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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.17.19

05/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A great bill that will die in the Republican-led Senate: "The House on Friday passed a sweeping LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill that would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit."

* The latest missed deadline: "The Treasury Department said Friday that it would not comply with congressional subpoenas to provide six years of President Donald Trump's tax returns."

* DACA: "The federal appeals court ruled Friday the Trump administration acted in an 'arbitrary and capricious' manner when it sought to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation."

* A step in the right direction: "The U.S. will lift the steel and aluminum tariffs it imposed on Canada last year, President Donald Trump announced Friday, while Canada will, in turn, withdraw the retaliatory tariffs it had levied on billions of dollars of American imports."

* Richard Strauss: "An Ohio State team doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students from 1979 to 1996, and school officials failed to take appropriate action despite being aware of numerous reports of the physician's misconduct over the 17-year period, according to an investigative report released Friday."

* Brexit: "Bipartisan talks on extricating Britain from the European Union collapsed on Friday, when the opposition Labour Party pulled out, ending the latest attempt to salvage the beleaguered Brexit process and leaving it in a familiar state of deadlock."

* A Republican state senator argued this week, in reference to late-term abortions, "Of course it should be hard! And the procedure should be painful! And you should allow God to take over!! And you should deliver that baby!"

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump suggests federal law enforcement is guilty of 'treason'

05/17/19 04:46PM

It was just last week when FBI Director Chris Wray, whom Donald Trump chose for the job, balked when asked if federal law enforcement "spied" on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. "That's not the term I would use," Wray said during Senate testimony. He added that he hasn't seen "any evidence" to bolster claims of "illegal surveillance" against the president's political operation.

This morning, Trump came to a very different conclusion.

"My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!"

Let's take a minute to consider each of these points individually.

"My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on." I don't know how the president defines words like "conclusively" or "spied," but this remains difficult to take seriously. There was, to be sure, an investigation into the Russia scandal, and the Russia scandal involved Trump's political operation, but there is no evidence of illegal surveillance. In fact, given what we know, the claim is rather bizarre.

"Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics." Well, it's true that Americans have never had to confront circumstances in which a foreign adversary attacked our elections in the hopes of putting a specific candidate in power. It's also true that the circumstances never warranted an investigation like this into suspected wrongdoing. But if Trump thinks this dynamic makes him look better -- or more to the point, look like a victim -- he's badly misreading this situation.

"TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!" No, it wasn't. Trump keeps using that word, despite not knowing what it means.

In fact, this latest instance is arguably more offensive that the president's usual confusion, because of who, exactly, Trump is targeting.

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Missouri State Capitol

Ahead of abortion-ban vote, Republican references 'consensual rape'

05/17/19 04:03PM

Last month, Ohio Republicans approved a new abortion ban. Last week, Georgia Republicans went even further. A few days later, Alabama Republicans passed the most extreme abortion ban in recent memory.

Today, it was Missouri Republicans' turn.

Missouri's Republican-led House passed a bill banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy with an exception for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson is likely to sign the bill.... Under the bill, which passed in the House by 110 to 44, doctors who perform an abortion after the eight-week cutoff could face five to 15 years in prison.

According to an Associated Press report, during the legislative debate in Missouri, Republican Rep. Barry Hovis said that in his experience as a law-enforcement official, most sexual assaults weren't strangers "jumping out of the bushes," but were instead "date rapes or consensual rapes."

The GOP lawmaker later apologized, said he misspoke, and conceded, "There is no such thing as consensual rape."

Missouri, of course, was home to a competitive U.S. Senate race seven years ago, which then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) lost after making offensive comments about abortion and "legitimate rape."

Regardless, there's no reason to see the recent state legislative efforts as some kind of fluke or political accident. What's unfolding is the result of a deliberate strategy.

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William Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2019.

AG Bill Barr doesn't bother with the pretense of propriety

05/17/19 03:02PM

Last October, when the fate of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination was uncertain, the conservative jurist scrambled to find his political footing. To that end, Kavanaugh adopted a specific media strategy, doing an interview with Fox News and writing a piece for the Wall Street Journal.

The choices were not accidental. Fox News, of course, is closely aligned with Republican politics, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is arguably the most GOP-friendly space in all of major American print media.

