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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.25.16

08/25/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Tragedy in Italy: "Rescue teams aided by sniffer dogs searched for survivors Thursday amid sharp aftershocks from a powerful earthquake that reduced several central Italian towns to rubble and killed 250 people."
* Death toll in Afghanistan: "Militants armed with a car bomb, grenades and automatic weapons killed at least 14 people during the 10-hour attack on the American University of Afghanistan, police said Thursday."
* Germany: "The leader of a small faction of German extremists was seriously injured Thursday while trading gunfire with police as he and supporters tried to prevent an eviction order being served on the house he was living in. Two police commandos received minor injuries."
* We've seen false starts in Colombia before, but there's reason for optimism this time: "Colombia's president said Wednesday that government negotiators and leftist rebels are putting the final touches on an important peace deal that they hope to announce in the coming hours."
* Turkey: "Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday resisted demands by Turkey's president to immediately detain and turn over a Pennsylvania imam suspected of plotting last month's failed military coup attempt, giving a blunt lesson on American rule of law."
* Mylan: "After being blasted for price hikes on its lifesaving EpiPen allergy injections, the drugmaker Mylan announced Thursday that it will expand access to the product -- not by lowering the price, but by creating a savings card that will cover up to $300 of its EpiPen 2-Pak."
* TPP: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to close the door Thursday on the Senate taking up the Obama administration's signature Asia-Pacific trade deal during what's left of the president's term."
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Austin, Texas, Aug. 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump tries changing his immigration rhetoric, but not his policy

08/25/16 12:30PM

Over the last week or so, much of the political world's conversation has focused on an issue that seemed quite clear up until very recently: Donald Trump's immigration plan. Recently, words like "softening," "pivoting," and "flip-flopping" have become ubiquitous.
The Republican candidate said this morning that voters shouldn't be "fooled" by the media's coverage, because he continues to support being "very strong on illegal immigration" -- though that didn't clarify matters much, since no one knows what that means, exactly.
In this case, though, the media isn't really the problem. Trump and top members of his leadership team have publicly suggested the campaign's position on immigration is in flux. The GOP candidate muddied the waters further last night, telling a town-hall audience that undocumented immigrants, under his vision, will have to "pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them."
At one point, Trump went so far as to seek guidance from his audience in Texas. "You have somebody who is terrific, who has been here ... a long time," he said to the crowd. "A long court proceeding, long everything, okay? In other words, to get them out, can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me. I mean, I don't know. You tell me."
Is it any wonder there's some uncertainty surrounding the state of his position? He's gone from trying to lead on the issue to literally polling an assembled audience for guidance.
This is not to say a candidate's rhetoric is irrelevant, it's just that a candidate's policy proposals matter more. And as of this morning, as TPM noted, the Trump campaign insists that the substance of his immigration plan remains unchanged.
Donald Trump's national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, said on Thursday that her boss hasn't changed his position on immigration -- just "the words he's saying."
In a panel discussion on CNN, Pierson said that Trump's nebulous immigration policy hasn't shifted. "He hasn't changed his position on immigration," she said. "He's changed the words that he is saying.... He's using different words to give that message."
This wasn't just an off-hand comment. On the contrary, it's quite elucidating: Trump may be confusing everyone with his inconsistent rhetoric, so let's focus less on what he says and more on what he proposes.
And what Trump has proposed -- a border wall, mass deportations, ending birthright citizenship, etc. -- remains his 2016 platform.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.25.16

