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A Burqa-wearing Afghan refugee crosses in front of demolished houses in the Khazana refugees camp outskirts of Peshawar on Oct. 24, 2016. (Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty)

Would the Trump admin effectively halt the US refugee program?

07/19/19 10:04AM

It's been nearly 40 years since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, creating standards for the protection and resettlement of foreigners fleeing violence and persecution. It's widely seen as a successful program -- though Donald Trump and his team tend to disagree.

About a year ago, the Republican administration capped the number of refugees eligible to resettle on American soil at 30,000. As the New York Times reported at the time, the number represented "the lowest ceiling a president has placed on the refugee program since its creation in 1980, and a reduction of a third from the 45,000-person limit that Mr. Trump set for 2018."

Politico reported overnight that the White House now has a new number in mind, which is lower than last year's ceiling -- which is to say, 100% lower.

The Trump administration is considering a virtual shutdown of refugee admissions next year -- cutting the number to nearly zero -- according to three people familiar with the plan.

During a key meeting of security officials on refugee admissions last week, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representative who is closely aligned with White House immigration adviser Stephen Miller suggested setting a cap at zero, the people said. Homeland Security Department officials at the meeting later floated making the level anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000, according to one of the people.

The proposal for a near-shutdown of the refugee program is alarming officials at the Department of Defense, who don't want to see a halt in admissions of Iraqis who risked their lives assisting U.S. forces in that country.

In practical terms, Trump wants to make the transition from dramatically curtailing refugee admissions to effectively ending refugee admissions.

The result, Politico added, "would strand thousands of people already far along in the process and damage the ability of resettlement agencies to process refugees in future years, according to advocates tracking the issue."

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Does Donald Trump know what the debt ceiling is?

07/19/19 09:20AM

During a brief White House Q&A yesterday, a reporter asked Donald Trump about the ongoing talks on raising the debt ceiling ahead of its looming deadline. "We're working on the debt ceiling," the president replied.

Asked if the negotiations are near an agreement, Trump ignored the question and started whining anew about Barack Obama.

"Don't forget, you know, the debt under President Obama added more debt than every president put together. So you're talking about a debt ceiling: President Obama added $10 trillion during his eight years. He doubled the debt. He added more debt than every president -- every single President put together. President Obama doubled -- more than doubled the debt.

"So we're talking about a debt ceiling. The previous president doubled the debt. And that's what we get stuck with. That's the way it is, folks."

It was an interesting peek into Trump's mind. He heard a question about the debt ceiling, which apparently led him to think about the debt, which then apparently led him to seize a perceived opportunity to complain once again about his immediate predecessor.

Also note how the Republican takes a couple of sentences and repeats them over and over again, as if that helps. The above transcript excerpt may look like a copy-and-paste error, but he really did repeat himself over the course of several seconds.

The fact that Trump's underlying claim is wildly misleading doesn't help matters.

But even if we put aside these relevant details, we're left with an awkward question: does the president know what the debt ceiling is?

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Demonstrators prepare signs supporting the raising of the federal minimum wage during May Day demonstrations in New York, N.Y., on May 1, 2014. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Dems challenge Republicans with major minimum-wage hike

07/19/19 08:40AM

Donald Trump has spent the last few months obsessing over a strange talking point. The new Democratic House majority, the president claims, is "getting nothing done." It's "frozen stiff." Democrats, Trump recently added, "don't want to do anything."

It's against this backdrop that House Dems keep passing popular and progressive bills, including a big one yesterday afternoon.

The House on Thursday passed a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 -- delivering on one of Democrats' central policy objectives and a priority for many 2020 presidential candidates. [...]

The bill -- called the Raise the Wage Act -- was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and passed 231-199. It calls for a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25, to be phased in over several years.

This was not an altogether easy lift for House Democratic leaders. More than a few Democratic red-state moderates were concerned about the potential effects of such a significant increase -- they seemed to be operating under the assumption that the bill might actually become law -- and so the legislation went through a few iterations.

Among other things, the latest bill calls for the new wage to be phased in over six years, as opposed to the original five-year plan. There's also a provision that would halt the increase if the Congressional Budget Office found evidence that the increase was creating adverse economic effects.

Those changes satisfied the less-progressive Dems, and as the dust cleared, the bill passed with relative ease. Technically, proponents can even claim that it cleared the chamber with bipartisan support: three Republicans voted for it.

The measure now shifts to the GOP-led Senate, where theoretically, it could pass. Most Americans support the Democratic proposal, and the nation is clearly due for an increase: it's been a decade since the last increase to the minimum wage at the federal level, which is the longest drought since the policy was first created.

But there's a reason -- two, actually -- proponents are not optimistic.

