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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.24.19

05/24/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The effects of the high court's shift to the right will be felt for a very long time: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday blocked lower court rulings that invalidated, as partisan gerrymanders, Ohio's map for congressional districts and Michigan's maps for congressional and state legislative districts."

* May's last day is two weeks away: "Theresa May has announced she will step down as U.K. prime minister after failing to win support for her plan to withdraw from the European Union."

* Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) singlehandedly derailed the bill, at least temporarily: "The House on Friday failed to pass the Senate-passed $19 billion bill providing disaster aid funding to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires after a Republican lawmaker objected."

* I'm not sure what these troops will be asked to do: "The United States is sending 1,500 more troops to the Middle East, President Donald Trump said Friday, amid simmering tensions with Iran."

* A policy moving in the wrong direction: "North Korea said Friday that nuclear negotiations with the United States will never resume unless the Trump administration moves away from what Pyongyang described as unilateral demands for disarmament."

* Another step backwards: "The Trump administration moved Friday to roll back Obama-era protections for transgender patients, the third rule change issued this month that LGBTQ advocates say will sanction discrimination against transgender people."

* The latest abortion ban: "Missouri's Republican Gov. Mike L. Parson on Friday signed legislation banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy with an exception for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest."

* In related news: "A federal judge on Friday blocked a Mississippi law that banned abortions once a fetus's heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy."

* In case you missed last night's show: "Special counsel Robert Mueller has expressed interest in giving private testimony to Congress about his two-year investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election."

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As Trump departs, his aides 'dread' traveling with him

05/24/19 03:46PM

Donald Trump boarded Air Force One this afternoon and left for Japan. It's the kind of overseas trip that many White House officials would probably clamor to be a part of.

Or in this case, perhaps not. CNN reported that "several" members of the president's team "do their best to avoid" trips like these.

Not always an eager traveler, Trump has complained in the past about the pace of his foreign travel or the accommodations arranged for him abroad. It's his aides, however, who sometimes dread boarding Air Force One for a lengthy flight overseas, knowing full well the boss will make little use of the bed wedged into the nose of the plane.

"It's like being held captive," one official said of traveling with the President on Air Force One.

CNN's report paints a picture that's both unflattering and incredibly easy to believe. For example, Trump likes to spend hours "reviewing cable news coverage recorded on a TiVo-like device," and he's been known to wake aides to "devise a response to something he saw in the media."

After arriving in a foreign country, Trump has also been known to grow frustrated if he lacks access to Fox News, so the White House Communications Agency has arranged for "a streaming service" that allows him "to keep up with his favorite programs."

CNN's report added, "Trump prefers trips where he is the guest of honor," as compared to larger gatherings of many international leaders. With this in mind, consider what the president bragged about at a White House event yesterday on agriculture and trade:

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Trump slams Pelosi while simultaneously asking for her help

05/24/19 02:40PM

The newly revised NAFTA -- which is apparently supposed to be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) -- is a rather unique issue. In fact, while much of Donald Trump's legislative agenda is dead, the renegotiated NAFTA is the one priority the president expects Congress to advance ahead of the 2020 elections.

That won't be an easy lift, but White House officials have nevertheless spent recent months doing something unfamiliar: they've reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), trying to persuade her on the plan's merits, and hoping to get her help advancing the plan through Congress.

For her part, the California Democrat realizes this gives her some leverage over Trump, which is why she's been weighing what to ask for in exchange for passing the president's top legislative priority.

All of which set the stage for yesterday, when Trump said the House Speaker isn't smart enough to understand his tremendous trade deal.

"I don't think Nancy Pelosi understands the deal. It's too complicated. But it's not a complicated deal. It's actually not a complicated deal. [...]

"I just don't know what she's going to do with USMCA. It's going to be one of the great trade deals of all time.... We made a great deal. But whether or not Pelosi understands it, or whether -- I don't think she's capable right now of understanding it. I think she's got a lot of problems."

He went on to call the Democratic leader "Crazy Nancy," before adding, "She's lost it." In reference to the trade deal, Trump, who appears to know very little about the details of the agreement, also said, "She's got to get up to snuff, learn the bill.... Pelosi does not understand the bill. She doesn't understand it. "

It's easy to push back against the cheap rhetoric and explain that Pelosi, in reality, is not experiencing some kind of mental decline. It's equally easy to note the irony of these kinds of allegations coming from Donald Trump, of all people.

But what's especially interesting is the president's legislative strategy. The Republican is effectively telling Congress' most powerful lawmaker, "I need your help to pass this trade deal, which you're too crazy and dumb to understand."

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

Trump confronts corruption concerns over proposed border wall

05/24/19 12:47PM

As a rule, one of the most glaring problems with Donald Trump's plan to build a giant border wall is the frequency with which he lies about it. Just this week, the president boasted at a campaign rally, "The wall is being built as we speak. We'll have almost 500 miles of wall by the end of next year." As the Associated Press noted soon after, this was not a claim the public should take seriously.

Indeed, the "almost 500 miles" claim is an escalation from a month ago, when the Republican told the NRA, "We will have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year." That wasn't true, either.

But Trump's public deceptions are only part of the problem. The Washington Post published a new report overnight on concerns about the the president corrupting the contracting process.

President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials.

In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, according to the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions. The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials.

Well, yes, I imagine it did alarm military commanders and DHS officials. There's no reason in the world for a president to pressure federal officials to hire a specific contractor.

And yet, that's exactly what Trump has reportedly done. In fact, the Post reported that Pentagon officials were summoned yesterday, told the president wanted to discuss the border barrier, and at the meeting, Trump "immediately brought up Fisher."