Seven months later, Attorney General Bill Barr is under fire for a series of abuses, which yesterday led him to turn to ... you guessed it ... Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, what the Republican lawyer said is more important than the outlets he spoke to, and in this case, Barr drifted into some rather strange waters. As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake explained:

In both a Wall Street Journal interview and another with Fox News, Barr cited the need to understand whether the U.S. government had put its "thumb on the scale" during the 2016 election. He told Fox that "there were some very strange developments" during the 2016 transition period. He said the answers he's getting have been "inadequate" and "not sufficient."

One of his more noteworthy and telling comments was about the Steele dossier. This was the document used to secure a FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. "It's a very unusual situation to have opposition research like that, especially one that on its face had a number of clear mistakes and a somewhat jejune analysis, and to use that to conduct counter-intelligence against an American political campaign is a strange --," he said.

Barr then seemed to check himself and scale back his connecting of the dots, "-- would be a strange development. I'm not sure what role it played, but that's something we have to look at."

If we heard a congressional Republican make comments like these, it'd barely be worth a mention. GOP lawmakers peddle White House talking points every day and pay little attention when they're discredited.

But the attorney general should know better. In fact, it's entirely possible Barr does know better, but is reading from the partisan script because Donald Trump's political agenda requires it.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.17.19

05/17/19 12:00PM

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

* Following state-based developments on abortion rights, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) presented a plan this morning intended to protect reproductive care for American women. It calls for, among other things, repealing the Hyde Amendment.

* On a related note, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), another Democratic presidential contender, appeared yesterday at Georgia's state capitol, where she led a round-table discussion on the impact of anti-abortion laws.

* Larry Grisolano and John Del Cecato of AKPD Message and Media, who worked with Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, have joined Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign. Tyler Law, a former DCCC press secretary, has also joined the mayor's team.

* Georgia's Stacey Abrams (D) still hasn't decided on what office she intends to run for next, but the former state senator wrote a striking New York Times op-ed this week on voting rights.

* The latest national Fox News poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) with a sizable advantage in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) 35% to 17%. Elizabeth Warren was third with 9%, followed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) with 6% and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 5%.

* The latest poll out of South Carolina found Biden ahead of Sanders by an even larger margin, 46% to 15%.

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President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

The problem with Trump micromanaging his plans for the border

05/17/19 11:20AM

There are different explanations for why Jimmy Carter's presidency wasn't a success, but one of the principle criticisms of the Georgia Democrat was his micromanaging tendencies. So much of the American presidency is about delegating and making sound judgments about what matters and what doesn't. It was a part of the job Carter famously struggled with.

This came to mind reading the Washington Post's new report on Donald Trump giving his team hyper-specific directives on the details of the administration's new border fencing.

The barrier that President Trump wants to build along the Mexico border will be a steel bollard fence, not a concrete wall as he long promised, and the president is fine with that. He has a few other things he would like to change, though.

The bollards, or "slats," as he prefers to call them, should be painted "flat black," a dark hue that would absorb heat in the summer, making the metal too hot for climbers to scale, Trump has recently told White House aides, Homeland Security officials and military engineers.

The article paints an almost comical picture of an obsessed president, barking instructions about the color of the barriers. And the shape of their tips. And their height. And what they should be called. And the number of gates. And the size of the gates. And the construction schedule. And "the minutiae of contracts."

The Republican's instructions haven't just been delivered in some kind of White House memo. No, that would be too easy. Instead, Trump reportedly makes his wishes known over the course of multiple meetings and phone calls, including early-morning discussions with former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

The Post added, "Trump often brought up the construction of the barrier at unrelated meetings, and aides learned to bring prep books -- and even sketches -- to address his questions."

At a certain level, it may be tempting to see this as behind-the-scenes trivia. If the president wants to play make-believe, and he enjoys pretending to be an expert on border-barrier construction, perhaps there's no harm in indulging him for a while. Indeed, if this keeps Trump busy, steering him away from areas in which he might do more harm, it might even be a good thing.

But it's not quite that simple.

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A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York

House Dems overcome GOP opposition, pass bill to lower drug costs

05/17/19 10:40AM

As divisive as health care debates can be on Capitol Hill, making prescription drugs more affordable is the sort of priority that's supposed to garner bipartisan support.

At least in theory, that is. In practice, as we were reminded yesterday, it didn't quite work out that way.

The House on Thursday passed a suite of health care bills that tied shoring up the Affordable Care Act to lowering drug prices, as Democrats tried to hold Republicans to their campaign promises to secure coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and rein in the cost of prescription medicine. [...]