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

Trump's EPA clears pesticide tied to children's health problems

07/19/19 08:00AM

We learned a few months ago that senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency rejected calls to ban asbestos, despite the advice of EPA scientists, and opened the door to new uses for the known carcinogen. It was a rather startling example of the Trump administration doing a potentially dangerous favor for the chemical industry.

This week, as the New York Times reported, we learned about Team Trump doing another potentially dangerous favor for the chemical industry.

The Trump administration took a major step to weaken the regulation of toxic chemicals on Thursday when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would not ban a widely used pesticide that its own experts have linked to serious health problems in children.

The decision by Andrew R. Wheeler, the E.P.A. administrator, represents a victory for the chemical industry and for farmers who have lobbied to continue using the substance, chlorpyrifos, arguing it is necessary to protect crops.

Let's circle back to our earlier coverage, but it's worth appreciating how we arrived at this point.

The Obama administration originally proposed banning the pesticide's use on food in October 2015. A risk assessment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded. "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neuro-developmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

By all appearances, this wasn't an especially tough call. There was, after all, "extensive scientific evidence" that even tiny levels of exposure to this pesticide "can harm babies' brains."

And then Donald Trump took office.

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Trump campaign hush money scam appears to have worked

Trump campaign hush money scam appears to have worked

07/18/19 09:23PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the revelations of unsealed documents in the Michael Cohen case showing that the plan to insulate Donald Trump from payments made to silence women claiming to have had affairs with him so they wouldn't hurt his election chances appears to have worked out for everyone involved except Michael Cohen even though he was... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.18.19

07/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The final vote on this was 231 to 199: "House Democrats approved legislation Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, to $15 an hour, but the bill has almost no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate."

* SDNY: "The FBI believed then-candidate Donald Trump was closely involved in a scheme to hide hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, court documents from the closed campaign finance case against former Trump-fixer Michael Cohen show."

* Flight risk: "A New York federal judge on Thursday ordered Jeffrey Epstein held without bail, siding with prosecutors who argued the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker posed a flight risk."

* It's a shame that when Trump makes an announcement like this, there's a temptation to wait for some kind of official confirmation: "President Donald Trump on Thursday said that a U.S. Navy ship 'destroyed' an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz -- the latest in a series of tense incidents between the U.S. and Tehran."

* In related news: "The United States is sending hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia in what is intended as the latest show of force toward Iran, two Defense Department officials said Wednesday."

* DHS: "Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told members of Congress on Thursday that migrant children are only separated from their parents at the border under rare circumstances."

* Contempt: "The House voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for obstructing a probe into the administration's failed bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."

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Despite reality, Trump suggests he tried to stop 'send her back' chant

07/18/19 02:23PM

It was as chilling a moment as any in recent American political history. Just days after Donald Trump called on four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to a foreign country, the president hosted a campaign rally in North Carolina where he lied about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Trump's followers responded by chanting, "Send her back," in reference to the lawmaker.

This afternoon, the president tried to put some distance between himself and his supporters' rhetoric.

President Donald Trump on Thursday attempted to distance himself from a boisterous "send her back" chant aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that occurred at his campaign rally Wednesday night.

"I was not happy with it -- I disagree with it," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding, "I didn't say that, they did."

As a literal matter, that last part is true. The president himself never used the words, "Send her back." He just paused to allow his supporters to make the chant themselves.

Asked why he didn't ask the crowd to stop, Trump told reporters today, "I think I did. I started speaking very quickly."

That's not what happened. After already having called for the congresswomen to "go back" to a foreign country, Trump proceeded to peddle false and inflammatory comments about Omar. When the audience broke into its chilling chant, Trump briefly nodded his head, stepped back from the microphone, and remained silent for nearly 14 seconds.

If, as he claimed today, the president "disagreed" with what he heard, he had plenty of time to say so. Trump did the opposite, allowing the chant to go on, basking in his followers' anger -- which the president was responsible for stoking in the first place.

The Republican then proceeded to attack the Minnesota congresswoman some more.

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Lindsey Graham suggests Trump cares about praise, not race

07/18/19 12:55PM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), well positioned as one of Donald Trump's most notable cheerleaders in the Senate, was asked about the president's latest attacks against four congresswomen of color. The Republican senator, up for re-election next year in a ruby-red state, made the case that Trump is only attacking "the squad" because they criticized him and the administration's agenda.

"I don't think a Somali refugee embracing Trump, would not have been asked to go back. If you're racist, you want everybody from Somalia to go back because they are black or they're Muslim. That's not what this is about to me. What this is about to me is that these four congresswomen, in their own way, have been incredibly provocative. [...]

