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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waves following a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, July 27, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Longtime state lawmaker quits the GOP, joins Democrats

04/24/19 09:20AM

About three months ago, as his government shutdown dragged on, Donald Trump pretended that the whole fiasco was working out well for him and his party. Indeed, the president was convinced that the public was blaming Democrats for his own failed scheme.

"What's going on in that party is shocking," Trump said, referring to his Democratic opposition. "I know many people that were Democrats and they're switching over right now, and they're switching over quickly."

As we discussed at the time, whenever Trump points to unnamed "many people" he claims to know as anecdotal evidence, it's generally a safe bet that he's is sharing made-up nonsense. But even putting that aside, it's of interest that the only officials switching parties lately seem to be leaving the president's GOP behind. The Des Moines Register reported yesterday:

The longest-serving Republican in the Iowa Legislature said he's leaving the party, in part because of his disapproval with President Donald Trump.

Rep. Andy McKean, who represents Anamosa in the state House of Representatives, announced Tuesday that he plans to register as a Democrat and vote with the minority caucus.... "I think the party has veered very sharply to the right," McKean said. "That concerns me."

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a written statement, "Representative McKean didn't leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left him."

The party-switch doesn't change the balance of power in the Iowa state House, though the GOP majority is now down to 53 seats in the 100-member chamber.

But it's the larger pattern that seems especially noteworthy. Andy McKean's announcement in Iowa comes on the heels of a longtime Republican state senator in New Jersey also making the switch from the GOP to Democrats, insisting the Republican Party at the national level "has lost its way."

As regular readers may recall, that news came a week after a state lawmaker in California made the same switch from Republican to Democrat. A month earlier, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, also gave up on the Republican Party.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Facing tough questions, White House rejects congressional oversight

04/24/19 08:40AM

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn not only cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the Republican lawyer appears to have shared all kinds of interesting insights. McGahn spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Donald Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times noted yesterday, almost in passing, that president is inclined to attack McGahn as a way "to protect himself from impeachment."

With this in mind, congressional Democrats would like to hear from the former White House counsel, whom they subpoenaed this week to offer sworn testimony, and who has important information about his former boss' alleged felonies. As the Washington Post reported, Trump is fighting to prevent from lawmakers from speaking to McGahn.

President Trump on Tuesday said he is opposed to current and former White House aides providing testimony to congressional panels in the wake of the special counsel report, intensifying a power struggle between his administration and House Democrats.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump said that complying with congressional requests was unnecessary after the White House cooperated with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe of Russian interference and the president's own conduct in office.

To hear the president tell it, McGahn spoke to Mueller, so there's no need for McGahn to also speak with Congress. Cooperating with one investigation is enough, the argument goes, and cooperating with two investigations is excessive. To that end, the president is apparently prepared to assert executive privilege, claiming conversations between Trump and the former White House counsel must be shielded.

There's no shortage of problems with this, starting with the simple fact that it's too late to assert privilege. As Rachel explained on the show, McGahn has already addressed the private conversations he had with the president, and the details of those conversations have already been made public. To claim executive privilege after the fact is to try to unring a bell.

For that matter, it's odd to hear the president argue that the White House cooperated so fully with the Mueller probe, when we already know that isn't true.

But let's also not overlook the larger context. Trump told the Post there's "no reason" to cooperate with lawmakers. That's the opposite of the truth.

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Image: US-POLITICS-RUSSIA-PROBE-KUSHNER

Why Kushner's condemnation of the Mueller probe makes so little sense

04/24/19 08:00AM

The most basic element of the Russia scandal begins with a fairly obvious factual detail: a foreign adversary attacked our elections. Indeed, the second full sentence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report read, "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."

It is a fact that Donald Trump and his team continue to either deny or downplay the significance of. Take, for example, Jared Kushner's public comments yesterday at the Time 100 Summit.

"You look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, and it's a terrible thing," Kushner said. "But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads."

"I mean I spent about -- I think they said they spent about $160,000 -- I spent $160,000 on Facebook every three hours during the campaign," he continued. "So if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country."

The president found this delightfully impressive. That's s a shame, because Kushner's comments were both wrong and unsettling.

We know that the attack was part of a Russian intelligence operation. We know the operation was expansive and expensive. We know the operation included public events, advertising, rallies, p.r. stunts, outreach to domestic allies, and an aggressive social-media component. We know the efforts reached as many as 126 million people.

We know Russians did all of this (a) because they hoped it would work; and (b) because they wanted to put Donald Trump in a position of power.