08/25/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* For some reason, Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to describe Hillary Clinton as a "bigot" last night at a campaign rally in Mississippi.
* In North Carolina, the latest CNN poll shows Clinton leading Trump by just one point, 44% to 43%, while a Monmouth University poll points in a very similar direction, with Clinton ahead, 44% to 42%.
* On a related note, the CNN poll showed incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) narrowly leading Deborah Ross (D) in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, 49% to 46%. Monmouth found Burr with a slightly smaller advantage, 45% to 43%.
* As for North Carolina's gubernatorial race, Monmouth's poll found incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in real trouble: he's now trailing state A.G. Roy Cooper (D), 52% to 43%.
* In Arizona, which has supported the Republican presidential ticket in 15 of the last 16 elections, CNN's poll showed a fairly competitive race, with Trump leading Clinton, 43% to 38%.
* Despite internal staffing issues, Bernie Sanders officially launched the "Our Revolution" organization last night, which will be led in part by his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver.
* The Vermont senator, despite his alliance with the Democratic Party during his presidential campaign, is also reportedly "leaning toward seeking re-election as an independent" in 2018.
* Ed Rollins, the chairman of a super PAC supporting Trump, conceded yesterday that the Republican nominee would lose if the election were held today.
Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage leaves a 'Leave.EU Referendum Party' in London, Britain, June 23, 2016. Britons await the results on whether they remain in, or leave the European Union (EU) after a referendum.

Trump shares the stage with an ally from across the pond

08/25/16 11:09AM

Just last week, Donald Trump labeled himself "Mr. Brexit." As monikers go, this is an odd choice: the Republican presidential candidate has never made clear that he understands what Brexit even is. The day before British voters cast their ballots, Trump said of the issue, "I don't think anybody should listen to me because I haven't really focused on it very much."
After the UK referendum, the Republican's rhetoric on Brexit became even more bizarre.
Two months later, however, the self-proclaimed Mr. Brexit has decided to campaign alongside a man who arguably earned the title. NBC News reported overnight:
The Republican candidate, whose stop in deep red Mississippi at this point in the general election raised eyebrows and stirred confusion, surprised the crowd when he brought on stage with him a physical embodiment of his Brexit message: Britain's Nigel Farage.
The Brit, who was a heavy and vocal "leave" backer during Brexit, attacked former British PM David Cameron for paying "the big card" of bringing President Obama to speak about the Brexit decision. As Trump has done in the past, Farage criticized Obama, adding that he "could not possibly tell you how you should vote in this election."
Farage, however, believes he can you how you should vote in this election, saying he wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton, if he were an American, even if paid to do so.
Now, the obvious concern about a rally such as this one in Mississippi are the divisive overtones: For those unfamiliar with his work, Farage is one of Britain's most notorious xenophobes. He's known for his role in the Brexit campaign, but Farage also led the UK Independence Party, which has frequently been criticized for its nativist, racially charged platform.
For all the chatter about Trump's "pivot," his willingness to appear alongside Nigel Farage sends an unmistakable signal.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage during a news conference March 10, 2014, in Brunswick, Maine.

Maine's LePage doubles down on racially charged argument

08/25/16 10:30AM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) made headlines earlier this year with racially charged comments about drug dealers. The Portland Press Herald reports that the controversial Republican governor returned to the issue yesterday.
Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday night that more than 90 percent of drug dealers arrested in Maine since January are black or Hispanic, returning to an issue he raised that month in comments that were widely condemned.
The governor made the reference at a town hall forum in North Berwick.
A New York businessman asked the governor, "Given the rhetoric you put out there about people of color in Maine, calling them drug dealers et cetera, how can I bring a company here given the toxic environment you create?"
LePage apparently had an answer ready. "I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state, now ever since I said that comment I've been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state," the governor said. "I don't ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it's a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn."
Let's not forget how we got to this point.
History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Trump surrogate defends secrecy on tax returns

