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Gabrielle Giffords testifies before a Washington state House panel Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.

Giffords offers advice to lawmakers afraid of their constituents

02/24/17 10:40AM

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) isn't a politician who generally has to worry about pushback from the left. The far-right congressman won re-election in the fall by more than 49 points, and the district he represents -- Texas' 1st -- is among the reddest in the country.

But Gohmert still doesn't want to hold a town-hall events for his constituents, and as the Washington Post noted, the Texas Republican pointed to a specific excuse for his decision.
As Republican lawmakers across the country have faced raucous, chaotic town halls in recent days, a number have refused to have these events. Some cited safety as a reason, while others said they didn't want their events "hijacked" by the confrontations seen elsewhere.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), in a statement released this week, blamed his decision not to hold these events in person on "the threat of violence at town hall meetings." He also pointed to a specific violent event to bolster his case, invoking the 2011 shooting that severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others.
"Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge," he said in a written statement. "However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed -- just as happened there."

By this reasoning, of course, members of Congress, six years after the Giffords shooting, shouldn't hold any public appearances.

This prompted Giffords herself to speak up and push back.
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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Trump administration's infrastructure plans start to unravel

02/24/17 10:13AM

Of all of Donald Trump's grand ideas, the Republican's dream of a massive infrastructure package seemed almost plausible. "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals," Trump vowed the night he won the election. "We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."

Democrats thought that sounded pretty good, and they even unveiled their own proposal to mirror Trump's goals and demonstrate that the minority party was serious about tackling the issue.

But as president, Trump's focus has shifted away from areas of bipartisan consensus. Axios reported yesterday that the Capitol Hill calendar is already "way overstuffed," so Republicans are moving forward with a different infrastructure strategy in mind.
[The plan is to] push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that'll require massive effort, time and political capital. [...]

Republican strategists say that Democrats, who'll be reluctant to give Trump a win, will be in a jam as midterm elections close in: They'll be under huge pressure to support big projects that'll bring money and improvements to their districts. And blue-collar unions, including construction and building trades, can be expected to favor of the package, driving a wedge into the Democratic base.
As political strategies go, this is ... odd. Trump could pursue this popular goal now -- instead of, say, fighting to take Americans' health care benefits away -- but according to these Republican sources, the White House prefers to use the plan as an election-year prop in 2018.

And that wouldn't necessarily be absurd -- interesting things can happen when election-year pressures rise -- were it not for the fact that the entire plan appears based on faulty assumptions.
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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

As support for 'Obamacare' goes up, Trump's backing goes down

02/24/17 09:20AM

Mike Pence spoke to the far-right CPAC audience yesterday, and the vice president spoke with pride about his party's intentions to destroy the Affordable Care Act. "America's Obamacare nightmare is about to end," he declared. "Despite the best efforts of liberal activists around the country, the American people know better."

Pence, who's often confused about key aspects of the health care debate, may want to take a closer look at what the American people know.
With congressional Republicans discussing proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act, public support for the 2010 health care law has reached its highest level on record.

Currently, 54% approve of the health care law passed seven years ago by Barack Obama and Congress, while 43% disapprove, according to a national Pew Research Center survey.... The new survey finds that when those who disapprove of the law are asked about what should happen to it now, more want GOP congressional leaders to focus their efforts on modifying the law than on getting rid of it.
This data from the Pew Research Center coincides with new results from a Quinnipiac poll, which found a sharp shift in Americans' attitudes against repealing the ACA. Shortly before the president's inauguration, Quinnipiac found 48% of Americans supported Trump's efforts to repeal the reform law, while 47% opposed. Now, those numbers are largely reversed: 54% oppose repeal, while 43% support it.

A brand new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation also shows the reform law with its strongest support since 2010.

Of the 10 most surveys gauging public attitudes about the ACA, all 10 have shown a net favorable rating for "Obamacare."

But to appreciate the shift in an even broader context, consider how much more popular the Affordable Care Act is than the president who's eager to tear it down.
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

White House abandons consistency when applying alleged principles

02/24/17 08:40AM

At yesterday's White House press briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about the Trump administration's shift away from protections for transgender kids. The president's spokesperson had a talking point he repeated over and over again.

"It's a states' rights issue," Spicer said. "And that's entirely what [Donald Trump] believes -- that if a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule, that's their right. But it shouldn't be the federal government getting in the way of this." He added, "We are a states' rights party. The president on a lot of issues believes in these various issues being states' rights."

