. If all stick to that position at Monday's 5 p.m. ET vote, his nomination will not have enough support to be reported favorably to the full Senate.

Hours before the vote, President Donald Trump slammed Democrats for that position. "Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State ..." he tweeted.

It's actually very easy to believe. Pompeo was a far-right congressman for three terms, where he was known for peddling conspiracy theories and receiving a whole lot of money from the Koch brothers. Trump tapped him for the CIA, where he was far too partisan to be a good fit, and where he had an unfortunate habit of politicizing intelligence.

Now the president wants him to lead the State Department, despite his anti-Muslim ties, his rejection of climate science, and his lack of experience in international diplomacy.

So what happens after Pompeo is rejected by a bipartisan majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.23.18

04/23/18 12:00PM

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

* At the Utah Republican Convention over the weekend, Mitt Romney hoped to get 60% of the vote in order to clinch the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination. Instead, he came in second to state Rep. Mike Kennedy, and the two will soon compete in a statewide primary.

* The congressional special election in Arizona's 8th district is tomorrow, and the latest robocall from a Republican super PAC mentions Nancy Pelosi's name three times. It doesn't mention Hiral Tipirneni, the Democratic candidate in this race, at all.

* The latest statewide poll in Missouri found incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) with a small lead over state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), 48% to 44%.

* Speaking of Senate polling, a Mason-Dixon poll in Mississippi, looking ahead to hypothetical runoff elections later this year, showed appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) leading former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D), 46% to 34%. That same poll, however, found Espy leading right-wing state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), 42% to 40%.

* In West Virginia, Democrats are starting to intervene in the Republicans' competitive Senate primary, hoping to boost ex-con and coal baron Don Blankenship, whom they believe would be easier to defeat in the general election. The primary is two weeks from tomorrow.

* Republican megadonor Foster Friess surprised many late last week when he kicked off a GOP gubernatorial campaign in Wyoming, where Friess had talked about launching a Senate campaign. Friess is perhaps best known in electoral circles for bankrolling Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign and making highly provocative comments about his political beliefs.

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Image: Michael Cohen at Federal Court

Playing a risky game, Trump predicts Cohen won't 'flip' on him

04/23/18 11:20AM

It's been a couple of weeks since the FBI raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's "fixer," as part of a criminal investigation into the New York lawyer. By all accounts, the developments rattled the president and his team -- because as they see it, the Cohen probe may be even more dangerous to them than Special Counsel's Robert Mueller's investigation.

It's against this backdrop that the New York Times  reported the other day that Trump has mistreated Cohen for years "with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship."

The article prompted quite a Twitter tantrum from the president.

"The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don't speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will 'flip.'

"They use non-existent 'sources' and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected.

"Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don't see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!"

There's probably no point in unpacking all of this, but there are a couple of broader takeaways that are worth keeping in mind. First, Trump's online reaction is emblematic of a president who appears quite nervous -- and probably for good reason.

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Trump does himself no favors ahead of North Korea talks

04/23/18 10:40AM

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, NBC News' Chuck Todd raised a fair question while interviewing White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short. Ahead of Donald Trump's apparent talks with Kim Jong-un, the host asked, "What has the United States gotten from North Korea? ... We've given him the meeting. That in itself is a huge gift. What have we gotten in return?"

The president was apparently watching, and expressed his dissatisfaction via Twitter.

"Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing. Wow, we haven't given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!"

For now, let's put aside the president's unfortunate school-yard taunts and the fact that he seems to have the temperament of a spoiled child. Instead, let's consider this on the substance, which Trump may not understand as well as he should.

For example, he says the United States hasn't "given up anything." That's plainly false. For decades, North Korean dictators have sought meetings with American presidents in order to raise the legitimacy and stature of the rogue regime. Trump's predecessors -- in both parties -- easily could've agreed to a meeting like this, but they balked at giving the dictators what they wanted. Trump, meanwhile, agreed to such a meeting without any real forethought, deliberations, or strategy.

