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E.g., 6/27/2019
E.g., 6/27/2019

In Democratic debate, presidential hopefuls put substance first

06/27/19 08:00AM

Nearly four years ago, 10 Republican presidential hopefuls gathered for their first primary debate of the cycle, and I spent a little time yesterday afternoon reviewing how it went. The event was worse than I'd remembered.

Donald Trump, for example, spent a little time going after Rosie O'Donnell. Ben Carson complained about "the Alinsky Model, taking advantage of useful idiots." Mike Huckabee talked about taxing "pimps" and ignoring Supreme Court rulings he doesn't like. At one point, Marco Rubio told the audience, "[I]f this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton's going to be the next president" -- which sounded an awful lot like the senator describing the Democrat as the most qualified candidate.

It was a discouraging, largely substance-free display, with candidates peddling obvious falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and cheap insults.

Nearly four years later, 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered for their first primary debate -- the first half of a two-night gathering -- and the differences between the parties was hard to miss. Mother Jones' Tim Murphy's big-picture take was very much in line with my own:

The first Democratic presidential debate didn't focus on electability. There were no questions from NBC's panel of moderators about polling numbers, gaffes, or the tone and rhetoric in Washington. For one night, it was as if President Donald Trump's Twitter account didn't even exist.

Instead, the 10 candidates who took the stage in Miami Wednesday night were peppered with a series of substantive questions about the policy fights that have consumed the party over the last two years. And they seemed perfectly content to talk about those issues.

Quite right. It's exactly how the process of choosing a major-party presidential nominee is supposed to work, with a heavy emphasis on substance, governing priorities, and policy visions.

In fact, perhaps the most contentious moment of the night was a dispute between Julian Castro and Beto O'Rourke, who disagreed over whether and how to implement Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. I'll leave it to others to argue over who "won" the exchange, but let's not miss the forest for the trees: there was a fairly heated exchange between two knowledgeable candidates over the merits of a specific policy provision.

It was emblematic of a serious group of people having a real debate over things that matter. After what Americans have seen from much of the political world of late, it was a refreshing change of pace.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.26.19

06/26/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Two U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said. The location and circumstances of the deaths were not immediately released."

* A heartbreaking image: "The man and his 23-month-old daughter lay face down in shallow water along the bank of the Rio Grande, his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl's head tucked inside. Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments."

* I hope you weren't too attached to any the programming on NRATV: "Moving to clean house amid an organizational crisis, the National Rifle Association cut ties with its second-in-command, Christopher W. Cox; severed its relationship with Ackerman McQueen, its estranged advertising firm; and shut down live production at its online media arm, NRATV."

* It's quite an operation: "The Trump administration's chief of protocol in the State Department has been pulled off the job just ahead of the G-20 summit amid an investigation into allegations of discrimination and harassment, U.S. officials said. He is not expected to return to his job."

* He gets worked up about the strangest things: "President Donald Trump blew up on Wednesday after Megan Rapinoe, star of the U.S. women's soccer team, said she's 'not going to the fucking White House' if her team wins the women's World Cup."

* On a related note: "In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump attempted to blast U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe -- who said in an interview that she's 'not going to the f**king White House' -- but tagged the wrong account."

* Not the first mistake of its kind: "The National Security Agency collected records about U.S. calls and text messages that it wasn't authorized to obtain last year, in a second such incident, renewing privacy concerns surrounding the agency's maligned phone-surveillance program, according to government documents and people familiar with the matter."

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Facing investigation from Dems, top EPA official resigns

06/26/19 04:11PM

Exactly two years ago this week, lobbyist Bill Wehrum convened a meeting with his clients in the power-plant industry. On the agenda was a discussion on how best to go after the Obama administration's safeguards on polluters.

As Politico later discovered, just months after that strategy session, Donald Trump tapped Wehrum to help oversee pollution regulations at the EPA.

