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Donald Trump pauses to look at a demonstrator behind him during a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., March 9, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

There are presidential duties Trump 'doesn't want to do'

05/26/16 10:45AM

Paul Manafort, a controversial Republican lobbyist, joined Donald Trump's team in late March, and at least initially, his task was to help oversee delegate recruiting. It wasn't long, however, before Manafort worked his way up to effectively running the entire operation: less than two months after joining the campaign, he's now Trump's campaign chairman and chief strategist.
Yesterday, Manafort sat down with the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman for a fairly long interview, and while the two covered quite a bit of ground, there was one exchange in particular that stood out for me.
The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he's ready for the White House, Manafort said.
"He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn't want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO."
This is no small acknowledgement. For months, it's been clear that Trump has no meaningful understanding of public policy or even how government works at a basic level. By any fair measure, his ignorance and incompetence about affairs of state is unlike anything Americans have ever seen in a major-party presidential candidate. The question has long been when we can expect Trump to get up to speed.
And the answer is, he has no intention of doing any such thing. Day-to-governing and overseeing the executive branch are apparently represent "the part of the job he doesn't want to do."
President Trump, in other words, would prefer to be more of a big-picture kind of guy who isn't overly concerned about details and roll-up-your-sleeves kind of work.
As for who, exactly, might be the best person to "do the part of the job he doesn't want to do," Manafort added that there's a "long list" filled with contenders who have "major problems."
We should not, however, expect to see diversity on the Republican ticket. Choosing a woman or a member of a minority group to run as vice president, Manafort said, "would be viewed as pandering, I think."
FILE – In this March 7, 2013, file photo the sun breaks through clouds over the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Daylight-saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday, March 10, 2013, when clocks officially move ahead an hour. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Second time's the charm for anti-discrimination measure

05/26/16 10:10AM

There was "chaos" on the House floor last week when the Republican majority held open a vote, twisted arms, and found a way to defeat an anti-discrimination measure after the vote had initially gone the other way. Last night, however, the chamber had the same fight again, this time with a different outcome. The Washington Post reported overnight:
The House voted late Wednesday night to approve a measure to bar the government from paying federal contractors that discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Members erupted into cheers Wednesday night after the measure, sponsored by Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), was approved 223-195. The Wednesday vote was the second in less than a week on an issue that divides Republicans as a party and is proving equally contentious among GOP lawmakers in the House.
The final roll call on the amendment is online here. Note that while the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the policy, 43 did not -- and that was enough for united Democrats to prevail. (Here, by the way, is the roll call on last week's vote. Note that the number of GOP members went up quite a bit in the wake of media attention.)
While last week's vote was an amendment to a defense spending bill, the measure was considered last night as an amendment to the energy and water spending bill, which is expected to clear the House later today.
And while the result was encouraging for civil rights' advocates, did you happen to catch House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) explanation for the strange congressional developments?
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders participates in the PBS NewsHour debate on Feb. 1, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Bernie Sanders accepts Donald Trump's debate 'challenge'

05/26/16 09:23AM

Over the course of the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off in 9 debates and 13 forums, each of which were televised nationally. When Sanders recently pushed for yet another showdown -- this time, for some reason, on Fox News -- Clinton surprised no one by declining. The Democratic frontrunner, after all, is gearing up for the general election.
But what about a debate featuring Sanders and that other presidential candidate?
In the latest twist to this unpredictable 2016 presidential race, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders independently agreed Wednesday night to debate each other.
On ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Trump was asked if he would consider holding a debate with Sanders.
"Yes, I am," the presumptive Republican nominee replied. "How much is he going to pay me? If I debated him, we would have such high ratings, I think I should take that money and give it to charity."
Soon after, Sanders published a tweet that said, "Game On. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7th primary."
It's probably worth pausing to note this gathering seems unlikely. Trump makes all kinds of odd comments, especially during talk-show appearances, and it's very difficult to know when he's being serious given how little he thinks things through. I don't doubt that Sanders is sincere about his interest in such a debate, but Trump may not be.
Or maybe he is. It's a bizarre year, and unlike most recent election cycles, it's generally a good idea to expect the unexpected.
History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

What if candidates were forced to release their tax returns?