What's more, the Republican boasted yesterday that North Korean officials "have agreed to denuclearization." That's not even close to being true, and if Trump thinks he's correct, he's alarmingly ignorant about events he needs to understand. North Korea, in reality, has agreed to make this issue a part of the negotiations, but the gap between Kim Jong-un agreeing to give up his nuclear arsenal and Kim Jong-un agreeing to talk about giving up his nuclear arsenal is a chasm.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

In Trump's White House, even the policy guys aren't policy guys

04/23/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump's White House is dysfunctional for a variety of reasons, but the near-constant staff churn has clearly taken a toll. Politico  reported the other day that when staff secretary Rob Porter was forced to resign over domestic-abuse allegations, Chris Liddell took on some of Porter's responsibilities.

People familiar with Liddell's approach said he is working to expand the decision-making processes put in place by Porter.... But it's unclear whether Liddell, a New Zealand-born former corporate executive, has enough sway with the president to successfully caution him against rash moves.

"Chris Liddell is not a policy guy," said the former administration official.

Jon Chait noticed the problem: Chris Liddell's current title is deputy White House chief of staff for policy.

In other words, in Donald Trump's White House, one of the top policy guys "is not a policy guy."

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Sen. Bob Corker

Corker can't bring himself to praise his would-be GOP successor

04/23/18 09:20AM

In Tennessee, Sen. Bob Corker (R) is retiring this year, and given the Volunteer State's political leanings, it was generally assumed Corker's "red" seat would stay that way. In practice, however, it's a little more complicated than that.

To the disappointment of the Republican establishment, the Republican nominee in this race will be Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R), a right-wing congresswoman who's earned a reputation as something of an extremist, even by contemporary GOP standards. Democrats, meanwhile, have rallied behind former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), who's already won two statewide races in Tennessee.

Corker is formally backing his party's candidate, but he raised a few eyebrows recently when he praised Bredesen, touted the former governor's "crossover appeal," and vowed not to campaign against him during the campaign. Corker added, in reference to Bredesen, that the Tennessee Democrat was "a very good mayor, a very good governor, [and] a very good business person."

Yesterday, Corker was offered an opportunity to offer comparable praise for his party's candidate. It didn't go well.

[CNN's Dana Bash] attempted to get Corker to explain why anyone ought to vote for Blackburn. Despite his Twitter endorsement, Corker had a little trouble. The best he could do was suggest that a vote for Blackburn could be critical to the GOP retaining control of the Senate and of course, re-electing McConnell as Senate Majority Leader.

The retiring senator, who seemed determined not to mention Blackburn's name out loud -- repeatedly referring to her only as his party's "nominee" -- was told that his support for the congresswoman didn't sound like "a ringing endorsement."

If you watch the clip, note that Corker seemed to be at a loss for words for several seconds, before eventually saying, "I'm supporting the nominee. I have worked with the nominee for some time. And I don't know what else to say."

In other words, asked to explain why Marsha Blackburn would be a good U.S. senator, the Republican incumbent couldn't think of a reason -- and seemed reluctant to even say her name.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

EPA's Scott Pruitt haunted by corruption allegations, old and new

04/23/18 08:40AM

The list of scandals surrounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is unnervingly long. The Oklahoma Republican, tasked by Donald Trump to lead the environmental agency Pruitt has fought to undermine for years, is facing allegations of brazen corruption, misusing public funds, and abusing the powers of his office.

Even in a cabinet filled with ugly controversies and ethical messes, Pruitt stands out as arguably the most scandal plagued of the bunch.

What's less appreciated is Pruitt's lengthy pattern of dubious behavior. The New York Times  reported over the weekend, for example, on Pruitt's record as a state senator 15 years ago, and how familiar his conduct seems. Of particular interest, note what happened after he attended a gathering "at the Oklahoma City home of an influential telecommunications lobbyist who was nearing retirement and about to move away."

The lobbyist said that after the 2003 gathering, Mr. Pruitt -- who had a modest legal practice and a state salary of $38,400 -- reached out to her. He wanted to buy her showplace home as a second residence for when he was in the state capital. [...]

Soon Mr. Pruitt was staying there, and so was at least one other lawmaker, according to interviews. Mr. Pruitt even bought Ms. Lindsey’s dining room set, art and antique rugs, she said.

