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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.28.16

07/28/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Extraordinary developments in Russia: "Russia's main domestic intelligence service raided the Moscow headquarters of an investigative agency on Tuesday, in a rare sign of dysfunction in the country's domestic security services."
* The number of skeptics dwindles: "Senior U.S. national security officials tell NBC News they are confident that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee."
* ISIS: "The United States is poring over a vast trove of new intelligence about Islamic State fighters who have flowed into Syria and Iraq and some who then returned to their home countries, information that American officials say could help fight militants on the battlefield and prevent potential plotters from slipping into Europe."
* The campaign later expressed regret over this: "At [Mike] Pence's first public event since he was introduced as the Republican vice-presidential candidate two weeks ago, a [Washington Post] reporter was barred from entering the venue after security staffers summoned local police to pat him down in a search for his cellphone."
* Someone wants attention again: "North Korea's top diplomat for U.S. affairs told The Associated Press on Thursday that Washington 'crossed the red line' and effectively declared war by putting leader Kim Jong Un on its list of sanctioned individuals, and said a vicious showdown could erupt if the U.S. and South Korea hold annual war games as planned next month."
* Brazil: "A half-million foreign tourists, dozens of heads of state and the attention of the world's media. If there were ever a headache for anti-terror forces, it's the Olympics."
* Setting the record straight: "President Obama says reports he eats precisely seven almonds each night are a joke that got out of hand. 'Well, this is an example of the weird way that the press works,' he said in an interview that aired Thursday on NBC's 'Today.'"
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump's antics compared to 'a child playing with matches'

07/28/16 12:51PM

The Washington Post's centrist editorial board nearly always publishes a presidential endorsement -- the exception was in 1988, when the paper didn't like either candidate -- and it's likely to do so again this year. But with months remaining before that happens, the newspaper did something a little different over the weekend: the Post's editors announced who they won't endorse.
In a rare, full-page editorial, the Washington Post published a piece that described Donald J. Trump as "a unique threat to American democracy." It was a rather brutal indictment, shining an unflattering light on the Republican nominee's "politics of denigration and division" and "his "contempt for constitutional norms."
The paper went on to describe the GOP candidate as "a peril," who, if elected, "would be dangerous for the nation and the world." The Post concluded that Trump is "a unique and present danger," who "represents a threat to the Constitution."
And while such language is certainly fair under the circumstances, it's also unexpected. The editorial board of the Washington Post does not have a reputation for being overtly partisan or incendiary. Sunday's editorial is a reflection, not of editors who see an unqualified candidate, but of Americans who appear to be quite frightened.
And they're not alone. CNN's David Gregory, a veteran of Republican and Democratic White Houses, said this week that Donald Trump is like "a child playing with matches who doesn't understand how badly he and the country can get burned. It's a very serious thing."
The New York Times' Timothy Egan argued last week that Trump's candidacy should cause "fear" among Americans -- "for the republic, for a democracy facing its gravest peril since the Civil War."
Vox's Ezra Klein wrote a compelling piece last week on the degree to which Trump has left him, on a very personal level, feeling scared. The night of the Republican's convention speech, Ezra said he felt "genuinely" afraid for "the first time since I began covering American politics."
Ezra added yesterday, after Trump's bizarre press conference in which he called for Russian intervention in the U.S. election, "It's weird to keep saying this, but this is not okay. This is not a man with the temperament, the steadiness, the discipline to be president. The issue here isn't left versus right, or liberal versus conservative, or Democrat versus Republican. It's crazy versus not crazy."

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.28.16

07/28/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* It's a safe bet Republicans are deeply annoyed that the television ratings for the Democratic National Convention are ahead of those of last week's GOP convention.
* On a related note, Donald Trump's campaign is urging supporters to boycott Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech tonight.
* The North Carolina Republican Party attacked Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine last night for the lapel pin he wore during his convention speech. GOP officials said it was the official flag of Honduras, but it was actually the symbol for Blue Star Families -- Kaine wears it in honor of his son, who's a Marine. The North Carolina Republican Party deleted its criticism but didn't apologize. [Update: Later this morning, the state GOP did issue a written apology.]
* Donald Trump participated in an AMA forum on Reddit yesterday, which was limited to Trump supporters asking easy questions. ("AMA" is supposed to stand for "Ask Me Anything.")
* Nebraska may be a "red" state, but Hillary Clinton will campaign in Omaha on Monday, Aug. 1. Note, then-candidate Barack Obama won one of Nebraska's five electoral votes in 2008, suggesting there are some Democrats in the eastern part of the state.
* Daniel Pipes, a conservative veteran of five presidential administrations, wrote an op-ed this week declaring an end to his 44-year relationship with the Republican Party. Pipes cited, primarily, Trump's presidential nomination.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the media regarding donations to veterans foundations at Trump Tower in N.Y on May 31, 2016. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Trump thinks following the ADA is worthy of boasts