05/26/16 08:40AM

Since Watergate, every major-party presidential nominee has voluntarily released at least some of his or her tax returns to the public. Some have been more transparent than others -- Hillary Clinton has set the bar pretty high by posting nearly four decades' worth of returns online -- but every Democrat and every Republican have acceded to some level of disclosure.
This year, Donald Trump is putting these norms to the test. Though the Republican had previously vowed to release the materials, the presumptive GOP nominee has since made up excuses to keep his returns hidden, and has even suggested he's prepared to ignore the longstanding tradition, even if that gives the impression that he has something to hide.
Maybe voters will be alarmed by his secrecy, maybe they won't, but what if Trump didn't have a choice in the matter? The Washington Post reported late yesterday on an interesting new proposal pending on Capitol Hill.
The Senate's sharpest-tongued privacy advocate has proposed a law to force presidential candidates to release their tax returns within days of securing their party's nomination.
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden's bill would require presidential candidates to release at least three years worth of their tax returns within 15 days of being officially nominated at their party convention, applying a legal requirement to something Wyden argues has been standard practice for over 40 years.
"If you are a major party's nominee to be the leader of the free world, Americans have said ever since Watergate that you don't get to hide your tax returns," Wyden said. "It ought to be the law."
The Oregon senator added, "I don't believe the public should have to believe the boasting or take somebody's word for it. Nominees have traditionally released a lot more -- [three years] ought to be used as a starting point."
The bill is called the "Presidential Tax Transparency Act" (S. 2979), and it's already picked up two co-sponsors: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
To be sure, some of this academic given the circumstances. The bill is unlikely to pick up Republican support this year, and it would probably even face some resistance from liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who's been reluctant to meet the disclosure requirements Wyden's bill would mandate.
But putting aside legislative projections, does the idea have merit?
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez isn't being seriously vetted as a potential Mitt Romney running mate.

Why a prominent GOP governor is feuding with Donald Trump

05/26/16 08:00AM

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has heard the criticisms Donald Trump has thrown at her, but her office insisted yesterday the Republican governor "will not be bullied" by her party's presumptive presidential nominee.
"Governor Martinez doesn't care about what Donald Trump says about her," Martinez press secretary Mike Lonergan said in a statement to media outlets. "She cares about what he says he will do to help New Mexicans.
"She's disappointed that she didn't hear anything about that last night," he added.
The comments were the latest volley in an unexpected feud between Martinez and Trump, which has escalated to levels some in the party find uncomfortable. As Rachel explained on the show last night, Trump appeared in New Mexico on Tuesday night, though the governor steered clear of the event, saying she was too "busy" to appear with the GOP presidential hopeful.
Soon after, speaking to a receptive audience, Trump suggested Martinez, the nation's first and only Latina governor, was lazy and ineffectual. "We have got to get your governor to get going," he said. "She's got to do a better job, okay? Your governor has got to do a better job. She's not doing the job.... She's not doing the job. We've got to get her moving. Come on, let's go, governor."
Keep in mind, Martinez is a conservative Republican and the current chair of the Republican Governors Association. For months, pundits have talked about the New Mexico governor as a leading contender for the party's vice presidential nomination and a rising GOP star.
Which makes Trump's criticisms -- read from pre-written notes, not made off the cuff -- all the more striking. It's one thing for Trump to take some verbal shots at leading Republicans during the primaries after they've endorsed a rival candidate, but in GOP politics, the primaries are over. Trump's the last man standing, and this is the point in the process in which he's (a) supposed to be uniting the party, (b) stepping up outreach to Hispanic voters; and (c) toning down his attacks on women.
And yet, this week in New Mexico, Trump did the exact opposite. The question is, why?