A review of real estate and other public records shows that Mr. Pruitt was not the sole owner: The property was held by a shell company registered to a business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner.

After Wagner created the shell company that helped put Pruitt in a showcase home, the mortgage was arranged by Albert Kelly, another Pruitt ally, who was later "barred from working in the finance industry because of a banking violation."

Wagner is now a top official at Pruitt's EPA -- and so is Kelly.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

Trump's bold new idea: suing the Democratic National Committee

04/23/18 08:00AM

Not long after Richard Nixon's operatives were arrested for the Watergate burglary, the Democratic National Committee launched a civil suit against the Republican president. Last week, in a remarkable historical echo, the DNC filed a similar lawsuit against the Russian government, Donald Trump's campaign, and WikiLeaks, alleging they coordinated to disrupt the 2016 campaign.

The judge in the case, as luck would have it, was a former Watergate prosecutor.

Not surprisingly, the president, who's already the subject of a criminal investigation, heard about the civil case, and on Friday afternoon, Trump shared his initial reaction:

"Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC Server that they refused to give to the FBI, the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, nearly all of this was nonsense. The DNC, for example, didn't refuse to cooperate with the FBI. For that matter, DNC officials aren't in Congress, and therefore can't be "obstructionists." (The original version of Trump's tweet also referred to Wendy Wasserman Schultz, instead of Debbie.)

But the words that stood out were, "we will now counter."

Indeed, over the weekend, Trump added, "So funny, the Democrats have sued the Republicans for Winning. Now he R's counter and force them to turn over a treasure trove of material, including Servers and Emails!"

Obviously, the president doesn't write well, and at face value, much of his missive may seem like gibberish, but what he seemed to be trying to say is that he and his party will file some kind of counter-suit, which in turn will lead to a "treasure trove" of materials for the GOP, all of which Trump considers "funny."

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Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

This Week in God, 4.21.18

04/21/18 07:57AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Donald Trump's relationship with politically conservative evangelical Christians, which actually appears to be strengthening, despite controversies that would seem to push in the opposite direction.

To be sure, as Trump rose to prominence in Republican politics, he and the religious right movement made an odd pairing. He is, after all, a secular, thrice-married casino owner with a lengthy history of "character" issues, while Christian conservatives generally have little use for these kinds of politicians.

But what's especially interesting about this awkward marriage is that Trump's support among evangelicals is going up, even as the public is confronted with new scandals about the president, adult-film entertainers, and hush-money payments. Vox noted yesterday:

White evangelical support of Donald Trump is at an all-time high, according to a new study. The poll, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in March, found that a full 75 percent of white evangelicals surveyed had a positive opinion of Donald Trump, compared to just 22 percent holding an unfavorable view. [...]

Given that 81 percent of white evangelical voters voted for Trump, these latest findings suggest that the well-document turmoil of Trump's presidency has done little to dissuade his core supporters. Nor are his supporters necessarily banking on the only Republican option out there: According to the poll, 69 percent of white evangelicals would prefer Trump, rather than another Republican candidate, as the 2020 presidential nominee,

That last number may be the most important. A variety of evangelical leaders have already made the case publicly that they're comfortable with a marriage of convenience with the president: so long as he keeps delivering on the religious right's priorities, the argument goes, the religious right will embrace moral relativism and look the other way on Trump's personal failings.

But if 69% of these voters prefer Trump to a different Republican -- which is to say, someone else who would presumably be just as eager to deliver on conservative Christians' political goals -- it suggests the movement is taking this relationship beyond convenience and actually investing in Trump personally. The polling results suggest they like him, not just what he's doing for them.

In January, as the Stormy Daniels controversy was first reaching the public, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the religious right and the movement's adherents agreed that Trump should "get a mulligan" when it came to reports about his personal misdeeds. But "mulligan" suggests evangelicals may be less forgiving if, say, Trump were caught up in new scandals that cast his character in a negative light.

Given the available data, it's starting to look like Trump may have a limitless supply of "mulligans" when it comes to politically conservative evangelical Christians.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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