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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

The wrong president to honor 'National Character Counts Week'

10/17/17 09:20AM

For many years, various presidents in both parties have issued proclamations recognizing days, weeks, and months in recognition of worthy causes, and for the most part, these proclamations have gone largely overlooked.

But there's something about Donald Trump that puts some of these presidential declarations in an unfortunate light. For example, it's now "National Character Counts Week" in the United States. Trump's proclamation read in part:

"We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people. The grit and integrity of our people, visible throughout our history, defines the soul of our Nation. This week, we reflect on the character of determination, resolve, and honor that makes us proud to be American. [...]

"Character is built slowly. Our actions -- often done first out of duty -- become habits ingrained in the way we treat others and ourselves. As parents, educators, and civic and church leaders, we must always work to cultivate strength of character in our Nation's youth."

Reading this, and realizing that it's intended to be the words of Donald Trump, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Is this the president who's seriously going to reflect on how "we treat others"?

Didn't Trump just yesterday smear his presidential predecessors by lying about their interactions with the families of American soldiers killed in action?

I'm reminded of a recent column from the Washington Post's Michael Gerson, a former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, who wondered whether Trump is "morally equipped to be president." The piece highlighted Trump's "vulgarity and smallness, which have been the equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Washington Monument."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

After making a mess, Trump wants credit for others' clean-up effort

10/17/17 08:43AM

Donald Trump delivered some brief remarks before the start of a cabinet meeting yesterday, and seemed especially animated about the Affordable Care Act. "Obamacare is finished. It's dead. It's gone," the president said, sounding a bit like a mob boss. "It's no longer -- you shouldn't even mention. It's gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore."

About a minute later, in reference to rising premiums, Trump added, "This is an Obamacare mess."

As a simple matter of logic, both statements can't be true. If the ACA no longer exists, it can't be the source of ongoing troubles in the health care sector. Either there is "such a thing" as the Affordable Care Act or there isn't, and the president probably ought to pick one.

But Trump's confusion isn't just creating contradictions. By taking a series of steps to sabotage the nation's system -- including last week's decision to scrap cost-sharing-reduction payments -- the president is directly responsible for pushing higher costs onto many American consumers. Trump nevertheless added yesterday that everything is going according to plan.

"In my opinion, what's happening is, as we meet -- Republicans are meeting with Democrats because of what I did with the CSR, because I cut off the gravy train. If I didn't cut the CSRs, they wouldn't be meeting. They'd be having lunch and enjoying themselves, all right?"

Actually, no. It's all wrong, not all right.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump rationalizes his failures: 'I'm not going to blame myself'

10/17/17 08:00AM

One of the earliest controversies of Donald Trump's presidency came after he authorized a mission in Yemen, which claimed the life of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens. The president couldn't have dealt with the developments in a worse way.

Trump exploited Owens' death, made dubious claims about the mission, and ultimately tried to avoid responsibility for the operation he personally authorized. "This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do," the president said, referring to U.S. generals. "They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals ... and they lost Ryan."

It was a quote that, under normal political conditions, might have come to define Trump's presidency, haunting him at every turn. And while that obviously didn't happen, the president's response was nevertheless an early reminder that in Trump World, the buck always stops somewhere else.

Trump drove this point home during remarks at a White House cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon:

"Despite what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators. But we're not getting the job done.

"And I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.... We've had other things happen, and they're not getting the job done."

It was a rare example of the president correcting himself in public. Initially, Trump said "we're" not getting the job done, suggesting he and other Republicans collectively need to pick up their game, before he realized that he should clarify matters. "They're" not getting the job done.

The president's responsibility allergy has never been clearer.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.16.17

10/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault on Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq."

* Somalia: "A huge truck bomb blast in Somalia's capital has killed 276 people and wounded roughly 300 more, the country's information minister said Sunday. It is believed to be the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation."

"Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, "five years a Taliban captive after abandoning his post in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty Monday to desertion and misbehavior-before-the-enemy charges that could put him in prison for life."

* Austria's "right-wing parties made strong gains in parliamentary elections on Sunday, after a campaign in which the main contenders competed with tough stances on immigration."

* That's quite a sentence: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday again declined to clearly say he hadn't called President Donald Trump 'a moron,' but he did deny a Republican senator's claim that he had been castrated as the nation's top diplomat."

* Duterte: "President Trump will meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a marathon trip to Asia next month, the White House announced Monday."

* Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump's new choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, lead a DHS team during Hurricane Katrina that "was widely criticized for its passive and clumsy response."

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump forced to walk back ridiculous falsehood about Obama

10/16/17 04:15PM

Part of the problem with Donald Trump's presidency is his profound ignorance of history. This tends to get him into trouble because, when Trump does something he's proud of, he boasts that he's the first president to do it -- largely because he has no idea what his predecessors did and didn't do during their tenures.

After his recent trip to Puerto Rico, for example, the president bragged, "I guess it's one of the few times anybody has done this. From what I am hearing it's the first time that a sitting president has done something like this." And while it's true presidential travel was limited before airplanes were invented, in recent decades, plenty of presidents have traveled to areas affected by natural disasters. Lobbing paper towels at people may have been a presidential first, but the trip itself was routine.