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.25.16

05/25/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Afghanistan: "Four days after their leader was killed in an American drone strike, the Taliban broke their silence early Wednesday to announce that a lesser-known deputy, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, would take over and continue the group's war against the Afghan government."
* Related reporting: "The U.S. drone strike that killed the Taliban's leader has also set up a potential leadership struggle between two of the terror group's up-and-comers -- and may signal more attacks on Western targets."
* So much interest in bathrooms: "Eleven states have sued the Obama administration over its sweeping directive requiring all public school districts to grant transgender students access to the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities."
* It sure does seem like we knew all of this already: "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton violated federal records rules through her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, a State Department audit has concluded."
* Japan: "The brutal murder of an Okinawa woman, allegedly by a U.S. military contractor, dominated a meeting between the American and Japanese leaders Wednesday night, with President Obama expressing his 'deepest regrets' to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the 'tragedy.'"
* South Carolina: "S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Wednesday a ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later. The ban offers no exceptions for rape or incest – omissions that opponents say will harm some of the state's most vulnerable women."
* My preferred solution is to not go anywhere: "The head of the Transportation Security Administration, facing fierce criticism over long lines at airport security checkpoints, said Wednesday that passengers would most likely continue to experience longer than normal wait times because of an expected increase in summer travel."
Mary Lou Bruner, 69, candidate for State Board of Education, District 9. (Photo by Rachel Rutledge/The Northeast Texan)

Unhinged Texas activist comes up short in key statewide election

05/25/16 04:41PM

Even among those who've come to expect some pretty nutty positions from Texas Republicans, Mary Lou Bruner stood out as unique. Plenty of right-wing activists believe some ridiculous conspiracy theories, but Bruner publicly embraced ideas so hopelessly bizarre, she made national headlines when she became the frontrunner for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education -- a department that helps decide, among other things, what goes into textbooks in the nation's second-largest school system.
Bruner ran on a platform of -- I kid you not -- keeping gay "subliminal messages" out of textbooks. Somehow, this did not persuade Texas voters, who yesterday decided to go in a different direction.
[A]s conspiracy theories in Bruner's old Facebook posts surfaced, her lead shrunk. Voters ultimately chose fellow Republican Keven Ellis, a local school board president, for the GOP nomination. Bruner lost by about 18 percent in the primary runoff. [...]
"Texas escaped an education train wreck tonight," Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement. "If Bruner had ultimately won election to the board, she would have instantly become the most embarrassingly uninformed and divisive member on a board that already too often puts politics ahead of making sure our kids get a sound education."
The results are reassuring, though before the national spotlight turns away from the story altogether, it's worth pausing to appreciate some of the ideas Mary Lou Bruner publicly espoused:
Ryan Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Jan. 8, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP)

Jail imposes limits on Bundy Brothers' freedoms

05/25/16 04:06PM

As 2016 got underway, Americans were treated to a story that still seems hard to believe. A group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. The military members, led in part by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.
Not surprisingly, federal officials weren't willing to meet the militants' demands, and nearly six weeks after the controversy erupted, the militia members exited the wildlife refuge, and Ammon and Ryan Bundy, among others, were taken into custody.
The organizers of this standoff are still awaiting trial, but Oregon Public Radio reports that the Bundy brothers are not satisfied with the conditions of their detention.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are actively considering whether they should pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office for conditions at the county detention center.
In court documents released Tuesday, the leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation give a list of conditions at the jail they said are violating their constitutional rights.
Among the complaints, the Bundys and several other occupiers -- including Kenneth Medenbach, Pete Santilli, Jason Patrick, Blaine Cooper and Ryan Payne -- said they should have more access to the jail's law library, discovery materials, office supplies and religious underwear.
It's hard to evaluate the complaints on the merits, though I was struck by something from a written statement from Ryan Bundy.
"My rights are being violated," he said. "My right to life is being violated. All of my First Amendment rights are being violated. My right to freedom of religion is being violated. My Second Amendment rights are being violated. I never waived that right."
Just so we're clear, Ryan Bundy is currently incarcerated. And while it's true that prisoners don't forfeit all of the civil liberties while they're wards of the state, jails tend to frown on prisoners having access to firearms.