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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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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Losing yet another fight, Trump backs down on disaster-relief funding

05/24/19 09:20AM

Congress' disaster-relief package has been stuck in Congress for months because Donald Trump had some specific demands: he wanted the legislation to include billions of dollars for the border, and he insisted the bill exclude additional aid for Puerto Rico.

How'd that work out for him?

The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan deal that would provide more than $19 billion in disaster aid funding to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, following months of negotiation.

Leaving a closed-door Senate Republican lunch earlier in the day, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters that ... he had spoken to President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon about the parameters of the deal, which excluded the $4.5 billion in border funding that the White House and the Republicans kept demanding. [...]

According to a breakdown of the bill from Shelby's office, it provided about $900 million to Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. That money would go toward nutrition assistance and a community development block grant, both of which were key Democratic priorities.

Oh. So Democrats are getting effectively all of what they wanted, while the White House is getting none of what it demanded.

Far-right lawmakers urged the president to reject the offer, but Trump apparently realized he'd lost. "I totally support it," he told reporters yesterday, referring to the package he needlessly delayed.

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A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

His trade agenda faltering, Trump unveils another bailout for farmers

05/24/19 08:40AM

When Donald Trump initially launched a series of trade tariffs, the White House realized that the president's agenda would hurt farmers. Officials argued, however, that farmers simply wouldn't mind shouldering the burden.

Indeed, Trump conceded his plan would cause "pain" for some Americans, but he believes they're willing to take one for the team. "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots," the president said last spring. "They understand that they're doing this for the country."

As we discussed at the time, in context, "this" appeared to mean "putting their business and livelihood" in jeopardy, confident that the president's plan would eventually pay off.

As the hardships intensified, Trump eventually agreed to a multi-billion-dollar bailout for the agricultural industry affected by his trade war. Yesterday, the Republican announced a second bailout. Bloomberg News reported:

President Donald Trump's new $16 billion aid package for farmers raises the federal government's bill for the trade-war but isn't easing anyone's concerns about damage to the U.S. economy. [...]

The Trump administration unveiled its latest package Thursday to help farmers hurt by the trade war with China, including $14.5 billion in market facilitation payments directly to producers and $1.4 billion in government purchases to be distributed through school lunch programs and local food banks. That brings to $28 billion the total trade assistance the U.S. has announced for agriculture.

Farmers can expect to receive their first aid payments by July or August, Agriculture Department officials said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. The final payment is scheduled for the beginning of the 2020 election year.

In case this isn't obvious, "market facilitation payments" is a delightful euphemism for "government bailout."

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Image: US President Trump leads listening session on human trafficking

Trump claims to be an 'extremely stable genius,' then proves otherwise

05/24/19 08:00AM

There was a point early last year in which Donald Trump's behavior was so erratic, a reporter felt compelled to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an official briefing whether Americans should be "concerned about the president's mental fitness." She initially responded by trying to change the subject.

Trump responded soon after by publishing a series of tweets in which the Republican described himself as "like, really smart." He added that he's "a very stable genius."

Yesterday, during an event ostensibly about agriculture and trade, the president upgraded his self-assessment: he's not just a "very stable genius"; he's now an "extremely stable genius." Trump then proceeded to prove the opposite.

Sometimes even the president of the United States needs somebody to vouch for him.

No, Trump insisted Thursday, he did not have a temper tantrum a day earlier when he cut off a White House meeting with congressional Democrats after just three minutes.

To prove it -- in the middle of a meeting with farmers -- he called on five members of his staff to bear witness to his demeanor.

One by one, his advisers dutifully stepped forward to testify, saying Trump had been "very calm," albeit "direct," in his meeting with the Democrats.

It was as bizarre as it sounds. The president began yesterday tweeting about his "extremely calm" demeanor during a meeting a day earlier in which he refused to discuss his own infrastructure plan with lawmakers. Hours later, Trump interrupted his own event on agriculture and trade to brag about his even-keeled temperament.

Soon after, he sought public testimonials from five members of his team, each of whom was asked to attest to how "calm" the president was while blowing up infrastructure talks. The unnerving display lasted for more than seven minutes.

I won't pretend to be a Shakespearean scholar, but the phrase "doth protest too much" keeps coming to mind.