Today, something similar happened. Nearly two weeks ago, four American soldiers were killed in Niger, and before this afternoon, Trump had said literally nothing about it. Asked about his silence at a White House event, the president said he had not yet contacted the fallen Americans' families because he wanted "a little time to pass." He added that he's written letters to those families, but they haven't been sent yet.

Let's note for context that since the ambush that claimed those four servicemen's lives, Trump has golfed five times.

The president then decided to brag about how awesome he thinks he is as compared to his predecessors.

"The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls," he said. "I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it."

Even by Trump standards, this was a breathtaking lie. In fact, Alyssa Mastromonaco‏, a deputy chief of staff in the Obama White House, quickly explained that Obama (and other previous presidents) often called the families of Americans killed in action. Disgusted by Trump's smear, Mastromonaco went to describe Trump as "a deranged animal."

But then something interesting happened: the president was fact-checked in real-time, and Trump was forced to backpedal.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Donald Trump, demolitions expert

10/16/17 01:00PM

Donald Trump, apparently annoyed by a New York Times piece, was eager to point to some of his perceived accomplishments over the weekend. Among the presidential achievements he touted: scrapping the U.S. role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, trying to end the U.S. role in the Paris Climate Accords, and the recent "cancellations" of EPA environmental safeguards.

What Trump may not have realized is that none of these things are actual accomplishments -- so much as they're attempts to take an ax to his predecessor's accomplishments.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin had a compelling piece on this the other day, describing the Republican president as "Trump the Destroyer."

What is increasingly obvious is that President Trump's motivations and impulses have everything to do with narcissism, personal piques, anger at his predecessor and fear of losing face -- and very little to do with creating real policy outcomes. He prefers to be seen doing something rather than to do something for which he would bear the consequences.

On health care, Trump doesn't have anything resembling a plan. He has a desire for Congress to tear down "Obamacare," and when those efforts came up short, the president took steps to sabotage the nation's health care system unilaterally, but the president has no constructive vision of his own. His principal focus is on tearing down what others have created.

On immigration, Trump doesn't have the foggiest idea what kind of system should be in place, but he's convinced himself that it's necessary to tear down what Barack Obama did. And on the international nuclear agreement with Iran. The president hasn't offered anything resembling a coherent strategy, but he's certain Obama's policy is wrong.

The pattern is hard to miss.

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Image: Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

GOP rep: tackling bump stocks would be 'a perversion' of party agenda

10/16/17 12:30PM

Two weeks ago, the United States suffered its deadliest mass shooting in modern history. The scene in Las Vegas was nightmarish, with dozens killed and hundreds wounded, all as a result of an attack launched by one gunman.

In the immediate aftermath, in response to public clamoring for some kind of action, policymakers raised the prospect of action on "bump stocks" -- an after-market modification that helps semi-automatic weapons, which are legal, fire like automatic weapons, which are already largely banned. A bipartisan bill was introduced on Capitol Hill, and even some Republicans suggested publicly that action on this issue was at least possible.

But as the horror of Las Vegas has faded from front pages, the bump-stock debate has shifted. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that Congress would probably look to the Trump administration to deal with the issue, suggesting legislative progress is unlikely. The Washington Post reported:

Instead, Ryan and many of his fellow House Republicans hope the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will act administratively to outlaw the devices, which the agency ruled legal in 2010.

"We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix, and then, frankly, we'd like to know how it happened in the first place," Ryan (Wis.) told reporters Wednesday. He did not discuss pursuing legislation to address the issue.

Ryan made his remarks a day after 20 bipartisan House members backed a bill to ban bump stocks and similar devices meant to accelerate the firing rate of semiautomatic rifles.

In other words, despite support for a legislative fix, Ryan is prepared to wait for a regulatory fix through the ATF. Those looking for action should turn to Trump administration officials, not elected Republican lawmakers.

Perhaps the most amazing quote came from the chairman of the House's Second Amendment Caucus.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.16.17

10/16/17 12:00PM

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

* California state Senate Leader Kevin de Leon (D) made it official yesterday, launching his U.S. Senate bid, even though incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is seeking re-election. (Remember, California has a jungle primary, not a traditional nominating fight.)

* Election Day is three weeks from tomorrow in Virginia, and the deadline for registering to vote is today.

* And speaking of Virginia, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ed Gillespie continues to say he doesn't know Donald Trump, but he seemed eager to campaign over the weekend alongside Trump's vice president, Mike Pence.

* Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, was with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ralph Northam on Saturday, at the other end of the commonwealth.

* Donors to the president's re-election campaign may be interested to learn that it spent more than $1 million on legal bills, stemming from Trump's Russia scandal. That includes money to cover the legal expenses of Donald Trump Jr., who helps run the president's business, and whose work is supposed to be unrelated to politics.

* Former Vice President Al Gore hasn't been too engaged in electoral politics this year, but he was in New Jersey yesterday, campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Phil Murphy. The statewide race in the Garden State is also three weeks from tomorrow.

* Following the first round of balloting in Louisiana over the weekend, New Orleans is poised to elect its first woman mayor in city history.

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