In all, the press secretary referred to "states' rights" eight times yesterday.

Spicer, however, did not use the phrase when the discussion turned to marijuana use.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he expects the Justice Department to increase enforcement of laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana, a departure from the Obama administration's less aggressive stance as states began legalizing recreational as well as medical use of the drug.

"There are two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Spicer told reporters Thursday. "There's still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."
Asked if the Trump administration intends to take action in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the press secretary said, "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement" of existing federal law.

In other words, the Trump White House is absolutely committed to states' rights, except when it isn't.
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Image: FILE PHOTO: Trump speaking by phone with Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington

White House contacts with FBI take Russia scandal in new direction

02/24/17 08:00AM

Last week, multiple news organizations reported that members of Donald Trump's campaign team had been in contact with Russian officials before Election Day, despite claims to the contrary. Those communications, if true, would mean the Republican officials were speaking with Vladimir Putin's government even as it was illegally subverting the American election.

Almost immediately, the White House denounced the coverage, but according to a CNN report, that's not all the White House did: Team Trump also reached out to the FBI, even as the bureau's investigation was ongoing.
The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a US law enforcement official.

The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts. But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described.

The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories.
Overnight, the West Wing didn't exactly deny the outreach to the FBI, but rather, tried to put as benign a spin on the developments as possible. "We didn't try to knock the story down," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "We asked them to tell the truth."

We now know, of course, that the FBI rebuffed the White House's requests and officials at the bureau said nothing about the underlying allegations. The trouble, however, is that the White House reaching out to the FBI at all has the potential to be a scandal unto itself.

To borrow Watergate framing, it shifts the focus to the "cover-up" instead of the "crime."
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.23.17

02/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this tomorrow: "President Donald Trump on Thursday again expressed a desire for America to be an unparalleled military power, saying he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to make it 'top of the pack.'"

* North Dakota: "The protest site for the Dakota Access pipeline has been cleared after some demonstrators refused to leave Wednesday, when a deadline for evacuation passed. The Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared as of 2:09 p.m. local time, a spokesperson for the North Dakota Joint Information Center told ABC News."

* Counting heads, the Senate would struggle to pass a Republican repeal law: "[Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski], in her annual address to the Alaska Legislature, told lawmakers that she would not vote to repeal the expanded Medicaid health care program -- a key component of the health law -- as long as the Legislature wants to keep it."

* Perhaps the president could comment on this: "A 51-year-old Olathe man was charged Thursday in a Wednesday night shooting at a [Kansas] bar that left one man dead and two others wounded.... At least one witness reportedly heard the suspect yell 'get out of my country' shortly before shooting men he thought were Middle Eastern. Both men, engineers at Garmin, appear to be originally from India."

* Pakistan: "For the first time, after years of appeasing certain Islamist militant groups for political and religious reasons, the government has reluctantly agreed to allow the armed forces to enter Punjab province, authorized with special powers to hunt down, arrest and shoot suspected militants."

* I think we can guess what will happen next: "Two lobbying groups representing auto manufacturers have written letters urging the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to reverse a decision last month by the Obama administration to move forward with tougher fuel-economy standards that carmakers are supposed to meet by 2025."

* A powerful piece from Rumana Ahmed: "When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days."
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Image: US President Trump signs executive order to allow Dakota,. Keystone pipelines

Trump's 'military operation' apparently isn't a military operation

02/23/17 04:20PM

Just this week, it seemed Donald Trump's administration was relying a little too often on the "Never-Mind-What-Trump-Said" approach to public policy, and today, it happened again.

At a White House event this morning, the president declared that, thanks to his policies, "we're getting really bad dudes out of this country." Trump added, "And they're the bad ones, and it's a military operation because that has been allowed to come into our country."

It was a striking quote for a variety of reasons -- including plenty of reports about immigrants facing deportation who are not "really bad dudes" -- but it was that reference to a "military operation" that seemed especially problematic. There are all kinds of legal constraints on what the U.S. military can do on domestic soil, and if Trump is implementing his deportation policy while utilizing American troops, a controversial policy is about to get a whole lot more problematic.

Which is why it was important that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, talking to reporters during an official visit to Mexico, clarified matters.
"Listen to this: no -- repeat, no -- use of military forces in immigration operations. None.... So again, I repeat, no use of military forces in immigration.