It's worth understanding why.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.24.19

05/24/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Monmouth University poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) holding onto his lead in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 33 to 15%. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were the only other candidates to reach double digits, with support of 11% and 10%, respectively.

* After Donald Trump attacked Biden this week for moving with his family to Delaware as a fourth grader, the Democrat's campaign turned the president's odd rhetoric into a new fundraising appeal.

* Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) sparked a fierce intra-party backlash this week after endorsing Trump's impeachment, including drawing a primary rival in his Michigan district. Nevertheless, Amash reiterated his assessment yesterday in a relatively detailed statement.

* Speaking of primaries, Trump's Republican primary challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, started fleshing out his electoral plan yesterday. The longshot presidential contender said his operation is focusing on 20 nominating contests, where he hopes to win crossover votes from Democrats who can vote in GOP primaries.

* On a related note, in the latest Monmouth University poll out of New Hampshire, Weld only had 12% support among GOP voters in the Granite State. New Hampshire will hold the nation's first primary in February.

* As many McDonald's workers go on strike, a variety of Democratic presidential candidates are scrambling to show their support.

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Image: Trump speaks at Trump Tower in New York

Throwing around 'treason' allegations, Trump starts naming targets

05/24/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump has been alarmingly aggressive in accusing federal law enforcement of "treason" -- a development without precedent in modern American history. Yesterday, NBC News' Peter Alexander followed up on this rhetoric by asking the president to be more specific.

From the official White House transcript:

ALEXANDER: Sir, the Constitution says treason is punishable by death. You've accused your adversaries of treason. Who specifically are you accusing of treason?

TRUMP: Well, I think a number of people. And I think what you look is that they have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person.

ALEXANDER: Who are you speaking of?

TRUMP: If you look at Comey; if you look at McCabe; if you look at probably people -- people higher than that; if you look at Strzok; if you look at his lover, Lisa Page, his wonderful lover -- the two lovers, they talked openly.

At a certain level, I suppose this starts to appear routine. In 2019, Americans are just accustomed to having a president who likes accusing people of capital crimes -- without evidence or regard for culpability.

But the familiarity of the circumstances isn't a credible defense. None of the people Trump lashed out at yesterday committed treason. He may have convinced himself otherwise, but that's partly because Trump still doesn't know what "treason" means.

Also note the president's casual assertion that "people higher" than the FBI director and deputy director may be guilty of the same crime. That's a very small universe of individuals, which appears to include former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Barack Obama.

Are we to assume they're the next people who'll face similar allegations from the erratic president?

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Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson poses for a photograph before speaking with The Associated Press in his home in Upperco, Md., Dec. 23, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

As Carson struggles at HUD, some lawmakers call for his resignation

05/24/19 10:40AM

Ben Carson, who never really wanted to be a cabinet secretary, isn't faring well as the nation's secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Last week, for example, the Government Accountability Office determined that Carson broke the law when he ordered a $30,000 dining room table set for his office and an $8,000 dishwasher for his office kitchen.

That's separate, of course, from the ethics investigation Carson is facing.

The secretary's top policy goal -- the creation of "EnVision Centers" -- has become something of a fiasco, and just this week, Carson made clear during congressional testimony that he still doesn't understand the basics of housing policy, despite overseeing U.S. housing policy at the federal level for the last two years.

The day after the testimony, Carson defended his plan to evict tens of thousands of undocumented children from public housing by arguing that many of his critics are pro-choice, and are therefore "hypocrites" for saying they care about children.

Not surprisingly, some lawmakers have decided it's time for this debacle to end.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) on Thursday called for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to resign, saying he is "inept" and lied to Congress about rule changes affecting transgender people.

Wexton asked Carson this week whether he intends to eliminate the "equal-access rule," that "ensures equal access to individuals in accordance with their gender identity" in HUD programs. He replied, "I'm not currently anticipating changing the rule."

The next day, HUD unveiled a new anti-trans rule.

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Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

As Trump gives Barr new powers, critics call scheme 'un-American'

05/24/19 10:02AM

Donald Trump routinely argues that federal officials "spied" on his campaign, committed "treason," and tried to "overthrow" a democratically elected administration. Most sensible observers realize that the president's hysterical rhetoric should not be taken seriously.

Attorney General Bill Barr is not one of those sensible observers. On the contrary, Trump's handpicked AG has begun a review of how the investigation into the Russia scandal began, as part of a process that treats the White House's conspiracy theories as if they have merit.

It's against this backdrop that Trump made some news fairly late last night, expanding Barr's power.

President Donald Trump has directed the U.S. intelligence community to "quickly and fully cooperate" with Attorney General William Barr's investigation of the origins of the multi-year probe of whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

The move Thursday marked an escalation in Trump's efforts to "investigate the investigators," as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump.

A White House statement on Trump's new directive said the president has "delegated full and complete authority" to the attorney general "to declassify information pertaining to this investigation."

I think it's fair to say much of the political world is still coming to terms with the practical effects of what, exactly, the White House has done, though House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was understandably alarmed.

"While Trump stonewalls the public from learning the truth about his obstruction of justice, Trump and Barr conspire to weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies," Schiff wrote on Twitter. "The coverup has entered a new and dangerous phase. This is un-American."

Meanwhile, David Laufman, who was the head of counterintelligence at the Justice Department under President Obama, told us last night that Trump's move is "a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community to further his goal of political retribution, made worse by the spectacle of the Justice Department as his handmaiden."

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