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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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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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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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Trump loves 'transparency,' except when it comes to his own actions

04/23/19 09:20AM

Early last year, then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a sycophantic ally of the White House, prepared a "memo" with classified information he wanted to release in order to help Donald Trump. The president, ignoring the concerns of his own FBI director, cleared the way for the document's release.

Pressed for an explanation, Team Trump insisted at the time that it was part of the administration's commitment to "transparency."

In May 2018, when Trump ordered a highly sensitive intelligence briefing for some members of Congress, in which law enforcement officials were instructed to share information on a confidential human source, the president defended the move by saying, "What I want is I want total transparency.... You have to have transparency."

In September 2018, Trump ordered the release of classified materials related to the Russia investigation. "All I want to do is be transparent," he said at the time.

What the president meant, of course, was that he wanted to be transparent with information he thought might be able to help him politically. When it comes to disclosing information related to his work and background, Trump doesn't much care for transparency at all.

Just yesterday, the president sued the chairman of the House Oversight Committee as part of a desperate attempt to keep his financial records secret, and soon after, as the Washington Post reported, Team Trump directed a White House official to ignore a subpoena as part of an investigation into security-clearance abuses.

A former White House personnel security director has been instructed by the White House not to show up Tuesday for questioning by the House Oversight Committee.

The move appears to be the latest effort by the Trump administration to push back against congressional inquiries targeting the White House, which have proliferated since Democrats took control of the House in January.

White House deputy counsel Michael M. Purpura wrote a letter Monday asking the former security director, Carl Kline, not to show up as the committee had requested.

Whatever happened to, "You have to have transparency"?

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

One of Trump's Fed picks quits, the other faces new controversy

04/23/19 08:40AM

Herman Cain no doubt saw the writing on the wall. Last week, the White House opened the door to him ending his bid for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, and quietly leaked word that officials had begun searching for his replacement. But last Wednesday, Cain said he didn't care about the political pushback -- he was "very committed" to sticking with the process.

Five days later, Cain quit. The Georgia Republican explained in an online statement that he withdrew from consideration for a variety of reasons, including concerns that he "could not advocate on behalf of capitalism" if he were confirmed to the post.

I'm not altogether sure what that means, but given the fact that Cain is exiting the stage, it's probably not worth investing too much energy trying to figure it out.

Instead, let's focus attention on Donald Trump's other choice for the Fed's board.

One of President Donald Trump's picks to serve on the Federal Reserve Board has written that women should be banned from refereeing, announcing or beer vending at men's college basketball games, asking if there was any area in life "where men can take vacation from women."

Stephen Moore, an economic commentator and former Trump campaign adviser, made those and similar comments in several columns reviewed by CNN's KFile that were published on the website of the conservative National Review magazine in 2001, twice in 2002 and 2003.

CNN's report found a missive Moore wrote in March 2002 on the March Madness college-basketball tournament, in which the Republican pundit presented his case for removing "un-American" aspects of it. The first proposed "rule" was banning women.

"Here's the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer venders, no women anything," he wrote at the time. "There is, of course, an exception to this rule. Women are permitted to participate, if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant." CNN also found a later missive in which Moore wrote that Bernstein, a CBS sports journalist at the time, should wear halter tops.

It's worth clarifying that if Moore were an otherwise qualified nominee for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, revelations like these would raise serious doubts about his judgment and character.

But he's not an otherwise qualified nominee.

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Trump lawsuit hopes to limit the scope of congressional oversight

04/23/19 08:00AM

Last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, directing the firm to turn over Donald Trump's financial records. The president's new lawyers -- hired to keep the Republican's finances secret -- initially sent a letter to Mazars USA, insisting that the firm ignore that federal subpoena.

Yesterday, Trump's attorneys kicked things up a notch, suing Cummings, asking a federal court to block the congressman's oversight efforts. As Rachel noted on the show last night, the lawsuit will almost certainly fail.

But the Washington Post highlighted an interesting tidbit from the lawsuit, which I'd overlooked after initially reading the filing.

In Trump's lawsuit, his attorneys cited a Supreme Court decision called Kilbourn v. Thompson, which found "no express power" in the Constitution for Congress to investigate individuals without pending legislation.

The problem with that argument, said University of Baltimore law professor Charles Tiefer, is that Kilbourn v. Thompson is a case from 1880.

And it was overruled by a decision in 1927, Tiefer said.

"By reaching back to precedent to the 1880s, they're seeking ... to overturn the entire modern case law that the courts have put together to respect Congress's investigative power," Tiefer added, referring to Trump's lawyers. "It's a very long shot.... These suits look like an act of desperation by the Trump lawyers."

It's obviously embarrassing if the president's new legal team didn't realize it was citing a Supreme Court case that was overturned nearly a century ago, but let's not brush past too quickly the absurdity of the underlying argument.

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