08/25/16 09:40AM

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, yesterday became the latest Republican to urge Donald Trump to release his tax returns, a once-routine step the GOP nominee refuses to complete.
Trump's son Eric, a prominent surrogate for his father's presidential campaign, presented a relatively new defense for non-disclosure during a CNBC interview yesterday.
Eric Trump said Wednesday it would be "foolish" for his father to release his tax returns and subject them to scrutiny by people who don't know what they are looking at.
"You would have a bunch of people who know nothing about taxes trying to look through and trying to come up with assumptions on things they know nothing about," Mr. Trump said on CNBC. "It would be foolish to do. I'm actually the biggest proponent of not doing it."
In the same interview, Eric Trump added, "I heard someone the other day, 'Oh well, Trump has ties to the mob.... If he released his tax returns you would clearly see that.' Are you guys kidding me? You learn a lot more when you look at a person's assets. You know how many hotels we have around the world. You know how many golf courses we have around the world."
At first blush, this may seem vaguely compelling. Tax law is complicated -- accountants and tax lawyers exist for a reason -- and for those unfamiliar with the substantive details, simply looking at tax returns without any background or context may lead to an incomplete picture.
But perhaps this can be the basis for some kind of compromise: if the Trump campaign doesn't want to share the candidate's returns with "a bunch of people who know nothing about taxes," would Trump aides be willing to disclose the materials to people who do know something about taxes? How about sharing the documents with people who have a detailed understanding of the issue, who can help explain the facts to the public?
Or is it more likely this has nothing to do with tax expertise and Eric Trump's excuse is just a ploy to rationalize unnecessary secrecy without modern precedent?
Chicago police cars, sit outside a police station Sept. 8, 2011 in Chicago, Ill. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump's plan to end violence via 'tough' tactics faces questions

08/25/16 09:00AM

Donald Trump recently delivered a speech in which he declared that if he's elected, urban street crime will effectively disappear. "This chaos and violence will end and it will end very, very quickly," the Republican candidate boasted.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly asked Trump on Monday night how, exactly, he intends to achieve this, pointing to urban violence in Chicago as an example of an intractable problem. The GOP nominee responded by saying he'd allow local police officers to become "very much tougher than they are right now."
In fact, Trump said he met this year with "very top police" officers in Chicago who assured him they could stop "much of this horror show" in just "one week." How? Through "tough police tactics."
There's now a question, however, as to whether or not Trump's conversation actually happened. The NBC affiliate in Chicago reported:
The Chicago Police Department denied Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's claim this week that he met with a "top" Chicago officer and argued the city's violence would not be solved with "tough police tactics."
"We've discredited this claim months ago," CPD spokesperson Frank Giancamilli said Tuesday in a statement. "No one in the senior command at CPD has ever met with Donald Trump or a member of his campaign."
The Chicago Tribune spoke to a Trump campaign spokesperson who said that when the candidate claimed to have spoken to "very top" officers in Chicago, he meant he spoke to officers who were "capable, smart and talented."
Which officers? Trump and his team don't know. How would they stop violence within a week? Trump and his team don't know that, either. What kind of policies would constitute "tough police tactics."? Trump and his team haven't said.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, Ohio on Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mark Makela/Reuters)

Clinton, Congress take aim at EpiPen price hikes

08/25/16 08:00AM

There's no doubt the EpiPen can be a life-saving device. The technology is pretty straightforward: for those suffering a dangerous allergic reaction, an EpiPen can deliver emergency epinephrine at a critical time.
The recent controversy, however, has nothing to do with the device's efficacy and everything to do with its price. Since Mylan bought the rights to EpiPen in 2007, prices have soared -- as have profits, corporate salaries, and the company's lobbying investments.
It's not just consumers who are crying foul; candidates and elected officials have also taken a keen interest of late. The Wall Street Journal reported late yesterday:
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton jumped into the fray over rapid price increases for the EpiPen, a life-saving injection for people who are having severe allergic reactions.
Mrs. Clinton called the recent price hikes of the EpiPen "outrageous, and just the latest example of a company taking advantage of its consumers."
In a written statement calling for Mylan to scale back EpiPen prices, Clinton added, "It's wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them."
Congress' summer break won't end for another two weeks, but lawmakers are nevertheless weighing in, too. For example, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, has called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation.
The Washington Post added that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the top two members on the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, sent a letter to Mylan's CEO yesterday requesting detailed information on the company's pricing practices.
Note, when it comes to official policymaking, there are two related tracks to keep in mind.