To see this as "a couple of Facebook ads" is to embrace willful ignorance about a serious attack on the United States.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.23.19

04/23/19 05:29PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Prepare for a very problematic ruling: "The Supreme Court seemed willing Tuesday to let the Trump administration add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census form that goes to every U.S. household, despite claims from populous states that it would actually make the count less accurate."

* The delay could take a while: "The House Oversight Committee has agreed to postpone its deadline for a subpoena of President Trump's financial records until after a court rules on a lawsuit filed by the president on the matter, according to a court filing Tuesday."

* A rare sight: 'In a national first in the fight against the opioid crisis, a major drug distribution company, its former CEO and another top executive have been criminally charged in New York."

* The latest on the Easter attacks: "Sri Lanka's defense minister said Tuesday that the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks that killed at least 321 people were in retaliation for the recent Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand."

* In case you missed this yesterday: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., issued a subpoena Monday to President Donald Trump's former White House counsel Don McGahn for testimony and documents as part the panel's investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president and others."

* An underappreciated point: "Climate change creates winners and losers. Norway is among the winners; Nigeria among the losers. Those are the stark findings of a peer-reviewed paper by two Stanford University professors who have tried to quantify the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions on global inequality."

* Even for him, this was weird phrasing: "Trump claimed the New York Times had apologized to him after the 2016 election and that if they wanted his forgiveness again, they'd have to make a real gesture out of the apology: 'Get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness.'" (Keep in mind, the newspaper never apologized to him, and it's unclear why he keeps saying it did.)

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

In the White House, Trump's not the only one hiding his tax returns

04/23/19 04:10PM

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), exercising his authority under the law, recently told the Treasury Department to turn over Donald Trump's tax returns by April 10.

On April 10, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and his team were reviewing the request and weighing the "serious issues" surrounding compliance with the law. Chairman Neal, unimpressed, set a new deadline: close of business, April 23.

The White House indicated this morning that the president his team will ignore this deadline, too. Subpoenas and litigation will soon follow.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal raised an interesting point today, pointing to a related angle: whatever happened to Vice President Mike Pence's tax returns? Evidently, they're hidden from the public, too.

It is just as much of a break from his predecessors: Going back to Walter Mondale in the 1970s, all have disclosed their returns. Mr. Pence released 10 years of returns through 2015 during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Pence's office has said that he is following Mr. Trump's lead by refusing to release returns until audits are finished and has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the status of the audits.

At face value, this makes sense. If the vice president disclosed his tax returns to the public, while the president refused, it'd create a dynamic that the White House would struggle to explain. It's challenging enough for Team Trump to come up with some kind of coherent rationale to defend the president's secrecy -- it's been a few years, and the talking points still don't make sense -- and having Pence adopt his own superior standard for transparency would make a bad situation worse.

But the fact that there's presidential-vice-presidential uniformity doesn't make this any more defensible.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Lindsey Graham prepared to ignore Mueller report's findings

04/23/19 12:46PM

The Atlantic published an interesting piece this morning from J. W. Verret, a Republican law professor at George Mason University, who spent a few months serving on Donald Trump's transition team in 2016. Verret, who's also worked with Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, and the Republican-led House Financial Services Committee, spent the weekend reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report -- twice.

After he was done, the professor "realized that enough was enough," and he "needed to do something." That "something," it turns out, was Verret's call for impeachment proceedings against the president.

"Politics is a team sport, and if you actively work within a political party, there is some expectation that you will follow orders and rally behind the leader, even when you disagree," he wrote. "There is a point, though, at which that expectation turns from a mix of loyalty and pragmatism into something more sinister, a blind devotion that serves to enable criminal conduct."

Verret added that Mueller's findings were his "tipping point."

It may be tempting to think Verret won't have to stand alone among his GOP brethren. After all, everyone can read the same redacted version of the Mueller report and see for themselves the alleged crimes that the special counsel and his team uncovered. Surely there are still many principled Republicans willing to break with a president accused of felonies, right?

Not necessarily.

Senate Republicans say it's time to move on from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

While House Democrats are ramping up their investigations of President Donald Trump and asking that Mueller testify, Senate Republicans say they don't see the need to follow up on the Mueller report or bring him before their committees.

"I'm all good, I'm done with the Mueller report," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham in an interview with CNN in South Carolina. "We will have (Attorney General William) Barr come in and tell us about what he found. I made sure that Mueller was able to do his job without interference. The Mueller report is over for me. Done."

Graham is not just a random observer in this process.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.23.19

04/23/19 12:00PM

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

* MJ Hegar (D), who ran an impressive-but-unsuccessful U.S. House race in Texas last year, announced this morning that she's running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, hoping to take on incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R). Hegar may have an intra-party rival: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) is also eyeing the race.