07/28/16 11:20AM

Of all the offensive comments Donald Trump has made, of all the insults, or all the vulgar moments, there's just something about his attack on Serge Kovaleski that stands out.
For anyone who's forgotten the circumstances, Trump claimed he saw Muslim Americans in New Jersey celebrating on 9/11. He was lying, but he kept repeating the claim, pretending fact is fiction, prompting journalist Serge Kovaleski to explain that there is simply no proof to substantiate Trump's bogus claim.
So, Trump mocked Kovaleski's physical disability at a rally, raising uncomfortable questions about just what kind of person the Republican presidential candidate really is.
This morning, the GOP candidate talked to Fox News' Brian Kilmeade, once again denying his mockery of the reporter, but also making a specific claim about his own record:
"I spend millions of dollars making buildings good for people that are disabled. Millions and millions of dollars. Do you think I'd ever do a thing like that?"
At first blush, that might even sound persuasive. If Trump, a developer, has invested millions to make buildings more accessible to people with disabilities, maybe those investments are worthy of praise.
Except, there's a small problem: Trump is boasting about something he's required to do under the law. It's called the Americans with Disabilities Act. Trump spending "millions and millions of dollars" wasn't an act of magnanimity; it was compliance with federal requirements he couldn't legally ignore.
Trump also put fire extinguishers in his buildings, but that doesn't reflect a personal commitment to fire safety.
Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback speaks to supporters in Topeka, Kansas, on Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Under Brownback, Kansas' credit faces another downgrade

07/28/16 10:40AM

It's been about six years since Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) announced his plan to conduct "a real-live experiment" with his state's economy. The far-right Kansan, working with a GOP-led legislature, would cut taxes far beyond what the state could afford, slash public investments, and wait for prosperity to flourish across every corner of the state.
None of that has happened. Not only have Kansas' job growth and economic growth lagged behind neighboring states, but a couple of years ago the state's bond rating was downgraded because of the fiscal mess Brownback created.
This week, as the Topeka Capital-Journal reported, it happened yet again.
A major rating agency on Tuesday downgraded Kansas' credit rating for the second time in two years because of the state's budget problems. S&P Global Ratings dropped its rating for Kansas to AA-, from AA, three months after putting the state on a negative credit watch. [...]
The ratings agency cited the state's lack of cash reserves, even after multiple rounds of budget adjustments over the past year. "The downgrade reflects what we believe to be structural budget pressures," S&P credit analyst David Hitchcock said in the agency's statement.
State Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D) told the Kansas Associated Press, "It's just the fundamental, ongoing budget crisis that's been caused by Sam Brownback's failed tax experiment. The sooner they acknowledge that, the better off this state will be."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Oct. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)

Dems suggest scrapping Trump's intelligence briefings

07/28/16 10:00AM

A few weeks ago, in an unusually silly display, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) formally urged Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to block Hillary Clinton's intelligence briefings ahead of the election. It didn't take long for Clapper to dismiss the appeal as nonsense.
But the practice of providing intelligence briefings to the major-party nominees remains very much on the political world's mind. Donald Trump, for example, during his ridiculous press conference yesterday, argued that Clinton shouldn't have access to sensitive information because her top aide, Huma Abedin, "is married to Anthony Weiner, who's a sleazeball and a pervert.... I don't like Huma going home at night and telling Anthony Weiner all of these secrets, OK?"
Remember, this was an actual argument, presented publicly, by the Republican Party's national nominee.
Soon after, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Huffington Post that Trump's Russian ties create an alarming complication when it comes to these pre-election briefings. "I would suggest to the intelligence agencies, if you're forced to brief this guy, don't tell him anything, just fake it, because this man is dangerous," Reid said. "Fake it, pretend you're doing a briefing, but you can't give the guy any information."
Soon after, a House Democrat took the additional step of formally requesting the executive branch "withhold classified materials and briefings from Donald Trump." Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the move in a press release late yesterday:
"The Republican nominee's call for hostile foreign action represents a step beyond mere partisan politics and represents a threat to the republic itself.  It suggests that he is unfit to receive sensitive intelligence, and may willingly compromise our national security if he is permitted to do so," wrote Cicilline. "With this in mind, I respectfully ask that you withhold the intelligence briefing to Mr. Trump in the interests of national security."
The letter went on to say Trump's volatile actions "warrant a re-examination of his access to this sensitive intelligence. [Yesterday's remarks from Trump] reflect more than just a lack of good judgment -- it is an explicit call for intervention from an adversarial foreign power to undermine the American democratic process, and represents an action just short of outright treason."
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and rival candidate Donald Trump argue at the same time at the debate in Detroit, Mich., March 3, 2016. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Marco Rubio endorses presidential on-the-job training