By combining the bills to shore up the Affordable Care Act with several bipartisan measures to address high drug prices, Democrats had hoped to lure in some Republican support. But the minority party did not bite, calling the package "a bailout" for the health law and instead introducing a Republican bill that included only the drug-pricing measures, plus an extension of funding for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps.

The bill at hand was relatively modest, combining a few provisions to make it easier for generic drugs to enter the market, including restrictions on anti-competitive pharmaceutical behavior. In all, the legislation, if passed, would create savings of about $4 billion over the next decade.

Democrats designed the bill to apply those savings to related health care priorities, including bolstering funding for state-run ACA marketplaces.

Republicans said they were prepared to support the provisions related to lowering the cost of medications, but they weren't willing to go along with a bill that strengthened "Obamacare." Democrats responded that the GOP's irrational hatred for the Affordable Care Act didn't make sense, and Republicans don't really want to find themselves on the wrong side of a fight over making prescription drugs more affordable.

The House minority balked anyway. When the dust settled, the bill passed with relative ease -- 234 to 183 -- but only five House Republicans broke ranks and supported the legislation.

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Thurgood Marshall

65 years later, Trump nominees balk at Brown v Board questions

05/17/19 10:00AM

It was exactly 65 years ago today that the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous, landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, striking down school segregation, and making clear that "separate but equal" is inherently unequal. It was one of the most important judicial rulings in American history.

More recently, however, Donald Trump judicial nominees have been reluctant to say whether the justices got it right.

As regular readers may recall, the first sign of trouble came a year ago, when Wendy Vitter, one of the president's choices for the federal bench, was asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) whether Brown was "correctly decided." She didn't want to give a definitive answer. Andrew Oldham, a Trump nominee for the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, was asked the same question and answered the same way.

The Republicans' Senate majority seemed unfazed, narrowly confirming Oldham last year, and doing the same with Vitter's nomination this week. But as Laura Meckler and Robert Barnes noted in a new piece for the Washington Post, this has quickly become an unexpected norm.

For months, a Democratic senator has been asking Trump judicial nominees what appears to be a straightforward question: Was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that ended legalized school segregation, properly decided?

Legal scholars across the ideological spectrum say the answer is clearly yes. Still, more than two dozen nominees have declined to answer the question at a time when many schools remain segregated by race.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, I can appreciate at some level why would-be jurists want to convey their impartiality, especially during Senate confirmation hearings. One never knows what kind of cases might arise in his or her courtroom, so judicial nominees tend to be understandably cautious about taking sides on controversial issues.

Except in 2019, there's no reason to see state-sanctioned segregation as a controversial issue.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

New poll points to possible trouble for Trump's re-election

05/17/19 09:20AM

Three weeks ago, the latest economic data pointed to surprisingly strong economic growth. A week later, the unemployment rate in the United States reached a 50-year low. It was around this time that some of Donald Trump's media admirers started making the case that the president is not only on track to win a second term, he's likely to do so with relative ease.

And if economic data were the only factor shaping the next election's outcome, that might be a compelling argument. But it's not nearly that simple.

For one thing, it's difficult to say what economic conditions will be like a year and a half from now. For another, if the economy were the only metric that matters, Republicans wouldn't have been shellacked in the 2018 midterms, losing control of, among other things, the U.S. House.

What's more, if low unemployment were enough to bolster the president's support, Trump's approval rating would be 62%, not 42%.

But as important as these elements are, there's also all kinds of polling evidence that suggests the Republican incumbent is nowhere near where he should be at this point in the process. The New York Times reported this week that the Trump campaign's internal polling of 17 competitive states found the president trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in a head-to-head match-up.

A Fox News poll released yesterday pointed in a similarly discouraging direction for the Republican.

Among all registered voters, [Biden] leads Trump by 11 points (49-38 percent), up from a 7-point advantage in March. Biden's is the only lead outside the margin of sampling error in the matchups tested -- and he is the only Democrat to push Trump's support below 41 percent.

[Bernie] Sanders tops Trump by 5 points (46-41 percent) and [Elizabeth] Warren is up by two (43-41 percent), while [Kamala] Harris ties Trump (41-41 percent) and [Pete] Buttigieg trails him by one (40-41 percent).

The same poll found 28% of voters saying they're "definitely" prepared to vote for the president next year, as compared to 46% who "definitely" plan to vote against him.

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