"If you think he's as racist, that's up to you. I don't.... If you embrace his policies, it doesn't matter where you come from. He probably likes you."

By this reasoning, Graham sees Trump as a narcissist, not a racist.

This is, of course, a rather dramatic departure from the South Carolinian's 2015 assessment of the future president: Graham described Trump four years ago as "a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" who should be told to "go to hell."

But even if we put that aside, the broader question is whether Graham's latest defense for his Oval Office ally is accurate. In a way, I wish it were. It would be preferable to believe Trump isn't a bigot and that he simply lashes out irresponsibly at anyone who dares to hurt his feelings, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. By this reasoning, recent events are largely coincidental: the president is attacking four women of color because they're liberal critics, not because they're women of color.

The problem, of course, is that Graham's defense is literally unbelievable.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.18.19

07/18/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) argued yesterday that she intends to pursue a Medicare-for-All plan if elected president, but she won't support a "middle-class tax hike" to pay for it. Her financing model isn't yet clear.

* In February, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he'd "ruled out" the possibility of running for Kansas' open U.S. Senate seat next year. Yesterday, however, in response to a question about his possible campaign plans, Pompeo said he "leaves open the possibility" of a new professional path.

* We're still about two weeks out from the next round of Democratic presidential primary debates, but yesterday, CNN announced the 20 candidates who'll participate. The list is similar to the line-up from the first debates, except Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) is out and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is in.

* Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was scheduled to speak at the Palm Beach County Republican Party's annual fundraising event, but after he offered some mild criticisms of Donald Trump's recent racist tweets, the GOP disinvited him.

* On a related note, Arizona Republican Chairwoman Kelli Ward realizes that appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) occasionally disagrees with Trump, but Ward wants McSally to "just be quiet" about it.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate race, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill complained this week that Americans' interest in "homosexual activities" has contributed to what he sees as the country's moral decline. The GOP official was apparently bothered by, among other things, coverage of the U.S. Women's National Team's World Cup victory.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

Embattled GOP rep receives cease-and-desist letter from the Marines

07/18/19 11:20AM

When we last checked in with Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), things weren't going especially well for the GOP congressman. Hunter has been indicted for allegedly stealing campaign funds and clumsily trying to cover it up. As part of the case, prosecutors also alleged he illegally used contributions to help finance his extramarital affairs, including some with lobbyists.

The fact that the California Republican's wife has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors didn't help matters.

Two weeks ago, Hunter and his lawyer asked a federal judge to either relocate or dismiss the charges because prosecutors attended a 2015 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. A judge balked after "it was revealed that Hunter's lead attorney had attended the same Democratic fundraiser he said biased prosecutors."

The same judge ruled that evidence of the congressman's adulterous relationships can be used against him in his criminal trial.

It was against this backdrop that Hunter decided last week to try to save himself -- by sending out bigoted campaign mailings.

Indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter is sending Islamophobic mail pieces to voters in his Southern California district, attacking his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, for his deceased grandfather alleged ties to a 1972 terrorist attack.

The mailers show a photo of one of the terrorists involved in an attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics wearing a ski mask on one side, and photos of Campa-Najjar and Muslim Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, on the other. Campa-Najjar is Christian.

Hunter pushed a very similar smear last fall. CNN's Andrew Kaczynski noted at the time that the California Republican was "running one of the most openly anti-Muslim campaigns we've ever seen, with shameful smears of his opponent.... It's an anti-Muslim campaign against a person who isn't even Muslim."

Yesterday, in case Hunter weren't in enough trouble, he received a cease-and-desist letter from the Marines.

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A registered nurse demonstrates putting on personal protective equipment (PPE) during an Ebola educational session for healthcare workers in New York in 2014. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

As Ebola threat becomes more serious, how prepared is Team Trump?

07/18/19 10:41AM

The World Health Organization does not declare global health emergencies often. But in light of the conditions in central Africa, that's exactly what the WHO did yesterday.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency, citing the virus's recent spread into Goma, one of the country's most densely populated cities.

Two million people reside in Goma, which sits just south of the epicenter of the outbreak, near the border with Rwanda.

In recent years, there have been related outbreak threats, including one around this time a year ago, but they did not prompt the WHO to make an emergency declaration.

Obviously, the hope is that international public-health officials will be able to respond to the Ebola outbreak effectively, though if conditions become even more serious, it's going to be difficult to have confidence in the Trump administration.

In May 2018, for example, the Washington Post reported that Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic, abruptly left his post.

The article added that there was no senior administration official "focused solely on global health security." What's more, the Post noted that Ziemer's team had been broken up, and thanks to John Bolton's reorganization plan, the admiral would not be replaced on the White House National Security Council.

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump's own record on the matter.

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