It was a classic example of draining the swamp in reverse: the lobbyist who helped strategize with polluters on how best to fight environmental safeguards was the same lobbyist whose job it was to help oversee environmental safeguards. Indeed, as Politico uncovered, the Republican administration tasked Wehrum with duties specifically related to "climate change, smog, and power plants' mercury pollution."

For his part, the utility lobbyist insisted he adhered to existing ethics rules, and when Republicans led both chambers of Congress, there was limited official scrutiny of Wehrum's work history. (He was confirmed in 2017 with near-unanimous GOP support.)

That was then; this is now.

A top Environment Protection Agency official who helped lead the Trump administration's rollback of Obama-era restrictions of carbon emissions is resigning amid a congressional probe into whether he improperly aided former industry clients.

EPA Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum is expected to depart at the end of June. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Wehrum's resignation on Wednesday.

Ethics questions have dogged Wehrum since his 2017 nomination by President Donald Trump. He long represented the fossil fuels and chemical industries as a Washington lawyer. Narrowly confirmed by the Senate, Wehrum has helped lead EPA's rollbacks of clean air and carbon emissions regulations opposed by his former private-sector clients.

As the Associated Press reported, the Democratic-led House Energy and Commerce Committee started investigating Wehrum's work in April. Two months later, he decided to exit stage right.

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U.S. Senator John McCain, Immigration - 08/27/2013

Was Trump's 'far-less-green pastures' line directed at McCain?

06/26/19 03:01PM

In the wake of John McCain's passing last summer, Donald Trump has gone to surprising lengths to mock and condemn the late Arizona senator. What the president has not done, however, is say he's glad McCain is gone.

It was against this backdrop that Trump spoke this morning at a Faith and Freedom Coalition event -- a prominent annual gathering for the religious right movement -- and went a little off-script. In context, the Republican was talking about a fight to pass an immigration-reform package in the last Congress, at which point Trump said the following:

"[E]ven when we had both houses, where we had Congress, where we have the Senate and we had wonderful congressman, we had the House of Representatives and the Senate. But we didn't have enough votes because it was very close. We needed 60 votes, and we had 51 votes. And sometimes, you know, they had a little hard time with a couple of them, right?

"Fortunately they're gone now. They have gone on to greener pastures. Or perhaps far-less-green pastures. But they are gone. They are gone, Bill, I'm very happy they are gone."

In this case, "Bill" was an apparent reference to former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, who introduced Trump at the event.

For the record, when the president said "we had 51 votes" for an immigration bill, it's not altogether clear what he was referring to. In February 2015, the Senate took up several competing alternatives, but the only one that enjoyed the White House's backing ended up with 39 votes, not 51.

But putting that aside, the idea that Trump is "very happy" that one or more senators are gone, perhaps to "far-less-green pastures," raises a couple of possibilities.

The benign explanation is that the president was referring to former Republican senators like Tennessee's Bob Corker, Arizona's Jeff Flake, and Nevada's Dean Heller, each of whom were occasionally a thorn in the White House's side, and each of whom left Capitol Hill in January.

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Struggling under pressure, Trump falsely accuses Mueller of a crime

06/26/19 12:38PM

Last night, the Democratic chairs of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees announced a subpoena that will bring former Special Counsel Robert Mueller to Capitol Hill. On July 17, for the first time, Americans will see and hear Mueller answer questions about his investigation and its findings.

It was against this backdrop that Donald Trump did another phone interview with Fox Business this morning, and if the president's demeanor was any indication, he's not handling the developments especially well.

President Trump lashed out at the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, on Wednesday, dredging up false accusations about the conduct of investigators after House Democrats announced that Mr. Mueller would testify publicly next month.

The president offered no evidence as he repeated earlier accusations that Mr. Mueller destroyed text messages between two former F.B.I. officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who worked on the Russia investigation. "They're gone and that is illegal," Mr. Trump said of the texts in an interview with Fox Business Network. "That's a crime."