"At least half of you get that right, because it continually comes up in the reporting."
Look, I don't blame Kelly for pushing reporters to get the details right, but under the circumstances, journalists aren't the ones causing confusion. It was, after all, his boss -- the president of the United States -- who referred to the deportations as a "military operation" about three hours before the DHS secretary was saying the exact opposite.
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Pence's claims on ACA and jobs fall apart under scrutiny

02/23/17 03:47PM

In early December, during the presidential transition process, Mike Pence told ABC News, "[W]e're working on President-Elect Trump's commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's all going to begin right out of the gate by repealing this disastrous policy that's been killing jobs." Yesterday, the Republican vice president said something similar, calling the Affordable Care Act "a job killer."

There are some reality-based criticisms of the ACA, pointing to legitimate areas where the law could be changed, but Pence's argument isn't one of them.

Let's revisit our previous coverage, looking anew at how the data has changed since the last time the vice president got this wrong. As regular readers may recall, in 2014, the first full year of ACA implementation, job growth reached a 15-year high. In fact, the first two years of ACA implementation were the best back-to-back years for job creation since the 1990s.

But we can go a little further with this. Forbes’ Dan Diamond made a great observation, which inspired the above chart, noting private-sector employment in the United States over the last eight years. The red line shows the final two years of the Bush/Cheney era, as the private sector shed jobs; the light blue line shows the first year of the Obama era, when the Great Recession started to end; and the hard blue line shows March 2010 through the present.
 
As Diamond added a while back, “Obamacare was signed into law in March 2010. The private sector hasn’t lost jobs since.”

This continues to be true. The U.S. economy created over 2.2 million jobs in 2016, which was the sixth consecutive year in which we’ve crossed the 2 million threshold. The last time Americans saw a six-year stretch like this was also the late 1990s.
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ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

The travails of being Donald Trump's Secretary of State

02/23/17 12:50PM

In most presidential administrations, Secretary of State is the cabinet post. Though officially no cabinet secretary is above his or her colleagues, being the nation's chief diplomat, traveling the world representing the United States and directly shaping the foreign policy of the world's strongest superpower, is a unique public-service opportunity.

At least, it's supposed to be.

Rex Tillerson, Trump's Secretary of State, is in Mexico today, trying to clean up the mess the president created by antagonizing our neighbor. There's been a lot of that happening lately, with Tillerson in "perpetual cleanup mode," trying to reassure countries rattled by the president's antics.

Making matters worse, the Washington Post reports that the State Department itself has been sidelined by the White House.
The Trump administration in its first month has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a mostly offstage role.

Decisions on hiring, policy and scheduling are being driven by a White House often wary of the foreign policy establishment and struggling to set priorities and write policy on the fly.
For weeks, it seems the president has largely ignored Tillerson, not bothering to even alert him to developments that would affect his duties. When the White House unveiled its Muslim ban, for example, no one provided Tillerson with any details about the policy in advance, and Tillerson was forced to tell West Wing officials "that he was baffled over not being consulted."

When Trump balked at a two-state solution in the Middle East, the Secretary of State learned about it by watching the comments live on television, and no one from the State Department was welcome at the meeting between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the White House put Iran "on notice" a week earlier, no one checked in with State about this, either.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.23.17

02/23/17 12:00PM

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

* If you missed last night's show, the chair of the Montana Republican Party explicitly warned state policymakers against making voting too easy, insisting that higher turnout gives Democrats too big an advantage.

* To get a sense of how the Republican campaign against the Affordable Care Act is going, Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-Ark.) town-hall event last night offered a big hint. One local woman asked everyone who's benefited from the law to stand up. The response from attendees was striking.

* In November, Donald Trump won South Carolina by 14 points, picking up 54% of the vote. The latest statewide poll from Winthrop University, however, puts the president's approval rating at 44%. South Carolina will soon be home to a congressional special election in the 5th district.

* Similarly, Trump won Tennessee in November by 24 points, picking up 60% of the vote. A new poll from Middle Tennessee State University, however, puts the president's approval rating in the Volunteer State at 51%.

* In Texas, where Trump won by 9 points, the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll shows the president with an approval rating of just 46% in the Lone Star State.

* In Georgia's upcoming congressional special election, local polling shows Jon Ossoff (D) as the top contender in the race to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price (R).
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