07/28/16 09:20AM

Clearly, foreign-policy experts weren't impressed when Donald Trump publicly called on Russia to intervene in the American presidential election. But what about Republican officials themselves?
NBC News' Chuck Todd noted on the air yesterday, "What surprised me today is the lack of Republican outrage.... This is a violation of the sovereignty of this country." The "Meet the Press" host added, in reference to GOP officials, "I'm surprised, frankly, that they haven't dropped the hammer and sickle on him."
Those who wondered whether Trump may have finally gone too far this time quickly learned, however, that Republican leaders would not let principle and propriety get in the way of partisanship. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, made clear he's sticking with Trump, even after yesterday's jaw-dropping rhetoric.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said through a spokesperson, "Russia is a global menace led by a serious thug. Putin should stay out of this election." The GOP leader was not, however, willing to comment on Trump's remarks -- which is no small detail given that the presidential hopeful, whom Ryan supports, pushed the opposite line yesterday.
And then there was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), making the case yesterday that Trump will become more competent eventually. BuzzFeed reported:
"I view the Senate as a place that can always act as a check and balance on whoever the next president is," Rubio said on WGN radio on Wednesday. "I also think there's something to be said for, once you're actually in that position, once you're actually working at this thing, and you're in there, and you start to have access to information that perhaps you didn't have before, especially for someone that's never been in politics, I think it starts to impact your views a little bit."
"And that's my sense of it, as he settles into this role as the nominee and ultimately the president, access to these issues is going to begin to, in some ways, kind of shape some of the policy positions given reality versus perhaps what you might read about on a blog somewhere."
As BuzzFeed's report added, Rubio went on to say it's an "open question" whether Trump will become more informed on the issues.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump departs from a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Fla., on July 27, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump's 'assault on the Constitution' startles experts

07/28/16 08:40AM

It's generally difficult to surprise hardened, cynical political observers who feel, justifiably, that they've seen it all. But yesterday, much of the political world seemed genuinely caught off guard when Donald Trump publicly called for Russia to intervene in an American election.
As MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin summarized, "The charge that Donald Trump has effectively allied his campaign with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin would sound like a crackpot conspiracy theory if it didn't come from Trump's own mouth."
The New York Times reported today:
There is simply no precedent for this: A presidential candidate publicly appealing to a foreign adversary to intervene in the election on his behalf.
"This is unprecedented — it is one of those things that seems to be genuinely new in international relations," said Paul Musgrave, a University of Massachusetts professor who studies American foreign policy.
After a long pause, Mr. Musgrave added, "Being shocked into speechlessness is not the sort of thing you're really used to in the business of foreign policy analysis."
Musgrave isn't the only expert who seems gobsmacked. Dr. Eliot A. Cohen, a veteran of the Bush/Cheney State Department, told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent Trump's comments were "appalling."
William Inboden, who served on George W. Bush's National Security Council, told Politico the comments were "an assault on the Constitution." The same article quoted Philip Reiner, a former National Security Council official in the Obama administration, saying of Trump's rhetoric, "Of course it's a national security threat."
Michael Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency under George W. Bush, told BuzzFeed what Trump said was "incredibly stunning" and "very dangerous."
President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave to the crowd at the Democratic National Convention, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Penn. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty)

Obama passes the baton while scorching Trump

07/28/16 08:00AM

One of the challenges Democrats face when taking on Donald Trump is choosing which of his many flaws to focus on first. The list is daunting: Do you go after the Republican nominee's inexperience? His ignorance? His brazen dishonesty? Do you target his bigotry? His private-sector failures? What about his radical ideas? And his affection for authoritarian dictators?
At the Democratic National Convention, President Obama didn't choose any of these, preferring a broader theme: Donald J. Trump just doesn't understand what make America great. In fact, the GOP candidate is so wrong about the country, that his election would threaten the American experiment itself.
Much of the speech was focused, appropriately, on the president's praise of Hillary Clinton, and by any measure, Obama made the case for his former Secretary of State better than anyone has before.
But the president's denunciation of Trump's vision and values was as complete as any you have (or will) hear.
"Ronald Reagan called America 'a shining city on a hill.' Donald Trump calls it 'a divided crime scene' that only he can fix.... He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.
"And that's another bet that Donald Trump will lose. And the reason he'll lose it is because he's selling the American people short. We're not a fragile people. We're not a frightful people. Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don't look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union.
"That's who we are. That's our birthright -- the capacity to shape our own destiny."
It's important to appreciate the irony: Trump has spent much of the last eight years questioning whether the president actually appreciates what it means to be an American. Last night was Obama's opportunity to not only answer the question, but also to turn the table.
Obama evokes 'changed America' in speech

President Obama evokes 'changed America' in speech

07/27/16 11:55PM

President Obama delivered a speech that was starkly different than Donald Trump's address at the RNC; it was one that painted an inspired and strong America, rather than a dark and desperate one. MSNBC's Joy Reid thinks it may have been his best speech yet. watch