* The latest University of New Hampshire of Granite State Republicans found Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading the pack with 30%, while former Vice President Joe Biden (D) is second with 18%, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) is third with 15%. No other candidate reached double digits.

* For what it's worth, the same poll found Donald Trump with 76% support among New Hampshire Republicans, while former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld was left with just 5%.

* In national 2020 polling, the latest Monmouth poll of Democrats found Biden leading his party's field with 27%, followed by Sanders with 20%. Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) were tied for third with 8% each, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 6%. Every other candidate was below 5% in this survey.

* Kamala Harris made a little news last night, announcing her support for an impeachment inquiry into the president, and arguing that she believes new gun measures can be implemented through executive actions.

* Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also broke new ground, vowing not to use stolen and/or hacked materials from foreign adversaries in her 2020 campaign.

* Yesterday, the Democratic National Committee made the same commitment, and pressed the Republican National Committee to follow suit.

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Barack Obama, George W. Bush

One of Trump's favorite economists blames Great Recession on Obama

04/23/19 11:20AM

Last week, Republican economist Art Laffer told Fox News that Barack Obama "was the reason why we had the Great Recession." As Laffer argued, there was a global economic crisis because investors were panicked by the prospect of an Obama presidency.

This morning, the Republican economist returned to Fox News, where he peddled the same ridiculous line.

"[I]f you'll remember, coming into the election in 2008, when Obama started rising in the polls and doing well in the polls, the stock market crashed. And the stock market tells you what will be, not what has been. The stock market looks forward.

"And if they see an Obama coming into office, they'll crash, and that's what led to the Great Recession."

Laffer added that if he thinks Donald Trump is likely to lose, he'll start moving his investments away from the market.

I have so many, many questions.

If the Great Recession started in December 2007, and Barack Obama was widely seen as an underdog for the Democratic nomination at the time, how exactly would any sensible observer think he caused the downturn?

Is Art Laffer familiar with the word "causation"?

Does Laffer understand the actual causes behind the 2008 crash?

Does he recognize the differences between stock-market indexes and the economy at large?

Following the reasoning he shared with a national television audience, does Laffer look at stock-market growth from 2009 and 2010 -- in percentage terms, Wall Street gains were faster in Obama's first two years than in Trump's first two years -- as proof of the Democratic president's economic genius?

Why in the world do Republicans still listen to Laffer?

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Despite Trump's threats, Dems proceed with investigations

04/23/19 10:40AM

There's a meaningful difference of opinion among many congressional Democrats about how best to investigate Donald Trump now that the Mueller report has been released. For some, a formal impeachment inquiry, initiated through the Judiciary Committee, is the only responsible course in light of the alleged crimes uncovered by the special counsel.

For others, including the House Democratic leadership, the fact-finding process must continue, but it can and should be done through existing oversight mechanisms.

This is not a disagreement over whether to investigate the president and his alleged misdeeds, but rather, how. Either way, as Roll Call noted, there's no denying the fact that the process is moving forward.

House Democrats are starting to follow leads laid out in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report as their own investigations into President Donald Trump continue.

The caucus held a conference call Monday evening in which the six committee chairs who are investigating various matters involving Trump updated members on their next steps now that Mueller has concluded his investigation.

According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close White House ally, House Dems will move forward with a "stampede" to impeach the president. If that's true, it's the slowest moving stampede anyone's ever seen.

But as the process advances, I have a separate question: whatever happened to those threats Trump made in the hopes of scaring Democrats away from conducting oversight?

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump's odd expectations: he'd like to be 'immune from criticism'

04/23/19 10:04AM

When Donald Trump reflects on his understanding of history, trouble soon follows. After all, the president has talked about Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the U.S. civil war, and in each instance, Trump ended up embarrassing himself.

And yet, the Republican continues to think he knows enough about history to make astute observations. Take this morning, for example, when Trump published this to Twitter:

"In the 'old days' if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, 'It's the economy stupid.'

"Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history...and to the Mainstream Media, it means NOTHING. But it will!"

Let's not dwell on the minor factual errors, including the fact that the current economy isn't even close to being the "greatest" in history. In fact, it's not quite as strong as it was in 2015.

What's more important is the fact that Trump is offering an interesting peek into his expectations. In his mind, a healthy economy should necessarily immunize a president from criticism. After all, the president argued, that's the way it worked in the "old days."

In case this isn't obvious, no American president has ever been "immune from criticism," regardless of the economic conditions of the day. Bill Clinton was president when the economy boomed, and he not only faced criticism, he was also impeached (for misdeeds that pale in comparison to Trump's misdeeds).

More recently, Barack Obama rescued the economy from the Great Recession, but that didn't stop some clown from running around peddling a racist conspiracy theory about his birth certificate.

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