Mr. Trump was referring to a December Justice Department inspector general report that noted 19,000 text messages were lost because of technical problems, not intentionally deleted by Mr. Mueller or anyone.

There's literally nothing to suggest Mueller committed a crime, and it continues to be ridiculous that a sitting president routinely throws around false accusations of criminal activity, as if they were legitimate criticisms of his perceived foes.

But under the circumstances, the latest "Trump peddles weird lie on Fox" story is less interesting than the broader evolution of the president's antics.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.26.19

06/26/19 12:00PM

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

* I'm going to hope you know that the first Democratic presidential primary is tonight in Miami.

* On the eve of the first debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled her plan for electoral reforms, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote an op-ed fleshing out his foreign-policy principles.

* The Pennsylvania Republican Party was already facing troubles, but things took a turn for the worse this week when state GOP chair Val DiGiorgio resigned in the wake of a lurid scandal.

* In Arizona, appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) is apparently concerned about a primary rival ahead of her 2020 election, so Donald Trump endorsed her via Twitter yesterday.

* In North Carolina, a very similar dynamic is unfolding: Sen. Thom Tillis (R) is already facing a primary challenge, so the Republican president endorsed him, too.

* Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) will be among the handful of Democratic candidates not participating in this week's debates, but he has bought airtime for commercials during the events' commercial breaks. The congressman's ads are reportedly slated to run in states with early voting contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Latest DHS shake-up adds to chaotic conditions in the Trump admin

06/26/19 11:00AM

As the Trump administration faces an outcry over its border policies, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection announced yesterday that he's stepping down.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders told employees on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his post on July 5, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The resignation of Sanders, who became acting commissioner just two months ago, follows reports of children living in squalor at border stations where they often lack child care, bedding or even basic hygiene items.

If it seems as if the Department of Homeland Security has been losing top-level staff at a breakneck pace, it's not your imagination. Since April, we've seen Donald Trump part ways with his Homeland Security secretary (Kirstjen Nielsen), acting ICE chief (Ron Vitiello), acting Homeland Security deputy secretary (Claire Grady), Citizenship and Immigration Services director (Lee Cissna), and now his acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

In mid-April, Politico reported that congressional Republicans were "alarmed" and "blindsided" by the DHS purge and had begun urging Trump not to part ways with anyone else. The president apparently did not take that advice to heart.

In fact, Trump was asked by reporters yesterday whether John Sanders' departure was voluntary. The president didn't answer directly, instead saying, "I don't know anything about it. I hear he's a very good man. I hear he's a good person. I don't know him. I don't think I ever spoke to him."

So, Trump tapped Sanders to lead Customs and Border Protection two months ago; Sanders is now quitting; and the president never even had a conversation with him? Given all that's happening at the border, doesn't it seem unusual that Trump didn't even talk to his own handpicked official overseeing border-protection policies?

In case the game of musical chairs weren't quite dizzying enough, consider whom Trump is planning to choose as John Sanders' successor.

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The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Why it's tough to be optimistic about Sarah Sanders' successor

06/26/19 10:01AM

When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently announced her resignation -- her last day is Friday -- there was some speculation about whether Donald Trump would bother to hire her successor. The press secretary's principal responsibility is holding a daily briefing with reporters, and Trump and Sanders effectively scrapped that traditional practice.

Nevertheless, First Lady Melania Trump announced yesterday that her own communications director, Stephanie Grisham, will now serve as White House press secretary. One of the most surprising aspects of the news is just how many jobs Grisham will hold. The New York Times reported:

Ms. Grisham will also take on the added role of communications director, a job that has been vacant since the departure of Bill Shine in March, and will keep her role in the East Wing.

Dating back to Trump's presidential transition period, Grisham will be the seventh person the Republican has tapped to serve as the White House's communications director.

By some accounts, Grisham also intends to "maintain her current role as the first lady's chief spokeswoman."

There have been jokes for months about acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney holding multiple positions at once, and it now appears that those same jokes can apply to the president's new chief spokesperson.