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New Trump order 'a grotesque abuse': fmr DOJ counterintel chief

New Trump order 'a grotesque abuse': fmr DOJ counterintel chief

05/23/19 09:29PM

Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Donald Trump has issued a directive to the intelligence community to cooperate with William Barr in investigating the Trump-Russia investigation, and reports that David Laufman, former chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the DOJ, calls the directive "a grotesque abuse of... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.23.19

05/23/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from Missouri: "A deadly storm system swept across Missouri on Wednesday, killing at least three people in the southwestern part of the state and causing extensive damage and injuring multiple people in the capital city."

* The final vote on this was 85 to 8: "The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan deal that would provide more than $19 billion in disaster aid funding to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, following months of negotiation."

* Where things stand on the Hill: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues Thursday that President Donald Trump 'wants to be impeached' so that he can be vindicated by the Senate. Pelosi made the comments at a closed-door morning meeting, two Democratic aides told NBC News, who also said that Pelosi called Trump's actions 'villainous.'"

* Remember, we're supposed to believe this is the most transparent administration ever: "Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has mandated new restrictions on the way the Pentagon shares information with Congress about military operations around the world, a move that is straining ties with key Republican and Democratic lawmakers."

* Assange: "The Department of Justice on Thursday indicted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on 18 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and a case that could pose challenges to First Amendment protections."

* Ackerman McQueen later counter-sued in response to this: "The National Rifle Association sued its most prominent contractor on Wednesday, even as the gun group declared that it was 'now moving forward' from an ugly power struggle that had consumed its leadership at the highest levels."

* What an embarrassment: "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson seized the opportunity during a Wednesday morning interview on Fox Business Network to explain a blunder that took the media for a spin Tuesday afternoon."

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

The problem with Trump's argument about Democratic 'achomlishments'

05/23/19 12:47PM

When Donald Trump held an odd press conference at the White House yesterday, photographers were able to get a few shots of the president's handwritten notes. Among the talking points the Republican was eager to emphasize: "Dems have no achomlishments."

It is, to be sure, curious than a 72-year-old president with an Ivy League education -- a man who spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how impressed he is with his intellect -- isn't sure how to spell "accomplishments."

Trump's idiosyncratic use of the language notwithstanding, the underlying point is clearly important to the president, as evidenced by his latest tweets on the subject, including this one ...

"Zero is getting done with the Democrats in charge of the House."

... and this one.

"Democrats don't want to fix the loopholes at the Border. They don't want to do anything."

Broadly speaking, there are three main problems with this. The first is that it's demonstrably false.

Since the start of the year, the new House Democratic majority has wasted little time tackling its legislative priorities and passing a series of notable bills. The list includes approval of a disaster relief bill, the Equality Act, a bill to lower prescription drug costs, a couple of other health care bills, a landmark elections-reform package, and an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.

In the process, Dems have discredited the idea that lawmakers can't investigate and legislate at the same time.

Republicans will be quick to argue that none of these measure has cleared Congress and been signed into law. That's true, but it also leads us to the second problem: when Trump whines that "zero is getting done" on Capitol Hill, he's inadvertently condemning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.23.19

05/23/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Monmouth University poll found 60% of Americans don't think Donald Trump should be re-elected, while 37% believe he should get a second term. The gender gap stood out: among men, the president is -9, while among women, he's -36.

* After North Korea threw several verbal jabs at Joe Biden, the Democrat's campaign replied, "Given Vice President Biden's record of standing up for American values and interests, it's no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House."

* Under pressure from reproductive-rights advocates, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) yesterday canceled a scheduled fundraiser for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Lipinski is an opponent of abortion rights and is generally seen as one of Congress' most conservative Democrats.

* In the wake of Rep. Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) endorsement of Trump's impeachment, the DeVos family has decided to end its financial support for the Republican congressman. As the AP noted, the DeVos family is "politically powerful" in Amash's home state of Michigan.

* Newly uncovered video of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 1988 trip to the USSR is drawing scrutiny from multiple outlets, including Mother Jones and Politico.

* Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who won re-election last year despite being under criminal indictment, hasn't yet decided whether to run again in 2020, but he'll face a primary rival if he does. Christopher Jacobs, a Buffalo-area state senator, announced the other day that he's running in New York's 27th regardless of Collins' plans.

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