Just as important is the degree to which Grisham fits in among her Team Trump colleagues. The Washington Post added:

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Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, questions Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as she testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.

GOP rep: children at migrant-detention facility are 'free to leave'

06/26/19 09:20AM

There have been all kinds of reactions from Americans confronted with heartbreaking reports about children suffering in migrant-detention facilities, but in general, congressional Republicans have said very little.

To his credit, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) was willing to speak with MSNBC's Chris Hayes about his perspective. Unfortunately, his defense of the status quo needed some work.

The GOP congressman addressed conditions at the Casa Padre shelter in Brownsville, Texas, a former Walmart store converted to house migrant children as young as 10. Burgess seemed to believe there's proof that conditions at the facility aren't that bad:

"You know what? There's not a lock on the door. Any child is free to leave at any time, but they don't. You know why? Because they are well taken care of."

I'm trying to imagine the practical effects of such an approach. Let's say there's a 10-year-old boy who finds the conditions at the Casa Padre shelter intolerable. Let's also say he follows Burgess' suggestion and decides to flee.

Then what? Is he supposed to call an Uber?

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Image: US-POLITCS-FBI-MULLER

Why the subpoena for Robert Mueller is so important

06/26/19 08:40AM

For those who've followed the investigation into the Russia scandal closely, it started to seem as if we'd never hear another word from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He'd issued a report; he'd delivered brief remarks; and Mueller made clear he had no interest in further addressing the probe or its findings -- in any forum, at any time, for any reason.

As you may have seen on last night's show, some in Congress are aware of the former special counsel's reticence, but they nevertheless have questions that need answers.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller has agreed to testify in public about his two-year Russia investigation at a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee on July 17. The announcement came from the chairmen of the two panels, who issued a subpoena compelling his testimony.

In a news release issued late Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Chairmen Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that Mueller had agreed to testify next month.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) conceded during an on-air interview with Rachel that the subpoena probably shouldn't be seen as a "friendly" one: Mueller doesn't want to do this.

But he'll honor the congressional subpoena anyway. Some of the logistical and procedural issues haven't yet been resolved, though it appears Mueller will testify -- on camera and in open session -- for both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, in back-to-back sessions on the same day. Schiff indicated last night that there will also be a closed-session hearing with members of the special counsel's team.

While those plans for the July 17 hearing come into sharper focus, the larger questions are also taking shape: what, exactly, can we expect to learn from Mueller? What will members ask?

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Republicans accept Trump's word following assault allegation

06/26/19 08:00AM

It's been nearly a week since E. Jean Carroll, a longtime writer and media figure, went public with her allegation that Donald Trump attacked her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. The president has denied the claim, arguing, among other things, that his latest accuser isn't his "type."

At a Capitol Hill press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about the propriety of Trump's posture. "I don't, I didn't, I haven't seen that," the Republican congressman said, adding, "I know the president has said this is not true. I haven't, know anything else about it."

Asked if he believes Trump's denial, McCarthy said, "Yes, I believe the president."

As Politico reported, there's a lot of that going around.

Republicans believe Donald Trump. They're not so sure about the woman.

The president's GOP allies in Congress are moving swiftly to dismiss new allegations of rape against him, arguing journalist E. Jean Carroll is eager to promote her new book and that Trump's denial of the alleged attack is credible.

"Quite honestly, as somebody who had a front-row seat to the Kavanaugh hearings, we've seen allegations that were false," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). "We'll let the facts go where they are, but I take [Trump's] statement at face value."

Igor Bobic, a HuffPost reporter, published a lengthy Twitter thread yesterday with quotes from a variety of GOP senators, most of whom had very little to say about Carroll's allegation. Some suggested they weren't even familiar with the controversy.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump critic turned cheerleader, added, "[T]he president's firmly denied it. That's the end of it for me unless she shows something new."

Or put another way, Trump's word is his bond. It's not as if the president has ever given anyone reason to question his honesty, right?

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